Congress exempted credit unions from paying federal income taxes during the Depression to encourage their unique mission of serving small groups of consumers of modest means, united by a common bond. Much has changed, however, over the past 80 years. Today, there are more than 304 credit unions that each have assets of more than $1 billion. Most serve anyone who walks in the door — all while paying nothing in federal income taxes.
Here are the three biggest problems with how they work:
Stretching the Common Bond:
Credit unions were founded on a simple concept of common bond, where members all came from the same employer, church, school, or community. That concept is no longer relevant at many of the largest credit unions, where literally anyone can join.
Neglecting Regulation & Oversight:
The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the credit union regulator, is the only agency establishing the criteria that determine the size and scope of the federal income tax exemption as well as whom credit unions can serve. By law, NCUA’s charge is to make the credit union industry stronger, which they’ve decided means they should grow at all costs—no matter the cost to the taxpayer. And clearly, they have consistently allowed large credit unions to expand and swallow up smaller credit unions and banks, break common bond requirements, and stray from their mission.
Leaving People Behind:
Even though credit unions were created to provide credit to the average consumer, data shows they are doing a worse job than ever serving low to moderate income households. These households now make up only one-third of credit unions’ total customer base.