Similar standards. Many banks and large financial institutions have tightened their lending standards in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis. Credit unions, however, have kept their standards relatively steady over the past few years. The only problem is that while many banks were lowering their standards to take advantage of the housing boom, most credit unions kept theirs comparatively high. So though there's plenty of lending going on, risky borrowers will have a more difficult time securing a loan. Still, credit unions are local lenders, so it's worth meeting with a credit union official to discuss your lending options.

Broader memberships. While there are still some credit unions that only work with employees from a particular company or members of a certain congregation, many credit unions are expanding their membership. In many cases, membership eligibility now encompasses all residents in a given county or region, so credit unions are essentially regional entities.

So whether it's for you or your business, the next time your bank or major lender turns you down for a loan, take a second to consider your local credit union. Check out CUNA's search page to find a credit union near you.
Peter McDougall is a freelance writer who lives in Freeport, Maine, with his wife and their dog.

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