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Best Credit Unions of 2018

May 18, 2018
Banking, Banks & Credit Unions
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The best credit union offers the same financial services as a bank but often with much better terms. NerdWallet scrutinized some of the country’s top institutions— both national and local credit unions — to determine our picks.

This year’s best credit unions have great rates, low fees, generous perks and easy membership requirements.

Best checking and savings

Alliant Credit Union:

  • Stellar 1.6% APY on $100+ in High-Rate Savings
  • Attractive 0.65% APY on High-Rate Checking
  • You’re eligible to apply with a $10 charitable donation (read more below)
Best checking
Connexus Credit Union

at Connexus Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Connexus Credit Union:

  • High 1.75% APY on checking balances up to $25,000
  • Reimburses up to $25 in ATM fees a month
  • Eligible to apply with a $5 charitable donation (read more below)
Best branch access
First Tech Federal Credit Union

at First Tech Federal Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

First Tech Federal Credit Union:

  • More than 5,000 shared branches
  • Competitive interest on checking account
  • Eligible to apply with $8 charitable donation (read more below)
Best for teens and college students
Golden 1 Credit Union

at Golden 1 Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

The Golden 1 Credit Union:

  • Accounts for youth, teens and college students
  • Free checking and savings accounts for members
  • Eligible to apply with $8 charitable donation (read more below)

Best credit unions

Alliant Credit Union: Best checking and savings

Alliant Credit Union is a good one-stop shop if you want to open checking and savings accounts with good rates and low fees.

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 1.6% APY on balances of $100 or more. That’s far better than the national average, which is less than a tenth of a percent. 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 be eligible to 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.

This credit union was named one of the best in NerdWallet’s 2018 Bank Awards.

» To see how other banks’ rates compare, check out NerdWallet’s best savings accounts

Connexus Credit Union: Best checking

Connexus Credit Union

at Connexus Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

If your goal is to maximize checking account perks, Connexus Credit Union’s Xtraordinary checking account is a winner. The account earns 1.75% APY on balances up to $25,000 and will reimburse up to $25 in non-network ATM fees if you meet certain activity requirements. The national average for interest checking accounts is 0.05% APY.

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 only have make 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 have ATM reimbursements. In either case, there is no monthly fee.

You can apply for an account if you join the Connexus Association, an affiliated organization that provides college scholarships and financial education. There is a one-time $5 fee to join the association.

This credit union was named one of the best in NerdWallet’s 2018 Bank Awards.

First Tech Federal Credit Union: Best branch access

First Tech Federal Credit Union

at First Tech Federal Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

First Tech Federal Credit Union operates its own branches in eight states plus Puerto Rico, but it also participates in the CO-OP Shared Branch network, with access to more than 5,000 financial institutions across the country and 30,000 ATMs. In addition to regular weekday hours, some participating branches are open on Saturday mornings.

The credit union’s Dividend Rewards checking account earns 1.58% APY on balances of 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 still earn 0.05% APY, though you won’t get the ATM reimbursement. First Tech’s basic savings account also earns 0.05% APY, which is low, but there’s no monthly fee.

You can apply for membership if you’re a member of the nonprofit Financial Fitness Association, which costs $8. You can also apply 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.

This credit union was named one of the best in NerdWallet’s 2018 Bank Awards.

Golden 1 Credit Union: Best for teens and college students

Golden 1 Credit Union

at Golden 1 Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Along with standard free and premium checking accounts for its members, Golden 1 Credit Union has three free checking accounts for teens and college students and a special Youth Savings Account. All teen checking accounts come with a free box of checks.

More features:

New Generation checking, for teens ages 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 apply for membership at Golden 1 by joining the Financial Fitness Association, which costs $8. You can also apply if you live in California or are an immediate family member of someone who qualifies for membership.

This credit union was named one of the best in NerdWallet’s 2018 Bank Awards.

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.

Worth considering

Consumers Credit Union:

  • Up to 4.59% APY on checking if spending requirements are met (read more)
America First Credit Union

at America First Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

America First Credit Union

  • Free checking account that earns interest (read more)
BECU

at BECU,

Member, FDIC

Boeing Employees Credit Union:

  • 4.07% APY on checking and 6.17% APY on savings for balances up to $500 (read more)
Navy Federal Credit Union

at Navy Federal Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Navy Federal Credit Union:

  • Free checking and savings accounts, with branches near military bases (read more)
SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union

at SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Schools First Credit Union:

  • Free youth and member accounts, with access to more than 28,000 fee-free ATMs (read more)
Star One Credit Union

at Star One Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Star One:

  • Free checking with no foreign transaction fees (read more)
Suncoast Credit Union

at Suncoast Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Suncoast Credit Union:

  • Checking and savings accounts earn a little interest and have no monthly fees (read more)

Consumers Credit Union

The Free Rewards checking account earns 3.09% APY on balances of $10,000 or less if you meet certain activity and spending requirements. If you’re willing to sign up for a Consumers Credit Union credit card and spend at least $500, you could earn an even higher APY, up to 4.59%. Anyone who joins a Consumers-affiliated nonprofit for $5 can apply to become a credit union member.

America First Credit Union

America First Credit Union

at America First Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

This credit union is based in Ogden, Utah, but it participates in a credit union co-op network that gives members access to around 30,000 fee-free ATMs across the country. The America First regular checking account doesn’t have a monthly fee, and it earns a small amount of interest on balances of at least $500.

Boeing Employees Credit Union

BECU

at BECU,

Member, FDIC

Most of BECU’s branches are in Washington state, but the credit union participates in a co-op network that gives members access to over 5,000 partner credit union locations and 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs across the country. BECU’s Member Advantage checking offers 4.07% APY on balances of $500 or less.

Navy Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal Credit Union

at Navy Federal Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

The nation’s largest credit union with over 7 million members, Navy Federal Credit Union has a broad selection of free checking and savings accounts and competitive rates on money market accounts and share certificates. You’re eligible to join if you’re a service member or veteran, you work for the Defense Department or you’re an immediate family member of someone who’s eligible.

Schools First Credit Union

SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union

at SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

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 apply if you are part of the educational community of specific Southern California counties.

Star One Credit Union

Star One Credit Union

at Star One Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

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

Suncoast Credit Union

at Suncoast Credit Union,

Federally insured by the NCUA

Tampa, Florida-based Suncoast offers checking and savings accounts that earn interest and have no monthly fees. Members also have access to more than 30,000 fee-free ATMs through various networks.

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.

Best Credit Unions

Here’s a summary of our top picks.

  • Alliant Credit Union: Best checking and savings
  • Connexus Credit Union: Best checking
  • First Tech Federal Credit Union: Best branch access
  • Golden 1 Credit Union: Best for teens and college students

And other notable credit unions across the country:

  • Consumers Credit Union
  • America First Credit Union
  • Boeing Employees Credit Union
  • Navy Federal Credit Union
  • Schools First Credit Union
  • Star One Credit Union
  • Suncoast Credit Union

Margarette Burnette is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: mburnette@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @margarette.


METHODOLOGY

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.

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