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Updated on Thursday, July 29, 2021
Credit unions are not-for-profit financial institutions that are owned by their members and forged from a community bond. Some credit unions are organized around geographic areas or specific companies, while others developed around military bases and among groups of the armed forces.
Military credit unions have grown to be some of the most prominent credit unions in the U.S., and they provide banking services to members of the armed forces and their families. These credit unions are often the best option for service members and veterans to finance a mortgage, hold some emergency savings or to save for retirement.
Best military credit unions in July 2021
Best overall military credit union: Navy Federal Credit Union
The largest credit union of any kind in the U.S. is Navy Federal Credit Union, our MagnifyMoney choice for the best overall military credit union. Navy Federal has over 10 million members, 345 branch locations — including locations on military bases and internationally — and manages over $370 billion in assets.
Navy Federal was chosen as the best overall credit union for military members because of its breadth of offerings and unparalleled level of service. Navy Federal provides members with solid checking account options, good interest rates on deposits, a wide variety of loans and even financial advising services. Most Navy Federal members are able to visit an in-person branch if needed, though there are also robust online and mobile banking platforms available.
Eligibility: In order to join Navy Federal Credit Union, you must be an active, retired or veteran service member, or a family member of one. Navy Federal is open to all branches of the armed forces, not just the Navy — members of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard and Space Force can also join. Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees and contractors, as well as U.S. government employees assigned to DoD installations, are eligible as well.
Account types: Navy Federal Credit Union has five types of checking accounts: Free Active Duty Checking, Free Easy Checking, Free Campus Checking, Free EveryDay Checking and Flagship Checking (the only account with a monthly fee unless meeting certain balance requirements, although it has a better interest rate than the others). Navy Federal’s savings accounts are more limited than some other military credit unions, though they do have good interest rates — 0.25% APY on the Share Savings account, which is four times better than the national average. Navy Federal’s loan services include mortgages, personal loans, student loans and auto loans, and it offers credit cards as well.
Bottom line: There’s a reason why Navy Federal Credit Union is so popular for military members and their families — its extensive, quality financial services make it the best all-around choice for go-to banking.
Best military credit union for savings accounts: Pentagon Federal Credit Union
Pentagon Federal Credit Union, also known as PenFed, is the best credit union for military members and their families for opening a savings account. PenFed was founded in 1935 and now has over two million members; while it was initially founded with a military focus, it’s now broadly available to everyone. PenFed’s savings accounts offer the best combination of low fees and high interest rates among credit unions with a military-focused mission.
Eligibility: PenFed isn’t restricted to military members — anyone can join.
Account types: There are four types of savings accounts offered at PenFed: Premium Online Savings, Money Market Certificates (CDs), Regular Savings and Money Market Savings. The Premium Online Savings account has some great features, including a 0.45% APY on all balances, no monthly fees and only $5 minimum to open an account. PenFed’s CDs have strong interest rates as well, including a 0.55% APY on a 15-month deposit. It offers its best APY, 1.10%, for its longest CD terms of five and seven years. Their CDs require at least $1,000 to open.
Bottom line: Savings accounts are useful for those seeking to store their money and earn a decent interest rate. Pentagon Federal Credit Union offers the best savings accounts of any military credit union, particularly the Premium Online Savings account, which has the best APY of any savings account offered by a military credit union.
Best military credit union for checking accounts: America’s Credit Union
America’s Credit Union was originally founded as Fort Lewis Federal Credit Union, eventually expanding membership to military members and civilians in the greater Seattle area. ACU now offers membership eligibility throughout the Pacific Northwest. Unlike many of the credit unions on this list, America’s Credit Union offers business banking services; those accounts, as well as the quality APY rates offered on personal checking accounts, are why ACU was selected the MagnifyMoney best credit union for checking accounts for military members.
Eligibility: In order to join ACU, you must be a member of the armed forces or civilian personnel — or a relative of a servicemember who’s eligible. If you’re not related to an eligible military member, you must be a member of the Pacific Northwest Consumer Council (PNWCC), an organization that’s open to everyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in the Pacific Northwest. ACU will make a donation to the PNWCC on your behalf in order so you can join.
Account types: ACU has five types of checking accounts: Affinity Plus, Affinity Premier, Affinity Basic, Opportunity Checking and Teen Checking. Affinity Plus accounts earn an APY of 0.75% on balances up to $25,000; Affinity Premier accounts earn a lower APY on lower balance tiers, but has a 0.75% APY on balances from $25,000 to $34,999; Affinity Basic accounts earn a 2.02% APY on balances up to $1,000 (a great rate for checking accounts that often run low balances). Affinity Plus has a monthly service fee, but offers cash back as well as interest. Business checking accounts have no service charges, transaction fees or limits or minimum balances.
Bottom line: No other military credit union offers a better range of checking account options for all types of customers (or more competitive rates) than America’s Credit Union — and the business banking is a nice feature. ACU covers all the bases for checking account customers, whether they’re setting up direct deposits, frequently using debit cards or if they’d like to earn a little interest.
Best military credit union for loans: Service Credit Union
Service Credit Union was founded in 1957 at what was then Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire. It has in-person banking services for members in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, North Dakota and those stationed in Germany. Service Credit Union’s membership is broadly accessible, even for those who do not have a connection to the military. It’s a military-focused credit union, though, and it offers discounted interest rates on loans for military members and special loans related to relocation.
Eligibility: The membership eligibility categories for Service Credit Union are straightforward: Active duty military, veterans, DoD employees and families of any of these groups are eligible, as well as employees of partner companies. If you don’t have any of those connections, you can become a member of the American Consumer Council — and Service Credit Union provides a promo code that allows you to join free of charge.
Account types: Service Credit Union offers members a wide variety of loans. There are mortgages tailored for first-time home buyers and those backed by VA loans, as well as loans backed by home equity. In addition to other standard loan offerings — vehicle loans, student loans and personal loans — there are a number of business loans available at Service Credit Union. And as a self-described nonprofit credit union, it can provide more favorable rates than many banks and other lenders.
Bottom line: With solid interest rates, perks for military members and the broadest range of loan types, Service Credit Union is the best military credit union for loans. Their relocation loan is a good example of how their services are tailored to military members: Those who get Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders can receive favorable loan terms for associated costs.
Best military credit union for customer service: Security Service Federal Credit Union
Security Service Federal Credit Union was originally founded in 1956 as the United States Air Force Security Service Federal Credit Union, and was designed to serve members and families of the U.S. Air Force Security Service Command. It now has 66 branch locations and over 700,000 members, in addition to many pathways for membership eligibility.
Eligibility: SSFCU allows membership for people who live, work, worship, attend school or volunteer in Texas, Colorado or Utah. It also offers eligibility to those who are members of select military branches and units or DoD employees at specific military bases within their service areas, or for family members of existing SSFCU members. There are some other ways to join, and you can call their support line to figure out if you may be eligible — or how to gain eligibility.
Account types: There are numerous types of banking services available at SSFCU, including deposit accounts, loans and investments. SSFCU was chosen as the best for customer service because of the depth of their investment counseling advice, their virtual appointments for members, their 24/7 chat support and telephone banking options. That breadth of customer service makes them among the most competitive credit unions in that regard, and it really enhances the advantage of more personalized service relative to bigger banks.
Bottom line: SSFCU provides the most comprehensive suite of investment advisors of any military credit union, a big reason why it was chosen as the best for customer service — and their accessibility for troubleshooting put them at the top.
Methodology for determining the best military credit unions
In order to determine the best military credit unions, MagnifyMoney sourced information from DepositAccounts.com and reviewed dozens of credit unions to compile this list. Credit unions were eligible for this list based on the following criteria:
- Eligibility: Only credit unions that specifically serve military members and their families were considered for this list, although some credit unions on the list have opened up their membership eligibility to others. For credit unions that have broader membership requirements, check out our list of the best credit unions.
- Availability: Some credit unions with military-based memberships are restricted to certain geographic areas. In order to qualify for this list, credit unions must be available in states with a combined population of at least 20 million. A few military-focused credit unions did not make the list because of this requirement.
- Financial services: Credit unions must offer a wide range of account options, including savings and checking accounts and CDs, in order to be considered.
- Fees: Unless account maintenance fees are easily waived, credit unions must offer free checking accounts to qualify for this list.
- Interest rates: Qualifying credit unions were sorted by the highest APYs offered on savings accounts for all balances.
- NCUA-insured: It is crucial for your money to be protected by National Credit Union Administration insurance. We included only NCUA-insured accounts on our list — deposits up to $250,000 at these credit unions are protected by the government in case the institution fails.
What is a credit union?
Credit unions were designed as an alternative to traditional banking, and while the services they provide are often the same, their structure is quite different. They’re operated as not-for-profit enterprises that are jointly owned by their members; unlike banks, there’s no profit motive animating owners and shareholders — any excess revenue is invested back into the membership in the form of better interest rates, lower fees and so on.
Another key feature of credit unions is that they’re formed over a “common bond” or smaller group of people within society — often, that’s a community in certain towns or regions, but sometimes it’s employment-based. In fact, many of the most prominent credit unions in the country were once formed by a small group of employees at a company decades ago.
Credit unions are particularly appealing to military members because of that common bond, and because military-focused credit unions tailor their services towards current and former service members and their families. There still is some exclusivity as well — for example, Navy Federal allows only military members and their families to join.