Comparing Military Credit Card Offers
The financial world is tough enough to navigate, but when you are coming on or off of active duty, things can be that much harder. That’s why we’ll walk you through the best credit cards for you and your family, and what different issuers might do for the servicemember and their family. Here, we look at:
- Best military credit cards of 2021
- Compare credit cards for military
- Credit card use among military members
- Main credit card issuers that focus on veterans
- Exclusive benefits for military members, veterans and their families
- SCRA membership and financial benefits that come with it
Best Credit Cards for Military
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Why this card is best for restaurants
With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can earn 3X points on dining at restaurants. You can also earn 10X total points on hotels and car rentals purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5X total points on air travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 3X points on other travel (immediately after earning your $300 annual travel credit).
The Main perk for military members and families
While you are on active duty and for a year after, you might get as low of an interest rate as 4% on your Chase card, according to Chase spokeswoman Alison Lanz. Terms apply.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Why this card is best for travel
This card stands strong for travel rewards – earn 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), and earn 5X points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
The main perk for military members and families
With an annual fee of $695, The Platinum Card can stop you in your tracks – and not in a good way. However, once you are approved for an American Express card, you can request a review of your account and potentially get that hefty annual fee waived. Terms apply.
American Express® Gold Card
Why this card is best for U.S. supermarkets
The American Express Gold Card is a keeper when it comes to U.S. supermarkets (4X points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 each calendar year, then 1X point), as well as 4X points when dining at restaurants, and 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
The main perk for military members and families
As with other American Express cards, service members and their families can request a number of fee waivers, including membership fee reimbursement, once they are approved for a card, according to Amex spokeswoman Heather Norton. Terms apply.
Comparing Credit Cards for Military
|Credit Card||Best For…|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||Restaurants|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||Travel|
|American Express® Gold Card||U.S. supermarkets|
Main credit card issuers that focus on veterans
There are some banks and credit unions that are tailored to the service member and his or her family. Here, we look at 3 financial institutions that offer credit cards that appeal to those groups of people, including who can join, what kinds of products are available and special features that might be offered:
Who can join?
Military members, Department of Defense employees and family members might be eligible to join Navy Federal, the largest credit union in the country, including reservists, delayed entry program members, grandparents and parents, and even household members.
The Navy Federal products offer some excellent features across the board, such as:
- 24/7 access to stateside member reps
- No balance transfer or foreign transaction fees
- Ability to freeze and unfreeze your card
- Zero liability policy for unauthorized transactions
- Fraud notifications
- Access to your FICO® credit score
Who can join?
To get USAA cards, you must have a USAA membership, which you can get as an active or former military member who was honorably discharged. Family members, cadets and midshipmen can also qualify.
Who can join?
If you serve in the United States military or Uniformed Services, are an employee of the U.S. government, or are related to someone who is, you’re part of their field of “golden card membership.” There are also dozens of organizations whose members can join PenFed.
If you don’t fall into one of those categories, PenFed says you can join a group like National Military Family Association or Voices for America’s Troops and qualify that way.
There are a number of features that all PenFed cards offer, such as:
- With Apple, Android, and Samsung pay, you can access your card without having to carry it with you.
- All PenFed cards offer EMV chips, no liability for unauthorized charges, 24/7 fraud monitoring, and more.
- You can access your account through the PenFed app, online or by phone.
- PenFed offers a resource center that can help you get the most out of your card.
Credit card use among military members
Overall, servicemembers reported comfort with their knowledge of financial matters, according to a 2019 study by National Foundation for Credit Counseling/Wells Fargo, conducted by The Harris Poll. However, there are some clear ways they feel they could improve.
Servicemembers report being more worried than in the last 12 months about…
- Saving for future goals
- Covering unexpected expenses or emergencies
- Meeting basic household needs
- How their finances will affect their future in the military
- Meeting debts
About half of servicemembers and their spouses or live-in partners report keeping a budget (46% and 49% respectively). Also, when comparing the 2019 poll with its 2014 results, there was a significant decline in servicemembers paying their bills on time (63% vs. 83% in 2014).
Bottom line: Take advantage of the tools at your disposal, whether through the military or through your bank (29% of service members said they would turn to the military for debt help). That includes asking lenders what services they provide for servicemembers and their families beyond the Military Lending Act and Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
Exclusive benefits for military members, veterans and their families
While there are protections for interest rates already in place for service members through the Military Lending Act and Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, The Points Guy found that many of the major credit card issuers will waive most fees for active duty service members, including annual fees.
With such benefits as a military member, you could conceivably get a high-annual-fee card like The Platinum Card from American Express with little downside. This would give you access to such rewards as transferring points to airline and hotel partners.
Here, we lay out the special benefits card issuers offer service members and their families. Note that it is worth your while to contact the issuer directly, because while they may not publicly advertise that fees are waived, for example, if you call and ask, you may just get what you are looking for.
“We are compliant with all regulations associated with the Military Lending Act and the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act,” says spokeswoman Heather Norton. “Under these policies, we offer several benefits to military service members and their families, including membership fee reimbursement. We encourage our military service men and women to contact us directly to hear about the specific benefits and fee waivers we have available to them.”
Bank of America
“For card accounts that qualify for SCRA, the 6% rate is applied to debts incurred while on active duty as well as credit card debt incurred prior to active duty and all fees are waived,” says spokeswoman Betty Riess.
Capital One offers an interest rate of no more than 4% on eligible loans both owned and serviced by Capital One. Also, no fees are assessed except for bona-fide insurance.
“Chase abides by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act,” says spokeswoman Alison Lanz. “The SCRA requires an interest rate reduction on credit cards to 6% for Active Duty military members. Chase goes above and beyond this requirement and lowers SCRA eligible military members’ effective interest rates to 4% while on active duty and for a year afterward – 2% lower than SCRA requires.”
When asked about reports that Chase waives fees for service members, Lanz said it may be done on a case-by-case basis and to contact Chase at 877-469-0110 or collect if calling internationally at 318-340-3308.
“Discover provides a number of cardmember benefits to servicemembers that go above and beyond those required by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act,” says spokesman Jeremy Borling. “Many of these additional benefits are aimed at making it easier for servicemembers to access benefits. Discover extends SCRA benefits to an eligible servicemember’s spouse or domestic partner. Specific to Discover cardmembers, Discover Card applies SCRA benefits to credit card debts that are incurred even after active duty service begins. In addition, eligible Discover Student Loans customers can defer payments for up to 3 years during periods of qualifying active military service.
“Discover has a dedicated customer service group available to provide assistance and information to servicemembers,” says Borling. “Customers can contact this group using a dedicated phone line – 844-DFS-4-MIL – to ask questions or to apply for benefits. Discover accepts oral requests for benefits through this dedicated customer service group.”
“We comply with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, across all credit cards,” says spokesperson Dana Stone.
SCRA membership and financial benefits that come with it
There are 2 primary federal acts that protect military personnel, although, as we’ve seen, card issuers will frequently go beyond the required rules. Here is what protects you by law:
Legal protections for military members…
|Name of Act||Military Lending Act||Servicemembers Civil Relief Act|
|Who is covered||Active-duty military members and their dependents||Active-duty military members and their dependents (indirectly)|
|When coverage starts||At time of loan origination||Applies to existing debt|
|What it covers|
|How it works||The MLA limits interest rates and some fees to 36% military annual percentage rate.||The SCRA caps interest rate charges, including late fees and other transaction fees, at 6%.|