Whether you’re looking to open a new account or move your current accounts, credit unions could be an excellent place for your money.
They can provide a bang for your buck that’s hard to match by other financial institutions.
Credit unions are typically cheaper than traditional banks and tend to offer better rates while still having branches (unlike online banks).
But choosing a credit union can be a difficult task – in the U.S., there are just shy of 6,000 credit unions!
It is also important to understand what they offer since we all live in different financial situations and have different financial goals.
10 Best Credit Unions for 2021
- 🏆 Alliant Credit Union: Best for Checking and Savings
- Connexus Credit Union: Best for Checking
- Consumers Credit Union: Best APY
- Navy Federal Credit Union: Best for Military Members
- PenFed Credit Union: Best for Competitive APYs
- Security Service Federal Credit Union: Best for Identity Theft Protection
- Star One Credit Union: Best for No Fee Mortgages
- State Farm Federal Credit Union: Best for State Farm Employees & Family Members
- Teachers Federal Credit Union: Best for No-Fee Checking Accounts
- VyStar Credit Union: Best for Florida and Georgia Residents
Alliant Credit Union
Alliant Credit Union is based out of Illinois and has over $12 billion in assets, making it one of the largest credit unions.
Founded in 1935, it now has over 500,000 members. The five membership eligibility criteria make it relatively easy to join this credit union.
One way to join this credit union is by becoming a member of FC2S (Foster Care To Success), an initiative aimed at building a college fund for American youth in foster care. Membership costs $5.00, making it very affordable while still contributing towards a good cause.
They offer a wide range of products and services, including deposit accounts, loans, investment accounts, and insurance.
They also offer credit cards with cashback rebates points while their checking account has an APY of 0.25% and no monthly fees or balance requirements.
- Interest-bearing checking account
- Access to over 80,000 ATMs
- Highest APY rate at 0.65%
Connexus Credit Union
While Connexus is based in Wisconsin, they have members in all 50 states across the U.S. The credit union has just over $3 billion in assets and just under 400,000 members.
There are several different ways to become a member, including being a resident of eligible communities or counties, students and employees of several groups, and those having a connection to any of these groups.
Connexus offers its members an entire suite of accounts and several products, including loans and credit cards. Their checking account can earn you an APY that goes as high as 1.75%, which is much higher than the rate they offer on their savings account.
Connexus also offers an app for kids, available through their mobile banking app. The app teaches them the importance of money and even allows parents to assign chores around the house – and allowance for completing these chores.
- Available in all of the U.S.
- High-Yield checking account
- CDs have a minimum deposit of $5,000
Consumers Credit Union
Consumers Credit Union is a credit union based in Michigan. They have 22 offices in Michigan, with membership open to anyone who lives or worships in the Lower Peninsula area.
The credit union offers both personal and business accounts, loans, and investments options, with the highest APY rate on offer reaching 4.00%.
Members also get discounts from local businesses when using Consumers Credit Union’s debit card or credit card. If you’re looking for a mortgage, you’ll be glad to know that the credit union is an Equal Housing Opportunity lender.
The 4.00% APY rate is available on their Serious Interest Checking account, but you will need to meet some requirements to get this rate.
Savings accounts and CDs have lower rates, and all accounts are insured by the NCUA up to $250,000.
- High APY rate on checking account
- Perks on credit cards and debit cards
- Only available to Michigan Lower Peninsula residents
Navy Federal Credit Union
Membership in the Navy Federal Credit Union is open to those who have ties to the DoD, National Guard, or armed forces and their family members and household members. The credit union has been around since 1933 and has over 10 million members.
Navy Federal only offers personal products and services with no business offerings.
Either way, you’ll find several deposit accounts as well as loans and credit cards. Most accounts are free, and APY rates go as high as 0.95% on their top-tier CDs.
Among their savings products, you’ll find accounts that are specific for retirement as well as education, including IRAs and ESAs.
Education certificates, in particular, have a very low minimum deposit amount, and the APY rate can go as high as 3.00%, more than three times that of a standard CD.
These features make it a great option if you’re looking to save for expenses related to education.
- Great APY rate on Education Certificates
- Earn bonus points on credit card
- A low number of fee-free ATMs when compared to the competition
PenFed Credit Union
PenFed Credit Union membership is open to those affiliated with the military, employees of qualifying organizations, members of qualifying associations, or those living in an eligible location.
If you do not fall within these criteria, the credit union also offers many other options to get your membership. The credit union has over 2 million members worldwide and manages $25 billion in assets.
Once you become a member, you’ll get access to all of the deposit accounts, loans, and credit cards that are on offer. Of course, some eligibility criteria apply for certain products and services, but PenFed does its best to help its members.
APYs on certificates go up to 0.75%, while on Checking accounts, it will go up to 0.35% – depending on your balance. Savings, on the other hand, enjoy a maximum rate of 0.50%.
The credit union also offers an extensive learning center with expert advice on a wide range of topics to help you make the most out of your accounts and finances.
- Support is available 24/7
- Multiple membership options
- APY rates not as high as the competition
Security Service Federal Credit Union
Security Service Federal Credit Union (or SSFCU) first opened its doors in 1956. Back then, it was called the United States Air Force Security Service Federal Credit Union or USAFSSFCU (still quite a mouthful).
The credit union is based in Texas, but thanks to shared branches, they are available nationwide. The credit union has over 770,000 members and assets totaling over $9.5 billion.
The credit union offers a wide range of products and services for both businesses as well as individuals. While you’ll find all of the usual accounts and loans, SSFCU also offers investments, including mutual funds and trust accounts, as well as insurance for homes as well as autos.
CD rates go up to 1.00%, but you’ll need to opt for a 7-year term and deposit at least $100,000 to get this rate. The checking account does not offer any interest.
Still, it comes with many identity theft protection and recovery services, which makes sense because the union was opened by the U.S. Air Force Security Service members.
- Wide range of products and services
- Extensive identity theft protection
- Low APY rates
Star One Credit Union
Star One Credit Union is located in Silicon Valley, California. The credit union has over 113,000 members worldwide and manages over $10.2 billion in assets.
Membership is reserved to Star One’s partner members, those who live or work in Santa Clara, as well as those who satisfy one of the many other eligibility criteria.
The credit union offers many deposit accounts and debit cards, credit cards, loans, and mortgages. Checking accounts are free and can earn you interest.
CD terms go up to a maximum of 2 years with an APY of 0.60% and a minimum deposit requirement of $2,500. On the other hand, their Money Market Savings Account has an APY of 0.50%.
Mortgage loans offered by Star One feature no origination fee and fast approval. A 30-year mortgage comes with an APR of 3.279%, while a 15-year mortgage comes with an APR of 2.543%.
You can also take advantage of the credit union’s bonuses, where you can get $60 for successfully referring your friends and $100 for opening an IRA account.
- Bonuses on offer
- Free checking account
- Limited account options
State Farm Federal Credit Union
State Farm Federal Credit Union is based in Illinois and is open to all current and former State Farm employees, agents, and immediate family members. It has been around since 1936 and is an Equal Housing Lender and a member of the NCUA.
Savings accounts carry an APY of 1.01%. This rate is available on all balances for Share Savings, IRA Savings, and Electronic Share accounts.
The credit union also offers several different loans, including vehicle loans, line of credit, personal loans, and share secured loans.
State Farm FCU also offers special loans to those who have suffered from weather-related disasters through the Disaster Relief Loans. Here you can borrow up to $3,000 with no payments due in the first 90 days and loan terms as long as 36 months. The APR on this loan is currently 8%.
- Specialized loans for disaster relief
- Access to tools such as budgeting tools
- Limited product offering
Teachers Federal Credit Union
Teachers Federal Credit Union is based in New York with branches in Queens, Manhattan, and Long Island.
The credit union has 32 branches in total and manages some $8.3 billion in assets. While the credit union was opened by a group of educators from Long Island 68 years ago, membership is open to everyone, with over 350,000 members calling this credit union theirs.
Teachers Federal Credit Union offers products and services to both businesses as well as individuals. Their checking account comes with no fees and no opening deposit or balance requirements, making it accessible to many people.
CDs offer a maximum APY of 0.85% and have a minimum deposit requirement of $1,000.
The credit union also offers many other deposit accounts such as IRAs and Money Market and credit cards, and different loans. As it’s a federal credit union, you’re covered for up to $250,000 making banking here safe.
- Fee-free checking account
- Membership open to everyone
- APY rates low when compared to the competition
VyStar Credit Union
VyStar is a credit union servicing people who live or work in many counties in Florida and Georgia. The credit union actually made our list of the best banks and credit unions in Florida!
It has just shy of 1,600 employees, over 60 branches, and services both businesses and individuals.
VyStar offers its members a wide range of products and services, including deposit accounts, credit cards, loans, and insurance. If you’re looking for investment options, you’ll find a few different choices here, thanks to VyStar Investments Services.
The credit union also runs VyStar Title Agency to help those refinancing their homes or selling them in the closing process.
The credit union also offers many tools and services to help its members manage their finances. From advice and planning to investments and insurance tools, there are many ways that you can find the help you need to reach your financial goals.
You can also head to the website’s promotion section to find current deals and offers on products and services.
- Wide range of products and services
- Many different promotions
- Membership not open to everyone
What are Credit Unions?
Credit unions are financial institutions that operate on a nonprofit basis. They offer the same range of services and financial products as banks, including rewards checking accounts, student loans, online banking, mobile apps, direct deposits, and many others.
Since they’re not for profit, credit unions tend to offer better high-rate accounts, lower interest rates on their loans, and low fees. All of this makes them a very attractive proposition.
Accounts are typically insured through the NCUA (National Credit Union Administration). This deposit insurance work similarly to that offered by the FDIC (reserved for bank accounts) and covers account balances separately for each account category.
Types of Credit Unions
Before choosing a credit union, it’s important to note that there are two main types of credit unions – federal credit unions and state-chartered credit unions.
Generally speaking, they both offer the same range of products and services, but you might come across some differences. The biggest difference that you need to be aware of is how they are insured.
Federal Credit Unions are insured through NCUA, which the U.S. government backs. State-Charted Credit Unions, on the other hand, are not federally-backed and are insured by private insurers.
Credit Union Membership Requirements
Credit unions do not have customers but members. When you join a credit union, you must open a share account, making you a member of that credit union.
This share account will have minimum balance requirements, typically around $5.00. It represents the stake you hold within the credit union.
In most cases, membership is restricted to those who have ties to a particular group.
That’s why you’ll find specialized credit unions such as an employee credit union with membership reserved to current employees, retirees of that company, as well as their families. Other credit unions might focus on people living in a certain area or co-op members.
Due to increased competition, many credit unions are opening their doors to even more people by offering ways to join, even if you do not work for a particular company or live in a specific area.
That’s all-around good news as this offers many Americans more options when choosing where they bank.
Once you become a member, you can use the products and services, including lower monthly fees and higher rates on savings accounts.
What Do Credit Unions Offer?
Credit unions offer most if not all of the deposit accounts that you’ll find at brick and mortar banks as well as online banks. In most cases, these will include the following:
- Checking Accounts
- Savings Accounts
- Money Market Accounts
- CDs (Certificates of Deposit)
- IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts)
Credit unions also offer credit cards, debit cards, and loans, including mortgages and auto loans.
Before choosing a credit union, take the time to understand which products and services are important to you so you can make sure the credit union offers what you need. Think about the now and any future plans you might have.
If you think you’ll need a mortgage down the line, it might be worth looking for a credit union that offers mortgages. If you are looking to save money, a credit union offering CDs with high APY rates might feature higher on your priority list.
What Makes a Credit Union The Best?
Several factors can make a credit union the best. Keep in mind that it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find a credit union that ticks all of the boxes.
It’s important to identify what’s important to you early on in the process so that you’ll know exactly what you’d like a credit union to offer.
If you’re not sure where to start or think that you might miss something important, we have prepared a list of the most important factors you may want to consider.
Range of Products and Services
Offering a wide range of financial services and products will help a credit union make the cut.
While we can plan and budget, we can’t know the future with any degree of certainty.
The more products and services the credit union offers, the more certain we can be that it will meet our needs no matter what.
While having access to a range of products and services is certainly a big plus, these also need to come at a fair price.
At the same time, credit unions tend to be cheaper than traditional banks. Understand your financial history to check which fees you pay the most.
If your account tends to run low on funds, check monthly maintenance fees and NSF fees. If you withdraw a lot of money, look for any applicable atm fees.
Saving money is important as it can significantly contribute towards a healthy and prosperous financial future.
Whether you’re looking to save money in a CD or a high yield savings account, check the APY rates on offer and make sure that they are on-par or higher than what the competition offers.
If physical branches are important to you, check if these are accessible where you live. Many banks and credit unions are transitioning to online-only to reduce their costs and offer better rates and lower fees.
Best Credit Unions FAQs
What is the best credit union to join?
There is no one best credit union to join since different credit unions will excel at different things.
If you’re looking to grow your savings, you might want to look for a credit union that offers high APY rates on CDs.
If you want to bank online without having to visit a branch, a credit union with a strong online presence is going to be the best one for you.
Take the time to understand which deposit accounts are most important to you and ultimately what you hope to get out of the credit union.
Once you have this figured out, it’s just a matter of finding the credit union that offers the best fit.
Is it better to have a credit union or bank?
There is no easy answer as to whether it’s better to have a credit union or a bank.
If you are looking for higher interest rates and fewer fees, credit unions are going to be your best bet. If you value convenience above all else, banks will probably be the better option for you.
Even so, the most important thing here is first to understand what’s important for you and then find the bank or credit union that best serves those needs.
What is the downside of a credit union?
While credit unions tend to offer lower fees and higher APYs, there are a few downsides compared to traditional and online banks.
They tend to have fewer branches when compared to traditional banks and fewer products and services on offer.
Their mobile and internet apps might not be as advanced as those of banks since they are a not-for-profit financial institution with all profits returned to the account holders.
How safe are credit unions?
Credit unions are very safe. Federal credit unions, which make up most of the U.S. credit unions, are insured by the NCUA (National Credit Union Administration) for up to $250,000 per account category.
Should the credit union fail (unlikely since the NCUA also monitors the health of credit unions), you’ll get your money back up to the insured limit.
Non-federal credit unions are typically privately insured, so you’ll need to check if this is the case.
Is a Credit Union Best for You?
Choosing a credit union is not always an easy task.
Many credit unions work hard to remain competitive, offering increasingly lower fees and surcharges while increasing the rates they pay of deposit accounts.
The important thing to understand before choosing a credit union is what’s important to you.
We all have different financial requirements, and as a consequence, we all value things differently.
Understanding what you want to achieve with your money will help you make a better choice.