Big banks have earned negative reputations for prioritizing their bottom lines over their customer service and product offerings; and many people undervalue the importance of financial institutions in their day-to-day activities. However, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) reports that two-thirds of households have both a checking and savings account which they rely on regularly, and it’s clear these financial products are non-negotiable facets of daily life.
But big banks aren’t the only answer — an alternative to inflated fees and poor customer service can be found with a local credit union. Many consumers feel like finding the best credit unions anyone can join is near impossible to accomplish, due to membership criteria. However, some of the best credit unions are more welcoming to the general public than popular opinion suggests.
What Is a Credit Union?
Those who have only been exposed to large national financial institutions might not even know what a credit union is, much less the many advantages of joining a credit union. At their cores, credit unions were developed to help those who are either unbanked, accounting for 8.2 percent of U.S. households according to an FDIC survey, or who are underbanked, which 20.1 percent of U.S. households can be classified as.
As nonprofit cooperatives, local credit unions operate on the principle of “people helping people.” Credit unions accomplish this mission by offering shares of the organization to each member who deposits into a share savings account. As a shareholder, members themselves dictate changes within the institution, as opposed to third-party investors simply looking to make a profit off of customers.
Any earnings gained within the credit union are returned back to members in the form of competitive rates for products like CD and savings accounts, affordable lending interest rates, and reduced or no service fees.
Can Anyone Join a Credit Union?
Despite the financial benefits of credit union membership, skeptics warn that eligibility requirements for membership are so restrictive that, instead of operating as an institution for the people, credit unions are more akin to elite and exclusive clubs, reserved only for those in a worker’s union or who live in a specific region.
While the idea of a common bond is certainly evident among a majority of credit unions, this commonality is more open than some might realize. In fact, there are many credit unions anyone can join regardless of his geographic location or employer affiliation.
What is the Best Credit Union I Can Join?
One of the first questions prospective members ask is: Can anyone join a credit union? An answer that many don’t expect to hear is, “yes” — by fulfilling simple requirements, anyone can reap the benefits offered by many of the best credit unions in the nation.
1. CommunityWide Credit Union
While CommunityWide Credit Union supports Select Employer Groups (SEGs), in addition to close relatives of those who work with eligible companies, it keeps its field of membership relatively open by allowing people to join by making a small donation to one of the institution’s partner charities. A contribution to either the Michiana Goodwill Boosters or Marine Corps League is all it takes to join the ranks of the credit union’s 39,000 members.
2. GTE Financial Credit Union
Another open-charter credit union that serves specific businesses, employees’ families and select organizations is GTE Financial Credit Union. Gaining access to the institution’s impressive financial products is made simple with a $10 fee requirement to join CUSavers, a nonprofit financial education club. This is a one-time charge that opens the doors to great savings rates and a more personal banking experience.
3. Self-Help Credit Union
Self-Help Credit Union’s branches are centralized in North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean its membership is restricted to those within the state’s borders. In fact, depositors can activate their memberships by donating to the credit union’s founding charitable organization — the Center for Community Self-Help — with a one-time minimum $20 donation. To make things financially feasible for low-income individuals, the minimum donation requirement is adjusted to $5.
4. NuVision Federal Credit Union
It’s possible to find a credit union that anyone can join that also cares about members’ personal goals. NuVision Federal Credit Union is just one financial institution that offers its services to those who pledge themselves to the credit union’s cause. Those who are interested in joining NuVision, but who do not meet traditional eligibility qualifications, like its regional Arizona-resident requirement, can join the credit union’s sponsored educational group called the American Consumer Council.
The institution adheres to the “once a member, always a member” policy, which means that regardless of members’ future status with the American Consumer Council, he always has a place with NuVision Federal Credit Union.
5. America’s Credit Union
A few of the best credit unions anyone can join directly support a greater national effort. One such credit union is America’s Credit Union, with an open criteria for membership that encourages citizens to support the Association of the United States Army (AUSA). By joining the AUSA organization with a membership fee as low as $14, members receive the benefits of America’s Credit Union products.