Advertiser Disclosure

NerdWallet’s Best Credit Unions 2017

Banking, Banks & Credit Unions
You can trust that we maintain strict editorial integrity in our writing and assessments; however, we receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners and get approved. Here's how we make money.

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
Learn more
at Alliant
Alliant Credit Union:

  • Stellar 1.16% APY on $100+ in High-Rate savings
  • Attractive 0.65% APY on High-Rate checking
  • Easy to join with $10 charitable donation (read more below)
Best checking
Connexus+Credit+Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
Connexus Credit Union:

  • High 1.75% APY on balances up to $25,000
  • Reimburses ATM fees
  • Easy to join with $5 charitable donation (read more below)
Best branch access
First Tech Federal Credit Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
First Tech Federal Credit Union:

  • More than 5,000 shared branches
  • High checking account APY
  • Easy to join with $8 charitable donation (read more below)
Best for teens and college students
Golden+1+Credit+Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
The Golden 1 Credit Union:

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

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

Alliant+Credit+Union
Learn more
at Alliant
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 1.16% 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.

Best checking

Connexus+Credit+Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
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 0.04% 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 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

First Tech Federal Credit Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
First Tech Federal Credit Union operates its own branches in nine states, but it also participates in the Co-op shared branch network, which gives members 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 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

Golden+1+Credit+Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
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 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.

Worth considering
America First Federal Credit Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
America First

  • Free checking account that earns interest (read more)
BECU
Read full review
on NerdWallet
Boeing Employees Credit Union:

  • 4.07% APY on balances up to $500 for both checking and savings (read more)
Consumers+Credit+Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
Consumers Credit Union:

  • Up to 4.59% APY on checking if spending requirements are met (read more)
Navy Federal
Read full review
on NerdWallet
Navy Federal Credit Union:

  • Free checking and savings accounts, with branches near military bases (read more)
Schools First Credit Union:

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

  • Free checking with no foreign transaction fees (read more)
Suncoast+Credit+Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
Suncoast Credit Union:

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

America First Credit Union

America First Federal Credit Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
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
Read full review
on NerdWallet
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.

Consumers Credit Union

Consumers+Credit+Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
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%. Membership is open to anyone who joins a Consumers-affiliated nonprofit for $5.

Navy Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal
Read full review
on NerdWallet
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
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

Suncoast+Credit+Union
Read full review
on NerdWallet
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.

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

Updated Nov. 8, 2017.


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.

How we rate banks and credit unions