7 Best Credit Unions [2024]: Are They Better Than A Bank?

BANKING - CHECKING ACCOUNTS
Credit union membership is generally restricted to those meeting certain qualifications, but these excellent options are open to just about anyone.
Updated April 5, 2024
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The best credit union available nationwide is First Tech Federal Credit Union, which features extra-high annual percentage yields (APYs) on its accounts. Depending on who you work for and what you're looking for, however, another credit union may be a better fit.

We’ve rounded up the top options for credit unions across a range of different factors to help you find the best banking partner.

In this article

Key takeaways

  • Credit unions often feature higher rates on savings accounts and lower rates on loans than banks.
  • Credit unions are nonprofit banking institutions that are collectively owned by all of the members together.
  • You’ll need to fit within a credit union’s “field of membership” in order to join, usually limited to people in a certain area, working for certain employers, or members of partner associations. There are some credit unions anyone can join, however. 
  • Make sure that the credit union you join is protected by National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) insurance, similar to the FDIC insurance offered at banks.

The 7 best credit unions

Best credit union comparison

Best for… Depository products offered Checking APY Savings APY
First Tech Federal Credit Union High APYs
  • Checking
  • Savings
  • CDs
Up to 5.00% (as of Feb. 9, 2024)1 Up to 5.00% (as of Feb. 9, 2024)
Consumers Credit Union Unique savings accounts
  • Checking
  • Savings
  • CDs
  • Money market
Up to 5.00% (as of May 23, 2023) Up to 3.00% (as of Feb. 9, 2024)
Navy Federal Credit Union Military members, family, and DoD contractors
  • Checking
  • Savings
  • CDs
  • Money market
Up to 0.35%-0.45% (as of Feb. 9, 2024) 0.25% (as of Feb. 9, 2024)
Bethpage Federal Credit Union Mobile app experience
  • Checking
  • Savings
  • CDs
  • Money market
0.40% (as of Feb. 9, 2024) 0.10% (as of Feb. 9, 2024)
Alliant Credit Union ATM fee refunds
  • Checking
  • Savings
  • CDs
0.25% (as of May 23, 2023) Up to 3.10% (as of May 23, 2023)
Connexus Credit Union Personal assistance
  • Checking
  • Savings
  • CDs
  • Money market
Up to 1.75% (as of Feb. 9, 2024) 0.25% (as of Feb. 9, 2024)
PenFed Credit Union Rewards credit cards
  • Checking
  • Savings
  • CDs
  • Money market
Up to 0.15%-0.35% (as of Feb. 9, 2024) Up to 3.00% (as of Feb. 9, 2024)

First Tech Federal Credit Union

Pros
  • No monthly fees
  • Lots of ways to borrow money
  • Excellent rewards checking and savings
Cons
  • High overdraft fees
  • Incoming wire transfer fees
  • Lots of requirements to earn rewards

Membership requirements: Employees of partner companies and residents of Lane County, Oregon, are eligible for membership. Anyone else can become a member if they join a partner organization, which you can do at the same time you apply to join. First Tech Federal Credit Union is also insured by the NCUA.

You’d be hard-pressed to find higher rates on any checking and savings account combo compared with First Tech Federal Credit Union’s offerings. That high APY comes with several requirements, though — you’ll need to spend a certain amount with your debit card each month (at least $500, across 20 or more swipes), get $1,000 in direct deposits, and be signed up for electronic statements. If you don’t meet those requirements, you won’t be eligible to earn that high rate.

First Tech Federal Credit Union is also a great choice if you need to borrow money, given its wide range of flexible funding options. It even offers many choices you won’t find elsewhere like student loan refinances repaid via a balloon payment at the end of the term.

However, there are still some annoying fees to watch out for, particularly if you’ll be receiving wires as regular payments or overdrafting your account.

First Tech Federal Credit Unionis insured by the NCUA.

Visit First Tech Federal Credit Union2

Consumers Credit Union

Pros
  • 24/7 customer support
  • Unique account options
  • Low certificate minimum deposits
Cons
  • Savings rates aren’t impressive
  • Somewhat-confusing requirements for highest APY

Membership requirements: Consumers Credit Union is open to anyone as long as you make a $5 donation to the Consumers Cooperative Association and maintain $5 in a savings account.

If you’re looking for different options for your savings, consider Consumers. The rate it offers on its highest-yielding savings account won’t blow you away, but there are many options. You can sign up for a Holiday Club account, for example, or a Smart Saver account that can help guide you to saving more money through automatic transfers and higher APYs.

You can also earn a very high rate with its checking account in some cases. Consumers offers three tier levels with varying spending requirements, and if you tick the boxes for all three tiers each month, you could earn up to 5.00% (as of May 23, 2023) APY.

There are no monthly fees, but the penalties for other activities are quite high. Overdrafting your account will cost you $30, for example, and incoming wire transfers cost $10.

Consumers is insured by the NCUA.

Visit Consumers Credit Union

Pros
  • Excellent borrowing options
  • Many branches near military bases
  • Highly rated for customer satisfaction
Cons
  • Not open to general public
  • Low rates on savings accounts
  • Some accounts charge monthly fees

Membership requirements: You’ll need to be associated with the military in order to be eligible. Members must also maintain $5 in a savings account.

Navy Federal Credit Union offers decent checking and savings accounts, although they unfortunately don’t come with a high APY compared with other credit unions.

If you place a high priority on quality customer service, however, and you need to borrow money, it’s hard to find a better financial institution than Navy Federal. You’ll have an abundance of credit card and loan options to choose from, and the credit union gets consistently high customer satisfaction ratings as judged by J.D. Power.

As a military-first credit union, Navy Federal isn’t available for anyone to join. It still casts a wide net, however, and you can still qualify even if only a grandparent served in the armed forces or if you’re a government employee assigned to work on a military base.

Navy Federal is insured by the NCUA.

Visit Navy Federal Credit Union

Bethpage Federal Credit Union

Pros
  • Easy to join
  • Highly rated mobile app
  • Great customer support options
Cons
  • Low rates on savings account
  • Limited checking account options
  • No in-person branches outside of New York

Membership requirements: Bethpage allows any U.S. citizen or permanent resident to join the credit union by depositing $5 in a savings account.

Bethpage Federal Credit Union is based out of the eponymous Bethpage, New York, the state where all of its in-person branches are located. Nevertheless, Bethpage is among the many credit unions jumping on the digital bandwagon by offering virtual banking services in a new way: via video chat with a banker.

You will have to deal with a disappointing offering for its savings account, however, which offers a rate that’s almost nonexistent. It does a little bit better with its sole checking account option (a Free Checking Account), but even then, you’ll need to jump through several hoops in order to get just a middling rate on your deposit.

Bethpage is also a member of the NCUA.

Visit Bethpage Federal Credit Union

Alliant Credit Union

Pros
  • Excellent mobile app
  • 24/7 customer support
  • Family-friendly account options
Cons
  • No in-person branches
  • Low-ish rates on savings
  • Higher-than-average loan rates

Membership requirements: Anyone can join Alliant Credit Union. If you don’t work for an Alliant partner employer or live or work in Chicago, Alliant will make a one-time $5 contribution to its nonprofit organization on your behalf. You’ll also need to deposit $5 into a High-Rate Savings account to get your membership started.

Alliant Credit Union may not offer the highest rates on savings that you’ll find among many online credit unions, but it’s not too far off either. It’s a particularly good choice for families, as the credit union offers a Kids Savings and Teen Checking account for parents looking to teach their children about how to manage their money.

Busy families and people working odd schedules will also appreciate the 24/7 customer support phone lines. It’s also easy to get cash on the go no matter where you are since the credit union offers up to $20 each month in ATM fee refunds.

Alliant is a member of the NCUA and is insured.

Visit Alliant Credit Union

Connexus Credit Union

Pros
  • Well-designed mobile app
  • High-yield checking account
  • Excellent customer support options
Cons
  • Low savings account rates
  • Inactivity and excess withdrawal fees
  • High minimum deposits for higher-earning accounts

Membership requirements: Anyone can join Connexus by donating $5 to the Connexus Association. Residents of certain towns in the Midwest and people working for certain employers can also join without making a donation. All members must keep at least $5 in a savings account.

If you’re annoyed by the low rate offered on most checking accounts (if interest is offered at all), then consider Connexus. Its flagship product is its “Xtraordinary Checking” account offering up to 1.75% (as of Feb. 9, 2024) APY as long as you’re signed up for electronic statements and either make 15 debit card purchases each month or spend $400 on your debit card. You can even set up reminders to make sure you hit these targets with Connexus’s mobile app, which comes highly rated.

Connexus is also a good choice if you yearn for more personal service but you’re not stoked by the options available in your area. You can schedule an appointment to talk to a Connexus banker via phone to set up new accounts, and live chat is available for 12 hours every day (except Sunday) on its website.

This credit union is NCUA insured.

Visit Connexus Credit Union

PenFed Credit Union

Pros
  • Easy to join
  • Excellent rewards credit cards
  • Financial hardship assistance programs
Cons
  • Relatively low rates
  • High monthly maintenance fees
  • Pesky requirements to earn higher APY

Membership requirements: PenFed membership is open to anyone, so there’s no need to join an ancillary organization first like many nationwide credit unions require. You’ll still need to deposit $5 in a savings account to kick off your membership, though.

If you’re not too concerned about earning the highest APY (perhaps because you have a better savings account elsewhere), then PenFed is a good choice, particularly if you’re looking for a rewards credit card. The credit union offers several to choose from, including a flat-rate cash-back card, a gas and groceries card, a travel card, and a balance transfer card.

The downside is that there are several annoying fees and requirements for many of its everyday accounts. For example, the Access America Checking comes with a $10 monthly fee. You can get this fee waived fairly easily by keeping at least $500 in your account or having at least $500 in direct deposits each month, but that’s still a burden to remember.

PenFed is NCUA insured.

Visit PenFed

What’s the difference between a bank and a credit union?

Banks and credit unions are both places where you can do your everyday banking. Banks tend to be for-profit companies that charge higher rates and fees in general while offering lower-yielding savings accounts, although the best online banks are competitive with many credit unions.

In contrast, credit unions are nonprofit institutions that are owned collectively by the members themselves. They often feature more customer-friendly products and rates because of this member-centric focus, rather than being driven solely by profits.

To become a member, you’ll need to meet certain criteria, such as being a member of specific organizations, working for certain employers, or living in a certain area.

Credit unions and banks both generally offer the same types of accounts: checking accounts, money market accounts, savings accounts, loans, and others. You might come across different names for things at each institution, however.

For example, you can open a “CD” at a bank, versus a “certificate” or “share certificate” at a credit union. Your funds are generally insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation at a bank, versus the National Credit Union Association at a credit union.

How to join a credit union

Joining a credit union can be rewarding, but it typically takes a little bit more work than opening an account at a bank. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Decide on what’s important to you: Credit unions differ in terms of the rates they offer, the types of accounts available, loan options, member support services, online offerings, in-person branches, and more.
  2. Shop around: Check with different credit unions that fit your criteria to see what they offer. It’s easy to find the best rates online for nationwide credit unions.
  3. Check membership eligibility: Make sure you fit within the membership criteria. Large nationwide credit unions may allow you to join if you first become a member of another organization, while smaller credit unions may only be open to people in certain areas.
  4. Apply for membership: Submit an application to join the credit union, either online or in person. You’ll typically need to provide ID and basic information about yourself, and you’ll get to choose which accounts you want to open at this time.
  5. Make a small savings account deposit: Most credit unions require that you make a small deposit (usually around $5) into a savings account to establish your membership. You’ll need to keep this in the account to keep your membership active.

How to choose the best credit union for you

There can be a lot of differences between credit unions that can make or break your experience. Here are a few factors to consider as you shop around:

  • Is it insured by the NCUA? Most credit unions are, but it’s worth double-checking.
  • Does it offer in-person branches? If so, how many, and are they convenient to you?
  • What types of accounts are offered? How many choices do you get for each account type?
  • What rates are offered on the accounts? If there are special requirements to earn a higher rate, how realistic will it be for you to meet these each month?
  • Are there minimum balance requirements? And can you meet them?
  • What are the fees? Monthly fees, overdraft charges, inactivity fees, wire transfer fees?
  • What support services are provided? Does it offer credit counseling, discounts, or financial wellness programs?
  • What do the online and mobile interfaces look like, and how easy are they to use? What are their ratings in the app stores?
  • How well do current members rate the credit union as a whole? Make sure to consult actual reviews and complaints.
  • How does your chosen credit union compare to the best banks? Does it come with higher rates or better features?

FAQ about the best credit unions

Do credit unions help build credit?

Not directly, unless you apply for credit. Most people use credit unions for banking services like checking and savings accounts, and these are not recorded on your credit report.

But if you apply for a loan or a credit card and make all of your payments on time, credit unions can help you build credit just the same as any other lender. Some credit unions also offer financial education and credit counseling that can help you learn good credit habits.

Do credit unions check your credit to open an account?

No, unless you apply for credit. Credit unions may check with banking reporting agencies like ChexSystems to make sure you haven’t mismanaged past bank accounts, but they typically won’t check your actual FICO credit score unless you apply for a loan or credit card.

Is the money in credit union accounts safe?

Yes, as long as it’s insured by the NCUA. Most credit unions offer this insurance, but not all. This insurance is similar to FDIC insurance for banks, and it means that all of your deposits (up to $250,000) with a credit union are protected in case the credit union fails.

What is the best credit union to use?

The best credit union to use is the one that meets your needs the best, and that will be different for everyone. Some people prefer to do their banking in person at a local credit union. Other people want the best rates and online offerings available at nationwide digitally based credit unions.

Best credit unions: bottom line

First Tech Federal Credit Union is an all-around great choice for the best credit union due to its high interest rates, while Alliant Credit Union is a good choice if you use ATMs frequently. Consumers Credit Union and Navy Federal Credit Union are good choices for families, while Connexus Credit Union and Bethpage Federal Credit Union offer strong digital options.

Finally, PenFed Credit Union is a good choice if you’re looking for credit cards. Credit unions in your local area may also offer good options, so be sure to check with them too.

Methodology

The companies we chose for our best credit union list may be current or past FinanceBuzz partners. We did not review all credit unions in the market. When evaluating these credit unions, we considered factors such as APY, products offered, and membership requirements.

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Author Details

Lindsay VanSomeren Lindsay VanSomeren is a professional writer based in Suquamish, Washington. Originally a wildlife biologist, Lindsay became passionate about helping others learn smart financial moves after seeing how positive money habits made a big difference in her own life.

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