Intro: Best Credit Unions Open to Anyone

Ever since the financial crisis, there has been an increase in the number of consumers switching from banks to credit unions. The trend shows no signs of slowing down as fee-weary consumers look for alternatives to banks.

Best Credit Unions in the US

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Industry guidelines require credit unions to only accept members who belong to a pre-designated group, employer or place of residence. However, many credit unions have gotten around that rule by allowing anyone to join a charitable organization for a small fee (I.e., $5) at the time of application. What this effectively does is allow anyone to gain eligibility at the time of application.

Click here for the complete rankings: Credit Union Rankings by City and State.

List of the Best Credit Unions (Top Ranked)

    1. Alliant Credit Union
    2. Digital Federal Credit Union
    3. First Technology Federal Credit Union
    4. Kinecta Federal Credit Union
    5. Patelco Credit Union
    6. Lake Michigan Credit Union
    7. Pentagon Federal Credit Union
    8. San Diego County Credit Union
    9. The Golden 1 Credit Union

Click here for the complete rankings: Top Credit Unions by City and State.


Featured Credit Union: Lake Michigan Credit Union (LMCU)

LMCU is featured here based on its impressive high yield checking account, which is higher than those offered by most traditional banks and credit unions.

  • Lake Michigan Credit Union offers one of the highest interest yield accounts in the US
  • The firm’s high yield, no fee checking account (Max Checking) pays an eye-popping 3% on balances up to $15,000
  • You can earn up to $450 a year if you leave $15,000 in your account each month
  • The 3% APY is a lot more than what you would get if you invested in a high interest CD or money market account
  • The account also comes with ATM fee reimbursement, earning it a “top bank with no ATM fees” ranking
  • LMCU free checking accounts also come with no minimum balance requirements
  • Best of all, the 3% Max Checking account is available to everyone; if you are not a resident of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, you are only required to make a small donation of $5 to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) of Michigan. The donation is made at the time of filling out your online application
  • Requirements for earning the 3%: You must have at least one direct deposit or ACH transfer from another account each month, a minimum of 10 debit card purchases per month, and a minimum of 4 logins per month, and you need to sign up to receive their eStatements
  • You can open an LMCU bank account online for free with no deposit

Top Credit Unions – Comparison Table

Credit UnionAccount Information

High Yield Rates

Lake Michigan Credit UnionFree checking account and ATM fee refunds

3% APY

Alliant Credit UnionFree checking account with access to over 80,000 ATMs

0.70% APY

Pentagon Federal Credit UnionNo fees (balance of $500 or direct deposit of at least $500 monthly)

0.10% APY

Digital Federal Credit UnionFree account with automatic upgrades to benefits like ATM surcharge reimbursements

0.05% APY

First Technology Federal Credit UnionThree of their checking accounts have no monthly fees

0.05% APY

Kinecta Federal Credit UnionFree checking account and Checking Plus which earns interest

0.05% APY

San Diego County Credit UnionFree checking account. Earn dividends with a classic checking account (daily balance of +$1,500)

0.05% APY

Patelco Credit UnionFree checking account and another almost free account that accrues interest

Tiered system starting with a 0.05% APY

The Golden 1 Credit UnionThree checking account options (one free) and three student checking options

0.03% APY

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Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed), Alexandria, VA

How to join: PenFed is for members of the military, but you can join by making a one-time donation to the National Military Family Association or Voices for America’s Troops ($20 and $15 respectively).

The Golden 1 Credit Union, Sacramento, CA

How to join: Golden 1 Credit Union is open to California residents, but non-residents can join by becoming a member of the Financial Fitness Association for $5 per year.

Golden 1 Credit Union is the sixth largest credit union in the U.S., with more than $9 billion in assets and over 700,000 members.

This credit union has more than 80 branches, 240 ATMs, and 30,000 fee-free network ATMs nationwide.

Students planning on attending college in California are eligible for some great scholarships from Golden 1, with scholarships of up to $5,000 per year.

Digital Federal Credit Union, Marlborough, MA

How to join: DCU is a credit union that caters to employer-based groups, but they are also open to residents of some communities in Massachusetts and Georgia. There are a number of organizations that anyone can join to become a member, with fees ranging from $10-120.

DCU emphasizes distance banking – they say 50% of their members have never even set foot in a branch.

First Technology Federal Credit Union, Mountain View, CA

How to join: First Tech is the chosen credit union for lots of big-name tech companies, like Amazon and Expedia, and is also open to Lane County, Oregon residents. You can also become eligible by joining the Financial Fitness Association.

Checking: Three of their checking accounts (including a health expense account) have no monthly fees – one is truly free, and the other two have some conditions. 

As a tech-savvy CU, you can expect great tech service, like apps and online banking, from FTFCU.

Alliant Credit Union, Chicago, IL

How to join: Chicago residents are eligible to join Alliant, but anyone can join by donating at least $10 to Foster Care to Success.

Alliant is the clear frontrunner in lots of categories – they offer very high interest rates on savings accounts and by far the most ATM access of any credit unions on this list.

Patelco Credit Union, Pleasanton, CA

How to join: If you’re not a California resident, you’ll need to make a donation to the Community Association for Engaging Youth to become eligible to join Patelco Credit Union.

PCU offers a unique and helpful perk – a complimentary annual financial review with a financial advisor.

Kinecta Federal Credit Union, Manhattan Beach, CA

How to join: People who aren’t eligible by residence or employer can pay a one-time fee of $10 to join the Consumers Cooperative Society of Santa Monica to gain eligibility to Kinecta Federal Credit Union.

If you’ve got a lot of money to put away, you will be rewarded with the VIP program at Kinecta, including perks like increased interest rates on share certificates, a free deposit box, and reduced closing costs on a mortgage.

San Diego County Credit Union, San Diego, CA

How to join: If you aren’t a San Diego resident, just join the Financial Fitness Association to become eligible to be a member of San Diego County Credit Union.

SDCCU has earned plenty of accolades – best credit union in San Diego, best mortgage home loan lender, best financial planner, and best place to work.

They also have the Guinness World Record for the most paper collected in 24 hours – so if you’re into that, this is your place.

** Please note that all rates, promotions, fees, information, figures, and ranking/review factors presented in this article may change at any time. Please review the respective credit unions’ websites for the most updated information. 

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