Credit unions getting another look amid big banks' troubles

Typically, people prefer to put their money in large banks. Most like the extra sense of security and the variety of features and services they offer.

But lately, Mr. Big Bank has taken on the characteristics of a high maintenance relationship: fickle terms, low returns, hefty fees and -- finally -- the meltdown.

So some people have started flirting with the competition. Credit unions in particular are getting a good once-over, and many like what they see.

"We have seen some pretty strong growth this year," said Joe Mecca, a spokesman for Coastal Federal Credit Union in Raleigh.

Coastal Federal has added 13,600 members this year, an 8.5 percent increase, Mecca said. It also has seen a nearly 60 percent increase in new checking accounts; loans are up 20 percent.

"This is all organic growth," Mecca said. "We have not opened any additional branches."

Consumers are starting to realize that credit unions are no longer small entities with few branches and ATMs, he said.

Coastal, for instance, is part of a national ATM network of credit unions with more than 50,000 machines across the country. Many credit unions are also members of the service center network, which gives credit union members access to 3,400 branches nationwide.

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