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The Best Credit Unions of 2022

Credit unions offer competitive rates with a personal focus on members that separates them from banks.

A credit union is a nonprofit financial organization composed of, and run by, members with ties to a community or organization -- such as employees of a school district or members of the armed forces. It provides financial services such as deposit and credit accounts, mortgages and auto loans to the members of that community, often with competitive rates that rival commercial banks. Membership can be limited to people within a specific network or community, but may be extended to people who make a small, one-time donation to a designated cause.

How is a credit union different from a bank?

A credit union differs from a bank in that it's a nonprofit run by a community that pools money for the benefit of its members, not shareholders, while a commercial bank is a for-profit institution owned by investors and provides profits for its shareholders. 

While banks offer certificates of deposit, credit unions offer a time bound savings account similar to CDs called share certificates. Like CDs, these share certificates offer a fixed-rate annual percentage yield, or APY, and are purchased for a specific term, from as short as six months to as long as five years. Share certificates impose an early withdrawal penalty if money is accessed before the date of maturity. 

Credit union accounts are insured by the National Credit Union Association, or NCUA, while banks are insured and regulated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, better known by its acronym FDIC.

CNET's picks for the top credit unions

Like banks, credit unions offer a wide variety of products, services and rates on deposit accounts. The following table provides an overview of the best credit unions available based, in part, on highest APYs for one-year terms. 

Top credit unions

Credit Union Accounts offered ATM network/fee rebates Checking or savings fees Membership requirements
Alliant Credit Union Savings, checking, share certificates 80,000 free ATMs/$20 monthly rebates Savings: No fees when enrolled in eStatements Checking: No fees Specific group membership
BCU Savings, checking, share certificates Unlimited ATM rebates N/A Specific group membership
Bethpage Federal Credit Union Savings, checking, money market, share certificates 30,000 ATMs N/A Open with $5 savings account
Connexus Credit Union Savings, checking, money market, share certificates 67,000 free ATMs/$25 monthly rebates N/A One-time $5 donation
Credit Union 1 Savings, checking, money market, share certificates 30,000 free ATMs N/A One-time $5 donation
PenFed Credit Union Savings, checking, money market, share certificates 85,000 free ATMs N/A Specific group membership
Navy Federal Credit Union Savings, checking, money market, share certificates 30,000 free ATMs/$10 monthly rebates N/A Ties to armed forces, DoD or National Guard
Quorum Federal Credit Union Savings, checking, share certificates 90,000 free ATMs N/A Membership in partner groups or relative of existing Quorum member
SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union Savings, checking, money market, share certificates 28,000 free ATMs N/A California current or retired school employees

The top credit unions of 2022 explained

Alliant Credit Union

Alliant Credit Union is an online credit union with great rates, a full suite of financial products and broad membership eligibility. Membership is open to current or former employees of Alliant's US partner businesses. Visit Alliant for a complete list of partner businesses. 

The High-Rate Savings account earns a competitive annual percentage yield, or APY, of 2.90% and avoids monthly fees if members sign up to receive monthly statements electronically. High-Rate Checking account customers can also access to more than 80,000 surcharge-free ATMs and up to $20 per month in ATM fee reimbursements. One-year share certificates earn 3.50% APY.

BCU

BCU serves more than 300,000 members in the US and Puerto Rico. Membership is open to employees of partner organizations, residents of select Northern Illinois or Southern Wisconsin counties and relatives of current members. Visit the BCU website for more details on membership eligibility.

BCU offers several savings, checking, share certificates and money market accounts. There are options for free savings and checking accounts. The highest APY rate available (on the Rainy Day savings account) is 1.50% APY. PowerPlus Checking earns a competitive 2.20% APY on balances up to $15,000 and rebates 100% of out-of-network ATM fees incurred.

Bethpage Federal Credit Union

Bethpage Federal Credit Union offers a full suite of financial services including digital banking. It has several options for free checking and savings accounts. There are no fees for checking or savings accounts and membership is broadly available with a $5 donation. Share certificates are available in 10 different terms including a bump-up certificate. The one-year share certificate earns a competitive 3.00%.

Connexus Credit Union

Connexus is part of the CO-OP Shared Branch network, which offers members 5,600 shared branch networks. Connexus makes it easy to become a member in just three steps (visit Connexus Membership to learn more about eligibility). Checking and share certificate accounts earn competitive rates. The Xtraordinary Checking account earns an 1.75% APY while a one-year share certificate pays 3.50% APY. There are no fees for checking or savings accounts, and membership is available with a $5 one-time donation.

Credit Union 1

Credit Union 1 offers a high-yield savings account that pays a competitive 2.10% APY, rivaling some of the top-yielding online banks. There's no monthly maintenance fee for its Free Checking account. Membership is widely available with a one-time $5 donation. 

PenFed Credit Union

PenFed Credit Union membership is open to everyone. It offers a full suite of deposit accounts. The Premium Online Savings account earns 1.70% APY. The free checking account offers 85,000 fee-free ATMs, more than many of the largest banks in the US. A mobile app facilitates digital banking transactions.

Navy Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal Credit Union offers membership to the armed services, the Department of Defense or the National Guard. It has five types of free checking accounts -- accounts that don't charge monthly maintenance fees -- that earn between 0.05% to 0.45% APY. The mobile app provides digital banking that allows access to NFCU accounts across the country.

Quorum Federal Credit Union

Membership is free, but eligibility is based on affiliation with specific partner groups that can be confirmed by visiting Quorum's website. Quorum offers competitive rates on savings accounts and free checking with digital banking. 

SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union

SchoolsFirst Credit Union is open to current and retired California school employees and their families. SchoolsFirst offers a full suite of deposit accounts. The share certificates are available in three different terms and the rate for the 12-month term earns 2.75% APY.

What are the advantages to being a member of a credit union?

Credit unions are member-owned, which means members pool their money and provide services that benefit each other. Credit unions are nonprofit and have missions that allow them to offer more personalized services and rates on financial products that compete with larger banking institutions. Because of this, credit unions generally offer:

  • Lower rates on loan products
  • Lower fees
  • Personalized customer service
  • Engaged community membership

What are the disadvantages to being a member of a credit union?

Like with any banking institution, credit unions vary widely in terms of resources, services and fees charged. Before joining a credit union, understand how any limitation will impact your experience and eligibility. Credit unions may also have:

  • Limited locations
  • Membership requirements
  • Fewer deposit account options compared with banks
  • Less advanced technology services compared with banks

The bottom line

Credit unions are member-owned financial service institutions that provide an alternative to large commercial banks. Members benefit from less overhead by saving on loan rates and enjoy more personalized services. However, credit unions can also offer less access with limited physical locations and less advanced technology solutions than what commercial banks offer. Consider your banking options carefully when deciding on joining a credit union.

FAQs

How do you join a credit union?

Credit unions have membership eligibility requirements that vary by institution. In most cases, a one-time donation is required in lieu of membership to an organization or group the credit union is affiliated with. Look for a link on the credit union's website that directs you to join and read the eligibility requirements. 

Can you have both a credit union account and a bank account?

Yes, you can open an account at a credit union while having an account with a commercial bank. Savvy savers maintain multiple accounts as a strategy to take advantage of high-yield savings accounts and to build wealth.

Are credit unions safe?

Credit unions are insured by the NCUA which is responsible for regulating credit unions, insuring deposits for up to $250,000 per individual and protecting members from loss due to credit union failure.

Do credit unions offer competitive rates on loans, such as home and auto, compared with banks?

Credit unions tend to offer lower rates on loan products compared with banks. However, rates vary and it's worth researching both banks and credit unions when searching for the best loan.

Methodology

CNET reviews deposit account rates based on the latest APY information from issuer websites. We evaluated rates from more than 50 banks, credit unions and financial companies. We selected the credit unions with the highest APYs for one-year terms from among the organizations we surveyed, and considered rates for shorter terms if one-year terms were identical or unavailable.

Banks surveyed include: Alliant Credit Union, Ally Bank, America First Credit Union, American Express National Bank, Axos Bank, Bank of America, Bank of the West, Bank5 Connect, Barclays, BMO Harris, Bread Savings, BrioDirect, Capital One, CFG Community Bank, Citizens Access, Colorado Federal Savings Bank, Connexus Credit Union, Consumers Credit Union, Credit One Bank, Discover Bank, First Internet Bank of Indiana, First Tech Federal Credit Union, FNBO Direct, GO2bank, Golden 1 Credit Union, HSBC Bank, Huntington Bank, Lake Michigan Credit Union, LendingClub Bank, Live Oak Bank, M&T Bank, Marcus by Goldman Sachs, Merrick Bank, Nationwide (by Axos), Navy Federal Credit Union, NBKC, OneUnited Bank, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, PNC, Popular Direct, PurePoint Financial, Quontic Bank, Rising Bank, Salem Five Direct, Sallie Mae Bank, Santander Bank, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Synchrony Bank, TAB Bank, TD Bank, TIAA Bank, Truist Bank, U.S. Bank, UFB Direct, Union Bank, USAA Bank, Vio Bank, and Wells Fargo.

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