MILWAUKEE (AP) - Membership in Wisconsin's credit unions is increasing.
According to the state Department of Financial Institutions, there were almost 2.2 million members of state-chartered credit unions at the end of 2010 in Wisconsin. Nationally, membership rose to 91 million in the 12 months ended in March, according to a report this week by the California financial data research firm Market Rates Insight.
Membership has increased about 1 percent over the last year in Wisconsin and nationwide in credit unions, which are not-for-profit cooperatives owned by members instead of shareholders.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that deposits increased about 6 percent to nearly $18 billion at Wisconsin's 220 credit unions in 2010. Nationally deposits climbed about 5 percent to $812 billion in the 12-month period that ended in March.
In the first quarter of 2011, Wisconsin credit union deposits grew to $18.6 billion. Deposits at banks chartered in Wisconsin declined almost 1 percent in 2010 to $116.9 billion.
Credit union membership has been generally limited to people with a common bond, such as an employer or geography.
But Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com, said in recent years those fields of membership have been broadened, often geographically, for many credit unions.
"More consumers now are realizing that they are eligible for credit union membership," McBride said.
McBride said members are also fed up with fees.
Credit unions "offer many consumer benefits relative to their larger banking counterparts, in the form of more competitive rates and lower fees," he said.
But, he said, not all credit unions have better rates and fees than banks.
"Some are more competitive than others. Some have broader product lineups than others. The key take-away for consumers is to shop around, but include credit unions, smaller community banks and online banks in that search," McBride said.
Bankers say credit unions' not-for-profit status gives them an unfair competitive advantage because it means credit unions don't have to pay income taxes.
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