Citizens united against Citizens, or how I learned to love USAA
January 5, 2012 7:01 AM   Subscribe

How well does USAA work for people without special status? Alternatively, does anyone have any experience with credit unions local to the Pittsburgh area? I'm looking to change my bank, but I'm kind of nervous about making the jump.

I've been looking to make a change to my bank after they've screwed me over one too many times. The tipping point has been the fact that their back-end systems can't seem to correctly sum all my linked accounts, which means that I've been charged a service fee for not meeting a minimum balance despite having it. I've complained about this multiple times in a debit-complain-refund cycle with assurances that it will never happen again, but it always does anyway.

I do very little in the way of physical banking -- I write or deposit very few personal checks, do direct deposit through my work, and prefer online banking for almost every activity. Online bill pay to arbitrary persons/companies would be nice, since basically the only thing I write checks for is rent. In general, a rich online interface with mobile apps/interfaces is a hard requirement. Interest rates on loans and bank-type investments is a nice but secondary concern, since a mortgage isn't on the horizon and I do my heavy investing through TIAA-CREF and Vanguard.

I've heard great things about USAA, but I have heard some complaints from people who aren't service members or relatives of such. I know I can't get insurance through them, but I've heard mixed opinions on whether I can get credit cards or electronic check deposits. Also, I've heard that they place fairly weird restrictions on domestic partners, which may be relevant to me.

I'm also interested in Pittsburgh's local federal credit union. While I like the idea of a credit union, their website looks like it crawled out of the nineties. I'm interested if any of you have a positive experience with them, or any online bank that's not USAA. Thanks in advance!
posted by ayerarcturus to Work & Money (16 answers total)
In doing this same research myself, I have heard all entirely 100% awesome things about USAA, and from non-servicemembers/non-military-family, who assure me that the service is just as robust for non-military. I have not yet made the move there myself, in part because the lack of real-world banking services is troublesome. (I'm like you, and do all my banking online,--but you know, once a year, you need a certified check, and then what do you do? Drive to West Point???) Their "domestic partnership" issue is... upsetting, however.

In researching credit unions, I am finding that they all are less robust in online use than the big banks, which makes the transition rough.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:08 AM on January 5, 2012

Best answer: I'm a totally non-military person and a thrilled USAA customer. Best bank I've ever dealt with; the people I've talked to on the phone have been eager to save me money and fix the very few issues I've had. I pay all my bills out of it, and it works fine; I even pay my rent check, which technically turns into my landlord getting a check in the mail, but doesn't require any pen and ink on my part.

But all I have is a checking account; pretty much anything else I'm not allowed. Even electronic check deposit requires other eligibility that pretty much counts out anyone who "doesn't count."
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:13 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I fall under the "no special status" category. I'm very glad I bank with USAA. Last time I checked, I can deposit checks at the UPS Store (odd, but easy), but not via their mobile app. Also, as of the last time I checked, I couldn't get a credit card through them.

One distinction worth making: Yes, you are limited in what they provide you. But I've never felt like they're offering me second-tier service within what they provide me.

They used to be even better. They had instant credit on transfers to your account (rather than waiting for them to clear) and cash back with the debit card that comes with the checking account. Those two things are gone.

For various reasons, they're not my only bank. But I'm very happy with them as my main bank.
posted by veggieboy at 7:20 AM on January 5, 2012

It appears to use their very slick Deposit@Home and Deposit@Mobile functionality, you need to have either a credit card or purchase insurance through them.

It is unclear what the credit card requirements are - for insurance you already know the spiel.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:22 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a USAA member. Love them. But I just signed up with a local credit union so that I could do cash deposits for my business. They offer 2% interest on their checking accouts though you do have to jump through some monthly transaction hoops to get that. I decided to go with them after asking on Facebook for local favorite credit unions. You might try a similar tack.
posted by amanda at 8:09 AM on January 5, 2012

Best answer: Oddly, I was just investigating credit unions in Pittsburgh this morning, to see if I could find one that offers a better rate than the 1.5% I'm getting for my savings account at Dollar Bank. I couldn't find one offering anything close to that. I'm happy with Dollar (although their online banking site is somewhat primitive, but it does work and I've had no trouble integrating my dollar accounts into, so if you're looking for a more traditional alternative to Citizen's, I can recommend it.)
posted by namewithoutwords at 8:11 AM on January 5, 2012

I don't see why you would have a problem. I moved to USAA last year coming from one of the big banks, and have been happy ever since. I'm not military and don't have any family linked.

It's true that certain services such as the Deposit@Home or Mobile aren't available to you, but I just use the checking and savings account.

Another great thing is the free ATMs anywhere, up to $15 a month.
posted by signondiego at 9:26 AM on January 5, 2012

Best answer: I'm a non-military USAA member. They are far better than the 3 previous commercial banks I've dealt with. The domestic partner restrictions were removed last year. They also have a very good website and apps for online banking.
posted by chrisulonic at 9:41 AM on January 5, 2012

Response by poster: Whew, thanks for all the helpful responses. I'm glad to hear everyone has had a good experience with USAA so far. Although I'm leaning towards them at this point, Dollar Bank seems interesting -- I'll have to investigate them further. Unfortunately, the University I work for doesn't have a PSECU membership, but they would seem like a good option if I was eligible.
posted by ayerarcturus at 10:01 AM on January 5, 2012

Best answer: I've heard many great things about USAA, and people seem to be really happy with them, but I'll just chime in that I really, really like Ally. They have fantastic customer service, and after dealing with Wachovia with the same exact problem you've had, it's been like night and day. I get 1% on my savings and .5% on my checking, which also isn't too shabby. They also pay back any ATM fees, and also just added the ability to deposit checks by scanning them and sending them electronically, which is a definite bonus.
posted by General Malaise at 10:15 AM on January 5, 2012

I went to USAA after a post here when I was fed up with Citibank. I've never had an issue but I don't look to my bank for some of the extras to which non-military aren't entitled. I have insurance and credit cards elswhere, ditto for the investment account.

I do direct deposit and the few times I've mailed a physical check it has been credited super promptly. I do keep a local account for quick deposits (TD Bank, also wonderful). Love USAA's no fees for ATMs. Never realized how much I previously spent on ATM fees.
posted by TravellingCari at 11:17 AM on January 5, 2012

I have only ever heard a negative from one person regarding USAA. I am a very satisfied non-mil customer, 10+ years now.

The lack of the Deposit@Home is somewhat annoying but it's so rare I get a physical check anyway it's no inconvenience. I could use the UPS store scheme but the postage-paid mail-in envelopes are crazy easy and I can spare the 2 days. I assume that at some point it will become more expensive for USAA to deny people the scan-deposit than whatever justifies the denial and it'll become available to everyone.

BTW, for whatever it's worth - their life insurance product IS available to non-mil folks. I just signed up; it was, like everything I have ever done with USAA, very pleasant and easy. Well, as pleasant as life insurance purchasing possibly can be, I suppose.
posted by phearlez at 2:33 PM on January 5, 2012

Best answer: The links from chrisulonic refer to domestic partner benefits for employees of USAA. I can add that as a gay customer of USAA, I've never had any problem with having my partner on our car insurance and the Proof of Insurance documents show both our names. We keep separate bank accounts, but I'd be surprised if USAA (or any other bank) did not allow you to have a joint account with a partner or virtually any other adult; years ago I used to have a joint account with my mother.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:02 PM on January 5, 2012

Mod note: answers need to more or less be about USAA and not complaints about other banks, please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:26 PM on January 5, 2012

Just chiming in to say I love USAA. They're a great bank and a great insurance company. I've never had any fees or tricks from them, their customer service is excellent, and their online interface is nice. I also know a few people who work for them, and they have a reputation as a great employer as well. Seriously, they're great. Sometimes I see strangers in check-out lines or whatever that have a USAA debit/credit card, and we share a high-five over what an awesome bank they are.
posted by aka burlap at 7:53 PM on January 5, 2012

Response by poster: Just for posterity and if anyone is interested: I just opened up a checking account with USAA, and I may open up a savings account. I'm considering Dollar Bank or Ally as a savings alternative -- we'll see. Thanks for all the responses!
posted by ayerarcturus at 10:56 AM on January 6, 2012

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