What is a credit union?
Credit unions are cooperative nonprofit organizations owned by members. Each credit union has a "field of membership" — a location, industry or company that members come from. Credit unions are insured and regulated by the government, just like banks.
Credit unions were first started in Europe in the mid 1800s as a way for farmers and craftspeople to pool their money and help each other save and buy the things they needed.
The credit union "movement" came to the US in 1909, brought by German, French, and Canadian immigrants. From the beginning, credit unions have been about members helping members, encouraging thrift and good spending habits.
From one teacher's pocket to 24 branches.
In 1937, a math teacher at Olympia High School started talking to some other teachers. In those days, it was hard to get a small loan, especially on a teacher's salary.
If you wanted to buy a car or a house, you might get a loan from a bank at 17% or from a loan shark at 36% or more!
This teacher brought together 15 teachers in November 1937. Together, they started Thurston County Teacher Credit Union. The young credit union became a legal business entity on January 3, 1938.
The first loan was for $150 in 1938. Loans were made and paid in cash, sometimes with passed notes in the hallway! But in the first 10 years, there was only one loss: 85 cents in 1948.
The credit union got its first "branch" in 1950: 4 days a week at room 346 at Olympia High School. (We've gone back to our roots with the Bobcat Branch at Aberdeen High School.) In 1972, the first permanent branch opened; it was the only branch until 1980.
By the 80s, credit unions could expand who was eligible to join, but they were also competing with banks and other financial institutions. It got harder for smaller credit unions to help their members, especially those serving communities falling on hard times.
Thurston County Teachers Credit Union began merging with some of those smaller credit unions, starting in Grays Harbor County. The old name didn't fit, and in 1981, we became Twin County Credit Union.
A year later, we merged with a credit union in Centralia, and later with credit unions in Clark and Pierce Counties. Which made our name a little strange: "Twin County" in 5 counties?
In 2006, a new name was unveiled: TwinStar Credit Union. Then, in 2009, TwinStar expanded its field of membership to include all residents in the state of Washington. In 2011, TwinStar Credit Union crossed the Columbia River and took our unique style of banking into Oregon. We now operate branches in Wilsonville and Downtown Portland. And that’s the credit union you own today.
You are the credit union.
That $25 share that you keep in savings? That "share" represents your ownership of the credit union.
Your credit union is run by an all-volunteer, all-member, Board of Directors. You elect those board members. It doesn't matter how much money is in your account, you have one vote.
TwinStar doesn't have any big investors pressuring us to make stock prices and dividends go up. So we don't have to raise fees on every tiny thing.
Instead, we can make sure that you have affordable loans, excellent deposit rates, and great service.
Your phone calls and emails aren't answered in India, but in Lacey. Your car loan and mortgage are approved locally too. You can get to know the people in your branch, and they get to know you.
You live here. So do we.
You may not know this, but banks had to be forced by the government to give back to local communities. Credit unions, on the other hand, have always been close to our members' communities and the causes our members care about.
TwinStar started as a teachers' credit union, so education is pretty special for us. Members can apply for college scholarships or for Classroom Cash. We have an employee who spends hours on the road, teaching financial literacy in classrooms from Renton to Portland, Yelm to Ocean Shores.
You may see the familiar star on fun public events in your town, or smiling faces in TwinStar shirts helping make those events happen as volunteers. We're also quietly helping to improve your communities through local nonprofits with both donations and volunteers.
If you've read this far, then now you know a little more about why credit unions are different. Visit a branch, tell your friends, and enjoy the benefits of your credit union!