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Slide Show | April 2012

7 Great Credit Unions Anyone Can Join

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Credit unions offer the same services -- checking and savings accounts, CDs, credit cards, mortgages and auto loans -- that banks provide. But they tend to charge lower loan rates, pay higher savings yields and "treat borrowers who are struggling more sympathetically," says Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America.

Credit unions are nonprofit organizations where the members are eligible to belong because of a common bond, such as place of employment, place of worship, school, geographical location or membership in an affiliated organization. These credit unions (except the last one) are open to anyone nationwide. Or you can go to www.culookup.com and www.asmarterchoice.org to find a credit union near you.


7 Great Credit Unions Anyone Can Join

Alliant Credit Union

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Web site: alliantcreditunion.org

Affiliation: Living or working in the Chicago area automatically qualifies you for membership in the Alliant Credit Union. Others can join by contributing $10 to Foster Care to Success, which serves teenagers who are getting too old to be in the foster-care system. A $5 deposit into a savings account is also required.

Checking: No monthly service fee or minimum balance; your first box of checks is free. High Rate Checking option pays 0.90%. You have free access to more than 80,000 ATMs.

Credit cards: Two no-fee Visa cards with an introductory rate of 0% to 2.99% on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months.

Loan rates: Fixed-rate 30-year mortgages at 4.25%. Loans for new and used cars are 1.99% for up to 72 months.

Alliant Credit Union

Connexus Credit Union

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Web site: www.connexuscu.org

Affiliation: You must join the Connexus Association -- a nonprofit that has donated more than $90,000 in support of such charitable activities as the American Cancer Society, United Way, American Red Cross and more -- by making a one-time, $5 donation, and then you can open an account with the credit union.

Checking: There are three types of accounts -- Innovative, MyRewards and Xtraordinary checking -- all of which have no minimum balance or monthly fees and entitle you to a 1% reduction on consumer loans. With Xtraordinary Checking, you earn 2% on balances up to $25,000. Xtraordinary and MyRewards customers are eligible for up to $25 a month in ATM rebates.

Credit cards: No-fee Visa Signature card offers a 0% rate for six months. Get 1% cash back on all purchases, or redeem 25,000 points for a round-trip airline ticket.

Loan rates: Fixed-rate 30-year mortgages at 4.25%. Auto loans range from 2.49% for 36 months to 5.99% for 84 months.

Connexus Credit Union

Consumers Credit Union

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Web site: www.myconsumers.org

Affiliation: Membership in the Consumers Cooperative Association, a nonprofit that gives six scholarships annually to high school kids, is the common bond that unites members. Just make a one-time $5 donation to CCA and maintain $5 in a savings account to join. CCA has a discount program for credit union members and offers tips on budgeting, credit, identity theft and other topics.

Checking: With Free Rewards Checking, earn 4.09% (through June 30) on deposits up to $10,000. The account has no minimum balance and refunds all ATM fees. Access to 37,000 surcharge-free ATMs.

Credit cards: Two no-fee Visa cards with no balance-transfer fee. CCU Platinum Rewards Visa card offers one point for every dollar spent, with an interest rate of 11.75%.

Loan rates: Fixed-rate 30-year mortgages are 4%. Auto loans for new and used vehicles range from 1.74% for 36 months to 5.19% for 84 months.

Consumers Credit Union

Lake Michigan Credit Union

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Web site: www.lmcu.org

Affiliation: You are eligible if you live, work, worship or attend school in any of 36 counties in Michigan. Or donate $5 to the West Michigan Chapter of the ALS Association. You must open a $5 savings account.

Checking: With Free Checking, there are no monthly fees, but the account pays no interest. With Max Checking, you receive a 3% yield on balances up to $15,000 and refunds of up to $15 per month on ATM surcharges. Free access to 92 proprietary ATMs in Michigan plus ATMs in the NYCE network.

Credit cards: Two no-fee Visa options -- Prime Platinum and Max Rewards Visa. Max Rewards offers 3% cash back on gas (up to $500 per month), 2% on groceries (unlimited) and 1% on all other purchases.

Loan rates: Fixed-rate 30-year mortgages are as low as 3.9%. Auto loans for both new and used cars (2007 or newer) run 2.99% for up to 63 months.

Lake Michigan Credit Union

NASA Federal Credit Union

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Web site: www.nasafcu.org

Affiliation: Membership in one of 12 mostly scientific associations, including the free American Consumer Council, makes you eligible. Plus, you must deposit at least $5 in a savings account.

Checking: No minimum balance and no monthly fee if you meet certain qualifications. If you direct deposit a paycheck or Social Security benefits, you may sign up for Early Access to your funds at no extra charge. Free access to 28,000 ATMs.

Credit cards: No-fee Platinum Cash Rewards Visa card pays a 1% cash rebate on spending up to $1,000, 1.25% on purchases up to $2,000 and 2% on everything else. No-fee Platinum Advantage gives you one point per dollar spent to use on travel and merchandise.

Loan rates: Fixed-rate 30-year mortgages are 3.5%; 100% mortgage financing is available. Auto loans are 2.19% for up to 36 months and up to $125,000; you’ll pay 3.64% for an 84-month loan.

NASA Federal Credit Union

Pentagon Federal Credit Union

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Web site: www.penfed.org

Affiliation: Contribute a one-time fee of $20 to the National Military Family Association or $15 to Voices for America’s Troops. You must also open a $5 savings account.

Checking: Open a Complete Access Checking account with a $25 deposit. You can avoid the monthly fee by keeping a $500 minimum balance or by scheduling a recurring direct deposit. First box of checks is free. If you meet certain qualifications, you can scan and deposit your checks from anywhere. Free access to about 75 proprietary ATMS, plus about 2,5000 surcharge-free worldwide.

Credit cards: PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa card guarantees a 9.99% interest rate through June 30, 2014. You earn five points per dollar spent on gas, three points on groceries and one point for all other spending. Spend $1,000 in the first three months and earn up to 20,000 points. With the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express card, you earn five points for each dollar spent on airfare and one point on everything else. It also guarantees a 9.99% interest rate through June 30, 2014. The no-fee Visa Platinum Cash Rewards card gives you 5% back on gas purchases and 0.25% on other spending. None of these cards has an annual fee or charges a foreign transaction fee.

Loan rates: Fixed-rate 30-year conforming mortgages at 4.00%. A 5/5 ARM has a rate of 3.0%; PenFed pays up to $10,000 in closing costs for this loan.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal Credit Union

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Web site: www.navyfederal.org

Affiliation: The largest U.S. credit union, with over three million members, is open to all Department of Defense uniformed personnel and reservists, as well as civilian employees and contractors. You must open a basic savings account. See if you qualify by visiting www.navyfederal.org.

Checking: EveryDay, eChecking and Active Duty checking require no minimum balance. EveryDay checking charges no monthly service fee. Access to more than 45,000 ATMs worldwide.

Credit cards: Four rewards-card options. No-fee cashRewards card offers up to 1.5% cash back on all purchases; rewards points do not expire. No-fee nRewards card offers one point for every dollar spent; points expire after four years. With the Visa Signature Flagship Rewards card ($49 annual fee), you earn one point for each dollar spent; it takes 15,000 points to earn an airline ticket worth $300. Points expire after five years. The card has no foreign transaction fee. Earn one point for each dollar spent with the goRewards card ($18 annual fee) and use the points for merchandise, gift cards and travel.

Loan rates: Fixed-rate 30-year conforming loans are 3.75%; 100% mortgage financing is available. Auto loans are 1.79% for up to 60 months for new cars and 2.79% for late-model used cars for the same period.

Navy Federal Credit Union

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