Finding Help on Campus: Credit Unions
Banks that get kids
Daniel Laakso, a fifth-year senior at Texas A&M University, knows how it feels to be burned on spring break. As a junior, he racked up 10 overdraft transactions--at $31 a pop--on his college checking account while on vacation. When the bank wouldn't repeal more than two of the overdraft fees, Laakso switched his account over to Aggieland Credit Union. "The credit union is a place where they understand you're just a student," says Laakso, adding that Aggieland temporarily turns off his ATM card after just one overdraft.
Credit unions--nonprofit financial institutions owned by their members--can be a good deal for the college set. And in recent years, many college-affiliated credit unions that once limited membership to employees and alumni have thrown open their doors to students, while others have adapted to their needs. Like banks, they provide checking and savings accounts as well as credit cards. But those services are often offered free without requirements that banks tend to tack on, like direct deposit or a minimum balance.
Counsel. Credit unions, which tend to be small and local, can give financially overwhelmed students some crucial hand-holding. First Miami University Student & Alumni Federal Credit Union in Oxford, Ohio, for instance, will teach students how to balance their checkbooks and instruct the debt-ridden in how to boost sagging credit scores.
Many credit unions also offer cheap, hassle-free loans designed for student life. "We have spring-break loans, we can help students finance a computer purchase from the bookstore, and we offer seniors relocation loans that can help them put a down payment on a new apartment," says Willard Hopkins, a manager at First Miami. He offers unsecured loans with 9.9 percent interest--a decent deal for students with little or no credit history. Gregg Baird, the vice president of Aggieland, has helped students get loans for trucks and Aggie rings, necessities for many Texas A&M seniors. Credit unions don't require an adult to cosign for these loans; banks usually do. But as tempting as that seems, save the borrowing for real expenses, not frivolities.
This story appears in the April 18, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.