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Banking

These are the 5 best credit unions for all your banking needs in 2020

Credit unions often offer competitive financial products with better rates and fees than a typical bank. Here are the best credit unions you can bank with.

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A credit union is a nonprofit financial institution that’s owned by its members. They often provide the same kinds of financial products as traditional banks, including checking accounts, high-yield savings accounts and credit cards. But the terms are often better because credit unions reinvest the profits they make from interest and account fees back into the products they offer, whereas banks give their profits to shareholders.

Since a credit union is owned by its members, you’ll need to meet eligibility requirements in order to join and open an account. 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 also allow you to join by donating a small fee to a participating organization.

The next time you’re looking to open a financial product, consider a credit union that offers competitive terms. To make the process easier, CNBC Select analyzed and compared credit unions that offer a range of financial products, from checking accounts and high-yield savings accounts to credit cards and loans.

When ranking the best credit unions, we focused on the following criteria:

  • Easy to join
  • Available nationwide
  • Wide variety of financial products
  • Variety of online and mobile services
  • National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) insured up to $250,000

The credit unions on our list had to meet all of the requirements above to be considered one of the best. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best credit unions.)

Best credit unions

Best overall: Alliant Credit Union (ACU)

How to join: 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:

  • Employees and retirees of select organizations
  • Relatives of existing Alliant members
  • Members of select organizations
  • Live or work in a qualifying community in Illinois

Locations: Alliant is an online-only institution based in Chicago, Illinois. While there are no physical locations, Alliant offers customers access to a network of more than 80,000 surcharge-free ATMs.

Mobile and online features: Alliant has a strong mobile and online presence, which is important because they don't have any physical branches. Members can deposit checks via the app, as well as make payments, manage accounts and use Alliant's built-in budgeting tool to set financial goals both online and via mobile.

Noteworthy financial products: The Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card is a great cash-back credit card that offers 2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $250 in cash-back rewards per billing cycle).

If you’re looking for a no-fee checking account, the Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking is a good option with reimbursement for up to $20 per month in out-of-network ATM fees.

Other products include personal, auto and home loans, savings accounts, CDs, IRAs and more.

Best for rewards credit cards: Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed)

How to join: 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.

Locations: PenFed has 48 branches in 15 states and is based in McLean, Virginia.

Mobile and online features: You can perform a variety of actions via the mobile app and online, including depositing checks, paying bills and scheduling transfers.

Noteworthy financial products: The PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card tops CNBC Select's list of the best gas rewards credit cards with no annual fee and has the highest rewards rate at gas stations with 5X points per dollar spent.

PenFed also offers other types of credit cards, checking and savings accounts, mortgages, auto, personal and student loans and more.

Best for military members: Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU)

How to join: Military affiliation is required to join Navy Federal Credit Union.

Eligibility options include:

  • Active duty members of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard and Space Force
  • Members of the Delayed Entry Program (DEP)
  • Department of Defense (DoD) officer candidate/ROTC
  • Veterans, retirees and annuitants
  • DoD reservists, civilian employees, civilian retirees and annuitants
  • U.S. Government employees and DoD contractors assigned to DoD installations
  • Family and household members of the groups above

Locations: NFCU has 341 branches in 31 states and is based in Vienna, Virginia.

Mobile and online features: Members can access common mobile and online features, including mobile check deposits, bill pay and transfers. Plus you can send and receive money with Zelle.

Noteworthy financial products: NFCU credit cards received the highest overall satisfaction score in J.D. Power's 2019 Credit Card Satisfaction Study, excelling in terms, benefits, services and rewards.

The Visa Signature® Flagship Rewards Credit Card is a standout offering. Cardholders enjoy a complimentary year of Amazon Prime, a reasonable 9.99% to 18.00% variable APR and up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck applications every four years.

NFCU also offers a range of other credit cards, checking and savings accounts, personal, auto and student loans, mortgages and more.

Best for APY: Consumers Credit Union (CCU)

How to join: Applying for a Consumers Credit Union membership is a two-step process: First, pay a one-time, non-refundable $5 fee to CCU’s sponsor, the Consumers Cooperative Association. Second, deposit and maintain a minimum $5 balance in your Membership Share/Savings Account.

Locations: Consumers Credit Union is based in Gurnee, Illinois, and has 11 branches across the state. CCU is also part of the CU Service Centers® Network, which provides access to over 5,000 shared branches and 30,000 co-op ATMs, primarily located in the U.S.

Mobile and online features: Many member reviews of CCU say the mobile app is outdated, but you do have the ability to pay bills, transfer funds and deposit checks. You can also perform these actions online (except for check deposit).

Noteworthy financial products: The Consumers Credit Union Rewards Checking Account offers up to 4.09% APY on balances up to $10,000, which is more than 100X the national average of 0.04%. This account also has no monthly maintenance fees, no minimum balance requirement and provides unlimited reimbursement for all ATM fees. (APY is subject to change.)

CCU also offers members a range of checking and savings accounts, mortgages, personal and auto loans, credit cards and more.

Best for low interest credit cards: First Tech Federal Credit Union (FTFCU)

How to join: The simplest path to First Tech membership 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:

  • Employee or retiree of partner company or the State of Oregon
  • Work or live in Lane County, Oregon
  • Student at Cogswell Poly Technical College
  • Family or household relationship with a current member
  • Member of a partner club or association

Locations: First Tech has 39 branches in eight states and Puerto Rico and is based in San Jose, California. Like CCU, First Tech is also part of the CU Service Centers® Network, which provides access to over 5,000 shared branches and 30,000 co-op ATMs, primarily located in the U.S.

Mobile and online features: FTFCU offers online and mobile bill pay, the ability to transfer money, integration with Zelle and mobile check deposit.

Noteworthy financial products: First Tech has some of the best low interest credit cards around. The Platinum Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union offers a low 6.99% to 18.00% variable APR while the Choice Rewards World Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union similarly offers a 8.25% to 18.00% variable APR. (Though we always recommend you pay off your credit card on time and in full each month to avoid interest charges.)

First Tech also offers a variety of checking and savings accounts, IRAs, mortgages, personal, auto and student refinance loans and more.

Our methodology

To determine which credit unions provide the best place to bank, 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:

  • Easy to join
  • Available nationwide
  • Offer a wide variety of financial products
  • Offer online and mobile banking
  • National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) insured up to $250,000
  • Ease of use and account accessibility
  • Customer reviews, when available

All of the accounts included on this list are National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) insured up to $250,000. This insurance protects and reimburses you up to your balance and the legal limit in the event your credit union fails.

The rates and fee structures for credit union products are subject to change without notice, and they often fluctuate in accordance with the prime rate. Your earnings depend on any associated fees and the balance you have in your account.

Information about the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card, Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking, PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card, Visa Signature® Flagship Rewards Credit Card, Consumers Credit Union Rewards Checking Account, Platinum Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union, and Choice Rewards World Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.