If you’re looking for a better place to put your money, a credit union is a good option over a traditional bank. Finding a great one, however, can be tricky—there are so many to choose from, some are local, others are national. This week we’re looking at five of the best, based on your nominations.
Earlier in the week, we asked you which credit unions you thought were the best, and you weighed in with tons of options.
In the past, we’ve mentioned why you should consider a credit union, walked you through making the change to one, and even highlighted some common annoyances that come with them so you have a good experience. Now we’re going to help you pick the right one for you. Here are five of the best—in no particular order—based on your nominations.
Navy Federal Credit Union is one of (if not the) largest credit unions in the United States, both in terms of membership and asset size, with over 5 million members. To be eligible, you have to be an active duty or reservist in any branch of the US armed forces, a civilian employee of the US Department of Defense, a government employee working at a DoD installation or a DoD contractor, or an immediate family member or household member of anyone who fits that criteria (You can read more on their Wikipedia page). Membership may be controlled, but it’s open enough that tons of people have rushed to take advantage of Navy Federal’s low rates on car loans, mortgages, personal loans, and credit cards. They offer great, low-or-no-fee savings and checking accounts, IRAs and CDs for your savings, and exceptional customer service. It helps that the credit union is also recognized as a great place to work, where employees can also become members, and they’ve never had layoffs—something the corner bank probably can’t say. Navy Federal boasts 223 branches and 450 ATMs, and it’s a partner in the CO-OP, MoneyPass, VisaPlus, and a few other ATM networks.
Those of you who nominated Navy Federal praised their customer service first and foremost, and then discussed their great rates on loans and other financial products, not to mention their low-interest/high-benefit credit cards. You also noted that while many credit unions don’t put a lot of energy or effort into the web or app presence, Navy Federal’s site and mobile apps have been recently updated, modernized, and are much more useful. 24/7 live customer support doesn’t hurt much either. You can read more in their nomination thread here.
Pentagon Federal Credit Union is another large credit union with members spread out all over the country. While traditionally it’s only open to members of the armed services, civilian DoD employees, and their families (much like Navy Federal), you can also open an account with a one-time donation to either Voices for America’s Troops or the National Military Family Association, and once you’re a member you’re a member for life. Membership is a little looser here—their Wikipedia page lists all of the eligable groups. Membership gets you access to incredible customer service, exceptionally low rates on auto and personal loans, mortgages, and credit cards that are considered some of the best rewards cards you can get. Pentagon Federal Credit Union sports about 1.4 million members, and offers low-or-no fee checking and savings accounts, investment vehicles for retirement or wealth management if you’re not interested in their loan or mortgage products. PFCU has 26 branches worldwide and thanks to its partnership with the AllPoint ATM network, offers ATM services of its own in each of its branches and at thousands more worldwide.
Full disclosure, I nominated PFCU—I’m a customer (a happy one at that)—and I nominated it because of its great customer service (that’s always been there for me, been flexible with me, and willing to work with me), amazing rates on everything from car loans to personal loans to mortgages (of which the former two I’ve taken advantage of personally), and their great rates on credit cards. A number of you agreed, citing that PFCU often has better rates than their competition (primarily Navy Federal), and while they may not have the same 24/7 customer service, their caliber of service is still exceptionally high. You can read more in its nomination thread here.
NASA Federal Credit Union has over 80,000 members nationwide, and has branches mostly in the Washington DC/Maryland/Northern Virginia area, although they participate in the CO-OP Network, which means NFCU services can be accessed from thousands of partner credit union locations around the country. That network also expands access to ATMS beyond the local labeled ones to thousands more additional no-fee ATMs around the globe. Traditionally membership at NFCU is limited to NASA personnel and their families, but membership in a number of scientific institutions and organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the National Space Society, or the American Association for the Advancement of Science also open the doors to membership. You can read more about qualifying organizations and academies on their membership page. Once you are a member however, you get access to world class customer service, incredible rates on home loans and mortgages, low-interest credit cards, interest yielding investment vehicles like personal checking and savings accounts, CDs, IRAs and money market accounts, and more.
Those of you who nominated the NASA Federal Credit Union did so primarily because hey, you get those credit cards with space shuttles on them and that’s pretty awesome. Still, that’s not to discount their competitive rates that often outperform banks, their dedicated customer service (although because their membership is smaller, their hours are more limited), and the credit union’s attention to the details and needs of its customers. One of you cited NFCU’s cash back program, which offers 1% on first $ 1000, 1.5% on $ s 1001-2000, and 2% on every dollar spent above $ 2000 and unlimited redemption—it’s not the best plan you could possibly find, but it comes without strings and conditions attached, which is always good to hear. Read more in their nomination thread here.
Suncoast Credit Union is another credit union with physical branches in the gulf-coastal Florida area (it’s headquartered in Tampa), but with partner ATMs and branches around the country. It’s the largest credit union in Florida, with over 580,000 members and over 50 branches. Unfortunately membership is largely limited to family members of existing members and teachers and school employees in Florida, or just about anyone who lives and works in the counties in Florida where the credit union operates. Membership has been slowly expanding however, and the credit union invites prospective members to call and see if they’re eligible through some other means. Beyond that however, Suncoast members are happy to wax rhapsodic about how much they love their credit union and would recommend it to others, and their extremely competitive rates—sometimes so low you wonder how they could possibly make money on something like a sub-2% new auto loan, for example. Like most other credit unions, Suncoast offers a wealth of investment properties, checking and savings accounts that yield interest, low-rate loans and mortgages, and insurance and wealth management products to help you create and sustain your portfolio over the long term. If you’re a business owner, Suncoast also offers business checking or savings accounts, commercial loans, and business credit cards as well.
Those of you who nominated Suncoast noted its eligibility requirements involve geographic region, but noted that their interest rates and customer service make it well worth considering if you can find some way to become a member. One of you highlighted that specific car loan we mentioned above – a 1.74% interest loan on a used car, along with a $ 200 check back on closing – something you probably won’t find in most other credit unions, much less banks. Read more in its nomination thread here.
Alliant is one of the country’s largest credit unions, with over 280,000 members worldwide. It’s headquartered in Chicago, although it has over a dozen branches and dozens of thousands of no-fee ATMs nationwide. Membership in the credit union is restricted to employees, retirees, or members of any “qualifying company or organization” and their relatives, spouses, and domestic partners (you can see what companies or organizations qualify on their membership page here) or anyone who lives and works in a Chicagoland community or any member of Foster Care to Success. The credit union started out serving employees of United Airlines, and has subsequently broadened its support for other organizations, aviation companies, and merged with other airline credit unions, like the old Continental Federal Credit Union and US Airways Federal Credit Union. Even if you’re not a member of a participating organization, a donation to a Chicago-based charity will get you in the door. Once you’re a member, you enjoy the customer service that credit unions are known for, as well as competitive rates on auto and home loans, no-fee checking and savings accounts, high-interest retirement and investment accounts, education savings accounts, and low-interest credit cards. Alliant’s mobile apps help you stay on top of your accounts on the go, complete with mobile deposit and other services only a few of the other contenders here offer.
Alliant earned praise in the nomination thread for their fast, human customer service—even via email—and their especially consumer friendly interest rates. Alliant’s cards come with the more-secure Chip and Pin technology, which is a huge bonus in the wake of recent retailer hacks, monthly free credit reports, and a super huge ATM network. Don’t just take my word for it though, read all of the highlights, point-by-point, in its nomination thread here.
Now that you’ve seen the top five, let’s put them to an all out vote to determine the community favorite:
This week’s honorable mention goes out to USAA, (United Services Automobile Association) which did well in the nominations round, but isn’t actually a credit union—they just operate and behave like one, and offer both financial and insurance product to their customers at exceptional rates, and they offer well-regarded customer service for all of them. The organization started as a way to provide auto insurance services to US Army officers and their families, and has since expanded to all sorts of financial products and all members of the armed services, and while membership has often been pretty closed off, at this point membership is available to any current or former member of the armed services (active duty or reserve) while some USAA products (namely insurance and some other financial products) are available to non-members. You can read more in its nomination thread here.
Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.
The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at email@example.com!
Photo by Chris Christian.