Credit union credit cards are issued by member-owned financial institutions. That can be great news, as nonprofit credit unions help their members save through lower fees and interest rates.
Credit unions can pack a punch too, offering rewards cards that give big banks a run for their money.
We highlighted cards with the best rewards rates in their categories. When contenders were relatively even, we chose cards with additional standout features — benefits one usually wouldn’t expect in similar products.
We’ve introduced the DCU Visa® Platinum Rewards Credit Card to our list this year thanks to its combination of simplicity and low APR. The lack of balance transfer fees lets this card fulfill an interesting niche not covered the year prior.
While the bank-issued PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card is usually the top choice for flat-rate cash back, PenFed's card is very competitive. It offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases. And if you become a PenFed Honors Advantage member — which you can do by opening a free PenFed Access America Checking Account — you'll earn a top-notch 2% total cash back on all purchases. Crucially, the PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card has no annual fee, so you can keep all the cash back you earn.
Annual fee: None.
Signup bonus: $100 statement credit after you spend $1,500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
1.5% cash back on all purchases. You'll earn 2% total cash back on all purchases if you're a PenFed Honors Advantage Member. You can become one by opening a free PenFed Access America Checking Account.
Promo APR: 0% on balance transfers for 12 months. After this APR expires, your ongoing APR will be to 17.99% variable.
14.99% to 17.99% variable
Balance transfer APR
0% intro for the first 12 months (then 17.99% variable)
$100 after spending $1,500 in the first 90 days
2% cash back for all PenFed Honors Advantage members and 1.5% cash back on all purchases
If you have excellent credit and want to carry a balance on your credit card, this product might be a strong choice. You could receive an APR on all balances as low as 7.25% variable. This is an impressive rate, as the average credit card APR is around 17%.
Annual fee: None.
Ongoing APR: As low as 7.25% variable. With excellent credit, you could score a very low APR on purchases and other balances.
If you want more certainty with your interest rate, consider this card. You'll receive a fixed 9.9% APR on purchases and balance transfers — an excellent deal.
Annual fee: None.
Ongoing APR: 9.9% fixed. If you want to know for sure which APR you'll get on purchases and balance transfers, Cencap Federal Credit Union Visa credit card's card is a great choice. This is a low APR compared to the average credit card APR of around 17%.
Rewards are uncommon among secured credit cards, and that's why the SDFCU Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card stands out. You'll earn 1x Flexpoints on all purchases, which you can later redeem for travel, events, merchandise, gift cards, charitable donations and more.You'll also enjoy a relatively low APR on all balances. While it's always a good idea to pay your balance in full each month, a lower interest rate can be helpful in a pinch.
Annual fee: None.
Flexpoints: Earn 1x points on all purchases. Rarely will you find a secured card with rewards. Earning 1x points isn't spectacular, but it's better than you'll get with most secured cards.
Ongoing APR: 11.99% variable on all balances. This is a relatively low APR, even though it's highly recommended to pay off your balance in full each month.
While the DCU Visa® Platinum Rewards Credit Card doesn't come with an intro period on balance transfers, it doesn't charge a fee on your balance transfers. Combined with this card's potentially low ongoing APR, you've got a solid card for reducing your interest from other accounts.
No annual fee. You won't pay an annual fee to use this card.
Low APR. Your APR can range from as low as 11.25% to 18% variable depending on your credit score.
Few fees. In addition to no balance transfer fees, you won't be charged foreign transaction fees and cash advance fees.
11.25% to 18% variable
Balance transfer APR
11.25% to 18% variable
1x points on all purchases
How to choose the best credit union credit cards
Consider the following factors to find the right credit union for you:
Does the credit union have a nearby branch? It can help to visit a credit union in person when setting up an account. If you don’t have a particular union nearby, you might want to look at your other options.
What sort of credit card do you need? Many credit unions offer the card categories you’d expect of a bank. However, your available options within each category may prove more limited than the bigger name banks out there.
Do you want to perform a balance transfer? Some credit union credit cards don’t offer balance transfers. The cards that do provide this service are less likely to have a 0% interest rate during the introductory period when compared to cards from banks. However, credit union credit cards usually have a lower ongoing interest rate than typical credit cards.
What rewards do you want? Credit unions offer fewer rewards credit cards than banks. You’ll still find a few options that offer points for purchases made on your account, though.
These cards are issued by credit unions instead of banks. They tend to have lower fees and interest rates than cards issued by larger financial institutions.
To get a credit union credit card, you need to become a member of the credit union, which usually involves a fee of around $5 to $25. You may also need to open a savings account before or during your application.
Can you apply for a credit union credit card without being a member?
Typically, you can apply for a credit union credit card even if you’re not a member. If you’re approved, however, you’ll need to become a member.
You’ll find different eligibility criteria for membership in credit unions. For example, you may need to work under a certain employer, live in a certain area, be a family member of a current member or have a certain occupation. Some credit unions let anyone become a member as long as they join certain nonprofit organizations.
To join a credit union, you may need to pay a small fee of $10 or less.
What is a credit union?
A credit union is a financial institution that’s owned by its members. It’s a nonprofit, serving its members rather than seeking to generate profit for shareholders. This is why you’ll often find higher savings when using a credit union.
Once you’re a member, you’ll also have the opportunity to influence how the credit union is run. For example, you may be able to vote at annual general meetings or provide feedback that influences the features of different products.
Benefits and disadvantages of credit union credit cards
Competitive ongoing interest rates.
Lower annual fees.
Same interest rate for purchases and cash advances.
You have to meet membership eligibility requirements.
Limited reward options.
Limited balance transfer options.
Less competitive introductory offers.
Why join a credit union?
Besides benefits such as lower interest rates, consumers often flock to credit unions for additional reasons, including:
Community. As well as being focused on benefitting members, credit unions usually have a community focus. For example, they may provide funding for local groups and schools, and encourage arts and performance to strengthen bonds.
Limited membership. Some credit unions also limit membership to people in specific industries. For example, Teachers Mutual Bank primarily offers membership to retired and current teachers, university students studying to become teachers and other employees in the education sector.
Banking differently. As a result of these credit union features, people often pay as much attention to a credit union’s philosophy as they do to specific products and features. This level of involvement means credit unions often suit people who want to completely change the way they bank.
Special rewards. Credit unions may bump up credit card rewards exclusively for members and those with certain accounts. With the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card, for example, you’ll earn 4x points on travel purchases if you’re a PenFed Honors Advantage member. Most other cardholders earn 3x points on travel.
What’s right for me? Credit unions or banks?
Whether you go with a credit union or bank for your credit needs ultimately depends on your financial situation. Compare the options to determine which is right for you.
Provides better member experiences and improves members’ financial situations with quality products and suitable advice.
Maximize profits for their shareholders, so they can attract more investors.
Goes back into the system to provide its members with competitive rates and offerings.
Goes to its shareholders. The bank might invest some of it in different kinds of financial products.
Credit unions offer Mastercard and Visa credit cards, both of which provide secure payment systems and protection against fraudulent electronic transactions.
Banks offer the same security measures.
Credit unions provide credit cards linked to a limited amount of major rewards programs.
Banks offer a range of rewards credit cards as well.
As a member, you have a say on how the credit union is run.
Banks also offer added features through their credit cards, but you might have to pay higher annual fees in this case.
Compare credit union credit cards
Want a better idea at what credit union cards are available to you? Select your credit score below and click “Show cards” to start comparing them side-by-side.
This depends on the credit union you wish to deal with You can find a number of credit unions that accept online applications for credit cards.
The eligibility criteria for credit cards can vary, but generally includes the following:
At least 18 years old
A permanent US citizen
Have a good credit history
Meet the membership requirements of the credit union
For specific information on application requirements, refer to the product page of any credit union credit card you’re interested in. You may also want to visit a specific credit union’s website for more details.
Most credit unions have small branch networks in comparison to banks. But some may allow you to bank in partner branches, or offer other services. Refer to individual credit union websites for details of their branch networks and access options.
Yes. Credit unions are accountable under the same regulations and laws as banks in the US.
Kevin Joey Chen is a credit cards, banking and investments writer whose work and analysis have appeared on CNN, U.S. News & World Report, Business.com, Lifehacker and CreditCards.com. He's passionate about helping you get your finances in order by expertly navigating cutting-edge financial tools — including credit cards, apps and budgeting software.
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