USAA Bank Review: My New Best Friend

If you’re curious why I’ve been writing about banks so much lately, here’s your answer. After reading IWTYTBR and realizing I really shouldn’t have to do business with a bank I truly despise (*Cough* Chase) because there are way too many choices out there to not be satisfied by your bank, I decided to make a change. I have been a reader of Budgets Are Sexy for a couple years now, and J Money is a huge advocate of USAA Bank. I thought if they are good enough for him, I would give them a shot. I did a little research about the services they offer, and they do seem to meet my needs. Here are the details of my switch and what I have experienced as one of their customers thus far.

USAA’s online interface is sleek and sexy. Using it was completely painless and I actually had to retrain my brain a little bit to look in the obvious places for things I needed, because finding them in my previous banks online interface was so difficult. Opening an account with them took less than ten minutes, and I was good to go. During the process, I was able to set up an ACH connection from my previous bank, and transfer the requisite $25 into the USAA checking account.

Another thing I found really great about the USAA online interface is that all of the little things that you sometimes have to do such as activating a debit card, changing your debit card pin or even ordering checks are easily accessible. You don’t have to call customer service or anything, you can just hit a couple buttons and you’re done. I also love that USAA has your USAA number, account number, and routing number all available in your online account so you don’t have to actually have checks to set up certain things inevitable in your financial day to day tasks.

USAA’s mobile app for Android is awesome. I was surprised because the banking apps I have used before sucked so bad, and my previous bank didn’t even have an app. From the USAA mobile app, you can check account balances and activity, transfer money between accounts, pay bills, and even deposit checks using your phone’s camera*. The app also includes some cool tools like an ATM and car rental lookup and a  full service insurance section where you can view your insurance card and previous insurance claims. You can even get stock quotes and place trades from your phone. Practically the only thing you can’t do from the app is add Payees into the BillPay system.

The thing that so far has impressed me the most about USAA though is their customer service. When I first started using my previous bank, I had to call their customer service a couple times. It was a real hassle, and because of that, I dreaded calling them for any reason which actually cost me money on a few occasions. The first time I called USAA, I was on the phone for over an hour, and spoke to multiple reps, because I had a lot of questions and USAA wouldn’t let me off the phone until I was fully satisfied. All of the reps were incredible; both knowledgeable about USAA’s services and personal finance in general.

Aside from interacting with you guys here on the blog and on twitter, I don’t often get the chance to talk with other people as passionate about personal finance as I am, especially over the phone. It was really great to chat with the free financial advisers at USAA who answered a ton of general questions I had about IRAs (I’ll be sharing the info with you in coming weeks), and I knew that they weren’t going to try and sell me anything because they are not paid on commission. Each adviser I spoke with answered all my questions, and then had personal recommendations of things I should look into. What they recommended were not all USAA products, just types of investments in general that I should be aware of. I learned a lot from those calls and I know if there is anything I am unclear about I can call back and get the information I need.

I do have a small complaint about USAA. I was really excited about the USAA deposit at home feature because this would mean I could completely sever my relationship with my local bank, and deposit any checks I get from my phone on the fly, or from my home using a home scanner. It turns out you can only use this feature if you are eligible for full fledged unrestricted USAA membership and have access to all their service. Because I have no military background, I am restricted from some of the services USAA offers including the deposit at home feature. This really bummed me out 🙁 but it is not a deal breaker.

And one complaint from my wife: Although she really likes how the BillPay system is set up, and how easy it is to use from a computer or my phone, USAA sends actual checks instead of doing electronic transfers or cashiers checks for bills like our old bank did. This means that when we look at our account balance, we have to also see what bills have been paid, but checks haven’t been cashed, and I have to leave that amount in my checking account so I don’t overdraft. Honestly, this isn’t that big of a deal either and we will just need to get used to it and pay closer attention to our banking activity.

Overall USAA has surprised me around every corner. They offer full banking services including tons of investment options, their banking interface is modern and easy to use and their customer service has gone way above and beyond what my previous bank was ever willing to do, and it seems like the people at USAA actually care about me as a person, and my financial decisions. It’s just a shame they are still exclusive on some of their service, offering them only to military or family of military personnel. I would love to get my hands on a USAA auto and home insurance policy…I hear the rates are unbelievable…

Are you a USAA member? Full or non-military? Do you bank anywhere else?

Image by J. Money 🙂

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16 People have left comments on this post

» KNS_FinancialNo Gravatar said: { Sep 9, 2010 - 09:09:22 }

Sounds like you found a winner! I will have to look into them if I choose to leave BOA.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I have a mortgage with BOA and haven't had too many problems, but I sure have heard horror stories from regular banking customers. I really am happy with USAA and haven't had a bad experience yet, even with my frequent (by choice) calls to their customer service. They are a great bank with a unique and interesting history.

» RobboNo Gravatar said: { Sep 9, 2010 - 06:09:40 }

You didn't even mention free ATM withdrawals from any system (they reimburse up to $15 of any ATM fees every month)!

I love USAA. I've been a member for over 20 years. Over the years I've consolidated all my bank accounts, investments, and insurance with them. In fact, they just called me today, to see if they could cut my life insurance premiums (answer: no, because I'm still a little overweight).

My wife just deployed with the Navy, and when she called about an account, she ended up on the line for almost 20 minutes as she was transferred from one department to another … to make things easier for her during the deployment. They lowered her credit card interest rate, made sure I could access all the accounts, ensured that her cards wouldn't get shut down if she bought an expensive watch in Singapore, checked life insurance coverage, changed car insurance details to save us a few bucks, etc, etc.

They've really loosened their membership criteria recently. Basically every veteran is eligible, and then family members of members are eligible. So if your dad was drafted for 2 years back in the day, or your father-in-law was in the National Guard, get him to join, and then you can join.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

That's funny, ATM fees (my first ATM fee ever) was actually the straw that broke the camels back and actually spurred the switch 🙂 but I haven't experienced using an out of network ATM or USAA's reimbursement myself quite yet, though that doesn't excuse my not mentioning that great advantage! Thanks for reminding me 🙂

Your story about your wife is just the kind of thing that amazes me about them. They are member owned, operate like a credit union, and really are there to help. They are amazing in that respect!

I did some research into my family tree, and found that the only one in my lineage that was in the military and still alive is my dad's dad, so I have been in discussion with him and he plans to open an account. Then I can get my dad on, but the one last hurdle is that for someone not in the military to secure their membership, they have to get a USAA insurance policy, and my dad may not do that even as a favor to me 🙂 I'm working on it though!

» marctest10No Gravatar said: { Sep 11, 2010 - 06:09:49 }

I've been a USAA customer since I high school and I would say the customer service is definitely the highlight. My Dad raves about the auto-insurance policies there, but I haven't needed it because I live in NYC and drive once a year. Thanks for the analysis!
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Thanks for sharing Marc! That's a pretty dang good track record in years.

and I'd love to not have to think about car insurance, but the public transportation system out here is awful and I wouldn't ever be able to get anywhere 🙂

» Marc PerryNo Gravatar said: { Sep 11, 2010 - 06:09:45 }

Oops, logged in through wrong word press account and didn't mean to include that link, my bad!

» RyanNo Gravatar said: { Sep 13, 2010 - 08:09:43 }

I've been a full USAA member for 10 years now – I served 6 years in the USAF. I love their customer service and products. 🙂
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Very cool, is there any product you don't use that they offer, being a full member?

» [email protected]No Gravatar said: { Sep 14, 2010 - 03:09:15 }

Glad to meet a fellow, uhh, shall we say person who doesn't like Chase. There are many of us out here.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I was real hesitant to even say I USED to bank with Chase out of embarrassment 🙂 but I wanted others to know there are far better institutions, and what I was comparing USAA to 🙂

» ErinNo Gravatar said: { Jul 25, 2011 - 04:07:52 }

My husband has been a member with USAA for seven years, their banking has been wonderful. We attempted to get a mortgage through them. We were pre approved, we had the VA inspection, they had their paperwork SIX weeks before we were supposed to close on Monday the 25th. My processor, Mamie, began processing our paperwork on Tuesday the 19th, was out of the office the 20th and 21st, and not once did she, her manager, or her managers manager return my desperate phone calls or emails. At 8:30 p.m. on Friday the 22nd she left a voice mail that said I was not approved because I didn’t make enough money in 2009! Since day one she knew that we would be kicked out of our apartment the day after closing, she knew what I made in 2009 for six weeks! She also knew that if we had to request an extension, we would loose the contract with the seller because he was convinced he could make more money on it. So here we are, Monday that 25th, all of our things packed into storage and going to live at a hotel until we can find somewhere to live. We cannot afford this! THEY LEFT ME HOMELESS and DIDN’T CARE! I have never lost so much sleep or years off my life as I have while dealing with USAA. As soon as I find a home I will remove all accounts with them. DON’T USE USAA FOR ANYTHING MORTGAGE RELATED!

{ Mar 29, 2011 - 07:03:21 } Life As A Landlord - Loose Ends

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