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USAA Credit Cards

10 min read
Brendan Harkness By Brendan Harkness Jan 20, 2020 | Updated Mar 27, 2020

USAA offers a line of credit cards that aren’t big on flashy rewards and benefits. But you’ll get a set of standard features, with no annual fee or foreign transaction fee, along with the best-rated customer support in the credit card industry.

USAA membership is free, and only open to members of the military and their families. The cards are fairly simple, but if you’re already a USAA member and you feel comfortable with the company, one of them may be just what you’re looking for.

Card Key Features
USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature®

 

  • 1.5% cash back on all purchases
USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card
  • 5% cash back on the first $3,000 spent per year on:
    • Gas
    • Military base purchases
  • 2% cash back on Groceries, up to $3,000 spent annually
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
USAA Rewards™ Visa Signature®
  • 2X points per dollar on:
    • Dining
    • Gas
  • 1X point per dollar on all other purchases
  • 2,500 bonus points for making your first purchase
USAA Rewards™ American Express® Card
  • 3X points per dollar on Dining
  • 2X points per dollar on:
    • Gas
    • Groceries
  • 1X point per dollar on all other purchases
  • 2,500 bonus points for making your first purchase
USAA Military Affiliate Visa Signature® Card
  • 1X point per dollar on all purchases
  • 2,500 bonus points for making your first purchase
  • Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 12 months, then 12.90%–27.90% Variable
USAA Military Affiliate American Express® Card
  • 2X points per dollar on:
    • Gas
    • Groceries
  • 1X point per dollar on all other purchases
  • 2,500 bonus points for making your first purchase
  • Balance Transfer APR: 0% for 12 months, then 12.40%–27.40% Variable
USAA Rate Advantage Visa Platinum®
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 8.40%–25.40% Variable
Insider tip

USAA used to offer secured credit cards, but they’re currently not available to new applicants. But USAA does say that a new secured card is coming, and “If you need to build or rebuild your credit, we’re working towards creating a credit card for you.”

Cash Back Rewards

USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature®

USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature®

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR13.90%–27.90% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase with no limits or category restrictions
  • Pay no annual fee, no penalty APR and no foreign transaction fees
  • USAA membership is available to active and former military and their eligible family members.

The USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature® (Review) offers a simple way to earn cash back on every purchase, with no time spent messing around with bonus categories. You’ll get a bit more than the standard 1%, which is typical for flat-rate cards; but there’s no signup bonus, which reduces this card’s value quite a bit compared to its competitors.

Spending Rewards
  • 1.5% cash back for every purchase

Key Features

  • Perks: Personal concierge, shopping and travel protections like Travel Accident Insurance and Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 13.90%–27.90% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card

USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelExcellent
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR13.90%–27.90% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn 5% cash back on your first $3,000 in gas and military base purchases annually on these categories combined
  • Earn 2% on your first $3,000 on supermarket purchases per year
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • USAA membership is available to active and former military and their eligible family members

The USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card (Review) is one of the best USAA credit cards and an excellent option for gas, with a pretty high cash back rate. But if you’ll make a lot of military base purchases you may find that annual spending limit too restrictive.

Spending Rewards
  • 5% cash back on the first $3,000 spent per year on:
    • Gas
    • Military base purchases
  • 2% cash back on the first $3,000 spent per year on Groceries
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases

Key Features

  • Perks: Personal concierge, shopping and travel protections like Extended Warranty and Travel/Emergency Assistance
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 13.90%–27.90% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0

Reward Points

USAA Rewards™ American Express® Card

USAA Rewards™ American Express® Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR11.90%–27.90% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn 3X points per dollar spent on dining
  • Earn 2X points per dollar spent on gas and groceries
  • Earn 1X points for every dollar spent on all other purchases
  • Get 2,500 bonus points with your first purchase
  • Redeem points for cash, merchandise, gift cards and more.
  • USAA membership is available to active and former military and their eligible family members

With 3X and 2X point categories, the USAA Rewards™ American Express® Card (Review) isn’t bad for a no annual fee card. But its small intro bonus may feel like the first-year return is a bit lacking compared to other reward cards for dining and groceries.

Spending Rewards
  • 3X points per dollar on Dining
  • 2X points per dollar on:
    • Gas
    • Groceries
  • 1X point per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 2,500 bonus points for making your first purchase
    • Value: $25 (1 cent per point)

Key Features

  • Perks: Personal concierge, shopping and travel protections like Baggage Delay Reimbursement and Auto Rental Collision Damage Waivers
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 11.90%–27.90% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
USAA Rewards™ Visa Signature®

USAA Rewards™ Visa Signature®

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR9.90%–25.90% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn 2X points per dollar spent on gas and dining with no cap
  • Earn 1X points for every dollar spent on all other purchases
  • Get 2,500 bonus points with your first purchase
  • Redeem points for cash, merchandise, gift cards and more.
  • USAA membership is available to active and former military and their eligible family members

The USAA Rewards™ Visa Signature® (Review) earns points on some common expenses, but it’s not very rewarding compared to many other cards, like the Amex above.

Spending Rewards
  • 2X points per dollar spent on:
    • Dining
    • Gas
  • 1X point per dollar on all other purchases
Introductory Bonus Offer
  • 2,500 bonus points for making your first purchase
    • Value: $25 (1 cent per point)

Key Features

  • Perks: Personal concierge, shopping and travel protections like Baggage Delay Reimbursement and Travel Accident Insurance
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 9.90%–25.90% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
USAA Military Affiliate Visa Signature® Card

USAA Military Affiliate Visa Signature® Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelExcellent
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR12.90%–27.90% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn 1X point per dollar spent on your everyday purchases
  • Get 2,500 bonus points with your first purchase
  • 0% intro balance transfer APR for 12 months, then your rate will be 12.90%–27.90% Variable
  • Earn points without a cap or expiration
  • Redeem your points for cash, merchandise, gift cards, or travel, or donate to your favorite military affiliate group

The USAA Military Affiliate Visa Signature® Card (Review) features a low introductory interest rate for balance transfers, along with convenience checks (the latter is a rare find). Other than that you’ll get some standard card benefits, which are not bad but not too exciting either.

Spending Rewards
  • 1X point per dollar on all purchases

Key Features

  • Perks: Personal concierge, shopping and travel protections like Travel Accident Insurance and Extended Warranty
  • Purchase APR: 12.90%–27.90% Variable
  • Balance Transfer and Convenience Check APR: 0% for 12 months, then 12.90%–27.90% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0
USAA Military Affiliate American Express® Card

USAA Military Affiliate American Express® Card

Min. credit levelExcellent
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR12.40%–27.40% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • 2X points per dollar on gas and groceries
  • 2,500 bonus points after your first purchase
  • 0% intro balance transfer APR for 12 months, then 12.40%–27.40% Variable
  • Redeem your points for cash, merchandise, gift cards, travel, or donate to your favorite military affiliate group
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee

This card is nearly identical to the Military Affiliate Visa card above; there are two main differences, one good and one not as good:

  • It has two extra bonus categories where you can earn 2X points per dollar.
  • It runs on the American Express network, rather than Visa, so it’s not accepted as widely around the world.
Spending Rewards
  • 2X points per dollar on:
    • Gas
    • Groceries
  • 1X point per dollar on all other purchases

Key Features

  • Perks: Personal concierge, shopping and travel protections like Trip Accident Insurance and Auto Rental Collision Damage Waivers
  • Purchase APR: 12.40%–27.40% Variable
  • Balance Transfer and Convenience Check APR: 0% for 12 months, then 12.40%–27.40% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0

Low Interest

USAA Rate Advantage Visa Platinum®

USAA Rate Advantage Visa Platinum®

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR8.40%–25.40% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Enjoy USAA’s lowest rate card
  • No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, no penalty APR
  • USAA membership is available to active and former military and their eligible family members

The USAA Rate Advantage Visa Platinum® (Reviewmight give you a low interest rate; but you might get a pretty high rate, on the other hand, if your credit isn’t in good enough shape.

Other than the potentially low regular APR, there isn’t much to recommend this card (and that isn’t much of a selling point, because you should pay off your card in full each month if you’ll be charged interest). If you’re looking for low introductory interest rates you could do better; check out cards with 0% APR for purchases and balance transfers.

Key Features

  • Perks: Personal concierge, shopping and travel protections like Auto Rental Collision Damage Waivers and Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance
  • Purchase and Balance Transfer APR: 8.40%–25.40% Variable
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Annual fee: $0

USAA Membership Eligibility: Who Can Join?

Broadly speaking, USAA membership is open to anyone who has ever served honorably in the U.S. military, and their relatives. That includes:

  • Active military: Individuals who are currently serving in the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, or Navy
  • Former military: Those who have retired or separated from the U.S. military with a discharge type of Honorable
  • Cadets and midshipmen: Cadets and midshipmen at U.S. service academies, in advanced ROTC or on ROTC scholarship, and officer candidates within 24 months of commissioning
  • Eligible family members: Spouses, widows, widowers, un-remarried former spouses of USAA members who joined USAA prior to or during the marriage, and individuals whose parents joined USAA

Take note that the “family” category mentions nothing about being immediately related to servicemembers. It simply states that if you’re related to a USAA member in an eligible capacity, you may also be able to join the USAA.

If, for example, one of your parents joined the USAA after one of his or her parents joined, you’ll become eligible in turn, whether or not your parent is (or was) a military member.

So there are quite a few ways to join the USAA, even if you’re not in the military, married to someone in the military, or immediately related to someone who’s served.

Insider tip

Some USAA investment and insurance products may be available to non-members as well.

USAA Credit Card Features

Unlike many credit card issuers, where each card is pretty much unique, all USAA cards have the same set of basic features and benefits. For the most part, the only differences are the rewards, as described above. Each card includes the following:

  • No annual or foreign transaction fees: You won’t find any fees like these on USAA cards, making them relatively inexpensive. Just avoid interest and other fees, like late and returned payment fees, and you can use these credit products for no extra cost.
  • Military affiliate card design: USAA cards are available in a variety of military affiliate designs. With most USAA cards you can choose your design after you’re approved; but with the Military Affiliate cards you can choose a design during the application process.
  • Personal concierge: USAA offers a personal concierge service with all of its cards — a pretty rare feature on cards without annual fees. You can use your concierge to find event tickets, research interesting gifts, and get other non-emergency assistance.
  • Free credit score: Cardholders can check their FICO Score 8 credit scores for free, based on their Experian credit reports.
  • Shopping benefit: The only shopping benefit you’ll get is Extended Warranty Protection, which extends the time period of U.S. manufacturers’ warranties.
  • Travel benefits: On the road or in the air, you can take advantage of an Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Travel and Emergency Assistance, Travel Accident Insurance, Trip Cancellation and Interruption coverage, and Baggage Delay Reimbursement.
  • Identity theft resolution services: You can get help replacing your credit card, notifying credit bureaus, and contacting the authorities if you’re a victim of identity theft.
  • Personal Identity Theft reimbursement: If your identity is stolen you can receive up to $1,000 in reimbursement for covered expenses incurred as you work to restore your identity.
  • Top-rated customer support: USAA has always received top marks in J.D. Power’s annual Credit Card Satisfaction Study (whenever it has been included), usually blowing the other issuers out of the water. It won first place in 2019, 2018, and 2017!

A Brief History of USAA

USAA is nearly a century old, and has a clear brand focus: It provides an array of insurance, banking, and investment services to members of the military and their families. But its scope wasn’t always so wide. It started off with a narrow focus and small membership pool, and has grown decade by decade to become one of the largest companies in the U.S.

In 1922, at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, a group of 25 U.S. Army officers founded the United States Army Automobile Association to help solve a particular problem they faced: Military officers and enlisted personnel were seen by insurance companies as high-risk customers, leading to higher costs or outright denials. When they got insurance, they might get dropped because they moved around so much.

So the United States Army Automobile Association was formed, by and for Army officers, as a mutual self-insurance scheme. If nobody else would provide them with insurance, they’d build an organization and do it themselves.

William Garrison, elected as first president of USAAA in 1922. Image credit: USAA

William Garrison, elected as first president of USAAA in 1922. Image credit: USAA

Restrictions were lifted a bit in 1923, when Navy and Marine Corps officers were allowed to join.

In 1924 the company was renamed to fit its broader purpose: It became the United Services Automobile Association (USAA), though membership would remain relatively exclusive for years.

Outward from San Antonio: World War II and the Vietnam War

USAA headquarters have remained in San Antonio, and today sit on a 286-acre former horse farm. Membership grew fairly quickly in the ’20s, reaching 30,000 by 1931 despite the Great Depression.

Membership was expanded to Foreign Service officers, State Department officials, and their widows in 1934.

The company still only provided auto insurance, and didn’t see many other significant developments around this time (perhaps because of the Great Depression). But the spread and consequences of World War II would spur USAA to expand its reach and services.

In 1941, USAA began automatically renewing the auto insurance policies for any members outside the United States. Servicemembers deployed at war wouldn’t have to worry about renewing, which could be a problem (or impossible) when the main modes of communication were letter and telegraph.

As of 2018, however, USAA has discontinued its Guaranteed Renewal Endorsement in some locations, citing concerns about staying competitive in the market. USAA claims that 99% of policies will still be renewed, despite the policy change.

USAA took a few big steps after the war ended:

  • Membership was expanded to Air Force officers in 1948
  • An office was opened in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1952, to serve the American occupation forces (the first location outside San Antonio)
  • Innovative technologies were introduced, like automated office machines in the ’40s and IBM punch-card machines in the ’50s
The USAA Frankfurt office, then and now. Image credits: USAA

The USAA Frankfurt office in Germany, then and now. Image credits: USAA

Throughout the 20th century, USAA has grown along with the U.S. military. More wars and conflicts, along with compulsory ROTC programs at certain colleges, meant more potential USAA members.

The Vietnam War played a major role. Membership was expanded once again in 1961 — officers who resigned or left the service could now stay with USAA. No doubt this was good for customer and company alike. USAA opened a new branch in London in 1962 to help deliver services to Americans serving abroad, and membership reached one million by 1969.

During this time USAA branched out into new services, offering life insurance along with personal property and casualty insurance under the banner of the USAA Life Company. It was notable for not including a war exclusion clause in its policies, which makes sense for a company with a commitment to serving the armed forces.

War exclusion clauses exclude acts of war, like invasion and terrorism, so insurance companies typically don’t have to pay out in those situations. But USAA breaks the mold.

Later on, in 1983, the USAA Federal Savings Bank was opened and the company began offering typical banking services to its members. Investment brokerage services came along for the ride, and with these achievements USAA became more than just an insurance company, beginning its transformation into a more comprehensive financial services provider.

The Good Bank Opens the Gates

You no longer have to be an officer (or be related to one) to qualify for USAA membership. In 1996 membership was opened up to enlisted members of the armed services, and in 2009 the requirements were broadened further.

Today, USAA membership is open to anyone who has ever served honorably in the U.S. military. (Certain investment and insurance products may be open to non-members as well). There were over 12.8 million members in 2018, and, overall, they seem quite satisfied.

USAA has a strong reputation as an ethically good and moral company, one that is committed to providing quality products and a great customer experience. You can find plenty of complaints online, of course, but USAA outranks other banks and wins awards every year.

“USAA is not publicly traded,” said Nicole Alley, a company spokesperson, in an interview with The Atlantic. “And we take a conservative approach to managing our members’ money.”

USAA has claimed a spot on the World’s Most Ethical Companies List for the past four years; it always takes first in J.D. Power’s credit card consumer satisfaction surveys, typically crushing the competition; and it gets top marks in the Satmetrix Net Promoter Score, which asks one simple question: How likely is it that you would recommend USAA to a friend or colleague?

Recommending a product to someone else is one thing, but the real test is if you, yourself, would work with a company again. And you guessed it: A 2018 study from Raddon found that 83% of USAA members are likely to obtain additional financial products from USAA. Second place was PNC Bank, coming in at just 67%.

USAA employs nearly 34,000 people, and nearly one in four is a veteran or military spouse. They’re pretty satisfied with their jobs (generally speaking). USAA might have even more employee-side awards than customer-side, typically ranking highly on the Fortune 100 list of Best Companies to Work For — last year it came in 30th, and in 2018 it ranked 19th.

Gallup has included USAA on its Great Workplace Award list for six years running. And diversity hasn’t been an issue: From 2017 to 2019, USAA scored a perfect 100 in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.

The company even sends Catastrophe Response Teams to areas affected by disasters, like hurricanes, to make it easier for customers to make insurance claims (and perhaps to ensure the validity of some claims).

A USAA mobile-claims unit, ready to help customers file insurance claims. Image credit: Weather.blog

A USAA mobile-claims unit, ready to help customers file insurance claims. Image credit: Weather.blog

And, some icing on the cake at an international scale: For the past five years USAA has been ranked in the top 50 of Fortune’s list of the World’s Most Admired Companies, coming in at number 24 in 2019.

USAA is not actually a corporation, as alluded to above. It’s an inter-insurance exchange, with members rather than shareholders. Each year, profits are retained by the company or shared with members; in 2018, $1.8 billion was returned to members in the form of distributions, dividends, bank rebates, and rewards.

In 2018 USAA boasted a net worth of $31.8 billion, and took in over $31 billion in revenue. Total assets grew to over $263 billion, and near the end of 2018 it was the 29th largest U.S. bank based on deposits.

Built from the ground up by its own members, USAA has a long history of providing services for the unique needs of military servicemembers and their families. With intense loyalty from both its members and its employees, USAA will no doubt continue to thrive in the 21st century.

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