Illustration by Christine Hipp.

When corruption and greed are as widespread as they are today, it is perhaps overly ambitious to hope to actually change the economic system in the United States. But there are alternatives that at least make it possible not to support that system. One of those alternatives, which is growing increasingly popular, is using credit unions instead of big banks.

ABC News recently reported that credit unions are seeing a big surge in membership. Navy Federal, the world’s largest credit union, has seen a threefold increase of new members compared to this time last year.

And it’s easy to see why. Wells Fargo and Bank of America both recently announced that they will be adding new charges for debit and credit accounts, as well as for online services. Some of these charges are even targeted toward people with low account balances, making it clear whose business these banks really value.

Banks exist to make money, hence the extra charges in times of economic crisis, not to mention the incredibly irresponsible lending habits that led to said crisis. Credit unions, on the other hand, are cooperative, meaning that their members own and operate them, and profit is put into enhancing membership experience or improving the surrounding community. Every union is a little different, but most keep charges incredibly low — it’s not uncommon for members to only have to pay a small one-time-only membership fee.

Another reason to consider making the switch to a credit union is that many of them give loans to small, local businesses. Spending locally is on everyone’s minds these days, and if the national economy is borderline unfixable, then why not focus on making Santa Cruz, or wherever you may live, stronger?

Yes, major banks have their advantages. Interest rates can be higher, and being part of a bank that has a branch in every city makes it easier to travel or move around, which is particularly important to college students. But credit unions offer personal attention one cannot find at a large bank, and websites like offer help in finding a credit union that suits your location and lifestyle. Most credit unions also provide “switch packages” with tips on how to leave one’s big bank.

Perhaps the most concrete change Occupy Wall Street has brought is the realization that we are not paralyzed consumers. We have a choice of who can handle our money, and each individual does have power. So what is your choice — handing over your power to a system with a history of greed, or retaining control of your own resources? Switching to a credit union may not seem like much, but if nothing else, it sends a message.