Best Nationwide Credit Unions


Credit unions are financial institutions similar to banks but for several significant differences. Checking and savings accounts can be opened at a credit union, just like at a normal bank. Options are available to  members that include applying for loans, obtaining a credit or debit card and making financial plans for retirement. Credit unions also have automatic teller machines (ATM), drive-thru and lobby options for making withdraws and deposits.

The main difference between credit unions and normal banks is credit unions are nonprofit businesses, while banks are for-profit and owned either privately or through public trading.

Credit unions are also cooperative businesses, which are owned by the members actually using their services. As a nonprofit, credit unions are exempt from paying federal taxes. This savings, combined with the absence of financial accountability to shareholders, allows credit unions to offer the best rates and terms to its customers. Banks, on the other hand, are in business to make money.

How to Join a Credit Union

Normal banks allow almost any customer to open an account provided he or she does not have negative credit history with any reporting banking institution. Credit unions have stricter, more specific membership requirements, which are commonly referred to as a “field of membership.” Credit unions are often associated with police forces, churches, businesses and other institutions within a community. One common prerequisite to becoming a credit union member is proving your affiliation with the applicable institution involved with the credit union.

Some credit unions also allow membership by association. This means the family of current account holders are permitted to join. Other credit unions allow even more expansive membership-by-association provided new applicants pay a fee to join.

Benefits of Joining a Credit Union

Credit unions are usually smaller in number per organization than normal banks. This allows for higher quality customer service on average. This customer service includes financial education and training for its members, which is a huge advantage to account holders.

Financially, credit unions tend to offer lower fees, higher interest rates on savings account returns and lower rates on loan repayment. Many credit unions give back to their respective communicates and offer scholarships and gift certificates to students and people in need. Microloans unavailable at banks are offered by some credit unions in efforts to help fund new businesses or assist members in temporary need.

Five of the Best Nationwide Credit Unions

While credit unions are initially founded on community affiliations, some have expanded to become nationwide businesses. This allows greater access for members when traveling, diversity and advanced services using expanded technology. Five of the best nationwide credit unions include:

  • Consumers Credit Union
  • PenFed
  • Navy Federal Credit Union
  • Alliant
  • Connexus

     1. Consumers Credit Union

Consumers Credit Union has been in service for over 90 years and was founded by a small affiliation of housewives protesting the increased prices of milk. This increase was issued by local milk dealers in Waukegan, IL. Consumers allows anyone to join by paying a one-time, $5 member fee. Average annual percentage rates (APR) on home mortgage loans range from 3.060% to 3.479%.  This union is simple to join. Free checking accounts earn high rewards if minimum balance requirements are met but savings accounts earn lower than average interest.

     2. PenFed 

PenFed is also known as the Pentagon Federal Credit Union. While this is a military-based financial institution, membership is available to any U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The cost of membership is through the establishment of a savings account with a minimum of $5. PenFed provides conventional fixed rate, VA loans and jumbo mortgages. APR offerings as low as 2.172% to 3.268% are available on those products. PenFed also offers high interest returns on checking accounts and a decent annual percentage yield on savings accounts. Product selection is limited and a $30 non-sufficient funds fee can be charged to your account an unlimited amount of times per day. This proves costly if you accidentally purchase beyond your balance. 

     3. Navy Federal Credit Union

The Navy Federal Credit Union began in 1933 and has grown to become the largest credit union in the United States. Mortgage APR runs from 2.212% to 2.971%. NFCU offers loans with no down payment, however additional funding fees may be added into the loan repayment financing. Membership is limited to people having current or former military or DOD affiliations and their family members. Basic savings accounts are free to own but the APY at 0.25% is below average in comparison to competing credit unions. 

     4. Alliant 

Alliant is a popular credit union due to its expansive membership eligibility and higher than average APY rates on checking and savings accounts. APR on mortgages can run from 2.471% to 3.029% depending on which of its ten mortgage plans is chosen. There are over 80,000 Alliant ATMs available for use at no charge to members. Customer service and experience with Alliant technology and apps is reviews as mostly positive by members. Alliant does charge a $28 overdraft fee, however, with unlimited amount of times per day the charge can be applied.

     5. CONNEXUS

359 employees and 378,466 members make up CONNEXUS Credit Union. Membership is limited to certain affiliations and/or regions, but eligibility is expanded to those who join the CONNEXUS Association. APR for its wide variety of home mortgage products can run from 3.558% to 4.315%. CONNEXUS boasts providing a convenient and advanced online banking experience and mortgages with low down payment options. Unlike most other credit unions, however, CONNEXUS does not offer loans backed by the government such as FHA, VA or USDA loans. Part of the CONNEXUS mission profile is making itself appealing to younger customers looking to borrow.