Military members and veterans have a unique opportunity to get great credit card benefits.
While most of the best military credit cards come from credit unions that specifically serve military members, some major issuers offer great perks on their regular credit cards for active-duty military members.
So, depending on your situation, there are several options available that you can take advantage of. Here’s how to do it in four simple steps.
1) Check with military credit unions and banks
As previously mentioned, there are a handful of financial institutions that serve military members, veterans, and their families. Some focus exclusively on the military community.
“Military members and veterans have unique needs,” says Aaron Aggerwal, assistant vice president of credit card products at Navy Federal Credit Union.
“They should look for a financial institution that understands those needs, especially one that knows the daily challenges and distinct approach to financial planning and decision making for service members.”
Here are just a few examples of such institutions:
To become a member of these financial institutions, you typically need to prove that you qualify as a service member, veteran, or qualifying family member. And because they’re so focused on a small community, they can afford to offer special perks to their members.
2) Learn about military perks at major credit card issuers
Some major banks offer special benefits to active-duty military personnel that make their cards worth your while.
For example, American Express waives the annual fee on its cards for active-duty service members. That might not seem like a huge deal, but it can be.
The Platinum Card from American Express has a huge annual fee, but comes with the following perks:
- Up to $200 in free Uber rides each year
- Up to $200 in airline incidental fee credits for things like checked bags and in-flight purchases
- Free access to more than 1,000 airport lounges
- Application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, worth up to $100
- Elite status with select hotel chains and car-rental companies
If you can manage to get this card with no annual fee, it can make a huge difference in how you travel.
Citi offers 0% interest on all its credit cards for active-duty military members, as well as all service fees its cards charge. Also, Capital One waives its annual fees and extends the same perks to the National Guard as it offers to active-duty service members.
3) Check your credit
While many credit card issuers are happy to offer reduced fees and interest rates to eligible military members, that generosity doesn’t extend to better approval rates. So, if you have bad credit, your options are still limited.
As a result, you’ll need to search for financial institutions that offer secured credit cards. For example, USAA offers two secured credit cards, and Navy Federal Credit Union offers one.
If you have great credit, however, you’ll have a much wider selection, and can typically choose from any available option.
4) Military credit cards – Shop around
There’s no one best credit card out there for everyone, and that includes the best military credit cards. There are several options out there, and they all offer different combinations of rewards, features, and fees.
It’s important to consider the following three factors.
1) Your spending habits
Some cards offer big rewards on every purchase you make, while others offer bonus rewards on certain purchases. Depending on how you spend your money, you may earn more rewards with one card than another.
2) Your credit score
Again, your credit plays a huge role in your chances of getting approved. Check for credit requirements and, if you can’t find them online, don’t be afraid to call the financial institution before applying.
3) Your personal preferences
Maybe you prefer travel rewards over cash back, or you want a card with a 0% APR promotion. As you’re comparing the best credit cards for military service members, consider what features you work best for you.
“Start by looking for a financial institution that provides 24-hour security and assistance, as this will put your mind at ease should you ever have any issues with your card,” says Aggerwal. “When it comes to the type of card a military member needs, be sure to find one that rewards you for your lifestyle.”
The more time you spend researching your options, the easier it will be to pick the best one for you the first time. And if you end up picking the wrong one or your credit improves significantly over time, you can always apply for a different credit card later on.
Compare military cards against other personal credit cards to find the best option for you.
Ben Luthi is a personal finance writer and a credit cards expert who loves helping consumers and business owners make better financial decisions. His work has been featured in Time, MarketWatch, Yahoo! Finance, U.S. News & World Report, CNBC, Success Magazine, USA Today, The Huffington Post and many more.