Is This Credit Union Right for You?11 min read
Alliant Credit Union is a not-for-profit, member-owned financial institution that has been around for more than 80 years.
Though technically located in Illinois, Alliant Credit Union is open to members nationwide. And with more than $12 billion in assets and 500,000 members across the country, Alliant is not just the largest credit union in the Prairie State but also one of the largest credit unions in the entire country.
Before we dive into our Alliant Credit Union review, check out this quick refresher on what differentiates a credit union from a traditional bank — and why you should consider going this alternate route for your banking needs.
In this review:
What Is Alliant Credit Union?
Alliant Credit Union is an NCUA-insured (National Credit Union Administration-insured) banking institution with two physical locations in Chicago but online access for members nationwide. Alliant also offers a network of 80,000 surcharge-free ATMs across the country.
While most credit unions require you to meet at least one of their strict eligibility requirements (often location-based), Alliant Credit Union makes it easy to join. Although it does have the typical eligibility requirements (member of a partner organization, relative of a member or located in a specific community), Alliant Credit Union also allows you to become a member if you join Foster Care to Success (FC2S); joining costs $5, but Alliant will gladly pay the fee for you.
Alliant Credit Union has won a number of recent awards, such as MONEY’s Best Credit Union of 2019, My BankTracker’s Best Credit Union of 2020 and Nerdwallet’s Best Bank for Online Experience of 2020.
Easier to meet eligibility requirements than it is at other credit unions
No monthly maintenance fees
No minimum balance fee for checking accounts
High APYs for checking and savings accounts
Access to 80,000 ATMs and a $20/month refund for out-of-network ATMs
Supplemental savings accounts for easy money organization
A highly rated mobile app and easy-to-use website
High fees for overdrafts with no daily limit
Minimum balance requirement for savings account to earn high APY
No shared branching with other credit unions and only two physical locations (both in Chicago)
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Banking with Alliant: How We Rate It
Though Alliant offers a full suite of products, this Alliant Credit Union review primarily tackles the checking and savings accounts in all their flavors. However, we do include some information regarding other banking products, such as custodial accounts, certificates of deposit (CDs), personal loans, auto loans, mortgages, IRAs and life, auto and homeowners insurance.
Checking: High-Rate Checking Account
Alliant Credit Union’s High-Rate Checking account is miles ahead of its competitors in terms of APY. When you open a high-interest checking account with Alliant, you’ll get a 0.25% APY — that’s 4.2 times the national average. The credit union also pays out a 0.25% monthly dividend when you receive eStatements and receive one electronic deposit per month.
There is no minimum balance to open a High-Rate Checking account with Alliant, and you won’t have to worry about monthly maintenance fees either. At sign-up, Alliant will provide you with a Visa debit card and a free first box of checks.
Unfortunately, not everything comes free with Alliant’s checking account. There is a 1% foreign transaction fee when using the Visa abroad, and Alliant charges a $25 non-sufficient fund fee every time you overdraft. (Many other financial institutions cap the fee at once per day.)
You can get free Overdraft Protection with Alliant to prevent the associated fee, but you’ve got to opt in for it, and you must have enough in your connected Alliant savings account to cover the purchase. Alliant also offers Courtesy Pay to cover your expenses when your card would otherwise be declined (or, if you’re old-school, when your check would otherwise bounce), but there is a $28 fee associated with this. Thus, we do not encourage you to rely on this option.
Though Alliant Credit Union only has two physical locations (both in Chicago) and doesn’t participate in shared branching, it makes depositing and withdrawing money very easy with a network of 80,000 ATMs across the US. And if for some reason you can’t find an in-network ATM, Alliant will spot you the surcharge — up to $20 per month.
In addition, Alliant Credit Union’s High-Rate Checking account offers fraud protection and mobile check deposit through the Alliant Mobile Banking app (more on this below).
Checking: Teen Checking Account
Alliant Credit Union also offers a Teen Checking account to help teens learn smart money management. Only members between ages 13 and 17 are eligible, and the parent (who must be a member) acts as a joint owner of the account.
The account offers the same APY and has the same perks and drawbacks as the regular High-Rate Checking account. The account makes it easy to transfer money to your teen, and it also includes a personal financial management app so your teen can review their spending patterns and improve their financial acumen.
Savings: High-Rate Savings
Alliant Credit Union is also a frontrunner for best online savings account thanks to its high APY and dividend rates (0.90%), which is 11 times higher than the industry average. You’d be hard-pressed to find an APY that high at a brick-and-mortar credit union or bank.
To open an account, you’ll need to deposit $5, but Alliant will pay it for you — so really, it’s like Alliant pays you to open an account. However, if you want to collect that 0.90% APY, you’ll need more than that $5. In fact, you must maintain an average daily balance of $100 or more in the High-Rate Savings account to qualify for the high APY.
There’s also fine print when it comes to monthly maintenance fees. In theory, you can get an Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Savings account with no monthly fees, but that’s only if you opt for eStatements. If you want paper-based statements, you’ll pay a monthly $1 fee.
Like with the associated checking account, you’ll have access to 80,000 fee-free ATMs with the High-Rate Savings account, and you’ll also qualify for up to $20 in ATM fee reimbursements, should you need to bank at an out-of-network location. Also like the checking account, Alliant’s savings account includes mobile check deposit and easy 24/7 access.
A bright spot for the High-Rate Savings is its supplemental savings account option. You can open up to 19 supplemental savings accounts to organize your savings into various buckets. This can be helpful when you have multiple savings goals, like emergency savings, travel, a house down payment or a wedding.
Savings: Kids Savings Account
Much like the Teen Checking account, Alliant’s Kids Savings Account is designed to teach your children about money management. This account is ideal for children who are 12 or younger. As a parent, grandparent or guardian, you will be the joint owner on the account and thus must be a member of Alliant Credit Union.
The Kids Savings Account has the same 0.90% APY as the High-Rate Savings and boasts no monthly fees (again, assuming you select eStatements).
Convenience: Mobile-Friendly, Plenty of ATMs, But No Shared Branching
With a network of 80,000 ATMs nationwide, you are never far from your money — and even when you are, Alliant will pay up to $20 in out-of-network ATM fees each month.
Mobile banking and the online website make managing your money from your couch or on the go easy and intuitive. In the next section, you can find out more about the mobile app.
If you enjoy the customer service afforded in physical locations, however, you will find Alliant Credit Union falls short. Though Alliant isn’t a strictly online-only financial institution, it may as well be to the majority of the US, since it only has two brick-and-mortar member centers — both in the Windy City.
Mobile Banking: Alliant Mobile Banking App Review
Alliant Credit Union operates as a mostly online institution. That means its website is wicked fast and easy to navigate, and, more importantly in 2020, its mobile app is responsive, free and easy to learn. You can download the app for Android and Apple devices. (Right now, there is no support for Windows devices; Windows users who want a mobile app for their bank of choice should instead consider the highly rated Ally Bank.)
That said, the Alliant Mobile Banking app is top-notch when run on iOS and Android operating systems. The app allows you to view your balance (before you even log in!), log in with your fingerprint or face ID, deposit checks, reorder accounts, transfer money, set up external accounts, pay monthly bills (and establish new payees), set travel notifications, find surcharge-free ATMs and track your finances using the personal financial management tool.
At the time of writing, the Alliant Mobile Banking app had a 4.7-star rating on the App Store and a 4.5-star rating on Google Play.
Small Business Banking Options
Alliant Credit Union does not offer small business checking or savings accounts. Instead, consider these alternative banks for small businesses:
Wells Fargo Simple Business Checking Account and Business Market Rate Savings Account, loans up to $100,000 and a 1.5% cash-back credit card.
Chase Total Business Checking and Business Total Savings, SBA Express line of credit up to $350,000 and Ink Business credit cards.
Capital One Spark Business Checking and Savings, and 1.5% or 2% cash-back credit cards.
Axos Basic Business Checking or Business Interest Checking, Business Savings, and lines of credit or commercial loans starting at $250,000.
Navy Federal Credit Union for business owners who are veterans, active-duty military, employees of qualified government agencies and their immediate family.
Azlo for online-only, fee-free business checking.
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Alliant Credit Union Account Fees
While Alliant Credit Union positions itself as mostly fee-free, there are a few fees to keep in mind when opening an account:
The High-Rate Savings account carries a $1 paper statement fee each month if you don’t opt for eStatements.
The Visa debit card that accompanies the High-Rate Checking account has a 1% foreign transaction fee. If you travel often, consider an account with a foreign transaction fee-free card or get a separate credit card with free foreign transactions.
If you don’t have Overdraft Protection (or even if you do have Overdraft Protection but don’t have the sufficient funds in the High-Rate Savings account to cover the charge), you will pay a $25 fee every time you overdraft with no daily limit. If you use Courtesy Pay, it’s $28 per item.
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Other Alliant Credit Union Products
While this review focuses on savings and checking account options at Alliant, you can find information on additional products from the credit union below. Check out the Alliant website for more details.
Alliant Credit Union offers three credit card options:
Visa Platinum Rewards
Certificates of Deposit
Alliant Credit Union makes investing in certificates of deposit (or CDs) easy. Beginner investors can learn more about CDs (and the CD ladder investing strategy) in this intro to CDs.
Alliant offers multiple CD options: Certificate, Traditional IRA Certificate, Roth IRA Certificate and SEP IRA Certificate, each with varying rates (from 0.80% to 0.90%) and terms (from 12 months to 60 months).
You can also open a Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA) account at Alliant; these are colloquially known as custodial accounts. These accounts are a great way to jump-start your child’s savings; you’ll manage the account in its entirety until your child reaches adulthood.
What are the benefits? The earnings are taxed at the child’s rate, rather than your own, and the account earns the same 0.90% APY that the High-Rate Savings account does.
Auto Loans, Personal Loans and Mortgages
Looking for a lender? Getting a loan from the institution with which you do your standard checking and savings banking can be convenient. Alliant offers competitive rates for its vehicle (auto and RV) loans, mortgages (and home equity line of credit) and personal loans.
Auto loans qualify for a 0.50% rate discount when you use the Alliant Car Buying Service.
Mortgages are available with low and now down payment programs.
No collateral required for personal loans with current rates ranging from 6.24% (12-month terms) to 10.24% (60-month terms).
You can save for retirement with Alliant Credit Union by opening a Traditional IRA, Roth IRA or SEP IRA. If you want to create a nest egg for your loved ones after you pass, you can also open a trust account.
While Alliant Credit Union is most widely known for its checking and savings accounts, the financial institution also offers life insurance (term life insurance, accidental death insurance and whole life insurance), homeowners insurance and auto insurance.
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Alliant Credit Union Customer Service
Alliant Credit Union offers around-the-clock support. Here are a few key ways to contact Alliant:
By phone: Call 800-328-1935. (International number is 773-462-2000.)
By contact form: Try this form for general questions.
On Twitter: @AlliantCU
Alliant’s website also has a “Send Us an Email” option, but when you click it, it reloads the same page.
Find more contact info here.
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Is Alliant Credit Union Right for You?
Year after year, Alliant Credit Union lands on personal finance sites’ lists for top checking and savings accounts (including ours!), and it’s clear why. Both its checking and savings accounts offer competitive APYs and dividends, it has a leading number of in-network ATMs, its mobile app is top-notch and it has a broad collection of other banking products.
Trying to decide if Alliant is a good fit for you?
You’ll probably love Alliant Credit Union if:
You want a high-interest savings and checking account with one institution.
You’re tech-savvy and appreciate a good mobile app.
You have multiple savings goals you’d like to organize within your account.
You live in Chicago.
You’re comfortable with mobile check deposits.
Think twice before signing up with Alliant Credit Union if:
You like in-person banking and you don’t live in Chicago.
You need small business banking.
You deposit cash regularly.
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Our Bank Review Methodology
The Penny Hoarder’s editorial team considers more than 25 factors in its bank account reviews, including fees, minimum daily balance requirements, APYs, overdraft charges, ATM access, number of physical locations, customer service support access and mobile features.
To determine how we weigh each factor, The Penny Hoarder surveyed 1,500 people to find out what banking features matter most to you.
For example, we give top grades to banks that have low fees because our survey showed that this is the No. 1 thing you look for in a bank. Because more than 70% of you said you visited a physical bank branch last year, we consider the number of brick-and-mortar locations. But more than one-third of you use mobile apps for more than 75% of your banking, so digital features are also considered carefully.
Ratings are assigned on a scale of one (worst) to five (best) stars across the following categories:
Credit card and loan products are not currently considered.
Timothy Moore is a market research editing and graphic design manager and a freelance writer covering topics on personal finance, careers, education, pet care and automotive. He has worked in the field since 2012 and has been featured on sites like The Penny Hoarder, Debt.com, Ladders, Glassdoor and The News Wheel.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.