So, what exactly are credit unions today? Times have changed since the days of the Friendly Societies and the original Building Societies. Communities are not so localised, and we have a welfare state intended to act as a safety net for those at risk of great hardship. The modern credit unions still maintain the ethos of their predecessors, however. They are local financial cooperatives whose main purpose is to encourage thrift in their members and supply credit to the local community at rates that won’t, if you’ll pardon the phrase, break the bank. One of the principal differences between a credit union and a bank is that a credit union is owned by the people who use it. It has to be able to operate profitably, but it isn’t obliged to pay any interest other than what it distributes in dividends to its members out of any surplus money it makes. Its profits, therefore, are shared with its members and reinvested in the local community, rather than lining the pockets of the already wealthy.