Are Credit Unions an Example of Bad Tax Policy?

by. Ryan Ellis
Credit unions are often cited as an example of bad tax policy. Are they?

This week in Politico, a food fight broke out with banks tossing some volleys at credit unions.  The banks claim that credit unions are the beneficiaries of unfair tax treatment, and that this tax treatment should be eliminated as part of comprehensive tax reform.  Are they correct?

How are credit unions taxed?  Credit unions, unlike banks, are not set up as for-profit entities.  They are organized in specific areas, or for specific workforces, etc. as a type of non-profit.  There are 7000 credit unions with just under 100 million members.  Because they are non-profit, credit unions don’t face entity level taxation.

So does that mean credit unions escape taxation?  No.  Credit unions plow their earnings back as benefits to members. That means credit union members get higher interest paid to them on savings deposits, and lower interest rates quoted to them for mortgages, car loans, and other debt.

In turn, the members end up paying more taxes on the interest received, and lose out on deductions for mortgage interest and business loans compared to their banking neighbors.  The net effect for federal coffers is pretty close to a wash.

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