Key takeaways

  • Qualified military members are supported by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which provides legal and financial protections that can make a big difference while shopping for a credit card.
  • Eligible military personnel can get waived annual fees on top rewards cards, allowing them to enjoy robust perks and benefits at no additional cost.
  • The best credit cards for active-duty military offer flexible rewards and travel perks, lucrative rewards on groceries and gas, valuable redemptions options and low rates and fees — all while allowing you to take advantage of the benefits provided by the SCRA.

Choosing the right credit card for your financial needs isn’t always easy, and being a member of the U.S. military can sometimes make it more complicated. While on duty, members of the military are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act — commonly called the SCRA — a federal law designed to provide financial and legal protections to active-duty military members, reservists and members of the National Guard.

Among those protections is a 6 percent limit on the interest you can be charged on credit card debt and personal loans taken on prior to your active duty. Many top card issuers also waive annual fees for military members on robust rewards credit cards, allowing you to score valuable miles, points and cash back on travel and everyday spending — like groceries, gas and on-base purchases — without a hefty upfront cost.

We bring together a list of cards that can serve you well while you serve the country, with top benefits that can save you money — and worry — even after you come back home.

Top credit cards for active-duty military members

The best credit cards for active-duty military members offer credit card perks and benefits like flexible rewards and travel benefits, boosted rewards for everyday purchases like groceries and gas, as well as lucrative cash back. But depending on your financial situation, you might prefer a cash back card that trades in a high rewards structure for low fees, a low introductory annual percentage rate (APR) for 12 months and a low ongoing APR after. Still, no matter what you’re looking for, one of these cards will likely be right for you.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Platinum Card® from American Express

American Express® Gold Card

USAA® Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card®

Navy Federal Platinum Credit Card

How we chose the best cards for military members

Bankrate’s methodology differs by category when it comes to choosing the best cards, but what doesn’t differ is the care and thoughtfulness we put into each analysis. For military servicemembers, we analyzed the best credit cards offering rewards and cash back where military families tend to spend the most, including groceries, gas and travel.

Because the SCRA allows card issuers to waive their annual fee for servicemembers, we prioritized cards that let you take full advantage of that perk. And we included cards that might benefit military members in other ways besides everyday spending. We included cards that have low APRs and minimal or no fees, including balance transfer fees, for servicemembers who might need to carry a balance month to month or are looking to pay down debt with a balance transfer.

How to compare cards for military members

When you’re ready to find the right card for you and your family but are not sure which one to pick, start by following these simple steps.

1. Understand your financial situation and credit score

Before you decide on a new card, get a firm overview of your financial health. Do you carry any debt? Do you already have other credit cards? Will adding another credit card to your wallet be helpful, or is another product like a personal loan a better fit right now? By answering these questions, you’ll have a better picture of whether a new credit card is right for you.

Your credit score will then help you find out what kind of cards are available to you. This score signals to issuers how risky it is for them to let you borrow their money, so the higher the score, the more financial opportunities you’ll have.

2. Analyze your spending habits

Your credit card should make it easier to manage your budget and save money, not harder. By building out a budget and seeing where you spend your money the most — whether that’s on travel, dining, groceries or some other category — you can narrow down your list to cards that will reward you for the way you already spend.

3. Try to get prequalified or preapproved for cards you want

This step can save you time and protect your credit score from hard inquiries. Getting prequalified or preapproved by an issuer doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to get the card you want, but your chances would be higher. Plus, you might score a lucrative card offer that you can look into at the same time.

You can get prequalified or preapproved for cards by going to an issuer’s website or by using a free tool like Bankrate’s CardMatch.

4. Decide what type of card you need

Now that you understand your finances and spending habits and have narrowed down your choices with prequalifications, it’s time to figure out which card will be best for your wallet. Do you want a strong cash back credit card that’s easy to use? Or are you looking for a travel rewards card that will net you plenty of points for all of the traveling you do while in the service? Maybe something in between would better suit your needs.

Either way, thinking about the cards you already carry, if any, can help you see whether there are gaps you can fill. For example, if you already have a cash back card that’s good for gas, you might want to find one that gives you boosted rewards for grocery spending. If you’re still not sure which of your top picks to go with, consider using Bankrate’s Card Comparison Tool to help you see each card’s benefits side by side.

The bottom line

Military members can benefit from interest rate caps and waived fees on many of the top rewards credit cards, which is more than enough reason to sign up. With cards offering high welcome bonuses or more and lucrative perks like airport lounge access and travel credits, military personnel stand to gain a lot.

But it’s important to remember that the SCRA protections apply to debt incurred before being deployed, not after. So if you want to take advantage of these benefits, make sure you apply before your period of active duty.

Like other consumers, though, military members should try to avoid racking up debt they can’t afford to pay off. Once active-duty military service ends, those credit card military benefits will eventually come to a halt.

Issuer-required disclosure statement

*Information about the USAA® Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card and the Navy Federal Platinum Credit Card have been collected independently by Bankrate. Card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.