There are many bonuses and perks offered by credit card issuers to active duty military members. Some credit cards for active duty soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines waive annual fees, cap interest rates, and/or offer money back for purchases up to a certain amount.
You may find some credit card companies offer these on a case-by-case basis or by request only, while others may advertise these perks as an ongoing feature of their credit programs. But did you know that in addition to programs a credit issuer may voluntarily offer, there are federally-mandated perks that all credit card companies must offer a service member on active duty when requested?
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) And Credit Card Interest Rates
The SCRA mandates a 6% interest rate cap on loans you took out before starting active duty. This cap is described at the United States Department Of Justice official site as a limit to the amount of interest charged on “certain financial obligations that were incurred prior to military service.” This limit is “no more than six percent per year, including most fees.”
The caveat is that the cap is not automatic, must be applied for with the credit agency, and must be applied for with all credit card companies you wish to claim your SCRA rights with. You will be required to provide a copy of military orders and a formal notice in writing.
There is also a time limit on these notices-you have until 180 days after the end of military service to file the notice. The U.S. Department of Justice notes that when you file your notice, the creditor is required to fully forgive, rather than defer until later, the amount of interest greater than six percent per year.
The interest rate must be forgiven retroactively, and the credit card company is not allowed to engage in any practice that results in “…accelerating the payment of principal in response to a properly made request for a six percent interest rate cap.”
What You Should Know About Military Credit Card Benefits
Viewed from a certain perspective, a great deal of the American economy involves two kinds payments; those that are known up front, and those that are part of what some call “gotcha” tactics.
A gotcha tactic can be anything from a sudden increase in your interest rate due to one or more missed or late payments that is applied as per the agreement you make with the creditor – often this increase potential is spelled out in detail only in the fine print of the agreement, which some people choose not to read closely.
But “gotcha” tactics also work in the other direction – you may be eligible for discounts, lower rates, cash back on purchases, and other perks, but these will not be applied automatically and are generally not advertised. You have to ask for the perks, but before you can do so you have to know to ask for them.
Military credit card benefits are not standardized. You may be required to be on active duty for a minimum amount of time (30 days is one standard), and you will be required to furnish proof of service and possibly evidence that your military service commitment is for a minimum time or that you are about to re-enlist.
Some of these requirements will vary from lender to lender, except where the SCRA laws apply.
Some credit card companies are more generous than others with their military benefits, and some credit card companies have a reputation for liberally interpreting your SCRA rights, offering more than the law requires when such rights are claimed. American Express is one company that has earned a positive reputation in this area.
Remember, you will generally be required to request or sign up for these credit card perks, they are not automatic.
Credit Card Benefits For Military Members You Should Ask For When Signing Up For A New Credit Card Account
Here is a list of perks that are offered by many credit card companies to their military customers – if you are not currently enjoying some or all of these perks, it’s a very good idea to call your credit card company to request the following, especially when opening a new account:
- No annual fee for military members
- Cash back incentives for military members
- Cash back programs specifically for military-related expenses such as moving, uniforms, etc.
- No overseas transaction credit card fees for military members
- Incentives for electronic payments or automatic electronic payment transfers
- Waived or reduced credit card cash advance fees for military members
- Lower APR interest rates for military members
- No over-limit credit limit fees
- No penalty APR interest rate adjustments for late payments
- Any special perks or incentives for deployed service members or families of deployed service members
- Special “reserve cards” for military members and/or family members
Which Credit Card Companies Offer The Best Military Credit Card Perks, Bonuses, And Incentives?
Opinions may vary, but one of the best things military members and their families can do to get military-oriented credit card benefits is to apply for credit cards from a military or military friendly company such as USAA, Navy Federal Credit Union, or the company currently servicing your government official travel charge card.
There are other credit card companies that have historically offered perks and military credit card benefits, including Chase Bank, Bank of America, American Express, and Capital One.
Of these, Capital One is rated by third-party websites as being less of an advantage than the others, but Capital One credit cards have waived both annual fees and overseas charge fees for active duty military members. It’s always best to call to inquire about the most current military-friendly credit programs available.
American Express Benefits for Military
American Express takes the SCRA protections a step further by waiving their annual fees for military personnel and their spouses. The Blue Cash Preferred card has a $95 annual fee and the Gold Card has a $250 annual fee. However, since the annual fees are waived you might as well take advantage of the great perks that the American Express Platinum Card offers. Such as access to hundreds of airport lounges and Uber, airline, hotel and TSA Precheck credits. Plus, get a 100,000-point bonus when you spend $6,000 on your card in the first six months.
Chase Sapphire Reserve for Military
All Chase personal credit cards are offered with no annual fees for active duty military servicemembers and their spouses. The top two choices are the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve cards. The main difference is that the Preferred offers 10,000 more sign up bonus points while the Reserve offers a recurring $300 annual travel credit.
- $450 annual fee (and $75 authorized user fee) completely waived for US military and spouses
- $300 annual travel credit (Uber, taxi, airfare, hotel, train, car rental, etc)
- 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4000 in the first 3 months of opening account
- 3x points on travel and dining worldwide
- Redeem points with a 50% bonus when booking travel through the Chase
- Automatic travel insurance on trips purchased with the card including trip cancellation, delay, interruption, lost baggage, and auto rental collision
- $100 Global Entry sign up fee reimbursed every 4 years
- No foreign transaction fees
Important Advice About Signing Up For New Credit Cards
- When signing up for a new credit card, be sure to check the application to see if there is an option to choose your source of income. If so, always select “military” or “government” as your income source where available. This may go a long way toward helping you claim your military credit benefits from the very start.
- Check to see if your existing or new credit card provider offers a special hotline for military customers.
- Read the fine print on all your credit card accounts. Know under what circumstances you will be charged added fees, fines, penalties, etc. even as a military customer. Don’t assume that you will be exempt from late charges, interest rate increases, or other actions based on late or missed payments, going over your account limits, etc. When you sign the legally binding agreement for your credit account, you will be subject to the rules you agree to. Know before you sign.
- Not all credit is billed the same; the interest rate and terms of repayment on a credit card cash advance may be different-and higher-than for ordinary purchase transactions. Know what you are agreeing to before you use the features of your credit account that result in cash back to you from the credit card company.
- Know the terms and conditions-what perks apply to your account while serving on active duty, and which will continue if you retire or separate from military service? Ask these important questions before they become a real-world issue.
- Be sure to ask how much advance notification the credit issuer requires before you leave active duty.
To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards featured, please visit the following: Rates and Fees.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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