Credit Union Credit Cards - A Prudent Alternative

  • By Ondine Irving
  • October 07, 2009

dw_planningSpent by credit card and debit card options? Here's an alternative: credit union credit cards.

What's a Credit Union?
Unlike a bank, a credit union does not have investors or stockholders. Credit unions have members (YOU!) in which all profits are returned back to the member in terms of lower loan rates and higher savings rates. There are over 7,500 credit unions nationwide with over 84 million Americans belonging to credit unions Here's a credit union locator.

Credit Unions are typically categorized into several main “fields of membership”:

  • Community (must live or work in certain counties)
  • Employer
  • Military
  • Educational

Most credit unions extend membership to family members, so if a family member has access to join a credit union, so do you. Many employers offer credit unions.

Credit unions offer the same array of products and services as banks: checking, savings, credit cards, money markets, CDs, IRAs, investment services, auto loans, mortgages, etc.

About Those Credit Cards ...
Most credit union credit card programs (not all) have the following key characteristics:

  • Low, fixed rates
  • No balance transfer fees/cash advance fees
  • Late fees with a 5-day grace period (not hours, like banks)
  • Reward programs that rival any frequent flyer program
  • No “gotcha” fees

Most federal chartered credit unions which offer credit cards (insured by NCUA, the equivalent of FDIC) have 18% interest caps. But beware: As with any industry there are some “not so good ones” credit unions. Shop around. A small group (about 100) have SOLD their credit card programs to banks, so shopping around and reading the fine print is key.

So How Can I Get  a Credit Union Credit Card?
Start by finding a credit union to join at, or check with family members to see if you can piggy back on their memberships.

For more information, you can check out Ondine's blog at or follow her on twitter @CardAnalysis.