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History of Credit Unions


Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen fathered the credit union idea to help impoverished farmers in Flammersfeld in western Germany who were ruined by drought and indebted to unscrupulous moneylenders. Raiffeisen helped organize over 200 credit cooperatives in Europe.


Alphonse Desjardins, a Canadian parliamentary reporter, studied European credit societies and organized the first North American credit union in Levis, Quebec. It was called a "peoples bank" and began with an initial total membership deposit of $26. The first individual savings deposit was a dime.


Pierre Jay, a Banking Commissioner of Massachusetts who studied Desjardin's work, introduced a bill in Massachusetts to provide incorporation, recognition, and legal standing for small savings and loan associations as financial institutions.

Though Desjardin testified, his testimony as a foreign citizen carried little weight. The bill passed thanks to testimony from Edward Filene, a wealthy Boston merchant who saw credit societies operate in Calcutta, India. Desjardins organized the first U.S. credit union in a church parish, St. Mary's Parish Bank.


In response to a letter written to state governors by President Howard Taft, Wisconsin enacted credit union legislation.


Filene established the Credit Union National Extension Bureau to seek enactment of credit union laws in all states, promote organization of new credit unions, encourage creation of state credit union organizations, and prepare the way for a national association of credit unions.

Filene appointed Roy Bergengren, a Massachusetts attorney, the Bureau's executive secretary.


Wisconsin's first credit unions, Milwaukee Municipal and Milwaukee Federal credit unions, were organized.


At a meeting in the old Wisconsin Hotel in Milwaukee, Bergengren formed a state committee on behalf of the National Credit Union Extension Bureau.


On June 26, the Federal Credit Union Act was passed, making it possible to organize credit unions anywhere in America and its possessions.

In August, America's Credit Unions (then the Credit Union National Association or CUNA) was founded in Estes Park Colorado. On October 6, Bergengren's committee, no longer under the authority of the Bureau, met in Madison. They organized The Wisconsin Credit Union League and elected its first officers, ratified the national constitution of CUNA, and elected two directors to represent Wisconsin on the first CUNA National Board.


Wisconsin credit unions reach $20 million in assets; 51,000 members.


Wisconsin credit unions reach $206 million in assets; 363,000 members.


Credit unions have $1 billion in assets.

The Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF) formed and the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) formed to regulate the fund as well as federally-chartered credit union operations. Governor Patrick Lucey signed a bill in 1972 establishing the Office of Commissioner of Credit Unions, now called the Office of Credit Unions, which regulates state-chartered credit union operation.


The move from a "smokestack" to "service" economy caused massive business failings. Because this threatened the solvency of many credit unions formed around a single employer, the NCUA allowed federally-chartered credit unions to add additional membership groups to their existing fields of membership.

CUNA Credit Union Center opened in 1980 in Madison, housing 1,400 employees and 15 credit union organizations, including CUNA Mutual Insurance Group and the World Council of Credit Unions. Wisconsin credit unions surpassed $2 billion in assets.


$3.6 billion in assets; 1.9 million members.

A case involving field of membership expansion against a North Carolina Credit Union was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court's decision, which claimed that the NCUA erred in the 1980s by allowing field of membership expansion for federally-chartered credit unions, put credit union membership in jeopardy for millions of members and potential members.

Legislators introduced a bill in congress called HR1151 (the Credit Union Membership Access Act), a bill aimed at overturning the court's ruling and preserving people's right to belong to a credit union by preserving rules on field-of-membership expansion.  


More than 70,000 Wisconsinites joined 3 million grassroots supporters of H.R. 1151 nationwide by petitioning, calling, writing, or visiting legislators urging their support of the bill. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 411 to 8, passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 92 to 6, and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on August 7.


Governor Jim Doyle signed AB 2, the financial modernization bill, into law on October 22 allowing state-chartered credit unions to serve more Wisconsin consumers. New authorities granted by the law also make state-chartered credit unions more competitive by putting them more on par with federally-chartered credit unions.

Credit unions can now serve multiple regions and counties, more easily open branch offices, and offer more services. They can also receive "low-income designation", which enables them to serve both members and non-members in areas where consumers may benefit from lower-cost services such as check cashing.

Originated in the Assembly, AB 2 was amended and passed by the state Senate Sept. 30 by a vote of 24-9. The amended version passed the Assembly Oct. 1 by a vote of 65 to 32.  


Credit unions' exemption from federal income tax was again reaffirmed on November 3, 2005, when the Ways & Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives stated their support of credit unions fulfilling their mission of serving members.

Congress first granted credit unions' corporate tax exemption in 1937 because credit unions operate without capital stock and are organized and operated for mutual purposes without profit. The exemption continues today because credit unions still return earnings to members, not to shareholders.

Credit unions' federal income tax exemption has been reaffirmed a number of times, including in 1935, 1936, 1937, 1951 and 1998.

Credit unions are exempt only from federal and state income tax - they pay millions in other property and employment-related taxes.


The League opens Credit Union House in Madison as an advocacy hub representing the interests of Wisconsin's credit union members. 


On the heels of the financial crisis of 2007-2008, The Wisconsin League published the first-ever Scorecard, an annual report detailing the value that Wisconsin credit unions provide to their members and communities. The report was a forerunner to the National Credit Union Foundation's Financial Capability report, which, in 2012, detailed credit unions' value nationwide. Both reports touted credit unions' free financial counseling, free lessons on personal finance issues, partnerships with schools and student-run, in-school branches that teach young people to save.


"Don't Tax My Credit Union" advocacy, conducted in conjunction with leagues, CUNA, and credit unions nationwide, protected credit unions' tax status as part of U.S. House tax reform efforts. The unprecedented collaboration generated 1.3 million website views from 550,000 unique visitors, more than 1 million contacts to Capitol Hill, 3 million exposures on social media and 28 million online ads. The effort captured a Grassroots Innovation Award from the Public Affairs Council.


U.S. credit unions marked their 100 millionth membership. The Wisconsin League's Scorecard touted saving Wisconsin citizens more than $1 billion since the start of the 2007 recession.


Wisconsin credit unions serve 3 million members.


Having successfully advocated for legislation to authorize the use of prize-linked savings accounts in Wisconsin, credit unions statewide launch Saver's Sweepstakes®. The program offers members in Wisconsin and Minnesota chances to win cash prizes for increasing their savings balances. Nationally, credit unions celebrated passage of significant regulatory reforms aimed at fixing the unintended consequences of the Dodd-Frank legislation enacted in 2010.