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Why Try a Credit Union?

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— Erik Dreyer/Getty Images

Big banks are eliminating free checking and imposing new fees as they seek to bolster profits in the face of new government regulations, but you may be able to dodge the fees if you belong to a credit union.

In a survey of the country’s 50 largest credit unions, the financial website Bankrate.com found that 39 offered free checking and 41 had no balance requirement or monthly fee on checking.

Compared to banks, credit unions also offer lower loan rates, lower overdraft and ATM fees, and higher interest on savings, says Mark Wolff of the Credit Union National Association. Credit unions are not looking to make money. They are not-for-profit cooperative organizations of people with a common bond such as where they work, live, worship or attend school.

To find out whether you can join a credit union, ask your employer. Contact occupational, fraternal, religious and alumni organizations. Find out from family members whether you can join through their affiliations. And check out the possibility of a “community” membership available to people in a specific geographic area.

For help in finding a credit union, go to the national association’s online locator or call 1-800-358-5710.

Joan Rattner Heilman writes often on good deals and where to find them.

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