Edited by: Nick Ellis
& Stella Shon
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Serving in our country’s military brings added responsibility and commitment — but it can also bring financial challenges.
Years ago, some of the financial challenges faced by military families were recognized and addressed with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 (SCRA) and the subsequent Military Lending Act (MLA). If you’re an active-duty military member, chances are you’re familiar with these laws and their revisions.
These Federal laws impose limits on interest rates and fees that lending institutions can legally charge active military members, their spouses, and domestic partners.
While the laws include special consideration with regard to vehicle leases, payday loans, mortgages, and housing rights, the importance of these laws as they apply to credit cards is significant. Specifically, opportunities have been created allowing military members to take advantage of some of the more elite benefits of rewards-earning credit cards without incurring high annual fees.
The SCRA applies to credit card accounts opened prior to active military service, but many credit card issuers extend the benefits to credit cards acquired during active duty as well. The MLA governs credit cards acquired during active military service.
Both laws have positively affected how credit card issuers administer their credit card terms for active military members. Today, we’ll focus on which credit card issuers go above and beyond the minimum requirements of these laws and how their actions benefit active members.
Let’s take a look at our recommendations for the best military credit cards for active members (including spouses) and the associated card benefits.
|Card||Welcome Bonus and Annual Fee||Rewards and Perks|
If you travel a lot, having lounge access can add value and comfort to your trip. You can grab a drink, a bite to eat, and relax during your journey. Cardmembers will have access to upscale Centurion Lounges, considered to be some of the best airport lounges available.
In addition, you’ll enjoy a Priority Pass Select membership upon enrollment, which allows you and 2 guests complimentary access to Priority Pass lounges worldwide. Priority Pass is the world’s largest lounge network with over 1,300 lounges.
The Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit is also a nice perk that reimburses you when you pay for your application or renewal with your Amex Platinum card. Read our in-depth review to find out more about the American Express Military benefits which are included with the Amex Platinum card.
Hot Tip: For a lot more information, see our post on the benefits of the Amex Platinum card for active U.S. military members. Remember that the
Because the American Express Membership Rewards points you earn on everyday spending can be redeemed easily for travel, the Amex Gold card strikes a balance of being an everyday earning credit card and a travel rewards credit card.
For those who travel occasionally but spend regularly on dining and at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year), this card is an excellent match. You can read our post for more on the benefits of the Amex Gold card for active-military members.
Earning valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards is a real benefit and being able to redeem them for travel on the Chase travel portal for 25% more is an added bonus. Ultimate Rewards points can also be transferred to travel partners for even more value.
If you’re a military member renting a vehicle, know that you’ll be protected with primary car rental insurance.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve card is a premium travel rewards credit card with a long list of benefits for active-duty military:
If you’re traveling frequently, the worldwide lounge access benefit will make your journey more comfortable and economical. The up to $300 travel credit each card anniversary year is easy to use and adds immediate value.
With elevated earnings on travel and dining purchases and 50% more value when redeeming through the Chase travel portal, any military member who travels will utilize this card’s benefits.
If you want a great point-earning card, the Freedom Unlimited card will make sure every purchase is earning rewards you can use:
If you have a major purchase to make, you can save a lot on interest charges with the
There is also
Hot Tip: Chase credit cards are generally subject to the 5/24 rule, which may limit the number of credit cards for which you can be approved. Review the 5/24 rule carefully before applying.
Most of the benefits of the SCRA and MLA laws expire within a specific period of time once you’ve left active duty, usually 12 to 15 months.
During your service, you may have become familiar with the following financial institutions that provide continuing services to retired military members. Note that you must be a member of these organizations before applying for their credit cards.
Best for: Everyday spending
All information about the Navy Federal More Rewards American Express® Card has been collected independently by Upgraded Points.
Best for: Everyday spending
All information about the USAA Rewards™ American Express® Card has been collected independently by Upgraded Points.
Best for: Everyday spending
Hot Tip: For a lot more information on this topic, see our guide on the best credit cards for military veterans.
If you can’t decide which card is best for you, here are some tips to help you decide.
One of the biggest items to consider is the type of rewards you want to earn. If you travel often — or aspire to — and want a card that can help keeps your travel costs down, then a travel rewards card is the way to go.
If you don’t travel often or prefer to hold a card that boosts your bottom line, then a cash-back card might make more sense.Hot Tip:
Keep in mind that some rewards cards earn points that can be redeemed both for travel and for cash-back.
Some of the best credit cards come loaded with perks that offer you significantly more value beyond just the points you’ll earn. This can include perks like airport lounge access, annual statement credits, Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credits, and much more.
Consider which benefits are most valuable to you. If you don’t travel often and don’t care much for airport lounge access, then a card that offers that might not be the best fit for you. Similarly, you might be a foodie that orders out often and would value a card that offers annual dining credits. It is all about determining what you value most.
Finally, you’ll want to consider what protections you want your card to offer to help you narrow your options further. Do you want your card to have trip delay insurance, rental car insurance, purchase protection, etc.? These are all items that will help you decide the best travel rewards card for you.
Those who are about to embark on active duty or who have already done so can benefit greatly from having the annual fees exempt on some very rewarding credit cards.
Premium travel credit cards can have annual fees exceeding $500 per year, plus additional fees for authorized users. Having these fees removed while qualifying for the valuable benefits offered can result in significant savings.
Keep in mind that balances still need to be paid off each statement period to avoid interest charges (even reduced ones), and payments must be made on time to preserve your good credit score.
The information regarding the Navy Federal More Rewards American Express® Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the USAA Rewards™ American Express® Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The best credit card for active military will depend on your spending habits, the benefits you will use, and how long you plan to keep the card. American Express and Chase offer the best credit cards for active military. You’ll receive premium travel benefits, accelerated earnings, welcome offers good for award travel, and statement credits. In addition, American Express and Chase waive annual fees on their credit cards for active military even if you apply for the card after you have started on active duty. If you plan to keep the card you apply for indefinitely, you’ll want to select a card that delivers ongoing benefits you’ll continue to use once you’re required to pay the annual fee.
SCRA and MLA laws were designed to protect active military and do not apply to retired military. There are some extensions of benefits — in some cases up to 15 months beyond when active duty ends. However, veterans can still take advantage of special credit card offers and services from financial institutions such as USAA, PenFed, and Navy Federal Credit Union.
Yes. SCRA and MLA laws extend benefits to military spouses and domestic partners. Credit card issuers may require joint accounts or that the spouse/domestic partner be added as an authorized user to receive benefits. Others will waive fees and apply benefits for credit cards applied for by the spouse/domestic partner.
Several credit card issuers do not charge annual fees for active-duty military. American Express and Chase are the most popular. While other credit card issuers may waive fees for active military, they may apply these benefits to credit cards acquired prior to active duty. American Express and Chase do not have this limitation. You can apply for a credit card with American Express or Chase while on active duty, and if qualified, the fee will not be charged.
Yes, if you qualify, Chase will waive the annual fee and other account fees for active military. This includes its premium travel rewards card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which would normally have an annual fee of
There are 2 laws that govern credit card interest rates for active-duty military. The Military Lending Act limits interest rates and associated account fees to a maximum of 36% APR on credit cards secured while on active duty. Credit cards secured prior to active duty are governed by the SCRA which limits interest rates and other account fees to a maximum of 6% APR.
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