The 10+ Best Credit Cards for Military Veterans [2021]

Military couple

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If you have served, or are currently serving in the U.S. military, you may be familiar with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The act, which was passed in 2003, included several financial protections for active military members.

One such protection that financial institutions had to adhere to was the cap on interest rates that could be charged to military members. As the act relates specifically to credit cards, this provision resulted in service fees and interest being refunded, credit card interest rates capped, and even the waiver of annual credit card renewal fees.

With these protections in place, it’s easy to determine the best credit cards while on active military duty (spoiler alert, Amex are the most generous). Unfortunately, benefits included in the act disappear for service members after 12 to 15 months of leaving duty, at which time credit card selection could then become more difficult.

During this transition, veterans may be wondering which credit cards still offer benefits they can use while keeping the cost of using credit under control.

That’s our chosen topic for today. We’re going to take a look at some of the best credit card options available to veterans, discuss the associated benefits, then look at alternative card options that might be an equally appropriate fit.

Let’s get started.

The Value of Military Financial Organizations

Chances are, during your term of service, you joined a financial institution that catered to the specific needs of military members and their families.

Such financial institutions have experience dealing with the unique circumstances of military duty. The organizations specialize in offering services that active military members need, such as online access, locations on base, ability to deal with deployments and reassignments, international access, and more.

Even when you leave active duty, these institutions can still offer services that add value to you as a veteran.

Here are some of the most popular military financial organizations and some of the services offered to veterans:

  • USAA — personal loans, credit cards, insurance, retirement, and investment options, advice
  • Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed) — banking accounts, mortgages, credit cards, student loans, home equity, and retirement options
  • Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU) — banking accounts, CDs, individual retirement accounts, personal loans, credit cards, mortgages

Bottom Line: Veterans are still welcomed as members of military financial organizations and can benefit from the products and services offered by these institutions. 

Credit Cards Offered by Military Financial Organizations

You don’t have to be an active military member to qualify for the credit cards offered by the aforementioned financial organizations. Let’s look at a sampling of credit card options available to veterans via these institutions and the benefits you can expect.

USAA (United Services Automobile Association)

Military members, veterans, and their families can join USAA for free. Image Credit: USAA

USAA is known as a leading insurer of military members. The organization also offers a full line of financial products including credit cards, real estate financing, banking, retirement and investment products, and personal loans.

Joining USAA is free and veterans qualify for membership.

Here are just 2 of several credit card products offered by USAA and the card’s associated benefits:

USAA Rewards™ American Express® Card

USAA Rewards™ Visa Signature® Card

  • $0 annual fee
  • Earn 2,500 points after first purchase
  • 2x points on gas and dining out
  • 1x points on all other purchases
  • Visa Signature benefits such as secondary car rental coverage, trip cancellation/interruption, and baggage delay reimbursement
  • No foreign transaction fees

Bottom Line: USAA specializes in offering insurance products to U.S. military members, veterans, and their families. Even widows/widowers of members or veterans qualify for membership and have access to the USAA product portfolio that includes several credit card options. 

Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed)

PenFed CU Card
PenFed expands membership eligibility to non-military members. Image Credit: PenFed Credit Union

While PenFed was originally established for just active military members, in more recent years membership has been open to anyone who first makes a donation to an affiliated charity described in the application.

The credit union’s primary focus, however, is still on the financial needs unique to active and former military members.

Here are 2 of the many rewards-earning credit cards offered by PenFed:

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card

  • $0 annual fee
  • Welcome bonus of $100 statement credit after spending $1,500 in the first 90 days after card approval
  • 5x points on purchases at gas stations
  • 3x points at supermarkets
  • 1x points on all other purchases
  • Visa Signature benefits including secondary car rental coverage, extended warranty, and roadside dispatch services, and more

PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card

  • $0 annual fee
  • Welcome bonus of $100 after spending $1,500 in the first 90 days after card approval
  • 2% cash-back on all purchases (must have affiliated checking account)
  • Introductory 0% APR on balance transfers for 12 months (fees apply)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Extended warranty, secondary car rental coverage, and roadside dispatch services, and more

Points earned on your cards can be redeemed for travel, gift cards, or merchandise.

Bottom Line: While PenFed focuses on providing financial solutions for military and former military members, it has expanded its membership to include anyone who contributes to specific charities during the application process. 

Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU)

Veterans are eligible to join Navy Federal Credit Union and have access to an entire portfolio of financial products. Image Credit: NFCU

This member-owned, not-for-profit institution has over 9 million members. Veterans are welcome to join and take advantage of several offered services. Veterans are also eligible to apply for any of the organizations offered credit cards.

Here are 2 of its most popular:

Navy Federal More Rewards American Express® Card

  • $0 annual fee
  • Generous 25,000-point welcome bonus
  • 3x points on gas, restaurants, supermarkets, and transit
  • 1x points all other purchases
  • Redeem points for cash, travel, gift cards, and merchandise
  • Secondary car rental insurance
  • Terms apply

Navy Federal Credit Union Visa Signature® Flagship Rewards Card

  • Low $49 annual fee, waived the first year
  • 1 free year of Amazon Prime from card approval date
  • 3x points for travel purchases
  • 2x points all other purchases
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit
  • Visa Signature benefits such as cell phone protection and extended warranty

Bottom Line: Navy Federal Credit Union is not just for those enlisted in the Navy. To be eligible to join NFCU, you can have ties to active duty military members in any of the armed forces, including the Department of Defense civilian members. Retired members, veterans, and family members, even minors, also qualify. All members have access to NFCU services and products including several credit cards. 

Alternative Credit Cards for Veterans

Comparing credit card options will help you determine the best match for your lifestyle as a veteran. Image Credit: Security Service Federal Credit Union

While military credit unions and financial institutions serve the great purpose of providing discounts, loans, transition services, and financial help to our veterans and active service members, it’s always good to look at alternative options when selecting any financial product, including credit cards.

Here are a few credit card options available to the public that also come with benefits veterans may consider and use for comparison to cards offered via military-serving financial organizations.

Best Credit Cards for Veterans for Everyday Spending

We all, including veterans, spend daily on common purchases such as gas, groceries, at drug stores, and on dining. Earning rewards on your greatest purchases within those categories is the key to maximizing rewards on any credit card.

Here are 2 popular everyday spending cards that will make sure you’re covered when it comes to earning rewards for those expenses.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

American Express does an excellent job of offering cards that reward our everyday purchases. Here is just one of the most popular options.

  • 6% cash-back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases/year)
  • 6% cash-back on streaming services
  • 3% cash-back on transit and at gas stations
  • Travel benefits such as secondary car rental coverage with the option to purchase premium protection for 1 low fee that covers the entire rental period
  • Shopping benefits such as 0% APR on purchases for 12 months, purchase protection, extended warranty
  • Terms apply

Amex also offers an excellent no-annual-fee card equally appropriate for some of the same everyday purchases. The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is another Amex choice worth considering. We’ve compared the Blue Cash Preferred and Blue Cash Everyday cards if you can’t quite decide.

Chase Freedom Flex℠ Credit Card

Having a banking relationship with Chase can deliver added value to the veteran. Chase waives card fees for active military and also extends monthly fee waivers on checking, free safety deposit boxes, the waiver of a limited number of non-Chase ATM transactions, special home loans, and more for veterans.

Chase also offers several everyday spending cards including the Freedom Flex card.

Credit CardBenefits & Info

Chase Freedom Flex℠ Credit Card

Freedom Flex℠ Credit Card
Learn More
(at Chase's secure site)

  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • Earn 5% on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on dining and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open.
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommendation (670-850)
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • 5% back on quarterly bonus categories, up to $1,500 in purchases
  • 5% back at grocery stores for 1 year, up to $12,000 maximum in purchases
  • 3% back on dining, eligible food delivery services, and take out
  • 3% back at drug stores
  • 1% back on all other purchases
  • Redeem rewards for statement credits, travel, or transfer to Chase premium cards for even greater potential redemption value
  • Travel benefits such as secondary car rental, trip interruption/cancellation
  • Shopping benefits such as extended warranty, purchase protection, and cell phone protection
  • Introductory 0% APR on purchases

Chase offers the no-annual-fee Chase Freedom Unlimited® card that also rewards everyday purchases. If you’re not sure which of these cash-back cards is right for you, check out our head-to-head comparison.

Best Credit Cards for Veterans Who Want Travel Benefits

American Express Centurion Lounges COVID Health Changes
Premium travel rewards cards come with premium benefits such as lounge access. Image Credit: American Express

Premium travel rewards cards come with higher annual fees but also with a long list of premium travel benefits. Here are 2 of the best premium travel rewards credit cards you won’t find paralleled at military credit unions.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

In addition to elevated bonus earnings, worldwide lounge access, and valuable statement credits for specific purchases, the Amex Platinum card offers the following travel and shopping benefits.

For a full review of the benefits of the Amex Platinum card, this article sums up the details nicely. If you know someone in the active military, you’ll want to make them aware of the benefits afforded on the Amex Platinum card, including waived annual fees.

Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card

While you’ll find tremendous value with easy-to-use travel statement credits and 3x earnings, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card also offers plenty of additional travel and shopping benefits.

For more travel rewards card options, further information can be found in our article covering the best travel rewards cards.

Bottom Line: Premium travel rewards cards have higher annual fees but if you can utilize enough of the associated benefits, you can realize value beyond the cost of the annual fee. 

Best Credit Cards for Veterans Who Have Small Businesses

Business owners know that keeping personal and business transactions separate is imperative to running a smooth operation. You’ll also want to make sure you earn rewards on all of those business transactions.

Here are 2 suggested cards that will help you do just that:

American Express® Business Gold Card

In addition to a generous welcome bonus, elevated earnings on select common business purchases, and airline point purchase rebates, the Amex Business Gold card offers additional benefits:

  • Free employee cards
  • Business expense management tools
  • The Hotel Collection on-site benefits including room upgrades, hotel credits, and 2x earnings
  • Extended warranty and purchase protection

Another Amex business card to consider is The Business Platinum Card® from American Express.

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

With a generous welcome bonus, lower annual fee, 3x earnings on key business purchases, and 25% more value at redemption time, you’re already ahead with the Ink Business Preferred card.

Credit CardKey Benefits & Info
Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Learn More
(at Chase's secure site)
  • Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • 25% more value when redeeming points through Ultimate Rewards® travel
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850)
  • Annual Fee: $95


Must Reads: For more info on the Ink Business Preferred, see our guides on its benefits, 7 things to do as a new cardholder, and our full review. This is our favorite Chase business credit card.

There are, however, even more benefits of having the card.

  • Free employee cards
  • Transfer Ultimate Rewards points to travel partners for greater potential value
  • Use the Pay Yourself Back option to redeem points on select purchases or travel via the Chase Travel portal for 25% more value
  • Primary car rental insurance, trip interruption/cancellation
  • Purchase protection and extended warranty protection
  • Cell phone protection

Selecting the right business credit card for your situation can require a lot of research. Save time by reviewing our article featuring several of the best business credit card options to consider.

Best Credit Cards for Veterans Who Have No Credit or Bad Credit

Military service has unique demands and financial challenges. If you’ve faced these challenges and need a path to creating a better credit history, there are plenty of options for building or rebuilding your credit.

Secured cards do not require a good credit history but normally require a security deposit. Check the military financial institutions first for options, then compare with other cards to find a solution that matches your situation.

  • Navy Federal nRewards® Secured Credit Card — no annual fee, $200 minimum security deposit, earns 1 reward point for each dollar spent, cell phone protection
  • Credit Builder Secured Visa® Credit Card — credit limit up to $3,000 with matching security deposit, potential to upgrade to an unsecured card after building good history, $35 annual fee
  • Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card — a refundable security deposit starting at $49 to get a $200 initial credit line
  • First Progress Platinum Secured cards — various secured card options that do not require a credit check

For additional secured card options, you’ll find information in our article on secured credit cards offering options for those with no credit or bad credit.

Final Thoughts

Financial institutions that specifically serve military and former military members are always a good place to start for financial education and assistance. These organizations have experience dealing with the unique needs of their members and offer focused solutions.

As a veteran looking for a credit card that fits your situation, you’ll want to first determine your greatest expenses, what purpose you want the rewards you earn to serve and examine each card’s benefits to discover those you find the most valuable and will actually use.

With the vast selection of cards available, it will be easier to compare and choose a card (or cards) if you’ve determined your priorities and goals in advance.

It’s worth noting that we have abbreviated overall card information and benefit descriptions. Prior to applying for any credit card, you’ll want to review the entire card agreement to determine pricing/fees and the guide to benefits for additional benefit details.

The information regarding the USAA Rewards™ American Express® Card, USAA Rewards™ Visa Signature® Card, PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card, PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card, Navy Federal More Rewards American Express® Card, Navy Federal Credit Union Visa Signature® Flagship Rewards Card, Chase Freedom Flex℠ Credit Card, Navy Federal nRewards® Secured Credit Card, and Credit Builder Secured Visa® Credit Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer. 

 For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Business Gold Card, click here.

Frequently asked questions

What are the best credit cards for veterans?

The best credit card for veterans will be one that matches their greatest expenses, has redemption options that match their objectives, and offers useful benefits.

The right card will also depend on whether there is a tolerance for paying an annual fee.

A veteran can start by examining the cards offered by military financial institutions and compare those cards to ones offered to the public to determine the appropriate match for their situation.

Do credit card companies waive fees for veterans?

Under the SCRA act, credit card issuers do adhere to maximum interest caps and as a result, may waive services fees, cap interest charges, and waive annual credit card renewal fees.

The act does not apply to veterans (not on active duty) although some issuers still offer reduced and waived service fees to customers who are veterans.

What is the best credit card for veterans with bad credit?

A secured credit card may be the best option for those who have no credit or bad credit. These cards typically require a security deposit and frequently match the credit limit to the amount of the security deposit.

Some secured cards offer the opportunity to graduate to an unsecured credit card after building a good payment history.

Secured cards may not require a credit inquiry or may require an inquiry with a poor score being acceptable.

Does the SCRA act cover retired military?

The SCRA act applies only to those on active duty. The act can extend, up to 15 months beyond active duty, for specific financial instruments such as mortgages.

You can access the act here to learn more.

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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