WASHINGTON — A new report finds that credit union lending hit record levels last year thanks to more consumers taking advantage of low loan rates at credit unions and continued improvements in the economy.

According to the fourth-quarter Trendwatch from Callahan & Associates, CUs made $355 billion in loans in 2014, $220 billion of which was centered in auto, credit card and student loans. More than 17% of credit union members hold an auto loan and 16% hold credit cards at their credit unions.

All told, total loan balances rose to more than $721 billion, with credit unions hitting new highs in national share of key lending sectors, including 8.4% of first mortgage originations, 16.3% of auto loans and 5.3% of all credit card balances.

According to Jon Jeffreys, Trendwatch presenter and managing partner at Callahan, while CUs saw positive loan growth in 2013, "it's the acceleration of that momentum carrying into 2014 that has many optimistic about what that can mean for 2015 as well."

Callahan & Associates also noted that some of the industry-wide success last year can be attributed to credit unions surpassing the 100 million member mark, with more than 54 million consumers holding checking accounts at credit unions. That shift toward more usage of CUs as a consumer's primary financial institution, Callahan said, has led to a combined loan and savings account for the average member relationship that has surpassed $16,300.

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