How To Find And Join A Credit Union

Credit unions are nonprofit, cooperative, member-owned banking institutions, so they’re less likely to screw you with fees and rules than the major commercial banks.

Credit unions rock, but how do you join them?

The law that established credit unions required that they target specific populations — like employees of a certain company, members of associations, or tradespeople. (Thank FDR.) So while a bank will take just about anyone’s money, a credit union has to see if you’re eligible to join first. If you’re not in the targeted group, then your money’s no good there.

If you want to see which groups you’re eligible to join, visit How to Join a Credit Union. You could be eligible on the basis of your job, your church, your college, your zip code, your religion, or other fun demographic features. There may be multiple credit unions you qualify for, so comparison-shop. MARK ASHLEY

(Photo: Edu-Tourist)

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  1. Newmy says:

    Here’s a tip if you live in a university town near a credit union. Usually you can join the university’s alumni association in order to gain eligibility to join the university credit union. Most alumni associations take “associate memberships” from non-alumni so anyone is likely eligible to join. Technically you’re supposed to renew the annual membership to maintain eligibility, but usually nobody checks to follow up after you initially join.

  2. mmcnary says:

    You know, that site does not have Missouri ain ist list. Did I miss something? The last time I checked, MO had Credit Unions…

  3. mmcnary says:

    Or perhaps, it’s because we cannot spell in Missouri…

  4. acambras says:

    The site has a non-participating states list (link at the left of their page). However, Connecticut is not on either list. :-(

  5. jcstathopulo says:

    I used to be a member of Community Credit Union out of Dallas, TX. At some point in the last 3 or4 years they turned into Viewpoint Bank. At that point the suckage began. Fees began to stack up and such nonsense. I’m no longer a member.

  6. celcho says:

    credit unions are not always about giving you less fees. their executives tend to be paid very well for the size of the company.

    i work for a commercial bank (a small community bank), and the problem we have with credit unions is that they are trying to invade our turf, which is real estate lending other than just personal mortgages. if we let these ‘non-profit’ banks do this, they can do it for cheaper than for-profit ones since they do not pay taxes. unfortunately, though, this is not capitalism, and really just plain not fair to those banks that are run as legitimate tax-paying businesses like most other small or large business.

  7. cindel says:

    I heard Penfed is Gold.

  8. sixtoe says:

    As the writer of that original “olde-tyme” post referenced above, I obviously have great affinity for credit unions (and I’m not affiliated with one, although I used to write ads for one, which is why I love them so). I also have zero sympathy for banks. Yes, executives at many credit unions get paid well–just like CEOs at most charity non-profits. But it’s peanuts compared to bank executives.

    Banks screw customers. Credit unions, by and large, don’t. If you want fewer fees and better interest rates, join a credit union. If you want to line the pockets of bankers and their investors in the name of capitalisim, stick with your bank.

  9. Snakeophelia says:

    I can’t say enough good things about credit unions. After years of dealing with banks that constantly changed names, tacked on hidden fees, and generally treated me like a stranger after I’d had an account with them for years, I lucked into a credit union with my first job after graduate school. Even though I’ve now switched jobs, I keep all my money there.

    Thanks to them, I’ve gotten loans approved immediately for emergencies, a rock-bottom interest rate on a used-car loan, and what feels like personalized service every time I have a problem.

  10. zeiche says:

    I should find another credit union. Mine is doing the same fee dance like the biggest banks.

  11. CumaeanSibyl says:

    The matching service doesn’t work very well. I know of at least three CUs in town I’m eligible to join, and it didn’t pull up anything. Better to just do a Google business search on credit unions in your area and then read up on their member criteria.

  12. gundan says:

    There are pros/cons to working with a CU. I have been a CU member for the last 7 years.

    Cons:
    Although I do agree they don’t nickle & dime you to death with fees for anything & everything. But they do charge you fees on bounced checks etc like most banks.

    Most CU’s don’t have 24×7 customer service as some of the big banks do, if that is a service that you particularly use.

    Most CU’s are local and don’t have the massive branch/atm network such as the Chase/BOA’s of the world.

    The mortgage rates are not as competitive as they used to be once. About a year ago, I purchased my first home and I was in the look out for a mortgage. I shopped around did my due diligence and found out that a local mortgage broker(referred to by a friend of mine) offered me a mortgage at a better rate than why my CU offered.

    The interest rates offered by CU’s on their CD’s and savings accounts are not able to beat the rates offered by ING/Emigrant these days. The ING offer of combined Checking/Savings accounts looks quite attractive these days.

    Pros:
    A key benefit is the lack of minimum balance/direct deposit requirement for checking accounts.

    I live in the NE now, and used to live in the midwest some time back when I joined the CU I am a member of now. I use a local big bank for my immediate cash needs, but about 99% of my major transactions through my CU.

  13. ironchef says:

    I left my credit union. why? Because their interest rates BLOWS on savings accounts. Mine only paid a paltry 2% and 3.5% on money market. Some credit unions are good. Some really are out to pad the board of director’s pockets with big salaries.

    I switched to etrade and ING and literally earned double from letting my money rot inside a credit union account.

  14. Mark Ashley says:

    @gundan: On the issue of ATM networks, it depends on the credit union, of course. But a good credit union will have agreements for free cash withdrawals — or ATM fee refunds — across the country. Look for an ATM finder on their webpage.

    I live in Illinois, while my credit union (which I’ve used since I was a tyke) is in New Jersey. I have only paid an ATM fee twice, ever. Bizarrely, the ATMs in every 7-Eleven are free for me.

  15. snowferret says:

    Desjardins (the largest credit union in North America) is who i’m with. I would never dream of going with anyone else. I really don’t know why peopel bank with banks when credit unions rock so much more. I think you have to be a canuk though, sorry yanks.

  16. aparsons says:

    I use a small community credit union in Central Pennslyvania (BELCO Community Credit Union). I’ve had a rather pleasant experience with them. Their fees are lower than most big name banks (I also use Bank of America) and whenever I call I get a helpful human, not just a warm body.

    The only downfall I’ve experienced is that it is difficult to deal with some bigger transactions. For instance, I needed to wire transfer money to another bank and they fumbled around with the paperwork for a little bit of time. It would have been nice to have a wire transfer request online.

    -Allan Parsons

  17. acambras says:

    @aparsons:

    OT, and I’m sure you must get this all the time, but I loved your Project.

  18. snowferret says:

    I was wrong Desjardins DOES have brances in the US (florida only i think).
    http://www.desjardins.com/en/desjardinsbank/index.jsp?setc
    Take a look guys it’s a really good institution, especialy if you are french speaking.

  19. gundan says:

    @Mark Ashley:
    Thanks for your feedback on ATM’s. I work in midtown manhattan and unfortunately my credit union has just 3 authorized atm’s and none of them in the city. Weirdly so, I get great conversion rates for foreign transactions using my CU ATM card.

  20. acambras says:

    @snowferret:

    Uh, how about “j’ai besoin de beaucoup d’argent” ?

  21. KalVarnsen says:

    Credit Union ATMs are usually part of the COOP network or STAR network, so if you’re a member at one credit union, you are more than likely able to withdraw money at any ATM on the STAR or COOP network without a fee. Further, credit unions typically participate in shared branching, which means certain credit union branches can be used by members of other credit unions (a customer is called a member, since you own a share in the Credit Union and have ownership rights). So, if you’re a member of ABC credit union, you can go into XYZ credit union, if they have a shared branch, and make a deposit, transfer funds, etc.

    A good credit union with fairly open eligibility is Digital Federal Credit Union, based in western MA. Anyone who donates $5 to join AARP is eligible for membership, and they have decent assets, so their rates are pretty competitive. I am a member of a credit union, always have been, and have been auditing them for the past 4 years. They make much more sense than banks.

  22. AgentMunroe says:

    My CU is one of the largest in Rochester (ESL) – they have large branches all around town, ATMs everywhere, good online banking, etc. Only difference between them and M&T (my previous bank) is their debit card transactions actually post in a reasonable amount of time and they actually give me the money I deposit when I deposit it. Oh – and they don’t sneer at me when I have a balance of $30. And they don’t charge a fee for non-network ATMs. And their customer service people are accessible online and are actually helpful.

    I’m going to be looking into a real bank for a business a friend and I are starting, and I’m not looking forward to making that decision…

  23. adamondi says:

    I am a huge proponent of credit unions. I used to bank with WaMu, but acquired an extreme hatred for them after they completely screwed me over several times. I switched to Boeing Employees Credit Union (BECU) and have been loving it ever since. They have really good rates on their loans, and pay interest on every type of account. 7.5% on the first $500 in checking or savings (.5% on anything over $500.00 in checking and 1.76% on anything over $500.00 in savings), 4.07% on Money Market accounts, good rates on CDs and all the rest.

    Plus, they recently changed their membership requirements. It used to be that you had to work at Boeing or have a relative that worked at Boeing, but now they let anyone in the state of Washington join BECU. They have a pretty decent network of locations and are part of a network of credit unions across the country that will allow you to do your banking at any of them without fees. I have only ever had excellent customer service when calling them. I love BECU. I don’t know why anyone in Washington State uses a bank.

  24. GlassBottleLoveAffair says:

    Oh my gawds, credit unions are AWESOME! I’ve been with my CU since I was a wee little one. They don’t charge me for using out of network ATM’s. I can use my debit card as a credit or debit card for purchase. I get to talk to a real live person when I call them, some of whom actually know me(and its not like I’m a big client or anything either!) Funds are available right away after deposit, even when I use the ATM after hours. They have a simple, straightforward website… yea I could go on! The only thing that sucks is the low(i.e. non-existent) rate of return on savings accounts and the lack of 24/7 support.

  25. raceroh says:

    As a FORMER member of 2 separate credit unions(Ohio,Florida)without a doubt they absolutly suck!The b.s. about being an integral owner depends on the amount of “shares” one owns in the credit union.Your 1000 shares ie:$1000 will not grant you any perks but that oh so happy feeling of ownership.The C.U. could give a shit less about you unless you have any long term loans(mortgage,car,education) which is no different from any national bank,but you do get that warm fuzzy feeling when your statements arrive in the mail.

  26. mac-phisto says:

    @Newmy: credit unions have a “once a member, always a member” policy, so once you qualify for membership, you don’t need to keep qualifying.

    @acambras: for ct, check out our state league: http://www.ctcua.org. around the middle of the page, you’ll see a link “ct credit union search”. we range the gambit here, so you’re most likely eligible for at least one.

    @celcho: no one wants “your turf”. true, savings banks & cu’s cater to similar customers, but they both offer unique products that attract different key customers. quit blaming the credit unions & start looking at whose stealing both community banks & small credit unions business: BIG BANKS.

    @ironchef: credit union board of directors are volunteers. they don’t get paid. the savings accts. may not have great rates on savings (most brick-&-mortar banks suck too), but their loan rates almost always beat banks & they’re fee-lite. a member can easily conduct transactions at my institution w/o ever paying an actual fee…& you don’t need $10,000 in your account to do it.

    @raceroh: i can’t speak for your credit unions, but mine treats members as equal as possible. obviously, any business will cater more to friendly ppl over ornery ppl & ppl who actually use their products vs. ppl who just use them as a free check-cashing service.

    all i know is, when my mortgage company double-hit my acct. one month, they didn’t return ANY of the 8 checks that came thru the next day, they called me to tell me i needed some money in there (to my surprise), & when i pinpointed the error & explained it, they refunded ALL of the $160 in overdraft fees they charged.

    then there was the time i showed up 5 minutes after close on a saturday & they waved me in.

    i still belong to the first credit union i ever joined (back when i was 10). i stash emergency funds there & when i needed to hit them up a few weeks ago, i called & got jayne & she promptly cut me a check & then asked me how my mom was doing & how she liked georgia, & how my two sisters were doing, & where were they…

    try getting service like that at a bank*. i

    *BIG bank; i really have no problem with community banks.

  27. kidgenius says:

    As far as being a member of a specific group, that may have been the case at one point, but not anymore. There are many credit unions that cater to everyone, and anyone can join. Like everyone else said, lower fees, higher interest rates, etc.

    ironchef: You’re concerned about low interest rates at a credit union? Go to BofA and see what you can get. ING, and the other e-banks don’t have the overhead to deal with, so they can of course give you higher interest rates. At the same time though, you trade liquidity for that interest rate.

  28. Chris K says:

    I totally agree with finding university-affiliated credit unions. The local one in ChampaignUrbana, IL is the U of I credit union – on their web page it lists the eligibility… It’s open to everyone in town and from a host of large companies and yes, anyone in the U of I alumni association.

    http://www.uiecu.org/asp/products/product_4_2.asp

  29. dyssident says:

    Check out the membership requirements for the Pentagon Credit Union (penfed.com). You’re eligible if you’ve ever so much as been a roomate of a serviceman.

  30. katylostherart says:

    it doesn’t have half of the us on its list. that’s kinda sucky.

  31. ynguldyn says:

    Two of the best CUs, Penfed and DCU, have affiliations with groups that anyone can join. DCU even has application forms that one can use to join both an affiliated group and DCU at the same time.

  32. Anonymous says:

    The best Credit Union search is by zip code. The problem with most sites though is that they only have zip codes for the main office of the credit union. You don’t care if you use a branch office, right? This site has all 8,000 Credit Union zip codes and 14,000 branch office zip codes as well. Try it out at:
    http://www.usacreditunions.com/credit-unions-in-zip-code-90210-area