There is no shortage of reasons for consumers to consider abandoning banks. ATM fees have soared over the past decade. It has become much more difficult to find free checking. Interest rates on savings accounts and certificates of deposit are paltry. And consumer complaints about bank accounts and services have climbed sharply over the past five years. Those are among the reasons that, according to the National Credit Union Administration, assets have grown by 40% since 2012 to $1.35 trillion and loans by 60%.
Credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives that tend to offer members higher annual percentage yields (APYs) on savings, lower rates on loans and fewer hassles than banks. Example: Mountain American Credit Union, headquartered in Utah, was recently offering a five-year CD with a 2.6% APY. Compare that with 1% at Bank of America…a range of 0.35% to 0.60% at Chase (depending on how much you deposit)…and 1.01% (for a 58-month term) at Wells Fargo.
The differences are even more dramatic with rewards checking for customers who are able to meet certain requirements each month, such as making a minimum number of debit card transactions, making a direct deposit and agreeing to get e-statements. Consumers Credit Union in Illinois, for instance, offers very high APYs, ranging from 3.09% to 4.59%, on a balance up to $20,000 (4.59% on $20,000 is $918) depending on the criteria you meet (the 4.59% generates $469 in compounded monthly interest on a $10,000 deposit over one year). The highest rewards checking APY that is available at Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo, no matter how big your checking account, is a miniscule 0.02%.
Credit unions typically have an edge in interest rates on auto loans as well. At Bethpage Federal Credit Union in New York, a 60-month loan for a new vehicle has a 2.19% annual percentage rate (APR) versus 2.9% at Bank of America, 3.8% at Chase and 3.9% at Wells Fargo.
Most credit unions have restrictive membership guidelines that require you to work at specific businesses or live in a certain geographical area to qualify.
But according to Ken Tumin, who runs DepositAccounts.com, there are 112 credit unions—including the ones mentioned above—that anyone can join by paying a small, onetime fee, typically just $5. These credit unions participate in ATM networks that allow you to bank at tens of thousands of surcharge-free ATMs.
Bottom Line Personal asked Tumin to list the best of the easy-to-join credit unions based on features such as high CD and/or rewards checking interest rates and low loan interest rates.
Many of these easy-to-join credit unions have among the nation’s best rates on just one or two products, so be sure to choose a credit union that best suits your particular needs. See the table below for Tumin’s picks of the best credit unions in the country…
Credit Unions and Safety
Account holders at most credit unions are automatically protected by insurance from the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), a federal agency, which will reimburse them for up to $250,000 per depositor if, for any reason, the institution is unable to reimburse its customers.