What's not apparent from USAA's home page is that anybody in the US can join. Mililtary affiliation is not required. The first step to join is to obtain access into their website. This is done by contacting them by phone at 1-800-531-2265.
I've learned about USAA's impressive reputation from this Fatwallet thread and also from reviews at Epinions. So I decided to call and see for myself this wonderous "chocolate factory". Here is my experience with gaining access into USAA's site:
I called 1-800-531-2265 and pressed 0 to speak with a customer service representative (CSR). Once connected with the CSR, I said I was interested in joining and wanted to gain access. He then asked me several questions including lots of personal information including name, address, phone numbers, and social security number (I wasn't too thrilled about providing the ss number). The CSR then guided me through the login procedure. Luckily, I was calling near my PC which was still connected to the web. This allowed the CSR to guide me through the registration procedure. He provided a member number and helped me set up a password and a new pin.
So now I have access into their website. I haven't yet opened any bank accounts. According to the CSR, you can open accounts online, however, it does require printing and mailing in signature cards.
Now that I made it inside, I can see for myself the bank deals. A few of the things that make USAA stand out are the following:
Great checking accout features:
- no minimum or balance requirements
- no monthly service fees
- free paper checks for the life of the account
- no ATM fees or charges (there are a few reasonable limits)
- Debit Mastercard available with 0.5% rebate on all non-PIN purchases
- Online ACH transfer system to move money to/from other banks
High CD interest rates on longer terms with only $1K minimum
- 5% APY CD, 5 year term
- 4.6% APY CD, 4 year term
- 4.45% APY CD, 3 year term
Note, you can get about 0.16% higher interest for a Jumbo CD with $95K deposit and 0.26% higher interest for a Super Jumbo CD with a $175 deposit. There's also a 7 year CD that gets about 0.10% higher interest than the 5 year CDs.
In addition to the specific features and rates, USAA is well liked for its customer service. This is mentioned many times at both Fatwallet and Epinions.
One downside to USAA is that it doesn't have great interest rates on its savings accounts. Even its Performace First Index savings account which requires a minimum $10K deposit only has a maximum rate of 3.31% APY for balances over $50K. For balances between $10K and $25K, the APY is only 2.95%. Its short-term CDs are also not too competitive. For example, the 1 year CD only has an APY of 3.70%.
USAA Federal Savings Bank is rated 4 out of 5 stars on Bankrate.com which is only one below its top score of 5 stars. The bank is headquartered in San Antonio, Texas and was founded in 1922 as United Services Automobile Association. It also offers other products like insurance (which do require military affiliation). For a detailed description of this bank, check out this Fatwallet thread. Finally, no Oompa Loompas have been reported to work there.