Article Badge Image
Updated: Feb 14, 2024

PenFed Credit Union Free Checking Account 2024 Review

Our PenFed Credit Union Free Checking account review looks at the notable fees, convenience, and other features that matter when managing your finances.
Editor's Rating
Today's Rates
Super boost your savings with highest rates.
Savings Accounts up to:
5.35% APY

PenFed Credit Union offers a checking account with no monthly fee and access to a sizable ATM network. While membership was previously limited to those with military or government affiliation, anyone can join.  

Our Verdict

PenFed Credit Union's Free Checking Account is a simple checking option that includes everything you need to manage your money. 

This checking account may appeal to people who:

  • Are interested in joining a credit union vs. opening a checking account at a bank
  • Want a checking account with no monthly maintenance fee
  • Routinely visit ATMs to withdraw cash
  • Have at least $25 to open an account

Choosing a credit union vs. a bank can offer some advantages. Fees are often lower and interest rates for deposit accounts tend to be higher. Credit unions can also offer more favorable rates for loans and credit cards. 

PenFed is an established credit union with a solid brand reputation. In addition to checking accounts, you can also open savings and CD accounts here or apply for a variety of loans.

PenFed Credit Union Free Checking Account Pros & Cons

  • No monthly maintenance fee or min. balance requirement
  • Surcharge-free access to 86,000+ Allpoint and Co-op ATMs
  • Membership rules allow anyone to join
  • NCUA-insured up to the applicable limits
  • No rewards program or interest earnings
  • Only 50 locations nationwide
Find Your Best Checking Account
Explore Top Checking Accounts

Compared to Other Checking Accounts

Alliant Credit Union High Rate Checking Account

Alliant Credit Union offers a high-yield checking account with no monthly service fees, no overdraft fees and no minimum balance requirements. You'll have access to more than 80,000 fee-free ATMs and Alliant refunds up to $20 in foreign ATM fees each month. There are membership requirements you'll need to meet to join, though Alliant gives you several options to choose from. 

Read our full Alliant Credit Union High Rate Checking review

Blue Federal Credit Union Money Market Account

Blue Federal Credit Union offers a high-yield money market account in partnership with Raisin. This account offers one of the best APYs of any money market option, with 24/7 online access to funds. If you're opening your account through Raisin, you don't need to meet any special membership requirements to get started. 

Read our full Blue Federal Credit Union Money Market review

LendingClub Rewards Checking

LendingClub's Rewards Checking account may be ideal if you're interested in rewards checking and don't mind banking online. You can earn unlimited 1% cash back on eligible debit card purchases with no monthly fees or overdraft fees. LendingClub offers unlimited foreign ATM fee rebates, and the minimum opening deposit is just $25. 

Read our full LendingClub Rewards Checking review

Chime Checking

If you need a basic checking option, you might consider banking with Chime. You'll pay no monthly fees and there's no minimum deposit requirement. You can withdraw cash at more than 60,000 ATMs fee-free and deposit cash to your account at over 8,500 Walgreens locations. 

Read our full Chime Checking review

Interest Rates

PenFed's Free Checking account doesn't earn interest. That's important to know if you're specifically looking for interest checking. 

Interest checking accounts can help you grow your money but typically not as much as a high-yield savings account. For example, you might earn a 5.00% APY with an online savings account while an interest checking account pays you just 0.15%. 

If you're considering interest checking accounts, here are a few things to consider:

  • Interest rate and APY you can earn
  • How that rate is applied (i.e., across all balances or tiered)
  • Interest compounding frequency

And if you want to save with PenFed, you might open a Premium Online Savings account. This is a high-yield savings account with no monthly fees. You'll just need a $5 opening deposit to get started. 


Rewards checking accounts pay you back each time you spend with your debit card or complete another eligible transaction. For example, you might get 1% cashback on eligible purchases. 

The PenFed Free Checking account isn't a rewards account. And there's no introductory bonus offered with this account either. 

Is a rewards checking account worth it? It depends on the rewards you're earning and the fees you might pay. 

Rewards checking could be worth it if you're earning a decent cashback rate and there's no monthly maintenance fee. 

On the other hand, a rewards checking account may be a bust if you have to jump through hoops to earn something back or you're stuck paying a high monthly service fee. 


PenFed doesn't charge a monthly fee for its Free Checking accounts. If you're wondering what fees you might pay, here's a quick rundown of the most important ones.

Other Service Fees - PenFed Credit Union Free Checking

Type Fee
Monthly Maintenance Fee $0
Foreign ATM fee $0
Non-Sufficient Funds Fee $30
Stop Payment Fee $20
Domestic Wire Transfer $25
International Wire Transfer $30
Foreign Transaction Fee 2%

There aren't a whole lot of fees to worry about, since this is a free checking account after all. 

PenFed doesn't offer ATM fee rebates. But you've got access to a sizable ATM network so you may not have to worry about added surcharges. 

ATM Access

PenFed offers access to 85,000+ fee-free ATMs, including Allpoint and Co-op ATMs. You can find fee-free PenFed ATMs located at branches and at retail locations, including:

  • Target
  • CVS
  • Circle K
  • Winn Dixie
  • Rite Aid
  • Kroger
  • Speedway
  • Safeway

PenFed won't charge a fee if you use an out-of-network ATM. However, the ATM's owner may charge you a service fee. 

Account Access

PenFed gives you multiple ways to manage your checking accounts. You can access your accounts with:

  • Online banking
  • Mobile banking
  • Phone banking
  • Branch banking
  • ATMs

Your Free Checking account includes a debit card, but you can also order checks. You can deposit funds via electronic transfer, mobile deposit, or mail in a check. 

When you need to withdraw money, you can:

  • Make a fee-free withdrawal at an eligible ATM, including co-op shared branch banking locations
  • Use your debit card to make a purchase (and get cash back at the register)
  • Transfer funds to an external bank account
  • Transfer funds between your PenFed accounts
  • Pay bills online
  • Write a check (the first 50 are free)
  • Schedule a domestic or international wire transfer

You can link bank accounts at other banks to your PenFed account if you have the routing number and account number. You'll also be able to send and receive money through Zelle. PenFed doesn't charge any added fees to use this service. 

Customer service is available by phone or live chat. You can also visit a PenFed branch for in-person help if there's one near you. 

FDIC Insurance

FDIC insurance protects your deposits if your bank fails. That doesn't happen often, but when it does, the FDIC steps in to prevent customers from losing all their money. 

Credit unions are not covered by FDIC insurance. Instead, they're insured through the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).

PenFed is an NCUA-insured credit union. That means your deposits are covered up to $250,000, which is the same level of coverage the FDIC extends to bank customers. 

There's nothing you need to do to enroll in this coverage. It applies automatically when you open accounts at an insured credit union. 

What You Need to Open

You can open a PenFed Credit Union Free Checking account online. Membership is open to everyone; you don't need to be a military member or federal employee to have an account. 

Here's what you'll need to get started with PenFed: 

  • Valid, government-issued ID
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Mailing address
  • Phone number
  • Email

You'll need to open a PenFed share savings account before you can open a checking account. The minimum deposit required for a savings account is just $5. 

Once you've done that, you can set up your free checking account. 


Is PenFed a legitimate credit union?

PenFed Credit Union is a legitimate financial institution offering checking accounts, savings accounts and other banking products and services to customers. It's one of the best-known credit unions in the U.S. and is insured by the National Credit Union Administration. 

Can anyone join PenFed Credit Union?

Like other credit unions, PenFed is owned by its members, and you must join before you can open an account. Fortunately, PenFed extends membership to everyone. That's different from other credit unions which may limit membership eligibility based on your military affiliation, geographic area or employment status. 

Is a credit union better than a bank?

Credit unions can offer some advantages over traditional banks, starting with lower fees. You can also find loans offered at lower interest rates with a credit union versus a bank. Whether it makes sense to choose a credit union over a bank can depend on the type of account you're hoping to open and the benefits you'd like to enjoy. It's also important to consider eligibility requirements when looking for a credit union to join.