How to find a small bank or credit union

When we wrote about sneaky bank practices, a lot of readers wrote in suggesting that fee-weary customers ditch the big bailout-recipient banks in favor of small community banks or credit unions. In fact, many professional personal finance advisers say exactly the same thing, so WalletPop talked to a few of them to get their recommendations and advice for how to go about finding one of these friendlier financial institutions.

First, you'll need to find a place. While finding a bank can be as easy as driving down your local main street or commercial district, finding a credit union can take a little more sleuthing. Since credit unions are membership organizations, you need to find out which ones you are eligible to join, says David Beck, director of policy at Center for Community Self Help, an organization which includes the Self Help Credit Union and the Center for Responsible Lending.

In many cases, this may be as simple as living or working in an area that is home to a particular credit union, but being a current or former member of the military, many trade unions, religious communities and educational institutions may also qualify you for credit union membership.