WASHINGTON — The credit union industry rewarded members in a big way for their loyalty in 2006.

A record $15.7 billion in dividends were paid to members last year, a 60% increase from the previous year, according to Callahan & Associates, Inc.

Across the country, credit unions also made significant product and service investments to better serve their 87.4 million members. Double-digit growth in real estate and credit card loans, more than 800 additional member service facilities, two million new checking accounts, and 44 million loans on the books at year-end show the impact credit unions are having on members’ lives, Callahan reported.

“These are examples of better member value,” said Chip Filson, president of Callahan. “The year-end results definitely show new momentum.”

Although 2006 savings growth of 4.2% is below historical averages, the rate of growth exceeded 2005′s, according to Callahan. Fourth quarter share growth was the fastest in four years.