Researching Banks & Credit Unions

I received a notice in the mail yesterday that my credit union will be merging with another credit union about 60 miles south of me.  All of our accounts will eventually be switched over to the new credit union.  Out of curiosity, I looked up their rates/fees and I’m disappointed.  No more free checking or savings.  The new credit union charges $8 monthly fee for checking or unless I maintain a daily balance of $500 and $5 for savings unless I maintain a balance of $1,000.  I can maintain the savings provided that there’s no emergencies, however, if there was one I’d have to pay $5 a month.  And, with the checking account, I can try and try and try to keep $500 there at all times but I know my spending habits and it’s very unlikely that it will happen.  Essentially, I’d be looking at paying $13 a month just to have an institution hold my money.  No, thank you.

Now I’m on the hunt for a new credit union or bank.  I will not be banking with Bank of America, Chase or any of the other big named banks because quite frankly I think they all suck.  I’m looking at a few credit unions around me and also USAA.  So far, I’ve narrowed it down to Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PENFED), Alliant Credit Union and USAA.  I sat for a few hours yesterday researching all 3 and from what I can tell they all have stellar reputations.   Below’s my comparison of all 3 banks based on what’s important to me – customer service, no fees, and easy access to our money.


  1. Great customer service!!
  2. Free checking and savings
  3. They will reimburse up to $15 in ATM fees per month.
  4. Free transfer from savings to checking to cover overdraft.
  5. Deposit checks via scanner or phone.
  6. Can also deposit checks at UPS stores.

Alliant Credit Union

  1. Great customer service!
  2. Free checking/savings provided that you select online statements and have one direct deposit to the account every month.
  3. Free First Box of Checks
  4. High yield interest rates.  Currently checking is 1.1o% and savings is 1.14%.
  5. Courtesy transfer from savings to checking but at a cost of $3 per day.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PENFED)

  1. Great customer service!
  2. No monthly service fee with a minimum daily balance of $500.00 or Direct Deposit of net pay (minimum $500 monthly), otherwise, a $10 monthly service charge applies.
  3. Free standard checks (one box per order; $5.00 shipping and handling after first order)
I decided to open accounts with all 3 institutions.  I will probably use USAA’s checking account for day to day spending.  I will also keep $1,000 in their checking also as my baby emergency fund.  For my long term savings, I’ll use Alliant Credit Union since they’re higher than ING at the moment and since I’m nervous about the Capitol One purchase of ING.  As for PenFed, I don’t necessarily need it but in my research,once you can qualify for their credit they are superior in credit card rewards.  I suppose I’m hoping in the next year or so I can build our credit scores and be able to qualify for a small car loan.
Opening up an account with USAA was by far the easiest. I called their 800# and within 10 minutes had funded my account and received account #s and instructions on how to log on to my account online.  Their customer service was awesome!!
Opening the account with Alliant was a bit more difficult.  I applied online and I think I answered some security questions (past loan accounts etc) incorrectly and am in a pending status with them.  I’m going to call them tomorrow to find out what they need in order for me to complete the application process.  The process with PenFed was easier online.  I applied and received an account number, funded a small amount to hold the account.  I believe they will be sending me paperwork to sign in the mail in the next few days.
I gotta tell you this took most of my time the last 2 evenings.  I went on google and researched a lot of forums for reviews.  I’m sad my credit union merged but maybe this is a start to a great relationship with the 3 institutions.

3 thoughts on “Researching Banks & Credit Unions

  1. That came as a super surprise. I didn’t see you picking all three.

    I don’t see a problem with your decision but I think it might have been better to start with two and then expand to the third if you found it necessary. Sometimes it get’s overbearing having to keep track of so many accounts but everyone knows what is best for them.

    You did the research so you know what they all offer and that’s the most important part(it’s also fun if you are like me and like bank shopping).

    Anyways I think you made the right decision to switch and not get charged fees. I wish you the best of luck and I look forward to hearing your experiences. I continually hear good stuff about USAA.

    • My hubby said the same thing, but I swear there’s logic behind it! With PenFed there’s a $5 share to hold the account and you have to choose to open accounts. At this point, I’m not opening a savings or checking account just have $5 shares to hold the account. In the future I may use it as an account to fund my Christmas/birthdays/weddings/gifts account.

      Out of all 3 I was very impressed with USAA – just for the sheer fact that they were so easy to work with in terms of opening up the account. The person I spoke to was great in terms of answering my questions about where to deposit my accounts, and how they refund the ATM fees. I was on the phone with them for maybe 10-15 minutes and the process was smooth and very easy.

      I hope Alliant can help me over the phone today because their savings rates is a lot better than anyone else’s. What I didn’t like about Alliant and why I’m not choosing to use them as our primary checking account is the fact that if we do have funds in savings they won’t automatically transfer to cover our transactions for free. They will charge $3 a day. I hope they change this but until they do, I’ll be using USAA.

      • I understand now but just today over at J.Money said he had 16 accounts with USAA. If they are that good I doubt you will be using your other credit unions but I see the logic behind your thinking. Like I said, you know what is best for you.

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