Military families face unique challenges– physically, emotionally, logistically and financially. Finding the right credit card for your unique lifestyle shouldn't have to fall into that list of challenges. 

No matter your credit card, active-duty military members and their spouses are eligible for benefits related to the Servicemembers Civil Rights Act (SCRA). The SCRA provides financial help to active-duty military personnel and their spouses; however, many credit card issuers go above and beyond the SCRA and offer additional benefits, such as waiving annual fees or even lowering interest rates beyond what the law requires.

We break down the benefits of SCRA as well as the best credit cards for military members and the perks that they offer.

What is the military credit card act?

Congress passed the Servicemembers Civil Rights ACT (SCRA) in 2003, which expanded the Soldier's and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940.

SCRA deals with rental agreements, security deposits, mortgage interest rates, health insurance, income tax payments, mortgage foreclosures and, yes, credit cards.

The SCRA caps active military members' interest rate at 6% for financial obligations incurred before military service, and requires creditors to forgive interest greater than 6%. This means banks can't defer interest to later, and they must also forgive the interest retroactively.

Who is eligible for military credit card benefits?

To be eligible for the SCRA, you must be at least one of the following:

  • A member of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty or a reserve component called to active duty.
  • National Guard personnel under a call or order to active duty for more than 30 days.
  • A Public Health Service or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissioned officer.
  • A U.S. citizen servicing with another nation, which is allied with the U.S.
  • The spouse of an active duty service member.

As much as members of the military need - and should use - the perks available to them, some civilians can also benefit from some specialized companies broadening their user base. Further, secondary cardholders and authorized users should also pay attention to all benefits.

Here's a quick guide to help see if you are eligible for special perks:

USAA

PenFed

Navy Federal Credit Union

To be eligible for USAA:
  • Active, retired and honorably separated officers and enlisted personnel of the U.S. military
  • Officer candidates in commissioning programs such as military academies and ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps), OCS/OTS)
  • Adult children of USAA members who have or had a USAA auto or property insurance policy
  • Widows and widowers of USAA members who have or had a USAA auto or property insurance policy

Source: USAA

PenFed membership is more open. You can join through your employment, association membership, or volunteerism. This includes:
  • All active duty, retired and honorably separated military and their family members
  • Federal employees (regardless of military status) or their family member
  • Housemate of eligible person
  • By joining a group like National Military Family Organization (you can sign up as a "concerned citizen") for a small one-time membership fee
  • Red Cross volunteer

Source: PenFed

Navy Federal Credit Union is among the more restrictive in terms of membership. You must be affiliated with the:
  • Armed Forces, DoD, Coast Guard or National Guard or a family member
  • This includes regular Active Duty and reservists, and Army and Air National Guard personnel

Source: Navy Federal Credit Union

How to request SCRA

You will need to know a few details to take full advantage of this benefit. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to get SCRA benefits, you must:

  • Let your credit card company know of your active duty status in writing. This applies to any issuer.
  • Request the interest-rate reduction to 6% while on active duty.
  • Include a copy of your orders.

Important: This only applies to credit cards received or loans made before you begin active duty and only applies to the period of military service, or additionally one year after in the case of "an obligation or liability consisting of a mortgage, trust deed, or other security in the nature of a mortgage," according to the law.

Military members have 180 days after their end of service to notify creditors and provide the necessary documents to benefit from the 6% APR cap.

Contact your credit card company either via phone or online. Don't be deterred if the customer service representative isn't familiar with these benefits. Just request to speak to a supervisor. You should also expect to answer a series of questions about your military service.

Once your creditor receives your information, they will review your SCRA eligibility to confirm you are an active duty military member or the spouse of an active service member. The creditor will examine the provided documents and check the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center.

Each credit card issuer has a similar process to verify SCRA benefits and to approve other active military-related card perks.

Are there credit card benefits for military members?

Yes. As a way to say "thank you," some credit card issuers offer special military credit card benefits for active-duty members and, in some cases, their spouses. Here are a few of the ways credit card companies thank military members:

Annual fee waivers

This can be a huge money saver, especially for cards with hefty annual fees like The Platinum Card® from American Express, which offers lucrative luxury perks but comes with a $695 annual fee. However, if you're active-duty military, you don't have to worry about this fee. American Express waives the fee for members of the military. American Express is a CardRatings advertiser; terms apply.

This also applies to its business cards, which means you might want to consider The Business Platinum Card® from American Express (it usually carries a $595 ($695 if application is received on or after 1/13/2022) annual fee) if you are a small or medium-sized business owner.

American Express isn't the only issuer to waive annual fees for active duty military. For example, Chase, Capital One and Citi (Citi is a CardRatings.com advertiser) all waive annual fees for active military members (and, yes, you must be active duty to qualify for the fee waivers).

Lower APR

The SCRA requires creditors to cap their APR at 6% for active service members; however, some card issuers drop it further. Citi completely removes the APR during active duty time. USAA and Capital One lower the APR to 4%. USAA even goes beyond that and extends the 4% APR until a year after active duty ends.

No late fees

American Express, Capital One, USAA and Chase will waive late fees for active military members. A word of caution– late payment information will still go to credit bureaus, which can affect your credit score. So, it's not a good idea to miss a payment even if your card may waive the fee.

Wipe out all fees

Some credit card companies remove all fees while you're on active duty. For instance, Capital One and USAA cut foreign transaction, balance transfer, cash advance and all other card-related fees.

Identity theft protection

Identity theft is a major issue for military families. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has estimated that nearly one-third of consumer complaints to their agency from active duty military, veterans and their spouses involved identity theft.

The FTC recommends all active-duty military who don't expect to seek out credit use an "active-duty alert" on their credit report. This flag will stop any new credit application and trigger a fraud review.

The great news here is you don't have to call all three credit reporting bureaus - TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Just contact one and request the alert; that bureau must let the others know.

Best credit cards for military members

All credit cards will give you the benefits of the SCRA, and some cards will provide added benefits. If you're ready to start taking advantage of these benefits available to you, keep reading for some of the top cards from issuers offering unique military benefits.

Before you apply, however, remember that being active duty military doesn't guarantee approval for a credit card; your credit history and score will still be factors in whether you're approved.

*Please note that each issuer has specific policies regarding waivers, interest rates, and offers for military members. In some cases, you must open the card BEFORE going on active duty; in other cases, special features/waivers apply only for cards opened after a specific date. We've done our best to offer general guidance on these offers. If you attempt to take advantage of these offers and encounter an issue, please let us know by emailing editor@cardratings.com so that we can update this article accordingly. In all cases, if you see a card you like, be sure to speak with a customer service representative to ensure you understand the full scope of benefits available to you as a member of the military.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Terms Apply

Annual fee: $695 (waived when on active duty)

Rewards: Cardholders get five Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year). Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases on your new card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. during your first six months of card membership (up to $25,000 in combined spending). You can also earn 100,000 bonus rewards when you spend $6,000 in the first six months.

Luxury perks: This card is meant for regular travelers. You get access to hundreds of airport lounges through the Global Lounge Collection, 24/7 access to the Platinum Club Concierge, which can help with travel arrangements, and a credit to cover your Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® application fee. You also get $200 a year in a statement credit to cover travel-related charges like baggage fees and in-flight refreshments that you charge on your card with a pre-selected airline.

Active military perks: American Express waives the annual fee and even late fees when you're on active duty.

Foreign transaction fees: None

Credit needed: Good, Excellent


Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Terms Apply

Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95. (waived when on active duty)

Rewards: Earn 6% back on the first $6,000 spent annually at U.S. supermarkets, 6% on select U.S. streaming services, 3% back on purchases at U.S. gas stations and on transit, and 1% back on your other purchases. By the way, most supermarkets these days sell a host of gift cards and, yes, you can earn 6% back when you buy gift cards at those supermarkets. Plus, you can earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card within the first six months.  

Active military perks: Once again, American Express waives the annual fee and late fees when you're on active duty; that's in addition to the perks you're due under the SCRA. 

Foreign transaction fees: None for active-duty military (for everyone else, 2.7% of each transaction after conversion to US dollars.)

Credit needed: Good, Excellent


American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card

Terms Apply

Annual fee: $250 (waived for active-duty military)

Rewards: This card offers 3X Membership Rewards points® on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com and 4X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X). Earn 60,000 bonus points when you use the card for $4,000 worth of purchases in the first six months. You can also earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with your card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Boxed, participating Shake Shack locations, and Ruth's Chris Steak House. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.

Active military perks: Same as mentioned above: American Express waives the annual fee and late fees when you're on active duty.

Foreign transaction fees: None

Credit needed: Good, Excellent


Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Annual fee: $550 (waived completely under certain circumstances for active duty military)*

Rewards: Earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points after making $4,000 in purchases the first three months. Those bonus points are worth up to $750 in travel since Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders' points are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards®. Earn 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining and 1X point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Perks: Your points are transferable to a number of airline and hotel loyalty programs at a 1:1 rate or you can redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® for 50% more value. You'll receive up to $300 in statement credit each account anniversary year to cover travel expenses and you'll enjoy access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide. Cardholders are also protected with travel cancellation/interruption insurance and an auto rental collision damage waiver.

Active military perks: No annual fee and Chase waives late fees during active service. *Subject to terms.

Foreign transaction fee: $0

Credit needed: Excellent


Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Annual fee: $95, waived for active duty military*

Rewards: Earn 5X total points on all travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal; 3X points on dining, including eligible delivery services and takeout; 3X points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs); 3X points on select streaming services; 2X points on travel purchases; and 1X point on all other purchases. New cardholders receive 60,000 bonus Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, worth $750 in travel, when you make at least $4,000 in purchases the first three months. 

Perks: You can transfer your points to the card's airline partners and hotel travel partners, making these incredibly flexible reward points. Furthermore, if you redeem your points for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program, those points are worth 25% more. That means the 60,000 bonus points are worth $750 in travel. Cardholders also enjoy travel cancellation/interruption insurance and an auto rental collision damage waiver.

Active military perks: No annual fee and Chase waives late fees during active service.

Foreign transaction fee: $0

Credit needed: Excellent, Good


Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Annual fee: $95 (waived for active duty military)*

Rewards: Double miles on all purchases. Plus, earn a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel.

Perks: You can fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime and not have to worry about blackout dates. In addition, you can transfer your miles to multiple leading travel loyalty programs. Use your miles to receive statement credits for travel-related purchases. Plus, there's fraud coverage, complimentary concierge services and auto rental collision damage waiver.

Active military perks: Capital One wipes out all fees, including annual fee, late fees and balance transfer fees during active service. The company also caps the APR at 4% for active duty military.

Foreign transaction fee: None

Credit needed: Excellent, Good


Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

Annual fee: $450 (waived for active duty military)*

Rewards: Earn two AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and one mile for every $1 spent elsewhere. Plus, earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first three months. Then, if you spend $40,000 in a year, you'll earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs).

Luxury perks: This is another luxury card, so you get luxury treatment: Access to the Admirals Club® airport lounges, free first checked bags for you and eight traveling companions traveling with you on the same domestic reservation* and more.

Active military perks: Citi cuts the APR to 0 percent during active duty plus waives the fees.

Foreign transaction fee: 0%

Credit needed: Excellent, Good


Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

Annual fee: $0*

Rewards: You get 1% cash back when you make purchases and another 1% cash back when you pay at least the minimum balance due on your bill on time. 

Perks: Complimentary concierge service and fraud protection.

Active military perks: Citi cuts APR to 0% during active duty time.

Foreign transaction fee: 3% (waived for service members)

Credit needed: Excellent, Good

Top business cards for members of the military

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

Annual fee: $595 ($695 if application is received on or after 1/13/2022) (waived when on active duty)* 

Rewards: Cardholders get five times Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel. Earn 1.5 points on eligible purchases in select business categories and on eligible purchases of $5,000 or more (up to a cap). You can also earn 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within your first three months of card membership.

Luxury perks: This card is meant for regular business travelers. You have access to airport lounges around the globe; 24/7 access to the Platinum Club Concierge, which can help with travel arrangements, arrange business lunches or even procure tickets to entertain clients; and a credit to cover your Global Entry ($100) or TSA Pre✓® ($85) application fee every four years or 4.5 years, respectively, for the primary cardholder as well as all other cardholders on the account. You also get $200 a year in a statement credit to cover airline-related charges like baggage fees and in-flight refreshments that you charge on your card with a pre-selected airline.

When it comes time to redeem your rewards, you'll receive 35% of your points back when you redeem through American Express Travel for a first or business class ticket on any airline or any class ticket with your pre-selected airline (up to 500,000 points back each year).

Foreign transaction fees: None 

Active military perks: American Express waives the annual fee and even late fees when you're on active duty.

Credit needed: Good, Excellent


Remember, choose a credit card that matches your interests and lifestyle. Many companies offer benefits to active service members, so you should be able to find the best military credit card for you. Compare each card's rewards and special offers to decide which one matches your situation and interests. If you don't see something above that fits your credit history and needs, check out our full list of offers for more options and information.

See Rates and Fees; terms apply for The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

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