Credit unions are member-owned cooperatives that are usually managed by volunteer members. They are community loan and savings cooperatives. In a credit union, the members are effectively the shareholders so any profit made is paid out to the members of the credit union as a dividend. Credit unions are not-for-profit social enterprises.
Do you need to pay of high interest debts which are keeping you poor? Do you need to get into a regular savings habit at an amount you can afford? Do you need or want to be able to access a low cost loan when you experience a sudden, unexpected expense? A credit union can help you do all of these things.
You may be able to save and borrow with a credit union even if you have difficulty opening a high street account due to low income or poor credit history. Credit unions usually lend various amounts for many purposes, from gap year travel to household goods, paying off high interest debts to the cost of Christmas or car repairs.
When you borrow from a credit union, you normally receive free life insurance to the value of the loan, so your loan would be repaid if you die before paying it back in full (subject to conditions) so that you do not burden your loved ones at a difficult time. You will normally receive an annual dividend on your savings, paid at the end of the year at the same rate for all savers.
In joining a credit union you will be supporting a local co-operative that supports its members and encourages financial inclusiveness. Credit unions are not just for people on low income - they are also a lifestyle choice and often the best financial choice.
Credit unions are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. They are also in the Financial Services Compensation Scheme which means that no matter what happens, any money you save with a credit union is guaranteed up to an amount of £85,000 by the government.
As credit unions are co-operatives, as a member you will have a say in how the organisation is run and the board members are accountable to the members and can be removed through a democratic process.
Credit unions have to put their members' savings into bank deposit accounts and other secure investments such as government bonds. This ensures members can withdraw their savings when needed.
Credit unions aim to help you take control of your money by encouraging you to save what you can, and borrow only what you can afford to repay. By saving for three months before borrowing it allows you to find out how much you can reasonably save and therefore how much you can reasonably afford to pay back. This is responsible lending.
Typically our loans range from £50 to £5,000, but we have granted both smaller and larger loans. It all depends on the amount you have saved and your ability to pay the loan back. For larger loans, we may seek further information.
Credit unions do not have to pay dividends to shareholders (its members are its shareholders) and many, including Norwich Credit Union, are run by volunteer members so have minimal staffing costs.
By law credit unions cannot charge more than 3% interest a month on loans (APR 42.6%) but often charge less - Norwich Credit Union only charges a standard 1.5% per month (APR 19.6%). This means that if you borrow £100 from Norwich Credit Union over 12 months, the maximum you will pay back is £110.04.
Credit unions will consider each individual's circumstances if they start to struggle with repayments and will generally offer more flexibility than a high street loan. However, the credit union can get back any money that it is owed through debt collection agencies, through the Department for Work and Pensions if you are on benefits or through the County Court if you are employed.
Credit cards are designed for short term borrowing and unless you pay off the full balance every month can become a very expensive way to borrow and for many people, a provider will refuse a credit card to an applicant.
Banks generally charge set up costs for loans and include penalty clauses for early repayment or changes to monthly payments.
The interest on credit union loans is often cheaper than bank or building society loans and they do not charge to set up loans, nor do they include any charges for early repayment. They also allow greater flexibility in both the initial repayments and in the event of any arrears. Credit unions will also not try and sell you any additional products because they are run by their members, for their members.
There are many reasons why someone would want to become a member of a credit union. They may be refused access to credit from a bank, building society or payday lender. It is often the cheapest available loan for their needs. Some people may want to get into a responsible saving habit without being a customer of a high street bank. Others may wish to save money with a community-based organisation or create a safety net with the knowledge that they have an ethical, safe option for credit should an unexpected expense rear its head. See our Testimonials page for comments from our existing members for other reasons why people join credit unions.