Personal Finance Smart Spending

5 Best Credit Unions To Open A Checking Account

Written by Kristie McCauley

Even if you don’t write a ton of physical checks, having a checking account to pay bills and deposit paychecks requires you to have a checking account. Credit unions are one of the banking institutions that you can turn to open a checking account.

Credit unions offer several benefits to members (which are what you are when you’re part of a credit union). Some of the benefits credit unions offer include:

  • Pays higher interest rates on accounts
  • Offers lower interest rates on loans/mortgages
  • Provides services such as credit cards and other loans

As you start to consider the credit unions where you might want to open an account, here are some of the things you should consider:

  • Minimum balance to open an account
  • Minimum balance requirement
  • Fees
  • Range of products offered
  • Customer service and support

If you’re in the market for a credit union, you probably want to work with the best of the best (I mean, who doesn’t, right?). So here’s a list of the top 5 credit unions and why you should consider opening your checking account (and even other types of accounts) with them.

1. Alliant Credit Union

One of the top things that makes Alliant Credit Union one of the best credit unions in the country is its flexible membership requirements. You can join Alliant if you live or work in one of over 20 communities in Chicago, IL (It’s where the credit union operates).

If you work for or are retired from qualifying organizations/companies or if you are related to anyone that qualifies, you can become a member of Alliant. You can also join the credit union if you make a $10 donation to Foster Care to Success, which is an organization

Pros: Additional pros include the credit union pays relatively high interest rates on its checking accounts. Alliant has over 80,000 free ATMs its members can use to withdraw money. You can open up to 19 additional accounts and give each account a nickname, which can help you save for a down payment on a home, plan a vacation, build a rainy-day fund, or anything else you might want to save money to accomplish.

If you do use an ATM that is outside of the network of 80,000 ATMs, the credit union reimburses up to $20 per month to cover ATM fees.

Cons: The overdraft fee for checking accounts is pretty high at $25. There also isn’t a maximum on the number of times that they charge the overdraft fee (as long as your account has sufficient funds). The $10 donation you make to Foster Care to Success is non-refundable and does not go toward the opening balance of your account.

2. Consumers Credit Union

Consumers Credit Union has a quite a few things going for it too. One of the biggest pros is that anyone can join. That’s right. It doesn’t matter where you live, work or play, you can become a member of the credit union and open a checking account.

Pros: The credit union pays one of the highest interest rates I can find for its rewards checking account that is also free. It is part of the shared branch network, which means you can conduct business in over 1,800 other bank/credit union branch besides Consumers Credit Union. It also has 30,000 ATMs you can use without paying any fees.

Cons: The credit union only has branch locations in the Chicago, IL area.

3. Golden 1 Credit Union

If you live in one of the 38 counties that the Golden 1 Credit Union serve or related to someone who qualifies, you can join Golden 1 Credit Union.

Pros: The credit union’s free checking account doesn’t have a minimum balance requirement or any monthly fees. Its shared co-op network gives you access to over 30,000 ATMs nationwide that you can use for free and to a network of other credit union branches.

Con: The checking account for this credit union does not pay any interest.

4. American Heritage Federal Credit Union

American Heritage Federal Credit Union is another credit union that anyone is eligible to join, as long as you make a donation to Kids-N-Hope Foundation, which offers specialized care for children.

Pros: It offers a free checking account. One of the benefits the credit union offers is a 20% rebate for a real estate agent commission that you pay when you buy or sell a home. It also offers its members other types of discounts, such as vehicle purchase discounts and discounts on mobile service from Sprint.

Cons: The one-time donation you make to the Kids-N-Hope Foundation is non-refundable and does not go toward the opening balance in your account.

5. Navy Federal Credit Union

In some cases, bigger is better. It’s true when it comes to Navy Federal Credit Union, which is the largest credit union in the country boasting 600,000 members.

Pros: They offer several different checking accounts that are free. For active duty members, you can receive your paycheck as a direct deposit one day before payday. Most of the accounts do not have any monthly fees or easy ways that you can have the fees waived by meeting certain requirements.

Navy Federal Credit Union operates over 300 branches and has a 30,000 ATM network. You also have access to 24-hour customer service.

Cons: You have to be active duty or retired military, work for the Department of Defense, or be an immediate family member to someone who qualifies.

A credit union can offer numerous benefits to its members that a typical bank does not offer. If you’re planning to open a checking account, check out credit unions as an option.

You’re likely to be pleasantly surprised at the higher interest rates most pay on checking accounts, lower interest rates for mortgages and auto loans, and all of the other bonuses credit unions offer their members that a standard bank does not offer it its customers.

About the author

Kristie McCauley

Kristie Lorette McCauley is an award-winning expert on personal finance, mortgages, and credit. She has published articles on major finance and credit blogs, such as Yahoo! Finance, Quizzle, Money Crashers, and BankRate. She is also the author of books, such as How to Use the Equity in Your Home or Business Today to Invest for Tomorrow and How to Open & Operate a Financially Successful Personal Financial Planning Business.


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