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City Survey: Greater Los Angeles

the most populous county in the US has an income equality problem

Greater Los Angeles is particularly interesting city to look at when looking for Better Banking Options because of its large geographic size and population. Much of the area’s GDP comes from the film industry, which has fueled the growth of the city since the early 20th century, but recently has become known for manufacturing, as the huge population creates a built-in demand for goods. This has led to Los Angeles being the economic hub of Southern California, and one of several cities considered to be a “world city,” meaning it’s a significant part of the global economic network. LA is racially and culturally diverse, with the Latinx population growing most substantially in the last fifty years and making up 40% of the city’s population. Los Angeles, and California in general, have a reputation for having some of the most progressive and liberal policies, with the city voting majority Democratic in every presidential election since 1988.

However, the liberal ideal of Southern California is far from reality. It’s an extremely expensive place to live, with the housing costs in the area being 140% more than the national average. Large corporations often influence social and economic policy in the area, leading many liberal policies to have backdoor exceptions. Additionally, like many urban areas in this country, diverse populations are deeply affected by segregation, enforced by redlining in the 20th century. This, and other factors, have led to much economic inequality, especially along with racial lines; Black and Mexican households, on average, hold 1% of the wealth that white households in the county hold. While nearly three-fourths of the county’s Latinx population are Mexican, they’re also the group most likely to have little in savings and be unbanked.

For these and many more reasons, Better Banking Options in the greater Los Angeles area should be celebrated and invested in, as economic equality is particularly important to support there. If you’re a progressive person in the county, you should definitely consider making a move with your deposits. Putting your money into one of the options listed below can reduce economic inequality in LA by increasing access to capital for vulnerable populations and neighborhoods.


City First Bank, N.A. is a Black-owned bank with a strong history of community development in minority neighborhoods. Originally local to Washington DC, they were the first bank to ever obtain the CDFI designation in 1999 (a designation they still hold to this day) just one year after formation. They then merged with fellow Black bank Broadway Federal, f.s.b. in 2021. Broadway Federal was founded in Los Angeles to create a path to homeownership for returning Black soldiers after WWII. Their merger with City First formed the largest Black-owned MDI in the country’s history with over one billion in assets. As well as previously mentioned designations, City First is a certified BCorp, and offers both online and mobile banking as well as access to a national ATM network. Although they don’t score particularly well in our search engine metric, this may be because the recent merger messed with lending data or their community development lending is done through their other companies and foundations. Technically owned by Broadway Financial Corp. and headquartered in LA, they have three branches in the greater area under the City First name. We’re recommending them to anyone in Los Angeles wanting to bank Black

California International Bank, N.A. works in the southeastern part of Greater Los Angeles and is an Asian-owned MDI which does significant lending in the area. They’re the second Better Banking Option that comes up when you look up Los Angeles in our search engine. Although they only have one branch in Westminster, they have open eligibility and online and mobile banking options, making their services more accessible. California International’s focus is clearly on providing exceptional service to the local business community, so for those who want to support minority-owned businesses in the region, this bank would be a great choice. Their website mentions bilingual staff, although it’s unclear what language besides English they offer services in.

Self-Help Federal Credit Union is one of the first Better Banking Options we ever featured on this blog, and is the third banking option listed when you look up Los Angeles in our search engine. Founded in 1980, Self-Help Credit Union began by helping cooperatives of farm workers procure local mills as corporations were shutting them down, individuals who had been turned down for loans in conventional financing. Self-Help has continued to grow substantially over the past twenty years through mergers with like-minded institutions that may not have enough capital to continue on their own. Self-Help is technically two credit unions—Self-Help Credit Union, which works primarily in the Deep South, and Self-Help Federal Credit Union, which works mostly in urban areas in the Midwest and West Coast—that work together to extend lending options to underserved populations across the nation. They’re a designated CDFI, as well as being designated an LICU and an MCU. We highly recommend them to those in the Los Angeles area, as they have a strong history of helping underbanked populations in the most capital-deprived neighborhoods, along with mobile and online banking options.

Santa Ana Federal Credit Union is the fifth Better Banking Option that comes up when you plug Los Angeles into our search engine, and we’ve written an article about their work in the past. Despite being in LA, their focus is small, with their only branch located in Santa Ana and them only accepting members who live, work or worship in Santa Ana. This may be because the city is nearly 80% Latinx, with a culture that reflects these demographics. The county seat of Orange County, which is much wealthier and whiter than the county’s center, Santa Ana has struggled in the last decade with gentrification as suburban whites move back into the city. Santa Ana FCU was originally created for city employees, but now their focus is to serve and enrich the Latinx community in the city. They’re a full service credit union with LICU and MCU designations, as well as online and mobile banking options, and all of their services are offered in Spanish. We recommend Santa Ana FCU to anyone in Santa Ana, especially those looking to support Latinx communities and culture in the area.

Orange County’s Credit Union is a pretty average credit union on the surface, but their LICU and CDFI designations point to them being something more. Their website emphasizes providing exceptional banking service to their members at the lowest cost. Orange County’s CU has managed to accomplish this, and in doing so, has become a significant community development lender in the area. Originally chartered in 1938 as a credit union for Orange County government employees, they’ve since absorbed several credit unions in the area to be a rather large credit union with more than $2 billion in assets. They’ve opened their membership to anyone who lives or works in Orange County, Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County, although their ten branches are located in the southeast of the Greater LA area. However, they offer both online and mobile banking, so even those who don’t live near a branch can become a member.

USC Credit Union may seem like a typical university credit union, but they actually provide banking services to anyone who lives or works in Los Angeles or Orange County. This isn’t where the surprises end. They’re also a designated CDFI as well as being an MCU and LICU. Originally founded in 1973 to support the economic goals of the USC staff, they now have nearly 80,000 members in the LA area. Even now, their focus is on providing great financial service and education to their community and pouring their profits back into their members. USC Credit Union has four branches, all of which are located in downtown Los Angeles on university grounds, but they also offer both online and mobile banking if you don’t want to deal with university parking. We’d recommend them to anyone in LA that wants to bank with a CDFI with a truly local mission.

Christian Community Credit Union is a faith-based financial institution with that at the forefront of their operations, and if you’re a practicing Christian in LA, it may be the Better Banking Option for you. They’re the first option that pops up when looking up the city in our search engine, mostly due to their quality lending score. Their focus is on serving their members with Christian values in mind and using their assets to donate to and invest in Christian missions and causes. They also work directly with churches and ministries to help support their work and financial goals. As a larger credit union with nearly $1 billion in assets, they’re part of a network of shared branches which make them accessible to nearly anyone. Their size also allows them to offer competitive rates and both online and mobile banking options. We’d recommend them to Christian California residents who are looking for their banking institution to reflect their values, but also prefer the conveniences of a larger bank.


Now Los Angeles residents have no excuse not to pull your money out of the mega banks and put it in a local Better Banking Option. There are a lot of good banks and credit unions in Greater LA, and if you don’t see one here that works for you, we’d recommend checking out your zip code in our search engine. Los Angeles County is composed of nearly 88 cities and 10.1 million residents, so this list of Better Banking Options may be missing some of the banks and credit unions which have made a difference in the community. Please reach out to us if you know of one we should check out and add to this list.


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