Credit unions offer the same financial services as banks but often with much better terms. NerdWallet dug through details on some of the country’s top credit unions to determine our picks.
This year’s best credit unions have accounts with great rates, low fees and generous perks that set them apart from other institutions. The winners also have easy membership requirements, allowing you to open an account no matter where you live in the U.S.
|Best checking and savings|
Alliant Credit Union:
|Best branch access|
|Best for teens and college students|
Read on for more details on our top picks. Also, you can skip ahead to see credit unions worth considering if you can meet more stringent requirements.
Best checking and savings
High-Rate checking earns a decent 0.65% annual percentage yield if you receive e-statements and have at least one recurring electronic deposit a month. There is no minimum balance requirement and no monthly fee.
The High-Rate savings account is also a winner, with 1.16% APY on balances of $100 or more. That’s far better than the national average, which is less than 0.1%. There are no monthly fees if you opt for e-statements. Otherwise, there’s a monthly $1 paper statement charge.
Alliant participates in a co-op network that gives members access to 80,000 fee-free ATMs across the country. You can join Alliant by making a one-time $10 donation to Foster Care to Success, a nonprofit that serves foster youth. You can also join if you live or work in one of the communities near Alliant’s Chicago-area headquarters, are employed by a qualifying organization or are a family member of someone who’s eligible to join.
To earn the high rate, you must subscribe to e-statements instead of paper and, each month:
- Make at least 15 debit card transactions
- Receive at least one direct deposit
- Make at least one online bill payment to a third party
If you don’t think you can meet the activity requirements, you could still sign up for MyRewards checking, which earns 1.35% APY on balances up to $25,000, with easier requirements. For example, you must make only 10 debit card transactions a month, instead of 15. Still too much? Your money will still work for you, earning 0.20% APY, but you won’t get ATM reimbursements. In either case, there’s no monthly fee.
You can become a member by joining the Connexus Association, an affiliated organization that provides college scholarships and financial education, for a one-time $5 fee.
Best branch access
The credit union’s Dividend Rewards checking account earns 1.58% APY on balances up to $10,000, as long as you meet certain activity requirements. For balances above $10,000, the rate is 0.16% APY. First Tech will also refund fees for non-network ATM transactions within the country.
Here are the activity requirements:
- Make 12 monthly debit card purchases
- Have at least one direct deposit or automatic withdrawal per month
- Accept e-statements instead of paper statements
If you don’t meet those requirements, your checking account will earn 0.05% APY and you won’t get ATM reimbursements. First Tech’s basic savings account also earns 0.05% APY, which is low, but there’s no monthly fee.
You can qualify for membership by joining the nonprofit Financial Fitness Association for $8. You can also join if you’re an employee of a sponsoring company or an employee of the state of Oregon, or if you live in Oregon’s Lane County.
Best for teens and college students
New Generation checking, for teens 13 to 17, has low ATM withdrawal limits so there’s no going overboard. A parent or guardian must be a joint owner.
Freedom checking is reserved for 16- and 17-year-olds who maintain a B average or higher. Account holders can make deposits and withdrawals without the presence of a parent or guardian.
Student checking, for college students, provides access to over 30,000 Golden 1 and Co-op ATMs across the country.
Youth savings lets young account holders make deposits and withdrawals without a co-signer present, though a parent or legal guardian must be a joint owner. The account earns the same 0.15% APY as the regular savings account.
You can qualify for membership at Golden 1 by joining the Financial Fitness Association, which costs $8. You can also qualify if you live in one of the 38 California counties the credit union serves or if you’re an immediate family member of someone who qualifies.
Notable credit unions across the U.S.
These credit unions are worth a look if you can meet the somewhat strict membership requirements. To join, you generally have to live or work in a certain area, or your employer must sponsor memberships.
|Schools First Credit Union:
America First Credit Union
Boeing Employees Credit Union
Consumers Credit Union
Navy Federal Credit Union
Schools First Credit Union
This credit union has checking and savings accounts with no monthly fees, and it offers access to over 28,000 fee-free ATMs across the country. Schools First also has JV Club and Varsity Club savings and checking accounts for youth. You can join if you are part of the educational community of specific Southern California counties.
Star One Credit Union
This Silicon Valley credit union is a new notable for 2018. Its Free Checking account earns interest and has no monthly fees or foreign transaction fees. Credit union membership is open to employees of partner companies, generally in Silicon Valley, and to anyone who lives, works or attends school in Santa Clara County, California.
Suncoast Credit Union
These credit unions represent some of the best institutions overall, but there may also be local winners in your community. Use our checking account tool to see if there’s a credit union or bank near you that offers low fees and gives you a good return on your money.
Updated Nov. 8, 2017.
To determine the best credit unions, we compared some of the nation’s largest credit unions with broad-based membership requirements. Financial institutions surveyed included State Employees’ Credit Union of North Carolina, Navy Federal Credit Union, Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, Boeing Employees Credit Union, Schools First Federal Credit Union, The Golden 1 Credit Union, Alliant Credit Union, Consumers Credit Union, First Tech Federal Credit Union, Security Service Federal Credit Union, Star One Credit Union, America First Credit Union, Suncoast Credit Union, Connexus Credit Union.