Credit unions are often touted as the People’s Alternative to big banks – a description that fits since credit unions are a not-for-profit alternative that offers the same services banks do, but as part of a member-owned, member-controlled institution.
Member ownership and control remains one of the most often cited reasons people choose to switch from a bank to a credit union. A volunteer, elected board of directors is a much more member-friendly version of a bank’s corporate board, and since the credit union is not-for-profit, its earnings can be passed down to members in the form of reduced fees and better interest rates. You can expect the same protection banks offer as well since the federal government insures all federally recognized credit unions.
Don’t be fooled into thinking all credit unions are small and locally owned, though plenty of smaller community credit unions certainly exist. A great many large federal credit unions offer every ounce of convenience the big banks do while retaining all the benefits that local credit unions provide. What’s more, many of these larger credit unions cater specifically to federal employees.
If you are considering switching your banking business, consider these credit unions consistently rated among the best for federal employees.
Navy Federal Credit Union
Now the largest credit union in the world, Navy Federal Credit Union’s 8 million members cite its consistently competitive rates as a top reason they stick with NFCU. Branch and ATM locations are scattered around the United States and in 11 countries, centered on common military locations and providing access once only enjoyed by customers of the big banks.
Who Can Join
Currently, membership is restricted to Department of Defense employees, active duty military, veterans, and their families.
Navy Federal offers several types of traditional checking accounts, plus an option for checking with dividends. Interest on these accounts is as much as 0.35% if you keep at least a $1,500 balance; otherwise, no minimum balance applies. In addition, auto loan rates as low as 2.99% are typically competitive or lower than banks while certain certificates earn up to 3.5% APY.
- 24/7 phone support allows members worldwide to access account information and member service staff.
- NFCU’ Co-op membership allows members to access over 30,000 ATMs nationwide with no fees, and $1 plus 10% transaction fees at Visa/PLUS ATMs overseas.
- ATM fee rebates of up to $20 per statement period are available for certain checking account types.
- NFCU typically offers federal employees relief during government shutdown situations in the form of a 0% APR loan up to the amount of the missed paycheck.
Pentagon Federal Credit Union
With membership requirements a bit more relaxed than other federal credit unions, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, or PenFed, is the third-largest federal credit union. Though branches aren’t as widespread as NFCU’s, PenFed offers brick-and-mortar locations in Washington, DC as well as near several military bases across the U.S. plus Guam, Puerto Rico and Japan.
Who Can Join
All federal employees, active duty and retired military, Red Cross employees, certain contractors and their families are eligible to join PenFed. In addition, membership in a number of associations grants access to PenFed’s membership options.
PenFed offers checking accounts with dividends of .5% APY for members maintaining an average daily balance from $20,000 to $50,000, and .2% for those under $20,000. Savings through the Premium Online Savings Account only requires $5 to open and a total of $100 across accounts, and returns 2% APY. PenFed’s auto and home loans remain competitive with other large federal credit unions.
- PenFed’s Co-op and Allpoint memberships allow its members free access to 68,000 ATMs nationwide, so don’t worry if there’s not a branch near you.
- Members consistently rate PenFed’s desktop and mobile site among the easiest to use, and Digital Wallet access via the member’s mobile device is streamlining point-of-sale use as well.
- PenFed members receive discounts of up to 7% for service at many national tire and oil merchants, discounts for Sprint cell phone service and FTD deliveries, GAP insurance coverage and rate savings on Travelers auto insurance, and special offers for new ADT members. More perk programs are available on PenFed’s member discount page.
- Historically, PenFed has offered assistance to federal workers affected by a government shutdown, to include 0% interest short-term furlough loans, skip payment options, or direct deposit replacement assistance.
- Security Service Federal Credit Union admits current and former military, plus DoD employees in Utah, Colorado and Texas – states with high concentrations of government employees. SSFCU has excellent rates for auto and home loans, and participates in Co-op and Stripe to extend its ATM services to those living outside the region.
- AgFed Credit Union accepts members living or working in the DC area and has implemented a program to allow members to skip payments or apply for 0% APR loans in the case of a government shutdown.
If you’re interested in switching to a credit union, there are a few with better-than-average benefits for government employees. If you are not an employee in the target membership of the credit union that best suits you, look at the eligibility requirements; likely, there’s an association or other group you can join for a nominal fee (under $20) that will then extend access to the credit union. If not, there’s certain to be a comparable rewards program at a credit union near you.