credit unions

The benefits of a credit union vs. a bank

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Cash access
Cash access | BraunS/E+/Getty Images

Cash access

Pro: Credit unions have shared ATMs and branches.

While big banks advertise the convenience of the ATM or branch around the corner, some credit unions have joined forces to offer their members the same easy cash access with the CO-OP ATM network and a shared branch alliance.

"Credit unions have made large strides in an effort to level the playing field in terms of ATM access," McBride says.

The CO-OP ATM network includes almost 30,000 surcharge-free cash machines, and shared branching gives members the ability to conduct in-person transactions at more than 5,000 branches around the country.

Con: Not all credit unions are created equal.

While sharing branches and ATMs helps many members, joining a credit union does not guarantee you'll enjoy access to the network. Of the nation's 50 largest credit unions, 35 belong to the CO-OP network, Bankrate's credit union survey found.

While many of the remaining credit unions belong to other networks, 3 have no network affiliate at all.

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