MONEY recently released the results of its 2014 Best Banks survey, which awarded 11 banks honors for low fees, high interest rates and other customer-friendly policies. But it’s possible the best place for you to park your cash might not be on that list.
Rather than a bank, you may be better off with credit union—a nonprofit financial cooperative that serves a select population, like workers at a specific company or residents of a certain county.
Credit unions tend to offer better terms than banks. According to WalletHub, they pay an average 0.23% on $10,000 in savings—twice the average of banks in our study—and 73% offer free checking.
Also, credit unions are known for having more personal customer service, owing to the fact that they are owned by members and are often small (some have just one branch).
Because of their size and membership requirements, credit unions weren’t included in MONEY’s survey, but you can use these steps to find yourself a winner:
Look under rocks.
“We’re pretty sure everybody in the country is eligible to join at least one credit union—and probably several,” says Bill Hampel of the Credit Union National Association.
Do a smell test.
Compare the yields to the averages at MONEY’s best midsize banks—at least 0.15% on checking and 0.56% on savings. (Online banks pay more but don’t offer the comparable personal attention.)
Also find out if the credit union has fee-free accounts, and if not, check the minimum-balance requirements to make sure you’d avoid a maintenance fee.
Get out the ruler.
Small credit unions often have just one branch. But about half belong to the CO-OP network, which offers you -access to more than 5,000 shared branches and almost 30,000 ATMs.
To avoid costly fees when you get cash, see if your best option has its own or partner ATMs near your home and work. If you’ll use teller service, make sure the branch is easily accessible.
Of course, CUNA reports that 88% of credit union members are offered mobile apps and 55% allow check deposits via smartphone—so you might not need a teller after all.