Credit card benefits for active duty military

One of the most burdensome – but least discussed – challenges for military service members is financial strain. According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, nine out of ten active duty military members are worried about money. A Blue Star Families survey even found that financial stress outweighs deployment as the top concern for military families.

This financial pressure can make choosing a credit card a stressful process for anyone in the military. But it’s not all bad news. Thanks to a federal law called the SCRA, credit cards for active duty military members are limited to a low maximum APR. In addition to this protection, many financial institutions offer their own bonuses and incentives to military personnel.

What is the SCRA?

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA, provides financial protection to active duty military members. This includes financial burdens like rent and mortgage payments, income tax and even cell phone contracts. It is designed to give service members peace of mind regarding their finances so that they can focus on their military duty.

What protections are offered under the SCRA?

The SCRA includes the following financial protections:

  • A 6% interest rate cap on any financial obligations made before active duty began, such as credit card or mortgage debt
  • Protection against default judgments in civil court cases where the service member cannot appear due to military service obligations
  • Protection against foreclosure for one year following the end of active duty
  • Protection against vehicle repossession while in active service
  • Ability to terminate a lease without penalty if called into active duty or given permanent change of station (PCS) orders
  • Ability to cancel any cell phone, internet or television service contracts if given orders to relocate out of the provider’s service area

Who qualifies for SCRA benefits?

In order to qualify for SCRA benefits, military members must currently be on active duty. In most cases, benefits will stay in effect for 30 to 90 days after active duty ends. They will not go away if the service member is absent due to illness, becomes wounded, or goes on leave. Dependents are also covered under many protections offered by the SCRA.

The act does not apply to reservists or National Guard members who are not on active duty for at least 30 consecutive days. However, members of the National Guard and reserve who are not protected by the SCRA may qualify for additional benefits in some states.

Which credit card issuers offer the best benefits for active duty military cardholders?

Many credit card issuers have a focal point on SCRA benefits and take special care to attract military personnel to their services. Look for the best available options on any of these cards at our best cards page.

American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express is known as one of the best SCRA credit cards as military members can get its $550 annual fee waived each year they are on active duty. The card comes with a long list of perks that are extremely beneficial to military families, such as $200 in airline fee credit, $15 per month in Uber credit, and a statement credit towards application fees to Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.

Bank of America

Bank of America offers a 6% interest rate cap on credit cards opened before active duty as prescribed by the SCRA. This includes popular credit cards such as BankAmericard®, Bank of America Cash Rewards®, and Bank of America Travel Rewards®, which all offer 0% introductory APRs for 12 to 18 billing cycles.

Active duty military personnel can qualify for an even lower cap of 4% on home loans that are both owned and serviced by Bank of America. Service members may also benefit from the Military Modification Program, which covers principal forgiveness and other solutions for those who are having trouble affording their home.

Capital One

All Capital One credit cards fall under a generous 4% interest rate cap on accounts owned and serviced by the bank, as long as they were opened before active duty began.

Capital One will also waive fees on accounts owned by active duty military members. This includes credit cards like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card which come with excellent rewards benefits and would typically carry a $95 fee waived in the first year.

Chase

For military personnel who open an account before going on active duty, Chase will waive fees and offer a reduced maximum APR of 4% on its credit cards. They’ll even extend these benefits for a full year following the end of active service.

This is a great reason to take advantage of Chase Sapphire Reserve®, the bank’s premium credit card that would normally carry an annual fee of $550. Cardholder benefits include $300 in travel credit per year, triple points on travel and dining, and up to $100 credit towards application fees to Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.

Citi

Citi offers a comprehensive list of programs and benefits for current and former military. These include HomeRun for Heroes and Citi Disabled Veterans Mortgage Relief Program, which both help veterans manage their mortgage payments. The CitiMortgage PCS Transfer Assistance Program grants active duty military members who have received PCS orders reduced payments for six months, in addition to mortgage consulting from a dedicated professional.

In terms of military credit cards, Citi will waive all fees and offer a 0% APR on credit cards opened before going on active duty. Popular Citi credit cards include the Citi® Double Cash Card and Citi PremierSM Card.

Discover

While most SCRA credit card benefits only apply to accounts opened prior to active duty, Discover® offers military members certain incentives regardless of when the card is opened. These include an interest rate cap of 5.9% and no late or overlimit fees. It’s worth noting that all Discover credit cards come with no annual fee, regardless of SCRA status.

Keep in mind that Discover’s military benefits only apply to its credit cards. Other products, such as loans, are limited to the protections outlined in the SCRA.

U.S. Bank

Military members who open a U.S. Bank checking account are eligible to have their monthly maintenance fees waived, without a minimum balance requirement. For military credit cards, the bank offers a 6% APR cap and no fees on its cards as required by the SCRA.

The U.S. Bank AltitudeTM Reserve Visa Infinite® Card, which normally comes with a $400 annual fee, is worth looking at; cardholders earn triple points on travel and mobile wallet purchases get a statement credit for up to $325 per year in travel expenses.

Wells Fargo

In addition to a 6% APR cap on credit cards opened prior to active duty, Wells Fargo offers several benefits to military members. These are extended to retired military and disabled veterans; they include four domestic and four international cash withdrawals from non-Wells Fargo ATMs with no fees. Wells Fargo also operates Hands On Banking, a free online course that helps military members gain financial skills.

In a nutshell

These SCRA credit card benefits for active military can greatly reduce the burden of financial stress. Don’t hesitate to contact your bank to see if you qualify for reduced APRs, waived fees or other benefits. Remember that your SCRA benefits cannot be waived by a contract without your consent. If you believe your SCRA rights are being violated, you may qualify for free legal assistance from the military.

Lisa Melilo

Lisa Melillo is a freelance writer and entrepreneur with a background in personal finance, insurance, and international business. In addition to contributing to Bankrate, she has appeared in Money and Reviews.com and frequently ghostwrites for other entrepreneurs.

 

Lisa’s career has taken her around the globe; she has lived in four countries, speaks three languages, and holds two international degrees, including a Master’s in International Business from Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. She currently spends most of her time in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two dogs.