There are more than 220 cooperative, member-owned credit unions operating in Canada today, each serving a specific province and specializing in the needs of their members.
With so many out there, I know it can be hard to choose one that you think will fit your needs.
That’s where this post can help.
Drawing on my years of experience working for Canadian credit unions, I’ve done a deep dive into the top Canadian financial cooperatives to determine which ones are best.
In today’s post about the best credit unions in Canada, I’ll highlight my results and why I think you should consider these cooperative credit unions.
Let’s get started!
My Top Picks For Best Canadian Credit Unions
Best in BC
|Vancity Credit Union||Open An Account|
Best in Ontario
|Meridian Credit Union||Open An Account|
Best in Alberta
|Servus Credit Union||Open An Account|
How Do Credit Unions Work?
Credit unions are member-owned, full-service financial institutions. As cooperatives, they provide chequing and savings accounts, mortgages, loans, credit cards, and investments.
Although many people confuse credit unions with banks, the reality is that a credit union’s governance system is significantly different than that of a bank.
Banks are for-profit organizations, usually operating on a national scale, whereas credit unions are not-for-profit cooperative organizations with deep roots in their community.
When you bank with a credit union, you’re not only buying a share of that institution and having a say as a member and shareholder, but you are also using the power of your finances to do good in your community while getting excellent financial services.
Here are some pros and cons of banking with a credit union.
- Excellent and Specialized Customer Service
- Better Rates for Loans and Term Deposits
- People-Centred Operations
- Equally Safe As (or Even Safer Than) Big Banks
- Fewer Branches Across the Country
- Potential Technology Deficiencies due to Smaller Size/Less Capital
What You Should Consider Before Choosing a Credit Union
Everybody has different needs, expectations, and budgets for their banking. Therefore, after deciding that you want to go the cooperative route, you should take some time to figure out what exactly you’re looking for from your financial institution.
This can be helpful in making a decision and allow you not to move your accounts between several financial institutions until you find one that you’re happy with.
To start, consider asking yourself the following questions:
Monthly fees: Do I have the budget to pay a monthly fee for my banking? If so, how much?
Credit card options: Am I going to apply for a credit card through my credit union? If so, what kind of credit card fits my budget and spending/lifestyle habits the most? Will I carry a balance? (i.e. do I need a travel credit card, rewards credit card, low-interest credit card, etc.)
Loan and investment options: Am I interested in GICs or investments? Will they be registered? Should my credit union offer wealth management services, or am I more comfortable investing on my own? What is my tolerance to risk?
Mortgages: Am I considering a mortgage down the line? Or a home-equity line of credit (HELOC)?
Values-Based Banking: Is it important that my bank does good in my community? Am I okay with my investments funding fossil fuels?
User experience: How important is in-person banking to me? How important is mobile banking?
Once you have a good idea about these, you can figure out which credit union in your province will be able to meet your banking needs best.
Regardless of your needs, here are some of the best credit unions in each province of Canada.
Best Credit Unions in British Columbia
1. Vancity Credit Union: Best of the Best in British Columbia
Why it’s great:
- Loan and investment products
- Community investment, support of small businesses, meaningful work towards a clean and fair world
Vancity is Canada’s largest credit union with more than $30 billion in total assets, 550,000 member-owners, and 55 branches across British Columbia.
With their sheer size and access to capital, they rival big Canadian banks in their services and convenience, but with an added element of a commitment to a clean and fair world in everything they do.
Vancity is a testament to the fact that you can offer good banking services and have great financial performance as a company while taking care of people and the planet. That’s why I’m such a fan of them.
When it comes to their products and services, Vancity offers solutions for both individuals and businesses.
Their personal banking fees are relatively low compared to other credit unions out there, with their most comprehensive chequing account being completely free with a minimum $1000 balance (otherwise about $8 per month.)
E-transfers are also free with some of their accounts, but $0.90 otherwise, which is comparable to what is offered by other credit unions in Canada.
They offer eight credit card options for personal use, which cover different needs such as rewards, low-interest, and premium benefit options and range from annual fees of $0 to $130.
Where Vancity shines, though, is its loan and investment products.
They offer intricately thought-out loan products that aim to increase financial inclusion, incentivize environmentally-friendly behaviours, and support communities in BC.
These include their micro-loans that don’t require credit checks, interest-free “Ready to Rent Loan” for those updating their homes to host refugees, and loans that incentivize retrofitting or buying low-emission vehicles for the sake of the planet.
All of their investment options, on the other hand, are socially responsible, meaning none of your investments will fund fossil fuels or other organizations that don’t fit global environmental, social, or governance (ESG) standards while still seeing good returns.
Apart from its financial products, Vancity is also a leader in walking the talk. 30% of the company’s net income goes back to members and communities each year, supporting organizations working towards environmental and social advancements.
I have covered more about Vancity and other top credit unions in BC in this article. Check it out if you’re located in BC and are looking to go the cooperative route!
2. Coast Capital Savings
Why it’s great:
- Free chequing account with no minimum balance required,
- Great geographical reach in BC (reaches past the Lower Mainland to include Nanaimo, Kelowna, and Courtenay)
Coast Capital Savings is Canada’s second-largest credit union with more than $21 billion in assets under administration. They also have the largest credit union membership in the country with nearly 600,000 members today.
Coast Capital rivals Vancity when it comes to its financial products and number of branches in BC. They do, however, reach some areas that Vancity doesn’t, such as Nanaimo, Kelowna, and Courtenay. If you’re in these areas, I would highly recommend Coast Capital to you.
If you become a member of Coast Capital, one of the best features you’ll be able to take advantage of is their free chequing account that comes with unlimited and free transactions with absolutely no minimum balance (note that e-transfers cost $1.50.)
They also offer a wide range of credit card, investment and loan products for both personal and business accounts and support their community with 10% of their net profits going back into the communities they serve.
Read the full Coast Capital review here.
3. First West Credit Union:
Why it’s great:
- Free chequing account (including free e-transfers)
- Great investment options (including responsible investing)
First West Credit Union is BC’s third-largest and Canada’s fourth-largest credit union.
Headquartered in Langley, BC, this credit union comprises four separate local credit unions that reflect the former names of acquired credit unions.
These divisions include Envision Financial, IslandSavings, Enderby & District Financial, and Valley First.
Collectively, they serve Langley, Delta, Surrey, Abbotsford, Coquitlam (Envision Financial), Pentiction (Valley First), Duncan (Island Savings), and Enderby (Enderby & District Financial). If you’re in these areas, definitely check them out.
Each division offers similar financial products while maintaining the relationships that have existed before its acquisition by First West.
These include a free chequing account with unlimited transitions and no minimum balance (including free, unlimited e-transfers), great investment options (including responsible investing), and a wide range of credit cards (including USD and travel cards.)
Best Credit Unions in Ontario
4. Meridian Credit Union: Best of the Best in Ontario
Why it’s great:
- Great investment options,
- US Credit Card available
Meridian is another leader when it comes to credit unions in Canada. It is the largest credit union in Ontario and the second largest in Canada, serving its members with 92 branches across the province.
Their banking accounts are free with a minimum $2000 balance, otherwise ranging from $5-10 a month. Most of their accounts also come with four free e-transfers per month, which is fantastic. Past this limit, each transfer costs $1.50.
Some of the standout features of Meridian are its US Dollar credit card and its investment options.
They offer six options for credit cards for personal use, one of them being the USD credit card, and a wide range of investment options such as term deposits, QTrade self-trade, mutual funds, and more.
They also offer market-linked GICs and the option to have any investment product registered and non-registered.
Meridian also has good community involvement in Ontario, which is always good to see. They financially support more than 400 organizations doing work in their community each year.
Want to know more about Meridian? Check out this in-depth review.
I’ve also written more about Meridian in my 5 Best Credit Unions In Ontario post. You can read more about them and other Ontarian credit unions there.
5. Alterna Savings And Credit Union
Why it’s great:
- Fantastic business banking offerings
- Community values, innovative products
Alterna Savings and Credit Union is the first full-service, member-owned financial cooperative outside of Quebec. They have been serving their Ontario community for more than 110 years and have great personal and business banking offerings.
Some of their great products include their credit cards and loan and investment options.
They also really shine when it comes to business banking with their catered services for different types of organizations, such as not for profits, community businesses, and the cannabis industry.
In fact, Alterna was the first to provide financial services to a marijuana-related business in Canada.
If you’re a business owner in Ontario and looking to bank cooperatively while helping make a positive impact on your community, definitely check out this credit union.
Read the full Alterna review here.
6. Northern Credit Union
Why it’s great:
- Serves Northern Ontario, where many other credit unions don’t reach
- Personalized financial advice, including Agri-Business banking
Northern Credit Union has 28 branches in Northern Ontario, where many other credit unions don’t have branches. They serve their members with localized knowledge of their needs and have deep roots in their community.
As a community-based credit union, they offer financial advice, chequing and savings accounts, mortgages, credit cards, and loan and investment products.
They also have products for small businesses in Northern Ontario, including services for agricultural businesses, which is very relevant given the service area of the institution.
With a smaller, localized credit union like this, you are much more likely to get quick and relevant advice and have any of your questions or problems sorted out with ease.
That’s why I would highly recommend them to you if you live in the area.
Best Credit Unions in Alberta
7. Servus Credit Union: Best of the Best in Alberta
Why it’s great:
- Number of branches and geographical reach in Alberta
- Good credit cards and loan products
Servus Credit Union is the winner for the best credit union in Alberta.
Because they have more than 100 branches all across the province, specializing in community needs while serving each member to help them reach their financial goals.
There is no other credit union in Canada that has as many branches as Servus does.
This not only gives their Albertan members the chance to do their in-person banking wherever suits them best but also helps Servus build close relationships with the members who are regular to each branch.
This kind of community knowledge comes in incredibly handy when developing financial services that cater to their members and ensures that their products solve the problems of Albertans specifically.
You can see this in Servus’ personal, business and agri-business services. For example, their most comprehensive personal banking account comes with unlimited transactions (including e-transfers) for a set fee per month, which is eliminated if you keep a minimum balance of $4,000.
Servus is also well-known for its Mastercard credit cards and various loan products that cater to uptaking renovations, buying vehicles, purchasing investments, HELOCs, schooling, and more.
Members can also invest their money with Servus through term deposits, QTrade self-trade, and mutual funds through Credential Asset Management. Each option can be registered or non-registered.
The product range and geographical reach/convenience of Servus are not matched by any other credit union in Alberta. That’s why they take the number one spot for Albertan credit unions.
Keen to read more on credit unions in Alberta? Check out this post on the Four Best Credit Unions In Alberta.
8. ConnectFirst Credit Union
Why it’s great:
- Best in Alberta for Agri-Business banking
And for a good reason.
The credit union’s focus on what it means to be an Alberta resident and what its community needs really gives them an edge when it comes to agri-banking.
Their account fees are relatively low, and their diverse products are made for farmers looking to get from one season to the next one with a financial safety net in place.
Whether it’s catered spending or savings accounts, agricultural mortgages, operating LOC (lines of credit), agriculture overdrafts, term loans, or investment options, they should be the place to go for your cooperative agri-business banking.
I also absolutely love that ConnectFirst’s executive team is primarily made up of women. It’s good to see gender diversity in senior roles in the banking industry.
9. Vision Credit Union
Why it’s great:
- Has great geographical reach within Alberta
- Good loan options (including RRSP loans)
Vision Credit Union is the third-largest credit union in Alberta, with more than $1 billion in assets, serving more than 26,000 members in the province.
They have 18 branches Alberta-Wide, including several branches in Northern Alberta and rural parts of the province that are underserved by big banks and credit unions.
Like many other credit unions in Alberta, Vision credit union offers personal, business and agri-business products and services.
I’m also a big fan of their loan offerings, which include an RRSP loan where members can get low-interest rates and borrow their annual RRSP contribution, consequently having the opportunity to lower their tax payments and build wealth for retirement.
Top Credit Union in Manitoba
10. Steinbach Credit Union
Why it’s great:
- Low e-transfer fees,
- Great credit card options
Steinbach is the largest credit union in Manitoba, with more than 100,000 member-owners and nearly $8 billion in total assets. The credit union was founded in 1941 and currently has roots in both Winnipeg and Steinbach.
With such a large membership and long history, you might be surprised to hear that Steinbach only has three branches in Manitoba.
Since their founding, they have never merged with or acquired any other credit union, as it’s common in the world of credit unions.
Instead, they grew organically, with the goal of providing robust services to each and every one of their members.
It is no doubt that Manitoba residents saw the value that a community credit union like Steinbach could provide them, and their growing membership in the institution allowed Steinbach to grow and offer a full-fledged line of personal, business, and agricultural business products.
Some highlights of Steinbach’s offerings are their low e-transfer fees and credit card options.
Their personal chequing account options range from $5 monthly for 15 transactions plus five free e-transfers to $8-16 per month with added benefits. Any additional e-transfers beyond your monthly account limit cost $0.65, which is quite low compared to other Canadian banks and credit unions.
Steinbach also offers personal loans, lines of credit, and mortgages, as well as investment options such as mutual funds through Credential Asset Management, term deposits (US Dollar terms available), and self-trading through Qtrade.
Top Credit Union in Saskatchewan
11. Conexus Credit Union
Why it’s great:
- Free chequing with no minimum balance
- Wide range of investment options
Last but certainly not least is Conexus Credit Union in Saskatchewan. They take the number one spot in this province for a very obvious and attractive reason: their no-fee, no-minimum balance bank account.
If you’re a Saskatchewan resident, I highly recommend Conexus to you. The credit union has more than 130,000 member-owners and 30 branches in the province, meaning they are already leading cooperative banking in the province.
You may already know that no-fee banking is usually offered by digital banks in Canada.
But with Conexus, you can bank for free (no minimum balance required!), have access to branches across Saskatchewan, take advantage of thousands of free ATMs across the country, and be a part of the cooperative, value-based banking all at the same time. That’s not offered by any other credit union in Canada.
Conexus Credit Union also offers six personal Mastercard options (including both US and student cards), a wide range of loans and mortgages, and wealth management and investing through their subsidiary, Thrive Wealth Management.
You also have access to GICs (including market-linked) and a chance to participate in venture capital of Saskatchewan-based companies through Credential Asset Management.
Conexus also supports youth and community initiatives across Saskatchewan, which is wonderful.
A Note On Credit Unions In Quebec
You may be wondering why Desjardins or any other credit union (or “Caisse populaire”) from Quebec is not included in this list, especially given that some of the oldest credit unions in Canada and North America root from this province.
It’s difficult to choose one “best” credit union in Quebec because there are no large-scale credit unions that serve a large proportion of the public. Instead, hundreds of local, small-scale credit unions operate in this province, and most are brought together under Desjardins.
That is to say, Desjardins is not a credit union by itself but a federation of credit unions in Quebec and beyond. That is why they are not included in this list.
What Is Desjardins?
A little backstory might be useful here if you’re interested.
The first credit union in North America was actually started by Alphonse and Dorimène Desjardins in 1900 in Lévis, Quebec.
This was also the start of Desjardins financial group, which is a leader in caisses (i.e. credit unions) and financial services today.
According to Desjardins’ website, there are more than 300 separate “caisses Desjardins” in Quebec today, all of which are assembled under the single federation of the “Fédération des Caisses Desjardins du Québec.”
Most Quebecers are members of the Desjardins Caisse that is closest to where they live and work, and each caisse provides highly specialized and personal services to their members (whether it’s for a neighbourhood or those from a certain profession, such as police officers).
The role of “Fédération des Caisses Desjardins du Québec,” then, is to provide each of the credit unions with the services they need to serve their members, as well as to coordinate the efforts of all other Desjardins Group components.
As such, Desjardins is not considered as a single credit union on its own, although it is a major force in Canada and North America at large.
What Are The 5 Largest Credit Unions In Canada?
The Canadian Credit Union Association (the CCUA) releases “The Largest 100 Credit Unions” in Canada list per quarter. The list ranks all 226 Canadian credit unions (outside Quebec) by asset size.
The following table lists the five largest credit unions in Canada by assets.
|Rank||Credit Union||Province||Assets (Approx.)|
|1||Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (Vancity)||British Columbia||$25 billion|
|2||Meridian Credit Union Limited||Ontario||$23 billion|
|3||Coast Capital Savings Federal Credit Union||British Columbia||$21 billion|
|4||Servus Credit Union||Alberta||$17 billion|
|5||First West Credit Union||British Columbia||$12 billion|
When it comes to membership, however, the numbers look a tiny bit different. Coast Capital (in BC) has the highest credit union membership in Canada, with nearly 600,000 members.
Then it’s Vancity (approx. 530,000), Meridian (395,000), Servus (385,000) and First West Credit Union (250,000).
The reason Coast Capital may have the highest number of members and not assets may be because of low membership primacy.
This means that although 600,000 people have at least one share in the company, they may not keep a majority of their funds at this credit union and use a different financial institution as their “primary” bank (i.e. get their paycheques deposited somewhere else or park their savings investments there.)
This naturally would lower Coast Capital’s assets under administration.
Are you interested in knowing more about Canadian credit unions? You can access the CCUA’s reports, where you can read more on credit union membership, assets, market share and more here.
Is It Better To Belong To A Credit Union Or A Bank?
The answer to this question will be different for everyone depending on what they are looking for in their banking solutions and what is important to them.
With a bank, especially with one of the big five (Scotiabank, TD Canada Trust, CIBC, RBC, or BMO), you will have access to branches all across the country and a very wide range of financial products.
In addition, due to the capital they have at their disposal (given that they usually charge higher fees and are for-profit organizations), some of these banks will also have better technology within their reach, making their website, apps and desktop access a bit more streamlined.
On the other hand, credit unions are a lot more community and customer-service-focused, usually offering better rates and having more of an interest in the well-being of their members and communities.
Credit unions also operate on a local, provincial scale, meaning that they usually only have branches in a certain geographic area and can only serve the residents of that area.
As I will mention in the next section, they are also incredibly secure, sometimes even more so than big banks.
How To Decide Between a Bank or a Credit Union
To help decide whether a credit union or bank is better for you, it might be useful to revisit the “What You Should Consider Before Choosing a Credit Union” section of this post (preceding the list of best credit unions in Canada).
Things to consider include things such as baking fees, credit card options, loans and investments, mortgages, organizational values and user experience.
Based on your answers to the questions I proposed, you may find that you might be better off with a big bank, a credit union, or even with a digital bank such as Tangerine or EQ.
Are Credit Unions Safe In Canada?
Yes, credit unions are very safe in Canada. In fact, all Canadian credit unions are either federally or provincially regulated and even have deposit guarantee frameworks in place that provide member-owners with deposit protection equal to (or higher than) the big banks in Canada.
Some provinces, such as Alberta, have unlimited coverage, meaning in the unlikely case of an economic collapse or bankruptcy, you would get back 100% of your deposits in Albertan credit unions.
Therefore, although many people mistake their smaller size as unsafe, credit unions can prove even safer than big banks in Canada.
Today’s list went over some of the best credit unions in Canada and what makes them so special.
I hope it will help you decide which credit union to choose in your province.
Don’t forget, banks have a significant amount of power with the amount of money they have at their disposal.
So choosing where you bank carefully will ensure that your deposits are doing more harm than good in the world, and credit unions can be a really good place to start for that by keeping your money local.
Are you reading up on Canadian credit unions? Check out this review on Coast Capital, which is the second-biggest credit union in Canada today.