Transitioning from military to civilian life can be a daunting process. There are many changes people need to consider, including what this 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 for veterans. However, there are some credit cards that are much better than others for military veterans. The following are the four best credit cards rated as of Sept. 2019, according to the credit reporting agency, Experian.

In addition to cards for veterans, some of the best rewards cards are also particularly well-suited for active-duty military. If you, or someone you know, are currently working full time for the military, they may also be worth considering.

Key Takeaways

  • The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides active service members with valuable credit card benefits, such as a maximum 6% interest rate on outstanding balances.
  • Some of these credit card benefits expire once the service member transitions from military to civilian life.
  • However, there are several credit cards that offer veterans significant advantages, such as special cashback reward programs, lower interest rates, and other perks.
  • The top 4 best credit cards for military veterans for 2020 are USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card, PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card, Navy Federal Credit Union Go Rewards Card, and USAA Rate Advantage Visa Platinum Card.

USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card

All active or former military personnel who have USAA membership, their widows, widowers, un-remarried former spouses, and children qualify. The USAA Cashback Rewards Plus card delivers rewards for every dollar spent with the card. Rewards include 5% cashback on military base and gas purchases up to $3,000 annually and 2% at supermarkets up to $3,000 annually. Cardholders can earn an unlimited 1% on all other purchases and military base, gas, and supermarket purchases over the annual limit. 

Interest rates are variable, ranging from 11.9% to 25.9% annually as of June 2020. Anyone on active duty can take advantage of the rates set by the SCRA: 4% on any balances incurred before active duty began.

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% cashback on all purchases, excluding cash advances, credit card checks, and balance transfers. But you can increase the reward to 2% cashback 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 14.99% but can go as high as 17.99% for account holders with low credit scores. As of June 2020, cardholders can earn a statement credit of $100 by spending at least $1,500 within 90 days of opening a Power Cash Rewards Visa account.

Navy Federal Credit Union Go Rewards Card

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 on 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 June 2020, interest rates start at 8.99% for cardholders with strong credit histories and can go as high as 18% for those with lower scores.

USAA Rate Advantage Visa Platinum Card

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 6.90%. Anyone with fair or good credit may qualify, but keep in mind, it will come with a higher rate—up to 23.9%. 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 cashback offers. 

The Bottom Line

Remember, every credit card comes with different benefits, interest rates, and fees. It's important to evaluate your needs and weigh them against your own financial situation when deciding on the best credit card. Consider the incentives each card offers (points, cashback), 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.)