Do credit union members think more positively than non-credit union members do when it comes to the U.S. economy and their personal finances? According to the Discover U.S. Spending Monitor, a monthly consumer survey conducted by banking and payment services giant Discover Financial Services, the answer is yes.
Financial confidence improved among credit union members—more so than among non-members—in the fourth quarter of 2010, says the Discover U.S. Spending Monitor, which surveys more than 8,200 consumers, including an average of 2,500 credit union members.
In January 2012, 10% of credit union members rated the U.S. economy as “good” or “excellent,” while in October 2011, just 5% of credit union members gave the economy the same rating. The percentage of credit union members who rated the U.S. economy as “poor” dropped from 69% in October 2011 to 53% in January 2012, the survey revealed.
The percentage of credit union member survey respondents who say U.S. economic conditions are improving increased from 13% to 34% during the quarter, while the percentage of those who think the economy is getting worse declined from 59% to 42%.
Non-credit union members’ attitudes toward the economy’s improvement showed less of a change, according to the survey: from October 2011 to January 2012, the percentage of non-credit union members who feel the economy is improving increased from 15% to 26%, and those who believe the economy is worsening decreased from 64% to 50%.
Discover also reported an upswing in personal financial confidence among credit union members, with 29% of credit union members stating their personal finances are improving, compared to non-credit union members’ 20%. The percentage of credit union members who rated their personal finances as “good” or “excellent” increased from 32% to 38% during the quarter, while the percentage of non-credit union members who gave their personal finances the same rating increased by less, from 28% to 31%.
“Credit union members are more confident with their financial situations and do a better job than the overall public in managing their finances,” Discover spokesman Matt Towson said when asked for his take on the disparity in confidence between credit union members and non-members.
Dwight Johnston, president of the Claremont, Calif.-based Dwight Johnston Economics and former economist for WesCorp FCU, said he’s not surprised by the results of the Discover U.S. Spending Monitor, particularly because credit unions serve a more financially sound demographic than other financial institutions do. For example, as a whole, credit unions serve an aging demographic, and individuals 65 and older have a higher average net worth than the 35 and younger set does, he said.
“Older people tend to be more financially responsible and are more established in their jobs and careers,” Johnston said. “Although, of course, some of them became disestablished recently.”
Credit unions are also breeding grounds for individuals who put a lot of thought into their finances, he said.
“Even though credit unions are serving an expanding community, they still have their SEGs, like teachers, who tend to be more stable,” Johnston said. “But if you are not a SEG member and you decide to join a credit union, you’re making a decision and you’ve looked at all your options. That automatically puts you in a category of having more financial sense.”
Economist Mike Moebs, CEO for the Lake Bluff, Ill.-based economic research firm Moebs Services, also said the survey’s results make sense given whom credit unions serve. But he emphasizes a different demographic—members of the middle class, whom he believes are “digging themselves out” of economic turmoil.
“Banks go to the rich and the poor, and credit unions go to the middle class,” Moebs said. “So the results aren’t surprising when you take that into consideration. The middle class is saying, ‘I got a job, I’m able to retain it, my home’s price might be down, but I’m digging out.’”
Moebs warns that credit union members’ positive outlook on the economy is not reflective of the credit union community, which he said is years from digging its way out, particularly due to problems within the corporate credit union system. However, some credit unions are succeeding, and that success has rubbed off onto their members, he said.
“The credit union movement is ignoring the 800-pound gorilla in the room, which is the corporates,” Moebs said. “But there are credit unions out there that are in good shape. They’re paying their assessments, cutting expenses and building capital. Their memberships are picking up on what they’re doing. The credit unions are saying, ‘We’re going to be here forever,’ and that reflects onto the behavior of their members.”
The Discover U.S. Spending Monitor also revealed positive behavior related to spending, saving and investing among credit union members. For example, the percentage of credit union members who plan to spend the same or more on discretionary purchases such as dinner out in the coming month increased by four percentage points (46% to 50%), while non-credit union members exhibited a two percentage point increase (45% to 47%).
Discover saw a four percentage point increase in credit union members who plan to save and invest the same or more in the coming month (58% to 62%). The increase for non-credit union members totaled five percentage points, up from 51% to 56%, in the same category and time period.