PenFed Credit Union is one of the largest military-oriented financial service companies in the United States whose stated mission is to help its members achieve financial well-being. Read on to determine if you’re eligible for a PenFed membership, and how PenFed differentiates itself in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
What is PenFed?
The Pentagon Federal Credit Union, often shortened to simply PenFed, is the third-largest credit union in the United States, with assets close to $25 billion. Founded in 1935 and headquartered in McLean, Virginia, PenFed has expanded over the years and currently serves 1.9 million members across all fifty states as well as Guam, Puerto Rico, and Okinawa, Japan.
A credit union such as PenFed, as opposed to a bank, is a member-owned, not-for-profit financial cooperative that is created, owned, and operated by its participants. Income that is generated by PenFed is therefore re-invested into the enterprise to fund projects or services that can ultimately benefit its members.
PenFed’s core financial offerings include mortgages (including VA Loans), checking and savings accounts, credit cards, and loans (personal, auto, and home equity). It also offers certificates of deposit (CDs), retirement savings vehicles (IRAs), and has a separate wealth management arm that provides more customized financial planning services.
In addition to its core financial services business, PenFed has an affiliated nonprofit foundation that offers a host of programs for military families, from emergency financial assistance for unexpected events, to their Dream Makers fund for first-time homebuyers.
Overview of PenFed Membership Benefits
PenFed members benefit from industry-leading interest rates for checking (yes, checking accounts earn interest with PenFed), online savings, and money market certificates. Unlike other military-affiliated financial services companies, PenFed offers a high-yield online savings account that only requires a $5 initial balance and has no monthly fees.
PenFed members also have access to a host of discounts, from auto repair services and rental cars, to tax preparation services and floral delivery. Although PenFed’s checking and savings accounts are only free with a balance exceeding $500, accounts have a free bill pay feature and a highly-rated mobile app for seamless fund management.
Also, PenFed has a broad network of free ATMs (over 68,000), and if you happen to be in an area that does not have a PenFed-branded ATM, the withdrawal fee is only $1.50, which is less than the national average. To avoid paying any fees at all, members can use the mobile app to find the closest in-network ATM.
A final — yet important — member benefit is access to the PenFed Real Estate Rewards program, in which potential homebuyers are paired by PenFed with a network real estate agent as well as a preferred title provider. Members who used this program can avail themselves of closing costs or origination fee discounts, thereby reducing overall home buying expenses.
Who Is Eligible to Join PenFed?
PenFed membership is available to current or prior servicemembers and government employees (Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Public Health Service), or family members of both groups. Additionally, people who live or work at an eligible location are eligible to join PenFed. Finally, you can be eligible for membership by being a member of one of over 50 different associations.
For example, an individual with no military or government service, or family connections could join an eligible advocacy association (including the Military Officers Association of America, American Society of Military Comptrollers, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and U.S. Army Warrant Officers Association, to name a few) in order to qualify for PenFed membership.
Can You Join PenFed If You Are Not in the Military?
Yes, you can. Although most of PenFed’s members have a military affiliation, military service is not a requirement for membership. In fact, for those who are interested in joining PenFed but lack any type of military affiliation or relationship to meet eligibility criteria, it is possible to join an affiliated advocacy group — such as the National Military Family Association or the Voices for America’s Troops organizations — in order to meet eligibility standards (after paying a small fee). If you are not a current or prior servicemember or an eligible family member but wish to become a PenFed member, there is even a special box that you can tick on the application.
What Information or Documentation Is Needed to Join?
Becoming a PenFed member is extremely simple and efficient. The online application requires your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, telephone number, email, and employment status. After entering your personal information, you’ll have to select the appropriate eligibility channel and denote whether you’re a servicemember, veteran, family member, or member of an affiliated organization. Remember, even if you are not affiliated with the U.S. military, you can still join PenFed. Applications can also be submitted by mail or over the phone by calling: 1-800-247-5626.