WASHINGTON (10/5/11)--Consumers upset by the recent spate of news about escalating bank fees on debit cards and checking accounts should take their business to a credit union where fees are lower and service is better, Credit Union National Association (CUNA) President/CEO Bill Cheney said this week. “Consumers do not have to sit still. They should give credit unions a close look and take advantage of credit unions’ emphasis on service over profits, typically with no or lower fees overall,” said Cheney. “When free checking at banks seems to be disappearing, our surveys show eight out of 10 credit unions still offer at least one free checking account with no minimum balance requirement and no maintenance or activity fees,” Cheney added. He noted that CUNA’s website, www.aSmarterChoice.org, can help consumers learn more about credit unions and find one they are eligible to join. “Everybody can join a credit union, just not the same credit union,” Cheney explained. “It’s just a matter of knowing the ones you’re eligible to join and making the move. This is the time. People need a financial institution that put their best interests above its own bottom line.” Cheney’s comments come amid recent news reports that Bank of America and other big banks will begin charging customers new fees on debit cards and checking accounts. The publicity is driving outraged consumers to seek out alternative banking solutions. Credit unions are financial cooperatives owned by their accountholders, rather than outside investors. Because they are member-owned and not-for-profit, credit unions return their excess earnings back to the members they serve, typically through higher rates on savings accounts, lower rates on loans, and by charging lower and fewer fees. Cheney noted that 92 million Americans already belong to the nation’s 7,500 credit unions. Those members, he added, save more than $6.7 billion a year in lower fees and better rates by using credit unions rather than banks, representing an average yearly savings of $75 per person or $142 per family, according to a CUNA survey. Cheney also noted that 80% of credit unions provide free checking, more than 70% of credit unions offer debit/ATM cards, and credit unions provide more than 28,000 surcharge-free ATMs nationwide via the CO OP Network. He also cited independent surveys by Forrester Research and others that have rated credit unions tops in consumer trust and satisfaction.