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Best credit unions
We researched 30+ credit unions to bring you the five best for savings, CDs, rewards and more.
For our research, we independently analyzed over 30 credit unions to find those with nationwide availability, relatively lenient membership requirements and the ability to open most accounts online. Then, we dug into the details to figure out which credit union was best for a specific need — whether that’s savings, small business banking, military benefits, rewards and more.
Closer look at the best credit unions
Take a closer look at the five best credit unions by exploring their pros and cons.
Consumers Credit Union: Best for rewardsConsumers Credit Union has landed on several of our best lists thanks to its Rewards Checking account. You earn up to 4.09% APY on balances up to $10,000, which is unheard of considering most bank accounts only earn around 0.5%.
- Low opening deposits. Most Consumers Credit Union accounts have a low $5 opening deposit.
- Lenient membership requirements. Anyone can join Consumers Credit Union when you pay a one-time $5 membership fee.
- Large ATM and branch network. Use over 30,000 CO-OP ATMs nationwide and visit more than 5,000 branches for in-person support.
- Conditions for APYs. You’ll need to make a minimum of 12 debit card purchases totaling at least $100, set up monthly deposits and receive e-statements to start earning interest on its Rewards Checking account.
- Low APYs on other products. Consumers Credit Union has unusually high interest rates for its Rewards Checking and Smart Saver accounts, but other products have rates that are less than appealing.
Pen Air Federal Credit Union: Best for CD ratesPen Air Federal Credit Union has landed on several of our best CD rates lists, including those for best 3-month CDs, 6-month CDs and best 5-year CDs. With low opening deposits and APYs that range from 0.2% to 0.99%, it’s easy to see why.
- Free interest withdrawals. Unlike most CDs at other financial institutions, you can withdraw your earned interest at any time — you’re not required to wait until your CD matures!
- Low opening deposit. Most CDs have minimum $1,000 deposits, but Pen Air lets you open most with just $500.
- No membership fees. To join Pen Air, you’ll need to become a member of the Friends of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society — but Pen Air will pay the fee for you.
- Mandatory savings account. If you’re not currently a Pen Air member, you’ll need to open a Pen Air Savings account when you open your CD. It’s a membership requirement.
- Limited customer service. Most credit unions offer live chat as a customer service option, but Pen Air doesn’t. You’ll have to call 850-505-3200 or visit a local branch for help.
DCU: Best for savings
Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU) helps its members supercharge their savings with its DCU Primary Savings Account. You earn 6.17% on the first $1,000 in your account and 0.25% on the remaining balance. If you keep $2,000 in your account, you’ll earn $65.98 back in interest in one year.
- Plenty of account options. DCU has a range of free personal and business checking accounts, savings accounts, money market accounts and CDs — all with competitive rates.
- ATM cards. Most savings accounts don’t come with ATM cards, but DCU’s accounts do. You can use it to withdraw cash for free at any CO-OP ATM.
- Lenient membership requirements. Anyone can join DCU when you make a $10 donation to its partner charity, Reach Out For Schools.
- Limited branches. DCU is primarily located in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, so you won’t find bank branches outside of this area.
- Some APY requirements. The DCU Money Market account, for example, has a $0 deposit to open, but you’ll need to keep at least $1,000 in your account to start earning interest.
Navy Federal Credit Union: Best for militaryNavy Federal Credit Union is the most popular credit union for military service members and their families. They offer plenty of resources for navigating deployment, relocation, separation and more.
- Low monthly fees. Most of Navy Federal Credit Union’s checking and savings accounts are free to open and maintain.
- Plenty of options. You’ll find no shortage of bank account options here. Navy Federal Credit Union offers everything from checking, savings and money market accounts to trusts, IRAs and loans.
- Membership perks. Members earn rewards when they shop at select retailers and get discounts for Geico, Enterprise, Herz, RealtyPlus and more.
- Limited eligibility. Membership eligibility is limited to military service members and their families.
- Improper debt collection. In 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered Navy Federal Credit Union to pay $28.5 million for debt collection misconduct.
Alliant Credit Union: Best overallAlliant Credit Union takes the cake for the overall best credit union thanks to its consistently competitive interest rates, low fees, large ATM network and lenient membership requirements.
- Solid APYs. All of Alliant’s checking and savings accounts earn interest, and all have rates that consistently rank among the top in their respective categories.
- Large ATM network. As a member, you’ll get free access to over 80,000 ATMs across the nation, plus $20 in reimbursements a month for non-network withdrawals.
- Lenient membership requirements. Anyone can join Alliant Credit Union when you make a $5 donation to its partner charity, Foster Care for Success. In most cases, Alliant will even pay this donation for you.
- Few branches. Alliant Credit Union is one of the few credit unions that operates almost entirely online. There are only two branch locations, so it’s not ideal if you’re hoping for in-person support.
- No short-term CDs. Most financial institutions have CD terms that range from six months to six years, but Alliant doesn’t offer any terms shorter than 12 months.
5 factors to consider when choosing the best credit union
Consider these five factors when selecting the best credit union for you.
- Membership requirements. Most credit unions are only open to those who live or work in select cities or states or are employed by certain companies or organizations. But some, like Alliant Credit Union, let anyone join when you donate to a partner charity.
- Fees. Some smaller credit unions may charge fees for most accounts and waive them when you meet certain balance requirements. Others with a more national presence may have no monthly fees at all.
- Interest rates. Rates vary greatly from credit union to credit union. Some smaller credit unions act more like traditional banks and have APYs that hover around 0.05%. Others mimic online banks and have some of the top rates in the nation. You’ll notice most call their interest rates “dividends” — but they mean the same thing.
- ATM access. Credit unions are typically regional and only have a handful of ATMs, which can make it difficult to withdraw money if you’re traveling outside of the area. Institutions that want their members to have broader access to free ATMs typically join the CO-OP network, which has over 30,000 ATMs spread across 50 states and 10 countries.
- Other perks. Credit unions are notorious for offering extra perks to their members like discounts on travel and shopping, free financial education and more.
Are credit unions safe?
Yes. Much like FDIC deposit insurance at banks, deposits at credit unions are insured up to $250,000 by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). Also, federally chartered credit unions are regulated by the National Credit Union Administration, whereas state-chartered credit unions are regulated at the state level.
Pros and cons to credit unions
Credit unions have these benefits and drawbacks.
- Better customer service. Credit unions are known for having superior customer service because they operate as nonprofits and are owned by you, its members.
- Better terms. Credit unions typically have higher interest rates and lower fees than traditional banks.
- Local branches. If you like to visit a local branch to withdraw money and deposit checks, a credit union may give you the personalized experience you’re looking for.
- Membership requirements. You typically need to live in a certain area or belong to a certain organization to be eligible for membership. But there are a few credit unions, such as those on our list, that have looser requirements.
- Fewer bank accounts. Smaller credit unions may not offer high-yield savings accounts, business bank accounts or other products. Make sure the credit union has all the banking products you need before opening a new account.
- Older technology. Credit unions are known for being behind the times when it comes to technology. Make sure the one you choose has a mobile app that lets you deposit checks, transfer money and locate the nearest ATM.
What is a credit union?
Credit unions are nonprofit institutions known for offering higher interest rates on their products than other for-profit banks. Historically, credit unions were set up to help workers access banking services and products without high rates and fees typically associated with traditional banks.
Unlike banks, customers at credit unions are considered members who are also part-owners of the credit union. As such, members can take part in decision-making processes like voting for the board of directors.
3 alternatives to a credit union
A credit union is best for anyone who wants a more personalized, community-driven banking experience. You may have to deal with slower technology and fewer products, but you’ll often experience better customer service. If those qualities aren’t at the top of your list, here are three alternatives to consider.
- Traditional bank. The closest match to a credit union is a traditional bank. You’ll find plenty of branch locations, but watch out for low interest rates and high fees.
- Online bank. If you don’t regularly deposit cash, consider an online bank. They have lower overhead costs, which means you’ll find competitive APYs and low fees, helping you keep more money in your pocket.
- Digital bank. If you want to keep all your banking needs digitally, look at digital banks. They’re breaking the entire banking mold by offering early direct deposits and tech-forward mobile apps that help you budget and automate your savings.
If you’re looking for a more personalized banking experience, a credit union may be just the ticket. Most offer products with competitive rates and minimal fees, allowing you to grow your savings and reach your financial goals faster. But watch out for eligibility requirements, which could be strict depending on where you look.
Before deciding, compare your options with our guide to bank accounts.
Compare credit union accounts
Use this table to compare checking accounts from credit unions.
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