Golden 1 Credit Union: 2023 Banking Review

The largest credit union in California offers small rates on most of its accounts.

Golden 1 Credit Union is a Sacramento-based nonprofit cooperative open to California residents. It offers a full suite of deposit accounts along with lending and financial education services. While the credit union is "not-for-profit," it's "all for people." 

Golden 1 Credit Union logo with yellow letters
Golden 1 Credit Union

Its financial education events, known as "The Challenge" are an example of Golden 1's commitment to improving financial literacy among high school and college students. There are also financial education programs geared toward adults who can attend instructor-led webinars or work one-on-one with a financial adviser. 

The yields for its checking, savings and certificate of deposit accounts aren't as competitive compared with other banks or credit unions. You can find higher-yielding options elsewhere, but opening a savings account to access its financial literacy services might be worth it for some Californians.

What we like

  • Large ATM network: There are more than 30,000 free ATMs available through the Golden 1 and CO-OP networks.
  • Secure online and mobile banking: Robust mobile app with features such as mobile check deposits, free credit score and external transfers.
  • Low initial deposits: All accounts can be opened with a small initial deposit. 
  • Physical branches: Golden 1 offers a network of more than 70 branches throughout California.
  • Member services: Its lending program and financial education services are an additional bonus.

What we don't like

  • Fees: The non-student checking and money market accounts charge either a $30 per item overdraft or a $10 "insufficient funds fee" unless you link a savings account for overdraft protection. The savings account can be closed if you withdraw cash more than six times per month.
  • Low rates: The highest annual percentage yield available on a savings account is 0.10%. 

Who is Golden 1 Credit Union suited for? 

Golden 1 is best suited for residents of California who want to take advantage of its lending programs or financial education services. Although "all Californians" are welcome to join, membership is also open to non-Californians who are a family member or registered domestic partner of a current Golden 1 member, or a member of one of nearly 1,000 businesses and organizations listed as a Select Employee Group, according to Golden 1's website. 

Teenagers, ages 13 to 18, can take advantage of checking accounts and programs such as The Challenge that's designed to help them develop healthy money management skills.

Checking account review

Golden 1 offers five checking accounts, two of which are general checking account -- Free and Premium Checking -- available to members ages 18 and older. In addition to funding scholarships and literacy grants, the credit union provides three checking accounts for young people under 18: Next Generation, Freedom and Student Checking. Freedom Checking converts to Free checking once you turn 18.

All accounts offer a robust mobile banking app that provides 24/7 access to accounts, including mobile check deposits, and provides free credit scores through a partnership with Credit Sense which uses the VantageScore 3.0 model. Premium Checking is the only interest-bearing checking account with a tiered structure ranging from 0.05% APY to 0.12% APY. 

All checking accounts charge an overdraft fee of $30 per item. The maximum fee charged per day is $90. An insufficient funds fee of $10 will be applied to Free or Premium Checking accounts if the credit union doesn't cover the transaction. The insufficient funds fee is free for student accounts. 

There's a large, free network of Golden 1 and CO-OP ATMs available. However, Golden 1 charges $2 for each non-network ATM and doesn't rebate any third-party bank fees. 

Checking account features

Checking account APY Minimum balance Monthly fee Overdraft fee per item Foreign transaction fee
Free Checking N/A $0 $0 $30 1.40%
Premium Checking 0.05% to 0.12% $25 $8 $30 1.40%
Next Generation Checking N/A $0 $0 $30 1.40%
Freedom Checking N/A $0 $0 $30 1.40%
Student Checking N/A $0 $0 $30 1.40%

What we like

  • Large ATM network: There are 30,000 fee-free ATMs available through the Golden 1 and CO-OP networks.
  • Free checking options: The Free Checking and student checking accounts offer a free checking option. 

What we don't like

  • Fees: The $8 monthly fee on the Premium Checking account can be avoided by maintaining a direct deposit, a $500 minimum daily balance or $5,000 in savings. There are many alternatives that offer totally free checking and interest-bearing checking options.
  • Overdraft fees: A $30 overdraft fee applies to any transaction over $5. A $10 insufficient funds fee will be applied to transactions on Free or Premium Checking accounts.
  • Low interest checking: Premium Checking offers a low tiered-interest range between 0.05% and 0.12%. Higher rates can be found among CNET's list of top free checking accounts.

Savings account review

Golden 1's Regular Savings account earns an APY that's relatively low compared with many high-yield savings accounts. It doesn't charge monthly fees and only requires a $1 deposit to open and maintain membership. There's a limit of six transactions per month with this account. You can link to a checking account to provide overdraft protection. Note that your account is subject to closure if you exceed the monthly transaction limit. 

Golden 1 also offers FlexSavings, Youth Savings and Santa Saver savings accounts. Each earns a 0.10% APY. The FlexSavings and Santa Saver require a $20 initial deposit or $5 with direct deposit or automatic transfers. They're designed to help you save for specific occasions. 

  • APY: 0.05% to 0.10%
  • Minimum balance to open: $1
  • Monthly maintenance fee: $0

What we like

  • Low initial deposit: The minimum deposit required to open a savings account and become a member of Golden 1 Credit Union is $1.
  • No monthly fees: This account doesn't charge a monthly fee or a fee to maintain a minimum balance.

What we don't like

  • Low rates: You can find higher rates at competing credit unions and banks. High-yield savings accounts, for example, offer rates as high as 40 times that of standard savings accounts are available elsewhere.
  • Excessive branch withdrawal fees: A $3 per lobby transaction is charged in excess of three visits per month. There are unlimited transactions available using the ATM.

Saving certificate (CD) account review

Savings certificates operate similarly to a certificate of deposit account at a bank. Golden 1 has a share certificate with terms that range from three months to five years. The minimum deposit required to open a certificate is only $500, which makes this account accessible to more people. An early withdrawal penalty between 90 to 365 days' worth of dividends on the amount withdrawn will be applied depending on the length of the term.

The rates offered on share certificates are above the national average rates. However, credit unions paying competitive yields on share certificates are also available. Golden 1 offers a few competitive yield options:

  • 27-month with at least a $50,000 deposit: 4.15% APY
  • 35-month with at least a $50,000 deposit: 3.00% APY
  • 35-month with at least a $500 deposit: 2.75% APY

Saving certificate account features

CD term Balance APY
3 to 5 months Under $100,000 0.60%
3 to 5 months $100,000+ 1.00%
6 to 11 months Under $100,000 1.20%
6 to 11 months $100,000+ 1.30%
12 to 23 months Under $100,000 1.60%
12 to 23 months $100,000+ 1.70%
24 to 35 months Under $100,000 1.90%
24 to 35 months $100,000+ 2.00%
27 months $50,000+ 4.15%
35 months $500 to $49,999 2.75%
35 months $50,000+ 3.00%
36 to 47 months Under $100,000 2.10%
36 to 47 months $100,000+ 2.20%
48 to 59 months Under $100,000 2.20%
48 to 59 months $100,000+ 2.30%
60 months Under $100,000 2.50%
60 months $100,000+ 2.60%

What we like

  • Low deposit required: The initial deposit is $500.
  • Wide variety of terms: Share certificate terms range from three months to five years.
  • Online banking access: You can open share certificates through Golden 1's website or mobile app.
  • Promotional rate options: The 27- and 35-month share certificates can earn as much as 4.15% and 3.00% APY, respectively.

What we don't like

  • Low rates: Higher rates can be found at other banks.
  • No specialty options: Golden 1 doesn't offer specialty share certificates such as no-penalty or step-up share certificates. 

Money market account features

The Golden 1 Money Market Savings account has a tiered APY structure with the highest rates available on balances of over $250,000. Even with that balance level, you'd only earn a 1.00% APY. You can find better APYs on other money market accounts and enjoy a better return on your investment.

A $100 minimum initial deposit required to open the account is lower than most money market accounts. However, the low yields don't make this an attractive savings vehicle given the variety of higher earning options from other banks and credit unions.

Money market account features

Account APY Minimum balance Monthly fee Overdraft fee Excessive transaction fee Foreign transaction fee
Money Market Savings 0.05% to 1.00% $100 $0 $30/item $3/withdrawal 1.40%

What we like

  • Large ATM network: There are 30,000 fee-free ATMs available through the Golden 1 and CO-OP networks.
  • Low minimum balance: The $100 minimum is lower than many other money market account requirements.

What we don't like

  • APYs: Although the rates offered are within a competitive range, you can find higher rates elsewhere.
  • Overdraft fees apply: You're charged $30 per item to transactions of more than $5.
  • Excessive branch withdrawal fees: A $3 per lobby transaction is charged in excess of three visits per month. There are unlimited transactions available, however, using the ATM.

Banking experience

Golden 1 offers a full suite of deposit accounts with mobile banking tools that allow mobile check deposits, online bill pay and free credit scores. The network of more than 70 branches makes visiting a branch possible for many throughout the state. However, withdrawals are subject to excessive transaction fees after three branch visits. 

You can also sign up for free instructor-led webcasts, listen to podcasts or view videos designed to help you improve your financial IQ. The instructor-led webcasts are 30 minutes long and you can register online. The topics include subjects such as building a better budget and saving over a long-term period.

Overdraft fees

Golden 1 charges a $30 per item overdraft fee on any transactions of more than $5 that it processes if your account doesn't have available funds. All checking and money market accounts are subject to this fee. An insufficient funds fee of $10 applies only to the Premium Checking and Money Market accounts for any transaction that's not processed but is returned. Overdraft protection is available by linking to an eligible savings account.

Early withdrawal penalties range from 90 to 365 days' worth of dividends on the amount withdrawn depending on the share certificate's term length.

Customer service

Golden 1 offers customer service via email, telephone or appointment. The phone number is 877-465-3361. The credit union's customer service hours are Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. Branch hours vary depending on location.

About Golden 1 Credit Union

Golden 1 is a Sacramento-based not-for-profit founded in 1933. It is one of the largest credit unions in the US with 1 million members and $18 billion in assets. They offer community-based grants and educational scholarships to members in addition to banking services.