SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union Review: Checking, Savings and CDs

SchoolsFirst limits members mostly to people who work in California schools. If that includes you, the credit union has a lot to offer.

Spencer TierneySeptember 25, 2020
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Overall bank rating

SchoolsFirst FCU
  • Savings

    Savings

  • Checking

    Checking

  • CD rates

    CD rates

  • Banking experience

    Banking experience

  • Overdraft fees

    Overdraft fees

4.0

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line: SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union is a California-based financial institution with solid checking and savings options at low cost. Other strengths include access to a free nationwide ATM network and cheap overdraft programs. Membership, however, is restricted to California-based school employees and their families.

Pros

  • No monthly fees and low opening minimum requirements on checking and savings.

  • Free overdraft transfers and a no-fee overdraft line of credit available.

  • Free access to nearly 30,000 Co-op ATMs plus over 300 SchoolsFirst branded ATMs.

Cons

  • Membership is more limited than with some other credit unions.

  • Rates on savings accounts are low.

  • SchoolsFirst isn’t part of shared branching, so in-person needs can only be handled at a few dozen branches.

Full review

SchoolsFirst FCU Share Savings

SchoolsFirst FCU Share Savings

3.5

NerdWallet rating 
APY

0.10%

With $5 minimum balance

As the credit union’s basic savings account, Share Savings is the first account that members must open. It has no monthly fee and a $5 minimum as the opening and ongoing balance requirement. Although it’s a solid account, its interest rate is on the lower end, only slightly better than the national average of 0.05% annual percentage yield.

SchoolsFirst FCU Free Checking

SchoolsFirst FCU Free Checking

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Monthly Fee

$0

SchoolsFirst offers two checking options, Free Checking and Investment Checking, and for this review, we’ve focused on Free Checking as the best fit for most members. Free Checking, as its name suggests, has no monthly fee or minimum balance requirement. It offers unlimited check writing, a Mastercard debit card, and access to a national ATM network. The minimum opening deposit is $25. The main downside to this account is that it doesn’t earn dividends, which is what credit unions call interest.

For ATM access, SchoolsFirst has a little over 300 of its own branded ATMs and participates in the Co-op network along with many other credit unions to provide free access to nearly 30,000 ATMs in the U.S.

SchoolsFirst FCU CD

SchoolsFirst FCU CD

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
1-year APY

0.60%

3-year APY

0.85%

5-year APY

1.05%

Minimum Deposit

$500

Despite the current falling-rate environment, SchoolsFirst’s share certificates — the credit union equivalent of banks’ certificates of deposit — have competitive rates. Its one-year share certificate earns 0.60% and five-year term has a 1.05% APY. The opening minimum is $500, which is on the lower end of what banks and credit unions require.

Terms range from one month to five years and higher rates are available if you have at least $20,000. Jumbo CDs, with a minimum opening of $100,000, are available. Early withdrawal penalties, depending on the term, range from one to six months’ worth of interest, or dividends.

Banking experience

3.5

NerdWallet rating 

SchoolsFirst restricts membership to California school employees and their families, which helps them serve a specific community. Some credit unions offer a catch-all membership option, such as a one-time donation to a nonprofit for people who don’t belong to a certain state or employer group.

The credit union’s digital experience is straightforward. Web pages display account rates, individual account offerings and advice that includes details about upcoming financial workshops. The website isn’t mobile-optimized, though. Mobile app ratings on Android and iOS devices average above 4 out of 5 stars.

Customer support is available at about 50 California branches, as well as online via Twitter and live chat on SchoolsFirst’s website. You can also reach a representative by phone Monday through Saturday, generally until early evening.

Overdraft fees

4.0

NerdWallet rating 

The credit union charges $22 when you overdraw an account, up to three times per day. It’s cheaper than many banks and credit unions, but you can find institutions that don’t charge any overdraft fees.

SchoolsFirst does offer cheap alternatives, including free overdraft transfers from a linked SchoolsFirst savings account and an overdraft loan or line of credit that charges interest starting at a rate of 12.9%.

SchoolsFirst FCU Share Savings

SchoolsFirst FCU Share Savings

3.5

NerdWallet rating 
APY

0.10%

With $5 minimum balance

As the credit union’s basic savings account, Share Savings is the first account that members must open. It has no monthly fee and a $5 minimum as the opening and ongoing balance requirement. Although it’s a solid account, its interest rate is on the lower end, only slightly better than the national average of 0.05% annual percentage yield.

How does SchoolsFirst FCU compare?

Member FDIC

NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
APY

0.60%

With $0 minimum balance

APY

0.01%

With $0 minimum balance

APY

0.50%

With $0 minimum balance

Bonus

N/A

Bonus

$150

Requirements to qualify

Bonus

N/A

RATING METHODOLOGY

NerdWallet’s overall ratings for banks and credit unions are weighted averages of several categories: checking, savings, certificates of deposit or credit union share certificates, banking experience and overdraft fees. Factors we consider, depending on the category, include rates and fees, ATM and branch access, account features and limits, user-facing technology, customer service and innovation. The stars represent ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars). Ratings are rounded to the nearest half-star.