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Published: Oct 29, 2021 14 min read
Two soldiers are dropping their coins into an ATM.
Janice Chang for Money

Banking as a member of the Armed Forces presents its own unique challenges. Round-the-clock access to your accounts is important, especially with long overseas deployments and frequent changes of duty stations. Online banking and a large ATM network mean you're never too far away from your money.

To pick the best military bank account look for benefits such as low fees, free online banking and free money transfers. Other military perks include lower interest rates on loans and credit cards as well as higher yields on savings accounts and CDs.

Military banking is not just for active duty service members either. Most banks make benefits they offer active duty service members available to families and veterans too.

Our Top Picks for Best Banks for Members of the Military of 2021

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Best Banks for Members of the Military Reviews

Competitive interest rates, free checking, a large ATM network that spans the globe, discounts on products and services and generous reimbursements on out-of-network ATMs fees make Navy Federal Credit Union our choice for best banking option for members of the military.

Pros:

  • Competitive interest rates on CDs, checking and savings accounts
  • No opening balance requirement
  • Receive pay one day early with direct deposit.
  • Low out-of-network ATM fees
  • Discounts on services and at participating retailers and businesses

Cons:

  • You can find higher interest rates at other banks.
  • Bank branches are limited to areas on, or close to, military installations.

Navy Federal has a number of accounts to choose from. We focused on the Free Active Duty Checking account and the Basic Savings accounts because of their low balance requirements and competitive interest rates.

For the checking account, there’s no minimum opening balance requirement, no monthly maintenance fee and you’ll get free personalized checks. You can earn 0.05% on any balance in the account, which is higher than the rate you’ll find on checking accounts at national banks but lower than the rate you’ll find at some other credit unions and online banks. If you enroll in direct deposit you’ll receive your pay one day early.

You can open the Basic Savings account with as little as $5. This account pays 0.25% interest which, again is competitive compared to most national banks but not the highest rate out there. You can also opt for one of Navy Federal’s certificates of deposit, where you can earn from 0.40% up to 3% interest, depending on the certificate chosen.

No matter which account you choose, you’ll have free access to over 30,000 Navy Federal and Coop Network ATMs across the country. You’ll also have access to the Visa PLUS ATM network, which will give you free access to 1.7 million ATMs worldwide. If you do have to use an out-of-network ATM, Navy Federal has a $1 fee, among the lowest of any credit union we considered. Plus, you’ll receive up to $20 in non-Navy Federal ATM fees reimbursed per statement cycle (up to $240 per year).

Additional perks of belonging to Navy Federal include a 0.25% interest rate discount on select loans, 20% discount on Hertz car rentals, between $400 and $8,000 cash back when you buy or sell a home through RealtyPlus, and a number of other discounts and special offers on items such as insurance products and car purchases, to name just a few.

Membership in Navy Federal is open to active duty and retired service members and their families, veterans, members of the National Guard and civilian employees of the Department of Defense. The credit union has 340 branches located throughout the world, primarily located on or near military bases.

PenFed stands out thanks to the higher-than-usual interest rate paid on both checking and savings accounts, making it our choice for best yields.

Pros:

  • High interest rates paid on checking and savings accounts
  • Discounts on a number of services and products such as car rentals and home insurance
  • Access to over 85,000 ATMs

Cons:

  • Some savings accounts don’t have ATM cards.
  • Checking account has a monthly maintenance fee.

While Penfed started out as a credit union exclusively for members of the military, today anyone can join by simply opening a savings account with a minimum deposit of $5. That doesn’t mean that members of the Armed Forces can’t take advantage of the high rates and special discounts available to the credit union’s members.

PenFed’s Premium Online Savings account pays 0.50% interest, which is among the highest interest rates paid among the banks we considered. While you won’t pay a monthly fee with this account, you also won’t get an ATM card. For a savings account with ATM access, you’ll need to open a Regular Savings account or a Money Market Savings account, but you won’t earn as much interest with either of these.

With the Access America Checking account, you can earn 0.15% on balances less than $20,000 and 0.35% on balances between $20,00 and $50,000. Both rates are competitive considering most checking accounts don’t pay any interest at all. There’s a $25 minimum opening deposit, which is a reasonable amount, and you’ll get free access to over 85,000 ATMs across the country.

Other benefits of belonging to Pefed include discounts on car rentals at Alamo and National Car Rental, discounts on auto and home insurance and savings of up to $4,000 on a car purchase when you use Penfed’s car buying service.

Security Service Federal Credit Union offers services and loans to members of the military who are assigned overseas, making it our pick for best deployment benefits.

Pros:

  • Offers deployment loans
  • Expedited direct deposit lets you receive Leave and Earnings Statement pay up to 3 days early
  • Checking account pays interest.

Cons:

  • SSFCU branches only located in three states
  • Low interest rate paid on savings account.

Membership in Security Service Federal Credit Union is open to members of select military branches/units, veterans and Department of Defense employees at certain military bases where the credit union provides its service. You can also join if you are related or a part of the household of an existing member, or you live, work, attend school, worship, volunteer or own a business in Texas, Colorado or Utah. While SSCU branches are only located in the three states mentioned above, you will have access to over 5,000 shared credit union branches around the country.

SSFCU has two deployment loan options if you are called to active duty and you or your family needs some extra cash. You can apply for a $500 or a $2,500 loan, depending on your needs. Loans have a fixed interest rate of 3.99%, which is competitive compared to rates charged by other banks. You’ll need to set up direct deposit into an SSFCU checking or savings account and pay down the loan automatically from that same account to qualify for that low rate.

You can also receive your military pay up to three days early when you open an account and sign up for direct deposit. SSFCU also offers the option of reducing your car insurance rate if you’re deployed and plan to store your ride while you’re overseas. It can also help you arrange to ship your car to your new duty station.

Aside from deployment benefits, you can earn a competitive interest rate with the Power Protected Checking account. Start by earning 0.05% interest on balances below $10,000. As your balance grows, so does the annual percentage yield. You’ll find better options for a savings account though, as the Basic Savings account only earns 0.05%.

We chose Chase as the best option for military members who prefer to work with a large national bank based on Chase’s large, convenient branch network and willingness to waive fees for service members and veterans.

Pros:

  • Monthly service fee is waived.
  • No Chase fees on non-Chase ATMs
  • No foreign exchange-rate fees
  • Free counter checks, money orders and cashiers checks

Cons:

  • Must receive base military pay through direct deposit to earn some of the benefits.

If you’re a current member of the Armed Forces or a veteran, you can open Chase’s Premier Plus Checking account without having to pay the typical fees. You’ll also have access to 4,700 branches around the country as well as 16,000 ATMs.

The account’s standard $25 monthly service fee is waived for members of the military. Not only that, but you’ll also get monthly fees waived if you link to up to two other Chase Checking accounts (excluding Chase Sapphire and Chase Private Client accounts) or a Chase savings account (excluding Chase Private Client savings). You’ll also get the first four non-Chase ATM transactions free during each statement period

Other military benefits include free counter checks, money orders or cashiers checks, and the bank won’t charge an annual rent fee on safe deposit boxes up to 3”x 5''. If you need a larger size, you get a 20% discount on the yearly rental fee.

For active duty and reserve members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard, you can get additional benefits if you sign up for direct deposit of your base military pay. Chase won’t charge a fee if you use an out-of-network ATM and won’t charge a Foreign Exchange Rate Adjustment fee on ATM withdrawals or debit card purchases in a foreign currency. Chase also won’t charge you for incoming or outgoing wire transfers. However, you’ll lose these extra benefits if a direct deposit isn’t made into the account in more than 180 days.

US Bank is our pick for best military perks because current and former members of the military enjoy free banking with additional perks like discounts on mortgage closing costs, credit card rewards and free stock trades.

Pros:

  • Interest-rate discount on new mortgages
  • New account bonuses when opening select credit cards
  • 100 free stock trades per year

Cons:

  • Branches in only 27 states
  • Not an exclusively military account

While US Bank’s Platinum Checking Package is open to anyone, members of the military can get all its perks without having to pay the standard $24.95 monthly service fee. Family members who open an Easy Checking account can also waive the monthly service fee. With this account, you also won’t have to worry about paying for paper statements or overdraft protection transfer fees.

Benefits include earning up to 20,000 bonus points when you open an Altitude Go Visa Signature card and spend $1,000 during the first 90 days. That’s the equivalent of $200 dollars you can redeem on purchases, gift cards or as a cash back reward. You’ll also earn 2x points on purchases at grocery stores or delivery services, 4x points at restaurants, or on food take-out or delivery.

You’ll also receive up to $1,000 deduction in closing costs when you take out a new mortgage. And if you are thinking about investing in the stock market, you can get up to 100 free trades per year when you open a self-directed brokerage account with US Bancorp.

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How We Chose the Best Banks for Members of the Military of 2021

To pick Best Banks for Members of the Military, Money started with the 25 of the largest retail-focused national banks by assets, 15 of the top online banks and 10 of the largest credit unions by assets. We then looked for accounts with benefits geared towards members of the military. Money then partnered with data provider Curinos to review account minimums and qualifications, interest rates, monthly service fees, ATM fees, overdraft fees, overdraft protection fees, insufficient funds fees, debit card replacement fees, domestic wire transfer fees, and online banking capabilities.

When selecting finalists, priority was given to checking and savings accounts with no or easily waived monthly fees, free ATMs, and higher interest rates. In naming free accounts, we assumed customers would be okay with receiving e-statements to avoid a monthly fee.

The interest rates are as of October 25, 2021.

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