Credit unions are a great place to keep your money and get loans. They’re usually a safe bet for finding free checking, and rates on savings accounts and loans are competitive. What’s more, these institutions are typically local, so they keep money (and their attention) in the same community you live in.
For some, the prospect of opening an account at a credit union is intimidating. When “eligibility” and “membership” come up, they think that the process is complicated – but it’s really quite easy.
To open an account at a credit union, you’ll need to:
Step 1: Playing the Field
To join a credit union, you have to be a part of that credit union’s field of membership. That means you have to have some kind of common bond with other members of the credit union.
It’s pretty easy to find a credit union that you’re eligible to join. Some potential factors that might allow you to qualify include:
Joining an organization may also make you eligible for certain credit unions, which makes some credit unions open to just about anybody.
You might need to make a modest donation, but you may be able to just join a group (sometimes for free). For example, NASA Federal Credit union is obviously open to NASA employees and retirees — but anybody can join after getting a free membership to the National Space Society (NSS).
How to find a credit union: If you need to find a credit union that you’re eligible to join, ask your co-workers, neighbors, and friends where they go. The National Credit Union Administration, the government agency responsible for oversight of credit unions, also has a credit union search tool.
Step 2: $5 Please
Once you’ve picked a credit union, open an account by walking in and asking for an application (or do it all online, if possible).
To become a “member” of the credit union you’ll need to make a modest deposit, which represents your purchase of a share in the credit union. That deposit is often as small as $5 to $25. Note that you’ll need to leave that money in your account at all times — so if your account balance is $10, you’ll really only have $5 available to spend (the credit union prevents you from spending those funds, so keep that in mind as you plan your budget).
You can make your deposit however you like:
As with any financial account, you’ll need to provide details about yourself, including:
Some credit unions check your credit (and other databases like ChexSystems, which tracks your history of bouncing checks) when opening an account. If you’ve had issues in the past, you can always save yourself some time and ask credit union staff about the requirements before you fill out an application.
You might still be able to open an account that doesn’t come with a debit card or checks.
If you're opening business accounts, you'll need additional documentation. Bring your employer identification number (EIN) and any documents showing that your business organization exists (if you're incorporated in any way). Ask the credit union for full details, and get signatures from all required partners.
Step 3: Start Using the Account
That’s it – once you’re a member, you can use all of the services at the credit union.
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