Best Credit Unions: 19 Top Picks for International Credit Union Day

Look no further if you're thinking of joining a credit union.

Credit unions are nonprofit financial institutions that are owned by their members — and for many, they’re a popular alternative to national and community banks. In honor of International Credit Union Day — taking place on Oct. 18, 2018 this year — GOBankingRates identified the best credit unions in 19 categories.

Credit unions of all sizes — with all types of product and services offerings — are included. The findings might surprise you: The largest credit unions aren’t necessarily the winners in every category. Whether you’re looking for a credit union with low mortgage rates, free checking or just a cool mobile app, check out this year’s 19 top picks to find one that might be right for you. Understanding what each has to offer can help you decide whether a credit union versus a bank can save you more money.

Click to find out how credit union membership could save you more money.

Here are the 19 top picks for International Credit Union Day:

Best Credit Union for New and Used Car Loans: Pentagon Federal Credit Union

With attractive rates as low as 2.49% APR for a new auto loan, PenFed — with more than 1.6 million members and $24 billion in assets — offers one of the lowest credit union interest rates on auto loans.

Whatever you’re in the market for — new or used — PenFed has you covered with loan amounts ranging from $500 to $100,000. Additionally, it offers loans of up to 110 percent of the car’s value — and once you become a member, you can even apply online. Here is a sample of the current auto loan rates you can get from PenFed:

  • 36-month new or used auto loan: 3.49 percent
  • 48-month new or used auto loan: 3.74 percent
  • 72-month new or used auto loan: 4.49 percent

Read: New and Used Car Interest Rates Explained

Best Credit Union for Car LTVs: NIH Federal Credit Union

Perhaps you agree to some point-of-purchase add-ons — like an extended warranty, service package or tinted glass — for your new or used car. Maybe you’re a firm believer in gap insurance, which helps pay the difference between what you owe and what your vehicle is worth if it’s stolen or totaled. Enter a higher loan-to-value ratio from NIH Federal Credit Union. Here are the highlights of the loan:

  • Auto financing of up to 125 percent
  • Terms of up to 84 months
  • Drive away with no payment due for 90 days

Best Credit Union for Credit Cards: State Department Federal Credit Union

Because State Department Federal Credit Union offers credit cards with no annual, foreign transaction or balance transfer fees; a low-interest rate and a rewards program, its Visa Platinum Card wins this category.

  • Interest rates start at 8.99% APR
  • Rewards program offers one Flexpoint for every dollar spent
  • Travel and emergency assistance services are available

Best Credit Union Anyone Can Join: Alliant Credit Union

Alliant Credit Union stood out for its 1.90% APY on its High-Rate Savings Account. Of all credit union savings accounts, Alliant’s is one to consider with rates that are 20x the bank industry’s average and no maximum balance limit. Once you become a member, you can choose the high-yield savings account. After your application is approved, you’ll owe a $5 initial deposit, which the credit union will pay for you. To join follow these steps:

  • Meet at least one of Alliant’s three eligibility requirements, OR
  • Choose to support Alliant’s partner charity Foster Care to Success
  • Apply online using Alliant’s secure membership application

Best Credit Union to Follow on Social Media: Navy Federal Credit Union

For Twitter, Instagram and Facebook users, following a credit union on social media is helpful for things like making contact quickly with a customer service rep or keeping up with special promotions. Navy Federal Credit Union sails into the top spot in this category. Considering that one of the social media tips on its blog says businesses should track what resonates — and doesn’t — with customers and apply that knowledge, it’s not hard to see why it has gained a large following in various social networks:

  • 1 million Facebook followers
  • 75,000 Twitter followers
  • 29,000 Instagram followers

Best Credit Union for CDs: Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union

With more than 188,000 active members and over $2 billion in assets, Affinity Plus is a favorite among consumers. It topped the list for credit union CD rates because it offers high APYs on CDs that require low minimum deposits. Like other financial institutions, Affinity offers checking, savings and money market accounts, credit cards and a wide variety of loan products.

Here is a sample of its CD rates with a minimum deposit of $500:

  • One-year CD: 1.25% APY
  • Two-year CD: 1.50% APY
  • Five-year CD: 2.50% APY

Best Credit Union for Mortgages: Lake Michigan Credit Union

LMCU stands behind its low mortgage rates: If you find a more competitive rate after you’ve initiated your loan, LMCU will refund you $300 at closing if it can’t beat the rate. Other mortgage product offerings include construction, vacant land, refinance and home equity loans.

Here’s a sample of LMCUs mortgage interest rates:

  • 15-year mortgage rate: 4.506% APR
  • 20-year mortgage rate: 4.869% APR
  • 30-year mortgage rate: 4.963% APR

Best Credit Union for Customer Service: Hughes Federal Credit Union

Customer service is a biggie in banking and, in this technology age, it comes in many forms. For this category, the study looked at five criteria:

  • Live chat
  • 24/7 phone customer service
  • 24/7 voice response service
  • Presences on Facebook and Twitter

Hughes Federal Credit Union scored a perfect five out of five, edging out GTE Financial CU, which scored a four out of five because it doesn’t offer 24/7 phone customer service. Hughes, which serves the people of Tucson, Ariz., has also received top honors in the Arizona Daily Reader’s Choice Awards.

Understand: Advantages and Disadvantages of Credit Unions

Best Credit Union for Military Personnel: Navy Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal CU beat out its next closest rival, PenFed CU, in a few crucial categories. Navy Federal CU’s free savings account pays 0.25% APY, as opposed to PenFed’s 0.05% APY. It also has no mandatory minimum deposit for its free checking account, whereas PenFed requires a $25 minimum deposit. Here are the eligibility requirements for joining:

  • Service in the U.S. armed forces, National Guard or Coast Guard
  • Have a family member who was in the military
  • Have a family member who is a member of NFCU

Best Credit Union for Checking: Alliant Credit Union

Alliant’s ranking is based mainly on its relatively low insufficient funds fee of $25 for its free checking account. It edged out its closest competition, Lake Michigan Credit Union, which has an NSF fee of $5 more for its checking account. The checking account has no monthly maintenance fee or minimum monthly balance requirement. Here are some other account perks:

  • Out-of-network ATM fee reimbursements of up to $20 per month
  • First box of checks are free
  • Account is eligible for courtesy pay and overdraft protection

Best Credit Union Mobile App: PenFed Credit Union

PenFed was the best out of this group. Its app is available for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire and includes bill pay, funds transfers and more:

  • Easy mobile deposits
  • Quick balance checks
  • ATM and credit union near me locator

Download Now: 15 Best Mobile Banking Apps and Services

Best Credit Union for Customer Experience: Navy Federal Credit Union

With its No. 1 ranking as “Best in Class” Brand for Customer Experience, according to Forrester’s report, The US Customer Experience Index, 2018, there’s no doubt that Navy Federal is a pro at making its full-service banking experience a pleasure for customers. One of the perks is that members can leave the military or experience other major life changes and be confident in their status as a member. Offerings like these keep Navy Federal sailing ahead of the pack in this category:

  • 24/7 contact center
  • Online educational resources
  • More than 319 branches
  • Mobile banking tools

Best Credit Union for Savings: Alliant Credit Union

Alliant won this category thanks to its 1.90% APY on its High-Rate Savings Account and its lack of monthly fees if you sign up for eStatements. With the awards for Alliant coming in No. 1 for “Best Anyone Can Join,” “Best Checking” and “Best Savings,” this credit union qualifies as a triple threat. Here’s what you need to know about ACUs savings account:

  • Only $5 keeps the account open
  • Interest starts accruing when your balance is $100 or more
  • Alliant pays the $5 initial deposit for you

Best Credit Union for International Travelers: Alliant Credit Union

If you’re a jet-setter, credit card and foreign transaction fees can really add up. Alliant Credit Union’s Visa Platinum Rewards card carries no annual or balance transfer fee and has a 0% APR introductory rate for the first 12 billing cycles. Your card will also come with EMV chip technology, which will add security against credit card fraud. You’ll get two rewards points for every dollar spent, which you can redeem for any of these:

  • Travel
  • Cash back
  • Gift cards
  • Merchandise

Best Credit Union for Low Deposit Minimums on CDs: Consumers Credit Union

Although Consumer Credit Union can’t beat Affinity’s APY on CDs, it beats its rival’s opening deposit. Consumer’s CU also offers a free, high-yield checking account with rewards, free online bill pay and competitive auto loan rates. Invest as little as $250 and get the following CD rates:

  • One-year CD: 1.15% APY
  • Two-year CD: 1.40% APY
  • Five-year CD: 2.30% APY 

Best Credit Union for Young Adults: Navy Federal Credit Union

Young people between the ages of 14 and 24 can take advantage of NFCU’s Campus Checking Account, which offers perks like no minimum balance or monthly service fee and pays a 0.05 percent dividend rate. In addition, the account offers up to $10 in ATM fee rebates per month. Students can enjoy their own debit card, direct deposit and more, such as:

  • Online banking privileges
  • Free mobile deposits and bill pay
  • Online bank statements

Best Credit Union for Marketing: American Heritage Federal Credit Union

When it comes to marketing, it has to be something special to get the attention of consumers. AHFCU shines brightly in this category — it won the Credit Union National Association’s Diamond Award for its marketing achievements in five categories, including:

  • Complete campaign
  • Digital advertising
  • Point of sale display and retail merchandising

AHFCU has more than 170,000 members and holds assets of $2.2 billion. In addition, its credit union peers have recognized it as a national leader in providing charity.

Best Credit Union for Charitable Contributions: GTE Financial Credit Union

Contributing more than $636,000 to nonprofits and charities and in more than $51,000 in in-kind donations is what earned GTE Financial Credit Union the prestigious Benefactor of Year award from the Tampa Bay Business Journal in 2016. Each year, GTE chooses 12 monthly charities to contribute to, based on employees’ suggestions. And, although it’s not exactly charity, GTE offers its Credit Builder Loan to consumers — with no money up-front — who are trying to establish or rebuild their credit. Here are some examples of charities GTE has contributed to:

  • YMCA
  • American Heart Association
  • Boys & Girls Club

Best Credit Union for Financial Education: Golden 1 Credit Union

No matter what your financial goals are, Golden 1 Credit Union’s Financial Wellness Center can help you achieve them. The credit union scooped up the Credit Union National Association’s 2018 Diamond Award for Financial Education. For extended, self-paced learning, Golden 1 offers a financial learning lab powered by an interactive digital curriculum. It also offers these other resources focused on financial topics:

  • Online videos
  • Webinars
  • Podcasts

Interested in Switching to a Credit Union?

Conduct a search for the best credit unions near you if banking with a credit union appeals to you. Or, apply online for a credit union membership if you don’t need a physical branch close by. Whatever you choose, you’ll be reaping significant financial benefits in no time.

Click to read about the difference between a credit union and a federal credit union.

More on Credit Unions and Banking

Methodology: GOBankingRates.com identified the 19 best credit unions based on individual criteria for each category. Research was aggregated from recent GOBankingRates articles, including Best Credit Unions for CD Rates, Best Credit Unions for Car Loans and Best Credit Union Credit Cards. Fees and rates are subject to change at the credit card issuers’ discretion. Some bonus offers might no longer be available on the credit card issuers’ websites, depending on how you access the web page. All rates accurate as of Oct. 9, 2018.