Credit unions offer the same financial services as banks, but often with much better terms. Here’s a look at NerdWallet’s best credit unions of 2017.
- Make at least 12 non-PIN debit card transactions a month.
- Make an automatic deposit or payment at least once a month.
- Log on to online banking at least once a month.
- Choose e-documents over paper.
If you’re willing to get a Consumers Credit Union credit card, you could earn up to 4.59% APY on checking account balances up to $20,000. But you have to spend at least $1,000 per month to earn the highest rate.
Alliant participates in a co-op network that gives members access to 80,000 fee-free ATMs across the country. If you must use a non-network machine, the credit union will reimburse up to $20 a month for those transactions.
Some people find it easier to reach their savings goals by separating their money into different accounts. If you want to try that approach, Alliant has you covered. You can open up to 19 supplemental savings accounts and give each one its own nickname (for example, “Down Payment on First House”). Each additional account also earns 1.05% APY on balances of $100 or more. There are no monthly fees if you opt for e-statements. Otherwise, there’s a monthly $1 paper statement charge.
Easiest to join
- Live or work in one of 20 communities near the Chicago-based credit union.
- Are employed by, are retired from or are a member of one of dozens of qualifying organizations.
- Are a family member of someone eligible to join.
Once you’re a member of the association, you can open a share savings account at Consumers Credit Union for as little as $5. But you’ll probably want to take advantage of the Free Rewards Checking account, too.
You can also qualify by joining the nonprofit Financial Fitness Association at a nominal cost of $8 for the first year. Once you’re a member you can remain one, even if you don’t renew the nonprofit association’s annual membership.
First Tech Fed has attractive checking and savings account options. The credit union offers a Dividend Rewards Checking account that earns 1.58% APY on balances of up to $10,000, as well as reimbursements for non-network ATM transactions within the country. For balances above $10,000, the rate is 0.16% APY.
To get the perks, you’ll need to make 12 debit card purchases and have at least one direct deposit or automatic withdrawal per month, and accept e-statements instead of paper statements. If you don’t meet those requirements, your checking account will still earn 0.05% APY.
First Tech Fed’s savings accounts have no monthly fees and earn from 0.05% to 0.35% APY, depending on the balance. The credit union participates in a co-op shared branch network, with over 5,000 participating credit union branches and 30,000 ATMs.
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.
Navy Federal offers a number of low-cost checking accounts, including Free Active Duty Checking, which lets members receive military pay via direct deposit up to one business day before payday. The credit union’s checking accounts either have no monthly fees, or they’re easy to waive, and the accounts earn at least 0.05% APY. The premier Flagship Checking earns rates starting at 0.35% APY, though it has higher balance minimum requirements to earn dividends.
Navy Federal operates nearly 300 branches, many of them near military bases, and has a network of 30,000 ATMs. If you have any questions about your account, you can reach member services 24 hours a day by phone, and you can also connect via email, chat or social media.
If eligible, you can open a share savings account. To avoid its $5 quarterly fee, you must keep your balance over $50, or over $5 if you’re younger than 26. You can also avoid the fee by having another share or loan account with a balance. The credit union’s basic Convenience checking account waives a $5 monthly fee if you sign up for direct deposit.
Alaska USA also has nice options for share certificates, the credit union version of certificates of deposit. Certificates start at 0.199% APY for a one-month term and have a reasonable minimum balance of $500. Certificates with longer terms and balances earn higher rates, up to 2.150% APY for a five-year CD that has a balance of at least $250,000. Don’t have $250,000? Even a $500 balance on a five-year CD earns 2.00% APY.
The credit union operates 85 branches in the areas it services, with most of them open seven days a week. Alaska USA also participates in a co-op shared branch network, which includes an additional 5,000 branches nationwide. It also offers access to 55,000 fee-free Allpoint network ATMs.
You can also earn Member Advantage perks on your checking and savings accounts if you sign up for free e-statements and make at least one monetary transaction per month, such as a direct deposit, online bill pay or debit card purchase.
With Member Advantage checking, you can earn rates of 4.07% APY on balances up to $500 for both checking and savings accounts. Balances over $500 earn the same as non-Member Advantage checking and savings accounts, 0.05% and 0.10% APY, respectively.
Though most of BECU’s branches are located in the state of Washington, it participates in a shared co-op network with access to over 5,000 partner credit unions and 30,000 surcharge free ATMs across the country.
Golden 1’s free checking account has no minimum balance and no monthly fee. The credit union also participates in a shared co-op network, giving its members access to other credit union branches and more than 30,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide.
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.
Verified Feb. 3, 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 Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, Alliant Credit Union, Andrews Federal Credit Union, Boeing Employees Credit Union, Connexus Credit Union, Consumers Credit Union, First Tech Federal Credit Union, The Golden 1 Credit Union, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Security Service Federal Credit Union, Star One Credit Union, State Employees’ Credit Union of North Carolina, Suncoast Credit Union.