Pros: convenient hours; good customer service; coin-counting machine; monetary incentives
Cons: cluttered website
American Heritage Federal Credit Union is a Philadelphia-based credit union. Anyone who lives, works, or attends school in Philadelphia is eligible to join.
The credit union offers most of the services found at any other financial institution. Their basic share savings account can be started with an initial deposit of just $15, and interest starts accruing with a $100 balance. Unfortunately, the current APY is 0.50%, but that's slightly better than the interest rates at most banks. They also offer holiday and vacation clubs to help you save a little bit at a time for big events.
Their money market accounts pay better interest, currently ranging from 0.800% to 1.150%, depending on the type of account. These accounts require a higher minimum balance than a regular savings account.
Their certificates are probably your best bet for actually accruing some interest. A minimum deposit of $1000 will earn between 1.00% and 3.15% APY, depending on how long you want to have your money tied up for.
American Heritage offers loans and credit cards, with better rates than you'd find at the big banks. Their Platinum Mastercard offers an APR as low as 9.90%, with no annual fee. They also offer car loans, personal loans, and home equity lines of credit.
American Heritage is very good about offering monetary incentives to sign up for their services. Opening a checking account with direct deposit will net you $50, ordering a check card will get you another $25, adding Online Bill Payer adds $25 more, and signing up for e-statements an additional $5.
The branch I use has a coin-counting machine, which is free to members. I'm someone who saves up a lot of loose change, then cashes it in when my change jar is full. It's terrific to not have to dump the jar out and wrap all those coins, or pay 8% tax to have the change counted by a CoinStar machine. I simply take the jar over to the credit union, dump it out, and ignore the angry glances from customers in line as the coins clatter and clink. I then walk my receipt over to the teller and either receive cash for my change or deposit it in to my account. It couldn't be easier.
Their customer service is very good. I have had to contact them by phone a few times, and the call center representatives have always been helpful in answering my questions. The tellers are very pleasant and quick to acknowledge my presence; I rarely have to wait for someone to offer assistance. Often, the teller can take care of what I need done; for example, I inquired about ordering a debit card, and the teller simply had me sign a form and choose a pin number. When I am referred to the customer service side of the branch, the bankers are knowledgeable and helpful.
The one thing I'm not a big fan of is their website. The front page is cluttered-looking, with lots of small advertisements for the different products offered by American Heritage. These are supposed to be clickable graphics, but some of them don't even link to anything, despite the request to "Click here to learn more." The overabundance of them is also overwhelming and makes the page look sloppy.
The website is easy to use, at least. You just choose a user ID and password, along with a site key, an increasingly common extra security safeguard being used by websites to let the user know the page they are at is legit.
American Heritage's OnLine Teller allows you to check your balance, pay your bills, and transfer between your accounts. It is only possible to transfer funds between your own American Heritage accounts; there is not yet an option to transfer to other financial institutions. Their OnLine Bill Payer is touted as being free, but if you don't use the service for 31 days, you'll get charged a $5 monthly fee.
The hours are decent, with most branches open from 8:00 to 5:00 Monday through Wednesday, 8:00 to 6:00 Thursday, 8:00 to 7:00 Friday, and 9:00 to 3:00 Saturday. These hours are convenient for people who might not be able to get to the bank until after 3:00 or who can only get there on weekends.
Since American Heritage is based in Philadelphia, it stands to reason that most of its 21 offices are located in Philadelphia. There are locations in the surrounding suburban areas, such as Norristown, King of Prussia, Horsham, and Langhorne.
I initially opened an account with American Heritage simply in order to get a roll of quarters (no lie), but I've come to establish a good banking relationship with them. The staff is friendly and eager to help, and the rates and hours are more convenient than those of the big banks. I plan to continue banking here for a long time to come.
This is my second entry in the Let's Talk About Money write-off.