A credit union is a member-owned financial cooperative, controlled by its members and operated on the principle of people helping people, providing its members credit at competitive rates as well as other financial services.
Worldwide, credit union systems vary significantly in terms of total assets and average institution asset size, ranging from volunteer operations with a handful of members to institutions with assets worth several billion U.S. dollars and hundreds of thousands of members. Credit unions operate alongside other mutuals and cooperatives engaging in cooperative banking, such as building societies.
Natural-person credit unions (also called "retail credit unions" or "consumer credit unions") serve individuals, as distinguished from "corporate credit unions", which serve other credit unions.
Credit unions in the US had one-fifth the failure rate of other banks during the financial crisis of 2007–2008 and more than doubled lending to small businesses between 2008 and 2016, from $30 billion to $60 billion, while lending to small businesses overall during the same period declined by around $100 billion. Public trust in credit unions stands at 60%, compared to 30% for big banks. Furthermore, small businesses are eighty percent less likely to be dissatisfied with a credit union than with a big bank.