PenFed Credit Union Review

Credit union with competitive rates on checking and online savings

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PFCU

PenFed Credit Union was formed in 1935. It is formally known as the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, and its headquarters are in McLean, Va. Originally, membership was limited to those with ties to the military or the federal government. Now that this credit union has an open charter, anyone may join.

There are now more than 1.9 million members of PenFed Credit Union with more than $25 billion in assets. Members have access to 48 branches throughout the U.S. and on military bases in Guam, Japan, and Puerto Rico.

  • Pros & Cons
  • Company Overview
Pros & Cons
Pros
  • High-yield checking account with easy-to-waive monthly fees

  • Online savings account with a competitive dividend rate

  • Low minimum deposit to open checking and savings accounts

Cons
  • Limited number of branches

  • Does not reimburse ATM fees charged by other banks

  • Stiff penalties for early withdrawal from money market certificates

Company Overview
  • Year Founded 1935
  • Official Website www.penfed.org
  • Banking Products Offered Savings, checking, CDs, MMA, credit cards
  • Customer Service Phone line: Monday–Friday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. (EST); Saturday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. (EST); Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (EST): 1-800-247-5626.

Pros Explained

  • High-yield checking account with easy-to-waive monthly fees – Dividend-bearing checking accounts usually have a meager dividend rate. The Access America Checking account offers a high yield and no monthly fee with a daily balance or monthly direct deposit of $500 or more.
  • Online savings account offering a competitive dividend rate – The Premium Online Savings account has a competitive dividend rate with no monthly fees. Plus, it only requires a $5 deposit to open.
  • Low minimum deposit to open checking and savings accounts – You can open a checking, savings, or money market account with PenFed for $25 or less. This makes it easier for people as they transition their accounts from their old bank.

Cons Explained

  • Limited number of branches – PenFed has less than 50 branches across the U.S. This is a problem for people who want the comfort of a physical branch nearby.
  • Does not reimburse ATM fees charged by other banks – If you use another bank’s ATM, PenFed does not charge a fee. However, PenFed will not reimburse you for that bank’s fees, because it partners with Allpoint, RiteAid, and others to provide fee-free access to more than 68,000 ATMs.
  • Stiff penalties for early withdrawal from money market certificates – Members who need to access their money before their money market certificate matures could pay a stiff penalty. For example, a one-year term would forfeit all dividends earned if withdrawn before maturity.

Who Is PenFed Credit Union Best For?

PenFed Credit Union is best for consumers who want high-yield accounts with low minimum deposit requirements and low fees. It may be a good fit if you:

  • Prefer to bank online
  • Want to earn a high yield on your checking and savings accounts and money market certificates
  • Are looking for a low minimum opening deposit requirement
  • Want to waive monthly fees easily
  • Prefer a full-service bank that offers many products and services
  • Want a credit card with no annual fee

What Does PenFed Credit Union Offer?

PenFed Credit Union offers an array of deposit accounts, loans, and services to meet your needs. Because it is a membership-based credit union, deposit rates tend to be higher than with a traditional bank.

Although PenFed was historically limited to people with ties to the military and government, membership is now open to all citizens and permanent residents of the U.S.

Checking Accounts

PenFed currently offers only one checking account: Access America Checking. This dividend-bearing checking account has two tiers of annual percentage yields (APYs), depending on your daily balance. For balances above $50,000, no dividends are earned.

There is a $25 minimum deposit required to open your account. The monthly fee of $10 is waived with a daily balance of $500 or direct deposits totaling at least $500 per month.

Members can use more than 68,000 ATMs with no fee. Although PenFed Credit Union has limited ATMs that it owns, the credit union partners with Allpoint, Target, CVS, Walgreens, and more, so that members can use an ATM without being charged. If you use another bank’s ATM, PenFed Credit Union does not charge a fee. However, it will not reimburse you for any fees charged by the owner of that ATM.

PENFED CREDIT UNION CHECKING ACCOUNTS
ACCOUNT NAME MINIMUM OPENING DEPOSIT MONTHLY FEE ANNUAL PERCENTAGE YIELD (APY)
Access America Checking $25 $10 0.20%  $0 to $19,999

0.50%  $20,000 to $50,000

0.00%  $50,001+
(As of August 4, 2020)

Money Market Savings Accounts

The Money Market Savings account earns a higher rate of dividends, depending on the amount deposited. There is a minimum opening deposit of $25 and no monthly service fees. Free checks are available upon request, so members have easy access to their funds.

PENFED CREDIT UNION MONEY MARKET ACCOUNTS
ACCOUNT NAME MINIMUM OPENING DEPOSIT MONTHLY FEE ANNUAL PERCENTAGE YIELD (APY)
Money Market Savings $25 $0 0.05%  $0 to $9,999

0.10%  $10,000 to $99,999

0.15%  $100,000+
(As of August 4, 2020)

Savings Accounts

PenFed Credit Union has a Regular Savings account and an online-only option. The Regular Savings account can be opened with $5 and has no monthly fees with electronic statements. If you choose paper statements, there is a fee of $1 per month.

The Premium Online Savings account is a high-yield savings account with a competitive dividend rate (though it’s not as high as the best rates going) and no monthly fees. There is a $5 minimum to open this account as well.

PENFED SAVINGS ACCOUNTS
ACCOUNT NAME MINIMUM OPENING DEPOSIT MONTHLY FEE ANNUAL PERCENTAGE YIELD (APY)
Regular Savings $5 $0 0.05%
Premium Online Savings $5 $0 0.60%
(As of October 5, 2020)

Money Market Certificates

Credit unions use the term “money market certificates” instead of “certificates of deposit (CDs).” PenFed Credit Union has money market certificates ranging from six months to seven years. A minimum deposit of $1,000 is required to open an account.

Money market certificates are also available for individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and Coverdell education savings accounts for college. The required minimum deposit for a Coverdell account is reduced to $500.

At maturity money market certificates will renew automatically unless you selected the nonrenewal option. When this happens the funds will be automatically deposited into a regular savings account.

PENFED MONEY MARKET CERTIFICATE RATES
TERM MONEY MARKET CERTIFICATES APY IRA CERTIFICATES APY COVERDELL EDUCATION SAVINGS CERTIFICATES APY
Six Months 0.30% N/A N/A
One Year 0.50% 0.40% 0.40%
15 Months 0.50% N/A N/A
18 Months 0.50% N/A N/A
Two Years 0.55% 0.45% 0.45%
Three Years 0.60% 0.50% 0.50%
Four Years 0.65% 0.55% 0.55%
Five Years 0.80% 0.70% 0.70%
Seven Years 0.90% 0.80% 0.80%
(As of October 2, 2020)

If you withdraw from the money market certificate prior to maturity, there is a penalty based on the term selected. The penalties seem to be stiffer than what other banks charge for the same term.

PENFED MONEY MARKET CERTIFICATES EARLY TERMINATION PENALTIES
TERM PENALTY
Six Months or Less Within 90 days or less, the penalty is all dividends earned.

After 90 days, the penalty is 90 days interest.
More Than Six Months During the first year, all dividends are forfeited.

After the first year, the penalty is 30% of what would have been earned if held to maturity, not to exceed dividends earned.
(As of July 10, 2020)

Credit Cards

PenFed has three credit card choices for its members. All three have no annual fee and offer a 12-month 0% balance transfer promotion for new accounts. Members can select from a low annual percentage rate (APR), cash back, or rewards, depending upon their needs.

  • PenFed Gold Visa Card
  • PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature Card
  • PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card

Other Financial Products Offered by PenFed Credit Union

In addition to the deposit products listed above, PenFed Credit Union members also have access to the following products and services:

PenFed Credit Union Customer Service

Customer service is available by phone (1-800-247-5626) Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST. During the weekends live customer service is available from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.

PenFed Credit Union is available by secure messaging online and through its mobile app 24 hours a day. Members can download its mobile app for Apple (4.1 stars, 5,300 ratings) and Android (4.4 stars, 11,389 ratings). 

Because it is a credit union, its deposits are insured by the National Credit Union Association (NCUA) instead of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

How to Bank With PenFed Credit Union

If you’d like to bank with PenFed Credit Union, becoming a member is simple. Now that it has opened its charter, membership is available to any American or permanent resident who wishes to open an account.

You can open an account online or by visiting one of the PenFed Credit Union branches. The online-only savings account can only be opened online.

Verdict

Membership with PenFed Credit Union used to be limited to people who have close ties to the military and the federal government. Since it opened its charter to allow more people to join, its attractive products and services are now available to every American. PenFed Credit Union offers competitive rates and fees on its checking, online savings, and money market certificates. It offers a full suite of deposit and lending products and services that are comparable to larger banks. As long as you don’t need a physical branch nearby, you can perform all of your banking needs online, through its app, or on its partner network of ATMs.

Methodology

Investopedia is dedicated to providing consumers with unbiased, comprehensive reviews of banks. We collected over 20 data points across more than 80 banks—including products available, interest rates, fees, and accessibility—to ensure that our content helps users make the right decision for their savings and banking needs.

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  1. Apple.com. "PenFed Mobile." Accessed July 10, 2020.

  2. Google.com. "PenFed." Accessed July 10, 2020.