The 4 best credit union credit cards

Young male wearing glasses, on a city street, looking at his phone with credit card in hand.Image: Young male wearing glasses, on a city street, looking at his phone with credit card in hand.
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If you like the idea of better service and lower fees and interest, you may be better off with a credit card from a credit union than from a major card issuer.

We picked our favorite credit union cards based on their standout features for a variety of consumers.

CardBest for
Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit CardCash back
Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa® CardLow interest
DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit CardBuilding credit
Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum CardBalance transfers

Best for cash back: Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card

Here’s why: This card offers 2.5% cash back on qualifying purchases — with no categories to track.

Who can qualify: To join Alliant Credit Union, you need to meet one of the requirements below.

  • Live or work in one of the communities near the credit union’s Chicago corporate headquarters
  • Be a current or retired employee from a U.S. business or organization that partners with Alliant
  • Be an immediate family member or a domestic partner of a current Alliant member
  • Choose to support Foster Care to Success, Alliant’s partner charity (Alliant will make a one-time $5 support payment to the charity on your behalf)

You’ll be hard-pressed to find another card that can beat the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card’s rewards rate, even among major card issuers.

The card doesn’t charge an annual fee the first year, and it’s $99 after that. Consider that you’d have to spend at least $3,960 per year with this card to cover the annual fee.

Compare cash back credit card offers on Credit Karma.

Best for low interest: Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa® Card

Here’s why: The card’s lowest variable APR on purchases, cash advances and balance transfers starts at 6.25%. (Note that the issuer says you’ll have to contact them to know what the maximum rate could be, although the max is stated at 14.25% in the card’s recent terms and conditions.)

Who qualifies: Lake Michigan Credit Union membership is primarily for residents in certain areas of Michigan and Florida, but residents of other states can also join. Here are the criteria.

  • You live, work or worship anywhere in Michigan’s lower peninsula.
  • You live, work or worship anywhere in Florida.
  • You’re an immediate family member of a current member.
  • You live in a state besides Michigan or Florida and donate $5 to the ALS Foundation.

The card doesn’t offer any rewards or any other significant perks, but a low APR can make your life easier if you think you might carry a balance from month to month. You also don’t have to worry about paying an annual fee or a balance transfer fee. Note that this card has a foreign transaction fee of 1% and a cash advance fee of 3%.

Getting a lower APR for the Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa® Card can depend on having healthy credit. The credit union says the card’s lowest rate is based on credit scores of 760.

If you’re interested in a balance transfer offer with low rates, compare offers for balance transfer cards on Credit Karma.

Best for building credit: DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card

Here’s why: You can get a relatively low APR, with relatively few fees and a path to building credit.

Who qualifies: There are four primary ways you can qualify to become a Digital Federal Credit Union member.

  • Living, working, worshipping or attending school in an eligible community in Massachusetts or Georgia
  • Working for or retired from an eligible employer
  • Belonging to an eligible organization
  • Being an eligible family member of a current DCU member

The DCU Visa® Platinum Secured Credit Card offers a low 11.50% variable purchase, balance transfer and cash advance APR for all cardholders who get approved. You also won’t pay an annual fee or a transaction fee for cash advances or balance transfers, and there’s no foreign transaction fee.

That said, this is a secured card, which means you’ll need to hand over a security deposit before you’re given a credit limit. Your credit limit will be equal to your deposit, so keep that in mind when you consider this card.

Best for balance transfers: Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum Card

Here’s why: This card offers you time to pay off an existing balance with no balance transfer fees.

Who qualifies: 

  • Active duty, retired or veteran service member in any branch of the U.S. military
  • Immediate family members of an active-duty, retired or veteran service member
  • Department of Defense civilian personnel, including employees, U.S. government employees and contractors assigned to DOD installations
  • DOD retirees and annuitants

When applying for membership, be ready to supply your Social Security number, driver’s license or government ID; home address; and banking account and routing number or a credit card number.

If you request a balance transfer within 30 days of opening the Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum Card, you’ll get an intro APR of 0% on balance transfers for 12 months. After the intro period, the card’s standard variable APR of 5.99% to 18% will apply. The card also offers no balance transfer fees, making it a good fit for those who are looking to pay down a larger balance over time.

On top of that offer, the Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum Card also comes with no annual fees, no foreign transaction fees and no cash advance fees.

Just keep in mind that while this card offers an intro balance transfer APR, it does not include an intro APR offer for purchases. But with the chance to qualify for a low APR overall, this card still makes it into our top picks. For similar options, check out our list of the best credit cards for military personnel.

How we picked these cards

Many credit unions serve local communities only, limiting who can apply to people who live in a certain region. As a result, we limited the scope of our research to credit unions that make it possible to become a member regardless of where you live in the United States.

We also made our picks based on features that provide enough value for different types of cardholders to compete with some of the best credit cards from major card issuers. That includes a cash back card with a tough-to-beat rewards rate and cards with impressively low interest rates and few fees.

Four things to know about getting a credit union credit card

1. You don’t have to be part of an exclusive group to qualify

A big myth surrounding credit unions is that you can only qualify if you’re already a member of a certain organization or part of an exclusive group. This may be true for some credit unions, but it certainly isn’t the case for all of them.

Many credit unions offer several different pathways to membership, and joining a credit union doesn’t have to mean jumping through hoops.

For example, Alliant Credit Union sets aside membership for current or past employees of certain companies, relatives of existing Alliant members, members of certain organizations or people who work in a certain community. Doesn’t sound like you? Don’t worry — if you become a member of Foster Care to Success, Alliant’s partner charity for helping foster teens, you’ll be eligible for Alliant Credit Union membership.

2. You may get access to members-only credit cards with higher rewards

Many credit unions limit access to their products to members only. The good news? Once you’re in, you can potentially apply for a credit card with rewards rates that stack up well against traditional credit cards.

For example, with the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card, you’ll earn five points per $1 spent on gas, three points per $1 spent at supermarkets and one point on everything else. This can prove exceptionally rewarding for those making regular runs to the grocery store and filling up the tank each week.

3. Credit union credit cards often come with very competitive rates

Rewards, of course, only make a difference if you aren’t paying a ton in interest and late fees. Fortunately, credit unions tend to score highly in those departments as well.

The Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Card, for example, currently offers a variable purchase APR as low as 6.25%. And there’s no annual fee.

4. Most credit unions reimburse those pesky ATM fees

Another surprising fact is that many credit unions offer some sort of reimbursement for withdrawing money from out-of-network ATMs with a debit card. Keep in mind this is only when using your debit card. Using a credit card at an ATM might run you into some hefty cash advance fees.

If you often find yourself out and about with limited ATM options, this perk can add up to substantial savings. Just be aware that credit unions generally have fewer branches for in-person transactions and offer fewer ATM machines than traditional banks. This might be a downside depending on how you prefer to handle your banking.

How to make the most of credit union credit cards

If you plan to get a credit union credit card, take the opportunity to look at other benefits you might get as a member, such as higher deposit rates on checking and savings accounts and lower interest rates on loans.

As we noted above, we limited this list to cards from credit unions with attainable membership requirements for people around the United States. For that reason, we recommend taking a closer look at your local credit unions, as they may be more focused on the community you live in and provide better service for your needs.

About the author: Ben Luthi is a personal finance freelance writer and credit cards expert. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and finance from Brigham Young University. In addition to Credit Karma, you can find his wo… Read more.