PenFed Offers $200 Bonus for New Access America Checking Account

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Deal Summary: $200 bonus for opening the Access America Checking, depositing at least $1,200, and making at least 5 debit card purchases within 90 days.

Availability: Easy membership requirement

PenFed Credit Union (PenFed) used to offer very competitive CD rates. My last post was in early 2019 when its 5-year CD yield was over 3%. Unfortunately, PenFed’s CD rates have been uncompetitive for some time, with rates much lower than what online banks are offering. However, there is another reason for me to write about PenFed. The Credit Union is offering a new checking account promotion in which you can earn a $200 bonus. I think most of us would prefer a CD special, but at least this offers many of us a way to make a little bit of money.

PenFed is offering a $200 bonus when you open a new Access America Checking Account, deposit a minimum of $1,200, and make 5 debit card purchases within 90 days of account opening. The offer is valid through 6/14/2020. Here’s the link to the PenFed promotion page.

Below is an excerpt of the promotion’s small print:

Must receive at least $1200 in deposits in your checking account within 90 days of account opening and make 5 debit card purchases in the first 90 days. Only available to new personal checking members who do not have an existing checking account and qualify for an Access America Account. Once the criteria is met, the bonus will be credited to the new personal checking account no later than 120 days from account opening. Account must remain open, active and in good standing (no negative balance) at time bonus is distributed. PenFed will issue an IRS form 1099 reporting the value of the bonus. One bonus per member.

The $1,200 deposit requirement matches the stimulus checks that the government has sent to qualified Americans as part of the $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package. There’s no requirement that the deposit be from this stimulus check. So if you didn’t qualify for the stimulus check, you can still qualify for this bonus. Another nice thing about this promotion is that it does not require direct deposit which makes sense for an institution that wants to help those who may no longer be receiving direct deposits from employers. Hopefully, we’ll see more checking account bonuses like this from other banks and credit unions.

Thanks to DA reader, SYC, for posting news of this promotion in the DA Forum.

Access America Checking Features

The first thing to note about the Access America Checking Account is that it’s not a free checking account. There’s a monthly service charge of $10. This can be waived with either a daily balance of at least $500 or a monthly direct deposit of at least $500.

One benefit for PenFed members to have this checking account is that it gives members free access to ATMs in the Allpoint and CO-OP network. PenFed members who don’t have Access America Checking are charged $1.50 for making withdrawals from in-network ATMs.

The first box of checks is free. For additional checks, PenFed charges $5 for each order of checks.

For more details on the checking account fees, please refer to this PenFed Service Fees page.

Checking and Savings Interest Rates

Access America Checking does pay interest if you maintain a monthly direct deposit of at least $500. As is common with interest checking accounts, the rates are low. Currently, the rate is 0.50% for balances between $20k to $50k. Balances under $20k earn 0.20%. These rates have been steady since 2016. To be fair, this is comparable to the current rates of Ally Bank Interest Checking (0.50% for $15k+, 0.10% under $15k).

PenFed does have an option now for earning a decent rate on a liquid account without direct deposit. PenFed launched an online savings account in 2018. It’s called the Premium Online Savings Account. During most of 2019, the yield had been 2%, but it has been falling since last September. However, the yield has remained competitive with the online banks. As of May 6, 2020, the yield of the Premium Online Savings Account is 1.40% on all balances. Minimum to open is only $5. In the past, the account only paid interest on a maximum balance of $100k. That is no longer the case, and now all balances earn the full interest rate.

Future of PenFed CDs?

Many DA readers may only have PenFed CDs (called Money Market Certificates by PenFed) in addition to the required savings account. So many readers may be eligible to participate in this promotion. I think most would prefer a competitive CD special, but at least this offers us a way to make a little money.

PenFed has a long history of competitive CD rates. Many readers are probably still earning 5% yield on promotional 10-year CDs that PenFed offered in late 2010 and early 2011. Unfortunately, those CDs will soon be maturing. Another great CD deal at PenFed came in 2013 and early 2014 when PenFed offered 5-year and 7-year CDs with a 3.04% APY. That was the time during the last zero rate period when the top 5-year CD yields from online banks were only around 2%. So I still have hope that we’ll see good CD deals again at PenFed.

Here’s an interesting bit of PenFed CD history that gives me hope. PenFed’s current 5-year CD yield (1.25%) is close to its all-time low (1.15%). That all-time low occurred in 2013. In May 2013, PenFed’s 5-year CD yield fell to 1.15%, and it remained at this level until September 2013 when the yield increased to 1.56%. The yield increased to 2.02% in October, which positioned PenFed with the rate leaders. Two months later, we were pleasantly shocked by PenFed’s rate increases that pushed the 5-year CD yield to 3.04%, which was way above the rate leaders.

I doubt 2020 will be a repeat of 2013 for PenFed CD rates, but 2013 may give you hope and remind you not to give up on PenFed.

Availability

Headquartered just outside the Beltway in McLean, Virginia, PenFed Credit Union offers membership to almost every U.S. resident. PenFed’s online application lists the various ways in which individuals can qualify for membership.

  • I am retired, honorably discharged, or currently serving in the military
  • I work for the Federal Government or another eligible employer
  • None of these options apply to me

If you choose the “None” option, the application lists three additional options:

  • I am a member of an eligible association
  • I live or work at an eligible location
  • None of these options apply to me, but I would like to join PenFed

If you choose the “association” option, the application asks you to enter the eligible association in a text box. As you start to type, dozens of associations are listed for you to select.

If you choose the “None” option, the application still allows you to continue. In the past, the PenFed application would allow you to join an association as you applied for PenFed membership. This required you to pay $17 for membership into the association. It appears the new online application still offers this option, even though this option and its cost are no longer listed.

According to a member service representative, the application process for the Access America Checking Account does not result in a hard credit inquiry. I was told it’s only a soft credit pull with no effect on one’s credit score.

I was also told that you can fund the account with either a debit or credit card. Maximum initial deposit when using a card is $500. There isn’t a limit if you fund it electronically via ACH by entering the routing and account number information of your existing checking or savings account. Existing members can also fund it from their PenFed savings account.

Joining PenFed and/or opening the Access America Checking Account can be done online by clicking on the “open now” button in the PenFed promotion page.

Once the COVID-19 restrictions are eased, joining and opening accounts can be done in person at any of the 48 full-service branches located in California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia , Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Credit Union Overview

PenFed Credit Union has an overall health grade of "A" at DepositAccounts.com, with a Texas Ratio of 3.64% (excellent), based on December 31, 2019 data. In the past year, PenFed’s deposits have fallen by $930 million, or 4.93%. This is part of the reason why the overall health grade is “A” and not “A+”. The shrinking deposits may put pressure on PenFed to offer higher CD rates at some point in the future. Please refer to our financial overview of PenFed Credit Union (NCUA Charter # 227) for more details.

Established in 1935, PenFed Credit Union is the third largest credit union in the nation, with more than 2,700,000 member accounts and assets in excess of $24 billion.

How the Bonus Offer Compares

Checking account bonus amounts from $300 to $700 are available at a few large banks including Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, PNC, and HSBC. The larger bonuses tend to either require maintaining large balances or establishing a large monthly direct deposit. With a deposit requirement of only $1,200, a minimum balance of $500 to avoid fees, and no direct deposit requirement, PenFed’s $200 bonus compares very favorably to the bonus offers from the other banks.

Other Bank Bonuses

Be sure to check out our full list of the best savings and checking account bonus offers.

The above offers and rates are accurate as of 5/6/2020.

Related Pages: checking accounts, nationwide deals, bank bonuses

Comments
Mike
  |     |   Comment #1
They always hit you with HARD credit pull and that is a turn off to open accounts there.
Berry
  |     |   Comment #3
Correct Mike, I got hit with two hard pulls in two days, one for the regular saving (membership required) account and one for the CD. No more PenFed for me. That costs me 40 points for each hard pull on my credit reports.
Predatory Depositor
  |     |   Comment #4
I'm halfway tempted to organize a lobbying effort to pass regulations prohibiting FIs from doing hard credit inquiries unless someone is applying for credit. This is seriously infuriating. And most people aren't even aware that it happened until they need to use their credit and find out that they lent their money to an FI who's first act before the account was even open was to damage their credit score without their knowledge.
Anonymous
  |     |   Comment #6
Or you could be fully tempted. Good post.
deplorable 1
  |     |   Comment #12
Yes this practice of doing hard pulls for savings and CD's needs to stop. They can get any information they need with a soft pull. I think they do this for the express purpose of marketing credit cards and loans to you. That's fine but they need to wait until you apply for those products first. It's tough enough trying to maintain a high score without FI's doing hard pulls for nothing.
Choice
  |     |   Comment #14
I have told CUs in the past (not too frequent) to pull a ChexSystems report, ie I would not release my freeze. If I recall NFCU never made any credit report pull when I joined a couple of years ago!
#33 - This comment has been removed for violating our comment policy.
Larry
  |     |   Comment #7
Thanks Mike, I agree with you and I will not open more accounts at Pentagon CU. The most scary part is, if you ask their CSR what kind of credit pulls they do, the answer is always, WE DO NOT KNOW, talk to a manager or a field supervisor and when you call them and wait few days for call back, the answer is always IT DEPENDS or depend on the product you are applying for or ...or.....and it ends up with, we do not know for sure call the REP for more info. Going in circles, it is a bad customer relation.
Blue Jay
  |     |   Comment #34
This is false and outdated information. Yes, it's true that in the past for joining PenFed and opening up a DDA, PenFed's policy used to be to do a hard pull. However, PenFed has now begun doing soft pulls for opening up memberships & depository accounts as well as personal loan rate estimates. My recommendation is to first join PenFed through the membership flow (Join Now on penfed.org) and then once the savings account is created and the online banking registered, then to open up the DDA. This promo is the easiest new account promo I've ever seen and really is $200 free bucks.
Science and Facts not Lies
  |     |   Comment #2
For those who might be tempted to look at a new PenFed CD in addition to checking, note that PenFed's CDs (Money Market Certificates) have much more severe early withdrawal penalties than other places. Look closely at the details. I no longer bother with PenFed because of their bad EWP.
Jennifer
  |     |   Comment #5
I have a large 10 year certificate at Pen Fed with a 5% interest rate (it matures in January) that i adore. Unfortunately, I already have this checking account with them. So I am out of luck on this one. Poor Jennifer
Rickny
  |     |   Comment #8
I have a 10 year 5% CD at Penfed that matures next year. This is the only CD I have with them. I will continue to use my grandfathered gas reward charge card that gives me a 5% discount. They are no longer competitive.
#9 - This comment has been removed for violating our comment policy.
#10 - This comment has been removed for violating our comment policy.
lou
  |     |   Comment #13
Losing my 10-year 5% certificates will be traumatic. Where did the ten years go?
#15 - This comment has been removed for violating our comment policy.
#16 - This comment has been removed for violating our comment policy.
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Fred
  |     |   Comment #20
Jennifer (or anyone else), do you know if the $500 DD requirement is a combined requirement, or requires a single DD of $500 or more per month?
Sree
  |     |   Comment #19
Does it work? : Learning some invisible Hard pulls by these FIs, I am thinking of writing(email) to each of the FIs that I have accounts that, "I am not authorizing you or any of other/affiliated related financial institutions, directly or indirectly to do a HARD Credit Enquiery on any type of my credit profile, which may impact the value of my credit profile. If in case of such authorization existing on your records from me (directly OR indirectly) I am legally revoking such authorization effective IMMEDIATELY. Any further such Credit Access is required, my Exclusive(not a part of any other authorization) pre authorization MUST be in place. Violating this request, I reserve all the legal rights to prosecute any party at any time. Thank you. " - Can some legal guru advice please... Thanks
Predatory Depositor
  |     |   Comment #23
I'd say your chances are somewhere between nil and zero. When you open your account you agree to abide by the terms, and they provide you with access to disclosure of those terms. And you agree to allow to let them do pretty much any kind of credit check they want. Almost no one has or takes the time to even look at those find print documents much less figure them out, but if you open the account you're bound by them. You've given your consent to run a credit check. Once you do that, I think you're out of luck unless you have some mechanism in place to stop it like a freeze.
Fredy
  |     |   Comment #32
Predatory Depositor, I always read them, the problem is, most of the times I click on "I DO NOT AGREE" and I'm out of there without new account being opened. Some banks or CUs call you back to discus the reason for it, I was successful 3 times to avoid the hard credit pulls with the CUs if you tell them that you are planning on getting a loan later from them or someone else and you need high FICO score.
#25 - This comment has been removed for violating our comment policy.
Rickny
  |     |   Comment #22
Sickdeals had an offer if you open a HSBC savings account with no minimum deposit mentioned , they would give you a $125 bonus to your PayPal account. I went through the motions and when they attempted the credit check (no mention in the application process they were doing a hard pull) they sent me a letter that I had a freeze on my credit. They gave no clear instructions so I just passed on the offer.
P_D
  |     |   Comment #26
To me a hard pull is worth $2,000. If I can't come out at least $2,000 ahead by allowing a hard pull, it's a deal killer. I have accounts at at least 25 different FIs. If they all did hard pulls my credit score would be worse than Bernie Madoff's.

But the rub is that you don't always get reliable information and sometimes you get a hard pull when you expected a soft pull... even after checking with reasonable care. This practice has to be stopped.
Choice
  |     |   Comment #27
PD. A freeze only stops a hard pull...so why are u allowing FIs jerk u around, why don’t u have a freeze?
P_D
  |     |   Comment #28
From now on I probably will. But in recent times, with rates rising, a hard pull wasn't a deal killer. I would have gone ahead with the deals I got even with a hard pull because they were exceptional, so it wasn't an important criterion. And if I did have a freeze, it might have delayed the funding and killed it.

But now that the rate environment changed, there are probably not going to be many deals that meet my minimum requirement for a hard pull so a freeze is an option to prevent them.
P_D
  |     |   Comment #29
My preference though would be for the FI to pay me $2,000 to let them do a hard pull.
;-)
gregk
  |     |   Comment #24
I suppose one could close an existing checking account with PenFed and establish this new one to qualify for the bonus. There's no restriction one can't have had a checking account with PenFed in some specified previous time period. Not sure it's worth the bother in my case, however.
How Long?
  |     |   Comment #30
I didn't come across in the blog or in PenFed's service fees whether there is a fee for early closing. Can I open this account, do my five debit purchases, receive my reward, and then close the account and take the money and run. Did anyone else find information how long this account must remain open? or if there's a fee for closing it quickly?

Also, do they do a hard credit pull if you already have an account with them? If so, that doesn't make any sense at all.
Savan
  |     |   Comment #31
lol not likely and nott nice keep that account open for at least a few years geez
Blue Jay
  |     |   Comment #35
There is no early closure penalty. Once you've received the bonus, you're more than welcome to close down the account. However, the account does have to be in good standing for the bonus to get credited, and it could take up to 120 days for the bonus to be credited after the criteria are met. The checking account has a 90-day waiver before the $10 service charge would begin, so, my advice is to keep the $500 in the account until you've received the bonus; thereafter, you're free to close down the account with no worries.
Hooked
  |     |   Comment #36
Thanks for the post, Ken.

Comments #34/35 - looks like you are from PenFed? I signed up and indeed there was no hard pull, opting out of overdraft protection.

#20 - I suspect the $500 monthly DD can be cumulative but may be #34/35 can confirm to you.
NYCDoug
  |     |   Comment #37
After a period of back-and-forth I'm giving up on this offer. I unfroze my Experian report, only to be told by PenFed that it's Equifax they need to access (albeit for a "soft" pull).

But I cannot temporarily unfreeze my Equifax report online. Unlike Experian, Equifax insists upon a live call . . . but no live agents are available. So, after climbing around their phone tree, passing a series of ID screeners, I'm told that I need to fax my unfreeze request to Equi-fax, or to send it by mail.

In these covid-ridden times, who's to say anybody is actually there at Equifax to receive fax or mail? They're certainly not answering the phone! And who's to say when my freeze would be lifted? I'd have no way of knowing when they received and then enacted my request.

Each time I call or email PenFed I get a different CSR responding, the most recent of whom told me I should unfreeze my credit report for at least a week, so I would have a chance of having my creditworthiness vetted through Equifax. Yet, as other posters have pointed out, this is to open a simple checking account with PenFed -- not to take out a loan! And I'm already a member!

So much nonsense is going on here. How is it that PenFed is wedded to Equifax? (Which ties your hands behind your back). Does PenFed not trust responsible, existing members, who have frozen their credit history as a precaution?

I get the sense this $200 offer is not really something that PenFed wants to make good on. The more roadblocks the can erect, the better for them. So much for customer focus!
Jeffsss
  |     |   Comment #38
It appears this promo is now expired, even though it's listed as not expiring until June 14th. Can anyone confirm?
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