Welcome to part 3 of my investigation into the wisdom and practicality of making the switch to credit unions from my current national bank at JPWellsComeriBank.

In part 2, I narrowed it down from 10 to two Credit Unions worth serious consideration:

Desert Schools Federal Credit Union and Arizona Central Credit Union.

[photo: familymwr]

I’m starting with Desert Schools Federal Credit Union, but there is a significant amount of overlapping, so you’ll want to read this first one, first, or you’ll miss out on a good portion of both reviews.

Desert Schools Federal Credit Union

They have 56 valley locations. I went to the one on Missouri and 7th Street, by the Buffalo Exchange. They were very nice. I asked if they had a demo of their online system. They did not have one. A woman at another desk said, “You can look at my account”. I was surprised that she was willing to share her personal information and resisted at first, but I saw that it works about the same as the accounts at my current national bank, though it’s not as pretty or intuitive. JPWellsComeriBank spends a lot more money on their customer website account interface.

Both Desert Schools Federal Credit Union and Arizona Central Credit Union have mobile apps, but neither of them have the app feature where you can take a picture of your check and deposit it through your phone. Now, that’s not something I need at present, but it’s worth knowing. Because as soon as they do come out with that feature, you better believe I’ll take advantage of it, especially given the small number of physical locations compared to the larger, national banks.

Bill Pay, for all of their different checking account types, except for one that is set up for kids, is always free with Desert Schools Federal Credit Union. I was impressed with that. You can also see copies of your checks for free. The national banks charge for that. This credit union also interfaces with Quicken.

This part is the most important for a small business like mine, and in fact, it was one of the reasons I hesitated moving away from the megabank I’ve been with. In the end, I’ve seen that I really had nothing to worry about. I’m sure the megabanks are happy to feed the fear that credit unions won’t be able to provide the same on-line services.

Withdrawals from non-credit union banks are free for the first four and $2 after that. But there is a workaround to those non-specific-institution charges; one that is often utilized by people, but never openly promoted (and for obvious reasons): make a cash withdrawal when making a purchase at a supermarket. This method also suggests a way around any maximum per day ATM withdrawal amount.

For security on their credit/debit cards, they use Visa Fraud Monitoring. That seems pretty good to me. The woman I spoke with at the bank said that Desert Schools Federal Credit Union has never had their information hacked or stolen.

Regarding their customer service:  when I first walked into the bank, I was greeted after a couple of minutes and the woman who assisted me was very helpful. I didn’t tell her that I was preparing to write this blog post, but she was very surprised at the number of questions I asked.

What I noticed at both of these credit unions, if you wanted to have both free checking and a minimum balance, they required you to do a certain number of credit charges. What they mean by “credit charges” is that they require a certain number of charges to be run as credit, as opposed to running them as debit. I thought that was really interesting. I had never seen that before. I later talked to a local merchant who explained that banks get a higer percentage per charge if it’s run as credit, as apposed to debit. In the end, it doesn’t really matter to me whether I sign for it as a “credit” charge or use my pin as a “debit”. The money comes out of my account the same way.

$7 dollars a month is what you pay for their personal checking account, unless you have a balance over $1500, in which case it’s free. With both credit unions, you must have a savings account (with a minimum $25 balance) along with your checking account. This is their gateway to becoming a member of the credit union. That makes sense, because then you have voting rights as a member (remember, Credit Unions are, by definition, member-based institutions). Also, both credit unions do not require automatic savings withdrawals every month, unlike the national banks all do. This is great.

In next week’s post, I’ll cover Health Savings Accounts at Desert Schools Federal Credit Union and share my experiences at Arizona Federal Credit Union. I’ll then chose one and see if you can figure out why I chose it.

To see the next installment, click here.

Written by phxAdmin