Citizens Equity First Credit Union (CEFCU) was founded in 1937 to serve employees of Caterpillar. This was during the Great Depression, at that time it was difficult for many people to get affordable loans, that is when a small group of Caterpillar employees formed the Credit Union during their lunch hour by pooling together what little money they had in a cigar box. This money was used to make affordable loans to Credit Union members — with one member’s savings used to help another member who needed a loan. CEFCU carries on the Credit Union tradition of “members helping members” still today. Currently CEFCU has expanded and grown to serve members primarily located in the state of Illinois in 14 counties and three counties in California located around the Bay Area. Their membership is open to those who currently work or have retired from Caterpillar along with 500 other partner companies.

Rank Chart
Total Assets
Number of Locations
Our Score
$8.32 Billion
$17.84 Billion
$66.82 Billion


The Good

CEFCU is a fully operational credit union that gives their members access to many financial tools to help them succeed in creating a financial future for themselves. They currently offer two kinds of checking accounts. A Free checking account and a dividend checking account, both accounts have many of the same perks such as both are free, 24/7 account access through Touch-Tone Teller, Money Center 24, CEFCU On-Line Internet Banking, or Mobile Banking. Members also have access to their accounts with over 30,000 Surcharge-free ATMs when you use a CEFCU Debit Card. They also offer low-cost overdraft protection options and access to CEFCU Bill Pay. The Free checking account only requires a $5 minimum balance to open.

A CEFCU basic savings account has an average rate of .15% APY. This is right in the middle compared to other Credit Unions.  They do offer other savings plans and certificates that can get you better rates on your returns.  A CEFCU Savings Certificate also has a decent rate with it as well. A 12-month certificate in any amount up to $1000 will earn a .35% APY, and the increase in rate is if you deposit your money for 18 months or more increases to .55%.

In addition to the various accounts, they offer their members, they also offer 3 different kinds of credit cards each with its own benefit so their members can choose what will be the best for their financial needs. The following are the card options and the benefits of that card:

  • MasterCard: 8.50% Variable interest rate, and Fuel Rewards with travel benefits
  • MasterCard Rewards: 9.50% Variable interest rate and members can earn points to cash in for gift cards, travel, etc.
  • MasterCard World: 9.50% Variable interest rate this card offers everything the first 2 cards have plus earns bonus points.

The Bad

When you open an account with Citizens Equity First Credit Union be aware, they do have a one-time membership fee of only $1, but still most credit unions are typically free from any kind of membership fee and there may be hidden fees on other accounts. CEFCU isn’t completely transparent about their fee schedule as it is not available to view online and you must go into a branch to inquire about any fees.

CEFCU Free checking does not offer a dividend. A member must open a CEFCU Dividend checking account that requires a $2,500 minimum daily balance and $2,500 to open.  Checking account dividends are Tiered starting at $2,500 min balance, $5000, and $10,000, but the rate stays the same at .10% APY for all amounts. Unless you open an Insured Money Market account the rate will not increase, and the Insured Money Market Account requires the same amount of money for a deposit but looks like it might cost something or have higher fees.

They say they offer mobile banking; however an app for CEFCU could not be located for either Apple devices or Android. CEFCU does not have a ton of branch locations, even for being available in 2 states, the majority of the branches are located Illinois, with only a few in California.

The Bottom Line

Citizens Equity First Credit Union has comparable rates and offers all of the basics a member would need from their credit union. If you are looking for a free checking account that will earn you some dividend they do not offer that with a standard account. Some Credit Unions go above and beyond for their members and do offer free dividend checking if this is something a member is looking for they should search for another financial institution.  If you are looking for local access to CEFCU they only have a few branches available, but members do have access to their accounts via online, or with ATMs across the United States. CEFCU is a good credit union and could provide a member with the basics, but unless you are in a higher financial tier it may take some time to see your money grow. This shows that they are willing to adhere to a certain standard for working with their members.

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