You may have noticed that Congress has been discussing tax-reform issues lately, and credit unions have been a prominent part of the conversation. Credit unions are tax-exempt, meaning they are immune to federal and most state taxes. But why are they tax-exempt to begin with?
The short answer: Credit unions operate on a cooperative basis, by and for their members. Credit unions are not for profit, do not have capital stock, and function for the mutual purpose of the credit union and each member. This sets credit unions apart from any other financial service out there, most of which operate for a profit and earn their profits for shareholders.
When Congress previously debated this issue in 1998, it found that credit unions should be exempt from taxes “because they are member-owned, democratically operated, not-for-profit organizations, generally managed by a volunteer board of directors, and because they have the specified mission of meeting the credit and savings needs of consumers.”
Many critics argue that credit unions should be taxed because they’re exactly like banks. This just isn’t the case. Credit unions continue to operate for the good of each member, as they always have. What this means for you: When your credit union does well, you do well. You receive the positive benefits of the credit union’s success in the form of lower fees, better interest rates and more. In reality, credit unions couldn’t be more different than banks. When a bank does well, its shareholders profit—you don’t.
So what would happen if credit unions lost their tax exemption? They would be forced to operate more like banks, meaning the high level of customer service you experience with your credit union now would likely suffer. Credit unions would also have to increase rates and fees for their members to offset costs. In a nutshell, you would lose many of the money-saving benefits of being a member.
There is something you can do to help ensure that credit unions maintain their tax-exempt status. Next time you have an extra 10 minutes, you can contact your Congress members to let him or her know how much your credit union’s tax exemption helps you reach and maintain financial soundness. Because when you speak out for your credit union, you’re really speaking out for yourself.