PenFed Credit Union Review

PenFed Credit Union

Overall Rating

9

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a banking option that does everything well, you’ll definitely find it with PenFed Credit Union. While other credit unions might require a fee or only serve a particular community, PenFed is truly open to anyone who wants to become a member.

Pros

  • Competitive rates
  • Open to everyone
  • Solid customer service
  • Few fees

Cons

  • Only one checking account
  • Limited physical branches
  • No sign-up bonus

Pentagon Federal Credit Union, better known as simply PenFed Credit Union, is based out of McLean, Virginia.

PenFed was founded in 1935 and historically offered limited membership serving members of the armed forces and their families.

In 2018, through a series of acquisitions, PenFed obtained an open field of membership charter and now offers membership to the general American public.

Today, it’s the third-largest credit union in the US with two million members and $25 billion in assets. PenFed offers deposit accounts, credit cards, and home, auto, and personal loans.

In this post, you’ll get an overview of everything you can expect in a banking relationship with PenFed.

We’ll cover its popular most popular products, such as accounts and credit cards, plus some important things to consider like pricing and customer service.

In This Article

PenFed Credit Union Checking Account

PenFed currently offers one checking account option:

Access America Checking Account

PenFed’s lone checking account, Access America, is an interest-bearing checking account that earns an annual percentage yield (APY) of up to 0.35%.

There’s a $10 monthly fee, but you can get around it by receiving direct deposits of $500 or more or simply maintaining a daily balance of $500 or more.

The account comes with a contactless Visa debit card, online and mobile banking, and your first box of 50 checks for free.

The interest rate is tiered, so if your total checking balance is under $20,000, you’ll get an APY of 0.15%. Balances over $20,000 and up to $50,000 get the max rate of 0.35%.

To earn interest, you’ll need to receive monthly direct deposits of at least $500.

PenFed Credit Union Savings Accounts

Here are the current savings account options PenFed has to offer:

Premium Online Savings Account

Premium Online Savings is a high-yield savings account that comes with an APY of 0.45%. There’s a low minimum deposit requirement of $5 and no monthly fee.

You can easily set up recurring transfers between different PenFed accounts and make mobile deposits from the app.

There are no requirements to earn the highest interest rate and no maximum on dividends paid out.

Regular Savings Account

Regular Savings is a standard and straightforward savings account with a 0.05% APY.

There’s no monthly service fee or minimum balance requirements, and you need an initial deposit of $5 to open an account.

A Regular Savings account is required for PenFed membership, so you’ll have to open one to join, but you can always choose a different savings account once you’re in.

Money Market Savings Account

Money Market Savings is a fee-free account that comes with a tiered APY based on your total balance.

There’s a $25 minimum deposit required to open an account, and you’ll earn interest no matter how much you have in the account.

Overall, the rates are only marginally better than Regular Savings — balances lower than $10,000 earn the same 0.05%, while balances between $10,000 and $99,999 get 0.10%.

If your balance is over $100,000, you’ll get the max rate of 0.15%.

PenFed Credit Union Share Certificates (CDs)

Money Market Certificates

With a Money Market Certificate, you can set up a term length anywhere from 6 months to 7 years.

There’s an initial deposit requirement of $1,000, and you can choose to renew or close the account at maturity.

Money Market Certificate Rates:

  • 6 months: 0.25% APY
  • 12 months: 0.45% APY
  • 15 months: 0.45% APY
  • 18 months: 0.45% APY
  • 2 years: 0.50% APY
  • 3 years: 0.55% APY
  • 4 years: 0.60% APY
  • 5 years: 0.70% APY
  • 7 years: 0.75% APY

IRA Certificates

If you’re looking to save for retirement, you might want to consider an IRA Certificate.

You can choose from a Traditional, Roth, or SEP-IRA and can open one with as little as $1,000.

Term lengths range from one to 7 years, and there’s no penalty on principal if you have to make an early withdrawal.

IRA Certificate Rates:

  • 1 year: 0.40% APY
  • 2 years: 0.45% APY
  • 3 years: 0.50% APY
  • 4 years: 0.55% APY
  • 5 years: 0.65% APY
  • 7 years: 0.70% APY

Coverdell Education Savings Certificates

For those worried about their kids getting buried in student loans when it comes time for college, Coverdell Education Savings Certificates could provide an alternative.

These certificates are tailored for education expenses and allow for tax-free earnings on your deposits. You can open an account with $500, and there’s a maximum yearly contribution amount of $2,000.

Coverdell Education Savings Certificate Rates:

  • 1 year: 0.40% APY
  • 2 years: 0.45% APY
  • 3 years: 0.50% APY
  • 4 years: 0.55% APY
  • 5 years: 0.65% APY
  • 7 years: 0.70% APY

PenFed Credit Union Credit Cards

PenFed offers four different Visa credit cards to members, with different options for rewards or lower rates.

Each card requires a good to excellent credit score for approval, and you can apply and get approved in under a minute on the website.

Let’s look into the details of each card:

1. Gold Visa

Gold Visa comes with PenFed’s lowest available APR and has no annual fee. There’s a 0% promo APR for the first 12 months, plus a $100 bonus statement credit when you spend at least $1,500 in the first 90 days. Otherwise, Gold doesn’t come with any rewards.

2. Power Cash Rewards

Power Cash has no annual fee and earns 2% cashback on all purchases for PenFed Honors Advantage members. To qualify for the program, you’ll either need a PenFed checking account or have honorably served in the military. If you aren’t enrolled in the program, you’ll get 1.5% back on all purchases.

Power Cash comes with the same 0% promo APR and $100 bonus opportunity as Gold.

3. Platinum Rewards

Platinum Rewards is a points-based card that earns extra points in various categories. You’ll get 5x points at gas stations, 3x points at supermarkets, and 1x points on everything else.

There’s no annual fee, and the 0% intro APR and $100 bonus are also available with Platinum Rewards.

4. Pathfinder Rewards

Pathfinder Rewards is PenFed’s travel credit card and has an annual fee of $95 that’s waived for Honors Advantage members. Pathfinder Rewards earns 4x points on all travel categories for Honors Advantage members (3x otherwise) and 1.5x points on everything else.

Pathfinder Rewards also has PenFed’s best intro bonus, with a 0% APR for 12 months plus 50,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 or more in the first 90 days.

PenFed Credit Union Features

Here are the top features you can expect as a member of PenFed Credit Union:

50 Physical Branches

PenFed operates 50 brick-and-mortar branches in 13 states, Washington, DC, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Some of its locations are within military bases, staying true to its roots as a military-only credit union.

85,000 Free ATMs

PenFed is part of both the CO-OP and Allpoint networks, so members have access to more than 85,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide.

In-network ATMs can be found on the PenFed website (www.penfed.org) and commonly pop up in retailers like Target, CVS, and Walgreens.

Online Banking

Since PenFed has a pretty limited service area but offers banking products nationwide, a solid mobile banking platform is essential.

Online banking allows you to manage accounts, pay your bills, and move money around when you need to — even if you don’t live near a branch.

Mobile App

The PenFed mobile banking app is available on both iOS and Android and has built up a positive reputation on each platform — the app has a 4.2-star (out of 5) rating in the App Store and a 4.5-star (out of 5) rating in the Google Play Store.

Member Benefits

As a PenFed member, you’ll be in line for some exclusive discounts. Whether you’re buying a new car, filing your taxes, or getting your home insured, PenFed has partnerships that give members access to some better rates.

You can check out all of the discounts and offers that come along with PenFed here.

Fees

Like most credit unions, PenFed doesn’t overdo it when it comes to nickel and dime fees. That said, there are still some costs that might pop up, so let’s take a look at the most common fees that you could run into.

Monthly Maintenance Fees

PenFed mostly avoids monthly account fees, with the exception of its checking account.

There’s a $10 monthly fee for Access America Checking, but you can easily avoid it with a direct deposit or a minimum daily balance of $500 or more.

Otherwise, PenFed’s deposit accounts don’t have any monthly fees.

Overdraft Fees

If you overdraft your account, there’s a $30 non-sufficient funds (NSF) fee. PenFed offers overdraft protection, but only in the form of a line of credit.

Credit lines are available up to $500, and there’s no fee to access one, but keep in mind that there’s a fixed APR of 17.99% anytime you have to use it.

With this in mind, tread carefully when it comes to overdrafting with a PenFed account.

ATM Fees

PenFed doesn’t charge any fees for ATM use whether you use a network or out of network ATM. That said, it also doesn’t reimburse for out-of-network ATM fees.

You should be covered with more than 85,000 network ATMs available, but there’s no way around potential fees if you can’t find one.

Transfer Fees

Incoming wire transfers are free, but you’ll pay a $25 fee for outgoing domestic wires and $30 for international.

ACH transfers initiated at penfed.org are free, but there’s a fee of up to $10 if you use a third-party service.

Getting Started

As a financial institution that anyone can join, the process for joining PenFed is a little simpler than other credit unions.

Membership is open to the public, so signing up is similar to what you would expect with a bank.

To get started, just head to the PenFed website and enter your contact information. From there, it’s as simple as opening your savings account, and you’ll have full membership.

Once you’re a member, you’ll be able to apply for accounts or credit cards. You can open a new account online, over the phone, or at a branch.

PenFed Credit Union Promotions

PenFed is not currently running any sign-up bonuses for new accounts, but be sure to keep an eye out. As recently as April of 2021, PenFed was offering a $200 bonus for new Access America account holders.

The promotion was originally running through mid-June but seems to have been pulled early.

Bonuses like this come and go, so check back for any updates on future opportunities to earn cash with a new account.

Security

PenFed’s online security center is full of useful resources for safe banking online, though it’s entirely focused on how to protect yourself rather than its own security measures.

PenFed provides a ton of information on how to avoid scams and keep all of your devices secured. There’s also plenty of information about how to spot identity theft and how to responsibly use and keep track of your cards.

On the account side, PenFed is backed by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), so all of your deposits are protected up to $250,000.

Customer Service

Customer service is an area where PenFed excels, with a Trustpilot rating of 4.6 stars (out of 5).

When you need a hand, you can check out the online help center and browse through a wide range of resources and FAQs. You can also send a secure online message and upload any accompanying documents.

When you need to get someone on the phone, member service (724-473-633) is available on business days from 7 am to 11 pm Eastern Time.

On weekends, someone will be available from 8 am to 11 pm on Saturdays and 9 am to 5:30 pm on Sundays.

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Competitive rates
  • Open to everyone
  • Solid customer service
  • Few fees

Cons:

  • Only one checking account
  • Limited physical branches
  • Low Money Market rates
  • No sign-up bonus

Alternatives to PenFed Credit Union

PenFed isn’t the only national credit union that’s open to the public:

…all offer membership without significant requirements, though you might see a small fee for membership.

For those involved with the military, there are some options that still retain exclusive membership for those who serve or have in the past. Check out Navy Federal Credit Union or USAA to learn more.

If you’re after higher rates, it might be worth looking into online banks as an alternative. Take a look at banks like:

…who all offer digital financial products with low fees and high APYs.

FAQs

Is PenFed Credit Union legit?

Yes. PenFed is one of the largest credit unions in the US, is backed by the NCUA, and is also an Equal Housing Lender.

Can anyone join PenFed Credit Union?

Yes, but only as of recently. Prior to 2018, PenFed only offered accounts to service members and their families. Today, PenFed is open to everyone.

Is PenFed Credit Union nationwide?

Yes, but only online. PenFed has branches in 13 states, but residents of all 50 states plus US territories are eligible for membership.

Is PenFed FDIC-insured?

No. Credit unions are backed by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which serves the same role that the FDIC does for banks.

Is PenFed Credit Union Right For You?

Overall, PenFed is about as steady as it gets for a credit union option. There aren’t any serious red flags, but there also isn’t any aspect of the institution that stands out in a big way.

The rates are above the national average, but you won’t see the sort of APYs that make your head spin. Similarly, the fee schedule isn’t as packed as it is with big national banks, but it isn’t a truly fee-free platform.

As a credit union, one of the biggest things PenFed has going for it is that membership is easily obtained.

While others might require a fee or only serve a particular community, PenFed is truly open to anyone who wants to become a member.

If you’re looking for an option that does everything well, you’ll definitely find it with PenFed — even if there isn’t necessarily an exceptional aspect.

Whether you’re choosing a banking partner for the first time or looking to make a switch, PenFed is well worth considering.