[DISCLOSURE: Cards from our partners are reviewed below.]
Active-duty and retired military members can often qualify for some seriously nice credit card benefits that civilians can’t. But that doesn’t mean choosing the best credit card for military personnel is easy.
That’s because, just like for civilians, military members have to decide which credit card rewards, benefits and perks best fit their particular needs. Yes, active-duty military members get the benefits the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA) mandates — like waived fees (including annual fees) — but some issuers really go above and beyond when it comes to service-member benefits.
But how do you go about deciding which one you want? Do you pick the card that offers a low APR during active duty, or is the card with the fixed low interest rate better for your family?
When selecting the best credit card for you, it’s always a good idea to compare your options. Also keep in mind that not all issuers publish all of the benefits available to military personnel on their websites, so calling to get full details can be very helpful.
Also be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully when determining if a card is right for you. And it’s important to know where your credit stands before you apply for a new piece of plastic. If you don’t have really good credit, you might not qualify for premium cards that offer a lot of rewards and benefits. And, if you don’t qualify, you certainly don’t want to risk getting that hard inquiry (causing a ding to your credit scores) only to be denied. To find out, you can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.
Whether you’re a new recruit, a long-time service member or even a veteran nearing retirement, here are four of our favorite credit cards for military members, which offer a range of benefits and rewards to suit your particular needs and interests.
Our Pick for Travelers: The Platinum Card from American Express
American Express’ premier travel rewards card isn’t just for military personnel, but American Express does waive the $550 annual fee for active duty service members under the SCRA, which can make this card very attractive.
The platinum card is American Express’ premium travel card, so it can be a great companion for frequent travelers. That’s because cardholders receive five times the membership rewards points on airfare booked directly with airlines or through American Express’ travel portal (you can read our review of the American Express Platinum Card).
Cardholders receive a wide array of benefits with the American Express Platinum credit card, including entry into carrier airport lounges, Priority Pass Select lounges and the American Express Centurion lounges. Cardholders may also earn elite status with numerous hotel and car rental companies. In addition, cardholders receive a $200 annual credit toward airline fees such as baggage fees, flight change fees and seat-selection fees.
For each dollar spent, cardholders earn one point in the Membership Rewards program, and double points when they make travel reservations on the American Express Travel website. These points can then be redeemed for many rewards, including gift cards, merchandise and travel reservations. Alternately, cardholders can transfer their points to miles with several different airlines’ frequent-flier programs, or to points with multiple hotel programs.
For civilians, this card’s annual fee of $550 is among the highest of all premium reward cards. And while this card offers numerous benefits, most of them are geared toward frequent travelers, so those who rarely travel will miss out on its most valuable perks. As a charge card, the Platinum does not offer customers the option of extending payment by default, although they can choose to enroll in the Pay Over Time program, which gives cardmembers the option of carrying a balance when necessary.
Our Pick for Cash Back Rewards: USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card
Cardholders get 5% cash back on the first $3,000 spent at military bases every year and on gasoline, 2% cash back on the first $3,000 spent on grocery purchases each year, and unlimited 1% cash back on other purchases. USAA also offers a deployment APR of 4% for up to 12 months. (The APR is a variable 12.90% to 26.90% after.)
This card offers low variable APRs during deployment and on charges made during a permanent change of station and for a year afterward. The card also offers a rebate on all interest charged while you were serving in a qualified military campaign (you must notify USAA within six months of completion).
USAA cards in general don’t offer big sign-up bonuses, and that goes for this card as well. Also, if you’re a veteran or retired member of the military, you won’t get as much out of this card as an active service member might, so another rewards card could be more beneficial, depending on your situation.
Also, the card is available only to USAA members. Membership is available to active, retired and honorably separated officers and enlisted military personnel, officer candidates in commissioning programs, adult children of USAA members, along with widows, widowers and former spouses of USAA members who have or have had a USAA auto or property insurance policy while married. Also, there is no annual fee, no penalty interest rate and no foreign transaction fee.
Our Pick for Low Interest Rates: USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa
Rather than offer cardholders rewards, the USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa offers cardholders a variable APR as low as 7.90% (though it can be as high as 24.90% — it depends on creditworthiness), plus a 4% deployment APR for up to 12 months.
Like USAA’s cash back card, it is available only to USAA members. Membership is available to active, retired and honorably separated officers and enlisted military personnel, officer candidates in commissioning programs, adult children of USAA members, and along with widows, widowers and former spouses of USAA members who have or have had a USAA auto or property insurance policy while married.
Our Pick for The Good Life: PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card
If you enjoy traveling, entertainment, or shopping, then the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card can help you get even more enjoyment. (Full Disclosure: Penfed, as well as American Express, advertise on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
The PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card offers 5% cashback on fuel purchases, 3% at grocery stores, and 1% on all other purchases. The card offers an extensive benefit program for travel and hotels as well as entertainment and shopping. This includes upgrades (when available) at the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection, complimentary wine tastings at Sonoma County Wineries, and discounts for certain retailers and online merchants.
The card also offers preferred seating for select Arena and Big Top shows, and, a Visa Signature Concierge for help with booking travel, buying tickets for entertainment and sporting events, and making dining reservations.
The card also has a $0 annual fee and a 9.74% - 17.99% Variable ongoing APR
In order to be eligible for this card, you must be an active or retired military service member. You also have to be a member of PenFed Credit Union in order to qualify for the card. Another requirement to qualify for the card is an excellent credit rating.
FAQs About Military Credit Cards
Will my command be notified if I’m late on a payment?
It’s possible if you have a card affiliated with the military’s Exchange Credit Program, but not with a general credit card issued through a civilian bank. Still, it’s important to read all the fine print that comes with any credit card before you apply.
You may also want to inquire if the card issuer reports to the credit bureaus. Having a late payment can affect your credit scores (payment history is the largest influencer of your scores) so it’s important you know who will be notified.
What is the interest rate for military credit cards?
It all depends on the card — For example, the purchase annual percentage rate (APR) for the Citi Prestige card is a variable 16.74% to 24.74%, whereas the USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express card has a variable APR of 12.90% to 26.90%.
Each credit card has their own interest rate structure, often influenced by creditworthiness, so you’ll need to read the terms and conditions with any card you’re considering to see what you may be charged if you don’t pay your balance in full.
However, it’s important to note that the SCRA prevents lenders from charging interest above 6% on credit obligations established before active duty or while on active duty.
When am I covered by the SCRA?
The Act covers military members starting from the day they receive their orders to report for duty. It’s important to keep these papers so you can use them to prove the date of service for any requests you make under the Act.
Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.
At publishing time, the Platinum card from American Express and the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature card is offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).
This article last updated September 19th, 2017.