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April 2019
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Membership at US credit unions increased 4.4 percent year-over-year
Monday, April 15, 2019 6:35 AM

Credit union industry at-a-glance (fourth quarter 2018)

Top-level takeaways

  • Membership at U.S. credit unions increased 4.4 percent year-over-year, pushing the industry to 117.5 million members
  • Share draft penetration, a common measure for determining the percentage of members who use the credit union as their primary financial institution, reached 57.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018.
  • The average member relationship increased $542 in 2018.

2018 was a great year for credit unions nationwide. On the back of a strong economy, with GDP up 2.8 percent over the year, and unemployment levels at record lows, credit unions strengthened member relationships and expanded their balance sheets. In the current climate, cooperatives are reporting notable gains in income and loan but are increasingly facing liquidity pressures.


Annual membership growth remained a cornerstone of credit union success in 2018. During the year, 5.1 million people joined a credit union, and industry membership hit 117.5 million by Dec. 31. Annual membership growth increased 26 basis points year-over-year to 4.4 percent as of Dec. 31, 2018. In fact, year-end growth has been faster every year since 2010 as more people choose a member-focused, not-for-profit financial services provider.

The influx of members, however, has not diluted the ability of credit unions to cross-sell products. Penetration rates were up year-over-year across the board. Share draft penetration, often used as a proxy for the percentage of members who use the credit union as their primary financial institution, increased 59 basis points in 2018 to 57.8 percent as of Dec. 31.

In addition to deposits, members also expanded their relationship through loan offerings. Auto (21.2 percent), real estate (4.5 percent), and credit card (17.6 percent) penetration rates all increased in tandem with membership growth, and year-over-year were up 74, 2, and 11 basis points, respectively. Today, credit unions finance more than one in five auto loans nationwide.

Credit unions reported year-end gains in loan and share balances per member. Average loans per member increased from $7,984 in the fourth quarter of 2017 to $8,542 in the fourth quarter of 2018. That’s a 5.9 percent year-over-year increase. The average share balance held by credit union members hit $10,402 — a 0.7 percent annual gain. This growth dynamic is consistent with broader credit union industry trends, where loan balances are increasing at faster rates than share balances.

Financial Overview

The number of active credit unions continued to trend down in 2018. There were 5,492 credit unions operating at the end of 2018; that’s 197 fewer credit unions than one year ago. The year closed with 3,376 federally chartered and 2,116 state-chartered credit unions. Consolidation through mergers and acquisitions is the leading reason for this decline. Since year-end 2013, 1,121 credit unions have been merged into or acquired by another institution.

Despite a drop in numbers, total credit union assets increased 5.4 percent in 2018 to $1.5 trillion as of Dec. 31. Investment and cash balances decreased 4.1 percent annually to $350.6 billion as credit unions increasingly elected to runoff investments to fund loan demand.

Loan balances increased 9.1 percent year-over-year to nearly $1.1 trillion. Although that growth rate was 97 basis points slower than what credit unions reported in 2017, for the first time ever, credit unions have ended the year with aggregate industry loan balances greater than $1 trillion.

Annual deposit growth also slowed in 2018. It was down 69 basis points year-over-year to 5.3 percent. Total share balances surpassed $1.2 trillion in 2018 and have been higher than $1 trillion at year-end since 2015. Still, loan growth has outpaced share growth for the past 23 quarters, and the 85.5 percent loan to-share ratio recorded in the fourth quarter is the highest on record.