AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays review: Is it a good fit for you?

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  • Useful bonus cash back categories
  • Easy-to-earn welcome bonus
  • Great introductory APR on balance transfers


  • Low everyday cash back rate
  • No intro APR offer on purchases
  • Regular purchase APRs are high compared to the national average for credit cards

Core features of the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays

The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays is a straightforward cash back card designed with AARP members in mind — though you don’t have to be a member to apply for the card. Though there’s no minimum age requirement to join AARP, the organization is dedicated to adults over age 50.

AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays has no annual fee, and cardholders will be able to earn cash back in several useful spending categories. Let’s take a closer look at some other features you may want to keep in mind if you’re considering this card.

Decent cash back earning rates

The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays offers a solid 3% cash back on drugstore and gas purchases as well as 2% cash back on medical expenses. Plus, you’ll get 1% cash back on all other purchases. Medical expenses is an uncommon bonus category for a cash back credit card — Barclays includes the following purchases under this category:

Practitioners and services

  • Dentists and orthodontists
  • Osteopathic physicians
  • Chiropractors
  • Optometrists, ophthalmologists and opticians
  • Chiropodists and podiatrists
  • Hospitals
  • Medical and dental laboratories
  • Ambulance services
  • Nursing and personal care facilities
  • Other doctors and healthcare practitioners


  • Optical goods and eyeglasses
  • Hearing aids
  • Orthopedic goods
  • Prosthetic devices

If you’re regularly making purchases that fall into this category, you could benefit from having this card.

But it’s not always a good idea to pay for medical expenses with a credit card — make sure you’ve planned for the interest you’ll have to pay if you don’t pay your bill in full at the end of the month.

Sign-up bonus with a lower spending requirement

Credit card welcome bonuses sometimes require you to spend thousands before you’ll qualify. But the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays has a $100 sign-up bonus, which you can earn after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of having the card.

Cash back redemption options

You can redeem cash back as a statement credit or direct deposit, or for gift cards, AARP memberships or merchandise. Other than redeeming cash back for an AARP membership, which starts at $16, you must have at least $25 in cash back accumulated to start redeeming it. And if you’re planning to get cash deposited into your account, you’ll be limited to $500 per day.

What else you need to know about the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays

If you’re considering this card, here’s a few other things you’ll want to keep in mind.

  • Unlimited cash back — There are no limits to the amount of cash back you can earn as long as your account is open and in good standing.
  • Rewards don’t expire — The cash back you earn doesn’t expire as long as you keep your account open and in good standing.
  • You can purchase or gift AARP membership with rewards — You can purchase AARP membership for yourself or give one as a gift to others, starting with $16 of your cash rewards.
  • Intro 0% APR on balance transfers — The card offers an introductory 0% APR on balance transfers for 15 months from the time you open your account. To qualify, you’ll need to complete your balance transfer within 45 days of opening your account, plus pay a 5% balance transfer fee (minimum $5). After the intro period is over, a variable balance transfer APR of 18.99% to 27.99% will apply.
  • No intro APR on purchases — The card’s variable purchase APR of 18.99% to 27.99% applies right away, so if you want to avoid paying interest, you’ll want to pay off your purchase balance in full each month.
  • Donation to AARP Foundation — Barclays is committed to giving up to $1 million a year to the AARP Foundation. The bank donates $10 for every newly approved AARP-branded credit card issued by Barclays that’s used within the first 90 days of account opening. Plus, 1% of eligible electronic and telecommunications purchases made with the card are also donated.

Who this card is good for

This cash back credit card may be a good fit for people who are AARP enthusiasts, who appreciate cash back on spending categories like drugstores, gas and medical expenses — and who can pay off their balances on time and in full each payment cycle to avoid interest. APRs for the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays are high compared to the national average for credit cards. Carrying a balance could cancel out any cash-back benefit or, worse, lead you into heavy debt.

Some other cash back cards may not only offer better interest rates, but better everyday cash back rates — and even better rates on bonus categories. So it’s a good idea to consider other options. Depending on your spending, a more general use cash back card or a card that features other types of rewards, such as travel, could be better choices than this card.

Not sure this is the card for you? Consider these alternatives.

The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays may not seem like the best fit for you. If that feels true for your situation, check out the best credit cards for seniors or these other options.

  • Citi Double Cash® Card: People who prefer to earn a higher cash back rate across the board — on all purchases — may enjoy the simplicity of this card’s cash back program.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: If you want to earn rewards to put toward traveling the globe, you may prefer this flexible travel rewards credit card.
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited®: If you want to earn a higher cash back rate on drugstore purchases and unlimited cash back on other purchases, you may prefer this card.

About the author: Lance Cothern is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. His work has appeared on Business Insider, USA and his website, Lance holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in … Read more.