Credit unions have a reputation for offering great rates on loans and savings accounts while keeping fees low. Ideally, you can find excellent customer service and banking products in your area. But you might need more features than what is available at local credit unions—or there might not be any credit unions nearby. Fortunately, you can join several credit unions online and enjoy the same great benefits.
To join a credit union, you need to qualify by meeting specific requirements, and that’s relatively easy for most people.
The credit unions shown here are easy to qualify for, they allow relatively small initial deposits, they’re federally insured, and you can join online—whenever and wherever you prefer. Once you’re a member, you can open checking and savings accounts, apply for loans online, and use other credit union services.
Credit Union Membership
First, a word about “membership.” Credit union customers are co-owners of the institution with voting rights on issues that influence the credit union’s direction. Since credit unions are not-for-profit organizations that don’t seek to produce profits for outside shareholders, fees and rates are typically reasonable.
To meet the requirements of the “field of membership,” you must share a common bond with other credit union members.
To join any credit union, whether online or in-person, you need to meet specific criteria, such as having something in common with other members:
- The industry you work in
- The company you work for
- The geographic area you live or work in
- Your religious affiliations
- Membership in certain organizations
- Family members who are current members at a credit union
You can complete the membership requirements for many credit unions online. Those institutions might serve customers nationally, or they may operate primarily in small areas. Either way, the membership rules work the same way.
Requirements to Join Online
If you’re wondering how you fall into the same group as others who don’t live anywhere near you—and you might not have anything in common with—the solution is typically joining a group.
At the credit unions below, joining a nonprofit organization or making a small contribution to selected causes is all that’s required for eligibility.
Join Online and Bank Locally
Some people prefer to handle almost all of their banking needs without setting foot in a branch. However, you can still work with a live teller after joining an online credit union. You can make deposits and withdrawals, get official checks, and make loan payments at local credit union branches for free.
Credit unions that participate in the shared branching network allow you to visit branches of other credit unions to handle tasks in your online accounts, and there are thousands of locations nationwide.
Here are three credit unions that are easy to join online.
Alliant Credit Union
Alliant Credit Union is one of the largest credit unions in the U.S. based on assets. Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, Alliant is available to individuals who live in surrounding areas, work for or belong to specific organizations, or have family members who are Alliant members. Additional highlights:
- Easy membership: Anybody who becomes a member of Foster Care to Success (FCS) by donating $10 or more can apply to join Alliant. FCS is a nonprofit organization that helps individuals as they leave the foster care system.
- 24/7 customer service: In addition to the app and online service options, you can call Alliant’s customer service department at any time (excluding holidays) for assistance with your accounts.
- High-yield savings: Alliant’s High-Rate Savings account is competitive with online savings accounts, paying a high annual percentage yield (APY) with a $5 initial minimum deposit requirement. There are no monthly maintenance fees if you opt-in to electronic statements.
- Mobile app: The Alliant app offers best-in-class features like account inquiries, transfer requests, online bill payment, mobile check deposit, and more.
NASA Federal Credit Union (NASA FCU) started with seven NASA employees and has grown to over 177,000 members. Several other employers and organizations partner with NASA FCU, and the staff and members of those groups are also eligible to join. Relatives of current NASA FCU members can also apply. Additional highlights:
- Easy membership: To meet eligibility requirements with NASA FCU, you can become a member of one of several organizations. Joining the National Space Society is free if you join while opening accounts at NASA FCU.
- Free FICO credit scores: Members using online banking can see real FICO scores, monitor how they change from month to month, and observe which factors affect their scores.
- Personal payments through PayPal: Your friends and family probably already have a PayPal account, making it easy to send funds online to somebody who uses a different bank or credit union. There’s no need for them to download apps or sign up for new services.
- Mobile app: The NASA FCU app provides all of the features you’d expect, including mobile check deposit, online bill payment, transfer requests, and secure customer service messaging.
Lake Michigan Credit Union
Lake Michigan Credit Union (LMCU) is a large and growing credit union based in Grand Rapids, MI. Membership is open to individuals who live, work, worship, or attend school in the state of Michigan. As with other credit unions, you can also join if an immediate family member is a current member—or if you belong to certain organizations. Additional highlights:
- Easy membership: You’re eligible to join LMCU if you make a $5 or greater donation to the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association. The ALS Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, with research, advocacy, and patient assistance.
- Reward checking: LMCU offers a checking account that pays a high APY on your account balance—but you can still use the account like a regular checking account. The account refunds up to $10 per month in ATM charges, and there’s no minimum balance requirement. However, like all reward checking accounts, you need to qualify for the high yield (make at least ten debit card purchases per month, set up direct deposit, login to view your account at least four times per month, and use online statements).
- Alerts and text banking: You don’t always have time to log in and review your accounts, but automatic alerts and text messages can help. Find out when withdrawals hit your account, when your account balance drops below a certain level, or if anyone tries to change your personal information without your approval. You can also send a quick text message and get a response with your current account balance—there’s no need to log in to an app or website to get that information.
- Mobile app: LMCU’s mobile app offers services to make your life easier, including online bill payment, mobile check deposit, transfer requests, and more.
Other credit unions have similar features and qualification requirements. If a particular credit union has rates, features, or services you want, ask about membership options.
If you’re passionate about a cause or a charity, find out if any credit unions partner with organizations in that space. A simple online keyword search can help you with that research.
One of the most important characteristics of a credit union is the common bond between members. Choosing an institution based on your values helps the credit union continue to offer great services. Plus, you get the satisfaction of helping other customers who value the same things you do.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How much does it cost to open an account?
Getting started with a credit union account is easy. Make sure you meet their eligibility requirements, pay between a $5 to $25 deposit, and you're ready to start your account.
Can you still withdraw money from an online credit union?
Credit unions often have shared branches—sometimes called sister branches—that allow you to conduct your business as you would at your credit union. So even if you can't withdraw money from your credit union, you should be able to find a local credit union that offers shared banking with no or minimal fees.
What's the difference between a bank and a credit union?
Credit unions are usually not-for-profit organizations that cater to their members. While credit unions work to bring profits to their members, banks get profits back to their shareholders. Thankfully, choosing between a bank vs. a credit union shouldn't limit you to the available products, but knowing which is the right choice for you and your unique needs is essential.