In a recent p’sak, rabbonim have issued a kol korei prohibiting partaking in and borrowing from credit unions, including but not limited to institutions such as Penfed and First Atlantic.
Credit unions are cooperatives that are member-owned. As that is the case, the monies being lent by a credit union are actually being lent by its members. Thus, a Jew taking a loan from a credit union is actually borrowing from its Jewish members with interest, which constitutes the issur chomur of ribbis.
This p’sak is not new. As stated in the kol korei, this p’sak was already issued by Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. With the emergence of credit unions as a popular loan source, it has become necessary for this issue to be revisited.
Although many people are used to the idea that minor shareholdership in public companies, where ownership is limited to voting rights, is not problematic, that is not the case in regard to credit unions. That hetter, as explained in Igros Moshe (Even Ha’ezer 1:7), is based on the fact that such companies are structured in a fashion in which a minor shareholder does not function as a partner owner, nor is the stock bought with such intent. Conversely, in a credit union, each member has an equal vote irrespective of how minor his investment may be. Additionally, the credit union is meant to be member-controlled.
Many have pointed out that there were similar loaning societies in Europe in the 1800s which various Acharonim were matir. However, talmidei chachomim researching this issue have concluded that many of those heteirim do not apply to the current-day credit unions. Additionally, those heteirim were issued because of what was considered a sha’as hadchak (extenuating circumstances) and to be melamed zechus on those who were lenient.
This prohibition includes being a member as well as borrowing with and repaying interest. (The status of a member with no funds deposited may be a gray area, as it seems that a member in such a position cannot vote. More research may be needed on this point from both halachic and legal perspectives.)
Additionally, efforts need to be made to encourage credit unions to have hetter iskas, as well as to explore other possible solutions, such as selling existing loans to non-Jews, which must be researched for halachic viability.