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Leaving Your Bank? - There are Lots of Credit Union Choices

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Leaving Your Bank? - There are Lots of Credit Union Choices

With people deciding to ditch their megabanks after being hit with new fees, many are considering credit unions. As many long-time readers of this blog know, there are many credit unions that make it easy to join. Over the last several years, credit unions have been expanding their fields of membership (FOM).

All credit unions are required to have a FOM as part of their charter which defines who is eligible to join. Many credit unions were formed to serve a specific major employer. Over the last two decades, several of these credit unions have expanded to not only include more employee groups but also to include everyone who lives or works in certain counties. So if a credit union has a branch in your area, there's a good chance you can qualify.

Credit unions have also expanded their FOMs by including association groups. If you're a member of the association, you are eligible to join the credit union. If the association has open membership, it then becomes easy to qualify for credit union membership. And you don't have to worry about maintaining your association membership. Once you're a member of most credit unions, you can remain a member regardless of how your circumstances change (i.e. leaving an employer, moving to a new city or ending your association membership).

I thought it would be interesting to list some credit unions around the country that may appear to have restrictive membership due to their names but actually make it easy for many people to join.

  • Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed) - You might think only those connected with the Pentagon would be eligible. I'm sure this was the case some years ago. Now they have two associations which anyone can join to qualify for PenFed membership. I'm not sure when this changed, but I first reported on PenFed as an all-access credit union back in 2005.
  • Digital Credit Union (DCU) - DCU was chartered in 1979 for employees of Digital Equipment Corporation. Like PenFed I also mentioned this credit union back in 2005 as an all-access credit union. They list several associations which you can join to qualify for DCU membership.
  • Delta Community Credit Union was established in 1940 as the Delta Employees Credit Union. In October, 2005, it became Delta Community Credit Union, and in 2007 its FOM expanded to include residents of counties in metro Atlanta and employees of various companies. This might be when it added to its FOM members of the GettingAhead Association which anyone can join.
  • St. Paul Postal Employees Credit Union - Most credit unions don't make it easy for anyone in the nation to join. However, if you live near a branch, you can probably qualify. That's the case of the St. Paul Postal Employees Credit Union even though it might seem you need to be a Postal employee in St. Paul. You can tell this credit union is in the process of expanding its reach. They now call themselves PCU on their website, and according to their membership page you can qualify for membership if you "live in Minnesota or Wisconsin and agree to make a $5.00 donation to the John Miller Scholarship Fund."
  • El Paso Employees Federal Credit Union - This is another credit union that looks like only employees of a certain organization (El Paso city in this case) can qualify. It's now open to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in El Paso County, Texas. If you're a saver in El Paso, consider yourself lucky. This credit union has some of the best deposit rates in the country.

Not all credit unions make it easy for people to join. Several have kept their FOMs limited to select employee groups. You can't qualify by joining an association or by living in a certain area. Here are some of the popular ones due to their history of competitive deposit rates:

  • Navy Federal Credit Union is the largest credit union in the nation even though there's no easy way for people to qualify for membership. Navy Federal's FOM did expand to include more than just active Navy personnel. It now includes all military personnel. However, if you don't have any connection with the military, you won't qualify. Several readers were fortunate to become Navy Federal members when Navy Federal acquired USA FCU. Before the acquisition completed, many were able to join USA FCU via an association.
  • American Airlines Credit Union - At some point in its history, this credit union expanded its FOM from American Airlines employees to employees of the airline transportation industry at large. However, it hasn't expanded past that. So if you're not in the airline industry, there's no easy way to qualify.
  • Wings Financial Credit Union is a lot like American Airlines Credit Union with a FOM that's open to employees of the airline transportation industry. However, it has recently expanded its FOM to include those who live, work, worship, volunteer or attend school in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Area and the Seattle-Tacoma Metro Area.
  • Southwest Airlines Federal Credit Union is like the other airline credit unions in that it has expanded its FOM. However, it only expanded its FOM to include more employee groups. There's no community wide membership and there's no association group. This credit union is currently offering one of the best reward checking accounts in the nation.

Even though there are still many credit unions that don't make it easy to join, you can probably qualify for many credit unions in your city and many all-access credit unions. You can see several of these all-access ones in our rate tables. If you're looking for a local credit union, refer to my post on Finding the Best Free Checking Accounts at the Best Credit Unions.



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Comments
15 Comments.
Comment #1 by mak1118 posted on
mak1118
Fort Knox credit union has raised their EWP again, on their site they have a 59 month term with 1 year penalty now I don't know if that means they raised their EWP retroactively again. They raised from 3 months to 6 months and I hope this doesn't mean they went up to 1 year penalty on all CDs whenever opened. Ken do you know?

3
Comment #4 by Bancxman (anonymous) posted on
Bancxman
You're absolutely right about Alliant. Besides the PTAs, one organization that everone can join to qualify for membership is "Foster Care To Success". If you look on the membership form, there's a box that you can check to join. All you have to do is check the box. Alliant will take care of the rest. They even pay your membership dues.

1
Comment #5 by Paoli2 posted on
Paoli2
Does anyone know what the Early Withdrawal Penalties are on the Alliant CU CDs?  I checked on their webpage and can't find the info.  Thanks!

1
Comment #6 by Anonymous posted on
Anonymous
I already am a credit union member with 2 financial institutions.  However, their rate offerings are no better than with regular banks.  I don't get socked with any of those annoying fees, so I don't have to move my money to another bank or credit union.

1
Comment #7 by Anonymous posted on
Anonymous
The Alliant EWPs (disclosed in the "Notice of Certificate" mailed to the member) are as follows:

12-17 month certificate: dividends earned for the number of days the certificate is open, up to a maximum of 90 days of dividends

18-23 month certificate: dividends earned for the number of days the certificate is open, up to a maximum of 120 days of dividends

24-60 month certificates: dividends earned for the number of days the certificate is open, up to a maximum of 180 days of dividends.

Partial withdrawals are not allowed.

3
Comment #8 by Anonymous posted on
Anonymous
partial w/d of  interest or the principle?

thanks

1
Comment #9 by Anonymous posted on
Anonymous
Alliant permits certificate interest to be withdrawn at any time after it's posted.

1
Comment #10 by Anonymous posted on
Anonymous
Clarification on #9: Alliant let's you elect initially whether you want to capitalize interest (dividends) or have it paid out.  You can change that election at any time online.  I'm not sure whether, if you initially elect to capitalize dividends, then change your election, it would permit withdrawal of what had been previously capitalized.

By the way, there's an extensive FAQ covering these questions on the Alliant website, if you're interested.

2
Comment #11 by Anonymous posted on
Anonymous
Thanks to this blog, I've been a member of Alliant for a long time. I now keep my savings there, and last week I opened a checking account. I'll soon be closing the account I've had with a bank for many years. Alliant has excellent online banking and phone help. They have eDeposit for depositing checks and ATM's near me in downtown Jersey City, so I expect it to be very convenient. I'm also a member of PenFed because of this blog, and in addition to still having CD's with them, I recently got their Promise Visa because I was traveling abroad and it has no fees for using it out of the country. It worked like a charm.

1
Comment #12 by me1004 posted on
me1004
With all the comments about Alliant, I will note one negative: it is NOT part of the shared branch system, and thus you cannot use another credit union's branches as you can with CUs that are members of the shared branch system. This can prevent you from having any way, even for a fee, to make a large cash withdrawal if needed, as the amount you can withdraw from ATMs each day is limited. You can still withdraw by check by mail, but you will need someplace to cash it if you need cash.

But otherwise Alliant does seem to stand above the rest.

1
Comment #13 by Anonymous posted on
Anonymous
I left the Big Banks years ago (when BofA would do things like making you wait 24hrs for a CASH deposit to clear before you could withdraw it) and have been totally happy. I've watched as people have railed against petty and increasing bank fees from afar. I'm a member of 4 credit unions now, 3 of them with narrow membership fields, and one of them open to everyone -- and one community bank. Credit Unions are the best thing around for anyone who is tired of the constant fees associated with banks. All of my checking and savings accounts are at the various credit unions except for one CD at a community bank. Make the switch, you'll be glad you did. Not just for a special rate here or there (though I've been known to do that myself in the past) but for your main banking needs. My main checking and savings accounts are at a local credit union, as are my two credit cards (a Visa and MC, at seperate Credit unions) and I can tell you it's so much better than dealing with a large bank. Having things like the COOP ATM network means I can make withdrawls free of any service charge at I believe 28,000 ATMs arounc the country (including all the 7-11s in this area), and make deposits in many of them as well, all fee-free. At my main credit union where my checking is, they've also reimbursed the fees for using another bank's ATM up to 6 times per month for years. Make the switch.

 

1
Comment #14 by Anonymous posted on
Anonymous
RE: American Airlines Credit Union

Qualification for membership in the American Airlines Credit Union is pretty broad.  There must be hundreds of thousands of people in the field of potential memberhip.  Aside from current airline employees and retirees (FROM ANY AIRLINE) , government agency employees (the TSA and FAA), airport employees (even janitors), and food service company employees in the transportation field who meet their specific definitions qualify.

Airline retirees include now-defunct airlines (TWA, etc).  I did not "retire" from an airline, but worked long enough to qualify for a miniscule pension.  With document in hand stating my pension benefit qualificaiton, which I was not yet receiving, The Credit Union allowed me to join.

Also, having an immediate family member who joins the credit union qualifies you. Their terms are "spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and permanent household members ."

The Credit Union has been easy to work with and very professsional.

Their CD rates are unusually high.  NOte that you must acess two schedules to see the full range of rates, including uncommon ladder choices.  A straight five year CD rate is as high as 2.78%, with a ladder including the 5 YR as high as 3.55%.

https://www.aacreditunion.org/pdf/rateandfee-share.pdf

https://www.aacreditunion.org/pdf/rateandfee-rates.pdf

 

1
Comment #15 by Paoli2 posted on
Paoli2
Anony #13:  Would you be willing to post the name of the Credit Union you refer to which is open to the public?  I am researching available credit unions which I hope to use in the coming months if I can get better CD rates with them.  Any info you can provide will be greatly appreciated.  Thanks!

1
Comment #16 by Paoli2 posted on
Paoli2
Since so many of us are gung-ho credit unions these days, can Ken or any one else who knows the answer give me the answer to a question which concerns me?  If a credit union fails like the banks do, does their CUNA people bring in another credit union to buy them out or do they just pay off the savers and let them go someplace else?  Each week I see a list of banks which have failed but I have never see a list for any credit unions which fail.  Maybe they take better care of their deposits and stay away from risky loans but I was just wondering how this works if one does go under.  Thanks for any info you can share.

1