Sure there are lots of big banks out there who hire celebrities to sing the praises of flashy credit cards loaded with perks and features.
But what if you prefer smaller, more personal and less flashy (but still loaded with perks and features)? In that case, it’s time to look at credit unions and smaller regional banks when you start researching your next credit card.
Here’s the thing: These cards from credit unions and small banks don’t get the same press or buzz that cards from larger issuers do but, in many cases, they offer rewards and perks that are similar or even better. Plus, you get the benefit of more personalized customer service, easier access and, if this is your thing, the knowledge that you’re supporting a small organization rather than a Main Street giant. And before you wonder too much about whether you can qualify for membership in a credit union, know that many credit unions these days have fairly low bars for membership. They aren’t all "teachers credit unions" anymore.
CardRatings is committed to reviewing as many credit cards as we possibly can and we’ve turned our sights on credit unions and small banks for this best of list; however, in general, larger banks have the resources to offer the top rewards and features so those are the ones that often make our best credit cards of the year list.
Take a look at our top picks for best credit union and small bank credit cards.
Our editor’s take: How does 5 million ways to redeem your rewards sound? This card is the epitome of redemption flexibility and earning simplicity, along with a healthy introductory 0 percent APR period.
Deep dive: The CFCU (Cornell FingerLakes Credit Union) Rewards Visa Credit Card is designed for the person who’s looking for a simple way to rack up rewards and then redeem those rewards for everything from travel, to gift cards to one of 5 million other options. You’ll earn 1 point per $1 spent on your card after you activate your rewards online. In addition to the 1 point/$1 rate, each month there are bonus rewards earning opportunities disclosed through the CFCU Online Banking site – just log on to find out which categories will earn bonus points that month. There’s no annual fee to worry about offsetting AND new cardholders can take advantage of 12 months zero interest on purchases and balance transfers with this card.
Our editor’s take: Secured credit cards can be powerful tools in establishing or re-establishing credit, and credit unions really come through in this category. In this case, low fees and a unique secured deposit structure set the card apart.
Deep dive: Secured credit cards can sometimes nickel and dime you to death with the security deposit, an annual fee, higher-than-typical transaction fees and more. The CFCU Secured Visa breaks that mold. The modest annual fee of just $15 is well below what many secured cards require (and even that is waived if you maintain a direct deposit account with the credit union) and the balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fee (2 percent and 1 percent, respectively) are below what many unsecured cards charge. When it comes to the security deposit normally required to establish a secured card account, this card doesn’t charge one in a traditional sense, meaning that you don’t have to come up with a chunk of money up front just to open your account. Instead, any money you put into your accounts held by CFCU will be considered your security deposit and CFCU will draw upon that money should you default on your credit card (which you won’t do because you’re working hard to build your credit, right?)
Our editor’s take: With healthy rewards opportunities coupled with a low ongoing APR (that’s the same for purchases, balance transfers and cash advances, by the way), this is a great card to keep around for a rainy day.
Deep dive: It doesn’t get any easier than earning points for doing literally nothing, but that’s exactly the situation with the Air Force FCU Visa® Card; you’ll receive 2,500 points when you get your card, no purchases required. After that, it’s one point per $1 spent everywhere with multiple opportunities to double or even quintuple your points in bonus categories each month. And the redemption opportunities are nearly endless. Beyond that, though, is how inexpensive it is to carry this card. There’s no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees and, perhaps most importantly, the ongoing APR is impressively low and is the same for purchases, balance transfers and cash advances.
Our editor’s take: Often tiered cash-back cards come with pretty low caps on the highest-earning categories – not so with the Consumers Credit Union Visa Signature Cash Rebate credit card.
Deep dive: This is a card for the grocery store visiting, gas pumping super mom or dad out there. With no annual fee to worry about, all the cash back you earn goes right back in your pocket. So how much will you earn? You’ll rack up 3 percent back at grocery and convenience stores (up to $6,000 spent annually), 2 percent at gas stations and 1 percent on your other purchases. And this card comes with the rare perk of no-fee balance transfers, which will save you anywhere from 3-5 percent on the typical balance transfer fee charged, making this a decent option if you need to consolidate some debt from another card (just be sure to compare the ongoing APRs to make sure you’ll be paying less interest with this card).
Our editor’s take: This is a basic, flat-rate cash-back rewards card that also offers a healthy introductory zero-interest period.
Deep dive: The Alliant Visa Platinum Rewards Card is another great option for people looking to earn cash-back rewards without juggling tiers or rotating categories. You’ll earn one point for every dollar you spend no matter where you spend it. Plus, new cardholders may be eligible for 12 months of no interest on purchases and balance transfers which could come in handy if you’re already carrying a balance on another card or have a large purchase coming in the near future. While you will pay a balance transfer fee to take advantage of the zero-interest promotion, you won’t pay one if you transfer a balance that isn’t part of a promotional offer. This card is compatible with various mobile wallet options, which is a nice perk you don’t always see with credit union credit cards.
Our editor’s take: Take advantage of the simple flat-rate earning opportunities and zero-fee balance transfers.
Deep dive: This card offers the same level of flat-rate cash back as that of much larger banks – 1.5 percent. That means it’s a great card to keep on hand for everyday purchases, especially given that it also features no annual fee and no fee for balance transfers. That “no-balance-transfer-fee” part will save you the typical 3 percent charged by most issuers for balance transfers. Furthermore, you’ll enjoy typical Visa benefits like rental car insurance, fraud protection and 24-hour travel and emergency assistance.
Our editor's take: A nice signup bonus coupled with decent ongoing rewards opportunities make this a card worth giving a second look.
Deep dive: Credit union credit cards don't always come with the warm and fuzzy signup bonuses you find with larger bank credit cards, but the Navy Federal Credit Union Cash Rewards Credit Card breaks that trend. Spend $3,000 within the first 90 days of card ownership and you'll earn yourself $200 bonus cash back. That's on top of the 1.5 percent back you earn on all your purchases, every day. This card also offers no annual fee, no balance transfer fee and no foreign transaction fees meaning all the rewards you earn go right back to your pocket rather being needed to offset fees.
Our editor's take: If you're looking for a low interest rate along with some additional perks, this could be the card for you.
Deep dive: Sure rewards and perks are nice, but they are secondary considerations if what you really need is a chance to pay off balances over the course of several months at the lowest possible interest rate. The Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum credit card offers you that. Ongoing purchase and balance transfer APRs start as low as 8.49 percent with this card. Plus while this isn't a traditional rewards card, you can still earn cash back if you use the card to shop in Navy Federal's Member Mall.
Our editor's take: Building up your credit and earning rewards don't often go hand-in-hand, but this card does give you the opportunity to do both.
Deep dive: If you're in the position of needing to build your credit with a secured credit card, you've likely found that few secured cards allow you to earn rewards and many come laden with fees. The Navy Federal Credit Union nRewards® Secured card, however, is different. You'll earn one point per $1 spent on the card. those rewards can be redeemed for gift cards or merchandise. Rather than paying a traditional security deposit, you'll simply need to put at least $500 in a Navy Federal savings account before you apply for the card; that money will establish you line of credit and will be held for the duration that your credit card is open and will be available to you again after you close your credit card account. There is no annual fee, no balance transfer fee and no foreign transaction fees with this card, a rarity among secured credit cards.
Our editor's take: A hefty signup bonus gets you started toward earning up to six points per $1 spent on your purchases.
Deep dive: No fee rewards cards are the golden geese of the credit card world. And this is a good one. You'll earn one point for every dollar spent on all your purchases and up to six points per $1 spent on the Affinity Rewards website. Plus, you'll earn 5,000 bonus points just for making your first purchase on the card. Those points can be redeemed for cash back, travel, gift cards, merchandise and more. And, as an added bonus, you can double your everyday earn rate if you are an EvenMore member – a status determined by how many products and services you use as the credit union.
Our editor's take: There's a lot to like about this card, like low ongoing interest rates and the opportunity to rack up some nice rewards.
Deep dive: The Regions Prestige Visa® Signature card doesn't come with an annual fee or foreign transaction fees, but it DOES offer a 12-month introductory 0 percent APR on purchases and balance transfers (made within 60 days) as well as the opportunity to earn double rewards for the first 90 days your card is open. After that you'll earn a respectable one point per $1 spent; those points are worth 1 percent cash back on all your purchases. And just a fun aside, you can customize your card with an image from Regions' library or with an image of your own.
Our editor's take: Choice is always nice and in the case of the VoiceSM cards from Huntington Bank, you can choose whether rewards or a lower interest rate is more important to you.
Deep dive: Do you want the freedom to choose a new category each quarter in which you'll earn three times the points for every $1 spent (one point per $1 in all other categories) or would you rather enjoy 3 percent lower APR on balances you carry on your card plus no penalty APR if you make a late payment? Those are the stellar options with Huntington's VoiceSM credit cards. With both cards, you'll enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees as well as Late Fee GraceSM, which means you won't pay a late fee as long as your minimum payment is received by the day after your due date.
Our editor's take: This is a tiered cash-back rewards card that doesn't cap your earnings in the bonus categories. That's rare among tiered or rotating categories cards.
Deep dive: This is a card that seems tailor-made for families that own their homes. With the GTE Go Signature Visa®, you earn an unlimited three times the points at home improvement stores, on travel and on gas; two times the points on groceries and your recurring bill (think gym memberships, utilities and cell phone plans, etc.) and one point per $1 spent on all other purchases. Those points are redeemable for cash back, travel, merchandise and so much more. There is a $60 annual fee with this card (waived for the first year), but it shouldn't be difficult to offset that fee and then some given the high rewards-earning potential. Plus, right now you can earn 10,000 bonus points for making $3,000 in purchases within the first three months – that's a $100 value right there. The card also comes with cell phone protection and a number of other benefits and perks. Lastly, you can join GTE Financial by being part of a qualifying organization or zip code or simply by paying a one-time fee of $10.