Orion FCU Premium Checking Review: 1% APY (Up to $10k) w/ New Activity Requirements

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(Update April 2019. The interest rate on this account has dropped to 1% APY. In addition, instead of 8 debit transactions per month, you must now spend at least $500 on your Orion debit or credit card each month. All signature and PIN based purchases count. They seem to have given up the idea of being a top rate. I have not updated the review below yet.)

Orion Federal Credit Union (FCU) has a Premium Checking account that offers 1% APY on balances up to $10,000 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 is now open nationally. 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.

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 3% APY on balances up to $15,000 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.
  • Spend at least $500 on your Orion debit or credit card per month. All signature and PIN based purchases will count toward the $500 minimum.

Note that amounts in excess of $25,000 but under $100,000 will earn 2.01%. 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.

Worth it? Like many other such “rewards checking” accounts, you have to be ready for continuous changes. These financial institutions are constantly tinkering to see how they can get you to make this your main checking account, but not lose too much money on the perks.

Previously, you just had to make any 8 debit-card purchases per month. You might just make a bunch of $2 purchases at the convenience store. Some people who were making many small purchases will balk at the new $500 total requirement, but others might like the simplicity of the new terms.

Let’s make some rough calculations. An online savings account earning 2% would earn $300 of interest on a $15,000 balance. At 3% APY, you would earn $450 instead. That’s a difference of $150 per year in extra interest ($12.50 per month). Missing out on 2% cash back on credit card purchases of $500 per month works out to $10 per month. But the bank interest is taxable, while the credit card rewards are not. If you keep significantly less than $15,000, you might even come out behind with Orion.

Note: Some grocery stores allow you to get up to $200 cash back when making a purchase with a debit card with a PIN. However, this would depend on your cash needs as you’d still be missing out on credit card rewards if you are spending cash instead. You could technically deposit this cash back into a bank somewhere, but that also takes time and effort.

Bottom line. Orion FCU has a Premium Rewards checking account available to anyone nationwide that pays 3% APY on balances up to $15,000 if you meet certain direct deposit and debit/credit 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. The latest change replaces the 8 debit card transactions with a least $500 in monthly spending on an Orion debit/credit card.

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  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.

  8. Jason Boxman says

    Looks like this offer isn’t so great anymore; Now you need to spend $500 a month on their debit or credit card. Oh well, great while it lasted. I prefer to use my Chase Ink Business card:

    Effective April 1, 2020: To make it easier for Premium Checking members to earn 3% APY each month, we are changing the Premium Perks Qualifiers to provide flexibility in how you spend. Here is a summary of the changes taking effect:

    You are no longer required to have 8 transactions.
    Instead, spend at least $500 on your Orion debit or credit card to qualify.
    All signature and PIN based purchases will count toward the $500 minimum.

    • So they changed it?
      Thought I needed 8 swipes and $500 DD.
      Will check or call them

      • Yep, $500 a month now. That’s pretty hard to justify vs some other reward cards. It’s really hard to justify vs some cards where I’m pulling 5% categories! The only thing I can think of where you could possibly keep this open, is if you are able to pull enough cashback on the Debit or a MO you name to yourself, sacrificing the small fee.

        The most ironic thing is, this will end up giving Orion a lot less transactions – not more transactions. That’s not even counting the closing accounts. They probably have 100 accounts closing per day.
        I’ll be one of them if the above paragraph doesn’t pass a trial balloon.

        Finally, yeah right, this had everything to do with making things easier for account holders. Just like you should believe Anything you see on TV.

        • I cancelled the account. They will be sending a $15K cashiers check.
          I get 5% off at Amazon with the Chase card.
          Get 5% off at Walmart with the Capitol one.
          5% off at Lowe’s with their store card.
          Getting 4% interest on two TAB accounts that require 15 card swipes each,
          So I can’t meet the Orion terms.

  9. Clyde Saunders says

    This $500.00 might become a problem especially when some business requires their Citi credit card. I am not sure about the purchases that I make online using my debit card. This $500 might be a reason to switch banks when they are planning on now charging a fee if you fail to make the minimum purchases.my old checking is looking better especially when there were no hassaling.

  10. the rate was dropped to 1%up to $10k effective March 1st 2020.

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