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NerdWallet’s Favorite University Credit Unions

April 5, 2012
Banking, Checking Accounts
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This is a guest post by Andrea Sy, a recent college graduate and university credit union enthusiast.


With banks scrambling to recoup lost revenue, checking account fees are climbing (often, in sneaky ways). As a college student, having a bank account with fees may be more trouble than it’s worth (if you don’t do your homework!). That’s why we’ve put together a list of university-affiliated credit unions that beat the offers of most for-profit banks with their better service and lower fees.

Credit union vs. bank – What’s the difference?

The advantage of university-affiliated credit unions is that they are non-profit, which would explain the lower fees and better rates. They also aim to serve a group of people with something in common, and are often focused on good customer service (plus they usually have branches located on campus – easy access!). In the case of university credit unions, students and alumni of a university would be eligible for membership. As an added bonus, some of these credit unions are stepping it up in terms of perks and added services, sometimes giving out free swag or giving out special loans! Here’s our roundup of some very notable university credit unions.

#1 in Service: University of Iowa Community Credit Union

The University of Iowa Community Credit Union should be part of any “top credit union” list because of the quality of service it provides to its members. It extends its membership to not only students and alumni of the University of Iowa but also to residents and employees in Eastern Iowa. It was recently ranked #1 out of 7,200 credit unions for the fourth consecutive quarter based on ROM or Return of the Member, which also quantifies how much the credit union gives back in terms of rates and how efficiently a credit union provides services to its valued members.

For students, a $50 deposit is all that’s required to open a student checking account with no monthly fees or minimum balance requirements. The student account also boasts a wide range of free services, such as free mobile or text banking, as well as free tools for money management. Another special feature of UICCU is its tiered system of overdraft fees. While it has a standard transfer fee of $5, the number of overdrafts per year can affect the penalty fee. For instance, 2 overdrafts a year would cost $19 per incident as opposed to $38 per incident, which is the fee that would be charged for 11 overdrafts.

Designed for Student Life: UPenn SFCU, Ohio University Credit Union and the USC Credit Union

The Student Federal Credit Union at the University of Pennsylvania (SFCU)  prides itself in being the first and only student-run credit union in the Ivy League. Out of all the credit unions out there, this one seems to be tailored to suit a typical college student’s lifestyle. Requirements to waive the monthly fee are similar to most other credit unions: SFCU members have to open both a savings and a checking account, pledge $5 in savings to open the account. Now, here’s the bonus that comes with an SFCU membership. Say you want to go on a relaxing summer vacation but don’t have the budget for it. SFCU members can fill out a quick online application to take out a loan for summer trips! And to top it all off, your Penn card can now serve as your ATM card and is accepted by all MAC®, PLUS®, or STAR® machines – very convenient!

Another very notable credit union that has the same Summer Loan program is the Ohio University Credit Union (OUCU). OUCU has no monthly fees and only a $1 overdraft transfer fee. To top it all of, if you open a Campus Student Package account, you can avail of a computer loan through the Ohio University Technology Depot.  Ohio also treats its students’ parents, enticing them with a chance to win one of a few Bobcat Parent Perks ranging from overnight stays in inns and gift certificates.

The University of Southern California Credit Union also presents benefits for parents of students. Along with the standard free checking account (with overdraft transfer fees of $2/transaction and an NSF fee of $25), the student package also comes with the Trojan Family Account that is designed specifically with the USC parent in mind. Parents can use their accounts to transfer money instantly 24 hours a day and free transfers from any other bank account to the USCCU account. Aside from this, it extends the lifetime membership normally reserved for students and alumni to their parents as well.

Focused on Financial Education: First Miami Credit Union and Stanford Federal Credit Union

First Miami Credit Union’s tagline is “students helping students.” First Miami Credit Union highlights another key feature of some top-notch credit unions. FMCU has created the Students for Good Credit financial program that aims to educate their members toward better financial understanding. The program is comprised of several seminars that focus on maintaining good credit and helping students go through everyday financial matters. What’s even better is that they have the Miami students’ full engagement—the seminars are taught by students to other students to strengthen that message of financial independence that they want to convey. For FMCU, checking accounts have no monthly fees or waive fees and have an NSF fee of $35 with $5 per overdraft transfer.

Stanford Federal Credit Union (SFCU) has also been making moves to promote financial education. The credit union itself is constantly trying to innovate and provide the best service possible. With a $50 dollar membership fee, you can avail of the usual free student checking account with a $30/item overdraft fee. However, what sets SFCU apart is its blog. SFCU has been doing a great job keeping up with social media to promote itself. In the blog you can find product announcements as well as new promotions going on. For instance, referring family and friends to the credit union will earn you $20! The blogging team itself is focused on providing customers with a platform to debate and discuss current financial issues, as well as pick up a few tips and tricks to make everyday finances a lot easier.

Awesome Extra Perks: University of Kentucky Federal Credit Union, Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, Harvard University Employees Credit Union and University of Wisconsin Federal Credit Union

When you open a free student checking account with the Harvard University Employees Credit Union (HUECU), you’ll have no monthly fees, no minimum balance and just a meager $5 overdraft fee to worry about. However, you’ll also find more ‘college-life’ bonuses, like swag and free food! HUECU has a referral program that rewards a customer with $50 if they get friends to sign up too. Additionally, to tickle a foodie’s taste buds, HUECU rewards students with $10 gift cards to local eateries when they get a GPA of 3.5 or higher.  They’ll even give you a free box of checks.

Michigan State University Federal Credit Union (MSUFCU) offers a wide range of checking accounts for youth and MSU students. Students can refer to checking account information as an incoming student, a current student, or a graduating student. All accounts offer no monthly fees or minimum balance fees, and the overdraft fee is just $5. One thing that you definitely need to check out is the MSUFCU Financial 4.0 student site. Other university credit unions have seminars and workshops, but MSUFCU has a whole site dedicated to blogs, contests and videos made by MSU students to address money matters.

University of Kentucky Federal Credit Union (UKFCU) has a student checking account with no monthly fee or minimum balance requirement and an astonishingly low $3 overdraft fee. However, the most impressive part of this credit union is the comprehensiveness of their Advice and Education page. They’ve made free sites, articles and tools like MoneyMix, Plan It, Money Ed, and Anytime Adviser to deliver the best service to their members.

University of Wisconsin Credit Union (UWCU) has a student checking account with a similar fee structure. You’ll pay $0 in monthly fees. You’ll need $25 to open the account, but there’s no minimum balance requirement, and the overdraft fee is only $5. UWCU was also awarded with the Wisconsin Financial Literacy Award three  years running: 2009, 2010 and 2011. They seem to be very active in financial education, and signing up for a seminar is extremely easy!

While these credit unions aren’t as ubiquitous and don’t have as many branches or ATMs as their bigger, for-profit counterparts, their shared branching system helps bridge the gap by providing credit union members basic services wherever they go. So, students and alumni, maybe it’s time to consider your school’s credit union before opening another bank account!