Transitioning from military to civilian life can be a daunting process. There are many changes people need to consider, including what this all means for their finances.
It can be easy for credit card users to overlook the changes in the terms that were issued during active service. For example, many of the benefits included in the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) — such as a maximum interest rate of 6% on outstanding balances, no service charges and waived renewal fees — expire after a member leaves active service.
Some financial institutions extend benefits for up to six months after service members are discharged. But when SCRA benefits expire, the results generally mean higher interest rates, fees and charges than exist on competing credit cards. The following are the four best credit cards rated as of 2018, according to credit reporting agency, Experian.
USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card
All active or former military personnel who have USAA membership, their widows, widowers and children qualify. The USAA Cashback Rewards Plus card delivers rewards for every dollar spent with the card. Rewards include 5% cash back on military base and gas purchases up to $3,000 annually and 2% at supermarkets up to $3,000 annually. Cardholders can earn unlimited 1% on all other purchases and military base, gas, and supermarket purchases over the annual limit.
Interest rates are variable, ranging from 14.15% to 28.15% annually as of May 2019. Anyone on active duty can take advantage of the rates set by the SCRA: 4% on any balances incurred before active duty began. This special rate continues for a full year after active duty is completed.
Other benefits of this card include no annual fees and no foreign transaction fees, both of which can deliver substantial savings for veterans traveling or living abroad. Rewards can be redeemed at any time, as long as the account is current and in good standing.
Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed) Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card
This card is available to all members of PenFed. Anyone who is an active or retired member of the military qualifies. This credit card also boasts no annual or foreign transaction fees.
Cardholders earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases, excluding cash advances, credit card checks and balance transfers. But you can increase the reward to 2% cash back on any purchase if you become a PenFed Honors Advantage member. You can become a member if you're currently serving or have retired from service. You can also become a member if you open or have an existing checking account with PenFed.
PenFed charges 3% on balance transfers but offers a 0% annual percentage rate (APR) for 12 months following a transfer. The APR on purchases and cash advances starts at 11.49% but can go as high as 17.99% for account holders with low credit scores. As of October 2018, cardholders can earn a signup bonus of $100 by spending at least $1,500 within three months of opening a Power Cash Rewards Visa account.
Navy Federal Credit Union Go Rewards
For veterans who dine out and drive frequently, the Go Rewards card offered by the Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU) generates multiple rewards points for various specific purchases. The program pays three points for each dollar spent at restaurants, two points per dollar spent for every gas purchase and one point per dollar spent on all other qualifying purchases. Cardholders can redeem points for travel rewards, gift cards, online shopping and products offered through the Go Rewards program.
The Go Rewards account does not charge annual fees, foreign transaction charges or balance transfers. Cash advances done at NFCU offices or ATMs are also free of fees. As of October 2018, interest rates start at 10.24% for cardholders with strong credit histories and can go as high as 18% for those with lower scores.
USAA Rate Advantage Platinum Visa
Just like the USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card, you’ll need to be a USAA member to qualify for this card.
This is a great option for anyone with a really high credit score, who is looking for a low-interest rate — which can go as low as 8.65%. Anyone with fair or good credit may qualify, but keep in mind, it will come with a higher rate — up to 25.65%. Purchases, cash advances and balance transfers are all subject to the same interest rate. There are no annual fees and no foreign transaction fees with this card.
For anyone who may be looking for other perks, though, the buck stops here. This is a no-frills card, which means there are no points to earn and no cash back offers.
Remember, every credit card comes with different benefits, interest rates and fees, so it's important to evaluate your needs and weigh them against your own financial situation. Consider the incentives each card offers (points, cash back), what you need to qualify (memberships, qualifying checking accounts), your credit score (which will help determine how much interest you'll pay) and stack them up against their affordability (interest rates and other fees.)