More than 121 million Americans belong to a credit union, and if you’re not in that group, it’s worth asking yourself how come.
Membership at these nonprofit financial institutions has been steadily climbing over the past several years, according to data from the Credit Union National Association, thanks to a combination of superior interest rates and minimal fees as compared to the country’s biggest banks.
Because credit unions typically restrict membership to a specific geographic area, employer, or community, MONEY focused on credit unions that allow members to join from anywhere in the country, usually through a donation to a specific charitable organization, when picking the winner for our 2019 best credit union rankings.
MONEY also weighed whether credit unions offered free checking and savings accounts, competitive ATM fees and interest rates, and robust online and mobile banking tools, using account data provided by our partner MagnifyMoney.com.
Best Credit Union: Alliant
Why it wins: Alliant’s free checking account comes with no monthly service fees or minimum balance and pays out 0.45% in interest — that’s 7.5 times higher than the national average.
Opt for e-statements and Alliant will waive the monthly service fee on its savings account options that pay 1.8% interest. It also offers access to 80,000 surcharge-free ATMs. But should you need to use one outside that vast network, Alliant won’t charge you. Instead the credit union reimburses up to $20 a month in fees other ATM owners might apply.
And it’s easy to join, a one-time donation to nonprofit Foster Care to Success qualifies you as a member. Alternatively, if you’ve worked for one of the many organizations it partners with or live in a community near its Chicago headquarters, you also qualify. Finally, Alliant’s Android and Apple mobile apps earn high ratings from customers.
Caveat: Unless you happen to live close to Alliant’s two branch locations, you’ll have to do all your banking online.
Where you can find it: Ill.
Key account: High-Interest Checking
Monthly service fee: $0
Interest rate: 0.45%
Outside ATM fee: $0
MONEY partnered with MagnifyMoney.com to produce this year’s Best Banks rankings. MagnifyMoney.com provided account terms for more than 50 of the most popular credit unions in the country. Our team reviewed account minimums and qualifications, interest rates, monthly service fees, ATM fees, overdraft fees, overdraft protection fees, insufficient funds fees, debit card replacement fees, domestic wire transfer fees, online banking capabilities, eligibility requirements and membership fees. When selecting finalists, priority was given to checking and savings accounts with no or easily waived monthly fees, free ATMs, and higher interest rates. In naming free accounts, we assumed customers would be okay with receiving e-statements to avoid a monthly fee. MONEY’s edit team independently fact-checked information in September and October.