Building and loan associations include associations variously called mutual loan associations, homestead aid associations, savings fund and loan associations, co-operative savings and loan associations, co-operative banks, building societies, etc. They have slight variations, but in general they aim to furnish a safe means for the accumulation of savings and an opportunity to borrow money at reasonable rates for the purpose of building homes.

The associations are extremely local in character and without centralization. The members of an association are confined to a community or county, and the social element is an important principle in their success. There were in the United States in 1918 some 7,484 associations, with 4,011,401 members, and assets of $1,898,000,000. Though some of these associations are members of the United States League of Local Building and Loan Associations, they retain their local character and independence. There is a negligible number of national associations which draw their members from the country at large, but they are not very successful.

These societies differ from mutual savings banks among other ways in that they are less paternalistic in origin and support, being founded and run not by philanthropists of the upper class but by members themselves. They are ordinarily founded by some lawyer, merchant, saloon-keeper, teacher, or able workman, from self-interest, or for social or humanitarian motives. The usual officers are a president, board of directors, and a secretary-treasurer. The secretary-treasurer does practically all the work, and he alone receives a salary. A property committee passes upon the security for loans. Most of the states now provide for periodic auditing of, and reports from, such societies.