Orion FCU Premium Checking Review: Now 3% APY (Up to $15k) w/ Activity Requirements

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Update 11/25/19: Orion FCU sent an e-mail to existing members that they will be lowering the rate on the Premium Checking account starting 12/1/2019. Thanks to reader Bill for the tip. Instead of 4% APY on up to $30k, they are implementing the following tiers:

  • 3.00% APY on the first $15,000 in balances.
  • 2.05% APY on the amount above $15,000 and below $100,000. (The first $15,000 still gets 3% APY.)
  • 1.50% APY on the amount above $100,000 and below $250,000.
  • 1.00% APY on the amount above $250,000.

If you don’t meet the requirements listed below, you only get 0.05% APY. I will update the full original post later. The website has not been updated yet as of this writing, so this is a quick heads up.

Original post:

Orion Federal Credit Union (FCU) has a Premium Checking account that offers 4% APY on balances up to $30,000 if you meet certain direct deposit and debit card transaction requirements. However, if you don’t meet the requirements, you’ll get basically no interest and be charged a monthly fee. Their membership requirements are now open nationally, which is newsworthy. Thanks to reader Bill for the tip. Details below.

Membership eligibility. Orion FCU is based in Memphis, Tennessee and has a field of membership open to nearby residents and employers of local companies. However, you can also join as a “volunteer” for one of their affiliated nonprofit organizations:

Volunteers for Orion Gives Back organizations are eligible for membership in Orion. You can qualify as a volunteer fundraiser simply by choosing an organization and asking us to make a $10 donation.

Yes, you read that right – they will even make the donation for you. Choose from Habitat for Humanity Greater Memphis, Hope House, Porter-Leath, Ronald McDonald House, and Wolf River Conservancy.

Note that the application states that you will need your Social Security number and Driver’s License number. In addition, reader Bill reports that they will perform both a ChexSystems inquiry and a hard credit check through Equifax.

Premium Checking requirements. To qualify for the 4% APY on balances up to $30,000 and up to $10 in ATM fee rebates per month, you must have the following:

  • Electronic deposits totaling at least $500 per month. Electronic deposits include: direct deposit, mobile deposit, and electronic transfers from another financial institution.
  • Perform at least 8 signature-based card transactions per month. When using your card, choose the credit option and bypass using your PIN.

Note that amounts in excess of $30,000 will only earn 0.05% APY. If you meet these requirements, there is no monthly fee. If you don’t, then there is a $5 monthly fee and your rate goes down to 0.05% APY.

It is nice that the deposit requirement is not restricted to “payroll direct deposits”. You can set up an automated monthly transfer from another bank account.

Good deal? In my opinion, the relatively easy requirements, high interest rate, and moderate qualifying balance make this the best nationally-available “Reward Checking” account currently available. (“Rewards Checking” = requires a minimum number of debit card transactions + other activity each month.) While it is indeed a solid offer, the main question is how long it will last.

At the same time, I will not be joining. First, I don’t like accounts where I have to keep jumping through hoops (that I can’t easily automate like CIT Savings Builder) without being hit by a penalty of lost interest and a monthly fee. Second, I have gone ahead and opened accounts like this in the past, only to have them shut down shortly thereafter. I am concerned that this account won’t last longer than 6 months from today.

I’d rather open a credit union CD where I know the rate is guaranteed for a fixed period (i.e. past offers from Andrews FCU, Sharonview FCU, and Garden Savings FCU, etc.) These certificates just keep earning interest each month and I don’t have to do anything at all.

Bottom line. Orion FCU has opened up their Premium Rewards checking account to anyone nationwide. You can get 4% APY on balances up to $30,000 if you meet certain direct deposit and debit card transaction requirements. However, if you don’t meet those requirements, you will earn virtually no interest and be subject to a $5 monthly fee. If this interests you, I recommend creating a reliable system where you satisfy the requirements early on in the month.

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Comments

  1. I live in Memphis and I have had this account since September 2017. Back then the account paid 3% for balances up to $20,000. The 4% started in October 2018, and it also raised its cap on the amount subject to the higher interest rate. You will get next to nothing once you hit the cap, however.
    I don’t know how long this rate will last but I don’t think it is a teaser rate. I had considered opening an account with Orion long before I had actually done so, and in my experience it consistently pays the best interest rate you will find anywhere. For what it’s worth they also don’t charge for orders of checks.
    This money is insured through NCUA which is just as solid as FDIC insured deposits. Credit unions don’t pay taxes, which allows them to offer better rates than traditional banks.
    Jonathan is right in that the account will actually cost you money if you don’t satisfy all of the requirements.

    • Thanks for sharing. I’m not saying that this is a teaser rate from Orion FCU, but once you open nationwide you’ll get a lot of rate chasers who will keep exactly $29,999 in the account and make exactly eight $1 debit card transactions each month. This is why nationwide rewards checking accounts with high rates and high balance limits are rare. The theoretical point of these accounts is to encourage you to make the checking account your everyday account, and then Orion can make some money off the debit card fees. This is why local versions tend to do better and last longer. I hope I’m wrong and the rate stays high for everyone.

  2. Jason Boxman says:

    Rejected. Second time this year I’ve been rejected for a new bank account. Supposedly by law, I can under the FCRA ask for information from the reporting agencies used, but hilariously when I’ve done this using regular, non-registered postal mail, never yet in my life have I received a response. Either it’s a lifelong coincidence or the credit agencies “lose” mail strategically.

    • I was rejected as well, but I called them and inquired. They said it was rejected because of identity verification requirements. I submitted my drivers license, proof of address, and SSN and now I have an account open.

      • Jason Boxman says:

        Yes, I did the same thing. The rejection email actually suggested calling, while the rejection from the Web page said it was game over. Glad I called.

        I had the same thing happen when I applied for an account elsewhere, but didn’t call. Wish I had as I missed out on a $450 new account bonus with direct deposit. Oh well.

        (Coincidentally, I once again sent a postal letter to the credit reporting agency used, to get my free report as I’m entitled to, and as usual never received a reply. As this is the third time I’ve tried that, I’m hardly surprised anymore.)

  3. Applied and opened account yesterday. Simple.
    Seeing the debit card defaults to credit at Walmart, my fave.
    What works?

  4. I just opened one of these accounts with Orion but I am moving into it VERY CAUTIOUSLY.

    The process is not exactly smooth. Their website crashed on the final signup page.
    It worked the second time I signed up and I had no issue receiving account information.
    After this, I couldn’t access the online account. I found out on my own you had to wait a couple
    days for your initial deposit to clear before you could login.

    The online account itself? Eh, it’s antiquated by today’s standards but functional.

    I contacted customer service and they were polite and nice. I had them send me some checks. The Orion card and the checks showed up within two weeks and that was fine.

    Whoever said the customer service people are not exactly knowledgeable, was correct. I asked them some questions regarding routing numbers and I didn’t get the answer I was looking for. Again, I looked this up on my own. Seems like a full time job with Orion. to get the correct checking routing number you have to manually add 200000 to the front of your checking account number. You’ll find that out when you try a ACH push of test funds into the account.

    The only issue for me going forward now is finding out how this card is going to post. Orion says “it’s easy” just do 8 non-pin transactions a month. BUT- It’s not that easy. Even if you do not use a PIN, or are not even asked for a pin, that does not guarantee it’s a valid non-pin transaction. I’ve heard of many of these transactions not using PINS as posting as POS transactions -Which do not count-. I’ve heard this is the case at Walmart. without even using a PIN,

    The only way to find out if it is a valid transaction is to look on your account at the transactions, which haven’t shown up on my account 24 hours later. If the non-pin transactions I’m making at gas stations are counted as POS, I’m going to strongly consider closing the account. I’m not trying to game the system, I’m just trying to use this card like I would my normal credit card. If I can’t make it work, there is no point in keeping it open. We will see. Perhaps I’ll return with more info.

    Just thought I would chime in here with two weeks of experience with Orion. It’s sort of a bumpy ride. Go in slow if you go. I’ve only committed $5000 until I see how it’s playing out.

    • Jason Boxman says:

      I also had to ask to figure out the correct account number to use. And the Share account doesn’t make any sense. I signed up for electronic statements, so my Share balance is now -$20 instead of -$25.

      As far as the debit card goes, each transaction is identified by type. So you’ll know when you’ve hit 8 signature-based transactions because it says so in the transaction entry online. I also set it up for some monthly auto-pay accounts, and it usually does _not_ post as signature-based, so I stopped doing that. But every store I’ve used it at so far has posted as signature-based if I press OK/ENTER for the PIN.

      • I have two Orion accounts, one in my name and the second created in the husband’s name.
        Everything went perfectly. I couldn’t be more pleased.
        Getting 16 swipes a month has been simple.

  5. Jason Boxman says:

    FYI, this is now no longer 4%. The new rates will be:

    Daily Balance Range / Dividend Rate Paid on the Portion Within the Range / Blended APY Range

    $0 to $15,000.00 2.95950% 3.00%

    $15,000.01 to $100,000.00 2.05% 2.99% to 2.20%

    $100,000.01 to $250,000.00 1.50% 2.20% to 1.78%

    > $250,000.00 1.00% 1.78% to 1.00%

  6. Bummer. Basically gone from being able to earn around $1200 a year to $450 a year-almost a third.

  7. Consumers credit union paying 4% on up to 15k and it’s 8 debit card transactions.

    • Interesting. I opened a second TAB today in the husband’s name.
      Good for 4% up to 50K.
      Have every expectation this won’t last long, but hoping the drop isn’t as bad as Orion.
      Canceled our two accounts there today.

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