Credit Union

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The credit union difference

Jan 18, 2009 (Updated Sep 26, 2009)
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Pros:Many branches throughout Southern California, friendly member service both in person and via telephone.

Cons:No 24/7 telephone customer service, online banking sometimes down without prior notice.

The Bottom Line: If you're a Southern California resident looking for a good alternative to the big banks, definitely consider Kinecta Federal Credit Union.


I have always banked at big-name, commercial banks. For the most part, they were fine for my needs, which are basic, i.e., free checking and savings accounts along with free online banking. With the current economic downturn and resulting bank failures, I decided to do some research into credit unions, as I learned that the credit unions are more financially sound than banks, being that they didn't become involved in the subprime mortgage fiasco.

For the sake of convenience, I wanted to find a credit union with a branch in my city, and I know for a fact that there are five near me. I went to each credit union's website for more information and narrowed it down to my final choice, Kinecta Federal Credit Union. Kinecta was originally founded back in October 1940 as Hughes Aircraft Employees Federal Credit Union, changing to the present name in July 2001.

I like the fact that Kinecta has a branch less than a mile from my home. Opening my account with them was relatively easy. I went to my local branch one Saturday morning and was helped by a member service representative, who opened my free checking and savings accounts. (A $5.00 deposit is all that's needed to open a savings account and to keep it active.) Kinecta offers free checking (no minimum balance or direct deposit requirements) and Checking Plus, which earns dividends. The Checking Plus account is free with direct deposit or $1,500 average monthly balance. Otherwise, a $9.00 fee is charged.

In order to join Kinecta or any credit union, certain requirements must be met. Kinecta's requirements to join are:

1) Having an immediate family member or household member who is already a Kinecta member;
2) Any Select Employee Group (SEG) employee and their immediate family or household members;
3) Any member of the Consumers Cooperative Society of Santa Monica (CCSSM);
4) Live, work, worship or attend school in Anaheim, Lancaster, Rialto, Santa Ana or Greater Los Angeles.

In my case, I didn't qualify based on my residence or place of employment, so I joined Kinecta through the Consumers Cooperative Society of Santa Monica, which required paying a separate $10.00 fee.

During the process of establishing my account, I ordered a box of free checks and a VISA debit card. I received the debit card about a week later and the checks a week after that (the member rep who helped me inadvertently neglected to place my check order, thus the delay).

My local Kinecta branch is located in a strip mall anchored by a Vons grocery store. The interior of the credit union branch is pleasant - simply yet nicely furnished. There is a constant stream of people going in and out and using the ATM outside. Kinecta is one of the largest credit unions in California with 225,944 members and nearly $4 billion in assets. Kinecta has 26 branches stretching from Goleta to San Diego.

The online banking has a simple, clean, easy-to-use interface, recording transactions in real time. One feature I really like is that, upon signing in, the first screen which shows the account summary show the date and time you last logged in. Pending transactions, both debit and credit, are also shown, a nice added touch. Canceled check images are also available for viewing. Also, sending secure messages to member service and re-ordering checks can be performed. The credit union is usually good about posting advance notice on their website of when the online banking will be down for maintenance; however, there were a few times I've tried to use it but was down with no prior notice. Lately, the online banking has been up consistently without any down time.

Prior to joining Kinecta, I learned about the benefits of credit union membership, versus being a bank customer as set forth below:

- Credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives owned by their members.
- Credit unions are headed by a volunteer Board of Directors elected by the membership.
- Any profits made by the credit union are returned to the members in the form of higher dividend rates and lower rates on loans.

Moreover, I have received exemplary member/customer service with Kinecta, both in the branch and on the phone. Before ending a call, the member rep will say, "I hope you were very satisfied with my service." After my experience with WaMu and their overseas telephone customer service reps, it's great to know that the person I'm speaking with on the phone is a local person! :-)

Another tremendous benefit to credit union membership that I absolutely love is the fact that I can use over 25,000 credit union ATMs in the country on the Co-Op Network for FREE! That's more ATMs than Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, etc. Many of these ATMs are located in 7-11 stores and many will also accept deposits.

Most Kinecta branches have Saturday hours, usually from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The rest of the week (M-F), usually 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. If you're used to 24/7 telephone customer service with a big-name bank, you won't find it at Kinecta. The call center hours are 7:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Saturday.

Kinecta--and other credit unions in general--is involved with the local communities where they're located. For example, they, along with their Nix Check Cashing subsidiary, raised $110,000 to feed 1,200 families this past Thanksgiving. I can't think of any big-name banks that have done something similar.

Deposits at Kinecta are insured up to $250,000 with the NCUA (National Credit Union Administration).  This is similar to FDIC insurance for banks.

After taking advantage of the benefits of credit union membership, I don't think I could ever do my primary banking with a commercial bank again (though I still keep my U.S. Bank account open as a backup). Who WOULDN'T want to be a credit union member after learning all the benefits?

More information can be found at http://www.kinecta.org .


Recommend this product? Yes


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