Best credit card benefits for military members
Members of the military can qualify for some impressive credit card perks most other people cannot. Benefits include those granted through the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which is available to active duty military and other eligible National Guard and reservists. Many card issuers also waive annual fees for their top rewards and travel credit cards, creating a scenario where military members can score lucrative benefits without paying for the privilege.
If you’re active duty military personnel or a veteran, you may be wondering which benefits you could qualify for and how you can take advantage. This guide aims to cover everything you need to know about credit card military benefits and who may be eligible to sign up.
SCRA credit card benefits: What you need to know
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) became law in 2003 and has helped military members save money on interest and fees ever since. Thanks to SCRA, eligible military personnel cannot be asked to pay an interest rate that is more than 6 percent on financial obligations and debts incurred prior to military service. The United States Department of Justice says the following types of debts qualify for this interest rate cap: automobile, ATV, boat and other vehicle loans, credit cards, mortgages, home equity loans and student loans.
To qualify, eligible service personnel must provide their credit card issuer with written notice and a copy of their military orders within 180 days of the end of their military service period. From there, the credit must forgive (not defer) interest charged that surpasses the 6 percent annual rate cap, and they must also forgive this interest retroactively.
Since 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 could be charged a regular variable APR.
Who qualifies for SCRA benefits?
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.
Veterans do not qualify for SCRA benefits.
Best credit card benefits for active duty military members
The credit card benefits you receive during military service can vary depending on the card issuer. The chart below explains how these benefits vary depending on which bank issues the rewards credit card you sign up for.
|Credit card issuer||Military credit card benefits||How to apply for benefits|
||Apply using the options on this page|
|Bank of America||
||Complete this form and mail it to Bank of America with applicable military paperwork|
||Call customer service at 1-877-523-0478 or the number on the back of your credit card|
||Request benefits using this page on the Capital One website|
||Call Chase Military Services toll free at 1-877-469-0110|
||Call Citi customer service at 1-877-804-1082|
||Log into your Discover account at Discover.com/SCRA|
||Request SCRA benefits here|
||Call the U.S. Bank Military Service Center at 1-800-934-9555|
Bankrate’s top credit cards for military members
Since most card issuers waive annual fees for eligible military personnel, you will likely get the most value out of a premium rewards credit card. The cards below are our top picks for military personnel in 2021 and beyond:
Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Best for flexible rewards and travel benefits
- Welcome bonus: 50,000 points (worth $750 in travel) when you spend $4,000 on your card within three months of account opening
- Rewards: Earn 3X points on eligible travel (after earning the travel credit) and restaurant purchases; 3X points on up to $1,000 in grocery store spending each month through April 30, 2021; 10X total points on Lyft purchases through March 2022; 1X points on all other purchases
- Perks: Cardholder perks include an annual $300 travel credit, Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership, a credit for Global Entry/TSA Precheck, a $60 credit toward DoorDash purchases in 2021, Peloton credits and more
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is an excellent option for eligible military members due to the lucrative benefits available without an annual fee. You can earn a generous bonus for starters, but you’ll also earn rewards for each dollar you spend. You’ll even get a $300 annual travel credit, airport lounge membership worth $429, up to a $100 statement credit toward your Global Entry or TSA Precheck application and credits toward a DoorDash and Peloton membership.
Also, note that the points you earn with this card call within the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, so they are redeemable for gift cards, statement credits, experiences, merchandise or a 1:1 transfer to airline and hotel partners. You can also redeem your points for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and get 1.5 cents per point in value when you do. Through April 30, 2021, the Chase “Pay Yourself Back” program also lets you redeem points for 1.5 cents each when you use them for grocery store purchases, dining (including takeout and delivery) and home improvement stores.
The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for premium travel perks
- Welcome bonus: 75,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on your card within six months of account opening
- Rewards: Earn 10X points on up to $15,000 in combined spending at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations the first six months; 5X points on up to $500,000 spent per calendar year on airfare booked directly with airlines or through AmexTravel.com and for prepaid hotel bookings made through the portal; 1X points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases
- Perks: Airport lounge membership (Priority Pass Select, Centurion and Delta SkyClubs when you fly Delta), up to a $200 airline fee credit each year, Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy Gold Status, up to $200 in Uber credits each year and more
- Terms apply
The Platinum Card® from American Express offers luxury travel perks like airport lounge access, airline credits and hotel status without an annual fee charged to military members. Since you can earn a high level of rewards points on airfare and hotels, this card also lets you rack up points quickly if you travel often. The fact you can earn 10X points on up to $15,000 in combined spending at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations the first six months could even leave you with up to 150,000 in additional American Express Membership Rewards points to spend.
And don’t forget that points in the Amex Membership Rewards program are extremely flexible. You can redeem them for gift cards, merchandise, travel through AmexTravel.com, transfers to Amex airline and hotel partners and more.
American Express® Gold Card: Best for groceries
- Welcome bonus: 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first six months
- Rewards: Earn 4X points on restaurants worldwide, including takeout, delivery and Uber Eats orders; 4X points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per year, then 1X points); 3X points on flights and 2X points on rental cars through amextravel.com; 1X points on all other purchases
- Perks: Up to $120 annually in dining credits; up to a $100 hotel credit with The Hotel Collection; up to 12 months of complimentary Uber Eats Pass membership when you enroll by Dec. 31, 2021; up to $120 in annual Uber Cash toward U.S. Rides and U.S. Uber Eats orders
- Terms apply
The American Express® Gold Card is a smart option for military members who spend a lot at the grocery store since they can earn a great return on U.S. supermarket purchases (as well as restaurant, takeout and delivery purchases). The fact there’s a generous welcome bonus and no annual fee for military members makes this card a no-brainer.
The Amex Gold Card also offers credit-earning opportunities surrounding food, as well, so if you’re big into takeout (yes, you can get food delivered to a military base), this card is sure to bring a lot of value.
Do cards differ for active duty vs. veterans or retired military members?
Keep in mind that active duty military members and veterans can always apply for the same selection of rewards and travel credit cards. However, credit card issuers 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.
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 go ahead and sign up. With welcome bonuses worth $500 or more and lucrative perks like airport lounge access and travel credits, military personnel stand to gain handily if they are able to take advantage.
Like other consumers though, military members should try to avoid racking up debt they cannot afford to pay off. Once military service ends, the gravy train of credit card military benefits will come to a halt.