The 5 best credit cards for military personnel for 2021

Soldier carrying duffel bag and wondering about best credit cards for active military duty personnelImage: Soldier carrying duffel bag and wondering about best credit cards for active military duty personnel

In a Nutshell

The best credit cards for military service members include a cash back rewards card, a card that’s great for on-base purchases, a travel card and more. These cards often come with perks that go above and beyond.
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If you’re on active-duty status with the military, you could get special credit card perks and benefits.

Qualifying active-duty service members are entitled to certain financial benefits and protections through the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA. But beyond that, certain credit card issuers offer other perks you should know about.

Here are Credit Karma’s picks for the best cards for military service members.



Best for travel rewards: Platinum Card® from American Express

Here’s why: This card offers excellent travel perks — but the biggest perk may be that American Express will waive its hefty $695 annual fee for active-duty military members, according to an American Express representative as of April 2019.

In fact, the Amex rep says American Express will waive the annual fee for any of its cards for qualifying active-duty military once they’re enrolled and approved for SCRA benefits, which makes this premium card a much less expensive option.

The Platinum Card® from American Express offers many outstanding travel benefits, including …

  • Credit of up to $200 per calendar year for baggage fees and other expenses at one qualifying airline
  • $15 in Uber credits for U.S. rides every month (plus a bonus $20 in December)
  • Up to $100 credit every four years for Global Entry application fees — or every 4.5 years for TSA PreCheck application fees
  • No foreign transaction fees

You’ll also earn five Membership Rewards points per $1 spent on eligible hotels booked through AmexTravel.com, and five points per $1 spent on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel on up to $500,000 spent per calendar year, then one point per $1.

Read our review to learn more about the Platinum Card® from American Express.

Best for rewards on base: USAA® Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card

Here’s why: The USAA® Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card helps military personnel stationed on a military base maximize their cash back benefits.

The USAA® Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card offers 5% cash back on your first $3,000 in combined gas and qualifying military base purchases each calendar year. After spending $3,000, you’ll earn 1% back. Qualifying purchases at military bases include those at commissaries, exchanges and shoppettes.

You’ll also earn 2% cash back on the first $3,000 you spend on supermarket purchases each year (then 1% back). On all other purchases, you’ll get 1% cash back.

The card has an annual fee of $0 — and foreign transaction fees? None. But you’ll need to join USAA to be able to apply for the card. Both active-duty and retired service members are eligible to join, among other military-affiliated people and their families.

Find out why we think the USAA® Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card is one of the best USAA cards.

Best for cash back: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Here’s why: You can maximize your cash rewards with the everyday bonus categories offered by the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express — and if you’re a qualifying active-duty service member, you don’t need to worry about balancing your rewards with the card’s regular annual fee.

That’s because the annual fee ($0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.) is waived, according to the Amex rep, for qualifying active-duty service members who are enrolled and approved for SCRA benefits. With no cost to hold it each year you qualify, any rewards you earn with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express can go straight into your pocket.

The card offers …

  • 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases per year (then 1%)
  • 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit
  • 1% cash back on other purchases

You’ll earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 6 months after account opening.

Take note though, this card has a 2.7% foreign transaction fee.

Check out our full review of Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express for more details.

Best for low interest: USAA® Rate Advantage Visa Platinum® Card

Here’s why: The USAA® Rate Advantage Visa Platinum® Card has a special low-interest rate during deployment or PCS.

Qualifying service members who have a balance on their account when they enter active military duty will only be charged a 4% APR for that existing balance for the rest of their qualified period of active duty. Afterward, there will be a variable regular APR of 6.90% – 23.90% for new purchases, cash advances and balance transfers. Balance transfers have a 3% fee though, and cash advances also come with a 3% fee.

The card has a $0 annual fee — and its foreign transaction fees? None. Just remember that you need to join USAA to apply — both active-duty and retired service members are eligible, as well as other military-affiliated people and their families.

Check out our review of the USAA® Rate Advantage Visa Platinum® Card for more details.

Best for balance transfers: Navy Federal Credit Union Platinum Credit Card

Here’s why: The NFCU Platinum Credit Card comes with a balance transfer offer that can help you pay down your debt — and to sweeten the deal, Navy Federal Credit Union doesn’t charge balance transfer fees.

The NFCU Platinum Credit Card also comes with an introductory 0% APR on balance transfers for 12 months from account opening. After that, you’ll be charged a regular variable APR on balance transfers of 5.99% to 18%. Just know that you’ll need to request the transfer in the first 30 days of your account opening to qualify for the intro APR.

There’s no foreign transaction fee and no annual fee for the card, but you’ll need to be a member of the credit union to apply. Membership is open to active-duty service members in all branches of the armed forces, as well as those who’ve served or certain people associated with the Department of Defense or the military, like veterans, retirees and family members.

To see more balance transfer offers, compare offers for balance transfer cards on Credit Karma.


How we picked these cards

To select these cards, we looked for options that offered the best benefits for active-duty military members. We also considered cards that offer special benefits to military, like waived annual fees or lower interest rates for set periods.

We provided alternatives based on the interests and needs of different cardholders, such as frequent travel, earning cash back, or even making the most of your time on base by earning rewards on your purchases while deployed.

How to make the most of cards for the military

Here are a few tips when it comes to the SCRA and choosing the best credit card for you when you’re in the military.

Apply for SCRA benefits

The SCRA caps the interest that eligible active-duty service members can be charged on credit card debt built up before entering active-duty military service to 6%.

There is an exception — a creditor could ask a court to decide whether your ability to pay a higher interest rate is not materially affected by your military service. But if not covered by that exception, eligible active-duty service members will only have to pay 6% interest on credit card debt they already had before starting military service. To learn more about the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, visit the SCRA website.

Consider your needs

If you travel frequently, you may want to select a card that offers travel benefits like credits for airline or hotel purchases. If you’re working to reduce a balance on a high-interest-rate card, you may want to consider a credit card with an intro APR offer on balance transfers. You can even maximize your spending on base with certain cards that can net you cash back.

Contact your card issuer

Even if you’re not in the market for a new card, check with your current credit card issuers to see if they offer any special benefits to service members. Some credit card companies go above and beyond, offering lower rates and even waived annual fees to eligible active-duty service members.


About the author: Lyn Mettler is an Indianapolis-based writer specializing in finance, food and travel. She is the author of “The Step-by-Step Guide to Flying Free on Southwest Airlines” and enjoys showing people how they can use miles… Read more.