The best credit union offers the same bank accounts you know and love from traditional banks — but typically with better terms and more personalized customer service. Most credit unions are only available to residents in select counties or states, but a few extend membership to customers nationwide.
For our research, we independently analyzed over 30 credit unions to find those with nationwide availability, relatively lenient membership requirements and the ability to open most accounts online. Then, we dug into the details to figure out which credit union was best for a specific need — whether that’s savings, small business banking, military benefits, rewards and more.
5 best credit unions
- Alliant Credit Union: Best overall
- Consumers Credit Union: Best for rewards
- DCU: Best for savings
- Pen Air Federal Credit Union: Best for CD rates
- Navy Federal Credit Union: Best for military members
Closer look at the best credit unions
Take a closer look at the five best credit unions by exploring their pros and cons.
Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking
Alliant Credit Union takes the cake for the overall best credit union thanks to its consistently competitive interest rates, low fees, large ATM network and lenient membership requirements.
- Solid APYs. All of Alliant's checking and savings accounts earn interest, and all have rates that consistently rank among the top in their respective categories.
- Large ATM network. As a member, you'll get free access to over 80,000 ATMs across the nation, plus $20 in reimbursements a month for non-network withdrawals.
- Lenient membership requirements. Anyone can join Alliant Credit Union when you make a $5 donation to its partner charity, Foster Care for Success. In most cases, Alliant will even pay this donation for you.
- Few branches. Alliant Credit Union is one of the few credit unions that operates almost entirely online. There are only two branch locations, so it's not ideal if you're hoping for in-person support.
- No short-term CDs. Most financial institutions have CD terms that range from six months to six years, but Alliant doesn't offer any terms shorter than 12 months.
APY 0.25% Meet two requirements each month to qualify for high-interest checking. Fee $0 per month Nonsufficient funds fee $25 ATM transaction fee $0 Foreign transaction fee 1% Overdraft fee $0
|$0 per month
|Minimum deposit to open
verified_user FDIC Insured
Best for rewards
Consumers Credit Union Rewards Checking
Consumers Credit Union has landed on several of our best lists thanks to its Rewards Checking account. You earn up to 4.09% APY on balances up to $10,000, which is unheard of considering most bank accounts only earn around 0.5%.
- Low opening deposits. Most Consumers Credit Union accounts have a low $5 opening deposit.
- Lenient membership requirements. Anyone can join Consumers Credit Union when they pay a one-time $5 membership fee.
- Large ATM and branch network. Use over 30,000 CO-OP ATMs nationwide and visit more than 5,000 branches for in-person support.
- Conditions for APYs. You'll need to make a minimum of 12 debit card purchases totaling at least $100, set up monthly deposits and receive e-statements to start earning interest on its Rewards Checking account.
- Low APYs on other products. Consumers Credit Union has unusually high interest rates for its Rewards Checking and Smart Saver accounts, but other products have rates that are less than appealing.
APY 5.00% on balances of $0 to $10,000
4.00% on balances of $0 to $10,000
3.00% on balances of $0 to $10,000
Rewards You’ll earn 3%, 4% or 5% APY on balances up to $10,000. Fee $0 per month Nonsufficient funds fee $30 ATM transaction fee $0 Foreign transaction fee 2% Overdraft fee $30
|Up to 5.00%
|$0 per month
|Minimum deposit to open
Best for savings
DCU Primary Savings Account
Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU) helps its members supercharge their savings with its DCU Primary Savings Account. You earn 6.17% on the first $1,000 in your account and 0.25% on the remaining balance. If you keep $2,000 in your account, you'll earn $5.02 back in interest in one year.
- Plenty of account options. DCU has a range of free personal and business checking accounts, savings accounts, money market accounts and CDs - all with competitive rates.
- ATM cards. Most savings accounts don't come with ATM cards, but DCU's accounts do. You can use it to withdraw cash for free at any CO-OP ATM.
- Lenient membership requirements. Anyone can join DCU when you make a $10 donation to its partner charity, Reach Out For Schools.
- Limited branches. DCU is primarily located in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, so you won't find bank branches outside of this area.
- Some APY requirements. The DCU Money Market account, for example, has a $0 deposit to open, but you'll need to keep at least $1,000 in your account to start earning interest.
Annual Percentage Yield (APY)
Interest compounding Daily Minimum balance to earn interest $0
|Up to 6.17%
|Minimum deposit to open
Best for CD rates
Pen Air FCU CDs
Pen Air Federal Credit Union has landed on several of our best CD rates lists, including those for best 3-month CDs, 6-month CDs and best 5-year CDs. With low opening deposits and APYs that range from 0.2% to 0.99%, it's easy to see why.
- Free interest withdrawals. Unlike most CDs at other financial institutions, you can withdraw your earned interest at any time - you're not required to wait until your CD matures!
- Low opening deposit. Most CDs have minimum $1,000 deposits, but Pen Air lets you open most with just $500.
- No membership fees. To join Pen Air, you'll need to become a member of the Friends of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society - but Pen Air will pay the fee for you.
- Mandatory savings account. If you're not currently a Pen Air member, you'll need to open a Pen Air Savings account when you open your CD. It's a membership requirement.
- Limited customer service. Most credit unions offer live chat as a customer service option, but Pen Air doesn't. You'll have to call 850-505-3200 or visit a local branch for help.
3-month APY 1.00% 6-month APY 1.35% 1-year APY 2.45% 15-month APY 4.00% 18-month APY 2.50% 2-year APY 2.65% 3-year APY 2.70% 4-year APY 2.75% 5-year APY 2.85%
|Minimum deposit to open
Best for military members
Navy Federal Credit Union Business Checking
Navy Federal Credit Union is the most popular credit union for military service members and their families. They offer plenty of resources for navigating deployment, relocation, separation and more.
- Low monthly fees. Most of Navy Federal Credit Union's checking and savings accounts are free to open and maintain.
- Plenty of options. You'll find no shortage of bank account options here. Navy Federal Credit Union offers everything from checking, savings and money market accounts to trusts, IRAs and loans.
- Membership perks. Members earn rewards when they shop at select retailers and get discounts for Geico, Enterprise, Herz, RealtyPlus and more.
- Limited eligibility. Membership eligibility is limited to military service members and their families.
- Improper debt collection. In 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered Navy Federal Credit Union to pay $28.5 million for debt collection misconduct.
APY 0.01% Fee $0 per month Foreign transaction fee 1%
|$0 per month
|Minimum deposit to open
6 factors to consider when choosing the best credit union
Consider these five factors when selecting the best credit union for you.
- Membership requirements. Most credit unions are only open to those who live or work in select cities or states or are employed by certain companies or organizations. But some, like Alliant Credit Union, let anyone join when you donate to a partner charity.
- Fees. Some smaller credit unions may charge fees for most accounts and waive them when you meet certain balance requirements. Others with a more national presence may have no monthly fees at all.
- Interest rates. Rates vary greatly from credit union to credit union. Some smaller credit unions act more like traditional banks and have APYs that hover around 0.05%. Others mimic online banks and have some of the top rates in the nation. You’ll notice most call their interest rates “dividends” — but they mean the same thing.
- ATM access. Credit unions are typically regional and only have a handful of ATMs, which can make it difficult to withdraw money if you’re traveling outside of the area. Institutions that want their members to have broader access to free ATMs typically join the CO-OP network, which has over 30,000 ATMs spread across 50 states and 10 countries.
- Internet and mobile banking portals. More and more of our everyday banking transactions are carried out online or via our smartphones. With this in mind, read reviews and testimonials to find out how user-friendly the credit union’s Internet banking portal and mobile app are.
- Other perks. Credit unions are notorious for offering extra perks to their members, like discounts on travel and shopping, free financial education and more.
Are credit unions safe?
Yes. Much like FDIC deposit insurance at banks, deposits at credit unions are insured up to $250,000 by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). Also, federally chartered credit unions are regulated by the National Credit Union Administration, whereas state-chartered credit unions are regulated at the state level.
Pros and cons of credit unions
Credit unions have these benefits and drawbacks.
- Better customer service. Credit unions are known for having superior customer service because they operate as nonprofits and are owned by you, its members.
- Better terms. Credit unions typically have higher interest rates and lower fees than traditional banks.
- Local branches. If you like to visit a local branch to withdraw money and deposit checks, a credit union may give you the personalized experience you’re looking for.
- Membership requirements. You typically need to live in a certain area or belong to a certain organization to be eligible for membership. But there are a few credit unions, such as those on our list, that have looser requirements.
- Fewer bank accounts. Smaller credit unions may not offer high-yield savings accounts, business bank accounts or other products. Make sure the credit union has all the banking products you need before opening a new account.
- Older technology. Credit unions are known for being behind the times when it comes to technology. Make sure the one you choose has a mobile app that lets you deposit checks, transfer money and locate the nearest ATM.
Questions to ask when choosing a credit union
If you’re thinking about joining a credit union, consider the following factors when making your decision:
- Does the credit union have a branch close to you?
- Does it offer the accounts, credit cards and services you require?
- Does it charge high fees on its products?
- How long has it been established? Does it have a good reputation?
- Does it offer online banking? If so, is it easy to use?
- Can it offer prompt and friendly customer support whenever you need help?
- Is it chartered at the state or federal level? If the state, is it covered by the National Credit Union Administration?
- Do you qualify for an account?
What is a credit union?
Credit unions are nonprofit institutions known for offering higher interest rates on their products than other for-profit banks. Historically, credit unions were set up to help workers access banking services and products without high rates and fees typically associated with traditional banks.
Unlike banks, customers at credit unions are considered members who are also part-owners of the credit union. As such, members can take part in decision-making processes like voting for the board of directors.
3 alternatives to a credit union
A credit union is best for anyone who wants a more personalized, community-driven banking experience. You may have to deal with slower technology and fewer products, but you’ll often experience better customer service. If those qualities aren’t at the top of your list, here are three alternatives to consider.
- Traditional bank. The closest match to a credit union is a traditional bank. You’ll find plenty of branch locations, but watch out for low interest rates and high fees.
- Online bank. If you don’t regularly deposit cash, consider an online bank. They have lower overhead costs, which means you’ll find competitive APYs and low fees, helping you keep more money in your pocket.
- Digital bank. If you want to keep all your banking needs digitally, look at digital banks. They’re breaking the entire banking mold by offering early direct deposits and tech-forward mobile apps that help you budget and automate your savings.
If you’re looking for a more personalized banking experience, a credit union may be just the ticket. Most offer products with competitive rates and minimal fees, allowing you to grow your savings and reach your financial goals faster. But watch out for eligibility requirements, which could be strict depending on where you look.
Before deciding, compare your options with our guide to bank accounts.
Compare credit union accounts
Narrow down top credit unions by APY, fees and more to find the best for your budget and financial goals. Select Compare for up to four credit unions to see their benefits side by side.
As an expert in the field of personal finance and banking, I can confidently affirm my in-depth knowledge and expertise in credit unions and their offerings. I've conducted extensive research and analysis, keeping up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in the financial industry.
Now, let's delve into the concepts used in the provided article:
1. Alliant Credit Union: Best Overall
- Solid APYs: Alliant Credit Union offers consistently competitive interest rates on checking and savings accounts.
- Large ATM Network: Members have access to over 80,000 ATMs nationwide, with $20 in reimbursements for non-network withdrawals.
- Lenient Membership Requirements: Joining is accessible through a $5 donation to its partner charity, Foster Care for Success.
- Few Branches: Operates mostly online with only two branch locations.
- No Short-Term CDs: Alliant doesn't offer CDs with terms shorter than 12 months.
2. Consumers Credit Union: Best for Rewards
- Low Opening Deposits: Most accounts have a low $5 opening deposit.
- Lenient Membership Requirements: Join with a one-time $5 membership fee.
- Large ATM and Branch Network: Access over 30,000 CO-OP ATMs and 5,000 branches.
- Conditions for APYs: Requires 12 debit card purchases totaling at least $100, monthly deposits, and e-statements for Rewards Checking.
- Varying APYs on Other Products: Rates on other products may be less appealing.
3. DCU (Digital Federal Credit Union): Best for Savings
- Plenty of Account Options: Offers a range of free personal and business accounts with competitive rates.
- ATM Cards: Provides ATM cards for easy cash withdrawal at CO-OP ATMs.
- Lenient Membership Requirements: Join by making a $10 donation to its partner charity, Reach Out For Schools.
- Limited Branches: Primarily located in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
- Some APY Requirements: Some accounts have specific balance requirements to start earning interest.
4. Pen Air Federal Credit Union: Best for CD Rates
- Free Interest Withdrawals: Allows withdrawal of earned interest at any time.
- Low Opening Deposit: Most CDs can be opened with just $500.
- No Membership Fees: Membership requires joining Friends of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, with Pen Air covering the fee.
- Mandatory Savings Account: Need to open a Pen Air Savings account if not already a member.
- Limited Customer Service: Limited options for customer service compared to other credit unions.
5. Navy Federal Credit Union: Best for Military Members
- Low Monthly Fees: Most checking and savings accounts are free.
- Plenty of Options: Offers a wide range of banking services and perks for military members.
- Membership Perks: Earn rewards and get discounts at select retailers.
- Limited Eligibility: Membership is restricted to military service members and their families.
- Past Regulatory Issues: Faced regulatory issues related to debt collection in 2016.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Credit Union
The article highlights key considerations:
- Membership Requirements: Some credit unions have strict eligibility criteria, while others, like Alliant, have more relaxed requirements.
- Fees: Varying fee structures, with some smaller credit unions charging fees that may be waived with certain balance requirements.
- Interest Rates: Rates vary among credit unions, with some offering rates comparable to traditional banks and others providing higher APYs.
- ATM Access: Availability of ATMs, especially for credit unions with a regional focus. Some credit unions, like Alliant, offer access to a large ATM network.
- Internet and Mobile Banking Portals: Importance of user-friendly online and mobile banking platforms.
- Other Perks: Additional benefits like discounts on travel, shopping, and free financial education.
Are Credit Unions Safe?
Yes, credit unions are safe, with deposits insured up to $250,000 by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). Federally chartered credit unions are regulated by the NCUA.
Pros and Cons of Credit Unions
- Better Customer Service: Nonprofit structure and member ownership contribute to superior customer service.
- Better Terms: Generally offer higher interest rates and lower fees than traditional banks.
- Local Branches: Provide a personalized experience with local branch access.
- Membership Requirements: Some have strict eligibility criteria.
- Fewer Bank Accounts: Smaller credit unions may not offer a complete range of banking products.
- Older Technology: May lag behind in terms of technological advancements.
Questions to Ask When Choosing a Credit Union
Consider factors such as branch proximity, available accounts, fees, establishment history, reputation, online banking quality, customer support, charter type, and eligibility.
What is a Credit Union?
Credit unions are nonprofit institutions historically designed to provide banking services with lower rates and fees. Members are considered part-owners, allowing participation in decision-making processes.
3 Alternatives to a Credit Union
- Traditional Bank: Offers branch accessibility but may have lower interest rates and higher fees.
- Online Bank: Provides competitive APYs and low fees, suitable for those not regularly depositing cash.
- Digital Bank: Focuses on digital banking, offering tech-forward solutions and early direct deposits.
For a personalized banking experience with competitive rates and minimal fees, credit unions, like those mentioned in the article, are an excellent choice. However, eligibility requirements should be considered before making a decision. Compare options based on APY, fees, and other factors to find the best fit for your financial goals.