BEST OF

High APYs and Easy Membership: Best Credit Unions of 2024

Margarette Burnette
By Margarette Burnette 
Edited by Tony Armstrong

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The best credit unions offer the same accounts and services as banks, but often with much better terms. NerdWallet researched some of the country's top institutions — both national and local — to determine our picks.

This year’s best credit unions offer great rates, low fees, a good banking experience and generous perks. Some offer access to a shared network, meaning members can visit and use other credit unions’ branches and ATMs. Our options are easy to join, too.

Best credit unions of 2024

  • Alliant Credit Union.

  • Connexus Credit Union.

  • First Tech Federal Credit Union.

  • PenFed Credit Union.

  • Self-Help Credit Union.

Why you can trust NerdWallet: Our writers and editors follow strict editorial guidelines to ensure fairness and accuracy in our coverage to help you choose the financial accounts that work best for you. See our criteria for evaluating banks and credit unions.

🤓Nerdy Tip

If your federally chartered credit union fails, the National Credit Union Administration keeps your money safe up to $250,000 per person, per institution and per ownership category.

High APYs and Easy Membership: Best Credit Unions

NerdWallet rating 

4.5

/5
Alliant Credit Union
NerdWallet rating 

4.0

/5
Connexus Credit Union
NerdWallet rating 

4.0

/5
First Tech Federal Credit Union
NerdWallet rating 

4.0

/5
PenFed Credit Union
NerdWallet rating 

4.0

/5
Self-Help Credit Union

These credit unions represent some of the best institutions overall, but there may also be local winners in your community. Research if there’s a credit union or bank near you that offers low fees and gives you a good return on your money.

What do credit unions do?

Credit unions are not-for-profit financial institutions that, like banks, offer checking and savings accounts and long-term savings certificates. Some also offer loans and other products.

Can I use both a credit union and a bank?

Yes. There’s no rule that says you can’t keep some money at a credit union and some at a bank. It’s possible to use both services at the same time.

» Ready to be a credit union member? Learn how to join a credit union

What makes a credit union different from a bank? Are the best credit unions better than the best banks?

Although they offer many of the same products, banks and credit unions operate differently. Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions, which often translates to fewer fees and higher savings rates. Banks, meanwhile, tend to offer a greater variety of products and better technology, but usually have more fees and lower savings rates.

Many credit unions were also created to serve certain, specific groups of people, such as employees of specific companies. Some credit unions have expanded their membership requirements, but others are still fairly exclusive. It’s generally easier to join a bank.

Keep in mind that many online banks have higher savings rates than the average credit union. And neither banks nor credit unions are necessarily better; you should compare both to decide which is right for you.

Are online credit union accounts different from in-person credit unions?

Online credit unions generally offer the same products and services as credit unions that have branches. You can typically deposit checks, pay bills, review your transactions and transfer money to your other accounts or to friends and family. If you live close to one of your credit union’s branches, you can get help there, too, but being able to transact online is especially handy if you’re not near one.

Are the best credit unions also the biggest?

Not necessarily. Some of the biggest credit unions have similar advantages to banks, including highly rated mobile apps and wide ranges of financial products. But you might get more personalized service at a small, local credit union. And some credit unions belong to the Co-op network, meaning you can bank at more than 5,000 credit union branches across the country and use more than 30,000 ATMs — that’s a larger ATM network than many banks have.

Don’t count out your local credit union when searching for a financial institution.

What separates the best credit unions from other credit unions?

NerdWallet’s picks for best credit union typically pay high rates on your balances, charge few fees and have easily accessible customer service and relaxed membership requirements. Not all credit unions offer all that. Some have only a small number of branches and ATMs and limited customer service hours, or restrictive membership requirements, for example. That doesn’t necessarily matter; the best credit union for you is one that’s strong in areas that are important to you.

» Need help deciding where to put your money? Learn how to choose a bank or credit union

Is the money in credit union accounts safe?

Yes. Like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which handles banks, the National Credit Union Administration insures customers’ deposits in case a credit union fails. All federally chartered credit unions must carry NCUA insurance. It covers credit union members’ deposit accounts: checking, savings, and money market accounts, as well as share certificates. The NCUA insures up to $250,000 per depositor, per institution, per ownership category. “Ownership category” refers to account types such as single (owned by one person) or joint (owned by two or more people).

How can I find a local credit union?

If you’re in the market for a credit union, and you’d like to be able to visit a branch, check out the NCUA’s credit union locator. Just note that if you’re comfortable with banking online, you can choose one of the top five credit unions mentioned above that have wide eligibility, almost no matter where you live.

How can I join a credit union?

That depends on the credit union. Many credit unions were created by and for certain groups of people, such as employees of a certain company or residents of a certain town — and some are still fairly restrictive. If your job, location, faith community or other group is represented with a credit union, you can apply for membership usually at a branch or online.

Other credit unions require only that you make a small donation (often less than $10) to an affiliated nonprofit to become eligible for membership. You can join these credit unions even if you live far from headquarters.

Do the best credit unions pay more interest than banks?

Credit unions have a reputation for paying more interest than banks, and it’s often well-deserved. According to the most recent data from the National Credit Union Administration, credit unions pay higher average rates on money markets and all surveyed certificate terms.

But it's not hard to find an online bank that pays higher rates on savings and checking than the average credit union.

If you’re comparing your credit union with big, brick-and-mortar banks, the credit union’s rates will probably come out on top. But if you’re comparing it with an online bank, the competition might be tougher.

» Interested in comparing? See NerdWallet's picks for best online banks

Do credit unions build credit?

Individual credit scores come from a mixture of the following: the number of loans or credit card accounts you have, the number of on-time payments you’ve made, the percentage of your overall credit limit that you’re using, the number of hard credit checks that have recently been made for you, the derogatory marks (like bankruptcies or foreclosures) made against you and the age of your credit history.

To this end, you can build your credit by taking out a mortgage, auto loan, student loan, personal loan or credit card with a credit union.

Do credit unions check your credit?

When it comes to getting a loan, a lender will typically pull a credit report on you, whether it’s a bank, a credit union, an online lender or another type of company. But for checking and savings accounts, policies vary. It’s more common for financial institutions to pull up your report through reporting companies such as ChexSystems, which records information such as past bounced checks and overdrafts, and Early Warning Services which collects information on banking activity and history.

The only sure way to find out which reports your credit union pulls when deciding to approve you for membership or products is to ask.

Do credit unions have ATMs?

Yes, credit unions usually have their own ATMs and they often belong to a network of ATMs that customers can use to withdraw and deposit cash. These networks usually provide nationwide access to fee-free services at tens of thousands of ATMs.

Are there any downsides to credit unions?

Membership requirements. Credit unions have membership requirements and sometimes the requirements are too exclusive for the average person, like some military credit unions for example. However, there are cases where a potential customer can do something as easy as make a small donation to a partner charity to gain membership to a credit union.

Limited branches. Many credit unions are limited to local, state or regional areas, which means in-person customer service can be hard to get, especially when traveling. To avoid this limitation, consider a credit union that participates in a shared branch and/or shared ATM network. The Co-op network, for example, offers access to more than 30,000 fee-free ATMs across the U.S., and more than 5,000 branches. 

Might not be as up to date on technology. Some credit unions may be behind the curve with their desktop and smartphone app designs, offering only bare-bone services. Make sure a credit union has the services you want (such as mobile check deposit) before you open an account.

Services may be more limited. Smaller credit unions might not have the variety of services and products that larger banks do, so before you open an account, be sure your credit union has all of your preferred features.

Credit union terms you need to know

Credit unions and banks both have checking accounts and both pay interest on savings accounts, but they might call those products by different names. Here are a few credit union translations.

Dividend: Another word for interest paid by a credit union.

Shared branches: A shared branch network allows members of one credit union to visit branches of another credit union that are within the same network, such as the Co-op Shared Branch network.

Share certificate: Credit unions typically use this term to refer to certificates of deposit.

Share draft account: Another term for a checking account. Some credit unions also call checks “share drafts.”

Last updated on June 12, 2024

Methodology

For this review, we considered the credit unions that we review annually.

We took a close look at the nation’s largest credit unions, based on assets and membership, plus other notable and/or emerging players in the industry. We rated them on criteria including annual percentage yields, minimum balances, fees, digital experience and more.

The credit unions we considered are:

To recap our selections...

NerdWallet's High APYs and Easy Membership: Best Credit Unions of 2024