Members of the military, including those on active duty, need access to credit cards just like anyone else. Fortunately, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides military members with protective benefits, including a limit on the amount of interest they can be charged during periods of active service.To qualify for SCRA benefits, you must be on active duty, a reservist on federal active duty or a member of the National Guard on federal orders that extend longer than 30 days. You must also be able and willing to provide your card issuer with a copy of your military orders and a written notice. Also, note that SCRA benefits can also be applied to your credit card account retroactively.Beyond SCRA benefits, you should know that many card issuers extend their top rewards and travel credit cards to qualified military members without an annual fee. This means eligible military members can take advantage of cardholder perks and rewards available to them without having to fork over hundreds of dollars in fees each year for the privilege.
Bankrate’s top credit cards for military members
If you’re brave enough to serve our country, you deserve the best of the best when it comes to the credit cards you carry. Bankrate compared more than 100 of the top credit cards on the market today to find the ones with the best selection of perks and benefits for those who serve.
Bankrate’s top credit cards for military:
Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Best for luxury travel perks
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for flexible travel rewards
The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for premium travel perks
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best for groceries
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express: Best for 0% APR
PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card: Best for flat-rate cash back
USAA® RewardsTM American Express® Card: Best rewards for everyday purchases
Navy Federal nRewards® Secured: Best secured credit card for military
Best for luxury travel perks
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Earn 50,000 points (worth $750 in travel) when you spend $4,000 on your card within three months of account opening
Annual $300 travel credit
Earn 3X points on travel (after earning the travel credit) and dining; also earn 10X points on Lyft rides
Earn 1X points on all other purchases
Rewards redeemable for gift cards, statement credits, experiences, merchandise or 1:1 transfer to airline and hotel partners
Cardholder perks include a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership, a credit for Global Entry/TSA Precheck, a $60 credit toward DoorDash purchases in 2020 and 2021 and more
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is a premium travel rewards card available to military members without the hefty $550 annual fee. You can earn big points on travel, enjoy VIP lounge access and security screening access while traveling and take advantage of flexible redemption options.
SCRA benefits: Due to the SCRA, the amount of interest charged on financial obligations incurred prior to military service is capped at 6 percent. Chase offers an even lower rate of 4 percent to military members, and that rate is good for up to one year after service has ended. Fees are also waived for military members.
Best for flexible travel rewards
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Earn 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 on your card within the first three months
Earn 2X miles for each dollar you spend, no categories or limits
Redeem miles for travel at a rate of one cent per mile or transfer to a handful of airline partners
Cardholder benefits include up to a $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck
Annual fee is $95
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a straightforward card for earning miles on all your purchases with flexible redemption options. Capital One also waives the $95 annual fee for military members.
SCRA benefits: The same 6 percent interest cap applies to debts incurred during active military service, although Capital One charges a maximum interest rate of 4 percent to military members and waives all fees charged during service.
Best for premium travel perks
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Earn a welcome bonus of 75,000 points after you spend $5,000 within six months of account opening
Earn 5X Membership Rewards points for each dollar spent on airfare booked directly with airlines or through AmexTravel.com (Starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year) and for prepaid hotel bookings made through the portal
Earn 1X points per dollar spent on eligible other purchases
Lucrative cardholder perks include airport lounge membership (Priority Pass Select, Centurion and Delta SkyClubs when you fly Delta), a $200 airline fee credit each year, Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy Gold Status, up to $200 in Uber credits each year and more
The Platinum Card® from American Express waives its $550 annual fee for military members while offering luxury travel perks like airport lounge access, airline credits and hotel status. Since you can earn 5X points on airfare and hotels, this card also lets you rack up points quickly if you travel often.
SCRA benefits: Your interest rate will be capped at 6 percent for all debts incurred before active service. As a separate benefit, American Express waives all fees for military members, including the pricey annual fees on its premium travel credit cards.
Best for groceries
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Earn 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000, then 1 percent) and on select U.S. streaming services like Netflix and Hulu
Earn 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit expenses like parking, tolls and Uber rides
Earn 1 percent cash back on other purchases
Limited Time Offer: Earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months. Offer Expires 12/10/2020
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a winning card for military members who spend a lot at the grocery store. With an unmatched cash back rate for U.S. supermarkets, this card usually comes with a $95 annual fee but is waived for military members. Current offer for non-military members, Limited Time Offer: $0 introductory annual fee for one year, then $95. Offer Expires 12/10/2020. If you want to save money on interest, you should note that this card comes with 0 percent APR on purchases for 12 months, followed by a variable APR of 13.99 percent to 23.99 percent.
SCRA benefits: Your interest rate will be capped at 6 percent for all debts incurred before active service. American Express also waives all fees for military members, including the pricey annual fees on their premium rewards credit cards.
Best for 0% APR
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
Zero percent APR on purchases for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 12.99 to 23.99 percent
Earn 10,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $1,000 on your card within three months of account opening
Earn 2X Membership Rewards on your first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each year (then 1x)
Earn 1X points on other eligible purchases
Earn 20 percent more points each time you use your card for at least 20 transactions during a billing period
No annual fee
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card lets you avoid interest on purchases for a full 15 months, after which you’ll pay a variable APR of 12.99 percent to 23.99 percent. There is no annual fee, and you can earn double rewards on the first $6,000 you spend at U.S. supermarkets each year (then 1x).
Also note that the points you earn belong in the American Express Membership Rewards program, so they’re good for several redemption options ranging from gift cards to merchandise and travel.
The information about the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.
Best for flat-rate cash back
PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card
Earn 1.5 percent cash back on all your purchases, or 2 percent back if you’re a PenFed Honors Advantage member
Earn a $100 statement credit when you spend $1,500 on your card within 90 days of account opening
No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
Redeem your rewards for statement credits or a deposit into a PenFed bank account
The PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card is a smart option if you want to earn flat-rate rewards for each dollar you spend. You’ll earn a flat 2 percent back if you’re a PenFed Honors Advantage member, which requires military service or a PenFed Access America Checking Account. Also be aware that you get 0 percent APR on balance transfers for 12 months, followed by a non-variable rate of 17.99 percent. Note that a 3 percent balance transfer fee applies.
SCRA benefits: Due to SCRA, the interest rate for debt incurred prior to military service on this card will be capped at 6 percent.
Best rewards for everyday purchases
USAA® RewardsTM American Express® Card
Earn 3X points on dining out, 2X points on gas and groceries and 1X points on other purchases
Earn 2,500 bonus points after your first purchase
No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
Redemption options can include cash back, gift cards, travel and more
The USAA® RewardsTM American Express® Card is a solid option if you want to earn bonus points in popular categories like dining out, gas and groceries. There’s no annual fee, and you can redeem your rewards in a number of ways. Note that this card also comes with benefits like auto rental coverage, travel accident insurance, trip cancellation and interruption coverage and baggage delay insurance.
SCRA benefits: While the SCRA caps interest for debts incurred before service at 6 percent, USAA lowers its top interest rate for military members to just 4 percent. This rate is good for up to six months after separation from the military.
Best secured credit card for military
Navy Federal nRewards® Secured
Earn 1X points for each dollar you spend
No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, no balance transfer fees and no cash advance fees
Minimum deposit of $500 required as collateral
Redeem rewards for cash back, merchandise and more
If you’re a military member with a low credit score, you may have to start with a secured credit card that requires a deposit in order to secure your line of credit. The Navy Federal nRewards® Secured is a good option since there are no major fees and you earn rewards for each dollar you spend. When you redeem rewards for cash back to a bank account or purchases charged to your card, they are worth one cent each.
SCRA benefits: The interest rate for debt incurred before service is 6 percent on this card thanks to SCRA.
How do military credit cards work?
For the most part, credit cards for military members work like any other credit card. Some cards from top issuers are available to the general public, although the annual fees may be waived for those who serve in the military.
Other cards for military members may only be available to those with a connection to the military or their own military service record, such as credit cards from USAA or Navy Federal Credit Union.
How to choose the best military credit card for you
The best credit cards for military members all have one thing in common: They offer valuable rewards or perks that can help them wind up “ahead” in the credit card game. To make the most of any credit card, however, it’s crucial to refrain from using plastic as a short-term loan.
Remember that, outside of SCRA protection, the average credit card comes with an interest rate over 16 percent. Your best bet is finding a military credit card with perks and rewards you want, using it regularly for purchases you can afford and paying your bill in full every single month.
Note that many of the major card issuers waive annual fees for service members in most cases, including big players like Chase, American Express, Barclays, Citi and Capital One.
To find the right credit card for your needs as a military member, you should consider the type of rewards you want to earn, as well as how each card’s earning structure aligns with your normal credit card spending. Then, see if the issuer will waive the annual fee for military members. Also, look for perks you’re likely to use, including airport lounge membership, credits for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, annual travel credits or dining credits. Want to see if you pre-qualify without affecting your credit score? Check out our CardMatch feature and get matched with a card that best fits your needs.
How the law protects service members seeking credit
Before you choose one of the best credit cards for the military, be aware of the legal protections that apply to service members, including protections afforded through the Military Lending Act. This act includes specific rights for active military and their dependents, including:
A 36 percent Military Annual Percentage Rate (MAPR) cap on all credit cards, which considers finance charges, credit card fees and add-on products in conjunction with credit cards
No mandatory waivers of consumer protection laws
No prepayment penalties on credit cards or loans
No mandatory allotments
As we mentioned already, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) also enacts its own standards for credit cards offered to military members.
For example, SCRA mandates that lenders cannot charge active-duty military more than 6 percent interest on any amount owed with a credit card or loan before they enter active-duty service. Lenders can also apply this rate retroactively, and the SCRA prevents creditors from reducing or denying credit (or from reporting negative information to their credit report) based on the fact a military customer requests the 6 percent interest rate.
It’s important to note, however, that this act applies to existing debts only. In other words, SCRA doesn’t require credits to apply the 6 percent interest rate cap to new purchases made once a military member enters active duty.
Do the best credit cards differ for active duty vs. veterans or retired military members?
Major credit card issuers that waive annual fees for military members typically only do so during military service. As a result, you may want to think twice before signing up for a premium travel credit card with a high annual fee after you retire.
Once you’re a veteran, your best bet may be focusing on rewards credit cards with unique benefits and perks from military-affiliated institutions like USAA and Navy Federal Credit Union. You may qualify for a higher rewards rate or a lower APR than you could with a traditional credit card, but you’ll never know unless you check.
Compare all the top credit cards on the market today to find one with the right combination of benefits and rewards to suit your goals.