Unlike banks, credit unions have fields of membership (FOMs). You must be in the FOM to be eligible to join the credit union. Many FOMs include a geographic area. If you live or work in that area, you are part of the FOM and eligible to join the credit union. Also, many credit union FOMs include Select Employee Groups (SEGs). If you work for one of these employers, you are part of the FOM and eligible to join. It’s also very common for credit union FOMs to include family members.
Family members beyond immediate family
If someone in your family belongs to a credit union, you are typically eligible to join that credit union. For most credit unions, only immediate family members can join this way. Immediate family usually includes grandparents, parents, spouses, siblings, grandchildren, and children. In some cases, credit unions allow almost all family members to join this way, including uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces and cousins.
One example of a credit union that allows non-immediate family members to join is the large Illinois-based credit union BCU. According to BCU’s membership page, “eligible family members include: spouses, parents, children, siblings, domestic partners, grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.”
Another example is Clearpath Federal Credit Union in Southern California. I recently reviewed this credit union and its competitive CDs and mild early withdrawal penalties. In its FOM page, it describes the following relatives of existing members who are eligible:
Spouse, domestic partner, children, siblings, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and in-laws
A third example is the large Georgia-based Atlanta Postal Credit Union. They have a long history of competitive CD rates. In its FOM page, Atlanta Postal has a long list of family members who qualify:
Membership is open to any family members related by blood, marriage, or adoption to active or retired employees of the below listed eligible companies, organizations or associations. This means the following individuals are welcome to join: spouses, siblings, parents, children, grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and in-laws of existing members.
Family members of eligible non-members can sometimes be eligible to join
Even if your family member isn’t a member of the credit union, you may still qualify for credit union membership through that family member. If your family member is eligible to join the credit union (such as based on where they live or based on military service), that can make you eligible to join.
One example is the nation’s largest credit union, Navy Federal. If you have a family member who is or was affiliated with the military at any time, you may be eligible to join Navy Federal. When you go through Navy Federal’s online membership application, one of the eligibility options is “I have a family member who serves or served in the military.” If you click on that option, the application asks “Is your family member a Navy Federal member?” If you answer “No”, a new page is shown which says “Once your family member joins Navy Federal, you'll be eligible as well. If they can't or don't want to become a member right now, you can still join. You may need one of the following documents from your family member:” Ten documents are listed. These include “Driver's License with Veteran's designation”, “Enlistment papers”, “Proof of direct deposit from DoD” and “DD 214”. If you fall into this category, you may not be able to complete the membership application online. You’ll need to call Navy Federal or visit a branch to finish signing up for membership. Navy Federal often has competitive CD specials and competitive CD and IRA CD rates.
Another example of a credit union that you can join if your family member is eligible to join is the Texas-based credit union Southwest 66. I first mentioned this credit union in 2020 when it was one of the few institutions to still offer 2% CDs. Its CD rates have fallen, but they remain very competitive. According to Southwest 66 Credit Union’s membership page, “Membership is also open to the employees of sponsoring companies and relatives of persons eligible for membership.”
A third example is the Nebraska-based Liberty First Credit Union. It has a very nice high-yield reward checking/savings combo account (Kasasa Cash and Saver.) According to Liberty First’s Becoming a Member page, the Field of Membership includes “Any person related by blood, marriage, or adoption to a member or those within the field of membership.”
Eligible with and without joining an association
So when you’re meeting with family for the holidays, you may want to see if there are any credit unions you can join via a family member. Also, if you’re informing a family member about a deal that you have participated in, remember that they can join through you. They don’t need to join an association to qualify for membership. In 2013, my brother joined the National Military Family Association to become a PenFed member so he could get that 3.04% 5-year CD. I was already a PenFed member, and I had forgotten to inform my brother that he was eligible for PenFed membership based on my membership.
If your family members can’t help you join a credit union, you can review our list of credit unions that anyone can join. For most of these, you can qualify for membership by joining an association. This often requires a small one-time membership fee to the association. One thing to note about these credit unions and also any credit unions mentioned above is that their fields of membership often change. They can become more open, but there are also times when they become more restrictive. So please make sure to review the credit union’s latest FOM before trying to join.