What are the best military credit unions and banks? For this discussion, we’re not talking about financial institutions that cater to all applicants including military members; these banks and credit unions were created specifically to serve military members, their families, and in most cases other federal employees and their family members.
Membership requirements apply and in many cases there are specific perks for military customers including early deposit of military pay, fee-free checking accounts, and preferred access to certain services including ATM networks and credit cards.
There are lots of online reviews of these military banks and credit unions but potential customers should keep a couple of important things in mind when considering your choices:
- Location counts. Some military banks serve as regional institutions and restrict membership or new accounts to certain states. Some have expanded networks to add value for military members who are far away from their local branch, and others may feature services for those deployed or TDY who cannot get local assistance where they are serving.
- Be sure to read ALL the terms and requirements for new accounts. Some applicants who skim over the requirements might assume that the restrictions for some of these banks (often new accounts may be limited to certain states as you’ll read below) apply to ALL applicants. Sometimes they do not, especially where those who serve overseas or who are deployed quickly learn.
- Not all banks provide the same services. You may find one credit union offers credit-building secured credit card services for first-term enlisted members while others do not. The same is true of certain VA home loan products–you may find a typical VA mortgage is offered by your participating lender, but not all lenders offer the same type of mortgage loans. You’ll want to ask whether the bank you are considering has the loan services you need if your financial goals include buying a home.
Navy Federal Credit Union
Also known as NFCU, Navy Federal is a members-only military bank which started in 1933–a group of seven employees of the Department of the Navy who created a credit union to offer military members and military-affiliated family members and others “affordable rates and manageable terms” for military banking.
NFCU membership is open to DoD personnel including (but not limited to):
- Active Duty members of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard and Space Force
- Recruits in the Delayed Entry Program
- DoD Officer Candidates
- ROTC members
- DoD Reservists
- Military retirees and annuitants
Perks and features of NFCU include Active Duty Checking featuring ATM rebates and free military checks. NFCU customers who have military direct deposit can access their funds early as well as qualify for discounts on “select loans”. Navy Federal members can apply for 100% financing on VA mortgages, and those who are attending a military service academy have additional discounts and bonuses offered to them. In general, banking services with NFCU include:
- Military checking and saving
- Home loans
- Auto loans
- Credit cards and credit card cash rewards
- Personal loans
- Private student loans
- Certificates of deposit
Like the other military banks listed here, there are mobile banking options and those interested in buying vehicles like motorcycles, boats, or “leisure vehicles” featuring no-money-down options plus discounts for those who serve.
USAA is a members-only military bank that features comprehensive financial services from checking accounts, auto loans, and retirement planning to insurance and investment services. USAA gets high marks from companies like the research firm Forrester, and Bankrate.com for customer service and other features.
2018 was the fifth consecutive year USAA was recognized by Fortune as a “World’s Most Admired Companies” and shared that distinction with global brands including Apple, Southwest Airlines, and Starbucks.
USAA has more than 12 million members worldwide, and military members are offered perks that have included no minimum balance requirements on military checking and access to more than 60,000 USAA preferred ATMs. The company’s mobile banking features are helpful for those stationed overseas or who are deployed. Membership in USAA comes with shopping and dining perks, car buying discounts, and travel discounts.
Membership in USAA is offered to:
- Current and former military members
- Family members of current and former military
- Officer candidates
- Contracted Cadet or Midshipman
Pentagon Federal Credit Union
Also known as PenFed, this military bank was started in 1935 and serves more than two million members in all 50 states as well as in Guam, Puerto Rico, and Japan. Joining PenFed usually requires qualifying military or federal service, but there are other options for an account including being eligible to apply if you join certain qualifying charities.
Potential customers take note, military service is NOT the only way you may qualify to join–it’s best to fill out the online application and determine which “path” to an account might work best for your circumstances.
Financial services at PenFed include:
- Military banking
- Home loans
- Auto loans
- Credit card services
- Certificates of Deposit
- Next-day personal loans
For mortgage loans, PenFed offers title services for those buying residential or commercial properties in Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virginia.
PenFed has more than 50,000 ATMs and the PenFed mobile App lets service members bank anywhere they can get a cell phone signal whether deployed, TDY, or in the middle of a PCS move. The financial institution also offers “payment saver” car loans that feature a lower monthly payment in return for making a larger “balloon payment” at the end of the loan.
Andrews Federal Credit Union
The Andrews Federal Credit Union story begins in 1948; the Andrews official site says that year, “…eight people came together to deposit $5 each,” and those humble beginnings evolved into a financial institution used by more than 130,000 members who reside on the east coast and/or in Europe.
Like the other military banks mentioned here, there is a sizable network of ATMS and there is a very low minimum deposit requirement (a $5 balance per month as listed at press time, but such details are always subject to change) and for certificates of deposit there are perks for maintaining larger balances.
Membership requirements include (but are not limited to) the following:
- The applicant is employed by, or a member of, a qualifying “Employer Group”
- The applicant lives, works, attends schools, or worships in Washington, D.C.
- The applicant is, or plans to become, a member of the American Consumer Council
- U.S. Active Duty or U.S. Retired Military Personnel, their spouses, dependents or dependent survivors, civilian employees, etc. “assigned to, or eligible to and are currently receiving benefits or services on a regular basis from Joint Base Andrews or Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst”
- Active Duty U.S. Military, civilian personnel, dependents or dependent survivors of the Department of Defense “who have a valid Uniformed Services Identification and Privilege Card and who are authorized logistical support in accordance with the appropriate host nation Status of Forces Agreement” and work or live “within Andrews’ assigned geographical territory, consisting of areas in: the Netherlands, Belgium, and northern and central Germany”
Andrew Federal Credit Union features financial products and services including:
- Military savings and checking
- Business savings accounts
- Consumer Loans
- Home Loans
- Business Loans
- Retirement planning
- Investment services such as certificates of deposit
Security Service Federal Credit Union
Founded in 1956, Security Service Federal Credit Union has branches in a limited number of states, but utilizes a co-op network for branch banking and ATM access. This financial institution got its start as the United States Air Force Security Service Federal Credit Union at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas–back then it had only eight members and a modest $25 in deposits.
Membership is more tightly controlled than with some other lenders in this list; DoD employees, and military members stationed in Texas, Colorado, and Utah are all eligible to join.
That said, the Security Service Federal Credit Union official site states there are more than “2,600 ways to qualify for Security Service membership”. There are roughly 5,000 ATMs in this credit union’s network.
Financial services include:
- Checking and savings, including mobile banking, money market accounts, and “some of the highest checking account rates available” with certain “power checking” accounts
- Home loans including an option to have select closing costs paid for those who qualify
- There are also home equity loan options
- Non-mortgage loans & credit cards including pre-approval for auto loans, personal loans, credit card rewards programs with low APRs, etc. Security Service Federal Credit Union also offers student loans
- Insurance options including property/casualty, long-term care insurance, and life insurance
This credit union also features a “Salute The Strong” program offering qualifying military customers military deployment loans which the official site offers “quick cash with low rates” for those facing a military deployment. They also feature “deployment services” to lower insurance expenses or even to “get approval to ship your vehicle”.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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