How to Find a Credit Union

What to Look for When Looking for an Account

You’re ready to open an account at a credit union, but how do you find the right one? Finding a credit union can be tricky, and you’ll want to make the right choice before you go through the trouble of changing your bill payments and direct deposit instructions. Here are a few tips to find a credit union account that will meet your needs for the long-term.

Safety First

Make sure any credit union you want to work with is insured, preferably by the U.S. government. Accounts that are NCUSIF insured meet this criteria. You don’t often find credit unions that are not insured, but it’s worth double checking before you open an account. If your credit union finds itself in trouble, you’ll want to know that your deposits are safe.

Some credit unions are privately insured, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but they are not as safe as federally insured credit unions.

Where You Qualify

To save time, only evaluate and research credit unions that you’re eligible to work with. Credit unions only offer services to their “field of membership,” or people who qualify to be members based on some common bond. Don’t worry -- you shouldn’t have to jump through too many hoops to qualify. You may be eligible simply because of:

  • The organization you work for
  • The industry you work in
  • The town you live or work in
  • Membership in groups you’re already part of

How can you find a credit union that you’re eligible to join? The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the agency that oversees federal credit unions, provides a credit union locator online. Start by searching within your geographic area, then check eligibility requirements to see if you can join any nearby credit unions.

If you can’t find a credit union in your neighborhood, search nationally. It may be possible to find a credit union elsewhere that you can qualify for (remember you can still use a local credit union’s branch if they’re part of the CU Service Center network).

Ask Around

Don’t reinvent the wheel -- ask people you know and trust if they use a credit union and how they like it. It’s always better to go with a sure thing than to take your chances opening an account at a credit union you don’t know anything about.

Your friends, family, and co-workers are probably similar to you (you have similar banking needs). If they’re happy at a particular credit union, you’ll probably be just as happy. Those similarities (having the same employer or living in the same area) also mean it’s more likely that you’ll qualify to become a member.

What You Need

Before joining a credit union, find out if it will actually meet your needs. The fact that you’re eligible to join doesn’t mean you want to. A few ideas to get you started:

  • Review the product and service offerings (do they even have what you need?)
  • Compare interest rates to banks and other institutions
  • Take a demo of online banking capabilities
  • Talk with staff -- do you get the sense that they’re competent, helpful, and that you’ll enjoy working with them?
  • Read fee disclosures and understand fee waivers

Try to find the best credit union -- not the most convenient one. Nowadays less and less is done in person. You can perform most transactions yourself online or over the phone, so branch locations and hours may not matter. Credit union service networks make branches even less important. Yes, you may need to visit a branch for complicated matters or to resolve problems, but ideally it won’t be an everyday thing.

Your First Account

Once you find your match, it’s time to open an account. As with any other account, this is simply a matter of filling out forms, signing a document or two, and funding the account. Ask the customer service staff what you need -- it should be pretty easy to open a basic checking or savings account. You’ll need to show identification and fund the account with a modest deposit (typically $25 or $100, although smaller deposits might be fine).

Once your account is up and running, see how to switch banks with ease.