Best Military-Only Credit Cards

military only credit cards

Update: PenFed has since contacted me and stated that no military service is required to apply for any of their credit cards.

US service members do get more than a handful of travel and credit card related benefits. We enjoy complimentary and dedicated airport lounges, free TSA Pre-Check, SCRA benefits and much more. We even have our own financial institutions, such as USAA and Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU), as well as sub-branches from institutions such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Service Credit Union. Some of these military banks and credit unions offer their own, military-only credit cards. With the recent surge in popularity of rewards credit cards, these financial institutions had to adapt and step up their credit card game in order to compete – especially when faced against credit card behemoths like American Express and Capital One, and their extremely generous SCRA benefits.

While these military-only credit cards generally offer a fairly basic value for their rewards points, they do come with some very noteworthy benefits of their own – very low, if any, fees and a relatively modest credit score requirement. This makes them perfect for getting your feet wet in the credit card rewards world, which has a great potential to help you dramatically increase your credit score so you can make the move to one of the major credit card rewards systems, namely Amex Membership Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.

 

Best Military-Only Credit Cards

As the rewards points earned with military-only credit cards are generally worth a very basic 1 cent per point, I based my comparison exclusively on points earning potential and fees. Cards that only earn 1x points and/or charge foreign transaction fees did not make the cut.

 

1. PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature Card

This card may not be PenFed’s official travel rewards card, but the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature has a much superior points earning potential than the one that is. Furthermore, the points earned are the exact same, have the same value, and can be just as easily redeemed towards travel. This card’s key features are:

  • $100 bonus statement credit, after spending at least $1,500 on purchases in the first 90 days
  • 5x points on gas purchases at the pump
  • 3x points on supermarket purchases
  • 1x points on all other purchases
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • 24/7 concierge service
  • Visa Signature benefits
  • Unique, vertical design

The only practical purpose I can see from having a vertical card design is to help customers orient the card correctly during checkout, but it’s more likely that PenFed wanted a card that stands out a little. Either way, the reason I placed this card first is because of the 5x and 3x points, no annual fee, and the fact that it’s a Visa. Visa cards are generally more accepted than American Express, especially at small merchants and abroad.

 

How To Complement The Card

The best way to complement this card is by increasing the points earning potential. The PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express card is, as the name suggests, PenFed’s primary travel rewards card. However, due to its weaker points earning capability and the fact that it’s not a Visa or MasterCard, I recommend it only as a supplementary card.

  • 20,000 bonus points, after spending $2,500 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 5x points on airfare, 1x points everywhere else
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • 24/7 concierge service

The bonus points do provide a nice initial points boost, but the 5x points on airfare is the main reason I suggest this card in addition to the PenFed Platinum Rewards card. Points earned on either card will accumulate in the same pool of points.

military only credit cards

2. USAA Rewards American Express Card

USAA is still relatively conservative with handing out points. But the USAA Rewards American Express card does have some nice features:

  • 2,500 bonus points after making first purchase
  • 2x points on gas and groceries
  • 1x points everywhere else
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee

No annual fee and double points on gas and groceries is why this card is the runner up. Yes, it’s an American Express, but it does have a Visa counterpart to complement it wherever Amex isn’t accepted.

 

How To Complement The Card

The USAA Rewards Visa Signature card has the same feature as its Amex counterpart, in addition to Visa Signature perks, but only earns 1x points on all purchases. Basically, I’d keep this card as a backup for just those instances when you can’t use the Amex.

 

3. NFCU Visa Signature Flagship Rewards Credit Card

The Navy Federal Visa Signature Flagship Rewards card is a solid product that comes in a classic card design:

  • 2x points on ALL purchases
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No balance transfer fee
  • $49 annual fee
  • Visa Signature Benefits

This card has incredible points earning potential. The only reason ranked it last is because of its $49 annual fee. It may be a fairly low fee, but that’s still $49 more than the competitors charge.

 

How To Complement The Card

The best way to complement this card is with the NFCU GO Rewards credit card. Here are the specs:

  • 3x points at restaurants
  • 2x points on gas
  • 1x points everywhere else
  • No annual fee
  • No balance transfer fee
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Visa Signature benefits

Since the Flagship Rewards card already earns double points on all purchases, the GO Rewards Visa really only benefits on dining purchases and because it doesn’t carry an annual fee. The one drawback is that points earned with this card expire after 4 years. The points earned with the Flagship Rewards card don’t expire.

 

Bottom Line

Military-only credit cards have come a long way in the rewards department. Their points earning potential is on par with their mainstream counterparts and most are very generous to us when it comes to fees. Unfortunately, the points earned are generally only worth 1 cent each and military banks and credit unions are surprisingly conservative with SCRA benefits as well. This is presumably due to the majority of their customer base being active duty service members. I think that military-only credit cards are worth their salt, but they do come with one major caveat: using them at a merchant will make it plainly obvious that you are a service member, or at least affiliated with the military. Some cards may make this more obvious than others, but the issue still persists. Using one of these cards abroad may not draw quite as much attention as strolling around in your Multi-Cam backpack at the Kuwait City airport (which I’ve seen people do on multiple occasions), but it’s not that much better either. It’s unfortunate, but containing our military pride at least overseas and trying to blend in as much as reasonably possible is very important, especially in light of recent events in Europe and elsewhere. At a minimum, when presented with a choice in card design, stick with something low-key and conservative. That means no “Red, White and Blue”, Navy destroyer, “AIRBORNE” or F-16 backgrounds, but neutral colors without obvious designs instead.

What is your favorite military-only credit card and why? Comment below or on our social media pages.