The next time you’re looking for a new credit card, it's worth doing a little research into credit unions and their various offerings. You can often find low interest rates, money-saving 0% APR periods and even industry-leading cash-back rates.
Credit unions often offer better terms because the financial institutions reinvest the profits they make from interest and account fees back into the products they offer, whereas traditional banks give their profits to shareholders.
In order to open a credit union credit card, you’ll first need to meet membership eligibility requirements. The eligibility requirements differ across credit unions, but can include where you live or work or affiliation with certain groups, such as labor unions or schools.
Many of the best credit unions — and those mentioned below — will also allow you to join if you donate a small fee to a participating organization. In some cases, the credit union will even pay that fee on your behalf, making membership free.
CNBC Select analyzed and compared credit cards offered by credit unions that are good for earning rewards, completing balance transfers and more. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best credit union credit cards.)
2.5% cash back on qualifying purchases (up to $250 in cash back rewards per billing cycle)
$99, waived the first year
12.24% to 22.24% variable
Who's this for? The Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card offers an industry-leading 2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $250 in cash back rewards per billing cycle). This is ideal for anyone looking for an easy-to-use cash-back card without the hassle of tracking bonus categories or activation.
This card doesn't have many bells and whistles, but there's no foreign transaction fees, which is uncommon with a cash-back card.
While this card has a strong cash-back program, it does come with a $99 annual fee (though it's waived the first year). It's not the highest when compared to other rewards cards, but you can find a range of cash-back cards with no annual fees, like the Citi® Double Cash Card.
How to join Alliant: The easiest way to become an Alliant Credit Union member is by supporting Alliant's partner charity, Foster Care to Success. However, you don't need to pay the charity directly since Alliant pays $5 on your behalf when you apply to join the credit union.
Other options include:
5X points on gas, 3X points on groceries, 1X points on all other purchases
$100 statement credit when you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days from account opening
0% promotional rate for the first 12 months on balance transfers
13.49% to 17.99% variable on purchases; 17.99% non-variable on balance transfers
Who's this for? If you frequently commute to work with your car or spend the weekends making day trips, the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card can help you maximize rewards when refueling your car. This card offers a high 5X points at gas stations, which is why it ranks as our best gas rewards card.
In addition to a great rewards rate on gas, you can earn 3X on groceries and 1X on all other purchases. Plus you can benefit from no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
How to join PenFed: Military affiliation is no longer required to have a PenFed membership. You can become a member by opening a PenFed savings/share account with a $5 deposit and maintaining a $5 account balance in order to keep your PenFed membership active.
Earn 2X points on groceries, gas, electronics, medical, household goods and telecommunications, 1X points on all other purchases
Earn 20,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first two months from account opening
0% for the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers processed within 90 days of account opening date
8.25% to 18.00% variable
Who's this for? The Choice Rewards World Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union is a well-rounded card that has no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, a great balance transfer offer and a robust rewards program.
New card members can repay debt with no interest charges for a year (then 8.25% to 18.00% variable) and there's $0 balance transfer fee, saving you the typical 3% to 5% fee other balance transfer cards often charge.
The rewards program is geared toward everyday expenses, such as groceries and gas: earn 2X points on groceries, gas, electronics, medical, household goods and telecommunications, and 1X points on all other purchases. Plus, there's a welcome bonus of 20,000 points when you spend $3,000 in your first two months from account opening.
How to join First Tech: The easiest way to become a First Tech member is to join the Community History Museum (CHM) or Financial Fitness Association (FFA). The first year's membership fee for the CHM or FFA is paid by First Tech, and you can cancel the membership after opening an account with no impact on your First Tech membership.
Other ways to become a member include:
Who's this for? The Visa Signature® Flagship Rewards Credit Card from Navy Federal Credit Union is a strong offering for those with military affiliation. Cardholders enjoy a complimentary year of Amazon Prime, a reasonable 9.99% to 18.00% variable APR and great travel perks.
The card also offers account holders a credit worth up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck applications every four years, plus no foreign transaction fees. Additionally, you can earn 3X points on travel and an above-average 2X points on everything else.
NFCU credit cards even received the highest overall satisfaction score in J.D. Power's 2019 Credit Card Satisfaction Study, excelling in terms, benefits, services and rewards.
How to join Navy Federal: Military affiliation is required to join Navy Federal Credit Union.
Eligibility options include:
To determine which credit unions provide the best credit cards, CNBC Select analyzed the largest U.S. credit unions, according to data from DepositAccounts. We narrowed down our rankings by only considering credit unions that include the following features:
Next, we compared each card on a range of features, including rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.
CNBC Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.
Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.
CNBC Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.
While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your shopping habits.