Due to the recent backlash over big banks and their fees, banking institutions are one of the unsung heroes in consumers’ day-to-day activities. However, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) reports 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 are local credit unions, though more often than not, consumers feel like finding the best credit unions anyone can join is near impossible to accomplish. Some of the best credit unions, however, are more welcoming to the general public than the myths suggest.
What Is a Credit Union?
Those who have only been exposed to large national financial institutions may not even know what a credit union is, much less the many advantages of a credit union. At their core, 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 fall under.
As non-profit cooperatives, local credit unions across the United States 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 from credit unions are returned back to the membership in the form of competitive rates for products like CD accounts 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 is so restrictive that instead of operating as an institution for the people, credit unions have become 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 may realize. In fact, there are many credit unions anyone can join regardless of their 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? A surprising answer that Americans don’t expect to hear is, “yes” — by fulfilling simple requirements, they can reap the benefits offered by the best credit unions in the nation.
1. CommunityWide Credit Union
While the CommunityWide Credit union supports Select Employer Groups (SEGs), in addition to close relatives of those who work with eligible companies, they keep their field of membership relatively open by allowing members 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 be a part of the 39,000 member group.
2. GTE Financial Credit Union
Another open-charter credit union that serves specific businesses, their families and select organizations is GTE Financial Credit Union. In addition to these individuals, gaining access to the institution’s impressive financial products is made simple with just a $10 fee to join CUSavers, a non-profit 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 their membership is restricted to those within the state’s borders. In fact, by donating to the credit union’s founding charitable organization, the Center for Community Self-Help with a one-time minimum $20 donation, depositors can activate their membership. To make things financially feasible for low-income individuals, the minimum donation requirement is adjusted to $5.
4. NuVision Federal Credit Union
The institution adheres to the “once a member, always a member” policy, which means that regardless of members’ status with the American Consumer Council, they always have 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 open criteria for membership encouraging 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.