At a glance
You can’t turn on your television or open your mailbox these days without seeing yet another credit card offer from a major bank. Some offers sound better than others, and they all have potential benefits and drawbacks. The sheer number can be mind-boggling, and if you’re in the market for a new card, the information can be overwhelming.
In light of this, I’d like to let you in on a little secret. One of the best offers out there is not from a bank at all; it’s the PenFed Promise Card from the Pentagon Federal Credit Union. If, like many people, you’re struggling to get a handle on your debt, this could be just the card for you.
But before I get into the details of the card, you’re probably wondering exactly what the Pentagon Federal Credit Union is.
Pentagon Federal Credit Union
The Pentagon Federal Credit Union, also known as PenFed, was federally chartered in 1935 for the purpose of providing low-cost financial services to members of the United States military and their families. Since then, the company has expanded it’s customer base and now provides financial services to anyone, regardless of military background.
Since the organization operates as a non-profit credit union, they do not make a serious effort to advertise, which is why you may not have heard of it. This institution has a vastly different mission than a regular bank, which exists solely to make money. As a result, a credit union’s credit card offerings tend to beat those of the major banks.
The Promise Card
Among the portfolio of cards offered by PenFed, the Promise Card is aimed at those who are currently carrying a balance and want the lowest balance transfer rate, the lowest APR, and the fewest fees. The outstanding interest rates and the lack of fees are virtually unparalleled in the credit card industry.
Here are some of the features you can enjoy with this card:
- Low APR. The card offers an introductory APR of 7.49% for a full three years and a balance transfer APR of a mere 4.99%. PenFed is currently offering that rate for the life of the balance, which is amazing.
- No Annual Fee. At a time when many cards are starting to incorporate an annual fee, the PenFed Promise does not.
- No Foreign Transaction Fee. Almost all major banks, except Capital One, charge a foreign transaction fee for any charges processed outside the United States. A few other cards aimed at travelers have just begun to waive their foreign transaction fees. These fees, which range from 1-3% are a complete scam as they provide no value to the customer. The PenFed Promise card is one of the few cards that does not charge this outrageous credit card fee.
- No Balance Transfer Fee. This is a big deal as the fine print of almost every balance transfer offer includes a hefty balance transfer fee. No fee means that transferring your balance here should be a no-brainer.
- No Cash Advance Fee. This is also key. While cash advances will incur a substantially higher APR, at least there is no up front fee attached to it.
- No Late Fees. This is virtually unheard of in the industry.
- No Penalty APR. Most cards will jack up your interest rate when you miss a payment. This higher rate is known as a penalty APR and is usually disclosed only in fine print. PenFed does not play this game.
Of course, no bank or credit card is perfect. There are a few things to be aware of before you decide to commit to a PenFed Promise Card.
- Variable APR. After 36 months at the introductory rate of 7.49%, your APR will go up marginally, varying with the prime rate. Currently, the rate is 9.99%, which is still very competitive if not outstanding. However, since it does vary, no one knows what it will be in another three years.
- No Rewards. This card is really for people who are trying to pay off their balance. Any card that is offering a reward is going to charge much higher interest rates and fees. As is always the case, if you’re paying interest on your credit cards, you should be looking for a card with the lowest APR, and not considering rewards. Any cash back or loyalty points earned on a reward card will be dwarfed by its higher interest rates and fees. Conversely, if you always pay your balance in full, you are probably better off with a reward card from PenFed or from a traditional bank (e.g. Chase Freedom).
- Membership Requirements. By now, you might be wondering what the catch is. Well, you do have to meet their eligibility requirements to become a member of the credit union. Fortunately, there is a long list of organizations whose members are eligible:
- US Military: All branches and retirees fall under this umbrella.
- Government Employees: Many employees of the US Government are able to become members of PenFed.
- The American Red Cross: Employees and volunteers with the Red Cross are all eligible.
- Household and Family Members: Eligibility also extends to the entire household as well as immediate family, grandparents, and grandchildren.
It is easy to see how the vast majority of people in the United States are already eligible, but even if you are not one of them, you can still qualify. All you have to do is purchase a membership in a group such as the National Military Family Association or the Voices For Americas Troops for a one time fee of $20 or $15 respectively. These are very easy qualifications to obtain, but it is an extra step you would not have to take if you were dealing with a bank.
If you carry balances on your credit cards and are trying to get out of debt, the PenFed Promise Card is one of the best solutions available. The card boasts extremely low interest rates and doesn’t try to take advantage of customers by charging unnecessary fees. And since membership is now open to pretty much anyone, you are able to enjoy a card that was once only available to a select few.
Do you have any experience with PenFed’s Promise Card? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.