Getting the right checking account may not sound like a big deal — for the most part, they all provide a lot of the same services. But lately, checking accounts have gotten a lot more competitive, making it worth switching for the right perks.
The PenFed Access America Checking Account offers high interest rates, even better than most savings accounts. It also offers the chance to earn more rewards and skip the annual fee on one of the credit union’s flagship credit cards.
If you’re looking for a solid checking account, here’s what to know about PenFed Credit Union’s offering.
PenFed Access America Checking Account Review
The PenFed Access America Checking Account is the credit union’s only checking account. It offers high interest rates based on your deposit activity and also unlocks benefits with the PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa® Card.
Here’s what to know about the account and how to join Pentagon Federal Credit Union, so you’re eligible to apply.
Features and Benefits
For the most part, the PenFed Credit Union Access America Checking Account offers standard banking benefits. But there are several perks you may not be able to get with other banks and credit unions:
Increased Interest Rates
If you have a monthly direct deposit of $500 or more, you’ll qualify for a 0.15% annual percentage yield (APY) on a daily balance of up to $20,000 and 0.35% on daily balances between $20,000 and $50,000 (as of February 2021).
Considering most checking accounts don’t even offer interest, this is a solid offering. And if you want to get even more, you can pair the checking account with a PenFed Premium Online Savings Account, which is a high-yield savings account that offers 0.50% APY on all balances (as of February 2021).
The only drawback to this feature is that you have to meet a minimum direct deposit requirement to get it. But if it’s your main bank account, that shouldn’t be difficult.
Credit Card Perks
If you want to go all-in on PenFed Credit Union, you can also apply for the PathFinder Rewards Visa Card. The card offers 50,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days, plus 3x points per dollar on travel and 1.5x points per dollar on everything else.
However, if you have an Access America Checking Account, it’ll boost your travel rewards rate to 4x points per dollar — you’ll be hard-pressed to beat that rate anywhere else in the rewards credit card market.
What’s more, having the checking account will also waive the card’s $95 annual fee, making it fee-free for you as long as you maintain your bank account.
Large Fee-Free ATM Network
Another perk of being a member of Pentagon Federal Credit Union is that you’ll get access to its wide network of more than 85,000 surcharge-free ATMs. In contrast, most of the top banks in the U.S. have fewer than 16,500 in-network ATMs.
PenFed Credit Unions ATM network includes Allpoint and CO-OP ATMs. Keep in mind, though, that PenFed doesn’t reimburse out-of-network ATM fees, which is a feature among some other checking accounts.
As with any other personal checking account, you’ll get a Visa debit card. But this debit card comes with contactless payment technology, which is more common among credit cards, that offers a more secure transaction.
You’ll also get access to an overdraft line of credit, which allows you to overdraw your account without incurring an overdraft fee. Instead, the line of credit charges a relatively high APR; the actual cost will be low if you bring your account back up to above zero within a few days.
Finally, you’ll get a lot of other standard perks, including bill pay, your first box of checks free, online banking, mobile banking, e-statements and more.
The PenFed Credit Union Access America Checking Account charges a $10 monthly fee. However, you can avoid the fee if you have at least $500 in monthly direct deposits going into the account. Alternatively, you can maintain a daily balance of $500 or more.
This monthly fee is relatively rare among credit unions. However, with the benefits the account provides, especially if you have the PathFinder Rewards Visa Card, it can be worth it to jump through the hoops to get the monthly fee waived.
Unfortunately, PenFed Credit Union doesn’t offer a bonus for new account holders. If you’re looking for an account from a bank or credit union with a sign-up bonus, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Pentagon Federal Credit Union’s mobile app has 4.6 out of 5 stars in the Google Play store and 4.1 out of 5 stars in the Apple App Store. With the app, you can do just about anything you need to from an online-only perspective, including:
- Get transaction details
- Transfer balances
- Track the status of a loan application
- Deposit checks electronically
- And more
Pentagon Federal Credit Union has roughly 50 brick-and-mortar branches across the U.S. This is a big downside for consumers who prefer in-person service. But if you’re fine with online-only banking and live in an area with no locations, it may not be a big deal.
Like other credit unions, PenFed is insured by the NCUA, which means that you’ll get up to $250,000 in insurance per ownership category on your accounts with PenFed.
Other Financial Products
Pentagon Federal Credit Union offers a lot of other products and services, making it a solid one-stop-shop for many consumers. That list includes:
- Savings accounts
- Money market accounts
- Money market certificates
- Certificates of Deposit (with competitive CD rates)
- Coverdell Education Savings accounts
- Individual retirement accounts (IRAs)
- Credit cards
- Auto loans
- Mortgage loans
- Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs)
- Personal loans and lines of credit
- Student loans
- Student loan refinancing
The only major financial products PenFed Credit Union doesn’t offer are investments and insurance.
How to Join PenFed Credit Union
Unlike banks, credit unions require people to join before they can open accounts. And depending on the credit union, it may be difficult to join.
Fortunately, Pentagon Federal Credit Union makes it relatively easy to join. You’re eligible if you:
- Are retired, honorably discharged or currently serving in the military.
- Work for a participating employer, including the U.S. government.
- Belong to an eligible organization.
- Live or work in an eligible location.
If you don’t meet any of those eligibility requirements, you can still join by following the instructions of the credit union.
PenFed Access America Checking vs. Axos Bank Rewards Checking
As with any financial product, it’s critical that you shop around and compare several options for settling on one. Pentagon Federal Credit Union offers some impressive benefits for its members, but it may not be the best checking account and savings account for everyone.
For example, the Axos Bank Rewards Checking Account offers some incredible perks, especially when you use your debit card regularly. The bank offers:
- Up to 1.25% APY on checking balances
- Unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursements
- No monthly fee
- No minimum balance requirements
- No minimum deposit requirements (besides the $50 required to open an account)
- No overdraft or non-sufficient funds fees
Alternatively, you could apply for an Axos Bank Cashback Checking Account, which is another free checking account that offers up to 1% cash back on signature debit card purchases, along with many of the perks the Rewards Checking Account offers.
How to Pick the Right Bank Account for You
It can be challenging to find the best bank account for your needs. But with so many excellent benefits out there, it’s a good idea to spend some time to determine if you should make a switch.
Start by comparing some of the best checking accounts in the market and think about the features that are most important to you. For example, would you prioritize a no-fee account over one that offers a higher interest rate? Or would you choose an account that you can pair with a solid high-yield savings account?
You may also want to consider the type of financial institution the account is with. For example, online-only banks may work well for people who don’t need in-branch service to get what they need to be done. But others may prefer the in-person service they can get at their local branch.
What’s more, banks and credit unions offer similar products and services, but there are some key differences. While banks are for-profit entities looking to maximize profits for their investors, credit unions are not-for-profit organizations whose members are their shareholders.
Take some time to consider all of your options and think about what matters most to you before you make a decision.
The Bottom Line
PenFed Access America Checking is a solid account that offers some features you may not be able to find anywhere else. That’s especially the case if you have the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Visa Card, which offers some impressive rewards on travel-related purchases.
If you want, you can also pair the Access America Checking Account with some of PenFed’s other products, such as its Premium Online Savings Account, which offers a much higher APY than regular savings accounts, a CD, money market account or any of the loans and other credit cards the credit union has to offer.
Before you can apply for an account, make sure you take the steps to join Pentagon Federal Credit Union. Also, make sure you look at other options and compare interest rates, fees and other features that can impact how you bank.