PenFed Credit Union review: Checking, savings, and much, much more

This highly rated credit union opens its membership to everyone

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Sara Coleman

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Sara Coleman

Sara Coleman

Insurance Expert

Sara Coleman is a personal finance writer at Policygenius covering brand reviews.

Published November 4, 2021|5 min read

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4.6 / 5

PenFed Credit Union, also known as Pentagon Federal Credit Union, is a membership-based financial institution serving its members since 1935. While the name might suggest the credit union only services the military, PenFed membership is more inclusive. In fact, it’s open to everyone in the United States. PenFed now counts over 2.1 million [1] as members, and credit unions in general have become increasingly popular among consumers, with membership totals reaching over 126 million in 2020. This also means competition has increased. So, can a credit union that dates back prior to World War II keep up with the financial needs of today’s consumers?

PenFed Credit Union

OVERALL

Out of 5. See our Methodology section at the bottom of the page.

4.6

THE GOOD

    Abundant financial offerings including checking, savings, loans, and insurance

    Convenient account access, both online and a mobile app

    Anyone can apply for membership

    Exclusive discounts and perks for members

    Upfront and transparent language

THE BAD

    Hefty fees for specific items, including nonsufficient funds

    Account minimums are steep compared to other options

    Limited physical branch locations

    Only one major checking account option

THE BOTTOM LINE

PenFed is a solid choice for consumers who are looking for the benefits of a credit union combined with the modern choices and conveniences you find with big banks. PenFed receives strong marks for customer reviews and offers members plenty of options for checking, savings, and multiple other financial products.

Savings APY

See our Methodology section at the bottom of the page for more details.

10.0

Offerings

See our Methodology section at the bottom of the page for more details.

10.0

Mobile App

See our Methodology section at the bottom of the page for more details.

10.0

Fees

See our Methodology section at the bottom of the page for more details.

6.0

Support

See our Methodology section at the bottom of the page for more details.

10.0

The good

Wide variety of financial services

PenFed offers a number of financial services that would rival any of the mega-sized banks. In addition to the standard checking and savings accounts, you will find options including:

  • Online savings accounts

  • Multiple certificate choices — similar to certificates of deposits with other institutions

  • Money market savings accounts

  • Variety of credit card choices, including rewards cards with no annual fees

  • Numerous IRA selections available

  • Auto loans

  • Mortgage center with options for first-time home buyers, refinancing, and VA loans

  • Personal loans and lines of credit

  • Student loan refinancing

  • Purchase an extended warranty or gap insurance for your vehicle

Access from anywhere

PenFed has physical branches in about 40 locations across the country, including Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam, and you can always access your account info 24/7 online or through the app. The app offers added convenience, with the ability to check your balance, make a mobile deposit, check on your loan status — all the tasks you expect to be able to perform with a highly rated app. 

PenFed uses a network of over 85,000 fee-free ATMs, so checking account holders can take advantage of the large ATM network and avoid additional fees. ATM locations are in popular retail stores too, including Target, CVS Pharmacy, and Kroger.

Membership for all 

Credit union membership is often limited to a geographic area or employer, but PenFed accepts applications from anyone. In the past, PenFed was only open to members of the military, but has since updated its membership requirements. The application process does require personal data, such as Social Security numbers and employment status. Once the application is complete, you’ll be notified if your request to join was approved. There may be minimum deposit requirements for certain accounts too. 

Membership with benefits

Members enjoy nice little extras such as discounts on rental cars through National Car Rental and Alamo, plus access to multiple car insurance products, including extended warranty services. There are exclusive member discounts ranging from home security systems savings to tax planning services. 

Transparent language

With PenFed, there’s no guessing how much is required to open a certain account or what fees may be assessed. The credit union is quite transparent about the choices available to members and possible fees associated with each account.

PenFed Credit Union in the news

  • PenFed recently announced it was joining forces with the Navy Federal Credit Union and USAA to pledge funds focused on military spouse employment resources. 

  • PenFed has announced it is breaking its own records for mortgage loan origination and auto loan applications. These increases help solidify its ranking as the third largest credit union with over $29 billion in assets.

The bad 

Watch out for fees

Like other financial institutions, PenFed charges additional fees [2] P if you use an out-of-network ATM or fail to maintain a minimum balance with certain checking or savings account options. The $30 nonsufficient funds fee is another one that may cause a little heartburn, but you can also apply for a line of credit to help protect against overdrafts. 

Account minimums may put some options out of reach

While the rates for share certificates (commonly referred to as CDs with other financial institutions) are fairly competitive, the minimum deposit required may not be as attractive. The money market and IRA certificates require a minimum deposit of $1,000, while the Coverdell Education Certificate option requires a minimum of $500. 

Limited locations

If physical locations are important then the 40 options across 13 states may not be ideal. If there isn’t a location near you then you’ll need to take care of account management either online, through the app, or calling customer service. 

Minimal checking account options

PenFed currently offers only one checking account option, which is the Access America Checking. The checking account does offer a couple of benefits, such as no monthly fee if you maintain a $500 daily balance or set up direct deposit, plus a 2% cash back rewards program through the PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature card.

Reputation

PenFed has developed a solid reputation after 85 years as an established credit union. While most might associate the financial institution with military service, it has branched out to allow membership applications to include almost everyone in the U.S. This seems to have contributed to the large increase in membership over the last few years, and perhaps the greater amount of financial services being offered as well. 

From a customer service standpoint, PenFed is not officially accredited by the Better Business Bureau. However, the BBB does give PenFed an overall A+ rating. It should be noted there are 365 registered complaints against the McLean, Virginia-based credit union (205 complaints have been closed in the last 12 months), with customers rating the credit union an average of 1.15 stars out of five. There is little activity of complaints against PenFed noted in the CFPB.

Methodology

To compare PenFed Credit Union with other options and determine the best banks and credit unions of 2021, we collected quantitative data on more than 50 major U.S. financial institutions. Specifically, we looked at savings account APYs, product offerings, fees, mobile app satisfaction, and customer support. We rated each aspect on a scale from 1 to 5, then averaged the five scores into a single rating. Here’s a detailed breakdown of each scoring matrix.

Savings account APY

We rated the highest APY that each bank or credit union offers on a savings account (excluding accounts or rates with a minimum balance requirement greater than $1,000).

Rating

Best Savings APY

1

Less than 0.1%

2

0.10%-0.19%

3

0.20%-0.29%

4

0.30%-0.39%

5

0.40%+

Offerings

We counted how many product lines each institution offers, since many people enjoy the convenience of keeping multiple accounts at the same bank. We included deposit accounts (checking, savings, money market, certificates of deposit), credit cards, loans (personal, student, auto, home equity), mortgages and mortgage refinancing, retirement accounts, and investment accounts as distinct qualifying offerings.

Rating

Offerings

1

1 offering

2

2 offerings

3

3 offerings

4

4 offerings

5

5+ offerings

Mobile app satisfaction

Since mobile apps are increasingly becoming the primary way people manage their bank accounts, we consulted the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Banking Mobile App Satisfaction Study. For any banks or credit unions that weren’t included in the study, we used mobile app customer ratings from the Google Play store.

Rating

J.D. Power Score

App Store Score

1

Less than 840

Less than 3.0

2

840-849

3.0-3.4

3

850-859

3.5-3.9

4

860-869

4.0-4.4

5

870+

4.5+

Fees

We consulted every bank’s fee schedule and terms and conditions to search for any of the following: monthly maintenance fee, overdraft fee, insufficient funds fee, debit card replacement fee, account closure fee, and stop payment order fee.

Rating

Qualifying Fees

1

4+ fees

2

3 fees

3

2 fees

4

1 fee

5

0 fees

Customer support

Since different people prefer different support options at different times, we counted how many customer support channels each bank offers, including telephone, email, online chat, mobile app, online forums, online learning center, and physical branches.

Rating

Support Channels

1

1 option

2

2 options

3

3 options

4

4 options

5

5+ options