(BPT) - The banking and credit union worlds are as much the same as they are different. Both are eager to earn your business and to provide you with loans, mortgages, savings and checking accounts. With that said, there are some significant differences between the two financial institutions. In today’s world, with cutthroat competition for your money, it’s worth understanding the advantages of both, and perhaps making a switch to one or the other to put yourself in a better financial position.
Credit union and banks: The differences
The primary difference between a credit union and a bank is that a credit union is a not-for-profit cooperative, meaning it’s owned by its members or customers. Profits made by credit unions are returned back to members in the form of reduced fees, higher savings rates and lower loan rates. A bank, on the other hand, is for-profit, owned by shareholders and focused on its stock value.
Joining a credit union is fairly simple, and membership is inexpensive — typically a one-time fee of between $5 and $25. Depending on where you live, many credit unions serve a geographic area, such as a state or metropolitan area, and are open to anyone who lives in that area. Some credit unions are employer-sponsored, so that anyone (including family members) who works for that organization can join.
There is no membership fee to “join” a bank. All you need to provide is some money to open a checking or savings account, a government-issued ID card, and some personal information (address, Social Security number, etc.).
Credit union advantages
Credit unions, by and large, are able to provide better rates to their members. Unlike a for-profit bank, credit unions return their "profits" to members in the form of lower rates on loans, higher interest on deposits and more personalized services. Other advantages of a credit union are that they tend to have lower fees on checks, withdrawals and electronic transactions, and many offer checking accounts with no minimum balance and without a monthly service charge. Finally, because credit unions are smaller and have a focus on member service, they may be more flexible when it comes to working with someone with financial challenges.
Banks, because of their size and scale, tend to offer more financial products than credit unions. For example, a credit union may have two or three different types of checking and savings accounts, whereas a bank may have dozens to choose from. Depending on where you live, banks will most likely have more locations for convenient access and more advanced online and mobile banking capabilities. Because of their geographic reach and wider range of offerings, a large bank could be a better fit for someone who wants specialized financial products (annuities, trusts) and needs access to nationwide locations.
Credit unions catching up
Depending on where you live, you may have numerous options for selecting a credit union. Some credit unions may have only one location and offer basic financial services like auto loans, checking and savings accounts. Other credit unions may have a large footprint in a market or state and offer the breadth of services you’d find in a bank. Most offer free, nationwide ATM access, and since many credit unions belong to cooperatives, members can access accounts across the country through other credit union branches. Bellco, for example, offers a full range of financial products and services, including mortgages, auto loans and checking accounts. Today, Bellco has more than 300,000 members who benefit from the advantages of a credit union, including lower interest rates on loans, higher yields on savings and access to thousands of ATMs nationwide.
Choosing a bank or credit union
Depending on where you live — urban vs. suburban vs. rural — your banking and credit union options will vary considerably. If you are in an area that offers both, there are several features to weigh and consider:
Services: Compare the basic banking services and access to specialized financial products, including advanced online services and mobile banking.
Rates and incentives: Look at the current rates, fees, and incentives — as well as overall benefits to being a customer or a member of the bank or credit union. Are there good reasons for joining one over the other?
Location: Evaluate options to access your accounts, whether it’s branch locations or ATMs or mobile banking services, and decide whether a national footprint is a requirement for your banking.
Finally, it’s important to note that both banks and credit unions insure your money up to $250,000 per person, across a group of accounts (checking, savings, and CDs would be considered one group). The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insures banks, and credit unions are backed by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).
(BPT) - You’re familiar with the saying “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is”?
Just like any other scheme to “get rich quick,” attempting to buy low and sell high based on intermittent fluctuations in the stock market—also known as “market timing”—is almost always a losing proposition over the long term for the investor. Studies have repeatedly shown that those who attempt to align their investments with short-term fluctuations earn less than those who stay in over the long haul.
“Once again, market fluctuations are messing with average investors’ minds,” says J.D. Roth, author of “Your Money: The Missing Manual” in Entrepreneur. “They panic and sell when prices drop, then fall victim to what Alan Greenspan in 1996 called ‘irrational exuberance’ and buy when prices soar. That's a sure way to lose money.”
The truth is that even the most stellar investment advisor lacks a crystal ball into the future, and can only make recommendations based on historical research, industry guidelines, and experience. Unfortunately, past performance in the stock market is not at all an indicator of future performance.
So what are some better guidelines for investing in the stock market? Consider the following sound strategies, built on the mounds of evidence saying market timing doesn’t work as a long-term strategy:
1. Establish a long-term plan.
Set clear goals and objectives such as funding children’s college educations or investing for your own retirement. An advisor can help you evaluate risks, decide on asset allocation and set benchmarks for success while minimizing risk.
2. Use dollar-cost averaging.
Instead of trading when you think it’s the right time, the principle of dollar-cost averaging (DCA) says to invest a fixed dollar amount at predetermined intervals. The result is that you’ll end up buying fewer shares when prices are high and more shares when prices are low.
The advantage of dollar-cost averaging is that you put your money into the market earlier—increasing the likelihood of price change—rather than holding onto cash until you think prices are low. Regardless of whether you have a flat, positive, or negative price return, if your investments earn dividends, dollar-cost averaging is a useful strategy for earning dividend returns.
3. Ride the market by tracking an index and optimize your costs.
Trying to achieve alpha—i.e., beating the market with price returns—isn’t necessarily the most evidence-based way of getting the highest returns over time, especially looking at your returns net of costs and taxes.
By investing in funds that largely track a market index (index funds), historical results show that the lower fees typical of index funds and the long-term gains often outperform actively managed funds with higher fees. Investors should always focus on what they take home over the long term after fees and taxes. Looking purely at the price return can lead to lower-than-expected results.
4. Be aware of tax implications.
A major reason why investors should lean on professional support in today’s world is so that they can optimize their investments to lower taxes. Specifically, how assets are located within tax-advantaged and taxable accounts can be managed to lower your tax liability. Also, investment losses can be “harvested” via a process called “tax-loss harvesting,” and that’s generally a process many investors cannot do themselves.
Finally, any time you want to reinvest dividends or have reason to switch to a different investment, there are ways to make regular transactions as tax-efficient as possible. The same goes for making your eventual withdrawal. This kind of back-office tax work can have a major impact on how much you, as an investor, keep from your investment, so it’s important to find the right solution—whether that’s a financial advisor or learning to do it yourself.
5. Stay skeptical.
When it comes to outlasting a spike in the market, any investor should be aware of their own biases and behaviors. Pay little attention to financial TV shows and other media reports that hype short-term fluctuations. And be cognizant of the speaker’s motivation. Those who think they have a real get-rich-quick scheme are unlikely to share it with others.
Above all, don’t let uncertainty stop you from investing. If you look back all the way to 1926, keeping your money in cash/cash equivalents has underperformed both bonds and stocks. The key thing is to just get invested.
Betterment optimizes its technology and experience to help you make informed decisions in your investment strategy. Founded in 2008, the company manages $9 billion in assets. Investing in securities involves risks, and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest in securities. Before investing, consider your investment objectives and Betterment’s charges and expenses. Betterment distributed this article through Brandpoint. Visit Betterment.com for more information.
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