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Best USAA Credit Cards

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Best USAA Credit Cards

USAA doesn’t just offer affordable insurance policies for military families – it also offers several credit cards with competitive terms. With special benefits for active duty service members, decent cash-back earnings and versatile travel rewards options, getting one of these USAA credit cards may help you save a bundle.

In this article

Where USAA cards shine
Where USAA cards fall short
Best rewards for military base purchases: Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card
Best flat-rate cash-back rewards: Preferred Cash Rewards® World MasterCard®
Best sign-up bonus card: Military affiliation credit cards
Best low interest card: USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa®
Best for bad credit: USAA Secured Card® Platinum Visa®
Should I get a USAA credit card?

Where USAA cards shine

The best thing about USAA credit cards is that they’re designed specifically with military families in mind. Here are a few highlights:

Extra-low APRs during deployment and permanent change of station. USAA provides a special 4% APR instead of the 6% APR required by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The rate applies to all balances, not just pre-service debt, USAA’s senior communications partner, Gloria Gallardo, writes in an email. The service member keeps that rate during active duty, as well as one year following. After that, USAA notifies you 45 days before it switches your account back to regular variable APR.

Even for active-duty service members who don’t qualify for SCRA benefits, USAA will provide the 4% APR on current balances and new transactions, waive and reduce fees on balance transfers and convenience checks and waive the 1% foreign transaction fees for those who are deployed or on permanent change of station (PCS) for 12 months, Gallardo notes.

Versatile travel rewards. USAA rewards credit cards don’t earn points as quickly as other cards. But when you do collect enough rewards to redeem them for travel, you’ll likely get a good deal. USAA rewards points are generally worth one cent each when redeemed for travel.

You’ll also get a USAA discount on top of that because you have to book through USAA.com, which adds up to even greater value. And don’t worry about not having enough redemption options – USAA.com includes several major domestic and international carriers, such as American Airlines, Delta, United, Alaska, British Airways and Singapore Airlines, to name a few.

No penalty APR. Most issuers bump up your APR for a few months when you miss a few payments, but USAA cards don’t. True, the missed payments will still show up on your credit reports, and you’ll likely owe late fees. But if you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re having a hard time keeping up with bills, you won’t have to worry about paying a lot of additional interest with these cards.

For the most part, no annual fees. USAA cards offer a lot of long-term value, since most of them don’t charge annual fees. Exceptions include secured credit cards, like the USAA Secured Card® Platinum Visa® — the annual fee is $35.

Where the USAA cards fall short

The USAA credit cards aren’t the best pick for everyone. Here’s why you might want to consider another card:

You’re not a USAA member. If you don’t qualify for USAA membership, you’ll have to find a different card. The good news, though, is that if you do meet certain requirements, becoming a USAA member is free. To qualify and gain access to USAA’s discounts and financial products, you need to match one of these descriptions:

  • You’re in the U.S. military or were honorably discharged.
  • You’re joining the U.S. military.
  • Your parent is (or was) a USAA member.
  • Your spouse is (or was) a USAA member.
  • Your spouse served honorably in the U.S. military.

If this is you, consider applying for membership on the USAA website.

You want a flashy sign-up bonus. While some USAA cards do offer bonuses when you make your first purchase, they’re modest compared with other rewards cards. For the most part, USAA specializes in simple, no-fuss plastic with good long-term value. If you’re interested in getting the most rewards possible, you may want to check out NerdWallet’s Best Rewards Credit Cards, instead.

You (or your spouse or parent) are not active duty. USAA cards tend to provide the most perks for active duty service members and their families through their improved SCRA benefits. In addition to low APRs during deployment and on PCS and a year afterward, you can also get a rebate on all interest charged to you while you were serving in a qualified military campaign, as long as you notify USAA within six months of completing the campaign. That benefit is extended to accounts with a service member’s name on them, even if the service member is listed as an authorized user.

If you’re a veteran or retired member of the military, you may get more rewards out of a credit card that’s not offered through USAA. Keep in mind, though, you can still take advantage of USAA’s many other financial products and discounts as a USAA member, even if you aren’t a cardholder.

You frequently fly on an airline that’s not on USAA.com. USAA.com includes a lot of major carriers, but not all of them. You’ll be out of luck if you want to redeem your points with Southwest Airlines or Virgin Atlantic, for instance. If your favorite airline isn’t available, consider a credit card with different redemption options, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Best rewards for military base purchases: Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card

Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card

Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card

Apply Now on USAA's secure site
  • Recommended Credit Score
  • 690
    850
    Good - Excellent
  • Card Details
  • Pros

    • Bonus cash back categories
    • No annual fee
    • No foreign transaction fee

    Annual Fees

    $0

    APR

    • Min APR: 12.90%, Variable
    • Max APR: 26.90%, Variable
    • Cash Advance APR: 26.90%, Variable

    Bonus Offers

    None

    Intro APR

    • N/A
  • Additional Information
    • Earn 5% cash back on your first $3,000 in gas and military base purchases annually on these categories combined. After that, earn 1% for the remainder of the year.
    • Earn 2% cash back on your first $3,000 on supermarket purchases per year. After that, earn 1% for the remainder of the year.
    • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
    • Enjoy no foreign transaction fees when you travel outside of the United States

When it comes to USAA cards with generous cash back for rewards categories, Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card is a standout. It offers 5% cash back for gasoline and military base purchases up to $3,000 annually, 2% at grocery stores up to $3,000 annually and 1% on all other purchases, with no limit. Military base purchases include items bought at commissaries, exchanges or shoppette locations on the base.

If you live on a military base, this cash-back credit card may give you the most rewards for your everyday purchases. Among all the USAA credit cards, this one also offers the highest cash-back reward category bonuses.

Best flat-rate cash-back rewards: Preferred Cash Rewards® World MasterCard®

The Preferred Cash Rewards® World MasterCard® offers cash-back rewards that compete with the heavyweights. You’ll earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make without any limits. And because your rewards are only credited to your account annually, you’ll be able to enjoy your earnings all at once.

Whether you’re living on a military base or not, this card offers generous ongoing cash-back rewards for your everyday purchases. Consider getting this card instead of the Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card if you’re planning to stay in the service for only a few years, but plan on keeping your card after that.

Best sign-up bonus card: Military affiliation credit cards

When you sign up for a military affiliation credit card with USAA, like the USAA Air Force Association credit card, you’ll get 2,500 bonus points credited to your account with your first purchase. You’ll also earn an unlimited 1 point per dollar in purchases, which you can redeem for travel without blackout dates and other merchandise, with no cap or expiration date. To boot, a portion of your earnings will go to support the military association on your credit card.

The bonus that comes along with these cards is worth about $25 when redeemed for travel – which, granted, isn’t a lot. You’ll have to save up 15,000 points before you can redeem them for a travel certificate worth $150. But what these cards lack in short-term rewards, they make up for in decent long-term value.

Best low interest card: USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa®

USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa®

USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa®

Apply Now on USAA's secure site
  • Recommended Credit Score
  • 630
    719
    Average - Good
  • Card Details
  • Pros

    • Qualify with average credit
    • No annual fee
    • No foreign transaction fee

    Cons

    • No rewards

    Annual Fees

    $0

    APR

    • Min APR: 7.90%, Variable
    • Max APR: 24.90%, Variable
    • Cash Advance APR: 24.90%, Variable

    Bonus Offers

    None

    Intro APR

    • N/A
  • Additional Information
    • Enjoy no foreign transaction fees when you travel outside of the United States.
    • Collision damage waiver coverage pays for physical damage and theft to most rental vehicles.
    • Identity theft resolutions services provides assistance should you become the victim of identity theft.
    • Extended warranty extends your manufacturers or U.S. store brand warranties for up to one year.

If you’re planning on revolving your balance regularly, consider getting the no-frills USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa®. The ongoing APR is 7.90% - 24.90% Variable, so you may save a lot in the long run – especially if you have a high credit score and can qualify for one of the lower APRs.

While you’re searching for low-interest cards, keep in mind that the USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa® and other USAA cards also offer 4% APR for deployment or PCS for up to 12 months. If you qualify for this benefit and don’t expect to carry a balance after this period, you may want to claim that perk with a different USAA card that suits your spending needs better.

Best for bad credit: USAA Secured Card® Platinum Visa®

USAA Secured Card® Platinum Visa®

USAA Secured Card® Platinum Visa®

Apply Now on USAA's secure site
  • Recommended Credit Score
  • 350
    689
    Poor - Average
  • Card Details
  • Pros

    • Qualify with limited / bad credit
    • No foreign transaction fee

    Cons

    • Has annual fee
    • No rewards

    Annual Fees

    $35

    APR

    • Min APR: 10.90%, Variable
    • Max APR: 20.90%, Variable
    • Cash Advance APR: 26.90%, Variable

    Bonus Offers

    None

    Intro APR

    • N/A
  • Additional Information
    • A credit card — not a debit or prepaid card.
    • Determine your own credit limit. When you apply, you'll open a two-year certificate of deposit (CD) with $250 to $5,000. The balance of your CD is your credit limit.
    • Earn variable interest on the balance of the CD (currently 0.54% Annual Percentage Yield.

With this card, you’ll be required to make a cash deposit in a two-year USAA Bank interest-earning certificate of deposit, or CD, which you can add to if you want to raise your credit limit. This serves as collateral, but with the  USAA Secured Card® Platinum Visa®, you’ll earn interest on your deposit, a feature many secured cards don’t offer. You can put down between $250 to $5,000.

When you upgrade to an unsecured card, whether or not you change issuers, you’ll be left with a CD that has more money than when you originally opened the account, in addition to an improved credit score (that is, if you make your payments on time and stay well within your credit limit). True, the annual fee is $35, but compared with other secured credit cards on the market, this one comes at a much lower overall cost.

Should I get a USAA credit card?

If you’re an active duty service member, getting a USAA credit card may be a smart money-saving move. You’ll get additional military benefits not provided by other credit cards, and if you get one of the rewards credit cards, you may also trim your travel costs. Consider applying if you think these perks could help you get more out of your plastic.

Claire Davidson is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @ideclaire7 and on Google+.


Image via iStock.