United States military service members often have unique banking needs that set them apart from the civilian population. Active service members may be stationed internationally or be required to travel as part of their service career. Meanwhile, military families may need to relocate to different regions of the U.S., or even overseas, when a spouse or immediate family member is redeployed.
Thankfully, some banks and credit unions offer financial services that accommodate service members’ special circumstances. Others offer discounts and incentives on loans and other banking products to make the financial well-being of military members and their families much easier.
Still, it can be challenging to decide which financial institution is best for you and your family. Plenty of banks provide services directly to service members on military bases, but other institutions, such as online banks and credit unions, may offer more attractive discounts and benefits for some.
In this guide, you’ll find the tools you need to choose the best financial institution for you and your family. We’ll explore the many benefits banks can offer active-duty military and veterans, as well as the pros and cons of many of the institutions available to you.
How to select a bank for military members
One of the first aspects customers look at when shopping for a bank is the bank’s fee structure; however, these aren’t always easily accessible to the consumer. Look for banks’ “Personal Schedule of Fees” or “Fee Schedule” on their websites to see all the fees you’ll have to pay as a customer. Here’s an example of Bank of America’s Personal Schedule of Fees. .
If you find a bank with low fees, you can then determine if its products and services are a good match for you. If you use credit cards often, the bank should have several card options that suit your unique needs. You should also look for high-yield savings accounts, free or low-fee checking accounts, overdraft protection programs and low-interest loan options.
According to Adam Selita, CEO of The Debt Relief Company, “The most important consideration factor in choosing a bank for an active service member should be whether they will be utilizing ATMs extensively, especially in a foreign country, and whether the bank has easy access in their area of deployment. If so, you will want to go with the bank that offers the lowest fees. Make note if your bank has a strong presence on the base you will be deployed to.” Mobile banking may also be a priority for you, so you should choose a bank that has a robust mobile app.
You may also wish to prioritize banks that make it easy to send money, banks that have experience working with customers who are in the military, and banks that have experience working with federal military programs, such as VA mortgage loans.
Robert “RJ” Jenkins, a member of the Oregon Army National Guard Engineer Battalion and owner of RJ Buys Houses, notes that there are key differences between large banks, small banks and credit unions: “Larger institutions like Bank of America and Wells Fargo are easier to access no matter where you’re stationed, but a smaller credit union might waive fees for ATMs of other banks. They may also provide additional options, such as higher interest rates on savings accounts, easier loans or a more personalized experience for those times you have questions or issues.”
Some banks also have a presence on military installations, so keep an eye out for banks that are members of the Association of Military Banks of America (AMBA).
Banks for military members: advantages and disadvantages
Some financial institutions were established specifically to serve members of the military. Military banks and credit unions can provide flexible banking options for service members and veterans, such as no monthly service fees, free ATM usage around the country and low or no minimum balances on checking or savings accounts.
According to Drew Cheneler, active-duty military officer and founder of SimpleMoneyLyfe, “The biggest benefit of choosing a military bank over other financial institutions is that they know first hand the hardships we endure every day. They know military members make sacrifices. Their level of care and customer service cannot be beaten.”
Compare banks and credit unions for military members
|Product||USAA||Navy Federal Credit Union||Pentagon Federal Credit Union||Andrews Federal Credit Union||Security Service Federal Credit Union|
|Checking Account Fee||$0||$10 if avg. daily balance < $1.5K||$10 if avg. daily balance < $500||$0||$0|
|Savings Account Fees||$0||$5 minimum deposit||$5 minimum deposit||$5 minimum deposit||$3 monthly if balance < $100|
|Refundable ATM Fees||Up to $15||Up to $10 for Free Checking; $20 for Active Duty Checking||No||No||No|
|Online Bill Pay||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Insurance Services||Yes||Yes||Discounts on third-party insurance||Yes||Yes|
|International Customer Service||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Online banks for military members
Online-only banks are a relatively new option in the financial services market. Unlike traditional banks and credit unions, these banks have no physical branches and operate entirely online or through your mobile device. This has some advantages for members of the armed services, especially active-duty military members who may be stationed overseas.
Online banking sites are always open, so you never have to worry about conflicting time zones getting in the way of your banking experience. Even if you’re outside of the United States, you can log into your account and conduct banking activities whenever you like. Many online banks have 24/7 call services, too.
Online banks generally have lower overhead than traditional banks, so they can pass on those savings to customers. They generally offer lower fees and higher interest rates on savings and deposit accounts.
Of course, there are some downsides to online banking. Because they have no physical branches, you’ll never be able to speak with a bank associate face-to-face. Some online banks don’t allow you to make deposits with physical cash, and they may not offer as many banking or lending products as traditional banks.
If you’re new to online banking, there may be a bit of a learning curve. You should also be careful not to log into your online bank over an unsecured wireless network — such as the Wi-Fi network at a restaurant — as this could put your personal information at risk. This is true for any online banking experience, whether you’re using a traditional bank or an online-only bank.
Compare online banks for military members
|Checking Account Fee||$0||$0||$0|
|Savings Account Fees||$0||$0||$0|
|Refundable ATM Fees||Up to $10||No||Yes|
|Online Bill Pay||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Mortgage/VA Loans||No VA loans||No||No|
|International Customer Service||Yes||Yes||No|
Traditional banks for military members
Traditional banks provide a recognizable banking experience that may appeal to members of the military. Most traditional banks can offer more banking, investment and loan products than credit unions or online banks. Traditional banks also tend to maintain more physical branches, so you can speak to a bank representative face-to-face to resolve problems or conduct large transactions if a branch is available near you.
CEO Adam Selita says, “Larger banks like Chase or Bank of America also have special service accounts dedicated to military members…Benefits such as on-base purchases, cash back options, lower interest rates and getting funds ahead of payday are often options with military accounts.”
For example, Chase Bank offers members of the military access to their Premier Plus Checking account with no minimum balance requirement and no $25 monthly service fee. Bank of America provides eligible service members with reductions or limits on interest rates for credit cards, lines of credit and home loans.
Compare traditional banks for military members
|Product||Chase Bank||Bank of America||Wells Fargo||US Bank|
|Checking Account Fee||$0||$4.95+/mo.||$10/mo. and $25 initial deposit||$0|
|Savings Account Fees||$0||$8/mo. and $100 initial deposit||$5/mo. and $25 initial deposit||$4/mo. and $25 initial deposit|
|Refundable ATM Fees||No||No||No||No|
|Online Bill Pay||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|International Customer Service||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
There are additional resources available that can help you get the most out of your banking experience. Many of these government resources can also help you protect yourself against financial challenges.
The final word
Military service members and veterans have several opportunities to claim discounted services and other benefits from military banks, online banks and traditional banks. Thanks to online and mobile banking, there are now more financial options for military service members than ever before.
However, the financial institution you choose will depend wholly on your unique needs.
If you’re stationed overseas, you may wish to go with an online bank or a military credit union that offers reimbursements on ATM withdrawal fees. If you intend to buy your first home soon, you may wish to go with a traditional bank that can facilitate your VA home loan. Similarly, you may wish to bank with a company like USAA if you want to keep your insurance, loans and finances consolidated with a single provider.
Use the information provided in this guide to find the best financial partner for you and your family.