The Best Credit Union Credit Cards (Unsecured and Secured)

An increasing number of consumers are turning their backs on traditional financial institutions. They’ve lost faith in the big banks and are now putting their trust in credit unions, which are not profit-hungry and focus more on providing their members with the best possible service.

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Credit unions offer a number of services, including traditional credit cards, secured cards, and rewards cards. These cards offer many of the same benefits as credit cards offered by traditional banks, and in this guide, we’ll look at the best ones.

The Best Credit Union Credit Cards

Credit union credit cards are issued by the major networks, including Visa, Mastercard, and American Express. As a result, even the cards offered by the smallest unions can be used across the United States. Just look for the brand to see who offers the card, but make sure you pay attention to the rewards, interest rate, intro rates, and other terms as well.

NFCU Visa Signature Flagship Rewards Card

Credit union reward cards are not known for having the biggest signup offers, but the Navy Federal Credit Union Flagship Rewards card bucks that trends and offers 50,000 bonus points to all users who sign up and spend $3,000 in the first three months. Those 50,000 points have a value of $500 when used for qualifying travel purchases, putting this bonus up there with some of the best traditional travel credit cards.

The card rates are low and favorable, with no balance transfer or foreign transaction fees, and while there is an annual fee, it’s only $49 and it is waived for the first year. 

Cardholders can earn between 2x and 3x points every time they use their card and because it’s a Visa Signature credit card, it comes with a number of perks relating to travel and purchase protection.

  • Credit Card Issuer: Navy Federal Credit Union (Visa)
  • Annual Fee: $49 (waived for first year)
  • Regular APR: 11.49% to 18% Variable APR
  • Intro Offer: 1.99% on balance transfers and purchases for first 12 months
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Balance Transfer Fees: None
  • Rewards Program: 2x and 3x points for qualifying purchases
  • Sign-up Bonus: Get a huge 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 in first 3 months
  • Minimum Credit Score: Fair

Alliant Cashback Visa Signature

The Alliant Cashback Visa Signature credit card is one of the best options for straight-up cash back as it offers a flat rate of 2.5%, which is incredibly high when you consider that it’s not tied to any bonus categories or fixed limits. It also increases to 3% for the first year, but that’s the closest that this card gets to a signup bonus.

And this, really, is the only issue. It may not seem like much of an issue when you consider how high the regular rate is. But for many users, signup bonuses will earn them more points than they’ll get for the rest of the year, so they are pretty important. Still, when it comes to cash back credit union cards, you can do much better.

Furthermore, this is a Visa Signature card, so you’ll get benefits including travel protection, purchase protection, and even roadside assistance.

  • Credit Card Issuer: Alliant (Visa)
  • Annual Fee: $99 (waived for first year)
  • Regular APR: 11.99% to 14.99% Variable APR
  • Intro Offer: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Balance Transfer Fees: 3%
  • Rewards Program: 2.5% cash back on purchases increases to 3% for first year
  • Sign-up Bonus: None
  • Minimum Credit Score: Fair

Penfed Promise Visa

The Penfed Promise Visa is not a rewards credit card, as you won’t earn money every time you use the card. However, it does offer a $100 statement credit when you spend $1,500 in the first three months and there are no fees to worry about. 

And when we say no fees, we mean it. You won’t pay an annual fee, balance transfer fee, foreign transaction fee or penalty fee; you won’t even pay a cash advance fee when using your card at an ATM.

There is no 0% intro offer with regards to the annual percentage rate, but the rate does drop to 4.99% for 12 months on all purchases and balance transfers.

  • Credit Card Issuer: Penfed (Visa)
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 11.79% to 17.99% Variable APR
  • Intro Offer: 4.99% for first 12 months on purchases and transfers
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Balance Transfer Fees: None 
  • Rewards Program: None
  • Sign-up Bonus: $100 statement credit available when terms are met
  • Minimum Credit Score: Fair

Aspire Platinum Rewards Mastercard

The Platinum Rewards Mastercard from the Aspire Federal Credit Union is a basic cash back rewards card with a pretty low rate. But it offers a generous sign up bonus, doesn’t charge an annual fee, has a 0% APR intro rate for 6 months, and only requires a Fair credit score.

The Platinum card from Aspire Federal Credit Union also provides many basic Mastercard features and has a low interest rate.

  • Credit Card Issuer: Aspire Federal Credit Union (Mastercard)
  • Annual Fee: None
  • Regular APR: 10.90% to 18% Variable APR
  • Intro Offer: 0% for first 6 billing cycles on purchases and transfers
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: 1%
  • Balance Transfer Fees: 2%
  • Rewards Program: Earn 1 point every time you spend $1 on your card
  • Sign-up Bonus: 5,000 bonus points when cardholders spend $2,000 in three months from account opening
  • Minimum Credit Score: Fair

Prime Platinum Visa from the LMCU

This Visa Platinum card doesn’t have a standout rewards program or signup bonus, but if you don’t clear your balance in full every month, it is essential as it has a very low interest rate of less than 9% (Prime Rate plus 3%). This sort of rate is unthinkable when dealing with traditional unsecured credit cards and, in some cases, it’s a third less than what you might be offered elsewhere.

There is no annual fee or balance transfer fee, so if you have a big balance that you’re struggling to pay, consider moving it across to this credit card, but bear in mind that you won’t benefit from a 0% APR intro rate.

  • Credit Card Issuer: Lake Michigan Credit Union (Visa)
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Regular APR: From 8.5% Variable APR
  • Intro Offer: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: 1%
  • Balance Transfer Fees: No
  • Rewards Program: None
  • Sign-up Bonus: None
  • Minimum Credit Score: Fair

The Best Secured Credit Union Cards

A secured credit card is designed with credit building in mind. You pay a refundable security deposit, that becomes your credit limit, and every time you make the monthly payment, you’ll improve your credit score. 

If you’re being refused an unsecured credit card, you should think about applying for one of these cards. Not only will you have a safe, secure way to make payments, but it’ll also boost your score. In a few months, you can think about upgrading to an unsecured credit card.

DCU Visa Platinum Secured

The Digital Federal Credit Union offers one of the best secured credit cards for borrowers with poor credit or no credit. It works with Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay, and it doesn’t charge an annual fee.

The only issue here, when comparing this card to traditional secured cards, is that you need a security deposit of $500, which then becomes your credit limit. This might not sound like much for a credit limit, but many secured cards have a limit of just $200, which is far more accessible.

  • Credit Card Issuer: Digital Federal Credit Union (Visa)
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Regular APR: From 13.75% Variable APR
  • Intro Offer: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: 1%
  • Balance Transfer Fees: N/A
  • Rewards Program: None
  • Sign-up Bonus: None
  • Minimum Credit Score: Bad

Rewards Secured from Navy Federal

The Navy Federal secured card is a rare find, as it has a rewards programs and unlike the DCU card mentioned above, it has a limit of just $200. There is no limit to the number of awards that you can earn with this secured credit card and there are also some additional features, including cell phone protection.

After six months, your account will be reviewed on a monthly basis to see if you are suitable for an upgrade to an unsecured credit card.  

  • Credit Card Issuer: Navy Federal Credit Union
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Regular APR: From 18% Variable APR
  • Intro Offer: None
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Balance Transfer Fees: None
  • Rewards Program: 1 point for every dollar spent
  • Sign-up Bonus: None
  • Minimum Credit Score: Bad

The Pros and Cons of Credit Union Cards

Credit union cards offer a few benefits and features that you won’t get from traditional banks. For instance, they operate as non-profits, with the money going back into the business and being used to offer better terms for all users. This allows them to focus more on providing services with a view to improving the user experience, as opposed to making a little more cash.

However, there are some downsides as well, so don’t just focus on the good stuff.

Pro: Low Interest Rates

Although credit unions are non-profit, they still charge an interest rate and this is still much higher than what you would be charged for a personal loan. But it’s around 2% to 3% less than what you’ll be charged by the average bank card.

That may not sound like much, but even a fractionally lower interest rate could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year on a rolling balance.

Pro: Lower Fees

Nearly half of all traditional credit cards charge annual fees and these average around the $50 mark. However, fewer than 10% of credit union cards charge an annual fee, and these savings can add up over the year.

It’s not just annual fees, either. The average late fee charged by banks is $35, while at credit unions it’s a little over $20. The average foreign transaction fee is also around half that charged by a bank and there are often no balance transfer fees, even though banks charge between 3% and 5%.

Pro: Much Better Service

If you have an issue with your bank, contacting them and trying to get it sorted can feel like banging your head against a brick wall. They don’t have the best customer service and you will be routed through countless departments and end up wasting hours of your valuable time. 

With credit unions, you’ll typically get better support and quicker resolutions. These unions are there to support members and go out of their way to help.

Pro: Greater Chance of Acceptance

Credit unions will still look at your credit report, check your credit score, and reject you if they don’t believe you are a good fit. Simply being a member of a credit union is not enough to guarantee acceptance. However, your chances of being accepted will improve, especially if you are initially rejected and reapply.

Cons: Reduced Limits

Credit unions are not as generous as traditional lenders when it comes to credit limits. If you need a large credit limit, this can be off-putting and may leave you a little short. Credit unions will seek to give you a limit that is tailored towards your needs, but they won’t go above and beyond like a bank might.

You could see this as a good thing, as it limits your liability and means it’s less likely that you will spend more than you can afford and find yourself in massive amounts of debt. But if you need that higher credit limit or want to make a balance transfer, it could render these cards useless.

Cons: Your Checking Account or Loan May be at Risk

Credit union customers often acquire several debts from the same union, including personal loans, car loans, and credit cards. If the user fails to meet the payments on an unsecured debt with a credit union, that union may use collateral from another debt, such as a car loan. In other words, failure to repay your credit card debts could lead to them repossessing your car.

The credit union may also use the money in your checking account, although, in this case, the law isn’t always on their side. This practice is known as cross-collateralization, and effectively means that your credit union accounts are linked.

Cons: Limited Sign-up Bonuses

Credit union credit cards may not have the best reward programs when compared to the likes of American Express and Discover, but they still do very well in this department, especially when you compare those rewards to the fees and interest rates. However, one area in which they always fall short is the sign-up bonus.

If you have read any of our previous credit card lists, including those on cash back credit cards, you’ll know that traditional creditors can be very generous in this department. But the same can’t be said for credit unions. We’ve tried to highlight the ones that do offer great signup bonuses in our above list, but these are much rarer than they are with traditional providers.

Cons: Fewer Options

One of the biggest issues with credit union credit cards is that your options are much more limited than they are with traditional cards. There are fewer options because you’re limited to credit unions that you can actually join, and these credit unions don’t offer as many different cards and options as the biggest banks and providers.

Take Chase as an example. Chase Bank offers a huge range of cards for all types of users, and then you have a network like Discover, which has a version of the Discover It for everyone from big-spending families and business travelers to broke students.

Secured cards are also much harder to find and while we do recommend asking your credit union about their secured cards, we also recommend looking at the best secured cards by traditional lenders, as these are likely to provide you with far better features and benefits.

Which Credit Union Credit Cards are Right for you?

Before you complete your credit card application and rush it out there, it’s important to understand what you’re looking for. Many users will simply focus on the card with the highest rewards or the lowest interest rate, but these things might not mean anything to you.

It all depends on what type of user you are:

You Don’t Pay Your Balance in Full

Interest rates don’t really mean anything to someone who clears their balance in full every month, without fail. The interest rate only kicks in when you don’t pay the balance and just cover the minimum payment. 

If you’re the sort of user who only covers the bare minimum every month, then you shouldn’t be focusing on rewards and other cash and travel benefits and should focus your attention purely on low interest cards.

The interest rate difference between a card designed for rewards and one designed for low interest rates could be as much as 5%, which will add up to a huge sum of money over the course of the year.

You Have Bad Credit or No Credit

Users with bad credit or no credit at all should look into secured credit cards, such as the ones outlined above. These cards are designed with bad credit borrowers in mind and as they are secured against a cash sum, they are available to everyone who can afford to pay that cash sum.

Many secured credit card providers will review your account periodically, checking your payment history and your credit report and judging whether you are ready to be upgraded to an unsecured card or not.

You Clear Your Balance in Full 

When you clear your balance in full every month and there is no risk of you falling short, your options improve somewhat and you can start focusing on rewards and fees. 

At this point, it’s all about finding the card that offers you the highest return on your spending every year, whether that be in the form of a sign-up bonus or a rewards program.

You Spend a Lot of Money

Once you start spending over $30,000 a year on your credit card, while paying your balance in full every month, you need to look into premium cash back credit cards. Focus on the ones that have unlimited fixed rates as opposed to those with limited fixed bonus categories. 

Many cards will offer you as much as 5% but limit you to a spend of just $1,000 to $2,000 per quarter and even per year. This means you’re limited to a bonus of between $50 and $100, after which you’ll often be dropped back to a basic rate of 1%. An unlimited card, however, offers a constant rate of between 1.5% and 2.5% and can make all the difference to big spenders.

You Travel 3+ Times a Year

If you’re constantly booking flights and train journeys and seem to spend more time in the road or the air than you do at home, credit union credit cards are probably not a good fit for you.

These cards may benefit users who don’t spend a huge sum of money on travel, as the lack of fees will offset any additional rewards they earn. However, someone spending tens of thousands of dollars on travel every year and clearing their balance in full should look into premium credit cards instead.

We have covered a couple of these cards below, but there are many others out there. They typically charge high annual fees, but in return, they offer endless travel perks and reward you every time you hit the skies or the road.

Alternatives to Credit Union Cards

As you can see, there are a host of great credit union cards on the market, but don’t dismiss traditional credit cards just yet. If your credit score is high enough, you can acquire some great cards from the best banks. Here are a few of our favorites.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom Unlimited can compete with the best credit union credit cards and it beats most of them. It is an unlimited version of the Chase Freedom, which has a flat rate of 1% and a bonus rate of 5%, whereas this card has a flat rate of 1.5% and no bonus categories or limits.

There is also a signup bonus and some great intro APRs. These great terms are the reason the Chase Freedom Unlimited card is one of America’s favorites.

Discover It Cash Back

The Discover It credit card has one of the best welcome offers of any rewards card. Every time you spend using your card you can earn a flat rate of 1% and a bonus rate of 5%, which is paid for money spent on rotating categories. Then, at the end of your first year, Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned, effectively doubling your cash back with no limit.

Combine these great rewards with a solid intro rate for purchases and balance transfers and you have one of the best reward credit cards on the market.

American Express Platinum

The American Express Platinum is a premium rewards card with an annual fee to match. This card will cost you a huge $550 a year, so you’ll need to spend several grand a month to make it viable, but if you do, there will be some big rewards waiting for you.

The AmEx Platinum is a points-based credit card that offers 60,000 points as a signup bonus and a high rate of rewards points thereafter. It’s also loaded with great perks and rewards, including GlobalEntry and Uber credits.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa Rewards Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is another premium credit card, but it has a more accessible annual fee of just $95. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is also a travel rewards card, with lots of opportunities to secure big earnings and collect a host of perks.

Amazon Prime Credit Card

The Amazon Prime credit card is a Visa card that can be used everywhere but offers a huge points boost for Amazon purchases. You’ll also get an Amazon gift card to the value of $70 when you sign up.

The only downside to this credit card is that you need to be an Amazon Prime member, which costs $119 a year. If you’re already a member or can benefit from the perks it offers, this isn’t a problem. If not, the Amazon Prime credit card isn’t a good fit for you.

Costco Anywhere Visa Credit Card

Like the Amazon Prime Visa, the Costco Anywhere Visa rewards you when you shop at the branded store but can also be used everywhere else. The strange thing about this credit card is that the highest rates are offered for money spent at gas stations (4%) and restaurants/dining (3%), with just 2% offered every time you use the card at Costco.com or in Costco stores.