Best Credit Unions for College Students in 2024

by Jalen & Sarah Bromley
Best credit unions for college students

You may have heard that credit unions offer some advantages over banks — as they’re member-owned, they share their profits with their membership instead of operating on a for-profit basis. For students who want to stretch their money as far as possible, the chance to earn dividends and other perks will likely sound attractive. But what are the best credit unions for college students?

This article will run through everything you need to know about credit unions, including their pros and cons, before outlining the best choices for students.

What is a credit union?

A credit union is called a “union” because it belongs to its members. Credit unions are nonprofit institutions—everything they earn is redirected to benefit their membership. Often, in the form of dividends (profits that are paid to members).

Members also get a say in the credit union’s operation and use of profits, since they vote for a board of directors to represent them.

In contrast, financial institutions are effectively run by shareholders, who influence the bank’s leadership team and board of directors. Unlike a credit union’s members, a bank’s shareholders are more concerned with profits than the customers’ interests.

The eligibility criteria for opening an account also differ between the two institutions. Banks usually base eligibility solely on financial criteria (like minimum deposit or salary). Meanwhile, to be a member of a credit union, you may need to live in a certain place or work for a certain employer.

Is a credit union the right choice for you?

Now, let’s briefly outline the pros and cons of credit unions.


The biggest advantage of a credit union is that it looks out for its members’ interests. 

This could mean perks like:

  • Complementary financial coaching or debt support
  • Higher interest rates on savings accounts
  • Lower interest rates on lending products
  • Lower fees

Credit unions are also well-suited to people who prefer a personal touch. They tend to be focused on local branches, which means more personalized customer service.


The biggest drawback to credit unions is their exclusivity. You can’t necessarily join the credit union of your choice, and will need to read the eligibility criteria carefully.

Since many are focused on a specific region, they might not be the most convenient choice if you’re considering moving in the future — something that applies to many students.

Also, banks often offer a wider array of products than credit unions.

What to look for in credit unions

Since eligibility can be tricky for credit unions, this is the first thing you should look for when considering joining one. There’s no use in getting excited about an account you’re not eligible for!

As mentioned, location is a big part of credit unions. Many are located in specific regions and are only available to people based in those areas. So, check the serviceable areas and where a credit union’s branches are.

Fee structure is another major aspect to consider. Many credit unions charge a one-off joining fee, and others charge an account maintenance fee (although they may waive it for those who deposit a certain amount).

Since dividends are one of the main benefits of credit unions, you should also check the criteria to be eligible for dividends. You may need to open a certain account or deposit a specific amount.

If you want to open a lending or saving product, you should also pay attention to interest rates. How do savings rates compare to those of high-yield savings accounts?

A few other minor details to consider include:

  • ATM accessibility — credit unions may have fewer ATMs
  • Mobile banking availability 
  • Student-specific perks

Best credit unions for college students

Below, we’ve outlined our five top picks for the best credit unions for college students.

1. Alliant Credit Union

  • Serviceable areas: Chicago
  • Account fees: None
  • Dividend payments: $100 or one deposit (depending on the account)
  • Minimum balance requirements: None

As one of the few credit unions with an account specially for students, Alliant Credit Union was an easy pick for this list. 

It’s open to people from all over the US, although those living in Chicago get priority (if you live elsewhere, you need to be employed by certain organizations or have relatives who are clients). 

There are no account maintenance fees, although you may encounter them for some services (such as overdrafts or withdrawing from ATMs that aren’t in the Alliance network).

Alliance offers generous rates on its savings accounts, and even offers interest on checking accounts.

It costs $5 to join, but if you open an account, Alliant will pay this for you.

2. Consumers Credit Union

  • Serviceable areas: Nationwide
  • Account fees: None
  • Dividend payments: If you maintain $2,500 average daily balance
  • Minimum balance requirements: $5 initial deposit 

Consumers Credit Union is one of the biggest credit unions in Illinois, and it has a dedicated student checking account.

It offers a great Rewards Checking Account, which lets account holders earn up to 5% if they meet requirements. It also has loan products, savings accounts, MMAs, CDs, and more.

There are no account maintenance fees or minimum balance requirements, although you must pay a one-time $5 fee to join the credit union.

One perk is that Consumers Credit Union offers unlimited reimbursement of ATM fees.

3. First Tech Federal Credit Union

  • Serviceable areas: Mostly California, Washing, and Oregon
  • Account fees: None
  • Dividend payments: Tiered dividends
  • Minimum balance requirements: $10 for some accounts

First Tech Federal Credit Union is primarily aimed at those who work for tech companies, which may make it hard to qualify as a student. However, there are a few ways to get around this (such as having a relative who is a member or being a member of certain organizations).

It offers student loan refinancing, IRAs, credit cards, savings accounts, and more.

First Tech has no account maintenance fees or balance requirements, making it an attractive option. 

One downside is that First Tech’s rates on savings accounts are lower than those of other credit unions. Also, it only has 40 branches, and they’re mostly located in three states (California, Washington, and Oregon).

4. PenFed Credit Union

  • Serviceable areas: Nationwide
  • Account fees: $0 to $10 (can be waived)
  • Dividend payments: If you have a recurring direct deposit of $500
  • Minimum balance requirements: $5 for savings account

PenFed is one of the biggest credit unions in the country, and it operates across the nation. While it was originally formed to service military members and their relatives, there’s now an open charter. In other words, anyone can join! Although you will need to maintain your account to remain a member.

It offers savings, checking, MMA, and CD accounts. Some of these accounts offer competitive rates

A drawback is that some accounts have minimum requirements and fees. However, even the Access America Checking account, which has a $10 monthly charge, can be waived if you deposit enough money.

There’s also a $30 fee for going into your overdraft, and high penalties for withdrawing from a MMA account.

5. Connexus Credit Union

  • Serviceable areas: Nationwide
  • Account fees:  Only pay to join
  • Dividend payments: Only interest
  • Minimum balance requirements: $100 for savings account

Connexus Credit Union has a history of almost a decade, plus hundreds of thousands of members. It offers most financial products — including loans, savings accounts, and credit cards.

Its checking accounts are a standout thanks to Connexus’ generous returns. Some students may be eligible for the Connexus Teen Checking Account, which offers 2% APY and has no minimum balance requirements. 

However, despite the attractive checking accounts, the APY on Connexus’ savings account aren’t as good as those of other credit unions.

There are no monthly or ATM fees, and the $4 overdraft fee is lower than many credit unions. You’ll generally need to pay a $5 donation to join Connexus, but those who live in qualifying communities or who work for qualifying employers may be exempt.

As a bonus, Connexus has a great mobile app, which is highly rated by users.

What’s the union for you?

Credit unions can be a great alternative to banks thanks to the attractive rates and personalized customer service, plus the chance to earn dividends. All of the credit unions outlined above are great choices for students, but don’t forget to check the eligibility criteria!

Looking for more ways to save and grow your money? At Frugal Student, we share more tips and guides about money management tailored specifically to students.

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