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The United Services Automobile Association, more commonly known as simply USAA, is frequently lauded by U.S. servicemembers and their families for their world-wide accessibility and commitment to excellent customer service. Founded in 1922 by 25 Army officers who sought to insure one another’s vehicles, USAA has since grown its membership to over 13 million and seeks to be the military community’s financial services provider of choice. This article will help you determine whether or not you are eligible for USAA membership, and what benefits are entailed.
What is USAA?
USAA is a member-owned insurance and financial services company that serves predominantly military servicemembers and their families. This means that all members are part owners, which ensures member buy-in in company decision-making and the receipt of annual distributions from surpluses in collected insurance premiums. Headquartered in San Antonio, USAA employs more than 35,000 worldwide, including a large proportion of military spouses and veterans.
With almost $200 billion in assets, USAA is a Fortune 500® company (though it has retained a local, customer service-oriented vibe, reflected by some of the best customer satisfaction ratings in the insurance and financial services industries and a nearly 96% member retention rating). Unlike other financial services companies, USAA is membership-based and has eligibility criteria that must be met in order to participate.
USAA’s major offerings include:
- Insurance Products – Auto insurance, homeowner’s insurance, life insurance, renter’s insurance, and more.
- Banking products – Checking and Savings accounts, credit cards, mortgages and VA Loans, auto loans, and more.
- Investment services – in partnership with other financial services affiliates
Does USAA Offer the Best Military Banking Service?
USAA is one of the premier military financial institutions, along with Navy Federal Credit Union, PenFed, and several others. We have an overview of the best military banks and credit unions where you can learn more about your options for banking with a military financial institution.
Overview of USAA Member Benefits
If you ask any USAA member what are the primary ‘perks’ of membership, they’ll likely rattle off the following: low interest rates, low insurance premiums, free checking, excellent customer service, and no ATM fees (if using a non-USAA ATM, the bank reimburses up to $15 per billing cycle, which is a good deal since USAA has relatively few brick-and-mortar locations).
USAA members can also utilize their bill pay and online transfer features for free (yes, even to non-USAA banks). Also, USAA offers credit cards with cash rewards, some of which unlock special benefits for military members. Beyond traditional banking services, USAA offers a host of insurance products, including its signature auto insurance, life, property, renters, and umbrella policies.
USAA members can get especially low rates if they bundle USAA insurance products. And for deployed personnel, USAA will even adjust auto insurance rates if your vehicle is garaged, and offers special APR for up to a year during a deployment.
Who is Eligible to Join USAA?
Broadly speaking, U.S. uniformed personnel — including retirees — and their family members are all eligible for USAA membership. This includes:
- Active-duty officers and enlisted personnel
- National Guard and Reserve officers and enlisted personnel
- Retired veterans
- Separated servicemembers with an “Honorable” discharge
- Officer candidates in commissioning programs (e.g. ROTC, service academies, OCS/OTS)
- Former spouses, adult children (18+), widows, and widowers of USAA members who have or had a USAA auto or property insurance policy
However, USAA works a bit differently in that eligibility for membership is based on one’s relationship to other USAA members, and not necessarily on their military status. Simply being a member of the armed forces does not equate to being a USAA member: It’s necessary to sign up first!
Can You Join USAA If You Are Not in the Military?
Although USAA’s mission is to provide high-quality financial and insurance services to military personnel, membership is not restricted to servicemembers. In fact, many civilians can benefit from USAA membership as well. The key determining factor as to whether or not an individual is eligible for USAA membership is their relationship to another USAA member.
Tip: If you are a spouse, unmarried former spouse, or child of a USAA member, you are likely eligible for your own USAA membership.
USAA membership works a bit like a hierarchical branching function. For example, a good friend of mine and her husband are USAA members despite the fact that neither has ever served in the U.S. military. However, my friend’s father is an Army veteran and became a USAA member 20+ years ago. Since she is the daughter of a USAA member, my friend became eligible for membership and joined. Later, when she got married, her husband became eligible for USAA due to his wife’s existing membership. In the future, their children will also become eligible for USAA membership.
Aside from becoming a member, it is also possible to lose eligibility for USAA membership. For example, if an eligible servicemember separates with a less-than-honorable discharge or if a former spouse remarries they lose eligibility. However, if either of these individuals obtained membership before this status change they can retain membership.
USAA membership eligibility cannot ‘pass on’ posthumously, meaning that if parents who were eligible for USAA membership are deceased, but were not members, their children are no longer eligible for USAA membership.
Tip: Membership passes down, but not up; therefore, a current USAA member cannot pass eligibility ‘up’ to his parents, nor ‘across’ to his siblings.
Unfortunately, there are no comprehensive resources on the USAA website that spell-out all of the many ways in which membership can be attained. Therefore, if you think that you may be eligible for membership and wish to apply, it is highly recommended that you contact the USAA New Member Team at 800-531-8722 and outline your personal situation.
What Information or Documentation Is Needed to Join USAA?
If you’re a servicemember or an eligible family member who wishes to become a USAA member, you’ll need some documentation to get started.
First, you’ll be asked to enter your name, date of birth, contact information, and Social Security number.
Then, you’ll be asked to provide details about your or your family member’s military service. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you will be required to submit information from your passport or permanent resident card. All in all, the application process is short and sweet.
Visit the USAA Website to learn more about USAA eligibility.