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Checking out credit unions

A recent survey from Bankrate.com found that 41 of the nation's 50 largest credit unions offer free checking accounts with no minimum balance requirements.

Today, more people have access to credit unions,

Today, more people have access to credit unions, and credit unions' products and pricing are giving banks serious competition. Photo Credit: Getty Images/EmirMemedovski

Way back when, not everyone had access to credit unions, which had few frills.

Times have changed and credit unions are giving banks a run for your money.

A recent survey from Bankrate.com makes the case for taking a good look-see at credit unions. According to the report, 41 of the nation’s 50 largest credit unions, or 82 percent, offer free checking accounts with no minimum balance requirements or monthly service fees. How do banks stack up? Just 38 percent can tout such perks.

Among the 18 percent of credit unions that charge monthly service fees, the cost is $5, lower than the $12 typically charged by banks for non-interest accounts and $25 for interest-bearing accounts, according to Bankrate.com.

Then there’s the matter of overdraft fees. While the $28 at credit unions is high, banks are higher still at around $33.

“Since credit unions are not-for-profits, they can pass the savings on to their customers with lower interest rates on loan products and lower fees,” says Joshua Zimmelman, president of Westwood Tax & Consulting in Rockville Centre.

You can have feet in both camps. “Switching to a credit union doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing," says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst with Bankrate.com. "You may have a free checking account at the credit union, but your savings account with an online bank.

"By linking the two, you can easily move money between them. It pays to be a free agent and shop for the best deal on whichever account or financial product you’re looking for.”

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