How to Join a Credit Union

Once you find a credit union you’re eligible to join, you can apply for membership online or in person in just a few steps.
Ruth Sarreal
By Ruth Sarreal 
Edited by Yuliya Goldshteyn

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Credit unions offer unique benefits — such as potentially higher interest rates than at traditional banks. While many credit unions offer membership only to certain groups, some credit unions are open to everyone. Becoming a member of a credit union requires applying for membership and meeting a credit union's requirements. Here’s what you need to know about how to join one.

How to join a credit union in 5 steps

The steps for joining a credit union are similar to ones you’d take to open an account at a bank:

1. Consider what you want from a credit union.

Credit unions are as varied as banks. Before joining one, consider what you want out of your experience and choose the institution that's right for you. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you prefer an online-only option or one that offers branches? 

  • Do you need access to ATMs? 

  • Are you looking for high interest rates on deposits, low interest rates on loans, or specialized options such as accounts for kids or teens? 

  • Will you be able to avoid any fees the credit union charges? 

  • Is there a credit union that supports a cause or community you also want to support or are a part of? 

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2. Confirm you meet membership requirements.

Some credit unions require that you live, work or worship in a certain area, or that you be part of certain associations or organizations. A local teachers credit union, for example, may be available only to educators of a particular school district or state. Other credit unions have open membership requirements — meaning anyone can join as long as they meet a requirement such as opening a savings account or making a donation to an affiliated cause or organization.

» Ready to choose? See our picks for the best credit unions

3. Collect your required information and documents.

Once you’ve verified you’re eligible to join the credit union you’ve selected, gather the required things to apply for membership. You’ll need to provide personal information such as:

  • Your name.

  • Date of birth. 

  • Contact information (email address, mailing address and phone number).

  • Drivers license or government-issued ID.

  • Social Security number. 

If you’re joining a credit union that’s exclusive to certain people, you may also need to provide proof that you are eligible for membership: a pay stub or a school transcript, for example, or other documentation.

4. Apply for membership.

Follow the application process. Depending on the credit union, you can do this online or in person at a branch if the credit union has them. Applying for membership can take as little as a few minutes.

5. Make a deposit to your new account.

Once your application is approved and your membership begins, make a deposit into your new account. Note that some accounts require a certain minimum deposit to open or a certain minimum balance to avoid fees.

What to know about joining a credit union

Credit unions are different from banks. Credit unions are not-for-profit financial institutions, and when you join a credit union, you become a shareholder, or owner. In contrast, banks are for-profit businesses that allow customers to have accounts.

» Learn more about credit unions vs. banks

Deposit accounts are called share accounts. At a credit union, deposit accounts are called “share accounts” (and “share certificates” for certificates of deposit) — because as a member, you own a share of the credit union. Thus, your account earnings at a credit union are referred to as “dividends” (the equivalent of interest at a bank).

Credit union membership requirements vary. Many credit unions offer membership only to certain groups (for example, firefighters, teachers or residents of particular regions). Some credit unions are open to anyone who meets an open-to-anyone requirement, such as depositing a few dollars into a new account or joining a particular organization.

Some credit unions offer shared branches and/or a shared network of ATMs. If your credit union participates in shared branching, that means you can complete some of your banking tasks at other credit unions that belong to the same network. If your credit union belongs to a shared network of ATMs, you’ll have access to more ATMs than just your credit union’s branded ones.

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