I’ve been reading the Bogleheads forum lately. For those not in the know, it is an outstanding personal finance and investment web site based on advice from Jack Bogle. One thing that caught my eye is that most military personnel are using a certain trio of banks once they grow beyond basic checking and saving account requirements. I realized I have done the same.

Where USAA Shines – Banking and Insurance

I joined USAA in 2003 and was impressed with their outstanding customer service. Their checking and savings accounts are free. The ATM rebates are nice. Their customer service when dealing with insurance claims is amazing. I still have USAA today for checking/savings/insurance.

As I added accounts, my first hunch was to always go with USAA. Over time, I realized that is a mistake. I first learned that when shopping for a mortgage for my first home. Other banks were easily beating the rates quoted by USAA.

Shop Around for Home/Auto Loans

When it comes to home mortgages and auto loans, you really need to check Navy Federal and Pentagon Federal Credit Union. Their rates almost always beat USAA. These banks have very good reputations and quality customer service. One thing to keep in mine is the ‘customer service’ aspect is not as important when it comes to loans. Once the deal is done, you pay it back at the agreed upon rate.

Use Vanguard for Investments Beyond TSP

One thing you will learn on Bogleheads is to avoid USAA for investments. Of course, you should always max out TSP first. But if for some reason you are looking outside TSP (like me with my wife’s retirement fund), then you want to look at Vanguard. Why? USAA’s mutual funds have high expense ratios.

For example, the USAA First Start Growth Fund has an expense ratio of 1.44%. The Vanguard Retirement Target 2050 fund has an expense ratio of 0.16%! USAA takes much more of your money to run their investment fund as compared to Vanguard. That is money that will slow down your returns over the long haul, likely taking thousands out of your retirement fund.

I will not dive into returns in this post, but overall Vanguard has a sterling reputation as compared to other mutual funds when it comes to performance.

You can read more about why expense ratio is important here.

Let’s say you are a 22 year old male in the military and you’re not great at PT. Which branch of the service would give you the easiest chance at passing the PT test? Let’s compare each branch and see what it would take to complete the bare minimum.

US Army

Standards are found here. To pass you would need:

  • 2 mile run in 16:36 (16 minutes, 36 seconds)
  • 40 push-ups in 2 minutes
  • 50 situps in 2 minutes
  • 22% body fat

US Air Force

Standards are found here.To pass the Air Force PT test you would at least need:

  • 1.5 mile run in 13:36 (13 minutes, 36 seconds)
  • 33 push-ups in 1 minute
  • 42 sit-ups in 1 minute
  • 39 inch or less waist

Note: The numbers above are bare minimum for each event and would actually be considered a failure. You need to do better in at least one of the other categories to pass the test.

US Navy

Standards are found here.

  • 1.5 miles run in 13:30 (can be run on treadmill) or at commander’s discretion: 500 yd swim in 13:00, eliptical for 14 minutes, or stationary bike for 14 minutes
  • 37 push-ups in 2 minutes
  • 46 sit-ups in 2 minutes
  • 23% body fat

US Marines

Standards are found here.

For the Physical Fitness Test portion:

  • 3 mile run in 28:00 minutes
  • 3 pull-ups
  • 50 sit-ups

Note: Like the Air Force, you must do better than the minimum in at least one of the events to pass the entire test, as it works on a point system and the minimum for each area is not sufficient.

For the Combat Fitness Test portion:

  • Run 880 yard Movement to Contact course in 4:13
  • Lift 30 pound ammunition can from shoulder height to overhead 33 times within 2 minutes
  • Complete 300 yard Maneuver Under Fire shuttle run course in 3:58

Result:  US Navy has the Easiest PT Test

Comparing everything together, the Navy has the easiest PT test, due to the lower requirements, and range of options available to complete the run portion (treadmill, bike, swim, etc).

Run Times

We can compare the run times as a one mile pace:

Service One Mile Pace
Army 8:18
Air Force 9:04
Navy 9:00
Marines 9:20

The Air Force has the slowest one mile pace. But while the Navy is just four seconds faster, they can run their test on a treadmill. This gives you a significant advantage, allowing you to simply stay on the treadmill at a set pace rather than pace yourself on a track through the entire test.

The Marines have the hardest test, having to keep a 9:20 pace for three miles!

Easiest run time: Navy


Service Push-Ups
Army 33
Air Force 40
Navy 37
Marines n/a

The Army requires the least amount of push-ups for any service.


Service Sit-Ups
Army 50
Air Force 42
Navy 46
Marines 50

The Air Force requires the least amount of sit-ups. The Navy is not far behind.

How the PT Test Impacts Promotion

While this review of service PT tests showed that Air Force and Navy tests were the easiest, it is important to note how each branch factors these tests into promotions.

From my experience, the Army and Marines place high importance on PT performance. So if you got the minimum scores listed above, you would be looked at poorly on a performance report.

However, Air Force and Navy are typically pass/fail with their PT tests. As long as you are passing the test, your supervisor will be happy. You can still get a glowing performance report if everything else with your work is stellar.

How PT is Integrated into Daily Work

Another factor to consider with these tests is how often you can work out as part of your normal duty day. Army and Marines will provide more time during work hours to run and stay fit. They will have more challenging programs which will likely keep you in shape.

The Air Force has improved in this area, and some squadrons have good PT programs. But you can not expect a Navy or Air Force unit to keep you in top shape like a Marines unit would. You will have to do more on your own to stay in shape.

Keep the big picture in mind when choosing which service to join, and which PT test seems the easiest!

How to Calculate a Second VA Loan Entitlement

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I’ve long held the assumption that you could only have one VA loan. I assumed you had to sell your first home or refinance before moving to a second. Well as a current holder of two VA loans, I can definitely tell you that you CAN take out two VA mortgages! Why Two VA Loans? […]

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The Best Portable Phone Charger

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The Best Water Bottle

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Carrying a water bottle to PT, on flights, a deployment, or even around the office is a great way to keep fresh water at your fingertips. In this post I will compare three water bottles I’ve owned over the past 10 years in the military and show why I feel the Hydro Flask is the best […]

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Should You Attend College Online?

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Too many of you are attending online degree programs. I know you are thinking ‘but Casey attending college is a good thing and I’m getting my degree while working around my crazy military schedule.’ Guess what, you have something other people want that is of great value: tuition assistance and the GI Bill (aka $$$). […]

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7 Ways to Watch US TV Overseas

July 18, 2015

1. Netflix Netflix has a lot of great content. They ship to APO addresses, although it does take a bit longer to receive the discs in the mail. Top Shows: Futurama, 30 Rock, How I Met your Mother, The Wonder Years (yeah that’s right!), Breaking Bad, Lost 2. Hulu During the first part of my […]

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