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2018's Best Credit Unions

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by Chris Thompson Updated

Finding the Best Credit Union in 2018

Credit unions are a fantastic alternative to banks. They often use simplified fee structures and provide offers based on their members’ precise needs. While some have very specific membership requirements, others will allow anyone to join for a small payment or donation.

Bank APY Minimum Deposit Highlights
Alliant Credit Union Compare Offers Read More 1.50% $5
  • Best Savings Account for High Deposits
  • High APY
Digital Federal Credit Union Compare Offers Read More 5.12% $5
  • Best Savings Account for Low Deposits
  • Great intro APY
Consumers Credit Union Compare Offers Read More 3.09% $0
  • Best Credit Union for High Yield Checking
  • Great APY for high balances
Melrose Credit Union Compare Offers Read More 0.10% $0
  • Best Credit Union for Free Checking
  • Very simple membership requirements
Navy Federal Credit Union Compare Offers Read More 0.05% $0
  • Best Credit Union for Veterans and Their Families
  • Sizeable free ATM network
Golden 1 Credit Union Compare Offers Read More 0.15% $1
  • Best Credit Union for Children, Teens & Young Adults
  • Choose from lots of checking and savings accounts

How We Determine the Best Credit Unions

SmartAsset’s experts examined the offerings of 20 top credit unions. We scored the best by taking into account each institution’s financial offerings, fees, account minimums, interest rates and membership requirements.

Best Savings Account for High Deposits: Alliant Credit Union

 

While some high APY savings accounts will slowly decline their rates as the account’s size grows, Alliant Credit Union’s High-Rate savings account does just the opposite. As long as you hold your account’s average daily balance above $100, Alliant will apply a 1.50% APY to it. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’ve deposited $500 or $100,000 -- you’ll still earn interest at the same rate.

Just for choosing to get your bank statements digitally, Alliant will waive your monthly maintenance fee. This will ensure that what you receive back in interest will remain in your savings account for good. And although a $5 minimum opening deposit isn’t much to ask, Alliant will cover that for you as well.

There aren’t many branches with this credit union, making its mobile and online experiences extra important. Alliant has well-rated apps for both Android and Apple, along with an intuitive website. Each allows you to deposit checks remotely, though there are upwards of 80,000 fee-free ATMs you can use to make deposits and withdrawals through as well.

To join Alliant’s network of members, you’ll need to meet at least one of a few preconditions:

Best Savings Account for Low Deposits: Digital Federal Credit Union

If you just don’t have that much to open a savings account with, a Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU) Primary Savings account might be good option. A substantial 5.12% APY will apply to the first $1,000 you deposit in this DCU account. It only takes a $5 deposit to open an account, so you won’t have to break the bank to get in on this bonus rate. After that, your interest-earning potential will see a serious dip, as any amount over the initial $1,000 will receive a 0.05% APY. 

Current and retired employees or members of eligible companies or organizations make up the majority of DCU’s member base. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, though, you’ll need to be a spouse or immediate family member of someone who does, or live, work, attend school or worship in a qualified community.

DCU is much more than a personal banking destination. Becoming a member with this credit union could deliver wider options for your financial life. Members can take advantage of vehicle loans, student loans, personal loans, rewards and low interest credit cards, insurance offers, realty services, financial advisor services and business banking.

 

Best Credit Union for High Yield Checking: Consumers Credit Union

There are three tiers of annual percentage yield (APY) that you can earn when you’re a Consumers Credit Union (CCU) Free Rewards checking account holder. There are varying requirements to earn each, including stipulations based on account balance, transactions, online banking and digital documentation.

As long as you reach the 3.09% APY plateau, you’ll receive the lucrative benefit of having your out-of-network ATM fees reimbursed directly to your account. CCU does have 30,000 fee-free ATMs around the country, though, along with almost 2,000 physical branch locations, so coming across a free ATM shouldn’t be overly difficult.

Interest rates this high are rare on a checking account and make this offer unique. For example, if you reach a 4.50% APY with a balance of $20,000, you could earn nearly $1,000 in interest over a full year. The account does not include monthly service fees or minimum balances.

APY Rate Eligible Balance Requirements
3.09% APY Up to $10,000
  • Complete at least 12 debit card purchases over each month
  • Use your account for one direct deposit, ACH debit or bill pay over each month
  • Use online banking at least once over each month
  • Choose to get eDocuments
3.59% APY Up to $15,000
  • Meet all the needs for a 3.09% APY
  • Spend at least $500 with a CCU Visa credit card over a month
4.59% APY Up to $20,000
  • Meet all the needs for a 3.09% APY
  • Spend at least $1,000 with a CCU Visa credit card over a month

To become a member of CCU, all you have to do is make two $5 payments. You pay one to the credit union’s sponsor, the Consumers Cooperative Association, and you deposit the other right into your member savings account. You must maintain that $5 balance to remain a member.

Runner-up: Connexus Credit Union

Best Credit Union for Free Checking: Melrose Credit Union

 

Because checking accounts don’t typically earn much interest, the above average 0.10% APY of Melrose Credit Union’s E-Z checking account is a welcome sight. Just be sure to maintain at least a $500 average daily balance, or you won’t actually receive any interest. There’s really nothing to pay to keep your account open, though, as Melrose has eliminated all monthly fees, check fees and and minimum balances. New account holders receive free starter checks.

At Melrose, it doesn’t take a whole lot to become a member. In fact, it has the least demanding requirements of any credit union on this list. All you have to do to enjoy the perks of membership is pay a $1 fee and have at least $25 to deposit when you open your E-Z checking account. Also, don’t forget to have on hand a photo ID, your Social Security number and proof of address to verify your identity.

As a member, you don’t just get checking and savings account options. You’ll also receive offers for mortgages, auto loans, student loans, home equity lines of credit and other personal loans. Melrose has various financial tools as well so you can create specific financial plans.

Best Credit Union for Veterans and Their Families: Navy Federal Credit Union

Current and former members of the U.S. military and Department of Defense (DoD) and their families will find an expansive selection of financial offerings with Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU). All different types of banking, retirement planning, loans and credit card services are available through this organization.

NFCU has plenty of checking and savings accounts to choose from. All checking accounts come with free checks and a debit card, with offerings for active military members, civilians, teens, students and anyone looking for a high APY. If you’re more in the market for savings, the credit union has basic accounts, college savings accounts, estate management accounts and goal-focused accounts.

Unlike some other credit unions, Navy Federal has a very large network of branches and free ATMs for its members. Its mobile app and website each have ATM/branch locator tools. But if you find you’re not near an NFCU location or machine, most checking accounts come with ATM fee rebates, so feel free to use an out-of-network ATM for cash.

If you’re a member and are looking to buy a house or car, you’ll receive special rates and bonuses for going through NFCU. The RealtyPlus® program the credit union offers even allows you to earn cash back on your home purchase, along with savings on any moving services you might need.

Runner-up: Air Force Federal Credit Union

Best Credit Union for Children, Teens & Young Adults: Golden 1 Credit Union

Whether your child was just born or is finishing up college, there’s a banking option available for him or her at Golden 1 Credit Union. A youth savings account is for any child under the age of 18 and is meant to help him or her learn about fiscal responsibility. The APY for this account is a decent 0.15%, and it only takes $1 to open with no monthly fees.

A new generation checking account is focused on teens between 13 and 17, though parents or a legal guardian will remain joint owner. The teen will get a Visa® debit card (if he or she is approved) and free checks. But if your child prefers using technology, Golden 1 also has a mobile app, a website, text banking, mobile check deposit and a free wire transfer service called Popmoney®. This is a fee-free offer, and you can open an account regardless of how much money you decide to deposit initially.

Once he or she is off to college, your child can open a student checking account, affording your scholar all the same features as the above account. Your kid will receive access to Golden 1’s widespread ATM network, so no matter where the school is located there should be a free ATM around. Immediately following the five-year anniversary of this account’s creation, it’ll be converted to a normal free checking account.

To reinforce good financial practices further with your child, Golden 1 has an online financial wellness center. Here your kid will be able to access webinars, podcasts, videos and a learning lab that features a complete curriculum.

This credit union is mainly joinable for anyone who lives and/or works in California. However, if you have a relative who is already a member or you’re an employee of one of the credit union’s select employee groups, you can also get in on Golden 1. For anyone who doesn’t meet any of these requirements though, joining the Financial Fitness Association for $8 a month will earn you membership as well.

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Best Places to Save

SmartAsset’s interactive map highlights the places in the country where people have the opportunity to save money. Zoom between states and the national map to see the best places to save.

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Rank County Median Household Income Cost of Living Purchasing Power Estimated Tax Rate

Methodology

Where you live can have a big impact on how easy it is to save money based on several regional factors. Our study aims to find the most suitable places for people to save based on median household income, average living expenses and income tax burden.

First, we calculated the average cost of living in each county for a household with two adults (one working). We then created a purchasing power index for each county. This reflects the counties with the highest ratio of household income to cost of living.

To better compare income tax burdens across counties, we applied relevant deductions and exemptions before calculating federal, state and local income taxes for a family making $50,000 annual income in each location. Next, we created an effective tax rate index for each county, which reflects the counties with the lowest ratio of income taxes to the assumed $50,000 annual income.

Finally, we calculated the weighted average of the indices to yield an overall best places to save score. We used a three-fourths weighting for purchasing power and a one-fourth weighting for tax rates. We indexed the final number so higher values reflect places that are better to save.

Sources: US Census Bureau 2015 5-Year American Community Survey, MIT Living Wage Study