The Best Military Credit Cards: Low APRs, Waived Annual Fees, and More

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness | Blog

Jul 08, 2019 | Updated Aug 22, 2019

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Are you on active duty, or will you be soon? If so, you may be able to use the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to get valuable credit card rewards and benefits at very low cost (in many cases for free).

The SCRA is a federal law that applies to active-duty servicemembers. It requires lenders, including credit card issuers, to provide special terms, like low interest rates, for loans and credit card balances accrued before active duty begins.

Many card issuers offer additional perks on top of the required SCRA benefits, like even lower interest rates and waivers for some or all of the card fees. These could be great opportunities for active-duty servicemembers.

Take note that SCRA benefits will only apply to balances accrued before active duty begins. And when it comes to issuer-specific benefits, like waived fees, those will usually only apply to cards opened before beginning active duty.

You’ll find some expensive cards from American Express, Chase, and Citi in the list below, but don’t worry. All of those issuers will typically waive the annual fees for any eligible cards, making them incredible deals if you can get them.

So, in general these cards were picked assuming you’ll use your SCRA eligibility to get better terms. If you won’t be going on active duty, check out USAA’s line of credit cards, specifically designed for members of the military and their families, or look into the best credit cards in general.

Remember that when your period of active duty ends your interest rates will go up and you’ll have to start paying fees again, including annual fees. You may want to close out your card at this time, or downgrade it to a card without an annual fee. We don’t usually recommend closing credit cards, but if you’re going to have to pay for a card you won’t use much, this is a good reason to close the account.

Best Military Credit Cards

Best for Groceries

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (Review) is currently the best card for buying groceries. It has a generous cash back rewards program, and usually comes with a $95 annual fee. But American Express will waive that fee as part of its SCRA benefits, making this card even better.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 6% cash back for:
    • U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000, then 1%)
    • Select U.S. streaming services
  • 3% cash back for:
    • U.S. gas stations
    • Transit
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • $250 statement credit for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Return on spend: 25%

6% is the best normal rate you’ll find for grocery store purchases, compared to other cards. And with no annual fee to pay thanks to your military benefits from Amex, the cash back you earn will be all profit.

Key Features

  • Amex Offers: Find significant discounts at a changing selection of merchants and websites, like (at the time of publication) TurboTax, SamsClub.com, Etsy, and many more.
  • ShopRunner membership: ShopRunner provides free two-day shipping and returns at participating online retailers.
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 12 months, then 14.99%-25.99% Variable (for transfers made during the first 60 days)
  • Annual fee: $95 (waived for SCRA-eligible members)
  • Fee waivers: Certain other fees are waived for SCRA-eligible members as well, like late and returned payment fees.

Read more in our Review of the American Express Blue Cash Everyday® and Blue Cash Preferred® Cards.

 

Runner Up

Key Features

  • 4X Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at:
    • Restaurants worldwide
    • U.S. supermarkets, on up to $25,000 per year in purchases (then 1X)
  • 3X Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on:
  • $100 Annual Airline Fee Credit: Use this to pay for incidental airline fees, like baggage and in-flight food and drinks. Does not apply to flight tickets.
  • $120 Annual Dining Credit: Earn up to $10 in statement credits per month for purchases at eligible restaurants and food delivery services.
  • Annual fee: $250 (waived for SCRA-eligible cardholders)
  • Fee waivers: Certain other fees are waived for SCRA-eligible cardholders as well, like late and returned payment fees.
  • Charge card: You must pay your balance in full each month.

Read more in our Review of the American Express® Gold Card.

Best for Gas

The Ducks Unlimited Rewards Visa Signature® Card is a rare beast that provides 5% cash back for gas all year round. And unlike many of its rivals, there’s no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn at the 5% rate. But this is mainly just a credit card for buying gas, without much else to recommend it.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 5% cash back at:
    • Gas stations
    • Sporting goods stores
  • 1% cash back for every other purchase

Key Features

  • Free Credit Score: Check your FICO Bankcard Score 9, which will probably be based on your Equifax credit report.
  • Shopping and Travel Protections: Which may include Purchase Protection, Return Protection, Trip Delay Reimbursement, and others.
  • Annual fee: $0

 

Runners Up

Key Features

  • 5% cash back on the first $3,000 spent per year (then 1%) for:
    • Gas
    • Military base purchases
  • 2% cash back at Supermarkets, on the first $3,000 spent each year (then 1%)
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0

Read more in our Review of the USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card and the Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature®.

 

Key Features

  • 6% cash back for:
    • U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 spent per year, then 1%)
    • Select U.S. streaming services
  • 3% cash back for:
    • U.S. gas stations
    • Transit
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% on purchases for 12 months (for transfers made in the first 60 days), then 14.99%-25.99% Variable
  • Annual fee: $95

Read more in our Review of the American Express Blue Cash Everyday® and Blue Cash Preferred® Cards.

 

Key Features

  • 5X points per dollar on Gas purchases at the pump
  • 3X points per dollar on Groceries
  • 1X point per dollar on all other purchases
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Eligibility: To get any PenFed products, you must become a member of the credit union. PenFed is federally insured by NCUA.

Read more in our 2019 Review: PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature Card – Best for Gas?

Best for Flat-Rate Cash Back

If you want a way to earn decent cash back on every purchase, without worrying about bonus reward categories, the Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer (Review) should be on your radar.

It’s a good option to pair with a card that does have some bonus reward categories, like some of the others on this list. You’ll be able to earn more rewards in the bonus categories, while using the Double Cash to get a flat rate on everything else.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 2% cash back for every purchase
    • 1% back when you make a purchase
    • 1% back when you pay for that purchase

Key Features

  • Citi Concierge: Call for non-emergency help whenever you need it, like assistance making travel reservations.
  • ShopRunner membership: Use ShopRunner to get free two-day shipping and returns at participating retailers.
  • Shopping and Travel Protections: Including Price Rewind, Purchase Protection, Extended Warranties, and more.
  • Free Credit Score: Check your FICO Bankcard Score 8 for free, based on your Equifax credit report.
  • Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 18 months, then 15.99% – 25.99% (Variable) (for transfers made during the first four months)
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Fee waivers: There are no fees of any kind for SCRA-eligible cardholders.

Read more in our Review of the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer.

 

Runners Up

Key Features

  • 1.5% cash back on all purchases made with your card
    • 2% cash back on all purchases for PenFed Honors Advantage Members
  • $100 statement credit after spending $1,500 in the first 90 days
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Fee waivers: SCRA-eligible cardholders may have fees waived.
  • Eligibility: To get any PenFed products, you must become a member of the credit union. PenFed is federally insured by NCUA.

 

Key Features

  • 3% cash back for all purchases in the first year, up to $20,000 spent
  • 1.5% cash back for all purchases after that
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 months, then 17.24% - 25.99% Variable
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Fee waivers: There are no fees of any kind for SCRA-eligible cardholders.

Read more in our Review of the Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card.

 

Key Features

  • 1.5% cash back for all purchases
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 months, then 16.24% - 26.24% (Variable)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Fee waivers: There are no fees of any kind for SCRA-eligible cardholders.

Read more in our Review of the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card.

 

The Military STAR Card is available to active duty servicemembers, reservists, retired servicemembers, military spouses, and dependents. It’s not like the typical credit card, because it’s limited to certain types of military spending. It features a flat reward rate, plus a host of interesting benefits. It’s also not technically a cash back card — you earn points, which can be redeemed for gift cards for use at your on-base exchange.

If you’re looking for a card that’s highly tailored to the military lifestyle, this could be a helpful choice.

Key Features

  • Restricted to spending at select military-related locations, including the on-base exchanges for all branches of services
  • Only available to military members, veterans with exchange access, and family dependents
  • 2X points per dollar spent on all purchases
  • 10% discount for purchases within 24 hours of receiving the card
  • Perks: 10% food court discount, interest-free military clothing, five-cent discount on each gallon of gas purchased at military installation gas stations
  • Annual fee: $0

Best for Travel (Credit Card)

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review) is a high-end travel credit card, normally meant only for frequent travelers. But Chase will waive the annual fee of any card eligible for SCRA benefits — in this case a $450 fee! So the Reserve could be quite valuable even if you don’t travel very much, especially when you consider its vast selection of benefits.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 3X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on:
    • Travel (after using the full $300 travel credit)
    • Dining
  • 1X Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent everywhere else
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points for spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $500–$1,000 (assuming 1–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 12.5–25%

This card is all about travel spending. And you’ll need to redeem your points for travel expenses too, if you want to get the best value for them.

When redeeming through Chase Ultimate Rewards you’ll get a 50% bonus, so your points will be worth 1.5 cents each. That means you’ll be getting the equivalent of 4.5% cash back when spending on travel and redeeming in that way.

You’ll also be able to transfer your points to several airline and hotel travel partners. You could find a better deal through one of them, and we’ve seen transfers that could provide 2 cents per point or more, for the equivalent of at least 6% cash back when spending in the 3X categories.

Key Features

  • Point Transfer: Transfer your points at a 1:1 rate to a variety of airline and hotel loyalty programs, like United, JetBlue, and Marriott.
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit: A $300 travel credit every year that will be automatically applied toward a broad range of travel-related expenses charged to your card.
  • Complimentary Priority Pass Select membership: Provides access to over 1,200 Priority Pass airport lounges worldwide plus a selection of restaurants. The cardholder and two guests can enter for free; additional guests cost $32 each.
  • Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection: Provides complimentary services and benefits at participating hotels and resorts, including room upgrades, daily breakfast for two, and special gifts.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Application Fee Credit: Get a statement credit to offset the cost of applying for Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85), once every four years.
  • Elite Hotel Benefits at Relais & Châteaux: Accelerated progress toward Club 5C member status with Relais & Châteaux luxury hotel and resort properties.
  • Annual fee: $450 (waived for SCRA-eligible members)
  • Fee waivers: Chase will waive all fees as part of its SCRA benefits, including foreign transaction fees, late fees, etc.

Read more in our Review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card.

 

Runners Up

Key Features

  • 5X ThankYou points per dollar spent on:
    • Air travel
    • Restaurants
  • 3X ThankYou points per dollar spent at:
    • Hotels
    • Cruise lines
  • Annual $250 Travel Credit: Applies to all travel purchases.
  • Complimentary 4th Night Stay: Get your fourth night free if you book four nights in a row through ThankYou.com or your Citi Concierge, and pay using your card, ThankYou points, or a combination of both. Starting September 2019, this perk is capped at two uses per year (uses before that date don’t count toward the cap).
  • Priority Pass Select Membership: Access Priority Pass airport lounges and restaurants at no charge. Immediate family members or up to two guests can enter for free; additional guests cost $32 each.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Application Fee Credit: A statement credit for the application fee of either Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85), once every five years.
  • Annual fee: $495 (waived for SCRA-eligible cardholders)
  • Fee waivers: Citi will waive all fees as part of its SCRA benefits, including foreign transaction fees, late fees, etc.

Read more in our Review of the Citi Prestige® Card.

 

Key Features

  • 3X points per dollar on Travel
    • 4X points per dollar on Travel for PenFed Honors Advantage Members
  • 1.5X points per dollar on all other purchases
  • 25,000 bonus points for spending $2,500 in the first 3 months after account opening
  • $100 Annual Air Travel Credit: Good for incidental fees from U.S. airlines; excludes tickets.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Application Fee Credit: A statement credit for the application fee of either Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85), once every five years.
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Eligibility: To get any PenFed products, you must become a member of the credit union. PenFed is federally insured by NCUA.

 

Best for Travel (Charge Card)

The Platinum Card® from American Express (Review) is another high-end travel card to consider. It has a $550 annual fee, but you won’t need to worry about that because American Express will usually waive annual fees as part of its SCRA benefits.

Unlike the Sapphire Reserve above, the Platinum card is a charge card. That means you’ll generally need to pay the statement balance in full each month (which is our normal recommendation anyway, for all cards).

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 5X Membership Rewards points per dollar on:
    • Flights booked directly through airlines or through American Express Travel
    • Prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel
  • 2X Membership Rewards points per dollar on other eligible travel expenses booked through American Express Travel
  • 1X Membership Rewards point per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 60,000 Membership Rewards points for spending $5,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $600–$1,200 (assuming 1–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 12–24%

This card is focused mainly around spending through the American Express Travel service, although flights booked directly through airlines are included too.

That makes it a bit more restricted than the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which isn’t limited to a single travel service. But this card provides more rewards on average, with a cash back equivalent of 5% when earning at the 5X rate and redeeming for 1 cent per point. That’s what you can get when redeeming for flights and certain gift cards, which will provide the best regular value for your points.

But you can find even better deals than that through point transfers, where we’ve seen the equivalent of over 10% cash back for certain transfers, when spending at the 5X rate.

Read how the Chase Sapphire Reserve card stacks up against the Amex Platinum card in every category to see which card is better for you in our versus battle.

Key Features

  • Point Transfer: Transfer your Membership Rewards points to a variety of airline and hotel partners, such as British Airways, Delta, Hilton, and Marriott.
  • Global Lounge Collection: Complimentary access to Priority Pass, Centurion, American Express International, Delta Sky Club, Escape, Airspace, Lufthansa, and Plaza Premium Lounges.
  • $200 Annual Airline Fee Credit: Good for incidental costs like checked bags and in-flight food (not flight tickets) at your selected airline.
  • $200 Annual Uber Credits: $15 in statement credits for Uber rides each month, except for December which gets $35.
  • $100 Annual Saks Credit: Up to $100 in statement credits each year for Saks Fifth Avenue: $50 from January through June, and $50 from July through December.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Application Fee Credit: A statement credit for the application fee of either Global Entry ($100 every four years) or TSA PreCheck ($85 once every four and a half years).
  • The Hotel Collection: A $100 hotel credit and room upgrades when available for every eligible two-night stay.
  • Complimentary Elite Hotel Statuses: Hilton Honors Gold status and Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status.
  • Annual fee: $550 (waived for SCRA-eligible cardholders)
  • Fee waivers: Certain other fees are waived for SCRA-eligible cardholders as well, like late and returned payment fees.
  • Charge card: You must pay your balance in full each month.

Read more in our Review of The Platinum Card® from American Express: Is It Worth the $550 Annual Fee?

Best for Airline Rewards

Some cards are co-branded with certain airlines, and most of these cards are issued by American Express, Chase, and Citi.

Luckily for you, all three of these issuers will waive the annual fees of cards that are eligible for SCRA benefits. So a large swath of airline cards will have their annual fees waived, along with certain other fees depending on the issuer.

The right card for you will depend on which airline you spend the most time and money with. Check out our picks for the best airline credit card offers and you’ll probably find a match.

Let’s take a closer look at one airline card. The United MileagePlus® Club Card (Review) from Chase has a $450 annual fee, but if you’re getting it waived you might as well go big. It’s just one of several travel rewards cards designed for United Airlines enthusiasts.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 7X miles per dollar on tickets purchased from United
    • 2X miles per dollar from the Club Card
    • 5X miles per dollar for being a MileagePlus member
  • 1.5X miles per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $500–$750 (assuming 1–1.5 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 16.67–25%

A typical good redemption value would probably be around 1.5 cents per mile for United. That means you’ll be earning the equivalent of about 10.5% cash back when spending with United, and about 2.25% cash back on other purchases.

That might not seem like a whole lot for an expensive card like this, but the real value of many airline cards comes from their extra benefits.

Key Features

  • United Club Membership: Complimentary membership to the United Club airport lounge, with free access for you and two guests.
  • Premier Access Airport Travel Services: Includes priority check-in and security screening, and boarding/baggage handling privileges.
  • Complimentary Premier Upgrades on United award flights: MileagePlus Premier members can get award ticket upgrades when available.
  • Free first and second checked bags: For you and one traveling companion.
  • World of Hyatt Discoverist Status: A 10% point bonus, room upgrades, and other benefits at Hyatt properties.
  • Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection: Hotel perks like daily breakfast for two, complimentary WiFi, and room upgrades when available.
  • Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle Elite Status: Get a 25% point bonus, upgrades, and exclusive offers at Hertz.
  • Annual fee: $450 (waived for SCRA-eligible members)
  • Fee waivers: Chase will waive all fees as part of its SCRA benefits, including foreign transaction fees, late fees, etc.

Read more in our Review of the United MileagePlus® Club Card.

 

Runners Up

Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express

Key Features

  • 7X miles per dollar on tickets purchased from Delta
    • 2X miles per dollar from the card
    • 5X miles per dollar for being a Delta member
  • Delta Sky Club Membership: Complimentary access to Delta Sky Clubs, with up to two guests at $29 each.
  • Annual Companion Certificate: A certificate for a Domestic First Class, Delta Comfort+, or Main Cabin round-trip flight.
  • First checked bag free on Delta flights: For you and up to eight traveling companions.
  • Priority Boarding on Delta flights: Get on the plane more quickly with Zone 1 priority boarding.
  • Priority Checkpoint on Delta flights: Access the Sky Priority security lane at participating airports.
  • 20% in-flight discount on Delta flights: Eligible purchases include food, beverages, movies, and audio headsets.
  • Annual fee: $450 (waived for SCRA-eligible members)
  • Fee waivers: Certain other fees are waived for SCRA-eligible cardholders as well, like late and returned payment fees.

 

Key Features

  • 7X miles per dollar on tickets purchased from American Airlines
    • 2X miles per dollar from the card
    • 5X miles per dollar for being an AAdvantage member
  • Admirals Club Membership: You and up to ten authorized users have access to the Admirals Club airport lounge.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Application Fee Credit: Get a credit for the application fee of either Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) once every five years.
  • Reduced Mileage Awards: Get discounted travel for round-trip (7,500 miles off) and one-way flights (3,750 miles off).
  • Enhanced Airport Experience: Including priority check-in, screening, and boarding privileges.
  • First checked bag free on AA flights: For you and up to eight traveling companions.
  • 25% discount on in-flight purchases on AA flights: Applies to in-flight purchases of food and beverages only.
  • Annual fee: $450 (waived for SCRA-eligible members)
  • Fee waivers: Citi will waive all fees as part of its SCRA benefits, including foreign transaction fees, late fees, etc.

Best for Hotel Rewards

Hilton Honors Aspire Card

Just like with airline cards, many hotel credit cards are issued by American Express, Chase, and Citi. These issuers all waive the annual fees for cards that are eligible for SCRA benefits, making them good picks if you stay at hotels often.

The right hotel card for you will depend on where you like to stay. If you prefer Hilton, there’s a card for that. If you like Marriott, Hyatt, or IHG, there are co-branded cards for them too. See our picks for the best hotel credit cards to find some great cards for major hotel brands.

One option you might like would be the Hilton Honors Aspire Card. Its $450 annual fee will be waived by Amex, so you can use its rewards and benefits for free under the SCRA (as long as you avoid interest charges).

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 34X points per dollar or more at Hilton properties
    • 14X Bonus points per dollar from the card
    • 20X points per dollar or more for being a Hilton Honors Diamond member
  • 7X Bonus points per dollar for:
    • U.S. restaurants
    • Select car rentals
    • Flights booked directly with airlines
  • 3X Bonus points per dollar for all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 150,000 Bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $600–$1,500 (assuming 0.4–1 cent per point)
    • Return on spend: 15–37.5%

This card is very rewarding, offering plenty of Hilton Honors points when you spend with Hilton. You’ll get those additional 20X points because this card comes with automatic Hilton Honors Diamond status, which is the highest possible elite membership tier.

That means when you spend with Hilton you’ll be able to earn the equivalent of around 13.6–34% cash back, depending on how you redeem those points. This is an excellent value, especially considering that you won’t have an annual fee to pay.

That’s a lot of cash back, but you’ll also get benefits and statement credits that can be worth hundreds of dollars every year.

Key Features

  • Complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status: Includes a 100% bonus on Base points earned, room upgrades to suites when available, executive lounge access, a 48-hour room guarantee, and more.
  • Annual Free Weekend Night Award: One free weekend night every year, and earn another free weekend night by spending $60,000 in a calendar year.
  • $100 Hilton On-Property Credit: Good for every eligible stay of two nights or more, valid for incidental fees only.
  • Annual $250 Hilton Resort Statement Credit: For incidental fees only.
  • Annual $250 Airline Fee Statement Credit: For incidental fees only.
  • Priority Pass Select Membership: Complimentary access to Priority Pass airport lounges. Excludes non-lounge experiences.
  • Annual fee: $450 (waived for SCRA-eligible members)
  • Fee waivers: Certain other fees are waived for SCRA-eligible cardholders as well, like late and returned payment fees.

 

Runner Up

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Key Features

  • 18.5X points per dollar at Marriott Bonvoy properties
    • 6X Bonus points per dollar from the card
    • 12.5X points per dollar for being a Marriott Bonvoy member
  • 3X Bonus points per dollar for:
    • Flights booked directly with airlines
    • U.S. restaurants
  • $300 Annual Marriott Hotel Credit: Up to $300 in statement credits for eligible purchases.
  • Free Night Award: Every year after your account anniversary you’ll get a Free Night Award, good for redemption values of 50,000 points or less.
  • Priority Pass Select Membership: Free access to Priority Pass airport lounges for you and up to two guests. Excludes non-lounge experiences.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Application Fee Credit: A statement credit for the application fee of either Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85), once every four years.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Hotel Status: Includes perks like a 25% bonus on base points, 2 p.m. late checkout, and more
  • 15 Elite Night Credits: Each year you’ll get 15 Elite Night Credits toward a higher member status.
  • Annual fee: $450 (waived for SCRA-eligible members)
  • Fee waivers: Certain other fees are waived for SCRA-eligible cardholders as well, like late and returned payment fees.

Read more in our Review of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.

Best for Balance Transfers

If you’re carrying a large balance at a high interest rate, you may be able to transfer that balance to a card with a 0% intro APR. That will give you time to pay it off without accruing extra interest as you go, potentially saving you thousands of dollars.

The Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever (Review) currently has the best offer you’ll find, at 0% APR for 21 months for balance transfers (from the date of the first transfer; all transfers must be completed in the first four months). There’s typically a fee of 5% for transfers, but as part of its SCRA benefits, Citi waives all fees associated with its cards — including that transfer fee.

That gives you almost two years to pay off a balance at no interest. Purchases will get 12 months at 0% APR.

After the introductory rates expire, you’ll get a regular APR of 16.74% - 26.74%* (Variable).

Check out the runners-up below for some balance transfer cards without balance transfer fees (but their introductory periods are a bit shorter).

Citi provides a 0% APR for existing balances as part of its SCRA benefits. This means you’ll get that 0% rate for as long as you qualify for the SCRA, and that could give you even more time to pay off a balance.

However, remember that the special SCRA 0% rate will only apply to balances and cards that exist before you enter active duty. So if you transfer a balance after entering active duty it will be subject to the regular APR, even though you’ll get the fee waived (assuming the card was opened before active duty began).

That’s about all there is to the Simplicity card, especially if you just want it for balance transfers. After transferring a balance, you should aim to pay it off by the time your 0% rate ends. An easy way to do this is to divide your balance by the number of months you have to pay it. That will tell you how much to pay each month to pay it all off in time (consider dividing by one less than the number of months, to pay it off early).

Key Features

  • Free Credit Score: Check your FICO Score 8 whenever you’d like, based on your Equifax credit report.
  • Shopping and Travel Protections: Including Price Rewind, Extended Warranties, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waivers, and more.
  • Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 21 months, then 16.74% - 26.74%* (Variable)
  • Purchase APR: 0% for 12 months, then 16.74% - 26.74%* (Variable)
  • Annual fee: $0*
  • Fee waivers: There are no fees of any kind for SCRA-eligible cardholders.

Read more in our Review of the Citi Simplicity® Card.

 

Runners Up

Amex EveryDay Credit Card

Key Features

  • 2X Membership Rewards points at U.S. Supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1X)
  • 20% point bonus for making 20 or more purchases in a billing period
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 months (for transfers made in the first 60 days), then 15.24%–26.24% Variable
  • No balance transfer fee
  • Annual fee: $0 (waived for SCRA-eligible members)
  • Fee waivers: Certain fees are waived for SCRA-eligible members, like late and returned payment fees.

Read more in our Review of the Amex EveryDay and Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Cards.

 

Key Features

  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 months, then 17.24%–25.99% Variable
  • No balance transfer fee: For transfers made in the first 60 days
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Fee waivers: There are no fees of any kind for SCRA-eligible cardholders.

Read more in our Review of the Chase Slate Credit Card: A Way Out Of Debt.

 

Key Features

  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 15 billing cycles, then 15.24%–25.24% Variable (for transfers made in the first 60 days)
  • No balance transfer fee: For transfers made in the first 60 days
  • Annual fee: $0

Best for Fair Credit

If you have fair or average credit (a FICO Score 8 of about 580–669), you may not be able to qualify for the most rewarding cards on the market. But you don’t have to go with a secured card either.

Our top pick for people with fair credit is the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card (Review). It’s advertised as being designed for average credit, unlike most cards which don’t tell you what credit level they’re made for.

You can build up your credit over time by using this card responsibly. Eventually, as your credit improves, you may get approved for better cards with more rewarding bonus categories.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 1.5% cash back for every purchase

It’s as simple as that. The QuicksilverOne doesn’t have a very strong rewards program, but you should expect this with cards meant for fair or average credit.

Key Features

  • Higher Credit Line: Access a higher credit line after making your first five monthly payments on time.
  • CreditWise: Use the CreditWise tool to monitor your TransUnion credit report, and your VantageScore 3.0 based on that report.
  • Annual fee: $39 (waived for SCRA-eligible members)
  • Fee waivers: Capital One will waive all fees as part of its SCRA benefits, including foreign transaction fees, late fees, etc.

Read more in our Review of the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card.

 

Runners Up

Key Features

  • 1% cash back on purchases at first; 1.25% cash back after making six on-time monthly payments; 1.5% cash back after making 12 on-time monthly payments
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: None
  • Petal Card is issued by WebBank, Member FDIC

 

Key Features

  • 3% cash back on the first $500 spent per billing period (then 1%), on:
    • Travel
    • Entertainment
  • 2% cash back at Restaurants (excludes bars)
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0

Take note that Deserve will need to connect to your bank account to check the balance. If you’re concerned about privacy or security this may not be up your alley. This may seem a bit odd at first, but it’s also logical since Deserve bases its decision on more than just an applicant’s credit history (this practice is becoming more common).

Read more in our Review of the Deserve Pro Mastercard.

 

Best for Bad Credit

With bad or limited credit (a FICO Score 8 of less than about 579), you’ll have a hard time being approved for most credit cards. But some cards are designed for bad credit, including secured credit cards. A secured card requires a one-time refundable security deposit when you’re approved, which will fund the credit limit.

If you’re in this situation, we recommend using the Discover it® Secured Credit Card (Review). While some secured cards seem almost like a punishment for having bad credit, this card stands out for actually having a pretty good rewards program. It’s about on par with (or perhaps better than, given your spending habits) the QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards above, which is meant for average credit.

Use this card responsibly. That means paying your bills on time, but we also recommend always paying off your statement balance in full each month. This will be good for your credit utilization and it will also prevent any interest from accruing on purchases, helping you avoid credit card debt.

Every eight months, Discover will review your account and your credit to decide whether to return your deposit and allow you to continue using the card. This is a great feature because it means you don’t have to close this account and open a new card, which isn’t as good for your credit in general.

Rewards

Spending Rewards
  • 2% cash back, on up to $1,000 in spending per quarter (then 1%), at:
    • Restaurants
    • Gas stations
  • 1% cash back for all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • Cashback Match: Get double the cash back in your first year, awarded at the end of the first year

You’ll normally get 2% back for those common purchases, but Discover’s Cashback Match will double all the rewards you earn in your first year. So you’ll be getting 4% cash back in the reward categories and 2% cash back for all other purchases.

That’s an excellent offer to find because most other secured cards don’t come with any rewards at all. Compared to them the Discover it Secured seems very generous, especially given the Cashback Match.

Key Features

  • Free Credit Score: Check your FICO Score 8 for free, based on your TransUnion credit report.
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Security deposit: $200 to $2,500
  • Fee waivers: Discover will waive late and overlimit fees for SCRA-eligible cards

Read more in our Review of the Discover it® Secured Credit Card.

 

Runner Up

Key Features

  • Security Deposit: $49–$1,000 (Initial required deposit of $49 to $200, depending on creditworthiness, will fund a credit limit of $200)
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

SCRA benefits are legally required for eligible servicemembers for every credit card, no matter the issuer. If you’re on or will be going on active duty, you can use these benefits to get an exceptionally good deal on certain cards.

Active-duty servicemembers of several kinds are able to get reduced interest rates on credit cards and other loans. These benefits apply only to active-duty military servicemembers, to avoid punishing you with high interest and fees while serving your country.

The main benefits of the SCRA that relate to credit cards are:

  • A cap of 6% APR for any credit card debts owed before entering active-duty military service (debts incurred after beginning active duty are subject to the regular APR).
  • Credit card issuers are barred from reducing credit limits or dropping customers as a result of entering active-duty service.

And a few more things to know:

  • These terms only apply to cards that were opened (and balances that were accrued) before beginning active duty. If you get a credit card while on active duty, these terms will not apply to it.
  • You’ll need to apply for SCRA benefits, you won’t get them automatically.
  • You can also apply to have SCRA benefits retroactively applied to your account, to cover the period when you were on active duty. If you do so, any eligible fees you paid will be reimbursed.

So, for example, if you had debt with an interest rate of 20% when you began active duty, that previous balance would get a new APR of 6%. But any new purchases you make after beginning active duty would be subject to the regular 20% rate.

You can make even better use of your SCRA benefits by adding authorized users to your card account. Authorized users will share the same SCRA benefits you get, which could mean having annual fees waived, depending on the issuer. That means you can get an extra copy of your Amex Platinum Card for your spouse totally for free, for example (or any other Amex card for that matter).

SCRA Benefits Eligibility

  • Any member of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard) or a reserve component called to active duty (Reserve, National Guard, and Air National Guard).
  • National Guard personnel under a call or order to active duty for more than 30 consecutive days (for purposes of responding to a national emergency declared by the president and supported by federal funds).
  • Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officers.
  • U.S. citizens serving with the forces of a nation with which the U.S. is allied in the prosecution of a war or military action.
  • Spouses of active-duty military members listed above where credit is extended to a servicemember and spouse jointly.

Take note that full-time National Guard duty is not considered to be active duty under the SCRA.

SCRA eligibility will begin on the date that active duty begins. It will end when the period of active duty ends, although some card issuers may choose to extend their SCRA benefits longer than that.

There are quite a few other SCRA financial benefits that aren’t related to credit cards. If you’re eligible, consider taking advantage of these if possible. And if you’re a veteran, learn more about the financial opportunities that may be available to you.

Military Benefits by Credit Card Issuer

All credit card issuers must abide by the basic terms of the SCRA. But some credit card companies go above and beyond those requirements to provide even better terms to their eligible cardholders.

The following table shows the SCRA benefits that each issuer will apply to eligible accounts. In some cases you’ll see that the issuer only provides the basic SCRA terms, while others will go further by waiving annual fees or other fees, or providing interest rates even lower than 6%.

Take note: American Express has told us that it’s “very likely” that the annual fees of its cards will be waived, but they can’t guarantee that this will occur (they might just be cagey for legal purposes). We recommend submitting an SCRA request to see if they’ll grant this benefit, as some Amex cards would be very lucrative without the annual fees. If you’re worried that you won’t get a fee waiver, go with a different issuer instead.

Remember that credit card issuers will usually only apply these benefits to accounts opened and balances accrued before active duty begins.

Issuer Interest Rates Fees Waived How to Apply for SCRA Benefits
American Express 6% APR for eligible balances before active duty begins
  • Annual fees
  • Late and returned payment fees
  • ATM fees
  • Statement copy request fees
Bank of America 6% APR for eligible balances before active duty begins
  • None
Barclays 0% APR for eligible balances before active duty begins
  • All transaction fees (e.g., foreign transaction fees)
  • Call customer support and ask to apply for SCRA benefits
  • Call the military benefits line: 1-866-918-5212
Capital One 4% APR for eligible balances before active duty begins
  • All fees
Chase 4% APR for eligible balances before active duty begins
  • All fees
Citi 0% APR for eligible balances before active duty begins
  • All fees
Discover 5.9% APR for eligible balances before active duty begins
  • Late fees
  • Overlimit fees
USAA 4% APR for eligible balances before active duty begins
  • None
Looking for other rewarding cards to use with your military benefits? Check out our picks for the Best Reward Credit Cards.
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