Alliant Credit Union branch
Courtesy of Alliant Credit Union

Credit unions are on a growth spurt.

According to the Credit Union National Association’s December data, 2018 marked the fastest credit union growth since 1986.

If you’re planning to join a credit union, there’s a reasonable chance you are just looking for the one with a branch next door. But you ought to look beyond physical location in a digital age. While many financial institutions’ products and value propositions sound about as different as shades of beige do, there are important distinctions, including their digital banking experience.

So to help you find the one, Bankrate.com sought to find credit unions that offer both a free or cheap checking account and a savings account that pays a high interest rate.

Yes, there’s always the question of whether you can even qualify for membership. But on that front, there is good news. Qualifying to become a member can be as simple as making a small donation to an affiliated organization.

Here are our picks for the top credit unions.

The top 10 credit unions in the US:

  • Alliant Credit Union
  • Star One Credit Union
  • Quorum Federal Credit Union
  • Boeing Employees Credit Union
  • Delta Community Credit Union
  • VyStar Credit Union
  • Bethpage Federal Credit Union
  • Navy Federal Credit Union
  • Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union
  • American Airlines Federal Credit Union

The best credit union: Alliant Credit Union

Bankrate's 2019 Best Credit Union Award

Alliant Credit Union in Chicago earned the No. 1 spot among credit unions for its payout on products, ATM accessibility and digital banking experience.

You can earn higher yields at online banks, but Alliant’s APY is competitive. It pays 2 percent on its high-rate savings accounts. To open a savings account, you only need to deposit $5 (and the credit union will pay it for you). However, you will need to make a deposit of $100 or more to earn the 2 percent APY.

Many checking accounts pay little to no interest. But at Alliant, its High-Rate Checking account carries a 0.65 percent APY. To qualify for the account, you must opt into receiving digital statements — instead of paper statements — and make one monthly electronic deposit. It also offers a free checking account; however, that account won’t pay you a dividend.

Alliant is primarily a digital credit union, so don’t expect to do much, or any, in-person branch banking. But its mobile app scores higher than many of its rivals and lets you accomplish tasks where and when you want. As its app store blurb reads: “Tap. Bank. Smile.”

You can also call a representative of the credit union at any time on any day. Or, you can email the credit union and it will respond to you in one business day.

Alliant also stands out for its ATM access: It provides free access to more than 80,000 ATMs. Moreover, Alliant will refund up to $20 of out-of-network ATM fees per month.

It’s easy to become a member — supporting the credit union’s partner charity, Foster Care to Success, will qualify you for membership.

Star One Credit Union

Bankrate's 2019 Top Credit Union Award

Star One Credit Union in Sunnyvale, California, earns points for its products.

Its free checking account only requires you to deposit $25 open one. And more strikingly, the checking account pays 0.25 percent APY. Its Money Market Savings account is worth checking out, too: It pays 2 percent APY. The minimum deposit is $50.

Star One offers in-person banking options — it has six branches and participates in a shared branch network. While reviewers of its mobile app haven’t bestowed the app with the best score, it boasts some useful tools, such as letting you pay your friends and family back with Zelle.

Star One also lets you access your money at about 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs.

You’re eligible for membership in a number of ways, including by working for one of its corporate sponsors, like Citrix Systems.

Quorum Federal Credit Union

Bankrate's 2019 Top Credit Union Award
Quorum Federal Credit Union in Purchase, New York, pops for its savings account and for its free access to thousands of ATMs.

Its HighQ Savings account pays 1.75 percent APY. While some other accounts pay more, Quorum’s rate is still competitive. Plus, you only need to deposit $0.01 into the account to start earning interest. You won’t pay monthly fees either — so long as you opt in to getting digital statements.

While you won’t earn interest on the credit union’s basic checking account, QClassic is more accessible than some other accounts. You can open one by just depositing $0.01. You will also have free access to more than a whopping 90,000 ATMs.

Quorum Federal’s mobile app includes mostly basic functionality; however, its reviewers have sung its praises in the app stores.

You can become a member based on your employer or by participating in certain associations.

Boeing Employees Credit Union

Bankrate's 2019 Top Credit Union Award
Boeing Employees Credit Union in Tukwila, Washington, stands out for its digital budgeting features and for its lower barriers to open accounts.

Its interest rate, however, is nothing to brag about. Boeing Employees only pays 0.1 percent APY on its savings account. However, the barriers to entry are lower than some competitors. At Boeing Employees, you only need to deposit $0.01 to open an account.

The credit union also pays its members a little something for their checking account business. It pays 0.05 percent APY for its Member Share Checking account. Plus, you can access your cash at more than 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs.

Reviews of the credit union’s mobile app, as a whole, are positive. The mobile app includes features that not all financial institutions have. For instance, the app will render illustrations of where members spent their money and more.

You can become a member in several ways, including by being an employee, volunteer or retired employee of the Boeing Co. or by living or working in Washington state, among other ways.

Delta Community Credit Union

Bankrate's 2019 Top Credit Union Award
Delta Community Credit Union in Atlanta offers fee-free products that plug into a favorably reviewed mobile app.

In Delta Community’s Personal Checking account, you’ll earn 0.03 percent APY if your balance is at least $5,000. If your balance is less than that, you’ll earn nothing on interest.

Delta Community’s Personal Savings account pays 0.35 percent APY regardless of how much you park in it. But to open an account, you will need to make a $5 deposit.

To be eligible for membership, you must live and work in about a dozen of Georgia counties or work (or have worked) for numerous companies, such as the United Parcel Service or PetSmart. Being members of certain associations, like the Northern Kentucky Alumni Association, will also make you eligible for an account.

VyStar Credit Union

Bankrate's 2019 Top Credit Union Award
VyStar Credit Union in Jacksonville, Florida, earns points for paying 0.1 percent APY on its Regular Checking account.

You will find better savings rates elsewhere, but the credit union’s rate is above average. VyStar’s Regular Savings pays 0.25 percent APY. The account requires a minimum deposit of $50.

The mobile app reviews aren’t glowing. But its digital banking experience now includes Zelle.

Membership is open to anyone who lives or works in 49 Florida counties and four Georgia counties.

Bethpage Federal Credit Union

Bankrate's 2019 Top Credit Union Award
Bethpage Federal Credit Union in New York stands out in a number of areas, including its digital banking experience. Online, you will have access to features that, among other things, will help you understand your spending patterns on the fly.

Bethpage doesn’t offer interest on its Free Checking account, but it’s unlikely you’d earn that much on an account designed for money to move anyway. You can also earn 1 percent APY if you meet certain conditions, including: tying your direct deposit into the account, making 10 purchases on the debit card and enrolling in eStatements. Either way, you will have access to more than 30,000 ATMs.

To open a Regular Savings account, you must park $5 into it — and you will earn 0.2 percent APY.

You can become a member by opening a $5 savings account.

Navy Federal Credit Union

Bankrate's 2019 Top Credit Union Award
Navy Federal Credit Union in Vienna, Virginia, pays its members 0.05 percent APY on its Free EveryDay Checking account. While this rate won’t rock your world, it’s still something.

Other credit unions will pay more interest for your savings, but Navy Federal pays well above the average rate. At Navy Federal, you will earn 0.25 percent APY on its Basic Savings account, and you only need to deposit $5 to open an account.

Reviews of the credit union’s mobile app are decent, and the app will let you pay people with Zelle. Navy Federal also boasts a network of more than 280 branches.

Membership is open to veterans, those with ties to the armed forces and more. It is the world’s largest credit union and serves more than 8 million members.

Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union

Bankrate's 2019 Top Credit Union Award
Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union in Live Oak, Texas, offers a 0.05 percent APY on its Really Free Checking Account. Its Savings Account pays 0.25 percent APY, and you only need to deposit $1 to open it.

Some of its peers scored higher in the mobile app category, but Randolph-Brooks Federal’s app offers the biggies, like mobile deposit capture.

There are numerous ways to qualify for membership, including by your employer, community organization and neighborhood.

American Airlines Federal Credit Union

Bankrate's 2019 Top Credit Union Award
American Airlines Federal Credit Union in Fort Worth, Texas, offers attractive rates.

Its Primary Savings account pays 1.97 percent APY — which is among the highest rates among the best credit unions.

If you are in the market for a checking account, you’ll want to make sure you meet a condition to get the Flagship Checking account for free: Keep $750 in the account. Otherwise, you will pay $5.75 per month. But if you do meet the terms, you will benefit from earning 0.5 percent APY on your checking account.

The credit union serves the air transportation industry and their families.

Methodology

Bankrate gathered checking and savings account data from 50 brick-and-mortar banks, 25 credit unions and 37 online financial institutions. In doing so, we examined more than 385 accounts and 7,500 data points, looking at the fees each institution charges and the deposit rates it offers. We also looked at factors like the number of branches a bank or credit union has and the number of states in which it operates. Read our overview for more information on how we determined the best banks.