Quick: Where do you go when you want to open a checking account or create a savings account? A bank, right? Well, not necessarily.

While heading to your local bank branch is often the norm, there is another option and one that seems to be on more people’s radar lately: The credit union.

While not a new idea, credit unions are places where almost anyone can join. They are described as “not-for-profit financial institutions that provide an alternative to being a customer of a bank.”

 Almost anyone can find a local credit union to join by visiting www.ASmarterChoice.org.

 And while you can find a credit union in just about any city, neighborhood, town or state, it appears that credit union members in San Diego are taking full advantage of being members.

For example, a telling report  breaks down how 958,000 credit union members in San Diego County are spending their money on homes, remodeling projects, new and used automobiles, higher education, surviving life events and other big-ticket items provides a key barometer into what’s happening across the local economy.

 According to the California Credit Union League, in its 1st Quarter Credit Union Trends Report for San Diego County which represents 17 credit unions headquartered across the county, consumers of all ages are making money decisions in the current environment that are consistent with expanding job-growth and economic trends when compared to history:

Continue taking on first-mortgages to purchase or refinance homes. First-mortgages rose 8 percent, hitting a record $6.3 billion. (This may include fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, purchase, traditional refinance, and cash-out refinance mortgages);

  • Are turning home equity into cash for remodeling or other large purchases. Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs) and second-mortgages rose 2 percent, reaching $775 million—an amount showing a reverse trend in this category’s downturn from 2010 – 2014;
  • Have slid into the driver’s seat of a newer car or truck more often. Used auto loans rose 22 percent, hitting a record $2.2 billion. New auto loans rose 37 percent, hitting a record $1.8 billion;
  • Remain true to the habit of paying for life through their credit cards. Credit card lending rose 8 percent, hitting a record $503 million; and
  • Are trying to save more money and increasingly using credit unions to transact purchases/bill-pay. Total deposits rose 9 percent, hitting a record $14.8 billion (including record individual amounts in checking, savings, and money market accounts).

So, the next time you want to open up a savings account to save for a new house, boat, or whatever, or need a checking account for daily purchases, perhaps a credit union might work out well for you.  Many have opted to at least check out a credit union in their neck of the woods, why not you? And we hear the lines are a lot shorter than standing at a local branch to cash a check or make a deposit!