Jan 01 1999

Who Uses Credit Unions?


This report offers a broader look at the demographics of credit union members and non-members. It provides data on the age, income, wealth, education, occupation, race, ethnicity, gender, marital status, and geographic characteristics of heavy, light, and non-users of U .S. credit unions.

Jinkook Lee
PhD, Professor of Consumer Science and Research Associate at the Center for Human Resources Research
Ohio State University
William A. Kelly, Jr.
Center for Credit Union Research
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Report Number 47

Executive Summary

The research findings in this report run counter to two general perceptions about credit unions and statements often made about credit unions: 1) that credit union members are more affluent than bank customers, 2) that people are exclusively members or non-members of credit unions.

Previous comparisons have created misunderstanding about who credit union members are and what their financial status is. Misperceptions can lead to improper public policy and also can lead to wasted marketing resources in credit unions.

What is the research about?

Unlike previous demographic studies of credit union membership, this report goes beyond comparing credit union “members” with “non-members” or comparing “credit union members” with “bank customers.” Simple two-category comparisons like those give an incomplete view of how households use financial institutions. They overlook households that do not use a depository institution at all, and households that use both banks and credit unions. 

To overcome these shortcomings we divided the surveyed households into five categories: (1) Banks only, (2) predominantly bank, (3) predominantly credit union, (4) credit union only, and (5) unbanked. 

What are the credit union implications? 

Findings indicate that using “credit union member” and “non-member” to categorize households with respect to their financial institution affiliation provides a less than complete view of how households use financial institutions. For purposes of member education, marketing, and formulation of public policy, the research cautions against using these categories.