Keep your money in Maine

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  June 29, 2011

Mitchell points out: So what if Bank of America doesn't feel the loss of your measly paycheck-to-paycheck account? It's a matter of scale, and it's likely that whichever community bank you choose will feel the gain.

The more decentralized the banking system is, it creates a much more healthy banking environment," says Joe Gervais, executive vice president of the University Credit Union and a Portland Buy Local board member.

After all, says Catherine Austin Fitts: "Small banks see their business as helping the local economy. In most [cases] you'll find an awful lot of business knowledge and talent at local banks. It's their business to build wealth locally." In other words, their objective is different from that of Wall Street financiers. "The reality is that if we want honest banking, then we need to support honest bankers."

>> READ: "Do you accept this fee? Maine ATMs pack a wallop on your wallet" by Jeff Inglis <<

Credit union 101: What are they, and what do they do?

You're thinking about making the switch from a big bank to a local one, and you discover that several of your community options are credit unions (Maine's $5.5 billion in deposits makes us a strong credit-union state). What exactly is a credit union? And why would you want to join one?

It's a common question. "One of the challenges," says Joe Gervais, executive vice-president of the University Credit Union, which serves UMaine students, alumni, and employees, "is that people have a hard time understanding how [credit unions] operate."

• Credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives — "members" (i.e., account holders) have ownership rights and can vote on the unpaid board of directors — and because they aren't profit-motivated, their business model is quite different from Wall Street, or even Main Street, banks.

• Because they return profits to members, in general, credit unions offer lower fees, higher deposit rates, and lower loan rates than comparable commercial banks.

• Maine Credit Union League president John Murphy credits the move-your-money philosophy for the fact that state credit unions "have seen a large increase in deposits and savings over the last several years."

• Some worry that what you gain in ethics you might lose in convenience or access to services. As evidence to the contrary, Murphy points to the shared-branch program that allows credit union members to bank at other credit union locations in- and out-of-state, increased online banking capabilities, and the SURF network of more than 200 surcharge-free ATMs around Maine. "You have access to 140 locations in the state and thousands nationwide and you're still not dealing with one of the large banks."

Deirdre Fulton can be reached at  dfulton[a]

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