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Guide to Depository Institutions

By Jacqueline DeMarco · July 20, 2022 · 7 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Guide to Depository Institutions

There are a lot of financial terms that are important to understand when managing one’s money. Knowing banking vocabulary can boost our financial savviness, smooth the learning curve, and ease transactions.

For example, what are depositories? A depository institution, to put it most simply, is a financial institution into which consumers can deposit funds and where they will be safely held.

Keep reading for more insight into what depository institutions are, including:

•   What is a depository institution?

•   How do depository institutions work?

•   What are the pros and cons of depository institutions?

•   What are depositories vs. repositories?

•   What are depositories vs. non-depositories?

What Is a Depository Institution?

A depository institution is a place or entity — such as a bank — that allows consumers and businesses to deposit money, securities, and/or other types of assets. There, the deposit is kept safely and may earn interest.

To share a bit more detail, depository institutions are financial institutions that:

•   Engage in banking activities

•   Are recognized as a bank by either the bank supervisory or monetary authorities of the country it is incorporated in

•   Receive substantial deposits as a part of their regular course of business

•   Can accept demand deposits

In the U.S., all federally insured offices of the following are considered to be depository institutions:

•   Commercial banks

•   Mutual and stock savings banks

•   Savings or building and loan associations

•   Cooperative banks

•   Credit unions

•   International banking facilities of domestic depository institutions

Recommended: What Is a Community Development Financial Institution?

How Do Depository Institutions Work?

A depository can receive funds from consumers and businesses via such means as:

•   Cash

•   Direct deposit

•   Teller or ATM deposits

•   Checks

•   Electronic transfers

The depository institution holds these funds, and they are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) for up to $250,000 per depositor, per type of account, per financial institution. If the institution is a credit union, funds will be similarly protected by the National Credit Union Administration, or NCUA.

Funds are accessible on demand (aka demand deposits rather than time deposits), and the depository institution is required to keep a certain amount of cash in its vault to ensure it has funds available for clients.

Customers are able to earn interest on different types of deposits. The depository institution also earns interest; it’s one of the ways financial institutions make money. It does so by lending money on deposit to their customers in the form of different types of loans. (For instance, some of the money on deposit might earn the account holder 1% interest, while the bank then uses the funds for a mortgage that charges 5% interest. There’s a good profit margin there for the depository institution.)

Types of Depository Institutions

What are depositories? To better understand the purpose depository institutions serve, let’s look at some examples.

Credit Unions

Credit unions may offer many of the same services as banks, but they are owned by account holders, who are also sometimes called members. These institutions are not non-profits. The profits that the credit union earns are paid to members in the form of dividends or are reinvested into the credit union. To put it another way, the depositors are partial owners of the credit union.

Commercial Banks

Commercial banks are what many of us visualize when we hear the term “bank,” whether we are thinking of a major bank with hundreds of bricks-and-mortar branches or an online-only entity. They are usually owned by private investors and are for-profit organizations.

Commercial banks tend to offer the most diverse services of all depository institutions, from personal banking to global banking services such as foreign exchange-related services, money management, and investment banking. The offerings may depend on how large the institution is and which customer segments it serves (say, consumers and different types of businesses).

Savings Institutions

Savings institutions are the banks that serve local communities and loan institutions. Local residents deposit their money in these institutions, and in return, they can access credit cards, consumer loans, mortgages, and small business loans.

It’s possible to set up a savings institution as a corporation or as a financial cooperative. The latter makes it possible for depositors to have an ownership share in the saving institution.

Recommended: What Is an Intermediary Bank?

Depository Institutions vs Repositories

Repositories and depositories are two different things despite the fact that their names sound almost the same. Here’s some of the key differences.

•   Depositories hold cash and other assets, but repositories hold abstract things such as intellectual knowledge, files, and data.

•   Depositories are usually credit unions, banks, and savings institutions, while repositories are typically libraries, data-storage facilities, and information-based websites.

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Depository Institutions vs Non-Depositories

Unlike depository institutions, non-depository institutions don’t accept demand deposits. These are some of the differences between these two types of institutions:

•   Depository institutions accept deposits and store them for safekeeping. Non-depository institutions, on the other hand, provide financial services but can’t accept demand deposits for safekeeping.

•   Depository institutions are FDIC- or NCUA-insured, while non-depository institutions can be SEC-insured or have another type of insurance.

•   Credit unions and banks are commonly depository institutions. Non-depository institutions are often brokerage firms and insurance companies.

Pros of Depository Institutions

Depository institutions have a few benefits to note:

•   Money is safe and FDIC- or NCUA-insured

•   Accounts can earn interest on time deposits such as certificates of deposit (CDs) and possibly other deposits

•   Helps keep the economy healthy by allowing depository institution to lend out deposits and earn interest

•   Reduced risk of assets being lost or stolen

Cons of Depository Institutions

There are a few downsides to depository institutions. Consider these points:

•   Limited growth potential of deposited funds compared to investments, money market accounts, and CDs

•   Banks, credit unions, and savings institutions may charge fees for holding funds

•   Minimum account balance may be required

Tips for Choosing a Depository Institution

When it comes time to choose a depository institution, it can help to keep the following things in mind when comparing different options.

•   Type. Carefully consider if a credit union, saving institution, or commercial bank is the right fit. Some commercial banks have bricks-and-mortar locations, while others offer all of their services online. Online banks usually pay higher interest rates on savings and charge fewer and/or lower fees, since they don’t have the overhead associated with operating branch locations. Credit unions also tend to offer higher interest rates and lower fees as they are not-for-profit as commercial banks are.

•   Features. Look for a depository institution that offers perks and services that suit your needs. Special features may include high interest rates, early access to direct-deposit paychecks, cash-back deals, fee-free ATMs, and free access to credit scores.

•   Fees. Shop around to see which depository institution has the lowest and/or fewest fees, such as account maintenance fees and overdraft fees. As noted above, credit unions tend to charge lower and/or fewer fees than commercial banks, as do online banks.

•   Convenience. If you like to bank locally and know your bank tellers and officers, choosing an institution that has branches in your neighborhood is a wise move. If you prefer the seamlessness of banking 24/7 by app, however, you might opt to open an online savings account.

💡 Recommended: What Is an Online Savings Account?

Banking With SoFi

Commercial banks, credit unions, and savings institutions are all examples of depository institutions. Depository institutions safely store funds that can then easily be accessed. Funds will be insured by either the FDIC or NCUA up to their usual limits of $250,000 per depositor, per account type, per institution.

Looking for a place to deposit your money that pays a great APY? Consider opening a SoFi bank account online with direct deposit. With our Checking and Savings, you’ll earn a competitive APY, and you don’t have to pay any account fees.

Better banking is here with up to 4.00% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.


What is the difference between a bank and a depository?

There is no difference between a bank and a depository. A bank is a type of depository institution. Credit unions and saving institutions can also be depositories.

What are the types of depository institutions?

There are three main types of depository institutions. Commercial banks, credit unions, and savings institutions are all types of depository institutions.

Are commercial banks depositories?

Yes, commercial banks are one kind of depository institution where consumers can securely stash their money.

Photo credit: iStock/Mikhail Bogdanov
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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