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Hidden Benefits Gems: The Credit Union

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If you’re tired of your bank merging every six months, or simply looking for a more personalized, local experience, this month’s hidden benefit gem – the Bethlehem Teacher’s Federal Credit Union – could be for you.

What Is A Credit Union?

Although a credit union does a lot of the same things a bank does, they are quite different. A federal credit union is a nonprofit, cooperative financial institution owned and run by its account holders, who are known as members. Credit unions provide their members with a safe place to save and borrow at reasonable rates. Members pool their funds to make loans to one another. The members elect the volunteer board that runs each credit union.

Credit unions originated in Europe, but the first one in the United States was formed in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1909. The Bethlehem Teachers Federal Credit  Union (BTFCU) was founded in 1935 and now has about 5,000 members.

Today, over 10,350 federally insured credit unions with $430 billion in assets serve nearly 78 million people in the US. Credit unions have rated No. 1 in customer satisfaction as financial institutions for 10 years according to the American Banker Newspaper’s annual customer satisfaction survey.

Protected By The NCUA

Bethlehem Teachers Federal Credit Union is governed by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which is a federal government agency. It is the credit union equivalent of commercial banks' Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The NCUA, through its insurance fund (NCUSIF), protects members’ shares up to $250,000 against loss due to the failure of a federally-insured credit union for any reason.

How To Use The Credit Union

BTFCU has one main branch at 2317 Easton Avenue in Bethlehem, but there are many ways you can access your money and the credit union’s services.  The credit union offers an online “virtual branch,” electronic bill paying, online mortgage and other loan applications, a Visa card, weekly visits to Lehigh’s campus, and access to automated teller machines throughout the region and the country.

ATM Access

BTFCU charges its members no fees for the first eight withdrawals per month from Star and Plus machines. However, you may be assessed a service charge by the sponsoring bank at many ATMs. Check for signs on the ATM indicating that surcharges will be assessed. You should be warned about charges when you use the ATM, as well.

You can use many ATMs – including those at most Wawa and Sheetz stores – without incurring a service charge. When you are out of the area, you can also look for the CU$ logo on ATMs. This indicates the ATM is sponsored by a credit union participating in a program that provides no-fee ATM services to members of other participating credit unions such as BTFCU. (A complete list of nationwide CU$ ATMs is available here.)

Great Car Loan Rates

Low car loan rates are a popular feature of credit unions. The BTFCU’s car loan rates currently start as low as 1.99 percent. Rates vary depending on the length of the loan and the applicant’s credit history. Other types of loans available include technology, home equity, personal loans, and mortgages.

How To Join

If you think switching to a credit union might be a good move for you, joining is easy. Just go to here, fill out the form and return it to the credit union to get the ball rolling.

Next month, we have a holiday shopping hidden benefits gem for you.

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Spotlight is published monthly by Human Resources. Please address any comments to Hillary Kwiatek, Spotlight Editor, Human Resources, 428 Brodhead Avenue, send email to hik210@lehigh.edu, or call extension 85165.

Current and past issues of Spotlight can be viewed and searched at: Past Issues.