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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Lisa Gerstner, Contributing Editor
| June 2017
Credit unions are nonprofit institutions owned by their members—meaning they tend to offer accounts and services that are more customer-friendly than those of large national banks. And like banks, they deliver a full range of options, from checking and savings accounts to credit cards, auto loans and mortgages.
Many credit unions limit membership to people who live in the region or work for eligible employers, but some open their doors to any U.S. customer who joins a qualifying organization. With data from economic research firm Moebs Services, we evaluated 22 such all-access credit unions. Among other factors, we examined the fees, minimum-balance requirements and interest rates on checking, savings and CD accounts from the credit unions.
Take a look at the seven outstanding credit unions that rose to the top. Most of them participate in the CO-OP shared branch network, allowing members to use the services of 3,500 credit unions with more than 5,000 branches and providing access to nearly 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs.
Virginia-based Langley Federal Credit Union got its start in 1936, when members of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the predecessor to NASA) chartered it. Later, Langley expanded its reach, opening membership to Air Force civilian and military personnel in the Hampton Roads area. Today, Langley serves those affiliated with qualifying employers, schools and organizations in the Hampton Roads community.
How to join: Anyone can take advantage of Langley's attractive suite of accounts by paying a fee of as little as $5 to one of several Virginia causes. You’ll have to open a savings account with at least $5 to establish your share in the credit union.
Checking accounts: Members can choose among four checking accounts, three of which charge no monthly fee. The free LangleyPays checking account, for one, yields 1.61% on the first $1,000 in deposits and pays 10 cents every time you swipe your debit card. Or keep it simple with the basic Smart Checking account, with no monthly fee or minimum balance required.
Savings accounts: Langley offers a free money market deposit account that yields up to 0.5%, certificates of deposit that yield from 1% on a one-year term to 2.02% on a five-year term ($1,000 minimum deposit), and a variety of no-fee savings accounts, including one that pays interest of 1.61% on balances of up to $1,000. (Langley is also our runner-up financial institution for millennials.)
Credit cards and loans: Members have their pick of four Visa credit cards. The Select Visa Platinum card features an annual percentage rate as low as 7.75%. An auto loan for a vehicle between model years 2012 and 2018 recently carried an APR as low as 1.54% (term: one to four years). The fixed rate on a 30-year mortgage recently started at 4.125%.
Connexus Credit Union was founded in 1935 in Wausau, Wis. Membership is open to those who work for eligible employers or live in certain communities in Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin, where the credit union has branch locations.
How to join: Connexus also extends membership to anyone who makes a $5 donation to charitable organization Connexus Association. New members are also required to open a savings account with a deposit of $5 or more.
Checking accounts: For high yields on checking, Connexus is a top contender. With its free Xtraordinary Checking account, you get reimbursed up to $25 a month in out-of-network ATM fees and earn 1.75% interest on balances of up to $25,000 if you meet certain monthly requirements, including making 15 debit card transactions and having a direct deposit. (Or get a 1.35% yield with the MyRewards account by meeting fewer requirements.)
Savings accounts: Connexus's savings options include a free money market deposit account, with rates ranging from 0.5% to 1.15% if you meet checking account activity requirements ($1,000 minimum to earn interest), and CDs with recent rates of 1.5% for one year and 2% for three years ($5,000 minimum).
Credit cards and loans: Several Visa and American Express credit cards are available to members, including the Cash Rewards American Express. It pays 3% cash back on up to $6,000 spent yearly on gas, 2% on spending at supermarkets, and 1% on everything else. Auto-loan rates recently started at 2.99% on a three-year term, and 30-year fixed rates on mortgages were as low as 3.875%.
Hanscom FCU is headquartered at Hanscom Air Force Base, in Massachusetts, and has several branches in the greater Boston area (plus one in McLean, Va.). It is open to anyone who works for an eligible employer.
How to join: Another avenue to becoming a Hanscom member is to join one of three partner organizations, including the volunteer theater group Burlington Players ($12 donation). Open a share account with as little as $25.
Checking accounts: Hanscom has a free basic checking account as well as Premier Checking, which yields 0.25% (you must have a $2,000 daily checking balance or $6,000 in combined deposit and loan balances to avoid a $9.95 monthly fee). When you make debit card purchases with either account, you collect points that are redeemable for gift cards, travel and merchandise.
Savings accounts: Choose among several savings options, including the free Thrive savings account, which yields 3% the first year if you make a monthly deposit of $5 to $500 into the account. CD rates were recently as high as 2.5% on a four-year CD for Premier Checking customers ($1,000 minimum deposit).
Credit cards and loans: The Platinum Credit Card offers an APR as low as 8.49%, and the card charges no balance transfer fee. Auto loan rates recently started at 1.99% for a term of up to two years, and the lowest fixed rate on a 30-year mortgage was 3.75%.
This credit union opened in 1966 as IBM Boulder Federal Credit Union, created by employees of IBM Corp. Now, anyone who lives or works in several Colorado counties qualifies for Premier Members CU.
How to join: You can join Impact on Education, a charity serving the Boulder Valley School District (no donation is required), to become a credit union member. You must also open a savings account with a deposit of at least $5.
Checking accounts: Choose between Basic Checking, with no minimum-balance requirement or monthly fee, and Executive Checking, which yields from 0.15% to 0.25% if you keep $10,000 or more in the account (you must maintain a $10,000 balance to avoid a $20 monthly fee).
Savings accounts: The money market deposit account yields an impressive 3% on balances up to $2,000, with lower rates applying to higher balance tiers. CD rates vary depending on the balance. With a $500 deposit, CDs recently yielded 0.45% for a one-year maturity and 1.61% for a five-year maturity.
Credit cards and loans: A handful of Visa credit cards are available, including the Platinum Rate Visa, which recently carried an annual percentage rate as low as 9.9% and no balance-transfer fee. Auto-loan rates recently started at a 2.99% APR (for car model years 2007 and newer and a loan term of up to 66 months), and the fixed rate on a 30-year mortgage was as low as 3.875%.
Founded in 1935, Chevron FCU is open to employees of energy company Chevron Corp. and associated firms as well as to those who live, work, worship or attend school in certain San Francisco neighborhoods and some counties in Maryland. It’s based in Oakland, Calif., and has branches in four other states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Utah.
How to join: Become a member of a partner nonprofit organization, such as the Contra Costa County Historical Society ($20 fee). New members also must deposit $25 into a savings account.
Checking accounts: The primary checking account requires no minimum balance or monthly fee and yields 0.1% on balances of at least $500. The New Solutions Checking Account, for those with poor credit or other obstacles to opening a standard account, has a $5 monthly fee.
Savings accounts: The free MarketEdge money market deposit account offers a rate of 0.9% on balances between $2,500 and $250,000 (0.25% on smaller balances and 1% on larger balances). Young members should take advantage of the no-fee MySavings account, which yields a sky-high 7% on balances of up to $1,000 for those who are age 21 or younger. CD rates vary by deposit size. Recently, with a $500 deposit, a one-year CD yielded 1.25% and a five-year CD yielded 2%.
Credit cards and loans: Choose from a selection of Visa and American Express credit cards. The Cash Rewards American Express card offers 3% cash back on up to $6,000 spent annually on gas purchases, 2% on supermarket spending and 1% on everything else. Auto-loan rates recently started at a 2.09% APR (for a new vehicle and a loan term of three to five years), and the 30-year fixed rate on a mortgage was as low as 3.875%.
Based in St. Paul, Minn., Hiway opened in 1931 for Minnesota Department of Transportation employees. Today, those who work for other eligible employers or live in the area can become members, too.
How to join: You qualify for credit union membership if you join the Minnesota Recreation and Park Foundation ($10 fee). Make a deposit of $5 or more into a savings account to establish your share in the credit union.
Checking accounts: Hiway's Free Checking account has no monthly fee or minimum-balance requirements. Or, with Minnesota Wild checking, enjoy the benefits of Free Checking and show your pride for the city's professional hockey team with a Minnesota Wild–branded debit card. Each purchase you make earns you a free entry into monthly drawings for prizes such as game tickets and signed jerseys.
Savings accounts: Open the free money market deposit account with a minimum $500 deposit; the account yields from 0.1% to 0.45%, depending on balance. CD rates depend on the amount deposited. Recently, with a $500 deposit, a one-year maturity yielded 0.55% and a five-year maturity yielded 1.4%.
Credit cards and loans: Among the credit card options is the Visa Platinum card, which carries an APR starting at just 8.9%. Auto-loan APRs were recently as low as 2.24% for a three-year term, and interest on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage started at 4%.
Chartered in 1946 for employees of Northrop Aircraft Co., this credit union is based in Gardena, Calif. It also has branches in Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland and Virginia. Membership extends to those who work for defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. and associated companies.
How to join: Those who belong to the Southern California Historical Aviation Foundation (minimum $50 contribution) qualify for membership. Open a savings account with a deposit of at least $5 to complete your membership.
Checking account: The credit union's checking account is free, requires no minimum balance after you make a $25 initial deposit, and pays an interest rate of 0.1% on balances of $500 or more.
Savings accounts: The no-fee money market deposit account yields 0.45% on balances of at least $2,500. With a $2,500 deposit, CD rates are 0.91% for a one-year term and 2.01% on a five-year term.
Credit cards and loans: Northrop Grumman FCU offers three versions of its MasterCard credit card, including one that pays 1.5% back on purchases with the Cashback Rebate program. Auto-loan APRs recently dipped as low as 1.49% for a three-year term, and the fixed rate on a 30-year mortgage started at 3.875%.
These stellar banks are making all the right moves to win satisfied customers: