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All Contents © 2016The Kiplinger Washington Editors
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 go lighter on fees. According to Bankrate.com, 72% of the largest credit unions in the U.S. offer free, no-strings checking accounts, compared with only 38% of the largest banks. The average fee for overdrawing your account at a credit union is $26.78; the average bank fee is $32.74.
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. At www.culookup.com and www.asmarterchoice.org, you can find credit unions near you. With the WalletHub credit union locator, enter your location, employer, church, school and volunteer information to see what credit unions you’re eligible to join.
These seven credit unions (except the last one) are open to anyone nationwide. Take a look.
By Lisa Gerstner, Contributing Editor
| May 2015
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: The Free Checking account has no monthly service fee or minimum balance; your first box of checks is free. The High Rate Checking option pays 0.65% (you must receive electronic statements and arrange at least one monthly direct deposit). You have free access to more than 80,000 ATMs. If you use ATMs outside the free network, you’ll be reimbursed up to $20 per month in fees that the ATM owners charge.
Credit cards: The Platinum and Platinum Rewards Visa cards (neither has an annual fee) both carry an introductory annual percentage rate of 0% to 5.99% on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months (regular APRs range from 9.24% to 23.24%). There’s no balance transfer fee. With the Platinum Rewards card, earn a point for every dollar you spend and redeem points for cash back, travel, merchandise and other rewards.
Loan rates: Fixed-rate 30-year mortgages are at a 3.85% APR. Loans for new cars start at 1.99% APR for up to 60 months, 2.24% for 72 months and 2.99% for 84 months.
Web site: www.connexuscu.org
Affiliation: If you don’t work at qualifying employers or live in certain Wisconsin counties, make a $5 donation to join the Connexus Association -- a nonprofit that has donated more than $150,000 to support charitable activities for groups including the American Cancer Society, United Way and American Red Cross. You also have to open a savings account with a $5 deposit.
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 reduction of one percentage point on consumer loans if you meet minimum activity requirements. With Xtraordinary Checking, you earn 1.75% on balances up to $25,000 by making 15 debit card purchases per month, having a monthly direct deposit, receiving electronic statements and using online bill pay. MyRewards customers earn 1.35% by making 10 debit card transactions monthly, having a direct deposit and getting e-statements. Xtraordinary and MyRewards customers are eligible for up to $25 a month in ATM rebates.
Credit cards: The no-fee Visa Bonus Rewards card offers a 0% APR for six months (11.99% to 17.99% thereafter). The no-fee Visa Platinum card has a 0% APR for 12 months and a standard APR of 9.99% to 17.99%.
Loan rates: Fixed-rate 30-year mortgages are at a 3.78% APR. The lowest rates for auto loans range from 2.99% APR for 36 months to 5.99% for 84 months.
Web site: www.myconsumers.org
Affiliation: Membership in the Consumers Cooperative Association, a nonprofit that conducts personal-finance seminars and gives six scholarships annually to high school kids, is the common bond that unites members. Just make a $5 donation to CCA and maintain $5 in a savings account to join.
Checking: With Free Rewards Checking, earn 3.09% on deposits up to $10,000 (the rate is guaranteed through 2015) by meeting several monthly requirements: making 12 debit card purchases, having a direct deposit or online bill pay, accessing online banking and receiving electronic statements. Earn 5.09% on up to $20,000 by spending at least $1,000 on one of CCU’s Visa credit cards and making 12 credit-card purchases. The account has no minimum balance, and it refunds all ATM fees if you meet minimum activity requirements. Customers have access to nearly 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs.
Credit cards: The no-fee Visa Signature Cash Rebate and Rewards cards both have a 0% APR for six months (rising to a minimum 11.99% thereafter) and no balance-transfer fee. The cards pay 3% on grocery and convenience store purchases, 2% on gas and 1% on all other purchases (the Cash Rebate card provides cash back, and the Rewards card pays you in points to redeem toward merchandise, travel and other rewards). The no-fee CCU Platinum Rewards Visa card offers one point for every dollar spent, with a minimum APR of 11.7%.
Loan rates: Fixed-rate 30-year mortgages are at a 3.63% APR. Auto loans range from a minimum of 1.74% APR for 36 months to as low as 4.19% for 84 months.
Web site: www.lmcu.org
Affiliation: You are eligible if you live, work, worship or attend school in one of the counties of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Or donate $5 to the ALS Association. You must open a savings account with a $5 deposit.
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 of less than $15,000 and refunds of up to $15 per month on ATM surcharges if you meet the following monthly requirements: have a direct deposit, make 10 debit card purchases, log in to online banking at least four times and receive electronic statements. Free access to 99 proprietary ATMs in Michigan plus ATMs in the NYCE network.
Credit cards: Three no-fee Visa options -- Prime Platinum, MaxRewards and Loan Rebate-- charge no balance transfer fee. Prime Platinum has a low minimum APR of 6.25%. MaxRewards offers 3% cash back on gas (up to $500 per month), 2% on groceries (unlimited) and 1% on all other purchases, with an APR recently as low as 10%. The Loan Rebate card (minimum APR of 8.25%) pays 1% back on all purchases, which you can apply to mortgage, credit card or other consumer loan debt with LMCU.
Loan rates: Fixed-rate 30-year mortgages are at a 3.8% APR. Auto loans run a minimum 2.25% APR for up to 48 months and 2.75% up to 66 months.
Web site: www.nasafcu.org
Affiliation: Join NASA employees and retirees and their relatives in the credit union by becoming a member of the free National Space Society. Plus, you must deposit at least $5 in a savings account.
Checking: There's no minimum balance and no monthly fee if you meet certain qualifications (otherwise, monthly fees range from $7 to $9). Premier Checking customers must maintain $2,500 in combined account balances, Premier eChecking customers must have a direct deposit or use online bill pay (plus receive electronic statements), and Premier Preferred Checking customers must keep $2,500 in the checking account (this account pays 0.05% in interest). All checking customers get free access to 30,000 ATMs.
Credit cards: The no-fee Platinum Cash Rewards Visa card (APR as low as 13.9%) 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 (minimum APR of 9.9%) gives you one point per dollar spent to use on travel and merchandise. Neither card charges a balance-transfer fee.
Loan rates: Fixed-rate 30-year mortgages are as low as a 3.73% APR; 100% mortgage financing is available. Auto loans start at 1.99% APR for up to 36 months and up to $125,000; you’ll pay as little as 3.64% for an 84-month loan.
Web site: www.penfed.org
Affiliation: Contribute $15 to the National Military Family Association or $14 to Voices for America’s Troops. You must also open a savings account with $5.
Checking: Open an AccessAmerica Checking account with a $25 deposit (no minimum balance requirement thereafter). You can avoid the monthly fee by keeping a $500 minimum balance or by scheduling a monthly direct deposit of at least $500. Earn interest of up to 0.44%, depending on your balance. Free access to 56,000 ATMs is included.
Credit cards: The PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature card has a minimum 9.99% APR. You earn five points per dollar spent on gas, three points on groceries and one point for all other spending. Redeem points for merchandise, travel, gift cards or prepaid debit cards. With the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express card (minimum 9.99% APR), you get five points for each dollar spent on airfare and one point on everything else. The PenFed Promise Visa card has a minimum 7.99% APR and charges no fees for balance transfers, cash advances or late payments. None of these cards has an annual fee or charges a foreign transaction fee.
Loan rate: Fixed-rate 30-year conforming mortgages are at a 3.73% APR. Loans for new cars have APRs ranging from 1.49% for a 36-month term to 2.74% for 72 months.
Web site: www.navyfederal.org
Affiliation: Although not open to everyone, Navy Federal Credit Union covers a wide swath, with more than 5 million members. It’s available to all Department of Defense uniformed personnel and reservists, as well as civilian employees and contractors. Family members of people who meet those qualifications are eligible, too. You must open a basic savings account.
Checking: The Flagship Checking account requires a $1,500 minimum balance to avoid a $5 monthly fee; interest rates range from 0.35% to 0.45% depending on your balance. If you set up a direct deposit, you’ll get up to $10 in ATM fees refunded per statement period. EveryDay Checking has no monthly fee or minimum balance requirement. The e-Checking account has no monthly service fee if you have a direct deposit ($5 otherwise) and refunds up to $10 per statement period in ATM fees. Active Duty Checking (no monthly fee or minimum balance) requires a qualifying military direct deposit and refunds up to $20 per month in ATM surcharges. All accounts include free checks.
Credit cards: The Platinum card (no annual fee) has a minimum APR of 7.99% and no balance-transfer fee. The no-fee cashRewards card (9.65% minimum APR) offers up to 1.5% cash back on all purchases. The no-fee nRewards card (8.99% minimum APR; no balance-transfer fee) offers one point for every dollar spent, redeemable for merchandise and gift certificates. With the Visa Signature Flagship Rewards card (9.99% minimum APR; $49 annual fee; no balance transfer or foreign transaction fees), you earn two points for each dollar spent; it takes 30,000 points to earn an airline ticket worth $300. Earn one point for each dollar spent with the no-fee goRewards card (9.49% minimum APR; no balance transfer or foreign transaction fees) and use the points for merchandise, gift cards and travel.
Loan rates: Fixed-rate 30-year conforming loans are at 3.65% APR; 100% mortgage financing is available. Auto loans for new cars range from a minimum 1.49% APR for terms of up to 36 months to a minimum 4.49% up to 96 months.
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