Credit unions in the United States have traditionally used a state/national trade association relationship that aligns credit unions with state "Credit Union Leagues" followed by national affiliation with the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) of Madison, Wisconsin. Federal credit unions may also be members of the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU).
Establishing an account at a credit union usually requires a smaller deposit than that of a bank; credit unions usually require $5–$30 to open an account, while major banks sometimes require $50–$100 deposit. The required minimum deposit to join a credit union is called a share and establishes the depositor as a member with full ownership rights. Tension has always existed between member-owned cooperative credit unions and for-profit banks in the United States. When credit unions were first organizing in the US in the early 20th century, the banking industry was opposed, remaining so ever since. Banks and bank trade associations consistently put anti-credit union legislation at the top of their agendas. Due to their status as not-for-profit, member-owned financial institutions with no source of secondary investment capital, credit unions in the US are exempt from federal and state income taxes (but not from other forms of tax, such as payroll, sales, or property taxes). Credit union members themselves pay income tax on dividends earned through financial participation in the credit union; this is similar to the taxation structure enjoyed by many banks incorporated under Subchapter S of Chapter 1 of the Internal Revenue
To extend their member service reach, many credit unions participate in shared ATM and branch networks. Most credit unions participate in the CO-OP Network, which allows members of participating credit unions to use nearly 30,000 ATMs without fees or surcharges. Shared branching is a cooperative venture whereby members of one credit union can perform basic transactions at no additional cost at any branch owned by other credit unions within the network. Bank holding companies and their affiliates aggressively compete to provide services to credit unions through their ATMs networks, corporate checking accounts, and certificate of deposit programs. In 2007, the American Bankers Association (ABA) barred credit union employees from attending ABA-sponsored educational seminars. This includes online classes that require registration. Based on the pretext that the ABA only wants to serve its members, the ABA continues to try to weaken credit unions and take back the market share that credit unions currently[when?] hold.
Since 1995, over 30 US credit unions have converted from credit union charters to bank charters. These conversions are generally initiated by a credit union's leadership team, rather than from the rank-and-file membership, and have created sharp controversy within the credit union industry. Some have questioned whether these conversions are in the best interests of the credit union members, and have compared them to the mutual savings bank conversion raids of the 1980s. Like the mutual savings raids, credit union conversions have been very lucrative for executives and directors of converting credit unions. CU Financial, a consulting firm that helps credit union management execute these conversions, has explained in marketing materials that if a credit union with $50 million in capital converts to a stock bank, under certain conditions a payoff in the “$1.2 million range for each director is not out of the question," while executives might also expect additional stock compensation that "could lead to a $10 million plus ownership stake for a capable CEO". Members of at least six credit unions have organized to oppose their management's conversion proposals, objecting that this insider enrichment comes at the detriment of credit union members. They point out that while insiders have made windfall profits, most members have lost their ownership stake without compensation, and face worse rates and fees after the conversion. Comparisons of interest rates show that credit unions that have converted to banks now charge their members more for loans, and pay less for savings. Member groups have included Save Columbia Credit Union, Save First Basin Credit Union, Save Tech CU, and DFCU Owners United. The National Center for Member Trust is a consumer protection non-profit organization "formed to support the member-owners of credit unions that are trying to convert to banks." The Coalition for Credit Union Charter Options is an advocacy group for converting credit unions. UC Berkeley Professor of Financial Institutions James Wilcox is an expert who has released a number of studies on the issue. His findings are summarized in Credit Union Conversions: Ripe for Abuse ... and Reforms, published in the Credit Union Times July 2006.
Since 2002, ICA cooperatives and WOCCU credit unions could be distinguished by use of a .coop domain. In 2014, ICA introduced the Global Cooperative Marque for use by ICA's Cooperative members and by WOCCU's Credit Union members so they can be further identified by their coop ethical consumerism label. The marque is used today by thousands of cooperatives in more than a hundred countries. The .coop domain and Co-operative Marque were designed as a new symbol of the global cooperative movement and its collective identity in the digital age. The domain and coop marque differentiates coop products and e-services offerings of the Movement from all other forms of business, both investor and privately-owned businesses. It specifically recognises its rapidly changing role in society, marked by the emergence of the digital cooperative. The .coop (dot coop) domain and a global Co-operative Marque are open for use within all types of ICA cooperatives and WOCCU credit unions on their products or digital services, in combination with individual cooperative's own labels. The Co-operative Marque and domain is reserved just for co-operatives, credit unions and organisations that support co-operatives; is distinguished by its ethical badge that subscribes to the seven ICA Cooperative Principles and Co-op Values. Co-ops can be identified on the Internet through the use of the .coop suffix of internet addresses. Organizations using .coop domain names must adhere to the basic co-op values.
Labour says that it welcomes the principle behind the changes but it has raised concerns about the implementation of the scheme. Some unions have also spoken out, with the Unite union claiming it creates a division between a "deserving" and an "undeserving poor" - a division that it does not recognise.
The changes started on a very limited basis in April 2013 with new claimants, who are single, who live in a small number of postcode areas in Ashton-under-Lyne in Tameside, Greater Manchester. Trials in three more areas - Oldham, Wigan and Warrington - were due to start at the same time, but were delayed. However, they were completed in April 2014.
The government aims to see universal credit - phased in across England, Scotland and Wales from February 2015 - offered in some way by all job centres in Britain by the spring of 2016.
More claimants will gradually move on to universal credit as and when they have a significant change of circumstances, such as starting a new job or when a child is born.
Then by the end of 2017, the rest of all those eligible in England, Scotland and Wales will be moved on to universal credit, although Mr Duncan Smith has suggested that deadline may be missed.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has also agreed to introduce universal credit.
Is this the only change to the welfare system?
No, there have been a whole host of benefits changes, ranging from a cap on the amount of benefits than can be claimed, to changes in the way housing benefit and disability allowances are calculated.
You can read more about all of these in our in-depth section on benefits and tax credits.