The Most Convenient Credit Unions of 2018 Ranked

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Credit unions have historically had a special place in the U.S. economy. These community-based banks are, in effect, not-for-profit financial institutions owned by their depositors. That means by design credit unions have a vested interest in keeping the cost of services like loans and banking fees low for their customers, while offering competitive rates.

On the other hand, credit unions don’t enjoy the same economies of scale of larger banks, which means they struggle to afford higher costs of adopting the latest mobile banking technology or toll-free telephone banking services. So it may be fair to ask if, by joining a credit union, you may be trading lower fees for some inconveniences, such as likely incurring more out-of-network ATM fees and shorter banking hours.

In a new study, MagnifyMoney figured out which credit unions are the true standouts when it comes to offering consumers the same conveniences of a big bank.

We collected information on the 50 largest credit unions (by assets) in the U.S., and ranked their relative convenience in five separate categories:

  • Teller hours. Average hours each local branch is open per week.
  • ATM availability. Participation in both nationwide and regional surcharge-free ATM networks.
  • Telephone hours. Number of hours per week personalized teller service via phone is offered.
  • Mobile app. The user satisfaction of the credit union’s mobile app, as determined by Apple Pay and Android smartphone users.
  • Portable transaction data. The ability to download credit union transactions to personal finance applications like Quicken and Mint.com.

We found many credit unions have also used technology to their advantage, by creating services that are nearly as good as those provided at larger banks. Some credit unions even share their branches with one another, allowing, for example, a credit union member on the East Coast to use branches and ATMs from a different credit union in California.

The 15 most convenient credit unions overall

These credit unions excelled in many, if not all, of the five criteria we used to measure relative convenience. In general, they all offer longer-than-average branch hours; extended personalized telephone service (many open 24 hours); surcharge-free ATM networks; decent smartphone apps; and the ability to track your credit union transactions from applications outside of the website.

  1. Alliant
  2. Hudson Valley
  3. Wright-Patt
  4. Alaska USA
  5. BECU
  6. Redstone
  7. Delta Community
  8. PenFed
  9. Navy
  10. Wings Financial
  11. Security Service Federal Credit Union
  12. Police and Fire Federal Credit Union
  13. Suncoast Credit Union
  14. OnPoint Community Credit Union
  15. DCU

Credit unions with the longest hours

  1. Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union
  2. Police and Fire Federal Credit Union
  3. Alaska USA Federal Credit Union
  4. America First
  5. Wescom (tie) and Logix (tie)
  6. Wright-Patt
  7. Veridian
  8. Desert Schools
  9. DCU (tie) and Redwood (tie)

Traditional bank branches have been closing in droves. There are nearly 5,000 fewer bank branches today than five years ago, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation data. Meanwhile, credit unions have grown their modest footprint, with the average credit union having more branches than three years ago.

One aspect that allows credit unions to artificially expand their branch reach even further is by belonging to a cooperative that offers the same services you might receive in your hometown credit union branch. The Co-op network, one of the largest, allows its member credit union to share activities like teller deposits and withdrawals at over 5,600 credit union branches nationwide.

But locally, extended hours still count, so we checked the working hours of credit union branches of the 50 largest credit unions. All but two credit unions had branches that were open on average of more than 40 hours per week.

Credit unions with 24-hour telephone service

  • Alaska USA Federal Credit Union
  • Alliant Credit Union
  • BECU
  • Delta Community Credit Union
  • First Technology Federal Credit Union
  • Navy Federal Credit Union
  • Redwood Credit Union
  • Security Service Federal Credit Union

Even 40- to 60-hour branch hours aren’t always convenient if you have, for instance, a long commute or unusual working hours yourself. So we also wanted to see how personalized phone services were at these credit unions.

We were surprised when early one New York morning we decided to call Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, where it was really early (4:30 a.m.). Nonetheless, the representative indeed answered, and confirmed that banking assistance was available 24 hours a day. (To be fair, Alaska USA also has branches on the West Coast of the continental U.S.).

But seven other credit unions also offer round-the-clock telephone assistance, which may come in handy for procrastinators, or simply those who like to bank in the dead of night.

Best credit union smartphone apps

  • Eastman Credit Union
  • ESL Federal Credit Union
  • Redstone Federal Credit Union
  • SEFCU
  • Wright-Patt Credit Union
  • Visions Federal Credit Union
  • Delta Community Credit Union
  • Wings Financial Credit Union
  • Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union
  • Kinecta Federal Credit Union

If you can live without features like sending money on a separate mobile app like Venmo, credit union apps can be just as effective as those provided by the big banks, just with a little less bling and pizazz.

We annually rank the best smartphone apps of both banks and credit unions at MagnifyMoney, but have never looked at credit union apps separately.

As it turns out, most have relatively good ratings (as defined by iPhone and Android smartphone users). Of the 10 best-scoring credit unions, all but one ranked as high or higher than apps of the three largest brick-and-mortar banks (Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo). The credit union apps have all the features of those of larger banks, like deposit-by-photo and ability to check balances without logging into the app.

In addition, all of these credit unions allow you to download your transaction history to budget apps like Quicken and Mint.com.

Best surcharge-free ATM network coverage

  • Alliant Federal Credit Union
  • Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union
  • Northwest Federal Credit Union
  • OnPoint Community Credit Union
  • Suncoast Federal Credit Union
  • Wings Financial Credit Union
  • Wright-Patt Credit Union

Banks typically charge around $3.00 for a using a non-network ATM for cash withdrawals. Often, you get dinged for fees both coming and going by using the “wrong” ATM — once by the bank that owns the machine you use, and again by your own bank. By participating in surcharge-free ATM networks like CO-OP and Allpoint, credit union members can avoid these fees.

And with these ATMs available in many drug stores and other nationwide retail chains, you can be reasonably certain you won’t incur surcharge fees on your next out-of-town trip.

Pros and cons of credit unions

Pros:

  • Lower costs, better rates. Credit unions, on average, have more favorable rates on auto loans and credit card APRs than banks overall, and offer higher yields on savings products like CDs. And fees for checking accounts and overdraft fees are lower than those of banks.
  • More willing to work with you on providing credit. Many credit unions will allow their members to appeal credit decisions if they are initially turned down for credit. They may ask you to supply additional documentation, and a committee will review your appeal.
  • Same levels of insurance as FDIC-insured banks. Credit unions have their own insurance fund, run by the National Credit Union Administration, that insures accounts at the same $250,000 levels as the FDIC. This is important because credit unions can fail just like banks. Our sister site, Deposit Accounts, notes that five Credit Unions were liquidated last year.

Cons:

  • You may not be eligible to join. Historically, to join a credit union, one had to share a “common bond” with other members of the credit union — for example, by working for the same employer, or by some other shared affiliation. While some credit unions make this requirement easy to meet by offering multiple membership paths, others still require specific employment or residency requirements.
  • A credit union mortgage may sometimes be harder to come by than one offered by a bank. Although credit unions may have more flexibility to make loans with some products, that may not always extend to home mortgages. A recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia notes that credit unions turn down mortgage applications more often than small banks. (They also note that credit unions have lower charge-off rates than banks, which is good news for its members).
  • Don’t expect an instant response. While nearly all banks can immediately offer you a credit decision on loans and credit card applications, don’t expect the same sort of instant gratification with a credit union. Depending on the size of the credit union, it could take a number of business days before you hear back about a credit decision.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney collected information on the 50 largest credit unions (by assets) in the U.S., and ranked their relative convenience in five separate categories:

  • Teller Hours. Average hours each local branch is open per week.
  • ATM Availability. Participation in both nationwide and regional surcharge-free ATM networks.
  • Telephone Hours. Number of hours per week personalized teller service via phone is offered.
  • Mobile App. The user satisfaction of the credit union’s mobile app, as determined by Apple Pay and Android smartphone users.
  • Portable Transaction data. The ability to download credit union transactions to personal finance applications like Quicken and Mint.com.

Each category represented 20% of the credit union’s overall score. The highest score was 90.0 (out of 100) and the lowest score was 46.6. Credit union data was collected in November 2017 for mobile app ratings, and in February 2018 for all other categories.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Chris Horymski
Chris Horymski |

Chris Horymski is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Chris at [email protected]

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