A credit union is a not-for-profit financial institution that’s owned by its members. Credit unions offer many of the same financial services as banks do, such as deposit accounts, credit cards, loans and more. Sometimes they’re even able to provide their members with better perks, interest rates and customer service than banks.
Our ValuePenguin experts identified the best credit unions — both overall and for specific service categories. ValuePenguin is a website that’s been empowering consumers to make informed financial decisions since 2013, and our work has been featured by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Bloomberg CNN Money.
Best credit unions of August 2021
|Best overall||Alliant Credit Union||Learn more|
|Best for highest checking account APY||Digital Federal Credit Union||Learn more|
|Best for high checking balances||NASA Federal Credit Union||Learn more|
|Best for highest savings account APY||Worker’s Credit Union||Learn more|
|Best for high savings balances||Lake Michigan Credit Union||Learn more|
|Best for beginning savers||Blue Federal Credit Union||Learn more|
|Best for monthly fees||Alliant Credit Union||Learn more|
|Best for military members||Navy Federal Credit Union||Learn more|
|Best for credit cards||Alliant Credit Union||Learn more|
Best overall credit union — Alliant Credit Union
Alliant was originally founded in 1935 by a group of United Airlines employees. Alliant now has over 600,000 members spread throughout the U.S.
We chose Alliant as the best overall credit union because of the strength of their banking services across the board — plus, they’re also the only credit union on this list that tops multiple "best of" categories (best for monthly fees and best for credit cards).
Alliant offers a wide variety of banking services. They have multiple types of checking and savings accounts as well as certificates of deposit (CDs), offer credit cards, home and auto loans and personal loans, provide retirement investment accounts and trusts and also have home, life and auto insurance services for their members as well.
ValuePenguin’s methodology for choosing the best overall credit union included metrics related to account variety, accessibility, interest rates and fees. Alliant rated highly in all of those categories — especially those related to interest rates and fees — and also boasts accreditation and an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
- How to join: Alliant Credit Union extends membership eligibility to people who live or work in specific communities near Chicago, in addition to current and retired employees of businesses and organizations that partner with Alliant. Family members of current Alliant members can join too. Otherwise, you can gain eligibility by becoming a member of Foster Care to Success — and Alliant will pay the small membership fee on your behalf.
- Account options: Alliant offers a broad suite of financial services to their members.
- Branch locations and ATM access: Alliant has no branches, but they provide access to over 80,000 ATMs and offer some rebates for out-of-network ATMs as well.
Best for highest checking account APY — Digital Federal Credit Union
Digital Federal Credit Union was chartered in 1979 and has more than 900,000 members in all 50 states. It’s the largest credit union in New England as measured by assets.
The DCU Free Checking account was selected for best for highest checking account APY, as accounts earn 0.5% APY on balances up to $100,000. Higher balances earn a lower interest rate, depending on account balance, and the lowest APY an account can earn for high balances is 0.05%. No credit union offers a comparable interest rate on checking account balances, and most members can earn that 0.5% rate.
- How to join: Eligibility for Digital Federal Credit Union membership has several different paths. You can join if you’re a relative of a current DCU member; if you work for or have retired from one of many partner companies (or if your relative works for or has retired from one of them); and if you live in certain Massachusetts communities. If you don’t have any of those connections, you can join by becoming a member of one of eight nonprofit organizations.
- Account options: The Free Checking account has no minimum balance requirements or monthly maintenance fees. Members receive a free DCU Visa debit card.
- Branch locations and ATM access: DCU has 23 branch locations in the greater Boston area. They offer access to over 80,000 ATMs nationwide as part of Allpoint, SUM and CO-OP agreements.
Best for high checking balances — NASA Federal Credit Union
NASA Federal Credit Union was founded by seven members of the scientific community in 1949 and has since grown to over 200,000 members across the U.S.
The NASA FCU Premier Preferred Checking account earns a high APY of 0.35% on all balances — and there’s no upper limit on earning that interest rate. While there are no minimum balance requirements or activity fees, there is an account maintenance fee of $9 per month. That fee can be waived with Platinum Membership rewards through NASA FCU; if you have Gold, Silver or Bronze rewards, you can waive that fee with a daily average balance of at least $2,500. If you’re looking for a checking account that offers a solid interest rate on a high balance, that fee can be easily waived.
- How to join: You can join NASA FCU if you’re a NASA employee or retiree, if you’re a relative of a NASA FCU member or an employee or member of one of the 900 companies or associations that partner with the credit union. If you don’t qualify for membership through any of those methods, NASA FCU will provide a complimentary membership to the National Space Society, which entitles you to credit union membership.
- Account options: NASA FCU offers three types of checking accounts to their customers, but the Premier Preferred Checking account is the only one that earns interest. All the checking account types offer free bill pay and checks to members.
- Branch locations and ATM access: NASA FCU has 12 branches in the Washington D.C. area and Maryland. They’re also part of the CO-OP agreement, which provides broad nationwide ATM access to members of various credit unions.
Best for highest savings account APY — Worker’s Credit Union
Worker’s Credit Union was founded over 100 years ago to serve the Finnish community in central Massachusetts, and has since merged with several other credit unions and grown to more than 100,000 members.
The Worker’s Credit Union SaveUp Savings account was chosen as the best for highest savings account APY, but beware that you’ll need to deposit $50 or more each month to earn the highest rate. If you make that base deposit every month, you can earn 3.61% APY on balances up to $999.99; for higher balances, the base APY works on a tiered system similar to income tax brackets, where the balance for a specific bracket earns an APY at the base rate. For example, while a balance of $10,000 has a base rate of 0.4% APY, the overall balance of $10,000 would receive greater than 0.4% APY, because the first $999.99 in the account earns a 3.61% APY.
- How to join: In order to become a Worker’s Credit Union member, you must donate to the United Way of North Central MA or join the Financial Fitness Association — either way, WCU will pay the cost. Otherwise, your eligibility is determined by whether you live or work in Lowell, Mass. or Worcester, Mass., if you have a family member as a current Worker’s Credit Union member or if you work from a limited list of partner companies.
- Account options: The WCU SaveUp Savings account can be opened with as little as $5 and has no monthly fees. The interest rate earned when the monthly deposit requirement isn’t met is marginally lower than the top interest rate as well.
- Branch locations and ATM access: Worker’s Credit Union has 17 branches in Massachusetts and offers nationwide ATM access to its members as part of an ATM sharing program.
Best for high savings balances — Lake Michigan Credit Union
Lake Michigan Credit Union was founded as the Grand Rapids Teachers Credit Union in 1933 — over the years, it eventually outgrew its Grand Rapids, Mich., home and now has over 400,000 members located throughout the country.
The LMCU Max Savings account is designed for high balances, and it earns a strong savings APY of 0.65% on balances over $250,000. (Note: the National Credit Union Administration insures credit union balances only up to that amount.) The Max Savings account provides much lower APY rates on balances underneath that amount; you’d have to have a balance of over $100,000 to earn more than 0.1% APY. But for those who are looking to store a large amount of money in a safe place to withdraw at their convenience, the Max Savings account is the best option offered by a credit union.
- How to join: Lake Michigan Credit Union offers membership to anyone who lives, works, attends school or worships in Florida or the lower peninsula of Michigan. You can also join if you’re a family member of an LMCU member or contribute $5 to the ALS Foundation.
- Account options: LMCU offers a Member Savings account that offers the same interest rates on lower balances than the Max Savings account does. Unlike the Member Savings account, there’s no maintenance fee for the Max Savings account.
- Branch locations and ATM access: LMCU’s branches are mostly in the Grand Rapids, Mich., area, but they also have locations throughout the state — and 13 branches in Florida. LMCU offers broad ATM access with Allpoint ATMs.
Best for beginning savers — Blue Federal Credit Union
Blue Federal Credit Union was originally formed by civilian personnel looking for banking services at the F.E. Warren Air Force base in Cheyenne, Wyo. Since their start in 1951, Blue has grown to serve over 100,000 members around the world.
The Blue Accelerated Savings account is designed for beginning savers and helps you build interest quickly, which is why it was chosen as the best credit union for beginning savers. You can earn a blended APY of 5% on balances up to $1,000; at higher balances, you earn a lower APY. If you’re opening a new savings account with a large balance, the Accelerated Savings account may not be best for you — but if you’re looking to build a little emergency fund or nest egg, it’s a great place to start.
- How to join: Blue Federal Credit Union allows people to join if they donate to the Blue Foundation, an affiliated nonprofit; if you open an account and deposit $10, they’ll use $5 to support the Blue Foundation. There are also some affiliated employers in Wyoming and Colorado, as well as a connection with the F.E. Warren Air Force Base. You can join Blue through a family member as well.
- Account options: There are a variety of savings account options available from Blue Federal Credit Union, including the Sky High Savings account, which has no minimum balance or maximum threshold to earn the advertised APY. Blue offers IRA accounts as well.
- Branch locations and ATM access: Blue Federal Credit Union has 11 locations in Colorado and seven locations in Wyoming, where they’re headquartered. Blue is a member of CO-OP, which offers over 30,000 ATMs to participating credit union members.
Best for monthly fees — Alliant Credit Union
Alliant was chosen for best for monthly fees because they don’t require any monthly maintenance fees for their High-Rate Online Savings account or High-Rate Online Checking account if you opt for eStatements. Their checking account doesn’t have any minimum balance requirements either, and the fees for various types of services are generally lower than most competitors.
- How to join: Alliant’s membership eligibility requirements are listed above.
- Account options: Including the High-Rate Online Savings and Checking accounts, Alliant offers a variety of deposit accounts, including those designed for children who are learning about banking and financial services.
- Branch locations and ATM access: Alliant’s branch locations and ATM access are listed above.
Best for military members — Navy Federal Credit Union
Navy Federal Credit Union was founded by seven Navy Department employees back in 1933 and has since grown into one of the largest credit unions in the world with over 10 million members.
Navy FCU was chosen as the best credit union for military members because of its military-focused mission and because it offers solid interest rates on deposit accounts, a wide variety of account types to fit its members’ needs and fees that are easily waived by most members. They also have nationwide branch access — a rarity for credit unions — and the size of the organization enables Navy FCU to offer strong customer service to its members.
- How to join: Navy FCU’s membership eligibility extends to other branches of the armed forces: You can join if you’re an active duty servicemember, retired or a veteran of the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard or Space Force — or if your family member is. Civilian employees of the Department of Defense are also eligible for membership with Navy FCU. There are no alternative paths to membership.
- Account options: Members can open a variety of deposit accounts with Navy FCU, including savings and checking accounts, CDs and retirement accounts. They also offer loans and credit cards to members.
- Branch locations and ATM access: Navy Federal Credit Union has over 340 branches worldwide. They have their own ATMs and also are a part of the CO-OP network.
Best for credit cards — Alliant Credit Union
Alliant offers an introductory APR rate of 0% to their members for the first year after account opening, but the standard variable rates afterwards (which range from 10.24% to 23.24%) are lower than many credit cards offered by traditional banks. Their cards also offer cash back and rewards points for their members, and there are no annual fees for any of their three cards.
Check out ValuePenguin’s list of the best credit union credit cards.
- How to join: Alliant’s membership eligibility requirements are listed above.
- Account options: There are three credit cards offered by Alliant: the Visa Platinum Rewards card, the Visa Platinum card and the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card — each offers different types of bonuses and different APR rates.
- Branch locations and ATM access: Alliant’s branch locations and ATM access are listed above.
Our methodology for picking the best credit unions
ValuePenguin reviewed dozens of NCUA-insured credit unions that offer membership nationwide. Using information from DepositAccounts.com’s database, we compared these credit unions across several criteria:
- Accounts: Credit unions that were considered have a wide variety of available account types, including savings accounts, CDs and checking accounts. Credit unions with a limited selection of financial products were not considered.
- Accessibility: In order to qualify for our Best Credit Unions list, credit unions must be available nationwide — and they must have membership requirements that are easily fulfilled by most people. Only the "best for military members" selection is exempt from that requirement, as long as military members can join that credit union.
- Interest rates: The credit unions included on our list have the most competitive checking and savings account APYs.
- Fees: Credit unions with onerous account maintenance fees were excluded from consideration — only credit unions with minimal or easily waived fees were eligible for this list.
Credit unions listed as the best for a specific category must meet the requirements above in order to qualify for consideration. In order to determine the best overall credit union, we required that the credit union must have an above-average APY for savings accounts and CDs, no conditions to meet the advertised APY, no monthly fees, a mobile app and online banking, 24/7 customer service and options for checking and money market accounts. Customer reviews were also considered while determining the best overall.
What is a credit union?
Credit unions are financial institutions that are owned by their members. They’re not operated as for-profit enterprises and may have specific geographic footprints — though many credit unions now offer membership requirements that effectively make them available nationwide. Those membership requirements are a key feature of credit unions: While membership was once limited to specific communities for many credit unions, they’re now often accessible with a donation to an affiliated nonprofit. A few credit unions still have stricter membership requirements.
Credit unions vs. banks
The key difference between credit unions and banks is that banks generate profits for owners and shareholders, while credit unions are nonprofits and owned by their members. Banks are often able to offer a stronger suite of services and better online banking services, but the absence of the profit motive enables credit unions to broadly offer lower account fees and better interest rates than banks.
One specific disadvantage for credit unions — their limited geographic footprint — can pose some difficulties for members. Many credit unions have a nationwide ATM sharing agreement, but in-person services at a branch may be restricted to a small area.
What are credit union eligibility requirements?
Credit unions have a field of membership, which is the legal definition of who is eligible to join. Those fields of membership are typically organized around a common bond, and there are two types of common bonds that differentiate a group of people from the general public — occupational and associational.
Occupational bonds are defined by employment by the same companies or industries, while associational bonds are defined by membership in the same organization. Credit unions can also be organized as community credit unions who have a field of membership that consists of people who live, work, worship or attend school in a specific geographic area.
Generally credit unions that seek to expand their membership base make the associational bond widely available to most people by choosing partner organizations that have low costs to entry — and some credit unions even pay the membership fees on behalf of prospective members. While there still are some credit unions that have stricter eligibility requirements, most credit unions offer that path to membership.
Advantages of credit unions
Credit unions tend to have certain advantages over banks, including better interest rates and lower account fees. Unlike banks, credit unions are exempt from paying corporate income taxes on earnings because they’re nonprofit organizations. They also don’t have to provide returns to an ownership group. Due to those dynamics, credit unions can operate on narrower margins than most banks, which gives them an advantage in terms of providing better rates and lower fees to their members.
Disadvantages of credit unions
Banks are generally bigger businesses that offer more to their customers in terms of available accounts, online platforms and customer support services. Credit unions are often based on a geographic area, so you may not be able to visit a physical branch if you’re a member who lives far from where the credit union is located.
How to find the best local credit unions
This list of the best credit unions consists of institutions that are broadly accessible and offer paths to membership nationwide, but you may find credit unions that have better options in your own backyard. Local credit unions may provide better rates, lower fees and more personalized customer service. A Google search like "local credit unions" may help you find quality credit unions in your area.