If you need a checking account, mortgage, or other financial accounts, you usually have two choices: banks and credit unions. Most banks are flexible about who can join, and some have a nationwide presence. Credit unions are typically stricter, limiting membership to people who perform certain jobs or live in specific areas. Firefighters credit unions fall in the latter category. While joining a credit union for firefighters can be more challenging than opening an account at a bank, they are worth exploring if you qualify. Here’s what you need to know.
What is a Firefighters Credit Union?
Firefighters credit unions are financial entities that provide members with access to a variety of accounts. Essentially all of them support basic banking accounts, like checking and savings, and the vast majority offer other products, like mortgages, investment accounts, and credit cards.
However, firefighters credit unions commonly limit membership to individuals who are active or retired firefighters and certain family or household members.
Who Can Join a Firefighters Credit Union?
While membership requirements vary from one firefighters credit union to the next, most follow similar rules. Being an active or retired firefighter is one of the surest ways to be eligible. However, certain family members (like spouses, children, siblings, and parents, including step versions) can also qualify.
Some firefighters credit unions also extend eligibility to household members who help support the household, regardless of whether they are a family member. This is not as common but can happen.
In some cases, you have to live, or the firefighter has to have worked in specific cities, regions, or states. Again, the exact nature of the requirement varies between credit unions, but very few firefighters credit unions serve a national audience.
What Are the Benefits of Firefighters Credit Unions?
Since joining a firefighters credit union has specific requirements, understanding the potential benefits is essential. Otherwise, it may seem like an awful lot of work to get your account open, particularly if you do not receive any additional advantages for being a member.
Luckily, firefighters credit unions can provide you with benefits you may not find at a traditional bank. Since credit unions are not-for-profit organizations, any earnings beyond what it takes to keep the institution running are usually used to provide members with favorable terms and certain perks.
For example, credit unions often have lower interest rates associated with credit and loan accounts. Mortgage, credit card, and personal loan account interest rates usually beat those provided by regular banks. In some cases, savings or money market account interest rates may be higher than what you will find elsewhere too. Plus, their fee structures are typically more affordable.
However, there are benefits that go beyond the financial side of joining. Credit unions often strive to help their members succeed. They may have more favorable policies about certain activities, like overdrawing a checking account or qualifying for a mortgage.
Quicker Access to Personalized Service
Additionally, you tend to have quicker access to personalized service, and your customer service experiences may be more favorable. Credit unions often view members as part of their community, and that attitude often comes through when they interact with account holders.
Firefighters credit unions also understand the challenges of being a firefighter. They know the salary rates, so they may be more flexible if you want to get a loan as an entry- or mid-level firefighter. Financial planning services offered may also be customized to align with your employment, ensuring you have guidance based on your unique circumstances.
Finally, while all credit unions are not insured by the FDIC, you do get the same kind of protection. Most firefighters credit unions usually belong to the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). The NCUA is comparable to the FDIC. If your credit union happens to fail, your account is guaranteed up to an amount of $250,000.
Drawbacks of Firefighters Credit Unions
By and large, there are not any major drawbacks to using a firefighters credit union instead of a traditional bank or joining a different credit union. The only thing that is important to note is that qualifying for membership is not always easy.
Not only do most firefighters credit unions require members to be closely associated with an active or retired firefighter, but many of them also require members to live in a specific area or the eligible firefighter to have worked in a particular city, region, or state.
Now, once you join, you can move to other areas and still maintain your membership. This hurdle only exists when you are becoming a member, not after you officially open an account.
However, since firefighters credit unions are smaller organizations, you may have trouble finding branches outside of their immediate area. Similarly, you could struggle to find a friendly ATM, increasing your odds of having to deal with usage fees.
Should You Join a Firefighters Credit Union?
As with any financial decision, it is wise to research your options before joining any bank or credit union. Every institution is different, so making sure they can meet your needs in advance is wise.
But firefighters credit unions typically have a lot to offer. Plus, you will get more personalized service from an organization that understands the trials and tribulations of this line of work. If you are eligible to join a firefighters credit union, they are definitely worth exploring.
Are you a member of a firefighters credit union? Share your experience in the comments below.