Credit union credit cards aren’t known for huge sign-up bonuses and luxury perks, but the Nerds have found a few that can compete with some of the best credit cards on the market in terms of rewards and other benefits. Not to mention, you’ll generally get better service with a credit union than a national bank.
Let’s dig in.
NerdWallet’s best credit union cards
|Best for …||Card|
|Travel||Premium Travel Rewards|
|Low interest||Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa|
|Bad credit||Digital Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum Secured Credit Card|
|Rewards for military||Gorewards|
Best for travel
Earn Earn 20,000 Bonus Points when you spend $2,500 in the first 3 months of opening your account within three months. Earn 5 points per $1 spent on airfare, 1 point per $1 spent elsewhere. Special savings and discounts from top retailers. Free access to your FICO score. No foreign transaction fee. The annual fee is $0.
Benefits of the Premium Travel Rewards:
- It offers the highest rewards rate on airfare of any general travel card.
- The card doesn’t charge a cash advance fee; most cards charge 3% to 5%. There’s also no foreign transaction fee, which is a must-have in a travel card.
Drawbacks of the Premium Travel Rewards:
- American Express isn’t accepted as widely as Visa and MasterCard, both domestically and internationally.
- It doesn’t offer bonus rewards on travel-related purchases besides airfare.
- You have to be a member of PenFed Credit Union. There are several paths to eligibility; you must:
- Be a member of the U.S. military
- Be an employee of the federal government or other qualifying organization
- Belong to a qualifying organization or association
- Live or work at an eligible location
- Be a relative or housemate of someone who is eligible
- Make a one-time donation to Voices for America’s Troops ($14) or the National Military Family Association ($15).
If your travel expenses are skewed toward airfare purchases, the Premium Travel Rewards may be for you. But if you spend more on other travel-related purchases or you plan on using the card overseas, these travel cards may be more worth your time.
Best for low interest
Interest rate is as low as prime rate + 3%. No balance transfer fee. The annual fee is $0.
Benefits of the Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa:
- The card’s low APR beats most personal loans.
- It has no balance transfer fee, and the annual fee is $0.
Drawbacks of the Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa:
- It doesn’t offer rewards.
- You have to be a member of Lake Michigan Credit Union to apply. To become eligible, you must:
- Live, work, worship or attend school in Lower Michigan
- Have an immediate family member with an account at LMCU
- Make a one-time $5 donation to ALS Association
The Nerds don’t recommend carrying a balance on your credit card, but the Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa is your best option if you don’t have a choice. The eligibility hurdle isn’t too high, and you can even transfer a balance from another card to get a break on interest. Note, however, that there are other cards that may be better suited for a balance transfer.
Best for bad credit
- Recommended Credit Score
- 350850Poor - Excellent
- Card Details
- Qualify with limited / bad credit
- No annual fee
- No foreign transaction fee
- No rewards
- Purchase: 12.50%, Variable
- Penalty APR: Up to 18.00%, Variable
- Cash Advance APR: 12.50%, Variable
- Additional Information
- Secured card rates well below the national average
- Borrow against your DCU savings account
- No Annual Fee*
- No Fees or Higher Rates for Cash Advances and Balance Transfers
- Works with Apple Pay®, Android Pay™, and Samsung Pay
- Insurance, car rental, travel, and warranty benefits
- Optional Overdraft Protection On Your DCU Checking
- Buy online easily and safely with Visa Checkout
- Embedded EMV chip to protect your card information
Free access to your FICO score. The annual fee is $0.
Benefits of the Digital Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum Secured Credit Card:
- No fee for cash advances or balance transfers.
- Get help improving your credit with free access to your FICO score, updated monthly. The card also reports your activity to all three credit bureaus, which means responsible use could help boost your credit score.
- The APR is lower than what most credit cards offer to people with excellent credit.
- You can apply for an unsecured card after 12 months of on-time payments.
Drawbacks of the Digital Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum Secured Credit Card:
- It doesn’t offer rewards.
- It requires a deposit into a Digital Federal Credit Union savings account equal to your credit limit. (Read more about how secured credit cards work.)
- You must be a member of Digital Federal Credit Union to apply. Ways to become eligible:
The Digital Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum Secured Credit Card isn’t like other secured cards. Rather than imposing high fees and a low credit limit, it gives you the flexibility you need to dig yourself out of a financial hole and doesn’t punish you for being there. This credit union’s eligibility requirements are a little more stringent than PenFed’s or Lake Michigan’s. However, if you don’t already qualify for membership, you can join any of the participating organizations when you start your membership.
Best rewards for military
Earn 3 points per $1 spent at restaurants, 2 points per $1 spent on gas and 1 point per $1 spent elsewhere. No fee for balance transfers, foreign transactions or cash advances at NFCU branches and ATMs. The annual fee is $0.
Benefits of the Gorewards:
- Offers big rewards on dining and gas purchases.
- The card is largely fee-free.
Drawbacks of the Gorewards:
- It doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus.
- It’s not a good choice for people who don’t eat out or drive frequently.
- You must become a member of Navy Federal Credit Union to apply. To be eligible, you must meet one of two criteria:
- Be affiliated with the armed forces, Department of Defense, Coast Guard or National Guard.
- Have a family member or housemate who is already a NFCU member.
If you’re in the military and you spend a lot on dining and gas, the Gorewards is worth your consideration. It’s also a good choice if you plan on using it overseas or need to make cash advances. If none of those things describes your situation, however, you may be better off with a non-military specific card.
NerdWallet’s credit cards team selects the best cards in each category based on overall consumer value. Factors in our evaluation include fees, promotional and ongoing APRs, and sign-up bonuses; for rewards cards, we consider earning and redemption rates, redemption options and redemption difficulty. A single card is eligible to be chosen in multiple categories.
Last updated Dec. 31, 2016.
Top image via iStock.