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Chequing Accounts: Credit Unions vs. Banks

I still remember my first chequing account. I wasn’t even 10 years old, and my father took me to the local bank to deposit the money my grandparents had given me for my birthday. I wanted to go to summer camp, and my father told me the best place for that money was in a chequing account where it would be safe and sound.

I kept that chequing account for years, but it wasn’t until I was in my 20s I realized the account wasn’t serving my needs. It had morphed from a free student account to a high-fee, low-interest chequing account with a limit on transactions that I frequently exceeded (thus incurring more fees). At that point, I started researching other options for chequing accounts, including options at credit unions. Choosing between a typical bank and a credit union had many advantages and disadvantages. Here’s what I found out, along with some options for chequing accounts if I’d been doing that research today.

Mobile banking

I’m a big fan of doing all of my banking online or on my cell phone, and in this arena, traditional lenders shine. Not only do they offer full-service mobile banking, but several of them offer remote cheque deposit, which is a must-have for me because I get paid weekly, by traditional cheque. With a CIBC chequing account, for example, depositing a physical cheque is as easy as taking a picture of the front and back, typing in the amount, and hitting the submit button.

While nearly all credit unions offer mobile banking services, some of them don’t offer remote cheque deposit. Make sure to double check your local branch’s mobile app to ensure it has all of the functionality you require.


Paying fees for a chequing account is like throwing your money out the window. Fees are a complete waste of money, especially considering the number of financial institutions offering no-fee chequing accounts these days. Not every bank offers a fee-free chequing account and some that do have very restrictive transaction limits. That said, there are certain institutions that do offer true fee-free banking, such as Tangerine and PC Financial.

When it comes to fees, credit unions have the clear lead. Almost every credit union offers some fee-free chequing accounts, and most of them have no transaction limits.

ATM networks
Finally, when considering whether to choose a traditional financial institution over a credit union, it’s important to take into account the proximity of ATMs for cash withdrawals. Personally, I withdraw $200 per week, every week to spend on groceries and entertainment. That means having an ATM close by I can use without incurring withdrawal fees is important.

Most credit unions operate on the Ding Free network, which is a group of about 1,800 ATMs across Canada. With that many ATMs, there’s a good chance of finding one close to you. Most financial institutions will have an ATM near you as well, but it’s always a good idea to research this before choosing where to open your chequing account. You may find your financial institution’s ATM is just slightly too far away, which makes using the high-fee ATM around the corner tempting.

The bottom line

No matter whether you choose a credit union or a traditional financial institution for your chequing account needs, it’s important that you do your research and choose the best option for your current situation. Don’t stick with the chequing account (not a checking account) your parents opened for you as a child out of convenience. If you do, you’ll be losing money to fees every month, and that’s just like throwing money away.

Looking for a chequing account?

Check out our chequing account comparison tool