Best credit union credit cards
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For many people, inflation and rising interest rates have made it harder to pay bills and make ends meet. And with the 2022 holiday season practically upon us, credit card debt could grow into an impossible situation for many Americans.
If you already have debt or want to lessen the amount you take on over the holidays, a credit union credit card could help.
Credit union cards tend to offer the lowest interest rates around, even lower than what you’ll find on cards from top issuers like Capital One, Citi and Wells Fargo. Despite membership requirements that can make them less popular options, the best credit union cards can be far better choices than traditional credit cards if you’re unable to pay your balance in full each month. And like the best traditional credit cards, many credit union cards come with additional perks like the chance to earn cash back or travel rewards.
Check out our picks for the best credit union credit cards to see how they compare to the top rewards cards, along with some tips on how to make the most of your credit union card.
Comparing the best credit union credit cards
|Card name||APR||Best features||Annual fee|
|Navy Federal More Rewards American Express® Card||12.65% to 18% (variable)||
|Titanium Rewards Visa® Signature Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union||11.74% to 18.00% (variable)||
|Navy Federal Credit Union Visa Signature® Flagship Rewards Credit Card||12.99% to 18% (variable)||
|Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card||17.99% (variable)||
|PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Card||17.99% (variable)||
|Gold Visa® Card||16.49% to 17.99% (variable)||
|DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card||14.50% to 18% (variable)||
The best credit union credit cards
Navy Federal More Rewards American Express® Card
On top of its low interest rates, the Navy Federal More Rewards American Express® Card offers an unlimited 3X points for groceries, dining, gas and transit. This is an impressive combination of everyday categories, covering some of the average American’s biggest spending categories, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The card includes several perks that provide good long-term value. On top of charging no foreign transaction fees, it also doesn’t charge balance transfer fees. This is better than most traditional rewards cards, which typically charge a balance transfer fee of 3 to 5 percent.
Add in benefits like travel and car rental discounts, purchase protections and roadside assistance, and the More Rewards American Express card has the makings of a great everyday spending card.
Obtaining a Navy Federal Credit Union credit card won’t be easy. Access to the Navy Federal Credit Union is limited to members of the armed forces and Department of Defense employees along with their family and household members.
Titanium Rewards Visa® Signature Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union
The Titanium Rewards Visa® Signature Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union stands out for a number of reasons, including its low APR of 11.74 percent to 18 percent variable, cash back rewards and credit limit, which could range from $5,000 to $50,000.
Households that spend a lot on groceries and gas could get a lot of value out of this card, which offers an unlimited 3X points in those categories, followed by 1.5X points on all other purchases. The unlimited bonus rewards on groceries and gas, followed by an above-average flat rate on all general purchases could give this card an advantage over other rewards cards that have more features but come with spending limits or a lower flat rate on general purchases.
For example, while the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express offers 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations and U.S. online retail purchases, this rate only applies to your first $6,000 in spending each year, after which you’ll earn just 1% back. The card’s APR also runs as high at 18.99%-29.99% variable, making it a riskier choice if you may need to carry a balance.
If you spend more than $500 per month on average on groceries, gas or online purchases, the Titanium Rewards card from Andrews Federal Credit Union could be a better fit for maximizing everyday spending thanks to its unlimited bonus points in those areas and higher flat rate for general purchases that fall outside the bonus categories.
If you live in California, though, this card may not be a good option for everyone, as California residents can only get the Titanium Rewards card as a secured credit card.
You have plenty of chances to meet the eligibility requirements for Andrews Federal Credit Union. Membership is open to people who are active or retired members of the U.S. military, along with their family/household members. People who live, work, attend school, or worship in Washington, D.C., or people who are employed by or a member of one of their eligible employer groups can also join Andrews Federal Credit Union.
You can also gain access by being a member of the American Consumer Council, which only requires you to have used a major consumer product or service (like a motor vehicle, insurance, medical or financial services, or apparel) and pay an $8 fee to join.
Navy Federal Credit Union Visa Signature® Flagship Rewards Credit Card
The Navy Federal Credit Union Visa Signature® Flagship Rewards Credit Card is a well-rounded and versatile card. It comes with a sign-up bonus of 30,000 bonus points worth $300 after spending $3,000 within 90 days of account opening and a free year of Amazon Prime. Though there’s a high spend required to earn the sign-up bonus, that’s an impressive amount of short-term value for a starter travel card with only a $49 annual fee.
The card also comes with a nice mix of bonus rewards and travel protections that could make it a great fit for occasional travelers. It offers 3X points in a broad mix of travel categories, including airfare, hotels, car rentals, transit purchases and even entertainment-related travel options like museums and amusement parks.
This gives you a lot of flexibility when it comes to travel. Many of the best travel cards only cover a few travel categories, and you typically only earn rewards at a high rate when you book through the card issuer’s travel portal. For example, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers 5X miles on hotels and rental cars, but you must book through Capital One Travel.
The card also earns an impressive 2X points on all general purchases, matching the rate offered by top flat-rate cards, most of which don’t come with additional bonus categories like this Navy FCU card. This should make the card very appealing to rewards seekers looking for a simple way to earn rewards.
Access to the Navy Federal Credit Union is limited to members of the armed forces and Department of Defense employees along with their family and household members.
PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card
The Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card is a fantastic choice for everyday spenders looking for chances to rack up points in everyday bonus categories. This no-annual-fee card offers a whopping 5X points on gas paid at the pump and at EV charging stations. This is above and beyond the rate offered by many of the best gas cards, which typically only offer up to 3 percent back for gas purchases and only 1 percent cash back for purchases made at EV stations.
On top of the great rewards for gas and EV stations, the card also offers 3X points at the supermarket (including most Target and Walmart locations), restaurants, as well as TV, radio, cable and streaming services and 1X points on all other purchases. The supermarket rewards are an especially nice touch because you’ll have a hard time finding another grocery rewards card that offers bonus rewards for purchases made at both supermarkets and superstores like Walmart and Target.
The Platinum Rewards card’s variable APR of 17.99 percent doesn’t go as low as many of the best credit union cards, but its APR range is still lower than the majority of rewards cards. And considering all the perks that come with the card, including a sign-up bonus, a nice intro APR offer and Visa Signature benefits, the card is sure to be an appealing low-cost option for cardholders — even those who can pay their balances in full each month and don’t need a low-interest credit card.
Military service is not required to gain access to the Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed), which is one of the easiest credit unions to join. Just open a PenFed savings account with an initial minimum deposit of $5.
PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card
The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Card is a straightforward travel card with a low variable APR of 17.99 percent. For a $95 annual fee, you get a lot of perks like a sign-up bonus, yearly Priority Pass lounge access, and a $100 travel credit. These features can make it easier for you to offset the annual fee.
You can also earn 3X points on all travel categories and 1.5X points on all other purchases. These are nice rates compared to most travel cards, which tend to limit your bonus travel rewards to one or two categories like airline purchases or hotels and rental cars, followed by a lower flat rate for general purchases. And for even greater value, the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards card lets you waive the annual fee and boost your travel rewards up to 4X if you are an existing PenFed Honors Advantage member.
If you tend to book vacations and pay them off over time, this card is a solid option thanks to an incredibly low APR for a travel card (17.99 percent variable), combined with its bonus rewards and travel perks. But rewards maximizers who can pay for travel in full could get better value elsewhere, especially with a travel card that lets you transfer points and miles for a potentially greater value.
Many airline cards come with airline-specific features you won’t get with this PenFed card, such as free first checked bag, priority boarding, in-flight discounts or a chance to reach elite status quicker.
Or you may want to try a general-purpose travel card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which gives you more chances to rack up bonus miles on travel and everyday purchases like dining and online grocery purchases. With the Sapphire Preferred, you also get a higher sign-up bonus, access to many of the top travel benefits you should look for in a travel card, and the chance to redeem your rewards for 25 percent more value. You can also take advantage of Chase’s transfer partners. Based on Bankrate’s latest points valuations, your points could be worth an estimated 2 cents each on average with the right transfer partner.
Military service is not required to gain access to the Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed), which is one of the easiest credit unions to join. Just open a PenFed savings account with a minimum deposit of $5.
Gold Visa® Card
The Gold Visa® Card from PenFed is light on features, but it does have a long 0 percent intro APR offer for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, followed by a low regular variable APR of 16.49 percent to 17.99 percent on purchases and 17.99 percent (non-variable) on balance transfers. This could make the card an appealing option if you ever need to consolidate debt and want a low-interest credit card to hold on to.
There are plenty of rewards cards with a similar intro APR offer that also offer rewards and a sign-up bonus, which are features not found with the Gold Visa card. But those cards could come with higher rates and fees, making them more expensive to use if you can’t pay your balances in full.
For example, the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card offers 2 percent cash rewards on purchases and comes with a $200 in cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. It also has a 0 percent intro APR offer on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, but the regular variable APR that follows (19.99 percent, 24.99 percent, or 29.99 percent) runs higher than the Gold Visa Card and could cost you considerably more in interest charges, especially if you wind up with the highest rate.
Military service is not required to gain access to the Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed), which is one of the easiest credit unions to join. Just open a PenFed savings account with a minimum deposit of $5.
DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card
The DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card is a standout option for people with bad credit who struggle to gain access to affordable unsecured credit cards. It has an impressively low APR of 14.50 percent to 18 percent, which gives people with poor credit a chance at one of the lowest rates around. It also comes with fewer fees, including no balance transfer fees and no cash advance fees.
One of the biggest disadvantages of the card is that it requires a minimum deposit of $500, which not everyone can afford to have tied up in a security deposit. The best secured credit cards won’t offer an APR anywhere near as low as this DCU card or other secured credit union cards, but they will typically only require a minimum deposit of $200. You may be able to bring that minimum deposit amount even lower with the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card. Depending on your creditworthiness, you could get a $200 credit limit with a minimum deposit as low as $49. Just watch out for the card’s APR of 28.49 percent, which could make it harder to pay off balances.
There are many ways to join the Digital Federal Credit union (DCU), including if you or a family member works for an eligible employer, live, work, worship, or attend school in an eligible community or are members of a participating organization. One of the easiest ways to join is to become a member of Reach Out for Schools, a nonprofit organization with a yearly annual membership fee of $10.
Pros and cons of credit union cards
There are a lot of good reasons to use a credit union credit card, but they may not be a great fit for everyone. Before applying, take a look at these pros and cons to make sure a credit union card can give you the best value:
- Safe to use. Our top picks for credit union credit cards come from federally insured credit unions, regulated by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), making them just as safe to use as traditional banks. And like bank-issued credit cards, these credit union cards come with consumer protections mandated by the Credit CARD Act of 2009. In some cases, this makes credit union cards a safer option than buy now, pay later (BNPL) lending practices, which are popular during the holiday season. But according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, BNPL lending has “inconsistent consumer protections” that could leave people susceptible to multiple late fees on the same missed payment and fewer rights when it comes to dispute resolutions.
- Better rates. According to mycreditunion.gov, credit unions typically offer better savings and loan rates than banks. One reason for this is that banks have to focus on earning profits for investors while credit unions are not-for-profit organizations that reinvest their profits back into their organization, leading to more affordable financing options and better member perks like rewards cards and low interest rates — not just for credit cards, but also for car loans and mortgages.
- Low or no balance transfer fees. On top of better rates, low fees are another advantage of being a credit union member. If you have a lot of debt, some cards like the Navy Federal More Rewards American Express® Card or the DCU Visa Platinum Secured let you skip the 3-percent or 5-percent balance transfer fee typically charged by traditional credit cards. This can save you a lot of money depending on how much debt you transfer over.
- Membership is required. You’ll have to join a credit union and have something in common with its other members. Some credit unions are more easily accessible through religious, community, or other nonprofit organizations, but some limit access to select groups, like current and retired members of the armed forces.
- Limited welcome offers. To help entice more people to apply, many traditional credit cards have larger sign-up bonuses or longer intro APR offers. To maximize your value, you may want to consider pairing a low-interest credit union card with a cash back credit card loaded with the features and benefits that fit your lifestyle and spending habits. If you need help, our guide on how to pick the right credit card for you can help.
Who should get a credit union card?
A credit union credit card could provide exceptional value, especially if you tend to carry a balance or need to transfer over debt.
People who carry a balance
Paying off your credit card balance in full each month is the best way to avoid interest charges. But according to the American Bankers Association, the majority of credit card accounts carry a balance. And those balances can get pretty high, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which noted that the average credit card balance for Americans is $5,221.
When you carry a balance that large on a high-interest credit card, you could end up paying hundreds or thousands of dollars more in interest charges than you would with a credit union card, especially if you can’t afford to pay well above your monthly minimum payment each month.
Take a look at how much it might cost to pay off the average credit card balance based on three different APRs: The low and high APR you may find on a credit union card and a high APR similar to what you might find with traditional cards, including rewards cards and credit-builder cards.
|Type of card||Credit union card
|Credit union card
|Months to pay off||27||29||33|
|Total interest paid||$711||$1,244||$2,177|
As you can see, even the high-end APR of a credit union card can save you over $900 compared to the high-end APR you might get stuck with on other cards if you don’t have good credit.
To determine if a credit union card is right for you, use a credit card payoff calculator and put in your own numbers (your total debt balance, the minimum payment you can afford to pay each month and your current credit card APR or estimated APR with a credit union card).
People looking to pay off debt
One of the best ways to pay off credit card debt is to take advantage of a credit card with a long intro APR offer on balance transfers. These cards typically give you 15 months or more to pay off debt while saving on interest charges. But once the promotional period ends, the card’s ongoing APR will apply to any debt you have left to pay off. Unfortunately, balance transfer cards tend to have variable APR ranges that start low and end high. Depending on your creditworthiness, you could end up with an APR of 24 percent or higher, which will make it harder to pay off debt.
If you can’t pay off your debt before the intro APR period ends, consider transferring your debt to a credit union card to take advantage of its low ongoing APR. The cards on our list carry low-end rates well below those offered by the top banks and financial institutions, and their high-end rates don’t go higher than 18 percent, which is slightly lower than the average credit card interest rate. Plus, many credit union cards can do more than help with your debt payoff strategy. You can get exceptional long-term value out of a credit union card, especially if it offers the chance to earn rewards on all of your purchases.
How to make the most of a credit union credit card
Choose a card that fits
If you qualify for an unsecured rewards card, choose one that fits your spending habits so you can earn as much cash back or points as possible. If a secured credit card is your best option, make sure the minimum security deposit is affordable and the maximum credit limit helps you maintain a low credit utilization ratio. And if you plan to transfer over debt, try to choose a card with an intro APR offer or minimal balance transfer fees.
Make a budget
A budget helps you track your spending habits, which is a great way to see where your money is going and whether you tend to spend more on needs, wants or savings. This can help improve your finances and your financial literacy skills. Budgeting apps can take a lot of the work and stress out of the process and make it easier to learn how to budget.
Watch how you spend money and redeem rewards
Unless you’re dealing with an emergency, try to only spend what you can afford. Use your credit union card in place of your debit card or cash and try to avoid making purchases that fall outside your budget. If you’re trying to pay off debt, pay more than the minimum payment while also redeeming your rewards for statement credits, which will help you pay down your debt faster.
Make on-time payments
It’s important to pay your credit card statements on time, as your payment history has the biggest impact on your credit score. Making late payments can lead to negative marks that stay on your credit report for up to seven years or longer. Another consequence is you may get hit with a penalty APR, which could increase the amount of interest you’re charged if you are more than 60 days late with a payment. If you tend to make late payments, it’s a good idea to avoid cards that assess penalty APRs.
A number of traditional rewards cards don’t charge penalty APRs. But those that do charge far higher rates than those found with credit union cards. They can also leave this rate in place for 12 months or sometimes indefinitely, while most credit union cards typically only keep the penalty APR in place for three to six months.
Pay off your balances as soon as possible
The longer you hold on to debt, the harder it is to pay it off since interest continues to pile on. If low-interest credit union cards and intro APR credit cards aren’t helping you tame your debt, consider alternative strategies like taking out a personal loan, which could give you a longer period of time to pay off debt at a lower rate. Debt settlement may be the only option for some, but before going that route, you may also want to consider alternative forms of debt consolidation, which include a home equity loan or line of credit.
The bottom line
They may not get the same attention as the cards offered by traditional banks, but the best credit union cards are packed with value. People who don’t pay their balances in full can take advantage of some of the lowest interest rates around. And since so many people tend to carry a balance for at least a year, these underrated cards could bring some much-needed relief to a lot of people this holiday shopping season.
*The information about the Navy Federal More Rewards American Express® Card, Navy Federal Credit Union Visa Signature® Flagship Rewards card, Titanium Rewards Visa® Signature Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union, Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card, PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Card, DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuers.