7 Best Credit Unions – NerdWallet

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These credit unions represent some of the best institutions overall, but there may also be local winners in your community. Research if there’s a credit union or bank near you that offers low fees and gives you a good return on your money.

More things to know about credit unions

Can I use both a credit union and a bank?

Yes. There’s no rule that says you can’t keep some money at a credit union and some at a bank. It’s possible to use both services at the same time.

Are online credit union accounts different from in-person ones?

Online credit unions generally offer the same products and services as credit unions that have branches. You can typically deposit checks, pay bills, review your transactions and transfer money to your other accounts or to friends and family. If you live close to one of your credit union’s branches, you can get help there, too, but being able to transact online is especially handy if you’re not near one.

Are the best credit unions also the biggest?

Don’t count out your local credit union when searching for a financial institution.

Is the money in credit union accounts safe?

Yes. Like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which handles banks, the National Credit Union Administration insures customers’ deposits in case a credit union fails. All federally chartered credit unions must carry NCUA insurance. It covers credit union members’ deposit accounts: checking, savings, and money market accounts, as well as share certificates. The NCUA insures up to $250,000 per depositor, per institution, per ownership category. “Ownership category” refers to account types such as single (owned by one person) or joint (owned by two or more people).

How can I find a local credit union?

If you’re in the market for a credit union, and you’d like to be able to visit a branch, check out the NCUA’s credit union locator. Just note that if you’re comfortable with banking online, you can choose one of the top five credit unions mentioned above that have wide eligibility, almost no matter where you live.

Do the best credit unions pay more interest than banks?

Credit unions have a reputation for paying more interest than banks, and it’s often well-deserved. According to the most recent data from the National Credit Union Administration, credit unions pay higher average rates on money markets and all surveyed certificate terms.

But it’s not hard to find an online bank that pays higher rates on savings and checking than the average credit union.

Do credit unions build credit?

Individual credit scores come from a mixture of the following: the number of loans or credit card accounts you have, the number of on-time payments you’ve made, the percentage of your overall credit limit that you’re using, the number of hard credit checks that have recently been made for you, the derogatory marks (like bankruptcies or foreclosures) made against you and the age of your credit history.

To this end, you can build your credit by taking out a mortgage, auto loan, student loan, personal loan or credit card with a credit union.

Do credit unions check your credit?

When it comes to getting a loan, a lender will typically pull a credit report on you, whether it’s a bank, a credit union, an online lender or another type of company. But for checking and savings accounts, policies vary. It’s more common for financial institutions to pull up your report through a service known as ChexSystems, which records information such as past bounced checks and overdrafts.

The only sure way to find out which reports your credit union pulls when deciding to approve you for membership or products is to ask.

Do credit unions have ATMs?

Yes, credit unions usually have their own ATMs and they often belong to a network of ATMs that customers can use to withdraw and deposit cash. These networks usually provide nationwide access to fee-free services at tens of thousands of ATMs.

Are there any downsides to credit unions?

Limited branches. Many credit unions are limited to local, state or regional areas, which means in-person customer service can be hard to get, especially when traveling. To avoid this limitation, consider a credit union that participates in a shared branch and/or shared ATM network. The Co-op network, for example, offers access to more than 30,000 fee-free ATMs across the U.S., and about 5,500 branches. 

Might not be as up to date on technology. Some credit unions may be behind the curve with their desktop and smartphone app designs, offering only bare-bone services. Make sure a credit union has the services you want (such as mobile check deposit) before you open an account.

Services may be more limited. Smaller credit unions might not have the variety of services and products that larger banks do, so before you open an account, be sure your credit union has all of your preferred features.

Credit union terms you need to know

Credit unions and banks both have checking accounts and both pay interest on savings accounts, but they might call those products by different names. Here are a few credit union translations.

Dividend: Another word for interest paid by a credit union.

Shared branches: A shared branch network allows members of one credit union to visit branches of another credit union that are within the same network, such as the Co-op Shared Branch network.

Share draft account: Another term for a checking account. Some credit unions also call checks “share drafts.”

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