Your guide to the best USAA credit cards 2017

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In a Nutshell

USAA is dedicated to serving the military community. With its narrow target market, it knows how best to service its customers. Its best credit cards 2017 show that dedication.

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At a glance: The best USAA credit cards 2017

Best cash back rewards Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature®
Best for on-base purchases Cashback Rewards Plus American Express®
Best for building or rebuilding credit USAA Secured Card® Platinum Visa®
Best low-rate card USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa®
Best for everyday purchases USAA Rewards™ American Express® Card

USAA may not have the strongest credit cards compared to those offered by other issuers, but its benefits for military service members more than make up for it.

“They understand how the military operates, so you’re never left trying to explain to the bank your unique situation,” says Jason Vitug, USAA member and author of “You Only Live Once: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life.”

For example, Vitug points out that USAA offers a 4 percent annual percentage rate (APR) to active-duty service members on qualified accounts.

This is “instead of 6 percent APR on credit card and other loan debt incurred prior to active duty as required by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) for active-duty service members,” Vitug says. (Disclosure: Vitug has worked with USAA on past projects.)

The 4 percent APR applies to charges you made on qualified accounts, including your USAA credit card account, prior to active duty. In order to qualify, you must:

  • Have made the charges before starting active duty .
  • Submit the request within 365 days of completing active duty.
  • Be active duty for 30 days before you request the lower APR.
  • Be an account holder before your active duty.

USAA does, however, have strict eligibility requirements that may prevent you from applying.

As you’re looking for your next credit card, consider one from USAA. Whether you want a low APR, bonus rewards when you’re on base or a high ongoing rewards rate, USAA has you covered.


Best cash back rewards: Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature®

From our partner

Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature®

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

Who’s it for?

Members who want a simple rewards program with no bonus rewards categories or rewards caps.

Why we like it

Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature® offers a solid 1.5 percent cash back on every purchase. You can also use the card if you’re stationed overseas; it charges no foreign transaction fees.

Plus, with a $0 annual fee, you don’t need to worry about the card’s long-term value, even if you don’t use it for a while. Many annual-fee cards offer a big sign-up bonus, but then you have to spend a lot after that to make up for the card’s annual fee.

Watch out for

The card has a variable purchase APR of 12.90 to 26.90 percent, depending on your creditworthiness. If you don’t qualify for a low APR, carrying a balance can be very expensive.

How to use it

This card’s straightforward cash back rewards makes it easy to use as an everyday card. Be sure to pay off your balance in full each month to avoid paying interest, though, regardless of what APR you’re approved for.

Best for on-base purchases: Cashback Rewards Plus American Express®

From our partner

Cashback Rewards Plus American Express®

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

Who’s it for?

Military personnel who spend a lot of time on base.

Why we like it

The Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® card is unique because you can use it to get bonus rewards on military bases.

You’ll get 5 percent cash back at commissaries and exchange and shoppette locations on base. You also get 5 percent at gas stations. The 5 percent cash back bonus applies only to the first $3,000 spent on combined gas and military purchases per year, though. After that, you’ll earn 1 percent for purchases in this category.

You’ll also get 2 percent back for your first $3,000 in supermarket purchases per year, and 1 percent back on all other purchases.

If you’re overseas, feel free to spend off base. The card doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.

Watch out for

Unless you spend a lot on gas or on base, this card may not offer as much value as the Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature® card, which offers 1.5 percent for every purchase.

Also, keep a Visa® or Mastercard® as a backup if you head overseas, in case merchants don’t accept American Express® cards.

How to use it

While you’re on base, use this as your top-of-wallet card. It’s unlikely you’ll get better rewards on those purchases with another card.

Best for building or rebuilding credit: USAA Secured Card® Platinum Visa®

From our partner

USAA Secured Card® Platinum Visa®

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

Who’s it for?

Members who are trying to establish or rebuild credit.

Why we like it

If you have limited credit or you’re rebuilding credit, it can be difficult to get approved for a credit card. USAA Secured Card® Platinum Visa® can help you build credit with responsible use and on-time monthly payments.

The card offers a potentially low purchase and balance transfer APR, with a variable range of 10.90 to 20.90 percent.

And while you’ll need to make a deposit into a two-year certificate of deposit (CD) to secure your credit line — starting at $250 — you’ll earn a variable interest (currently 0.54 percent variable annual percentage yield) on the balance of that CD. With many secured cards, your deposit isn’t earning any interest while the credit card company holds onto it.

Watch out for

The card charges a $35 annual fee. That’s likely not going to break the bank, but you may be able to find a secured card that doesn’t charge a fee. The card also doesn’t offer rewards of any kind.

How to use it

It’s important to remember to keep your credit utilization below 30 percent. Pay special attention to what you’re spending if you have a low credit limit as it can be easy to go over that 30 percent. Using a high percentage of your credit limit may hurt your credit and delay the building process.

Best low-rate card: USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa®

From our partner

USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa®

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

Who’s it for?

Members with good credit who carry a balance from month to month regularly.

Why we like it

According to September data from CreditCards.com, the national average credit card APR is currently 16.15 percent, so the Visa’s APR for this card is appealing. You’ll get a variable APR of 7.90 to 24.90 percent on purchases and balance transfers, depending on your creditworthiness.

You’ll also enjoy a $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

Watch out for

If your credit isn’t excellent, you may not qualify for the card’s lowest APR. You also won’t get a rewards program with this card like you do with some other USAA cards.

How to use it

If you qualify for the lowest APR on the card, although not ideal, carrying a balance will be less painful than if your APR is in the double digits.

Be sure to check out the card’s other benefits to make sure you’re not missing out. Rental car insurance, extended warranty, price protection and other basic credit card benefits can save you money in the long run.

Best for everyday purchases: USAA Rewards™ American Express® Card

From our partner

USAA Rewards™ American Express® Card

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

Who’s it for?

Members who spend a lot on groceries and gas.

Why we like it

Not many USAA credit cards offer a welcome offer, but this one does. You’ll get 2,500 bonus points with your first purchase – some credit cards require that you spend upwards of $500 to get the bonus.

The welcome offer isn’t worth a lot. Depending on how you redeem your points, it’s worth up to $25. You may also need to save up a lot of points to redeem them. For example, merchandise and gift card redemptions may start at 3,500 points, while an airline travel reward may start at 15,000 points. But it’s definitely better than nothing.

You’ll also get two points per dollar spent on gas and groceries with no caps. Plus, the rewards program is flexible. You can redeem your points for cash, merchandise, gift cards and more.

Watch out for

Non-grocery and non-gas purchases only net one point per dollar spent, so it may be wise to have a backup card like the Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature® card with better rewards on all purchases.

Also, since point values can fluctuate depending on how you redeem them, you may get more value out of the Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® card, which offers 5 percent cash back on your first $3,000 in gas and military purchases per year and 2 percent back on your first $3,000 in supermarket purchases per year.

That card does have caps on its bonus rewards, though, so if you spend a lot on gas and groceries, you may prefer no caps.

How to use it

Buy as much gas and as many groceries as you need — you don’t need to worry about bonus caps as you do with the Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® card.

As with other USAA cards, feel free to use the card overseas without worrying about foreign transaction fees. But as American Express® cards aren’t as widely accepted abroad, you may want a Visa or Mastercard as a backup in case you run into acceptance problems.


Bottom line

The main drawback to USAA, according to Vitug, is that not everyone is eligible to join.

USAA credit cards are all fairly similar in what they offer. If you’re looking for a card that has a huge sign-up bonus or a dynamic rewards program, you may want to look elsewhere.

But, “USAA also offers a wide variety of cards so you can choose one that fits your lifestyle,” he says.

For members of the military, USAA offers service and features that make managing your finances easier while you’re serving your country.


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