top of page

City Survey: Washington, DC

Our nation’s capital has a wealth of Better Banking Options

Washington, DC, is a unique city just in appearances, with a federal law prohibiting the height of any building within the city from being taller than 110 feet. It’s also unique in that the District is separate from any statehood but hasn’t earned a statehood of its own, even though the population of DC is greater than the populations of Wyoming and Vermont combined. This is a point of contention for many residents who have made their unofficial motto “taxation without representation, referring to the fact that they are required to contribute like any federal citizen but have no voting representation in Congress.

Many people attribute this disenfranchisement as one of many ways our political system excludes and underrepresents people of color. Certainly, the demographic spread of DC has long reflected the diversity, and unfortunately, segregation in many American communities. Washington, DC, not only has a significant immigrant population (14% of DC residents are foreign-born), but was a Black-majority area from the 1950s through 2011. The District of Columbia is listed by the University of California, Berkeley, as the 13th most segregated metro area in the country, and this segregation has only gotten worse in the last few decades.

Although the fight for proper representation and equity in DC is still ongoing, one thing residents of our nation’s capital can do RIGHT NOW to positively impact their community is moving their money to a Better Banking Option.

These are our Better Banking Options for Washington, DC, and the surrounding area.

DC Credit Union was formed in 1954 to meet the specific banking needs of government employees in the District of Columbia. Since then, they’ve extended their eligibility to those who live and work in the Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant, and Columbia Heights neighborhoods. However, they haven’t forgotten this history; we featured this Better Banking Option in the aftermath of the longest ever government shutdown because they offered federal employees with preexisting loans the ability to skip a loan payment without fees. Their primary mission is to extend credit opportunities in these neighborhoods, especially to unbanked and underbanked immigrant populations. One of their branches, located in a Latinx-majority area, even offers services in Spanish. They’ve earned CDFI, MDI and LICU designations, as well as being a CDCU member. We would recommend them to anyone looking for an ethical credit union in the DC area. e

Industrial Bank has roots in DC going back nearly a century, beginning as Industrial Savings Bank in 1913 as the first Black-owned bank in the area. After being forced to close due to the Great Depression, it was reopened and renamed in 1934 and has remained family owned since. Specifically addressing the needs of Washington, DC’s Black neighborhoods, Industrial prides itself on its strong relationship building with residents and community groups, as well as their wealth of financial literacy resources. They’ve earned CDFI and MDI designations, as well as an Outstanding CRA rating, and all of their branches are located in Black-majority neighborhoods. We would recommend them to anyone wanting to support Black families in Washington, DC.

National Cooperative Bank is an exceptional choice on this list. They don’t do much “quality lending” as we define it (housing lending and small business lending, find out why here), but still strive to make a positive impact in their community through their loan portfolio. On their website, they describe their mission as “to support and be an advocate for America’s cooperatives and their members, especially in low-income communities, by providing innovative financial and related services.” This kind of lending is not required to be reported to government regulating institutions, and therefore doesn’t show up in our search engine metric. However, this kind of alternative lending is still extremely impactful and necessary, and we would recommend National Cooperative Bank to anyone wanting to support co-ops in low-income communities. While they have a national focus, their headquarters is located in Arlington, VA, allowing them to work with government entities to secure federal funding for their co-op members.

There are also a number of credit unions in the Washington, DC, area that specifically serve a select group or community. For example, they may only accept members who work for a particular company or worship in a particular church. We would encourage residents of the District to check out any credit unions like this which they are able to join, as many of them show up in the top of the scoring results when looking up the area in our search engine. We feature some below with more open eligibility that also do significant quality lending.

AFL-CIO Employees FCU is a union-oriented credit union that is part of the AFL-CIO, or the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. This is the largest federation of unions in the U.S., and is made up of 56 national and international unions. Anyone who is a member of one of these unions (or several others, outlined on the eligibility page of their site) can become a member of this credit union that specifically works to serve union workers and their families. As well as being an LICU, they’re the third Better Banking Option that comes up when you look up DC in our search engine. There is only one location, in Washington, DC, but they offer access to their accounts from many ATMs, one of which you can find here. We’d recommend them to any union member that falls under their umbrella of eligibility, as this credit union is specifically suited to their financial needs.

Democracy FCU was first opened in 1936 as Social Security Employees Credit Union, and has developed over the last 86 years to become the credit union they are today. Headquartered in Alexandria, VA, with open eligibility to anyone that lives, works, or worships in Washington, DC, (and most areas directly outside of DC), they strive to provide excellent banking services to their customers in order to help each member succeed. Democracy FCU has earned LICU and CDFI designations, and are an MDI with a Black-majority membership. They have two branches in DC, two branches outside of DC, and one branch in Philadelphia. We’d recommend them to anyone looking for a modern and relational credit union with a commitment to great service and the city they work in.

DOC (Department of Commerce) FCU has been around for nearly 100 years, and was originally formed to specifically serve those who worked for the Department of Commerce or their affiliates. They now have open eligibility to anyone who lives, works, or worships in Washington, DC, including residents without U.S. citizenship. As well as being an LICU, they’re also the second option to show up when you look up DC in our search engine, mostly due to their quality lending. They have two branches currently open as of this article being published, one at the Department of Commerce and one in Silver Spring, MD. We’d recommend them to anyone comfortable with a federal depository institution that also wants their deposits to be used for community development in the District of Columbia.

OAS (Organization of American States) FCU is a credit union with an international focus, as they formed in 1962 to serve members of the OAS. They’ve since grown significantly since then to serve members of more than 38 global organizations, including the National Geographic Society after a merge with their credit union. This credit union was created to cater to the needs of those who travel outside the country often, as financial access can often be difficult in these cases. As well as being a Latinx-majority MDI, they’re also the first option that shows up in our search engine when you look up DC. They have two branches in DC, but members also have access to accounts from many shared branches in their network. We would recommend OAS FCU to anyone belonging to one of the organizations they serve, but especially to those who travel internationally on a regular basis.

All of these Better Banking Options offer online and mobile banking options, so if you fall within their eligibility, anyone can invest in community development in the United States capital.

While DC residents work for representation in Congress, they can make a difference through their deposits at one of the many Better Banking Options available to them. There are more than we could even include on this list, so if none of the above quite fit, try looking up DC in our search engine. There’s never been a better time to move your money and have it start making a difference in your community.


bottom of page