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.