Active service members can choose from dozens of great, military-specific credit card deals. But, as a veteran, many of these same perks don’t apply. This reality can make picking the right card after you leave the military challenging. As such, we’ll use this article to provide an overview of the best credit cards for veterans.
Specifically, we’ll discuss the following:
- Defining Your Credit Card Priorities as a Veteran
- Best Credit Cards for Veterans Who Travel
- Best Credit Cards for Veteran Business Owners
- Best Cash-Back Credit Cards for Veterans
- Cards for Veterans with No or Bad Credit
- USAA Credit Cards
- NFCU Credit Cards
- Final Thoughts
Defining Your Credit Card Priorities as a Veteran
Prior to discussing the best credit card options for veterans, we need to first address an important fact: not all veterans are the same. In other words, the reasons why a card makes sense for one veteran may not apply to another veteran. As a result, before choosing a credit card, you need to first define why you need that card. That is, what are your priorities?
While not an all-inclusive list, here are a few questions you should ask yourself before picking a particular credit card:
- How do I plan on using my card?
- What are the primary expenses that I plan on paying with my card?
- Do I have any “must-have” credit card terms (e.g. cash-back, no annual fee, etc.)?
Bottom line, too many credit card options exist to blindly choose one. After you answer the above questions, you should narrow down your choices. With that said, the following card options certainly do not represent the only credit cards for veterans, but you should be able to find a solid choice that meets all of your above priorities.
Best Credit Cards for Veterans Who Travel
The American Express Platinum Card
As stated above, travel credit cards generally come with far higher annual fees. But, in return, cardholders receive tremendous travel perks. At $650/year, the Platinum Card’s annual fees are certainly high. However, if you plan on traveling extensively, you can more than recoup these fees via associated card benefits.
In particular, the Platinum Card offers huge sign-up bonuses – between 60,000 and 75,000 points, depending on timing. Once you spend a certain amount of money with the card, you receive this point bonus. If planned properly, this bonus alone can pay for an international trip, more than justifying the high annual fee. Additionally, this card provides annual savings on travel-related expenses, including Uber, airline fees, and Global Entry or TSA Precheck programs.
For frequent travelers, the most significant benefit to the Platinum Card is the airport lounge access it provides. Cardholders can access over 1,300 lounges spanning 140 countries, to include the high-end Centurion lounges.
Airport food is expensive. Say your average airport meal costs $15 (a conservative estimate). If you find yourself in airports 20 times per year and eat for free in a lounge rather than pay for a meal, that saves you $300 right there. Add in the free beer and wine offered in these lounges, and you can recoup that high annual fee in lounge food and drink alone.
Best Credit Cards for Veteran Business Owners
American Express Business Gold Card
Veteran business owners have their own unique set of needs and priorities when it comes to credit cards – typically far different than your average card holder. The Business Gold Card goes a long way towards supporting these needs. Of note, cardholders receive a 70,000 point sign-up bonus after making $10,000 in purchases. Additionally, you receive 4x points for the two expense categories with the most purchases in a given month, meaning you get rewarded for where you spend most frequently.
Currently, the Business Gold Card charges a $295 annual fee.
But, this fee must be measured against what we see as the card’s primary benefit: its pay-over-time option. For small business owners, managing cash flow proves one of the most critical tasks to successful operations. Without cash, operations stop.
This pay-over-time option provides business owners a flexible payment option for purchases over $100. When a purchase qualifies for pay-over-time treatment, cardholders can pay the entire balance at the end of the month, saving on interest. But, if cash flow is an issue in a particular month, this feature allows business owners to pay off the balances on larger purchases – with interest – over time. Bottom line, while you’ll still pay interest on these purchases, this feature provides veteran business owners some outstanding flexibility when it comes to managing cash flow.
Best Cash-Back Credit Cards for Veterans
The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express
Some veterans prioritize cash-back rewards with their credit cards. And, for these individuals looking to maximize cash, Blue Cash Preferred provides outstanding terms. For a $95 annual fee, cardholders receive 6% cash-back on groceries (up to $6,000/year), 6% back on streaming subscriptions, 3% back on gas, and 1% for all other purchases.
The major benefit here is the outstanding cash-back potential. For example, say you spend the full $6,000/year on groceries (~$115/week in groceries), $1,560 ($30/week) on gas, and $3,000 in other purchases – a conservative estimate for a family. That would equate to just over $435 in annual cash back, or net cash of $340 when you factor in the annual fee – not bad for just spending like you normally would!
Cards for Veterans with No or Bad Credit
NFCU nRewards Secured Credit Card
Realistically, most credit cards require decent credit scores. If you have bad credit or no credit, card approval can be extremely challenging. Fortunately, NFCU offers an option for veterans in one of these categories to A) get a credit card, and B) build their credit score.
With a secured credit card, NFCU members deposit cash into their NFCU savings accounts (minimum of $200). That deposit then serves as collateral for the credit card. For example, if you deposit $500 in your savings account, you can receive a credit limit on this card of $500. And, when you make purchases with the card, you receive 1x points – just like you would with any other card – while still receiving interest on the cash in your savings account.
This option helps cardholders build their credit scores while still having the functionality of a normal credit card. Additionally, NFCU monitors your usage and offers upgrades at two key milestones:
- At three months: Qualifying cardholders will be eligible for additional credit, allowing them to spend beyond their cash deposit limit.
- At six months: Qualifying cardholders will be eligible to have their holds removed and will be upgraded to an unsecured cash rewards card.
USAA Credit Cards
USAA Rewards Visa Signature Card
As a military-friendly financial institution, USAA has some great credit cards available to veterans. Their Visa Signature Card provides an outstanding, all-around option. While it doesn’t provide the eye-popping promotional points available with some travel cards, it does offer 2,500 bonus points once you make your first purchase, 2x points on gas and dining out, and 1x points on all other purchases.
Additionally, from a travel protection perspective, the Visa Signature program offers cardholders secondary coverage for car rentals, trip cancellations or disruptions, and daily baggage reimbursement.
As an all-around card, two benefits of this USAA card prove particularly appealing. First, it doesn’t charge an annual fee, saving cardholders cash. Second, if you go overseas – but don’t want to pay for an expensive, travel-specific card – this card still does not charge a foreign transaction fee.
NFCU Credit Cards
NFCU Visa Signature Flagship Rewards Card
Navy Federal Credit Union, despite its Navy name, provides outstanding banking services for veterans of all branches. And, its Visa Signature card – from the same program as the above USAA one – provides another great all-around card option. However, the NFCU option leans slightly more towards travel priorities, with 3x points for travel purchases and 2x points for all other purchases. And, related to travel, cardholders receive a credit to apply for either the Global Entry or TSA Precheck travel screening program.
In exchange for these slightly higher point multipliers, NFCU does charge an annual $49 fee, though it’s waived for the first year.
In addition to the 2x points on all purchases – double USAA’s comparable option – NFCU’s Visa Signature provides another great first-year benefit: free Amazon Prime. From the date of approval, new cardholders receive one free year of Amazon Prime, saving you $119 (plus the associated cost savings on free Amazon shipping for being a Prime member).
Credit cards, like all tools, shouldn’t be viewed from a one-size-fits-all perspective. Rather, veterans should first decide how they plan on using a card and what priorities they have. From this foundation, you can make an informed decision on the best credit card for your unique situation.
Maurice “Chipp” Naylon spent nine years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He is currently a licensed CPA specializing in real estate development and accounting.
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