PenFed Credit Cards

Sean Messier

Sean Messier

Updated Aug 23, 2019

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With 1.7 million members and a whopping $25 billion in assets, Pentagon Federal Credit Union is one of America’s largest credit unions.

It offers all the services you’d expect of any community-based credit union, including checking accounts, savings accounts, and the usual batch of borrowing options — personal loans, auto loans, mortgages, and the like.

But there’s one thing that separates PenFed from many of its competitors: its military focus.

The credit union first served members of the now-defunct War Department, but today it’s open to anyone who wants to join. Still, PenFed remains particularly popular among the nation’s uniformed services, as well as their family members and supporters.

There are currently dozens of PenFed locations spread throughout the United States, with branches in the Washington D.C. area and several other states, plus at American military bases in Puerto Rico, Japan, Portugal, and Guam.

Just like many big-league financial institutions, PenFed Credit Union is also a credit card issuer.

The current PenFed credit card selection is fairly small, at just five cards, but it includes some surprisingly compelling options. PenFed is federally insured by NCUA and is an Equal Housing Lender.

Low Interest Rate

The PenFed Promise Visa® Card is a no-nonsense selection, offering low interest rates and requiring no fees whatsoever. There’s no rewards system, but there is a small bonus offer for new cardholders.

Rewards

Bonus Offer
  • $100 statement credit for spending $1,500 in the first 90 days after account opening
    • Return on spend: 6.67%

Key Features

  • Promotional APR available (see details)
  • Regular Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 11.74% to 17.99% Variable
  • No Penalty APR
  • No balance transfer, cash advance, or foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0

 

Like the PenFed Promise card, the PenFed Gold Visa® Card features low interest rates, and works in a promotional APR offer (see details).

Rewards

Bonus Offer
  • $100 statement credit for spending $1,500 in the first 90 days after account opening
    • Return on spend: 6.67%

Key Features

  • Promotional APR available (see details)
  • Regular Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 8.99% to 17.99% Variable
  • No cash advance or foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0

Cash Back Rewards

If you’re looking for a rewards credit card that can help you save on every dollar spent, count the PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card among your options. This PenFed credit card provides a flat cash back earning rate that increases if you’re part of the PenFed Honors Advantage program, as well as select Visa Signature benefits.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 1.5% cash back on every purchase
    • 2% cash back on all purchases for PenFed Honors Advantage Members
Bonus Offer
  • $100 statement credit for spending $1,500 in the first 90 days after account opening
    • Return on spend: 6.67%

Key Features

  • Promotional APR available (see details)
  • Regular Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 11.74% to 17.99% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0

Points Rewards

The PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card offers a straightforward and remarkably competitive rewards program. It’s a bit slim on benefits, but that’s to be expected when you’re not paying an annual fee.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 5X points per dollar on Gas purchases at the pump
  • 3X points per dollar on Groceries
  • 1X point per dollar on all other purchases
Bonus Offer
  • $100 statement credit for spending $1,500 in the first 90 days after account opening
    • Return on spend: 6.67%

Key Features

  • Promotional APR available (see details)
  • Regular Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 11.74% to 17.99% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0

Travel Rewards

The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card is PenFed’s travel-focused rewards card. And it’s a pretty good one, at that, because there’s a strong rewards system and several helpful benefits. The lack of an annual fee is just icing on an already enticing cake.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 3X points per dollar on Travel
    • 4X points per dollar for PenFed Honors Advantage members
  • 1X point per dollar on all other purchases
Bonus Offer
  • 25,000 bonus points for spending $2,500 in the first 3 months after account opening

Key Features

  • $100 annual air travel credit: Earn up to $100 in statement credits covering incidental fees for U.S. airlines, including baggage and in-flight purchases.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit: Get a statement credit that covers the application price for Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) once every five years.
  • Promotional APR available (see details)
  • Regular Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 12.74% to 17.99% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0
According to PenFed, the value of a PenFed point is 0.85 for gift cards and merchandise, while it varies for travel redemptions. This is lower than the reward points offered by many other issuers. However, you may be able to increase your redemption value by taking advantage of monthly promotions.

PenFed Credit Card Features

PenFed’s credit cards generally come with at least a few basic features. Certain cards may offer a wider selection of these features than others, so check into any specific card’s terms to learn more before you apply.

PenFed credit cards include:

  • An interest rate cap of 18%: Federal credit unions have to abide by certain laws, which currently include a NCUA maximum interest rate of 18% for most loans (including credit cards).
  • PenFed Honors Advantage program: Some PenFed cards provide extra rewards for Honors Advantage members; to qualify, you must either:
    1. Be in an active military service status, a member of the Reserves or National Guard, an honorably discharged U.S. military veteran, or retired from such service
    2. Be the primary owner of both the relevant credit card and a checking account of any existing open or newly established PenFed product
  • Various reward redemption options: PenFed’s cash back rewards card, the Power Cash, offers only cash back redemptions. The Platinum and Pathfinder cards, on the other hand, allow you to redeem for gift cards, travel, and shopping, but not for cash back. Notably, PenFed does not allow cardholders to transfer rewards between cards.
  • Fraud protections: PenFed’s credit cards all provide fraud protective measures, including 24/7 fraud monitoring. As with most issuers, you won’t be held responsible for charges you didn’t authorize.
  • Visa benefits or American Express benefits: Most of PenFed’s cards are part of the Visa network, which gives them certain benefits. Two standard Visa cards and two Visa Signature cards are available, and the latter options will likely provide a few more perks than the former. Visa-provided benefits often include purchase protection, a concierge service, auto rental collision damage waivers, travel accident insurance, roadside assistance, and more. The lone Amex card in the lineup offers similar benefits.

How to Become a Member of PenFed Credit Union

PenFed may issue only five credit cards, but among its modest portfolio are some fairly impressive rewards cards. The catch is that you have to be a PenFed member to get these cards.

So, you might be wondering: Can anyone become a member and apply for a PenFed credit card?

Though it wasn’t always the case, the answer is now “yes.” You have to be approved to actually get a PenFed credit card, of course. But the good news is that PenFed now allows anyone to become a member. You previously had to meet certain criteria, mostly related to the military, but fortunately those restrictions have been lifted.

All PenFed members must open and maintain a savings account with at least $5. PenFed is federally insured by NCUA and is an Equal Housing Lender.

Some of PenFed’s products require military affiliation to get certain benefits. For example, with the Pathfinder card, you must be a member of the PenFed Honors Advantage Program to get 4x points. To qualify for PenFed Honors Advantage, you must meet one of the following criteria:

  1. Be in an active military service status, a member of the Reserves or National Guard, an honorably discharged U.S. Military Veteran or retired from such service
  2. Be the primary owner on both the credit card and checking accounts of any existing open or newly established PenFed product, excluding PenCheck Limited accounts

A Brief History of Pentagon Federal Credit Union

Attracting nearly 2 million members since its establishment, it’s clear that PenFed has been doing something right.

Even so, the Pentagon Federal Credit Union tale is one that begins humbly.

Back in the Day

PenFed’s story begins in March 1935, when ten volunteers united and founded what was then known as the War Department Federal Credit Union. At the time, the credit union’s membership was focused exclusively on the War Department’s civilian employees, and it operated in Washington, D.C.’s old Munitions Building.

The old Navy and Munitions Buildings on the Washington Mall. Image credit: NPS

The credit union moved to the Pentagon building in November 1942, and was suitably renamed Pentagon Federal Credit Union in December 1947. PenFed reached $1 million in assets shortly thereafter, in August 1949, offering a taste of the credit union’s prosperous future.

Growth and Expansion

The years following PenFed’s adoption of its current name brought about a host of major changes, and perhaps to no surprise, they were accompanied by some big-league achievements.

August 1956 saw PenFed expanding its membership to encompass not only the War Department, but all Army and Air Force Commissioned and Warrant Officers, too, paving the way for major growth.

In 1971, this growth came to fruition and then some, as the credit union opened its first overseas branch and climbed past 100,000 members.

The Roaring ’80s

PenFed’s international debut heralded a new era for the credit union, which diversified its services considerably throughout the 1980s.

PenFed introduced the PenCheck account in 1982, and just two years later, the credit union began issuing credits cards. By 1987, PenFed had received authorization for First Mortgage and HELOC lending, expanding the list of resources available to its members even further.

As yet another marker of the progress accompanying these changes, PenFed surpassed $1 billion in assets in mid-1984.

PenFed Now

Today, PenFed strives to remain on the cutting edge of the financial scene through a combination of accessible financial products and forward-thinking technology that allows the bank to better serve its members, including those members of the military stationed all around the world.

The credit union reached $10 billion in assets in January 2007 and 1 million members in December 2010, and today boasts $25 billion in assets and 1.7 million members.

In addition to its financial services, PenFed actively supports the community through the PenFed Foundation, which was established in the aftermath of 9/11 to assist the nation’s active servicemembers and veterans, along with their families and supporters. The organization has since delivered more than $34.5 million in assistance through emergency and down payment grants, childcare expense coverage, and several other charitable initiatives.

Find more information about the foundation’s efforts on the PenFed Foundation website, or browse PenFed locations and visit a branch near you.

PenFed credit cards are popular among members of the military, but there are plenty of other options. Browse our go-to selections for military credit cards.
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