Best Pick for: Premium Travel
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is a high-end travel credit card, normally meant only for frequent travelers. But Chase will waive the annual fee of any card eligible for SCRA benefits — in this case a $550 fee! So the Reserve card could be quite valuable even if you don’t travel very much, especially when you consider its vast selection of benefits.
This card is all about travel spending. You’ll need to redeem your points for travel expenses too, if you want to get the best value for them.
When redeeming through Chase Ultimate Rewards you’ll get a 50% bonus, so your points will be worth 1.5 cents each.
You’ll also be able to transfer your points to several airline and hotel travel partners. You could find a better deal through one of them, and we’ve seen transfers that could provide 2 cents per point or more, for the equivalent of at least 6% cash back when spending in the 3X categories.
- U.S. Bank Altitude® Reserve Visa Infinite® Card
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- American Express® Gold Card
- American Express® Green Card
Best Pick for: Premium Travel and Airport Lounge Access
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express is another high-end travel card to consider. It has a hefty annual fee, but you won’t need to worry about that because American Express will usually waive annual fees as part of its SCRA benefits.
This card is focused mainly around spending through the American Express Travel service, although flights booked directly through airlines are included too.
That makes it a bit more restricted than the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which isn’t limited to a single travel service.
Best Pick for: Airline Rewards
United Club℠ Infinite Card
Some cards are co-branded with certain airlines, and most of these cards are issued by American Express, Chase and Citi.
Lucky for you, all three of these issuers will waive the annual fees of cards that are eligible for SCRA benefits. So a large swath of airline cards will have their annual fees waived, along with certain other fees, depending on the issuer.
The right card for you will depend on which airline you spend the most time and money with. Check out our picks for the best airline credit card offers and you’ll probably find a match.
Let’s take a closer look at one airline card. The United Club℠ Infinite Card from Chase has a hefty annual fee, but if you’re a frequent United traveler you might want to go big. It’s just one of several travel rewards cards designed for United Airlines enthusiasts.
A typical good redemption value would probably be around 1.5 cents per mile for United. That means you’ll be earning the equivalent of about 13.5% cash back when spending with United, which is pretty good.
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Card
- Alaska Airlines Visa® Credit Card
- JetBlue Plus Card
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Best Pick for: Hotel Rewards
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
Just like with airline cards, many hotel credit cards are issued by American Express, Chase, and Citi. These issuers all waive the annual fees for cards that are eligible for SCRA benefits, making them good picks if you stay at hotels often.
The right hotel card for you will depend on where you like to stay. If you prefer Hilton, there’s a card for that. If you like Marriott, Hyatt, or IHG, there are co-branded cards for them too.
One option you might like is the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Its $450 annual fee will be waived by Amex, so you can use its rewards and benefits for free under the SCRA (as long as you avoid interest charges).
This card is very rewarding, offering plenty of Hilton Honors points when you spend with Hilton. You’ll get those additional 20X points because this card comes with automatic Hilton Honors Diamond status, which is the highest possible elite membership tier.
That means when you spend with Hilton you’ll be able to earn the equivalent of around 13.6% – 34% cash back, depending on how you redeem those points. This is an excellent value, especially considering that you won’t have an annual fee to pay.
That’s a lot of cash back, but you’ll also get benefits and statement credits that can be worth hundreds of dollars every year.
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
- The World of Hyatt Credit Card
- IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
Best Pick for: Groceries
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is currently the best card for buying groceries. It has a generous cash back rewards program, and usually comes with a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95 rates and fees annually. But American Express will waive that fee as part of its SCRA benefits, making this card even better.
The normal rate is 6% you’ll find for grocery store purchases, compared to other cards. And with no annual fee to pay, thanks to your military benefits from Amex, the cash back you earn will be all profit.
- American Express® Gold Card
- Chase Freedom Flex SM credit card
- Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
- Hilton Honors American Express Card
- Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card
Best Pick for: Restaurants
American Express® Gold Card
Going out tonight? The American Express® Gold Card has you covered, with excellent rates for dining (and groceries, too).
If you transfer your points to an Amex airline or hotel partner, they could be worth 2 cents or more. That’d give you an 8% cash back equivalent at restaurants. That won’t cover a good tip at a fancy eatery, but it could cover a delivery fee.
Along with solid rewards you’ll also get a $120 annual dining credit, broken into $10 payments per month. That’s a pretty nice deal, considering the card’s annual fee can be waived as part of your SCRA benefits.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
- Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Best Pick for: Gas
USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Credit Card
The USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Card is a rare beast that provides 5% cash back for gas all year round. But, like some other good cards, it has a $3,000 annual spending limit for the gas category.
But this is mainly just a credit card for buying gas, and a few other types of purchases, without much else to recommend it.
- American Express Blue Cash Preferred® Card
- PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card
- Hilton Honors American Express Card
Best Pick for: Fair Credit
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
If you have fair or average credit (a FICO Score 8 ranging from 580 to 669), you may not be able to qualify for the most rewarding cards on the market. But you don’t have to go with a secured card either.
Our top pick for people with fair credit is the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. It’s advertised as being designed for average credit, unlike most cards which don’t tell you what credit level they’re made for.
You can build up your credit over time by using this card responsibly. Eventually, as your credit improves, you may get approved for better cards with more rewarding bonus categories.
It’s as simple as that. The QuicksilverOne doesn’t have a strong rewards program, but you should expect this with cards meant for fair or average credit.
- Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
- Discover it® Secured
Best Pick for: Bad Credit
Discover it® Secured
With bad or limited credit (a FICO Score 8 of less than about 579), you’ll have a hard time being approved for most credit cards. But some cards are designed for bad credit, including secured credit cards. A secured card requires a one-time refundable security deposit when you’re approved. The amount of the deposit will be your credit limit.
If you’re in this situation, we recommend using the Discover it® Secured. While some secured cards seem less friendly, this card stands out for having a decent rewards program. It’s about on par with (or perhaps better than, depending on your spending habits) the QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards above, which is meant for average credit.
Use this card responsibly. That means paying your bills on time, but we also recommend always paying off your statement balance in full each month. This will be good for your credit utilization and it will also prevent any interest from accruing on purchases, helping you avoid credit card debt.
Every eight months, Discover will review your account and your credit to decide whether to return your deposit and let you keep using the card. This is a great feature because it means you don’t have to close this account and open a new card, which isn’t as good for your credit in general.
You’ll normally get 2% back for those common purchases, but Discover’s Cashback Match will double all the rewards you earn in your first year. So you’ll be getting 4% cash back in the reward categories and 2% cash back for all other purchases.
That’s an excellent offer to find because most other secured cards don’t come with any rewards at all. Compared to them the Discover it Secured seems very generous, especially given the Cashback Match.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
SCRA benefits are legally required for eligible service members for every credit card, no matter the issuer. If you’re on, or will be going on, active duty, you can use these benefits to get an exceptionally good deal on certain cards.
Active-duty service members of several kinds are able to get reduced interest rates on credit cards and other loans. These benefits apply only to active-duty military service members, so you won’t have to deal with high interest and fees while you serve your country.
The main benefits of the SCRA that relate to credit cards are:
- A cap of 6% APR for any credit card debts owed before entering active-duty military service. The debts you incur after beginning active duty are still subject to the regular APR.
- Credit card issuers are barred from reducing credit limits or dropping customers as a result of entering active-duty service.
And a few more things to know:
- These terms only apply to cards that were opened (and balances that were accrued) before beginning active duty. If you get a credit card while on active duty, these terms will not apply to it.
- You’ll need to apply for SCRA benefits. You won’t get them automatically.
- You can also apply to have SCRA benefits retroactively applied to your account to cover the period when you were on active duty. If you do so, any eligible fees you paid will be reimbursed.
For example, if you had debt with an interest rate of 20% when you began active duty, that previous balance would get a new APR of 6%. But any new purchases you make after beginning active duty would be subject to the regular 20% rate.
SCRA Benefits Eligibility
- Any member of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard) or a reserve component called to active duty (Reserve, National Guard, and Air National Guard).
- National Guard personnel under a call or order to active duty for more than 30 consecutive days (for purposes of responding to a national emergency declared by the president and supported by federal funds).
- Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officers.
- U.S. citizens serving with the forces of a nation with which the U.S. is allied in the prosecution of a war or military action.
- Spouses of active-duty military members listed above where credit is extended to a service member and spouse jointly.
Take note that full-time National Guard duty is not considered active duty under the SCRA.
SCRA eligibility will begin on the date active duty begins and will end when the period of active duty ends. Some card issuers may choose to extend their SCRA benefits beyond that time.
There are quite a few other SCRA financial benefits that aren’t related to credit cards. If you’re eligible, consider taking advantage of them if possible. And if you’re a veteran, learn more about the financial opportunities that may be available to you.
Military Benefits by Credit Card Issuer
All credit card issuers must abide by the basic terms of the SCRA. But some credit card companies go above and beyond those requirements to provide even better terms to their eligible cardholders.
The following table shows the SCRA benefits that each issuer will apply to eligible accounts. In some cases you’ll see that the issuer only provides the basic SCRA terms, while others will go further by waiving annual fees or other fees, or providing interest rates even lower than 6%.
Take note: American Express has told us that it’s “very likely” that the annual fees of its cards will be waived, but they can’t guarantee that this will occur (they might just be cagey for legal purposes). We recommend submitting an SCRA request to see if they’ll grant this benefit, as some Amex cards would be very lucrative without the annual fees. If you’re worried that you won’t get a fee waiver, go with a different issuer instead.
Remember that credit card issuers will usually only apply these benefits to accounts opened and balances accrued before active duty begins.
What’s the Best Credit Card for Active Military?
If you’re on active duty in the military, certain credit card issuers may waive annual fees and lower the APRs on their cards. This means you may be able to take advantage of high-end premium credit cards without paying the high costs usually associated with them.
The most lucrative credit card offers tend be travel rewards cards, like:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
But keep in mind that in most cases, these benefits only apply to credit card accounts opened before active duty begins.
Which Credit Cards Waive Fees for the Military?
Active-duty military personnel may be eligible for SCRA credit card benefits, which include a cap of 6% on interest rates (the SCRA only applies to accounts opened and balances accrued before entering active duty).
But some card issuers will go even further, like reducing APRs to 0% and waiving some or all card fees (including annual fees!).
American Express cards, for example, will waive annual fees and late fees, Capital One and Chase cards will waive all fees, and Citi cards will waive all fees and reduce APRs to 0% for balances accrued before active duty began.
What Are SCRA Credit Card Benefits?
The SCRA (Servicemembers Civil Relief Act) is a legal mandate that requires all credit card issuers to extend certain relief measures to eligible active-duty military personnel. These measures only apply to credit card accounts that were opened before active duty began The same goes for credit card balances. The balances must be there before active duty begins to qualify.
The two main SCRA benefits that apply to credit cards are:
- A maximum APR of 6% for credit card debts owed before entering active duty
- Credit card issuers are not allowed to reduce credit limits or cancel credit cards as a result of entering active-duty service