The Best Credit Cards for Active Duty Military [Includes Card Benefits]

Military Marines

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Serving in our country’s military brings added responsibility and commitment — but it can also bring financial challenges.

Years ago, some of the financial challenges that military families face were recognized and addressed with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 (SCRA) and the subsequent Military Lending Act (MLA). If you’re an active duty military member, chances are you’re familiar with these laws and their revisions.

These Federal laws impose limits on interest rates and fees lending institutions can legally charge active military members, their spouses, and domestic partners.

While the laws include special consideration with regards to vehicle leases, payday loans, mortgages, and housing rights, the importance of these laws as they apply to credit cards is significant. Specifically, opportunities have been created allowing military members to take advantage of some of the more elite benefits of rewards-earning credit cards without incurring high annual fees.

The SCRA applies to credit card accounts opened prior to active military service, but many credit card issuers extend the benefits to credit cards acquired during active duty as well. The MLA governs credit cards acquired during active military service.

Both laws have positively affected how credit card issuers administer their credit card terms for active military. Today, we’ll focus on which credit card issuers go above and beyond the minimum requirements of these laws and how their actions benefit active military.

Let’s take a look at our recommendations for the best credit cards for military and the associated card benefits.

American Express

American Express goes beyond the letter of the law when offering benefits to active duty military. They do not limit benefits to credit cards opened prior to active military service, instead waiving fees and offering reduced interest rates on all of their credit cards — even newly acquired ones.

Benefits Provided

  • Waived annual membership fees and other fees such as late payments, returned payments, and over-limit fees
  • A cap of 6% on interest rates

How to Request Benefits

  • Online: Log in to your credit card account online and click on “account services.” Under the account services tab you will find “credit management.” You will see SCRA Benefits under that tab and be able to request the benefits there.
  • Phone: Call 800-253-1720 from the U.S., or outside of the U.S. call collect at 336-393-1111.
  • Fax: Fax active duty documents with American Express account numbers to 623-444-3000.
  • Mail: Mail documents with account numbers to American Express, Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, PO Box 981535, El Paso, TX 79998-1535

Hot Tip: If you are currently active duty military with an American Express card but you haven’t applied for benefits, you should do so. You could save hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest and annual fees. 

Centurion lounges are some of the best in the world, and you’ll have complimentary access. Image courtesy of American Express.

Best American Express Credit Cards for Active Military

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Why We Like the Card for Military Members

If you travel a lot, having lounge access can add economy and comfort to your trip. You can grab a free drink, a bite to eat, and relax during your journey. Cardmembers will have access for themselves plus 2 guests to upscale Centurion lounges, considered to be some of the best airport lounges available.

In addition, you’ll enjoy Priority Pass Select membership, which allows you and 2 guests complimentary access to Priority Pass lounges worldwide. Priority Pass is the world’s largest lounge network with nearly 1,200 lounges.

If you travel on Delta Air Lines, you’ll also enjoy access to Delta Sky Clubs (cardholder only).

The Global Entry credit is also a nice perk that reimburses you when you pay for your application or renewal with your Platinum Card®.

Hot Tip: For a lot more information, check out our post on the benefits of the Platinum Card for Active U.S. Military members.

The American Express® Gold Card

Why We Like the Card for Military Members

Because the Membership Rewards points you earn on everyday spending can be redeemed easily for travel, the Gold Card strikes a balance of being an everyday earning credit card and a travel rewards credit card.

For those who travel occasionally but will spend the $25,000 per year on dining and at U.S supermarkets, this card is a good match. You’ll also receive a $100 airline fee credit each calendar year as a reimbursement for baggage fees and other airline incidentals.

Bottom Line: American Express offers over 60 different credit and charge cards, and they waive annual fees on all of them for active military.  

Priority Pass - Turkish Airlines Lounge Washington
Enjoy the complimentary amenities of a Priority Pass lounge during your travels. Image Credit: Priority Pass

Chase

Benefits Provided

Chase offers benefits for active military members in accordance with the MLA law for those under active duty who applied for cards after September 20, 2017. Benefits apply only to personal credit cards, not their business cards.

  • Waived fees (except late fees and insufficient fund fees)
  • Military Annual Percentage Rate (MAPR) won’t exceed 36% (includes any fees)
  • Any introductory promotional interest rates (0% APR, etc.) will be honored

How to Request Benefits

After applying for the credit card of your choice, you can request SCRA/MLA benefits:

  • Access your Chase.com online banking profile
  • Select “secure messages” in the upper left of the page
  • Select “compose message”
  • Under “inquires,” select Military SCRA benefits
  • Include your account number
  • Attach supporting documents

You can call 1-877-469-0110 to ask about credit card fee waivers for Chase credit cards (8am-10pm Monday through Friday, and 9am-6pm Saturdays). Internationally, call collect at 318-340-3348.

All Chase personal credit cards are included for Military benefits; here are some of the most popular that we recommend.

Best Chase Credit Cards for Active Military

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

A great first-time travel rewards card, the Sapphire Preferred offers a nice balance of practical travel benefits and earning valuable Ultimate Rewards points.

  • Generous welcome bonus worth hundreds of dollars toward travel after completing minimum spending requirements within first 3 months after card approval
  • 2X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining
  • Travel protections and benefits, including trip interruption/cancellation and primary rental car insurance
  • Redeem for 25% more value on the Ultimate Rewards travel portal

Why We Like the Card for Military Members

Earning valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards is a real benefit and being able to redeem them for travel on the Chase travel portal for 25% more is an added bonus.

Ultimate Rewards points can also be transferred to travel partners for even more value.

If you’re a Military Member renting a vehicle, know that you’ll be protected with primary car rental insurance.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Sapphire Reserve is a premium travel rewards credit card with a long list of benefits.

  • Generous welcome bonus worth hundreds of dollars toward travel after completing minimum spending requirements within first 3 months after card approval
  • Priority Pass Select Membership with access to over 1,200 airport lounges worldwide
  • $300 travel credit each card anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel and dining purchases
  • Transfer Ultimate Rewards to travel partners for potential added value
  • Redeem Ultimate Rewards points for 50% more value on travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal
  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit up to $100

Why We Like the Card for Military Members

If you’re traveling frequently, the worldwide lounge access benefit will make your journey more comfortable and economical. The $300 travel credit each card anniversary year is easy to use and adds immediate value.

With elevated earning on travel and dining purchases and 50% more value when redeeming through the Chase travel portal, any military member who travels will utilize this card’s benefits.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

If you want a simple earning structure but like the idea of having a choice between cash-back and Ultimate Rewards points, the Freedom Unlimited will make sure every purchase is earning rewards you can use.

  • Welcome bonus worth hundreds of dollars after completing a minimum spending requirement within the first 3 months after card approval
  • 1.5% cash-back on every purchase
  • 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months
  • $0 annual fee for all cardholders, including military

Why We Like the Card for Military Members

With this card, there’s no need to remember complicated earning structures and bonus categories — the Freedom Unlimited earns at least 1.5% cash-back or Ultimate Rewards on every purchase.

If you have a major purchase to make, you can save a lot on interest charges with the 0% APR rate for the first 15 months you have the card.

Military members who have high credit card balances can also transfer their balances to this card and receive the 0% APR rate for 15 months. Terms and conditions apply.

Hot Tip: Chase credit cards are subject to their 5/24 rule, which limits the number of credit cards for which you can be approved. Review the 5/24 rule carefully before applying. 

Discover

Discover provides benefits for active military members regardless of when they apply for a credit card, and does not limit benefits to only those credit cards acquired prior to the law.

In fact, Discover does not charge an annual fee on any of its cards to anyone, including military.

One of the best features of most Discover cards is that all the cash back you earn in your first year is matched at the end of your first card anniversary.

Benefits Provided

  • Interest rate not exceeding 5.9%
  • No late fees or fees for being over limit
  • Any introductory purchase or balance transfer rates are calculated at the promotional rate (if less than 5.9%)

Requesting Benefits

There are several options for requesting benefits.

  • Online: Sign in to your Discover card online account and click on the “manage” tab. You will see the link for SCRA benefits. Then click on “request benefits now.”
  • Phone: Call 1-844-337-4645, or from overseas call 1-801-451-3730.
  • Mail: Send a request via mail to Discover, SCRA Department, P.O. Box 30907, Salt Lake City, UT 84130-0907
  • Fax: Fax your request to 1-224-813-5767, attention SCRA Department

Discover will attempt to verify your service through the Defense Manpower Data Center. You do not need to submit verification documents unless requested to do so.

Benefits With Other Credit Card Issuers

The following credit card issuers cap credit card interest rates and/or waive annual fees for credit cards opened prior to active military service only.

  • Capital One: Waives all fees including annual fees and caps interest rates at 4%
  • Citi: Waives all fees including annual fees and lowers interest rates to 0%
  • Bank of America: Caps interest rates at 6%
  • Barclays: Caps interest rates at 6%
  • U.S. Bank: Waives all fees and caps interest rates at 6%

Bottom Line: While all credit card issuers adhere openly to the SCRA and MLA laws, American Express, Chase, and Discover deliver benefits beyond the law’s minimum requirements. 

Chase Freedom Bonus Categories
Earn rewards on purchases you make every day with the right rewards credit card. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Best Credit Cards for Veterans

Most of the benefits of the SCRA and MLA laws expire within a specific period of time once you’ve left active duty, usually 12-15 months.

During your service, you may have become familiar with these financial institutions that provide continuing services to retired military. Note that you must be a member of these organizations prior to applying for their credit cards.

Navy Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal More Rewards American Express® Card

Best for: Everyday spending

  • Requires average to excellent credit
  • Welcome bonus worth $300 after spending $3,000 in first 3 months after card approval
  • 3X points at supermarkets and gas stations
  • 2X points at restaurants
  • $0 annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees

USAA

USAA Rewards™ American Express® Card

Best for: Everyday spending

  • Maximum 4% APR for 12 months during deployment or after active military service
  • 3X points for dining
  • 2X points for gas stations and supermarket purchases
  • 1X points all other purchases
  • $0 annual fee

Pentagon Federal Credit Union

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card

Best for: Everyday spending

  • Points can be redeemed for travel, gift cards, or merchandise at less than 1 cent each
  • $100 welcome bonus after minimum spending requirement
  • 5X points on gas station purchases
  • 3X points at grocery stores

Hot Tip: With excellent credit, you will also have access to your choice of the best travel rewards credit cards available. Review our recommendations for alternative rewards-earning cards to find one that meets your needs. 

Final Thoughts

Those who are about to embark on active duty or who have already done so can benefit greatly from having the annual fees waived on some very rewarding credit cards.

Premium travel rewards cards can have fees exceeding $500 per year, plus additional fees for authorized users. Having these fees waived while qualifying for the valuable benefits offered can result in significant savings.

Keep in mind that balances still need to be paid off each statement period to avoid interest charges (even reduced ones), and payments must be made on time to preserve your good credit.


FAQ

Which is the best credit card for active military?

The best credit card for active military will depend on your spending habits, the benefits you will use, and how long you plan to keep the card.

American Express and Chase offer the best credit cards for active military. You’ll receive premium travel benefits, accelerated earnings, welcome bonuses good for free travel, and statement credits.

In addition, American Express and Chase waive annual fees on their credit cards for active military even if you apply for the card after you have started on active duty.

If you plan to keep the card you apply for indefinitely, you’ll want to select a card that delivers ongoing benefits you’ll continue to use once you’re required to pay the annual fee.

Which credit cards waive the fee for retired military?

SCRA and MLA laws were designed to protect active military and do not apply to retired military. There are some extensions of benefits — in some cases up to 15 months beyond when active duty ends.

However, veterans can still take advantage of special credit card offers and services from financial institutions such as USAA, PenFed, and Navy Federal Credit Union.

Can a military spouse get the credit card fees waived?

Yes. SCRA and MLA laws extend benefits to military spouses and domestic partners.

Credit card issuers may require joint accounts, or that the spouse/domestic partner be added as an authorized user to receive benefits. Others will waive fees and apply benefits for credit cards applied for by the spouse/domestic partner.

Which credit cards waive the annual fee for military?

Several credit card issuers waive annual fees for active duty military. American Express and Chase are the most popular.

While other credit card issuers may waive fees for active military, they may apply these benefits to credit cards acquired prior to active duty. American Express and Chase do not have this limitation.

You can apply for a credit card with American Express or Chase while on active duty, and if qualified, the fee will be waived.

Does Chase waive the annual fees for active military?

Yes, if you qualify, Chase will waive the annual fee and other account fees for active military.

This includes their premium travel rewards card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve which would normally have an annual fee of $450.

What is the maximum interest rate on credit cards for active duty military?

There are two laws that govern credit card interest rates for active duty military. The Military Lending Act limits interest rates and associated account fees to a maximum of 36% APR on credit cards secured while on active duty.

Credit cards secured prior to active duty are governed by the SCRA which limits interest rates and other account fees to a maximum of 6% APR.

Christine Krzyszton

About Christine Krzyszton

Christine, who lives in Northern Michigan, travels about 300,000 miles a year despite her remote location. Her expertise is traveling the world on a weekend with no pre-determined destination in mind, letting the cost of the airfare determine where she will go. She has over four million flown miles and elite status on all three major domestic carriers.

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