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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 credit unions differ in that they are owned by their members instead of shareholders. They're also organized as nonprofit enterprises.
As a result, you’ll often find more competitive rates at credit unions than at many banks. Often, there's just as wide a choice of products and accounts. That makes them an excellent choice for your banking needs.
We’ve identified credit unions open to customers nationwide and then compared interest rates, account types and features, the ability to bank in-branch, and the ease of membership to whittle the list down to our top picks in six categories.
Best Credit Unions for 2023
Best Overall : Blue Federal Credit Union
Blue Federal Credit Union offers virtually every type of account or loan you’ll need and pays well-above-average rates. It charges zero or minimal fees and is 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
Five checking account choices, including free and high-yield options
Savings and CD rates at three to six times the national average
Ability to bank in-branch at more than 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
Blue Federal Credit Union has a full-service menu offering checking, savings, money market, and CD accounts. It also offers health savings, IRA, and business accounts, and multiple credit cards. Moreover, Blue has most of the loans you could want, including mortgages, vehicle loans for students, personal, and business loans. It has great rates and in-person access.
Fees are low or non-existent for most accounts. Plus, rates on savings and CDs are higher than the national average. Meanwhile, its high-yield checking option is one easy 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. This enables you to bank at more than 5,000 credit union locations throughout the U.S., as well as use more than 30,000 nationwide ATMs.
Blue Federal Credit Union targets Wyoming and Colorado. People in those states who don’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 : Liberty Federal Credit Union
Liberty Federal Credit Union, previously known as Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union, offers an open door to everyone within its field of membership. And with its extensive choice of checking accounts, including one of the best high-yield options anywhere, it wins our honors for best credit union for checking.
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
Ten free ATM withdrawals
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
Liberty Federal Credit Union (LFCU) covers all the checking account options, including a basic free checking account, debit card, or a money market account that pays more than the national average. They also have two accounts in which you can earn a phenomenal rate or rewards if you use your debit card regularly.
If you’re willing to regularly use a debit card, you can earn much more with LFCU’s Vertical Checking account. This high-yield account currently pays 3.45% APY on balances up to $20,000.
To earn this impressive rate in any given month, make at least 15 debit card purchases, arrange for one or more direct deposits, 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 with an LFCU credit card, or two dollars spent with an LFCU debit card. Redeem accumulated points for merchandise, cash back, gift cards, or travel.
Joining LFCU is easy and open to all who are members of organizations in its field of membership or employed by or retired from an employee group in its field of membership. Membership 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
As an online-only institution operating out of the Chicago area, Alliant doesn’t have to spend money on maintaining physical branches. This allows it to pay higher rates. As a result, we’ve named it our best credit union for a savings account.
Earn almost nine 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.
Its High-Rate Savings currently pays almost nine times more than the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)’s recent national average savings account rate of 0.33%, and it has no fees as long as you sign up for paperless statements.
It also offer a high-rate checking account, teen checking, and certificates of deposit (CDs) with competitive rates. All this makes it 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 free. If you don't meet standard eligibility requirements, you can become a member of Alliant's affiliated nonprofit Foster Care to Success. Alliant will cover the one-time $5 membership fee.
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. While many institutions offer mildly competitive rates on most certificate terms and perhaps a standout rate as a promotion on one particular term, Hiway’s rates are well above average for all terms. This landed it at the top of our category for best credit union for CDs.
Consistently pays CD rates that are higher than average 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 64,000 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 below the national average
No teen checking account, and the youth savings account pays a lackluster rate
Hiway's one-year CD rate is greater than the FDIC’s recent national average of 1.28% APY. And for a five-year certificate, you can earn more than double the national average of 1.21% APY. Those with modest savings can open a CD with just $500. You can 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 with a customer-friendly design and 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 conduct 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
Service Credit Union offers great rates (and even better bonus rates for deployed individuals), few fees, and low minimums. This makes it our pick for the best credit union for active and veteran military personnel and their families.
Exceptional rates on savings accounts
A free no-minimum checking account that pays interest
Low minimum deposits for CDs with competitive rates
Access to over 85,000 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 puts the focus on active duty military personnel, veterans, and their family members. The result is a full-range credit union that pays some of the best rates available.
At Service, you can earn many times the average national rate on savings accounts. A balance up to $500 currently earns 5.00% APY.
Service offers other great reasons to join. Its checking account is free, has no minimum balance requirement, and pays interest. Its CDs have a low minimum deposit requirement of just $500 with competitive rates. It also offers a holiday savings account that pays an appealing rate.
Among Service’s most attractive offerings is its Deployed Warrior Savings account, which is open to those currently on 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 become members by joining the American Consumer Council (free of charge) or the Financial Fitness Association.
Best If You Have Kids : First Tech Federal Credit Union
Easy-to-join First Tech Credit Union wins our top prize for the best credit union for families with children. A youth bank account can be a great way to instill smart money skills at an early age. 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.
Pays one of the highest national rates on savings accounts for minors, and offers fee-free youth checking
Accounts for parents include high-yield checking, a top-paying HSA, and low-interest credit cards
No fees or donations to become a member
Access to free ATMs and 6,500 shared branches nationwide
Except for kids' savings, savings account rates are subpar
CD rates aren’t very competitive
No free checks on either adult checking account
California-based First Tech offers a Start Up Checking account for kids. This account features a great rate, 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.
First Tech has plenty to offer parents as well, providing a full array of accounts, credit cards, and loans. Especially attractive is no membership fee, not even a required donation. All that’s required is that each member keep $5 in their member savings account.
If you’re in the market for an all-in-one banking option and expect to use a variety of products, it’s hard to beat Blue Federal Credit Union. Its extensive selection of accounts, credit cards, and loans is enhanced by rates that overshadow the majority of financial institutions. Plus, it features no or low fees and an easy 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.
Compare the Best Credit Unions
|Financial Institution||Why We Picked It||Key Benefit|
|Blue Federal Credit Union||Best Overall||Completely full-service with good to great rates across products|
|Liberty 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
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.
Banks are protected 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. Some credit unions may not offer all of the products that you need or desire. Some very small credit unions may not offer a robust online or mobile customer interface. The key is simply to choose a credit union that offers a wide assortment of products, and especially those you find most important.
Is It Better to Join a Bank or Credit Union?
That depends on what you're looking for in a financial institution. While banks and credit unions often offer the same types of products, banks may offer more or a greater variety of them. As membership organizations, credit unions in particular are known for their interest in helping their members achieve financial goals over the years. In the process, they may offer higher deposit rates and lower loan rates than banks. On the other hand, credit unions can be smaller than banks and lack the branch presence or ATM availability that you need. Banks don't require membership while credit unions typically do although typically, there's no fee (except for those who wish to join but aren't eligible).
Is It Worth Being In a Credit Union?
It can be. Credit unions offer most of the accounts that banks offer. And they operate as nonprofit organizations that answer to their customer members (rather than shareholders). They are known for placing the focus on members and their communities, providing products and services people need, often at more attractive rates and lower costs than those available at banks. Their customer service is normally considered an advantage.
Why Do People Prefer Banks Over Credit Unions?
Not everyone does. However, for those who do, it may be because banks can sometimes offer a greater number and variety of financial products and services. They might have relationships with other financial institutions that can benefit consumers. They can have more branches and an extensive network of ATMs, which can allow people to conduct transactions close to work or home. Banks can also have a stronger online presence and online banking capability, including high-quality mobile banking apps and options.
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.