Best Credit Unions: 18 Top Picks for International Credit Union Day

If you're thinking of joining a credit union, look no further.

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 — celebrated annually on the third Thursday of October every year — GOBankingRates identified the best credit unions in 18 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 18 top picks to find one that might be right for you. Understanding what the best credit unions offer can help you decide whether to choose a bank or credit union.

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

With attractive rates as low as 1.49% APR for a new auto loan, PenFed — with more than 1.6 million members and $23 billion in assets — offers one of the lowest credit union interest rates on auto loans. The 1.49% APR is for a 36-month loan, but you can get a 72-month new car loan for 3.24% APR and a used car loan for 3.99% APR.

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 you can even apply online.

Read: 12 Best Credit Unions for Car Loans

Best Credit Union for Car LTVs: NASA 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.

With auto financing of up to 130 percent, NASA Federal Credit Union can give you the money you need to cover the extras you want, so you can leave that consumer bank by the wayside. If you’re not interested in extras, you can use the extra money to cover any negative equity situation that might happen if your trade-in is upside down.

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. You’ll also be able to access interest rates that start at 7.99% APR.

You won’t get a sign-up bonus, but the rewards program offers one Flexpoint for every dollar spent and five for paying a bill via Bill Pay. Redeem points for merchandise, gift cards, travel and charitable giving.

Learn: 17 Best Ways to Use Credit Card Rewards Points

Best Credit Union Anyone Can Join: Alliant Credit Union

Alliant Credit Union stood out for its 1.11% APY on its High-Rate Savings Account. If you meet at least one of Alliant’s five eligibility requirements — you can easily join by contributing $10 or more to Foster Care to Success — you can apply online or by phone. Of all credit union savings account rates, Alliant’s is the best — and it offers a range of financial products.

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.

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.

NFCU’s social media following combines more than 1 million Facebook, 75,000 Twitter and 21,000 Instagram followers. 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.

Best Credit Union for CDs: Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union

With more than 140,000 active members and approximately $2.8 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. For example, its one- and two-year CDs, with a minimum deposit of only $500, will earn you 0.75% APY and 1.00% APY, respectively.

In addition, Affinity Plus offers a 2.00% APY, five-year CD rate. Like other financial institutions, Affinity offers checking, savings and money market accounts, credit cards and a wide variety of loan products.

Check Out: 5 Insider Tips to Get the Highest CD Rates

Best Credit Union for Mortgages: Lake Michigan Credit Union

Lake Michigan Credit Union offers low interest rates on 30- and 15-year, fixed-rate mortgages at 3.00% APR and 3.625% APR, respectively. If you combine your new mortgage loan with one of LMCU’s checking accounts, you can shave an additional 1/8 of a percentage point off the advertised rate. Other mortgage product offerings include construction, vacant land, refinance and home equity loans.

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 and 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 four 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.

Best Credit Union 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 0.10% APY. It also pays a significantly higher yield for a 12-month CD and has no mandatory minimum deposit for its free checking account, whereas PenFed requires a $25 minimum deposit.

If you’re serving in the U.S. armed forces, the National Guard or Coast Guard — whether you’re a military veteran, reservist or retiree — you can join on your own. If you have a family member who was in the military or one who is a member of Navy Federal, you are also welcome.

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 almost $5 more for its checking account.

The checking account has no monthly maintenance fee or minimum monthly balance requirement, and it provides out-of-network ATM fee reimbursements of up to $20 a month. Customers get their first box of checks free and are eligible for courtesy pay and overdraft projection.

Best Credit Union Mobile App: PenFed Credit Union

PenFed was the best out of this group, scoring 4.3 out of 5 in a 2016 study by Magnify Money, a website dedicated to giving consumers an unbiased way to shop for financial products. The app is available for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire devices and includes easy mobile deposits, quick balance checks and a locator that shows you its ATM and credit union locations. Additional features include bill pay, transfers and member-rewards offers.

Download Now: 15 Best Mobile Banking Apps and Services

Best Credit Union for Customer Experience: Navy Federal Credit Union

With 83 years of service and more than 7 million members to its credit, 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 a 24/7 contact center, online educational resources, more than 280 branches, and mobile banking tools keep Navy Federal sailing ahead of the pack in this category.

Best Credit Union for Savings: Alliant Credit Union

Alliant won this category thanks to its 1.11% APY on its High-Rate Savings Account and its lack of account maintenance fees — regardless of your balance. You must have at least $5 in your account to keep it open and the interest kicks in only for a daily average minimum balance of $100 and up, but Alliant will pay the mandatory, $5 initial deposit for you, according to the website. 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.

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.

You’ll get two rewards points for every dollar spent, which you can redeem for travel, cash back, gift cards and merchandise. Your card will also come with EMV chip technology, which will add security against credit card fraud.

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

Although none of the credit unions on this list can beat Affinity’s APY on CDs, Consumer’s Credit Union beats its opening deposit. You can invest as little as $250 to get a 0.15% APY on a one-year CD, 0.30% APY on a two-year and 1.60% APY on a five-year. Consumer’s CU also offers a free, high-yield checking account with rewards, free online bill pay and competitive auto loan rates.

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. In addition, the account gives you up to $10 in ATM fee rebates per month. Students can enjoy their own debit card, direct deposit, online banking privileges, free mobile deposits and bill pay, plus they can view bank statements online.

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 four categories: microsite, direct mail, digital advertising, and point of sale and retail merchandising.

AHFCU has more than 151,000 members and holds assets of 1.8 billion. In addition, its credit union peers have recognized it as a national leader in providing community 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.

GTE has sponsored the American Cancer Society and the National MS Society, among others. 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.

Interested in Switching to a Credit Union?

If banking with a credit union appeals to you, conduct a search for the best credit unions near 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.

Now Find Out About: Different Types of Credit Unions

Terence Loose contributed to the reporting for this article. 

Methodology: GOBankingRates.com identified the 18 best credit unions based on individual criteria for each category. Research was aggregated from recent GOBankingRates articles, including Best Credit Unions for CD RatesBest 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. 23, 2017, except PenFed, which is accurate as of today.