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Do credit unions offer sign up bonuses and terms as good as large banks?

By , CardRatings contributor
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Yes, though you've got to know where to look. For most of us, the neighborhood credit union is a place we can rely on for affordable car loans and mortgages, along with traditional savings accounts. However, a handful of regional and national credit unions have stepped up their promotions and marketing efforts to rival those of more familiar banks. They don't offer the same upfront cash bonuses or frequent flier bounties as national banks, but they typically extend variable APRs that rank among the lowest of all credit cards.

If you can qualify for membership based on your employer, your military service, or your charitable donations, you could score some of the best credit card deals on the market. Some of the largest and most competitive credit unions in the country include:

  • Pentagon Federal Credit Union. This credit union specializes in rewards credit cards and travel credit cards for military families. Their partnerships with Visa and American Express enhance accounts by adding perks like concierge services, emergency travel coverage and bonus rewards. PenFed offers some of the lowest APRs among all credit cards for excellent credit, including long-term balance transfer offers. If you're not a member of the armed forces, you can qualify to join PenFed by making a donation to one of their affiliated charities.
  • Navy Federal Credit Union. NFCU offers a wide range of credit card deals, including secured credit cards with perks and rewards usually reserved for consumers with very high credit scores. Membership eligibility is narrower than PenFed's, but includes some types of civilian defense workers.
  • State Employees Credit Union. Government employees and others eligible in North Carolina enjoy direct access to this credit union, which boasts the largest network of neighborhood branches of any credit union in the country. SECU offers very low interest credit cards, along with no balance transfer fees for eligible members who want to consolidate debt from bigger banks.

Local credit unions also offer good credit card deals, with a little help from major banks. GE Money, Bank of America, Chase, and other familiar brands operate "white label" credit cards on behalf of smaller credit unions. If the features, benefits and rewards programs attached to your neighborhood credit union's card look familiar, that's why.

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