Best Credit Cards for Military Service Members

Active military service members are eligible to receive credit card-related benefits like waived annual fees and low interest rates.
Jae Bratton
Claire Tsosie
By Claire Tsosie and  Jae Bratton 
Updated
Edited by Erin Hurd

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The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, passed in 2003, offers various financial and legal protections for active-duty military. By easing financial stress for service members, the act intends to allow them to focus on defending the nation.

Among the SCRA-mandated benefits is a 6% interest cap on debt incurred before entering active duty, which applies to most loans, including credit cards. However, some issuers go beyond what the SCRA requires of them as creditors. Barclays, Chase and Capital One cut credit card interest rates below 6%, and Chase, American Express and Capital One waive credit card fees.

As a result, cards issued by Barclays, Chase and Capital One are overrepresented on our list of the best credit cards for military service members. Active-duty military stand to gain the most from these cards’ perks and save the most because of the issuers’ generous policies.

To take advantage of SCRA benefits, active-duty service members must apply for them by providing written notice to the creditor and proof of military service no later than 180 days after being released from military service.

🤓Nerdy Tip

While the SCRA applies to loans taken out before active duty, the Military Lending Act protects service members with loans opened during active duty. The MLA prohibits issuers from charging a military annual percentage rate of interest above 36%. Issuers must factor in credit card fees such as annual fees when calculating the MAPR.

Top credit cards for active-duty military service members

For an airline card: AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

SCRA policy: According to a Barclays spokesperson, Barclays will reduce the APR to 0% for any credit card opened before the active duty start date and waive fees except for annual fees.

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
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Why we like it: As of this writing, Barclays is the only major issuer that doesn’t charge interest on credit cards opened before the active duty period began. That means you won’t incur a financial penalty for carrying a balance on the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® (though your credit score might suffer). The Aviator Red card has a $99 annual fee that won't be waived, but if you’re a frequent flyer of American Airlines, this card’s perks can easily make up for that cost. You’ll get free checked bags on domestic American flights for yourself and up to four travelers on the same reservation. And the sign-up bonus is valuable and easily attainable: Earn 50,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days.

For everyday spending: Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card

SCRA policy: Capital One waives all fees on eligible accounts during active duty and one year after (except for insurance fees), and APR is reduced to 4% during active duty and one year after.

Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card
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Why we like it: This card’s $95 annual fee is steep, but remember, Capital One waives this fee throughout the active duty period and for a year after. Active-duty service members will pay nothing for some excellent rewards rates. The Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card earns:

  • 5% cash back on hotels and rental cards booked through Capital One Travel (terms apply).

  • 4% cash back on dining, eligible streaming services, and entertainment.

  • 3% cash back on purchases at grocery stores.

  • 1% cash back on all other purchases.

The high rewards rates in popular spending categories make the Savor Cash a top-of-wallet contender. The card also comes with a lucrative welcome offer: Earn a one-time $300 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.

For a premium travel card: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

SCRA policy: Capital One waives all fees on eligible accounts during active duty and one year after (except for insurance fees), and APR is reduced to 4% during active duty and one year after.

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
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Why we like it: If you opened the Venture X card before active duty, you can take advantage of some massive savings. While civilians pay $395 for the Venture X card, active-duty military pay $0.

Some of the best Venture X perks: A $300 annual credit for bookings made through the Capital One Travel portal; 10,000 bonus miles every account anniversary; unlimited access to Capital One’s airport lounges; a $100 credit every four years for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck; and cell phone insurance. Venture X cardholders can also transfer their miles to one of Capital One’s transfer partners to maximize the value of their rewards.

Airlines

  • Aeromexico (1:1 ratio).

  • Air Canada (1:1 ratio).

  • Air France-KLM (1:1 ratio).

  • Avianca (1:1 ratio).

  • British Airways (1:1 ratio).

  • Cathay Pacific (1:1 ratio).

  • Emirates (1:1 ratio).

  • Etihad (1:1 ratio).

  • EVA (2:1.5 ratio).

  • Finnair (1:1 ratio).

  • Qantas (1:1 ratio).

  • Singapore Airlines (1:1 ratio).

  • TAP Air Portugal (1:1 ratio).

  • Turkish Airlines (1:1 ratio).

Hotels

  • Accor (2:1 ratio).

  • Choice Privileges Hotels (1:1 ratio).

  • Wyndham Rewards (1:1 ratio).

🤓Nerdy Tip

Many of the cards on this list charge annual fees. However, we recommend them for military service members because the cards’ issuers waive fees throughout the active duty period and sometimes for a year after that. When your active duty period ends and you’d rather not pay a hefty annual fee, contact the card issuer and request a product change, specifically a downgrade to a card with a lower or no annual fee.

For building credit: Chase Freedom Rise℠

Chase Freedom Rise℠
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SCRA policy: For SCRA-eligible credit card accounts, Chase waives applicable fees and reduces interest rates to 4% while you’re on active duty and for a year afterward, according to a Chase spokeswoman.

Why we like it: The Chase Freedom Rise℠ is one of the best options for those new to credit. You don’t need a credit history to apply or put up a security deposit to open the account. The card also earns an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, a rate that’s just a shade below the industry standard.

Understandably, credit newbies may forget to pay their credit card bills on time and in full as they get the hang of managing a credit card. Active-duty service members won’t pay late fees or an interest rate higher than 4% on outstanding balances.

For balance transfers: Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card
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SCRA policy: For SCRA-eligible credit card accounts, Chase waives applicable fees and reduces interest rates to 4% while you’re on active duty and for a year afterward, according to a Chase spokeswoman.

Why we like it: Transferring debt to a credit card with a 0% APR period can be an excellent strategy to prevent balances from swelling due to interest. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers a lengthy break from interest on balance transfers: 0% intro APR on purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 20.49%-29.24% Variable APR. Chase also waives the balance transfer fee for active-duty service members.

If you haven’t paid down the entire balance before the 0% period ends, you’ll pay just 4% interest on the remainder.

For luxury travel: The Platinum Card® from American Express

SCRA policy: An American Express spokesperson confirmed that AmEx waives annual fees on cards that were opened prior to active duty and caps interest rates on pre-service balances at 6%.

Why we like it: Because American Express waives annual fees, active-duty service members can get all of the benefits of the AmEx Platinum for absolutely nothing. And those benefits are extensive, as they should be for a card that is normally $695 a year. AmEx Platinum cardholders get access to more than $1,500 worth of credits including $200 for hotel bookings, $200 for airline incidental fees and $240 for digital entertainment such as streaming services. (Enrollment required.) The card also gains you entry into more than 1,400 airport lounges. Terms apply.

For military families: U.S. Bank Shopper Cash Rewards™ Visa Signature® Card

SCRA policy: According to a U.S. Bank spokesperson, U.S. Bank provides eligible credit card holders who are on active duty a 6% rate cap. U.S Bank also waives fees incurred while they are on active duty.

Why we like it: As long as you’re on active duty, you won’t pay this card’s $0 intro for the first year, then $95 annual fee, a great deal considering that this card earns 6% cash back at major retailers including Apple, Amazon, Target, Walmart, Home Depot and Lowe’s. That 6% rate is capped at $1,500 in combined quarterly spending between two merchants that cardholders must select each quarter.

  • Ace Hardware.

  • Apple.

  • Amazon.com.

  • Anthropologie.

  • Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

  • Best Buy.

  • Chewy.com.

  • Crate & Barrel.

  • Disney.

  • Home Depot.

  • Ikea.

  • Kohl's.

  • Lowe's.

  • Lululemon.

  • Macy's.

  • Menards.

  • Nordstrom.

  • Pottery Barn.

  • QVC.

  • Restoration Hardware.

  • Target.

  • Walmart.

  • Wayfair.com.

  • Williams Sonoma.

The card also earns 3% cash back in other big spending areas for families: wholesale clubs; gas and EV charging stations; and bills and utilities. (Cardholders get to select one 3% category per quarter.) A $1,500 quarterly cap applies to the 3% rate as well. After hitting the spending caps for the 6% and 3% categories, purchases earn a respectable 1.5% cash back.


To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page.

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