From a functional standpoint, there isn’t much difference between a credit union and a bank: both offer a variety of deposit accounts, loans, and credit accounts to personal and business customers. But where credit unions differ is that they are owned by their members instead of shareholders, and organized as nonprofit enterprises.
As a result, you’ll often find more competitive rates at credit unions than at many banks with just as wide a choice of products and accounts to choose from. That makes them an excellent choice for your banking needs.
We’ve identified which credit unions are open to customers nationwide and then compared interest rates, account types and features, the ability to bank in-branch, and the ease of membership in order to whittle the list down to our top picks in six categories.
The Best Credit Unions for 2021
Best Overall : Blue Federal Credit Union
Blue Federal Credit Union’s banking menu covers virtually every type of account or loan you’ll need while paying well-above-average rates, charging zero or minimal fees, and being very easy for anyone to join. Add in-person banking at thousands of credit union branches across the country, and you can see why we’ve named it our best overall credit union.
One-stop-shop for most consumers’ every banking need
Three checking account choices, including free and high-yield options
Savings and CD rates at three to seven times the national average
Ability to bank in-branch at 5,000 credit union locations nationwide
A handful of other credit unions and online banks offer higher savings and CD rates
Not as large an ATM footprint as some networks
No youth or teen accounts
Blue Federal Credit Union has a full-service menu offering checking, savings, money market, and CD accounts, but also health savings, IRA, and business accounts; multiple credit cards; and almost any kind of loan you could want, from mortgages and vehicle loans to student, personal, and business loans. With all that, great rates, and in-person access, it wins our award for best all-around credit union.
Fees are low or non-existent for most accounts. Plus, you can multiply your earnings on savings or CDs by two to seven times the national average. Meanwhile, its high-yield checking option is one of the easier ones to qualify for, requiring just 10 debit transactions per month instead of the more typical 12 to 15.
Blue participates in the Co-Op Shared Branch network of credit unions, enabling you to handle many banking transactions at about 5,000 credit union locations throughout the U.S., as well as use about 30,000 nationwide ATMs.
Geographically, Blue Federal Credit Union targets the Wyoming and Colorado region, but anyone who doesn’t meet the credit union’s standard eligibility requirements can join by simply donating $5 to the affiliated Blue Foundation and keeping a minimal $5 in savings.
Best for Checking : Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union
Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union offers an open door to everyone. And with their extensive choice of checking accounts, including one of the best high-yield options anywhere, they win our honors for best credit union for opening a checking account.
Five different checking options to choose from
High-yield checking account with a chart-topping rate on balances up to $20,000
Option to earn rewards points instead of a high APY
Generous number of free ATM withdrawals per month
CD rates are high, but no high-yield savings account available
Free checks only for those under age 23 or older than 55
No youth or teen accounts
Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union (ETFCU) covers all the checking account options, including a basic free checking account, debit card, or a money market account that pays two to four times the national average. But they also have two accounts in which you can earn a phenomenal rate or rewards if you use your debit card regularly. With so many great choices, we’ve named them our best credit union for checking accounts.
If you’re willing to regularly use a debit card, you can earn much more than you’d probably imagine with ETFCU’s Vertical Checking account. This high-yield account currently pays a staggering 3.30% APY up to $20,000 every month you meet the requirements.
To earn this impressive rate in any given month, just make at least 15 debit card purchases, have a direct deposit of any amount hit your account, login at least once via online or mobile banking, and sign up for paperless statements.
With the same monthly qualifications, you can instead opt for Platinum Rewards Checking, which pays one point per dollar spent on an ETFCU credit card, or two dollars spent on an ETFCU debit card. Redeem accumulated points for merchandise, cash back, gift cards, or travel.
Joining ETFCU is easy and entitles you to all the banking and loan services the credit union offers. Just make a $5 donation to their affiliated nonprofit, the Mater Dei Friends & Alumni Association, and keep at least $5 in your member savings account.
Best for a Savings Account : Alliant Credit Union
Alliant is an online credit union, and its lack of branches enables it to pay higher interest rates than you'll find at most other institutions, earning it our top spot for best credit union for a savings account.
Earn eight times the national average rate for a savings account
Competitive checking account and CD rates
Access to 80,000 free ATMs, plus refunds up to $20 per month on out-of-network ATMs
Youth savings and teen checking available
No physical branches, and not part of a shared branch network
No health savings accounts (HSAs)
No business accounts
If a high-yield savings account is among your banking priorities, Alliant Credit Union is an excellent option. As an online-only institution operating out of the Chicago area, Alliant doesn’t have to spend money on maintaining physical branches, which allows it to pay higher rates. As a result, we’ve named it our best credit union for a savings account.
Its High-Rate Savings currently pays more than 10 times the FDIC’s national average savings account rate of 0.05%, and it has no fees so long as you sign up for paperless statements with no minimum or maximum balance.
They also offer a high-rate checking account, teen checking, and certificates of deposit (CDs) with competitive rates, making them a viable option to handle most of your everyday banking needs.
What you can’t get with Alliant is in-person banking, as there are no Alliant branches and they don’t participate in the shared network for credit unions. But you can access a very broad and deep network of ATMs, with 80,000 of them fee-free across the country, and up to $20 reimbursed to you per month for any ATM fees you incur out-of-network.
Joining Alliant is not only easy but it is also free. Though they require you to sign up for a membership in their affiliated nonprofit Foster Care to Success, they will cover the $5 membership fee for you.
Best for CDs : Hiway Credit Union
Hiway Credit Union is a full-service credit union offering virtually every type of bank account, credit card, or loan, but where it really shines is in its stellar rates on certificates of deposit, landing it at the top of our category for best credit union for CDs.
Consistently pays CD rates that are among the best in the country across all major CD terms
Also offers a high-yield checking account
One-stop-shop for almost every consumer or business banking or borrowing need
Access to over 60,000 free ATMs and 5,000 shared branches nationwide
Earning the highest CD rates requires a $25,000 minimum per certificate
Rates on its savings accounts are barely over the national average
No teen checking account, and the youth savings account pays a lackluster rate
While many institutions offer mildly competitive rates in most certificate terms and perhaps offer a standout rate as a promotion on one particular term, Hiway’s rates are among the best in the nation for all terms, making them our pick for best credit union for CD shoppers.
On its one-year CD, Hiway’s rate is a significant four to five times the FDIC’s national average rate of 0.15% APY. And for a five-year certificate, you can earn three to four times the national average of 0.32% APY. Those with modest savings can open a CD with just $500, but you also have the option to earn more by putting a bigger balance into the CD, with additional rate tiers at $10,000 and $25,000 per certificate.
A visit to Hiway’s website quickly impresses you, not only with a customer-friendly design but also with a full slate of bank account types. These include HSA, Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, Youth Savings, as well as IRAs, credit cards, all major consumer loans (other than student loans), and business offerings. As a member of the Co-Op Shared Branch network, you can also perform in-person transactions at 5,000 credit union offices nationwide.
If you don’t live or work in Minnesota or qualify through your employer, you can join Hiway with a simple $10 donation to either the Hiway Credit Union Foundation or the Minnesota Rec & Parks Foundation, plus $5 deposited into a member savings account.
Best for Military Individuals & Families : Service Credit Union
For active military individuals and veterans, as well as their family members, Service Credit Union offers great rates, even better bonus rates for deployed individuals, and few fees with low minimums, making it our pick for best military credit union.
Exceptional savings rates accounts
A free no-minimum checking account that pays interest
Low minimum deposits on CDs with competitive rates
Access to over 60,000 free ATMs and 5,000 shared branches nationwide
No high-yield checking option
For larger savings account balances, online banks pay more
Though its CDs are competitive, higher rates can be had elsewhere
Service Credit Union has a focus on active duty military, veterans, and their family members. The result is a full-menu credit union that pays some of the best rates available and earns top billing among credit unions for military-affiliated individuals and families.
At Service, you can earn many times the average national rate on savings accounts if your balance is under $25,000, but those with more modest balances can really score. That’s because any balance below $4,000 earns a higher APY than the top-paying nationwide savings account, which currently offers 0.80% APY.
But Service presents many more reasons to join. Its checking account is free, has no minimum balance, and pays interest. And its CDs have a low minimum deposit of just $500 with competitive rates. It also offers a holiday savings account that pays an unbeatable rate.
Among Service’s most unique offerings is its Deployed Warrior Savings account, which is open to those currently serving active duty in a combat zone. For those who qualify, the account pays an eye-popping rate of 10% APY on balances up to $10,000.
Membership in Service Credit Union is open to anyone who is active duty military, a veteran, or a current or former employee of the Department of Defense or other select employers. Those who are directly related to a military individual are also eligible, including not just immediate household members but also siblings, parents, grandparents, and grandchildren. In addition, non-military individuals can gain eligibility by joining the American Consumer Council with an $8 annual membership.
Best If You Have Kids : First Tech Federal Credit Union
Easy-to-join First Tech Federal Credit Union scores our highest marks for an ultra-high-paying account that’s great for your kids.
Pays one of the highest national rates on savings accounts for minors, as well as offering fee-free youth checking
The menu for parents includes high-yield checking, a top-paying HSA, and low-interest credit cards
No fees or donations to become a member
Access to over 60,000 free ATMs and 5,000 shared branches nationwide
Savings account rates are subpar
CD rates also aren’t very competitive
No free checks on either adult checking account
A youth bank account can be a great way to instill smart money skills at an early age, and First Tech wins our top prize for credit unions that are great for kids. First Tech’s Start Up Savings account pays a phenomenal 5% APY on all balances up to $1,000 with a minimum balance requirement of $5.
First Tech also offers a Start Up Checking account. This account also features no fees and is open to any age child up to age 18. With parental consent, your child can have a debit card. The checking account also has no minimum balance requirement.
Of course, California-based First Tech has plenty to offer parents as well, providing a full array of accounts, credit cards, and loans. Especially attractive is that you can join First Tech at no cost, not even requiring a donation. All that’s required is for each member to keep $5 in their member savings account.
Whatever your banking needs—whether it’s an all-around great credit union or one that beats most others for a particular type of account—our list of winning credit unions will lead you to a solid choice that’s likely to earn you more than you were previously earning, all while knowing you are supporting a credit union’s nonprofit mission in its geographical or employer community.
If you’re in the market to move all of your banking to one place and expect to use a variety of products, it’s hard to beat Blue Federal Credit Union. Their extensive menu of accounts, credit cards, and loans is enhanced by rates that beat the majority of financial institutions while featuring no or low fees and an easy, simple membership process. On top of that, with Blue’s participation in the Co-Op Shared Branch network, you can do in-branch business at thousands of credit union locations across the U.S.
|Financial Institution||Why We Picked It||Key Benefit|
|Blue Federal Credit Union||Best Overall||Completely full-service with good to great rates across products|
|Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union||Best for Checking||Best in class rewards checking, as well as other checking options|
|Alliant Credit Union||Best for a Savings Account||Highest savings account rate paid by a nationwide credit union|
|Hiway Federal Credit Union||Best for CDs||CD rates consistently rank among the Top 10 nationwide|
|Service Credit Union||Best for Military Individuals & Families||Exceptional savings rates, especially for deployed individuals|
|First Tech Federal Credit Union||Best If You Have Kids||Youth savings account pays a top national rate|
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Is a Credit Union?
Credit unions operate largely like banks, offering all of the same types of deposit accounts (savings, checking, money market, and CD), credit cards, and loans (mortgages, vehicle loans, personal loans, etc.). Where they differ is in their business structure, with credit unions operating as nonprofits that answer to their customer members, while banks are responsible to their owners or shareholders for generating profits.
As a result, credit unions typically have a strong focus on serving their membership and the community in which they operate. That community could be geographical, or it could be a community of thousands of employees from one or more partner companies. Some credit unions serve these communities by contributing to local projects, while others focus on providing quality banking products with the best rates they can offer. The best credit unions do both of these.
Is Your Money Safe in a Credit Union?
Yes, a credit union can be as safe a place for your hard-earned funds as a bank. That’s because, just like banks, the vast majority of credit unions are federally insured, providing protection on up to $250,000 in deposits per individual per institution. So if your credit union fails, all of your deposits up to this threshold are safe.
For banks, government backing is provided via the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, while credit unions are protected by the NCUA, or National Credit Union Administration.
What Is the Downside of a Credit Union?
The disadvantages to banking with a credit union are minimal. Though there are certainly some very small credit unions that may not offer as robust of an online or mobile customer interface compared to larger institutions, this is no different when comparing large versus small banks.
Similarly, some credit unions may not offer all of the products you desire. But again, you can experience this across the wide spectrum of banks as well. The key is simply to choose a credit union that offers a wide menu of products, and especially those you find most important.
Credit unions often pay higher interest rates and charge lower loan rates than many banks. But this is not always the case. In particular, one area where online banks tend to dominate physical banks and credit unions is in high-yield savings accounts.
Can I Be a Member of More Than One Credit Union?
There is no limit to how many credit unions you can join, with almost every credit union having the policy that “once a member, always a member.” So even if you no longer bank with a certain credit union, you may find that credit union useful to you in the future, and you will still be a member when you return for new business.
Joining multiple credit unions is a common strategy among those who want to maximize the rates they earn on each account type. For instance, retirees with a significant amount invested in CDs can be well served by holding certificates of different term lengths at different banks or credit unions.
How We Chose the Best Credit Unions
There are more than 5,000 credit unions in the U.S., but the vast majority limit their customer base to a specific community, state, or region, or to a particular employee group. A little more than a hundred of them, however, make it possible to join no matter where you live or work. We started our research with these.
From there, we dug into the details on which of those credit unions pay the best rates on savings and CDs, offer the best checking account options, provide the broadest array of financial services for personal and business customers, and provide the easiest and cheapest paths to membership. We also prioritized credit unions that participate in the Co-Op Shared Branch network and therefore provide local banking access even to customers who do not live where the credit union has locations.
With this data in hand, we were then able to filter the best credit unions into our award categories above.