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Key takeaways

  • Active-duty military members and their families are eligible for a variety of credit card perks and benefits due in part to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
  • This federal law sets guidelines for how debt incurred before a soldier goes on active duty must be handled, including rules for reducing interest rates and fees.
  • Those that qualify can get premium credit cards without the annual fees that make them so expensive to carry, plus reduced interest rates that can make credit card payments more affordable.

As an active-duty member of the U.S. Military, you’ve got a surprisingly robust range of credit card perks and protections that you can take advantage of — and that’s all thanks to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. This 2003 law is designed to make it easier for our servicemembers to focus on their service rather than financial stressors like debt and high interest rates.

If you’re thinking about signing up for a new credit card, first understand your rights under this act and the benefits you can receive from your card issuer. In this guide, we cover the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, as well as the best credit card benefits for active-duty military members to keep in mind as you shop for your next cards.

What is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act?

While on duty, members of the military are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act — commonly called the SCRA. This federal law is designed to provide financial and legal protections to active-duty military members. The benefits and protections the SCRA offers include reduced interest rates on pre-service debts, protections against default judgments and protections against eviction, all with the goal of helping active-duty military members dedicate their attention to their duties without undue financial stress.

Who qualifies for SCRA benefits?

SCRA benefits and protections are available to members of all branches of the military, including the:

  • Air Force
  • Army
  • Marine Corps
  • Navy
  • Coast Guard
  • National Guard
  • Space Force

To qualify for SCRA benefits, military members 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. Commissioned officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) or the Public Health Service who are serving on active duty may also be eligible.

You may be able to extend your SCRA benefits to qualifying family members, as well.

Who doesn’t qualify for SCRA benefits?

While many of the protections in the SCRA extend to families, it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone in your family will be covered. The SCRA recognizes dependents and spouses as family, so SCRA protections won’t apply to relatives not listed as your dependents.

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Keep in mind: Veterans also do not qualify for SCRA benefits, unfortunately.

How to notify creditors of your SCRA qualifications

To take advantage of your SCRA protections, eligible service personnel must provide their credit card issuers or lenders with notice and a copy of their military orders at any time while on active duty or up to 180 days after the end of their active duty period. Some creditors allow you to do this online, while others require you to mail your documents. From there, the creditor takes action depending on the protections that apply to your situation.

What benefits do card issuers offer to active-duty military?

Among the significant benefits of the SCRA for military personnel is a cap on interest rates for pre-service debts. Most banks and credit card issuers will also refund or waive interest and annual fees for financial obligations incurred before a servicemember’s active duty period.

Interest rate caps

The SCRA outlines a 6 percent interest rate that creditors must abide by. In addition to credit card debt, qualifying debts under this interest rate cap include:

  • Auto loans
  • Installment loans
  • Medical bills
  • Mortgage loans
  • Student loans
  • Title loans

For example, if a servicemember gets a credit card with a 20 percent APR before joining the military, they can request a lower 6 percent rate under the SCRA. The credit card issuer is then required to forgive — not defer — any interest charged beyond the 6 percent annual rate cap. They must also forgive this interest retroactively.

However, because debts that qualify for SCRA must have been incurred prior to military service, it’s possible for military members to have multiple interest rates on the same credit card. For example, debt incurred prior to military service is capped at 6 percent, yet debts incurred during military service can be charged a regular variable APR.

Waived fees and additional benefits

Beyond SCRA protections, many card issuers provide additional benefits to active duty military and their spouses. For example, Capital One waives credit card fees and limits interest rates to 4 percent APR during and for a year after active duty service.

Many other issuers also waive annual fees for top rewards and travel credit cards, allowing military members to enjoy premium benefits without incurring costs.

Military Lending Act benefits

Issuers also account for protections under the Military Lending Act (MLA), a federal law enacted in 2006 that sets guidelines for debt incurred during active military service, as opposed to before like the SCRA does. However, the interest rate cap for the MLA is a high 36 percent military annual percentage rate (MAPR), so it might not actually change much when it comes to the interest rate the issuer charges you on new debt. But because the MAPR includes fees in that 36 percent, you might still be eligible for having a card’s fees waived.

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Keep in mind: Most issuers apply MLA benefits automatically with no additional application or documentation required, if you qualify.

How do credit card benefits differ for active duty vs. veterans or retired military members?

Active-duty military members and veterans can always apply for the same selection of rewards and travel credit cards. However, credit card issuers generally only waive fees for eligible active-duty military personnel, and the same applies to SCRA benefits.

With that in mind, veterans may want to think twice before signing up for a premium travel credit card with a high annual fee. Once you’re a veteran, you may want to focus on cash back credit cards instead, or on rewards credit cards from military-affiliated institutions like USAA and Navy Federal Credit Union.

Best credit card benefits for active-duty military members

The credit card benefits you receive can vary depending on the card issuer, especially because some issuers provide even more benefits on top of what’s required by the SCRA. But it’s important to keep in mind that the SCRA is for debts taken on before servicemembers are deployed. To get the most out of your card issuer when it comes to SCRA protections, make sure you apply for your credit card before being on active duty.

Here are benefits qualified cardmembers might receive from top issuers:

Credit card issuer Military credit card benefits How to apply for benefits
American Express
  • Maximum APR of 6 percent on debts incurred before military service
  • Waived credit card fees, including annual fees
Apply using the options on Amex’s servicemembers’ page.
Bank of America
  • Maximum APR of 6 percent on debts incurred before military service
  • Waived credit card fees, including annual fees
Prefill your military benefits enrollment application online and wait for Bank of America to request further documentation.
  • 0 percent APR on debts incurred before military service
  • Waived credit card fees, including annual fees
Call customer service at 1-877-523-0478 or the number on the back of your credit card.
Capital One
  • Maximum APR of 4 percent on debts incurred before military service
  • Waived credit card fees, including annual fees
Request benefits using Capital One’s servicemembers page on the Capital One website.
  • Maximum APR of 4 percent on debts incurred before military service
  • Waived credit card fees, including annual fees
Call Chase Military Services toll-free at 1-877-469-0110.
  • 0 percent APR on debts incurred before military service
  • Waived credit card fees, including annual fees
Call Citi customer service at 1-877-804-1082 or send a request by mail.
  • Maximum APR of 6 percent on debts incurred before military service
  • Waived late fees and over-the-limit fees
Log in to your Discover account at Discover.com/SCRA.
  • Maximum APR of 4 percent on debts incurred before military service
Request on USAA’s SCRA benefits page.
U.S. Bank
  • Maximum APR of 6 percent on debts incurred before military service
  • Waiver of all fees during military service
Call the U.S. Bank Military Service Center at 1-800-934-9555.

The bottom line

Military members can benefit from interest rate caps and waived fees thanks to the protections in place by the SCRA. This makes it easier to fit high-value rewards credit cards that would typically come with an annual fee into your wallet.

If you’re ready to choose a credit card that lets you take full advantage of your military benefits, check out our picks for the best credit cards for active-duty military members.

Like other consumers, though, military members should try to avoid racking up debt they can’t comfortably afford to pay off. Once active-duty military service ends and you become a veteran, you likely won’t be eligible for the same types of benefits.