At times, the financial woes experienced by all Americans seem especially pronounced for military members, veterans and their families. With an ever-mounting national debt, the future of military pensions – which had been historically guaranteed – is now uncertain. More than ever, it's crucial for service members to bank with a financial institution that offers exceptional rates, customer service geared toward unique military needs, and a work ethic that mirrors that of its client base.
As a leader in the personal finance space, covering everything from mainstream to specialized banking products, GOBankingRates surveyed military financial institutions throughout the United States. These are the five best military banks and credit unions of 2014.
USAA Bank was founded with military principles at the root of its values. With perks like no fee-checking accounts, ATM rebates for all incurred fees and auto loan rates as low as 0.89% APR for vehicles purchased through the bank's car buying service, USAA wants every former or active military personnel to keep as much money in their wallets as possible.
USAA auto insurance is one of the best insurance programs out there, with customers saving an average of $409 annually. The policy comes with family, loyal member, and multiple vehicle and safe driver discounts among others. Additionally, for active military personnel, the bank will discount your premium up to 90 percent when your vehicle is in storage during deployment.
Ryan Guina, USAF veteran and founder of The Military Wallet, spoke highly of his experience as a USAA customer.
"I became a USAA member over a decade ago, while I was serving in the USAF and living in England," Guina told GOBankingRates. "Over time, they also became my primary bank. … There are two things that impress me about USAA: The first is their amazing customer service. I have never had a problem that couldn't be resolved with one or two phone calls. They are true professionals. The second, and more important thing, is USAA's dedication to serving military members and their families. It isn't lip service to say that everything they do is based on the core mission of serving their community of members."
Navy Federal Credit Union
With more than 4 million members and 80 years of history, Navy Federal Credit Union knows how to serve military personnel's specific needs. The nonprofit is praised for offering a wide selection of products, including five checking account options, four savings account types, and a variety of home and auto loan offers. Additionally, Navy Federal Credit Union has short-term high-yield CD accounts, including a 12-month EasyStart CD with a rate of 3.00% APY.
Because Navy Federal Credit Union is a nonprofit institution, members are part-owners and benefit directly from the credit union's success in the form of dividends and higher deposit rates.
"While members look to the credit union for products that add value and help them save money — they also know that we are here to help give them the tools to keep them financially strong," said Cutler Dawson, CEO and president of Navy Federal Credit Union. "We provide free financial education to assist members in managing their immediate and long-term financial goals. It's this level of personal service that helps members succeed."
Air Force Federal Credit Union
With respect for their members' deposits, Air Force Federal Credit Union charges no fees on its Regular Savings and Simple Checking accounts and requires a minimum deposit of $5 and $0, respectively. With 60-month auto loans as low as 1.60% APR, 15-year fixed-rate mortgages at 3.500% and five-year CDs offering 1.35% APY and higher, Air Force Federal Credit Union offers extremely competitive rates to its members.
"We understand the demands of the military culture and challenges our men and women in our armed forces, including their families, face every day. From deployment to frequent relocations and the life and death risks they encounter on a daily basis, the sacrifices they make are immeasurable," said Danny Sanchez, vice president of marketing at Air Force FCU. "It is our mission to be the one financial institution that best understands and meets the needs of our members wherever they are. As they continue to be there for us, it is our responsibility to be there for them."
Pentagon Federal Credit Union
Pentagon Federal Credit Union is one of the largest military credit unions in the nation, boasting 1.2 million members and $17 billion in assets. Member benefits include real estate rewards, Liberty Mutual insurance discounts, TotalProtect home service warranty, 0% APR on Enterprise car sales, discounts for National and Alamo car rental services, financial literacy tools, on-call doctor service, Equifax identity protection, a Turbo Tax discount, and retail discounts with Dish Network and Spring, among others.
In addition to these perks, PenFed members enjoy competitive auto loan, mortgage and deposit rates.
"While I use USAA for my primary banking, I also have an excellent opinion of both Navy Federal Credit Union and Pentagon Federal Credit Union," Guina said. "Being in the military can lead to unique financial situations and frequent travel. All of these institutions are aware of what service members go through and are willing to work with military members through financial issues."
Armed Forces Bank
Armed Forces Bank knows how to facilitate financial success for its military customers. The institution gives customers an incentive to save by encouraging a minimum of $100 in their savings accounts in order to avoid a $5 service fee. For veterans looking to finance a home, the bank offers VA 15 and 30-year loans for 3.50% and 3.75%, respectively. These low rates keep payments low and save customers thousands of dollars over the life of their loan.
With convenient online and mobile banking access, members can access their funds, review transactions and pay bills easily. Additionally, Armed Forces Bank offers financial education tools on its website to further help its customers reach financial success.
"Armed Forces Bank has been proudly serving active and retired members of the military and their families since 1907. We welcome the opportunity to provide the tools that will help our military customers learn money management skills that will last a lifetime," said Don Giles, president of Armed Forces Bank. "In 2013, we provided on-base financial education briefings to over 5,000 military personnel on important topics such as budgeting, managing a checking account, saving and investing, managing credit, identity theft, and predatory lending, and during Military Saves Week we opened over 500 savings accounts. We are honored to be recognized as one of the Best Military Financial Institutions for 2014."
There are many banks and credit unions that prioritize military personnel's needs and concerns. It's easier to bank with confidence when working with a supportive financial institution.
GOBankingRates is a banking and personal finance website that specializes in connecting consumers with the best interest rates nationwide.