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NerdWallet’s Best Credit Unions of 2016

Banking, Banks & Credit Unions
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Whether you’re chasing higher rates on deposits or just looking to move away from traditional banks, there’s probably a credit union out there for you. Here are some of NerdWallet’s top picks.

Easiest to join

To be eligible for membership in many credit unions, you must live or work in a particular region or have a certain employer. Some, though, have requirements that make it easier for more consumers to qualify, such as donating to a charity. Here are three:

Alliant Credit Union

To join Alliant Credit Union, you need only to donate $10 to the nonprofit Foster Care to Success, an organization that supports foster children. You’re also eligible if you live or work in a community near the credit union’s Chicago headquarters or are an employee with a partner organization.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union

Pentagon FCU operates roughly 30 branches in and around military bases, both in the U.S. and abroad. And even though it serves millions of service members, you can join as a civilian by donating to one of two affiliated nonprofits.

The credit union offers especially strong rates on its money market certificates, which operate like CDs. A 1-year certificate earns an impressive APY of 1.11%. Pentagon FCU also gets high marks for its online tools and mobile apps.

Connexus Credit union

To become eligible at Connexus Credit Union, you can join the nonprofit Connexus Association, which has donated more than $150,000 to organizations such as the United Way and Big Brothers Big Sisters. The catch? To join the association, you pay … $5. One time.

Once in, you can take advantage of low-cost checking and savings products and loans that have favorable rates compared with the fees many banks charge.

 

Best checking accounts

Connexus Xtraordinary Checking

The Connexus Xtraordinary Checking account is indeed that, earning a 1.75% APY on balances up to $25,000. To qualify for the high rate each month, you’ll need to schedule at least one direct deposit and one bill payment, sign up for (free) e-statements and make at least 15 debit card transactions.

Checking accounts are technically called “share draft” accounts at credit unions, but they work just like checking accounts at traditional banks. Still, the high yield your money can earn sets this credit union apart from other institutions.

Alliant High Rate Checking

Alliant’s High Rate Checking account earns a 0.65% APY. There is no monthly fee and no minimum balance requirement, and you can receive ATM reimbursements up to $20 a month for out-of-network ATMs.

And technology lovers take note: Alliant is also NerdWallet’s pick for best mobile experience among credit unions.

Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking

Consumers Credit Union offers a checking account that has an exceptional APY of at least 3.09%, provided you meet certain spending, account balance and other requirements. With still more benchmarks met, the APY can get up to 4.59%.

This is another one that’s easy to join too. Become a member of the affiliated Consumers Cooperative Association for a one-time $5 fee, and you’re eligible to join Consumers Credit Union and open an account.

 

Best high-yield savings accounts

Alliant High-Rate Savings

Among credit unions without a strong geographical requirement for membership, Alliant’s High-Rate Savings offers one of the top returns on a savings account (known as “regular share” accounts at credit unions). The APY is 1.00% on balances above $100.

State Employees’ Credit Union Share Account

State Employees’ Credit Union of North Carolina is one of the country’s largest credit unions, with more than 2 million members. And SECU’s Share Account has one of the highest rates, a 0.75% APY. You can open an account for as little as $25, and that’s also the minimum to avoid a $1 monthly service charge.

Membership is limited to North Carolina state and county employees or their immediate families. But if you qualify, SECU offers a low-cost account with a very attractive rate.

 

Best for military personnel

Security Service Federal Credit Union

Security Service FCU has about 70 branches near military bases in Texas, Colorado and Utah. But the biggest location advantage is that the credit union participates in the 5,000-branch CO-OP Network. Across the country, there’s a good chance you’ll find a partner credit union where you can do business using your Security Service accounts.

You can join if you’re a member of a military unit that’s within a Security Service FCU geographic area, or if you or a family member lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school within the area.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union

Pentagon FCU serves over 1.4 million members across the country and on military bases in Guam, Puerto Rico and Okinawa. Its checking, savings and certificate products generally offer low fees and competitive rates, and Pen Fed consistently receives high marks for its mobile banking tools.

Civilians also are eligible to become members if they join the nonprofit Voices for America’s Troops ($14 donation) or National Military Family Association ($15 donation).

Andrews Federal Credit Union

Andrews FCU, located near military bases around Washington, D.C., New Jersey and overseas, has some of the best savings rates among military credit unions. It currently offers 0.31% APY on balances of at least $100.

You can join by being a member of the military or by making a $15 donation to the nonprofit American Consumer Council. The credit union is also a member of the Shared Branch network, which means you could visit a number of credit unions across the country to access your Andrews FCU accounts.

 

Margarette Burnette is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: mburnette@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @margarette. Devan Goldstein of NerdWallet contributed to this article.

This post has been updated. It was originally published in August 2015.


Methodology

To determine the best credit unions, we took a close look at the nation’s largest credit unions with broad-based membership requirements.

Financial institutions surveyed included Alliant Credit Union, Andrews Federal Credit Union, Boeing Employees Credit Union, Connexus Credit Union, Consumers Credit Union, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, Security Service Federal Credit Union and State Employees’ Credit Union of North Carolina.

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