Card companies go above and beyond for military members

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Service members can save hundreds in credit card interest and fee charges

Personal Finance Writer
Specializing in new trends in credit


Card companies go above and beyond for members of the military

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers.

If you or
your spouse is a member of the military, you could save hundreds of dollars a
year on credit card interest payments or fees – or be refunded thousands of
dollars in old payments – just by contacting your card company and letting them
know you’re serving your country. 

Credit
card companies offer a wide range of money-saving benefits that are exclusively
available to military families. But because these perks aren’t widely
advertised, many service members don’t know about the benefits available.

“Our focus
lies elsewhere,” says Richard Kerr, a naval officer who frequently writes about
military finance. “Worrying about the ancillary benefits of a credit card
versus an upcoming deployment is pretty low on the list.”

As a
result, service members could be forfeiting hundreds, or potentially even thousands,
of dollars in credit card interest and fees simply because they aren’t taking
full advantage of the offers and benefits available to military personnel.

Lower rates and fees for active-duty service members

A
decades-old law called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), for example,
requires lenders to cap interest rate charges on loans that military service
members took out before they started active duty at 6 percent. Lenders must
also waive fees, such as annual fees or late fees, if those charges exceed the 6
percent cap.

“This is a huge benefit that so many military
families just don’t know about,” says Christine Maxwell, an Army wife and author of the
military finance blog Her Money Moves. “And it can literally save them tens of thousands of dollars
over a military career.”

“I wish
I’d known about it when I was a new lieutenant,” says the anonymous blogger
behind the Military Dollar personal finance blog. “I hate to think about how much
extra interest I must have paid because I never applied for SCRA benefits!”

Depending
on the card issuer, military service members also may have access to a bevy of
exclusive perks and benefits, such as annual fee waivers on super premium cards
– which typically charge several hundred dollars a year – rebates on old
interest payments, dramatically reduced interest rates for family members,
extended SCRA benefits and more.

Military credit cards

Check out the top card offerings for veterans and active military:   

Military Star Card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
11.24% 19.24% N/A N/A 2 points per dollar spent on general purchases N/A

USAA rate advantage credit card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
7.9-24.9% None 3% (maximum $200 per transfer) None None N/A

USAA Limitless* (Only available in select states)

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
14.9-20.9% None 3% (maximum $200 per transfer) None 2.5 percent cashback on every purchase None

USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
12.9-26.9% None 3% (maximum $200 per transfer) None 5 percent cash back on first $3,000 in gas and military base purchases, 2 percent cash back on $3,000 in groceries, 1 percent cash back on everything else N/A

USAA Preferred Cash RewardsVisa Signature card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
12.9-26.9% None 3% (maximum $200 per transfer) None 1.5 percent back on every purchase N/A

USAA Rewards Visa Signature card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
10.9-26.9% = None 3% (maximum $200 per transfer) None 1 point for every dollar spent on everyday purchases; 2,500 bonus points with first purchase N/A

USAA Rewards American Express card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
10.9-26.9% None 3% (maximum $200 per transfer) None 2 points for every dollar spent on gas and groceries, 1 point for general purchases, 2,500 bonus points with first purchase N/A

USAA Secured Visa Platinum card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
10.9-20.9% None 3% (maximum $200 per transfer) $35 None None

USAA Secured American Express card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
10.9-20.9% None 3% (maximum $200 per transfer) $35 None None

USAA Military Affiliate Visa Signature card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
11.9-26.9% None 3% (maximum $200 per transfer) None 1 point for every dollar spent; 2,500 bonus points with first purchase 0% for 12 months

USAA Military Affiliate American Express card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
11.9-26.9% None 3% (maximum $200 per transfer) None 2 points for every dollar spent on gas and groceries, 2,500 bonus points with first purchase None

Navy Federal More Rewards American Express card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
10.65-18% 18% None None 3 points per dollar spent at supermarkets, 3 points per dollar spent at gas stations, 2 points per dollar spent at restaurants, no sign-up bonus None

Navy Federal cash rewards card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
10.65-18% 18% None None 1.5 percent cash back on purchases None

Navy Federal Go Rewards

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
9.99-18% 18% None None 3 points per dollar spent on restaurants, 2 points per dollar spent on gas and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else None

Navy Federal Visa Signature Flagship Rewards

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
10.99-18% 18% None $49 2 points per dollar spent None

Navy Federal Platinum card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
6.99-18% 18% None None None None

Navy Federal nrewards secured card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
9.99-18% 18% None None 1 point per dollar spent None

PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
9.74-17.99% 17.99% 3% None 1.5 percent cashback on all purchases, 2 percent cashback for PenFed Honors Advantage members 0% for 12 months

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
9.74-17.99% 17.99% 3% None 5 points per dollar spent on gas, 3 points per dollar spent on groceries, 1 point per dollar spent on regular purchases, $100 statement credit when you spend $1,500 0% for 12 months

PenFed Promise Visa

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
9.49-17.99% None None None None 4.99% for 12 months

PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
9.74-17.99% 17.99% 3% None 5 points per dollar spent on airline purchases, 1 point per dollar spent on other purchase, 20,000 bonus points when you spend $2,500 in 3 months 0% for 12 months

PenFed Gold Visa card

APR Penalty APR BT fee Annual fee Rewards Intro BT
8.99-17.99% 17.99% 3% None None, $100 statement credit when you spend $1,500 in the card’s first 90 days 0% for 12 months

Extended benefits

“Many
credit card companies offer benefits that go far beyond the requirements of the
law,” says Kate Horrell, a military finance coach whose husband is in the military.
For example, some card companies will waive annual fees or cut interest rates
on new cards. Others will lower rates well below 6 percent or refund interest
or fee charges that don’t technically qualify for SCRA protection. Some
military service members, for example, have received refunds on credit cards
owned solely by their spouses.

“I wish
I’d known about it when I was a new lieutenant. I hate to think about how much
extra interest I must have paid because I never applied for SCRA benefits!”

“It’s not
what the law requires. It’s something that they’re doing as a perk or benefit,”
says Horrell. “I know military members who are getting thousands of dollars of
interest refunded.”

For
example, among the card companies known to offer extended benefits:

  • Capital One caps rates for cards and other
    eligible loans at 4 percent – 2 points less than what’s required by law, says
    Capital One spokeswoman Amanda Landers. It also waives all fees associated
    with a credit card, including expedited processing fees for a replacement card,
    late payment fees, cash advance fees, balance transfer fees, over-limit fees
    and more. In addition, Capital One grants SCRA benefits for new cards and
    extends benefits for up to a year after a cardholder has left active duty
    service.
  • USAA also caps rates at 4 percent for
    both pre-existing debt and new charges, says USAA spokesman Matthew Walter.
    Military families are eligible for the extra low rate when a service member is
    deployed abroad or when a military family is given a permanent change of
    station – a move that often happens every couple of years. USAA also gives
    cardholders up to a year after active duty has ended to request
    retroactive benefits.
  • American Express waives annual fees on new cards,
    including cards with high annual fees such as the Gold and Platinum cards. It
    may also waive other charges. “We encourage our military servicemen and women to
    contact us directly to hear about the specific benefits and fee waivers we have
    available to them,” American Express spokeswoman Charlotte Fuller wrote in an
    email.
  • U.S. Bank also waives fees for
    service members. “U.S.
    Bank is proud to serve our service member customers with a variety of credit
    cards and lending benefits that fall within the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
    (SCRA) and Military Lending Act (MLA),” senior vice president Cliff Cook said in an email. “In addition, we do offer additional benefits, such as waiving
    annual fees and late fees for these customers.”
  • Bank of America offers reduced interest rates on
    military-themed affinity credit cards and all SCRA-eligible cards for up to six
    months after a service member leaves active duty, says Bank of America
    spokeswoman Betty Riess.
  • Discover grants SCRA benefits to military
    spouses or domestic partners, says Discover spokesman Jeremy Borling, even if
    the service member isn’t listed on the card. Under the SCRA, lenders
    are only required to extend benefits to spouses with jointly
    held cards
    . It also extends SCRA benefits on new cards. “Many of these additional benefits are aimed at making it
    easier for service members to access them,” he says.

Card
issuers also should refund charges, such as annual fee or interest payments
above the 6 percent rate cap, that service members incurred before they applied
for benefits. “I had several friends who got annual statement credits for all
the years that they’ve been active duty,” says Kerr. 

In
addition, some card companies will even refund interest rate or fee charges that
service members and their spouses incurred years before entering military life. For
example, Bailey Cummins, an Army wife who runs the blog Becoming
Bailey
, saved thousands of dollars in
interest charges on her Discover card after she asked if it would qualify for
SCRA relief.

“Discover
went beyond what they were required by law,” says Cummins. “At the time that we
received the benefit, my husband was not on the card.”

In addition, “I had
applied for the card long before we got married, but they approved it for SCRA
benefits, which was very generous of them, and I was super grateful.” Discover
even refunded interest charges dating back to when Cummins first opened the
card – nearly three years before she became a military spouse.


“It’s not
what the law requires. It’s something that they’re doing as a perk or benefit. I know military members who are getting thousands of dollars of
interest refunded.”

“I think
they’re doing it as a thank you to military service members,” says Maxwell.

Lucrative perks

Maxwell recently
opened an American Express Platinum card and didn’t have to pay a penny of the
$550 annual fee that Platinum cardholders are typically charged because her
husband is a military lawyer on active duty.

“It was a
brand-new card, so they don’t necessarily have to do that,” she says.

In
addition, American Express waived other ancillary charges, such as over-limit
and late payment fees. Because it’s so expensive, the Platinum card is not a card she normally
would have applied for, says Maxwell. “But it’s free.”

Just by opening the
card, she’s already pocketed hundreds of dollars worth of benefits for new cardholders, including a $200 airline fee credit, a $100 credit for
TSA Precheck or Global Entry, free Uber credits and more.

The
Platinum card is one of the most popular cards amongst military finance
bloggers, thanks to its lucrative perks and exclusive freebies for Platinum
card members.

“They have a huge sign-up bonus that I used to travel to Europe,”
says John, an active duty Coast Guard member who runs the blog Military
Fire
 and prefers to remain anonymous.

However, military credit card holders also have access to a wide range of other premium annual fee cards
that offer ample bonuses on groceries, gas and travel, provided they have the
credit scores to qualify.

Premium
cards that have their annual fees waived are especially popular with military bloggers
because they provide so many opportunities to rack up rewards on the go.

“I
think that is one of the awesome benefits of being in the military,” says Andy
Sheep, a naval officer who helps run The Military Frequent Flyer blog. “Travel alone is a benefit in
itself, but to get even more rewards on top of that is icing on the cake.”

Some
trips require service members to use a government credit card, says Sheep. But others allow
cardholders to get around those requirements or use their cards for personal
expenses.  

How to apply

To get
SCRA benefits or related perks, service members must contact the credit card
company directly and ask what benefits it offers. Some, such as Capital One
and American Express, allow you to apply for benefits online. Others require
you to call and send proof of your status, such as military orders.

Ask if the
card company offers any benefits that go above and beyond the SCRA, says Doug
Nordman, a retired military officer and author of  “The Military Guide to Financial Independence
and Retirement.” Not all card companies will be willing to extend more generous
benefits; but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

“They might lower interest rates, they
might waive annual fees and they might go back in time and lower interest rates
or retroactively waive annual fees,” says Nordman. “Every card issuer does it
differently.”

Some issuers
have also scaled back the benefits they offer military families, so don’t be
surprised if a card issuer that was rumored to offer benefits no longer does.

If a
company denies your request, “let it go,” says Cummins. “If they don’t go
beyond what the law requires, that’s their choice. We’re not entitled to these
things. We’re only entitled to what the law requires of credit card
companies.”  

Lower rates and fees on
military-specific cards

Active-duty service members aren’t the only military affiliates eligible for special credit
card rates and benefits. Veterans and military retirees also have access to
some of the lowest credit card interest rates and fees.

Cards specifically
targeted to members of the military and their families, such as those from Navy
Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union and USAA, for example,
offer some of the lowest rates and fees cardholders can get.

CreditCards.com
analyzed 22 cards that require some kind of connection to the military or another
qualifying organization to be eligible to apply and found:

  • Low interest rates: Military
    cards are among the few cards still available that offer genuinely low interest
    rates on new purchases. For example, the average minimum interest rate on a
    military card is just 10.65 percent – nearly 6 points less than the national
    average. These rates are for family members and military cardholders who aren’t
    currently on active duty and so don’t qualify for SCRA benefits.
  • Low maximum interest rates: The
    average maximum rate is 20.83 percent, but many cards offer a maximum rate of
    just 17.99 percent. Meanwhile, some offer rates as low as 6.99 percent.
  • Fewer fees: Military
    cards also carry fewer fees than the typical credit card. For example, nearly
    half of the military cards surveyed don’t charge a penalty APR. None charges foreign transaction fees – a big perk for cardholders who live abroad – and
    seven waive credit card balance transfer fees.
  • Decent rewards: Rewards
    are decent for cards with such low rates. Among the cards surveyed, six offer
    1.5 to 2.5 percent back on every purchase. Two offer 5 percent back – or 5
    bonus points – on gas. One offers 5 points back for travel purchases.

“Those are
good cards to start out with,” says John of Military Fire. “Those cards usually
don’t offer huge sign-up bonuses.” But they typically offer safer terms.

Once
you’ve established your credit and proven that you can comfortably manage your
balances, which is reflected in higher credit scores, you can then upgrade to a
more lucrative high-end card.

Just be
sure you continue to pay your bills on time and avoid overcharging, says
Maxwell. Your credit score is especially important when you’re a member of the
military because a bad score could alter your ability to do your job.

“Credit
is very important for service members,” she says. “If you have a top-secret
clearance, your credit history affects your clearance.”

The government may
decide it can’t trust you if you have problems with your credit. “I think
service members often don’t think about how it could affect your career in the
long run if you don’t take your credit seriously.”

See related: Military credit cards, Authorized user not covered by servicemember&rqquo;s APR protections, Military Lending Act credit card rules take effect




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