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Best Credit Unions of 2024

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updated: May 14, 2024

A credit union is a type of not-for-profit financial institution that’s member-owned rather than shareholder-owned. Opting to bank with a credit union has several distinct advantages, including impressive APYs on both checking and savings accounts, and wide networks of fee-free ATMs and credit union branches. But with so many available, how can you choose the best credit union? And which of these best choices are you eligible to join?

The options listed below are among the top credit unions in the country. Learn more about each to see if any is your ideal match.

Best credit unions compared

Credit UnionBest forChecking APY*Savings APY*Can you avoid monthly feesATM network
Alliant Credit Union
Savings
0.25%
3.10%
Yes, by selecting eStatement
Alliant
PenFed Credit Union
Zero membership limitations
Up to 0.35%
3%
Yes, with monthly direct deposits of $500 or more OR a daily balance of $500 or more
Allpoint, CO-OP
Connexus Credit Union
Teens
Up to 2%
0.25%
No monthly fees
CO-OP, MoneyPass
Consumers Credit Union
Checking account APY
Up to 5%
3%
No monthly fees
CO-OP
First Tech Federal Credit Union
Checking and savings
Up to 5%
Up to 5%
No monthly fees
CO-OP
Navy Federal Credit Union
Military members
Up to 0.45%
0.25%
Yes, with an average daily balance of $1,500 or more
CO-OP

Our recommendations

The six credit unions featured below are our top picks for anyone looking for an alternative to a traditional for-profit bank.

Best for savings: Alliant Credit Union

Alliant Credit Union offers a High-Rate Checking and a High-Rate Savings account designed to get you the most return on your money. The High-Rate Checking account features no monthly service or overdraft fees, no minimum balance requirements, access to more than 80,000 fee-free ATMs, and up to $20 monthly reimbursement for out-of-network ATM fees.

Where Alliant shines is with its savings account options. The High-Rate Savings account offers an APY of 3.10% with balances over $100. Additionally, you can open up to 19 supplemental savings accounts for specific savings goals. That way, if you are saving for a down payment on a house and a vacation at the same time, you can earmark money for each goal in a separate account to avoid inadvertently spending it.

To become an Alliant Credit Union member, you must be a current or retired employee of one of Alliant’s partner businesses or organizations, an immediate family member of an existing Alliant member, or live or work near the union’s corporate headquarters in Chicago. Although there are no physical locations, customer support is available via phone or email, although the website doesn’t specify customer service hours.

Why we picked it: Saving for multiple goals simultaneously is easy with Alliant’s available supplemental savings accounts—and you can earn up to 3.1% APR.

Pros:

  • You can access more than 80,000 ATMs fee-free.
  • The High-Rate Savings account has an APY of 3.10% with a minimum balance of $100.
  • You can open up to 19 supplemental savings accounts for specific savings goals.

Cons:

  • No customer service hours are specified.
  • There are no physical branches.

Best for zero membership limitations: PenFed Credit Union

While many credit unions limit membership to certain geographic areas or demographic groups, PenFed Credit Union membership is open to anyone. All you need to do is provide your name, phone number, email, and address, and open a savings account with a small $5 deposit, and you’ll automatically be a member. This makes PenFed ideal for just about any banking customer.

The Access America checking account offers 0.15% APY on daily balances up to $20,000 and 0.35% APY on balances between $20,000 and $50,000. This APY is quite low compared to the APYs on offer at other credit unions. Still, the Access America account has numerous perks, including access to more than 85,000 fee-free ATMs and getting paid up to two days early with direct deposits.

The Premium Online Savings account has no monthly fees and offers up to 3% APY. All you need to do to open a Premium Online Savings account is make a $5 deposit and you can start earning dividends.

Customer support is available 24/7—all you need to do is fill in an online form with your contact information and basic details about your question. You’ll receive a call from the next available agent, which means no waiting around on hold for someone to answer. There are also several physical branches in different areas of the country.

Why we picked it: PenFed Credit Union has no membership limitations, so anyone can join—and a 3% APY on savings accounts is an added bonus.

Pros:

  • No eligibility requirements, meaning anyone can become a PenFed member.
  • You can access more than 80,000 fee-free ATMs.
  • Premium Online Savings account has up to 3% APY.
  • Customer support is available 24/7.

Cons:

  • Access America Checking account APY is relatively low at 0.15% to 0.35%, depending on your balance.

Best for teens: Connexus Credit Union

Connexus Credit Union has three checking account options: Xtraordinary, Innovative, and Teen. All three come with perks such as free overdraft transfers with linked accounts and unlimited CO-OP and MoneyPass ATM transactions, but the Teen account has an impressive 2% APY to help young customers earn more returns on their money. There are no requirements for a Teen checking-account holder to meet to earn this APY, which isn’t always the case with banks and credit unions.

All Connexus savings accounts have an APY of 0.25%, which is rather unremarkable. However, the Holiday Club account lets you save money from each paycheck for holiday spending. The money becomes available via transfer on Oct. 1, giving you plenty of time to do your holiday shopping without rushing or worrying about going over budget.

Connexus Credit Union membership is open to anyone in the U.S. who makes a one-time $5 donation to the Connexus Association. Additionally, employees, retirees, family members, students, or alumni of a partner business or organization, including Liberty Mutual Insurance and Kraft, can become members. Residents of certain communities in Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin may be eligible, as well as spouses and family members of current members.

Customer support is relatively limited, with representatives available for 12 hours a day Monday through Friday, five hours a day on Saturday, and no support on Sundays. Digital Banking customers can send a secure message with their query, though it’s unclear how long it will take to receive a reply.

Why we picked it: Connexus Credit Union has a competitive APY for teens with no limitations, as well as a holiday savings account to take the stress out of the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Pros:

  • The Teen Checking account has up to 2% APY with no requirements to earn this yield.
  • You can save for the holidays throughout the year with a Holiday Club account.
  • There are free overdraft transfers with linked accounts.
  • You can access more than 67,000 ATMs fee-free.

Cons:

  • Customer service hours are somewhat limited, with no available support on Sundays.

Best for checking account APY: Consumers Credit Union

Checking accounts aren’t known for having high APYs (or, in many cases, any APY). The Rewards Checking account from Consumers Credit Union (CCU) has a massive 5% APY on balances up to $10,000 if the account holder opens a CCU Visa Credit Card and spends $1,000/mo. in purchases on it. (If you spend $500 a month on the card, you get 4% ). The lowest level of the Rewards account gives you 3% for requirements that also apply to the two higher levels: receiving eDocuments to enroll, making at least 12 debit card purchases a month and depositing $500 or more per month via direct deposit, mobile check deposit, or ACH credits. Other Rewards Checking account benefits include early direct deposit and over 30,000 fee-free ATMs.

The credit union also offers a Smart Saver account paying a 3% APY with a linked checking account. Other requirements to earn this APY include at least $50 to $1,000 in monthly deposits to the savings account and at least $500 in monthly direct or mobile deposits to the checking account.

To become a CCU member, you must join the Consumers Cooperative Association by making a $5 donation that will be reimbursed in most cases. Once you’ve done that, you can open a savings account with a $5 deposit, then open whichever other accounts you need. There are physical branches in the Chicago area and more than 5,000 shared branches across the country through the CO-OP network. Customer support is available 24/7 by phone, while live chat is available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST.

Why we picked it: Consumers Credit Union’s 5% checking APY on high balances makes it a smart choice for high earners, and its 3% APY on savings accounts makes joining a no-brainer.

Pros:

  • Anyone can be a member of CCU if they join the Consumers Cooperative Association with a reimbursable $5 fee.
  • Rewards Checking accounts offer up to a 5% APY on balances up to $10,000.
  • There are physical branches in the Chicago area and over 5,000 shared branches through the CO-OP network.
  • Customer support is available by phone 24/7 and by live chat from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST on weekdays.

Cons:

  • Very low APYs (0.20%, then 0.10%) on balances of $10,000 and above

Best for checking and savings: First Tech Federal Credit Union

The First Tech Federal Credit Union Rewards checking and savings account offers up to 5% APY combined. To qualify, you need to spend at least $500 per month with either account through a minimum of 20 transactions, have monthly direct deposits of at least $1,000, and sign up for eStatements. Through June 30, you can snag a $300 bonus for setting up a checking account with direct deposit of at least $1,000 for a minimum of three months. If you’re using First Tech as your main financial institution, meeting these requirements and maximizing your earnings shouldn’t be too hard.

To become a member, you must meet one of several criteria:

  • Work for one of 900+ partner companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, and Intel.
  • Be a family or household member of a current member.
  • Work for the State of Oregon.
  • Live or work in Lane County, Oregon.
  • Belong to the Computer History Museum.
  • Belong to the Financial Fitness Association.

Customer service is available 24 hours a day through a toll-free phone service for general questions. Digital Banking customers can use a secure message or the online chat function for their queries. First Tech has several physical locations in the Portland, Oregon, area, and CO-OP network branches nationwide.

Why we picked it: First Tech Federal Credit Union customers can earn 5% APY if they have a checking and savings account—and there are few requirements to qualify for this high APY.

Pros:

  • First Tech Rewards Checking and Savings accounts offer up to 5% APY combined.
  • There are physical branches in the Portland, Oregon, area, and CO-OP partner branches throughout the U.S.
  • Customer service is available 24/7 by phone.
  • Digital Banking customers can get support through secure online messages or live chat.

Cons:

  • Membership eligibility is limited compared to other credit unions.

Best for military members: Navy Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal Credit Union is ideal for military members who want their financial institution to understand their unique financial needs. Membership is open to active duty, retired, or veteran members of the U.S. armed forces, as well as to eligible family members and Department of Defense civilian workers.

The Free Active Duty Checking account allows account holders to access military pay up to one day early, which can be a huge benefit. The account has 0.05% APY and ATM rebates of up to $240 annually. Another option, the Flagship Checking account, has an APY range of 0.35% to 0.45%, depending on account balance, and ATM rebates of up to $120 annually

Navy Federal’s Share Savings Account has 0.25% APY, which is much lower than many credit union savings accounts on this list, and there is a minimum balance of $5 to receive dividends. Customer service is available 24/7, so members can access stateside representatives no matter their time zone. There are also physical branches close to military bases around the U.S.

Why we picked it: Navy Federal Credit Union is a solid choice for active duty, retired, or veteran members of the U.S. Armed Forces and can help members receive their military pay a day early.

Pros:

  • You can access military pay up to one day early with a Free Active Duty Checking account.
  • Customer service is available 24/7 by phone.
  • There are physical branches located close to military bases throughout the U.S.

Cons:

  • Membership is not available for non-military members.
  • Share Savings Accounts have a relatively low APY of 0.25%.

Methodology

To come up with this list of the best credit unions, we researched the top names in the industry and looked more closely at each one to see what they had to offer. We considered APY on checking and savings accounts, membership requirements, customer service options, and physical branch locations. Once we had the basic information, we dug deeper to determine what made each option stand out. The result was the six credit unions listed here.

How to choose the best credit union

Choosing a credit union is like choosing any other type of financial institution or product: You don’t want to go with the first one you see. Instead, you should consider several options and compare them to determine which is the best choice for you.

Check eligibility requirements

Before you put a credit union on your shortlist, you must ensure you’re eligible to become a member. Many credit unions require you to live in a certain city, county, or state to become a member, while others require you to be part of a specific group, such as an employee of a partner company or a member of the U.S. military.

Look at the product and service offerings

Once you’ve determined you’re eligible for membership, look at the products and services each credit union offers. Are there several options for checking and savings accounts, or just one for each? Can you get a credit card or loan through the credit union? Does it offer any additional resources, such as financial education? As you check the offerings, note the ones that seem the most impressive.

Compare interest rates

Credit unions usually have higher APYs on checking and savings accounts than traditional banks. But that doesn’t mean every credit union will have a high APY. Make a note of the APY for checking and savings accounts at each credit union you’re considering, and check to see if there are any requirements to earn the highest yield.

Determine customer service options

If you have any questions or issues with your accounts, you need to be able to contact a credit union representative easily. Check to see what customer service options are available with each option. Can you contact customer service 24/7, or are there limited hours? Is online support the only option, or can you reach a live customer service representative by phone? Consider your preferences and make sure your choice will work for you.

Look for your nearest branch

Most credit unions have at least one physical branch, though many are concentrated in a specific geographic area. However, credit unions usually have a network of shared branches you can use if you need in-person support. Check where your nearest branch is and if its location is convenient.

Credit unions vs. banks

One of the most important decisions to make when choosing a financial institution is deciding between a credit union or a bank. First, you must understand the difference between the two. We break it down below.

Ownership

While banks are beholden to their shareholders, credit unions answer only to their members. Bank shareholders usually require quarterly earnings increases, while credit union members do not. That allows credit unions to operate on tighter margins and put the needs of their members above profits. Credit union members can also vote in board elections, giving them a say in how the organization is run. Banks are also for-profit financial institutions, whereas credit unions are not-for-profit.

Interest rates and fees

Credit unions usually offer lower interest rates on loans and higher APY on savings accounts than banks. They also tend to have lower fees than banks. However, this isn’t true for all credit unions, so comparing your options is important to choose the best one.

Technology

Banks tend to have more advanced technologies and apps than credit unions. If you’re used to the latest technology when it comes to banking, you might be better off with a bank than a credit union. However, this isn’t always the case, so it’s smart to check the app reviews for each bank or credit union you’re considering to make sure they have the features you need.

Branches

Credit unions traditionally have fewer branches than banks, but with the advent of online-only banks, that’s not always the case. However, if you want to be able to visit your financial institution in person, make sure there’s a convenient branch nearby before opening an account.

More on credit unions

Here are more details about how credit unions work to help you decide if one would be a good fit for you.

What is a credit union?

A credit union is a type of not-for-profit financial institution. Credit union members are also part owners, which gives them more say in how the institution is run. Members can vote in board of director elections and receive a share of the credit union’s profits.

Credit unions typically offer the same services as banks, including checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, and loans. They tend to have fewer fees, higher savings rates, and lower loan rates than traditional banks. While banks are often insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), credit unions are insured by the National Credit Union Association (NCUA). This gives customers the same peace of mind as being protected by the FDIC that the money they deposit in a credit union is safe up to the insured limit (up to $250,000 for individual accounts).

How do credit unions work?

Credit unions work similarly to banks in providing a safe place for customers to keep and grow their money. But unlike banks, which are privately owned and are for-profit, credit unions are owned by their members and are not-for-profit.

You must become a member to get an account at a credit union. Some credit unions allow anyone to be a member, while others reserve membership for a specific group of people, such as military members, or employees of a specific company, or people who live in a certain area. The credit union's goal is to serve its members' needs.

Like banks, credit unions make money by charging interest and fees. However, the profits are reinvested into the credit union, benefiting the members rather than the bank shareholders. This allows credit unions to offer lower loan interest rates and higher APRs on savings accounts than many traditional banks.

Types of credit unions

There are several different types of credit unions.

  • Federal credit unions are chartered by the NCUA and insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF).
  • State-chartered credit unions are regulated by their state’s financial services division and insured by the NCUA. In some states, all credit unions are federally chartered since there’s no state-specific charter. At present, the following states (and districts/territories) do not issue state charters to credit unions: Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, South Dakota, plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Community development financial institutions (CDFIs) are intended to serve specific communities and historically underserved populations. To be a member of this type of credit union, you must live or work in a specific geographic region—commonly rural, urban, or Native land. In addition to meeting the financial needs of underserved communities, CDFIs often support the development of community resources such as schools, healthcare centers, and grocery stores.
  • Corporate credit unions are designed to serve the financial needs of credit unions. Corporate credit unions help “natural person” credit unions (the ones that serve the financial needs of their members) with their liquidity. Credit union customers can deposit excess liquidity and borrow money from their corporate credit union. As a consumer, you can’t become a member of a corporate credit union.

Services offered by credit unions

The services offered by credit unions are similar to those offered by banks. Although the exact services will differ among credit unions, the most common services include the following:

  • Checking accounts.
  • Savings accounts.
  • Credit cards.
  • Loans.

Credit union terms you need to know

If you decide to become a credit union member, there are several terms you might come across. The following are the most common terms and their definitions.

  • Dividend: The interest paid by a credit union.
  • Shared branches: A network of branches that lets members visit other credit union locations within that network.
  • Share certificates: A term credit unions use to refer to certificates of deposit (CDs).
  • Share draft account: Another word for a checking account at a credit union.

Credit union pros and cons

Everything has benefits and drawbacks, and credit unions are no exception. Although credit unions offer higher APYs on checking and savings accounts and lower interest rates on loans than banks do, they may have more limited technological features and customer service hours. The main pros and cons of credit unions are as follows.

Pros:

  • Credit unions may have more personalized customer service than banks.
  • Credit unions don’t pay corporate tax on earnings.
  • Credit unions can operate on narrower margins than banks since there’s no expectation from shareholders for them to increase earnings.
  • Credit unions often have lower interest rates on loans.
  • Credit unions often have higher APYs on checking and savings accounts.

Cons:

  • You must become a credit union member to open an account.
  • Credit unions tend to have fewer physical locations than banks.
  • Credit unions may have fewer app features due to less budget for technology.
  • Credit unions often have fewer products and services than banks.
  • Credit unions may offer less flexible opening hours and customer service hours.

Credit union credit score requirements

A credit union will only check your credit score if you apply for a credit card or loan. Similar to banks, each credit union may have different credit score requirements. In general, those with a “good” or “exceptional” credit score will be eligible for credit cards and loans from their credit union, while those with “fair” or “poor” scores may have a harder time getting approval.

Most financial institutions use the FICO credit scoring model. FICO ranges are as follows:

  • Poor: Below 580
  • Fair: 580-669
  • Good: 670-739
  • Very good: 740-799
  • Exceptional: 800 and up

How to open a credit union account

The first step in opening a credit union account is to become a member. Not everyone is eligible for membership at every credit union, so check to make sure you qualify for membership before starting the process.

If you qualify for membership, you can often become a member and open an account simultaneously, depending on the credit union. The process is quite simple:

  • Provide proof of membership eligibility.
  • Provide personal information—including name, address, and Social Security number.
  • Choose the type of account(s) you want to open.
  • Make an initial deposit and set up direct deposits for your paycheck and other income.

Can I use both a credit union and a bank?

Yes—no rule in place says you have to choose between a credit union and a bank. However, sticking with one for everyday banking needs can be more beneficial than keeping savings in one place and checking in another.

For example, many banks and credit unions offer a higher APY for customers with a checking and savings account. If you keep your finances spread across multiple financial institutions, you could lose hundreds of dollars in interest and dividends.

Online credit union accounts vs. in-person credit unions

The NCUA requires all credit unions to have at least one physical location. A better comparison might be an online-only bank vs. a credit union. Both have distinct advantages, including higher APYs and lower loan interest rates than traditional brick-and-mortar banks. However, online-only banks are still for-profit corporations, meaning their profits benefit shareholders rather than customers.

TIME Stamp: A credit union can meet your banking needs with high APYs and low loan rates

Credit unions have numerous advantages over banks, including lower loan rates and higher savings rates. Choosing the best credit union is a matter of researching the options and deciding which will best meet your needs. The credit unions included in this list have nationwide availability, and each offers unique perks that will appeal to a wide range of banking customers.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Do the best credit unions pay more interest than banks?

Credit unions generally have higher interest rates on savings and checking accounts than banks. However, that isn’t always true. Many online banks offer higher interest rates than traditional banks since their operating costs are lower, so it’s possible to find a higher APY at a bank than a credit union. The best way to find the highest APY is to shop around.

Do credit unions help you build credit?

If you get a credit card or loan from a credit union and make on-time payments, your credit score will increase.

Do credit unions check your credit?

Credit unions don’t check your credit when you apply for a checking or savings account. However, if you apply for a credit card or loan, the credit union will run a credit check as part of the application process.

Do credit unions have ATMs?

Credit unions have ATMs at their physical branches and also use ATM networks such as CO-OP to allow customers to withdraw money fee-free even if they’re not close to a branch.

The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.

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