The best credit unions of September 2020

Best credit unions 4x3Best credit unions 4x3

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Credit union Savings APY Checking APY Next steps
Alliant Credit Union 0.65% APY 0.25% APY Learn More
Bethpage Federal Credit Union 0.20% APY 0% to 0.50% APY Learn More
Blue Federal Credit Union 0.65% APY 0% to 3.50% APY Learn More
Connexus Credit Union 0.25% APY 0% to 1.75% APY Learn More
Consumers Credit Union 0.05% to 1.50% APY 0.10% to 4.09% APY Learn More
Pentagon Federal Credit Union 0.80% APY 0.20% to 0.40% APY Learn More
Wings Financial Credit Union 0.10% to 0.70% APY 0.05% to 1.76% APY Learn More

Credit unions are not-for-profit businesses that require you to become a member to keep your money with the institution.

Many credit unions set strict requirements for membership based on your career field, the company you work for, or the area where you live. But the best credit unions should have lax rules regarding who can join.

The best credit unions should also provide services you can’t find at traditional banks, such as high interest rates or strong customer support.

Keep reading to learn about our picks for the top credit unions.

Our expert panel for this guide

We consulted banking and financial planning experts to inform these picks and provide their advice on finding the best credit union for your needs. You can read their insights at the bottom of this post.

PFI Banking Expert Panel

Business Insider

To choose our winners, we’re focusing on what will make a credit union the best fit for the highest number of people. The top credit unions should be easy to join and offer products that are more competitive than what you’ll find at traditional banks.

Alliant Credit Union

  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

    • Several ways to become a member; the easiest is to join Foster Care to Success (Alliant will cover your $5 membership fee)
    • 80,000 free ATMs
    • If you don’t have overdraft protection but overdraw, then you’ll pay $28 for Courtesy Pay so your transaction can go through, and you must replenish funds within 17 days
    • Federally insured by the NCUA
    • Earn interest
    • No minimum opening deposit
    • No monthly service fees
    • $20/month in out-of-network ATM fee refunds
    • Free overdraft protection if you have an Alliant savings account
    • Only 2 branches, in Chicago
    • $28 overdraft fee
    • Unlimited overdraft fees in one day
    • Compounds interest monthly, not daily

    Why it stands out: Alliant is an online-only credit union, and it’s ranked as one of Business Insider’s top online banks. There are over 80,000 free ATMs, and if you use an out-of-network ATM, Alliant will reimburse up to $20 per month in any fees charged by providers. 

    How to join: Join Foster Care to Success, and Alliant will cover your $5 joining fee. Or be an employee, retiree, or member of certain organizations; live in specific parts of Illinois; be a relative of an Alliant member.

    Look out for: Unlimited daily overdraft fees. Many institutions will only charge you an overdraft fee a certain number of times per day, but Alliant can charge you its $28 fee an unlimited number of times. This could put you in a bind if you make multiple purchases without realizing you’ve overdrawn.

    Bethpage Federal Credit Union

  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

    • Join Bethpage by opening a savings account with $5
    • 30,000 free ATMs, 5,000 shared branch locations
    • Earn APY for each month you receive a direct deposit, AND make 10 debit card transactions, AND are enrolled in online banking with e-statements
    • Federally insured by the NCUA
    • No monthly service fees
    • No minimum opening deposit
    • Ability to earn interest
    • No out-of-network ATM fees
    • $30 overdraft fee
    • $5 fee when transferring money for overdraft protection

    Why it stands out: Bethpage pays competitive rates on checking and savings accounts. It’s rare that institutions make it easy to access your savings, but Bethpage sends you a debit card when you open a savings account. Bethpage has over 5,000 shared branch locations in New York you can visit if you want to speak with a banker face-to-face.

    How to join: Open a savings account with $5.

    Look out for: Savings APY. Bethpage’s savings interest rate is higher than what you’ll find at brick-and-mortar banks, but you can find higher savings rates at some of our other top picks.

    Blue Federal Credit Union

  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

    • Become a Blue FCU member with $5
    • 30,000 free ATMs
    • 5,000 shared branches worldwide
    • To earn interest, make 10 monthly debit card transactions, AND enroll in e-statements, AND do one of the following each month: receive a direct deposit, use online bill pay, or make an ACH deposit or withdrawal
    • If you meet these criteria, earn 1.50% to 3.50% APY on balances up to $15,000, and 0.05% on balances over $15,000
    • Earn 1.50% as a silver member, 2.50% as a gold member, and 3.50% as a sapphire member
    • Membership levels depend on your number of Blue FCU products, balances in accounts and loans, and number of years with Blue FCU
    • Interest compounded and paid monthly
    • Federally insured by the NCUA
    • Earn interest
    • Earn higher interest the longer you bank with Blue FCU
    • No monthly service fee
    • No minimum opening deposit
    • No out-of-network ATM fee
    • Refunds up to $28/month in ATM fees charged by out-of-network providers
    • $30 overdraft fee
    • If you overdraw by over $1,000, your purchase is declined
    • Interest compounded monthly, not daily

    Why it stands out: You can earn a high APY on your checking balance. Blue FCU has over 5,000 shared branch locations around the world, and it reimburses up to $28 per month in out-of-network ATM fees charged by providers.

    How to join: You just need to donate $5 to the Blue Foundation.

    Look out for: Mobile app. The mobile app doesn’t have many reviews in the Apple and Google Play stores, and the existing ones are relatively poor. If you like to bank from your mobile app, then Blue FCU may not be the best fit.

    Connexus Credit Union

  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

    • Become a Connexus member by donating $5 to the Connexus Association
    • 54,000 free ATMs
    • Subscribe to e-statements to earn APY. You also must either make 15 debit card transactions per month OR spend $400 per month with your debit card
    • Earn 1.75% APY on balances up to $25,000; earn 0.25% APY on balances over $25,000
    • Federally insured by the NCUA
    • Ability to earn a high APY
    • No minimum opening deposit
    • No monthly service fee
    • No out-of-network ATM fee
    • Refunds up to $25/month in out-of-network ATM fees charged by providers
    • Multiple overdraft protection options
    • Interest compounds monthly, not daily
    • $29.95 overdraft fee

    Why it stands out: Connexus pays competitive rates, and its Connexus Xtraordinary Checking Account could earn you a very high rate if you use your debit card frequently and/or spend at least $400 per month with your debit card.

    How to join: Become a member of the Connexus Association with a one-time $5 donation; be an employee, retiree, member, student, student graduate, or relative of a member of certain organizations; residents of areas in Minnesota, Ohio, or Wisconsin; be a relative, spouse, or housemate of a Connexus member. 

    Look out for: Savings rate. You can find a higher savings APY at other credit unions.

    Consumers Credit Union

  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

    • Earn 2.09% APY on balances up to $10k when you enroll in eDocuments, make 12 debit card transactions per month, and receive $500 per month in deposits
    • Earn 3.09% on balances up to $10k when you meet qualifications for 2.09% and spend $500/month with your CCU credit card
    • Earn 4.09% on balances up to $10k when you meet qualifications for 2.09% and spend $1,000/month with your CCU credit card
    • Earn 0.20% APY on balances between $10k and $25k
    • Earn 0.10% APY on balances over $25k
    • High APY
    • Relatively easy to become a member of Consumers Credit Union
    • Only $5 to open an account
    • No monthly service fee
    • Unlimited reimbursements for out-of-network ATM fees
    • $10 overdraft transfer charge
    • Mobile app has received poor reviews in Google Play store
    • Limited customer support hours
    • Interest compounds monthly, not daily

    Why it stands out: The Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking Account is one of our top picks for the best rewards checking accounts. You’ll earn a high rate if you use your debit card frequently, and an even higher rate if you use your Consumers Credit Union credit card.

    How to join: Pay a $5 membership fee to the Consumers Cooperative Association, then deposit and keep $5 in a Consumers savings account.

    Look out for: Credit card requirements. The checking account works on a tiered system, and you’ll need to use a Consumers Credit Union credit card to qualify for the top two interest rate tiers. This might not be a great fit if you don’t want to open a credit card. But it’s worth noting that the third tier, which just requires debit card purchases, still has a pretty good rate.

    Pentagon Federal Credit Union

  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

    • Become a PenFed member by opening a savings account with $5
    • Federally insured by the NCUA
    • Interest is compounded and paid monthly
    • Competitive APY
    • $5 opening deposit
    • No monthly service fee
    • Compounds interest monthly, not daily
    • You may find a slightly higher rate elsewhere

    Why it stands out: PenFed has branches in 13 states, DC, Guam, and Puerto Rico, but you can also bank digitally if you don’t live near a branch. It pays one of the top savings rates in the industry, and its minimum deposits are low. 

    How to join: Open a savings account with $5. Or be affiliated with the military; have a relative who is a member of PenFed; be an employee or member of certain organizations.

    Look out for: Overdraft protection. Its only overdraft protection option is a line of credit, and the terms will depend on your credit history. Many banks and credit unions give you the option to transfer money from a savings account to your checking as overdraft protection, but PenFed doesn’t.

    Wings Financial Credit Union

  • Details
  • Pros & Cons

    • Join Wings Financial by becoming a member of the Wings Financial Foundation for $5
    • Rate increases when balance hits $10k, $50k, and $250k
    • Interest compounded and paid monthly
    • Federally insured by the NCUA
    • Competitive APY on higher balances
    • No minimum opening deposit
    • No monthly service fee
    • Lower APY on lower balances
    • Interest compounds monthly, not daily

    Why it stands out: Wings Financial has several checking and savings accounts. You can earn high rates if you follow a few guidelines with your checking account, and if you maintain a high balance in your savings account. You have free access to ATMs nationwide, and to branches in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, and Washington.

    How to join: Donate $5 to join the Wings Financial Foundation; or live, work, worship, or volunteer in certain parts of Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, or Washington; be an employee or retiree of the aviation industry; have a family member who is a member of Wings Financial.

    Look out for: ATM fees. Wings Financial’s ATM fee policy is still more lenient than many banks’ rules, but not as impressive as what you’ll see with many of our top credit union picks. You can withdraw from out-of-network ATMs 10 times per month; after that, you’ll pay a $2.50 fee each time. Wings Financial doesn’t reimburse any fees charged by out-of-network ATM providers, like some credit unions do.

    Other credit unions we considered, and why they didn’t make the cut

    • Star One Credit Union: This credit union pays competitive rates, but you can only join if you live, work, or attend school in certain parts of California, or work for an affiliated company.
    • Boeing Employees Credit Union: There are a few ways to become a member of BECU, but for the most part, you need to live in Washington state or select counties in Oregon or Idaho.
    • Quorum Federal Credit Union: Quorum pays a pretty good rate on its savings account, so it could be a good option if you work for a partner business or join one of several organizations.
    • VyStar Credit Union: You must live in certain parts of Florida or Georgia to join VyStar, and its checking and savings rates aren’t as good as what you’ll find with our top picks.
    • Navy Federal Credit Union: You can only join if you’re affiliated with the military, and you can find higher checking and savings rates elsewhere.
    • Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union: RBFCU is for people who live in Texas, and it doesn’t pay the highest rates.
    • First Tech Federal Credit Union: This credit union pays good rates, but you must live or work in Lane County, Oregon, or work for a partner organization, or join the Computer History Museum or Financial Fitness Association. If you don’t meet any of these criteria, a First Tech customer service rep can talk to you about more options.
    • Golden 1 Credit Union: You may like Golden 1 if you live near a branch in California.
    • America First Credit Union: You might be able to join America First if you live in Western states.
    • SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union: This credit union is for education employees in California, and its rates are just so-so.
    • Suncoast Credit Union: You can join Suncoast if you live in certain parts of Florida, but the rates are pretty low.
    • GTE Financial: This credit union could be a good fit if you live in the Tampa, Florida, area.

    Why trust our recommendations?

    Personal Finance Insider’s mission is to help smart people make the best decisions with their money. We understand that “best” is often subjective, so in addition to highlighting the clear benefits of a financial product or account — a high APY, for example — we outline the limitations, too. We spent hours comparing and contrasting the features and fine print of various products so you don’t have to.

    How did we choose the best credit unions?

    We chose credit unions that are easy to join, rather than ones that are limited to residents of certain states or employees for specific organizations. We also selected credit unions that shine in areas where credit unions are supposed to shine, such as high rates and strong customer support. All of our picks are federally insured by the NCUA, which means your money is protected (up to $250,000 for an individual account) should the institution fail.

    What is a credit union?

    A credit union is a not-for-profit financial institution owned by its members. You must become a member to bank with a credit union, and each business has its own rules about who can join.

    This is in contrast to traditional banks, which are for-profit companies. Almost anyone can keep money with a bank, as long as you have the necessary minimum opening deposits.

    What are the pros and cons of credit unions?

    Here are the pros of credit unions over traditional banks:

    • They often pay higher rates on bank accounts.
    • They offer more personalized customer service.
    • They charge lower fees.
    • They typically require less money to open an account.

    Here are the cons of choosing a credit union instead of a traditional bank:

    • Many banks compound interest daily, but credit unions compound monthly. (Although this isn’t always the case. Check before you choose your institution!) If a credit union pays a much higher rate than a bank, then you’ll probably still earn more with the credit union. But if the difference in rates is minuscule, then you might want to go with a bank.
    • Credit unions don’t have as many physical branches as most national banks.
    • Credit unions can be slower to adapt to new technology than banks.

    If you want high interest rates with the technology that comes with a bank, then you may want to look at opening an online high-yield savings account.

    Are credit unions better than banks?

    It depends on what you’re looking for. If you want advanced technology, then a bank is probably better for you. If you value personalized customer service, then a credit union could be a better fit.

    The most important thing is that an institution is federally insured. A bank should be insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC. A credit union should be insured by the National Credit Union Administration, or NCUA.

    To learn more about what makes a good credit union and how to choose the best fit, four experts weighed in:

    Here’s what they had to say about credit unions. (Some text may be lightly edited for clarity.)

    How can someone decide between a bank and a credit union?

    Tania Brown, CFP:

    “For most people, it falls into five categories: location, interest rates, services, technology, and relationships. Next, prioritize what’s important and you will have your answer. For instance:

    • If multiple regional and national locations are important: Banks typically have more locations than credit unions.
    • If the most important thing to you is a high interest rate: Credit unions, on average, offer better interest rates than banks.
    • If a lot of services (commercial banking, business banking, investment services, etc.) are valuable to you: Larger banks offers more services than most credit unions. 
    • If feeling like a person, not a number, matters to you: Credit unions are known for great personalized customer service.
    • If you are a tech junkie: Larger banks typically offer more tech bells and whistles for online users than credit unions.”

    Laura Grace Tarpley, Personal Finance Insider:

    “Look at interest rates and how often interest compounds. The more often an institution compounds interest, the more money you’ll earn. Many credit unions pay higher rates than banks. But they only compound interest monthly, whereas banks compound daily. Do the math to figure out where you’ll earn the most.”

    How can someone determine whether a credit union is right for them?

    Tania Brown, CFP:

    “Think about what you need and want in your credit union. For instance, because there are typically fewer credit union branches,  you may want to consider a credit union with a large ATM network and partnerships to reduce ATM fees.”

    Mykail James, CFEI:

    “Research the requirements to become a member and be sure that you can meet those standards.”

    What makes a checking account good or not good?

    Roger Ma, CFP:

    “I would look at the ATM branch locations and then minimum balance amounts to not incur a monthly fee … I think there’s other stuff that could make life easier, whether it’s a free checks, online bill pay, or are they in the Zelle network?”

    Laura Grace Tarpley, Personal Finance Insider:

    “Make a list of the top three to five things you want out of a checking account. Is it a great mobile app, 24/7 customer support, no ATM fees? Then research the best banks for those features.”

    Generally, what makes a savings account good or not good?

    Roger Ma, CFP:

    “It might not be as seamless to get your money out of an online savings account as it is from a brick-and-mortar, but you don’t want to have so much friction where it’s such a pain to get the money out when you need it.”

    Mykail James, CFEI: 

    “Anything with a fee is not a good high-yield savings account. Anything that restricts how much you can save is, to me, not very good. If I can’t save more than $10,000 in this account, and then I have to move it over somewhere else — to me, that’s not a really good savings account, because it’s not really prepared to help me expand and grow, which is what a savings account is supposed to do. I also look at interest rates, definitely. I look to see when the interest is paid. Is it quarterly, or is it monthly? How often do they pay out interest, and what are the interest rate stipulations?”

    This post was reviewed and updated on September 3, 2020.

    Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

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