Thanks to certain federal laws and policies from credit card issuers, the country’s more than 1 million active-duty military members have access to specific credit card interest rates and fee reductions.
These various perks aren’t just reserved for active-duty men and women, either; family members can take advantage of these military credit card benefits, too. These extra benefits include access to credit-union rewards cards not available to the general public.
Two federal laws—the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and the Military Lending Act (MLA)—provide protection for military members that could save you hundreds of dollars in interest payments.
SCRA Interest and Fee Benefits
This act is a federal law that limits interest rates for active-duty military and their families. The protection extends to all credit cards and even debts incurred before active duty.
Active-duty military members can receive a huge break from high-interest-rate debts. The SCRA limits interest rates on pre-active-duty debts to 6%, regardless of the current interest rate.
Credit card companies may even waive other charges, like annual fees and late fees. For example, Discover does not charge servicemembers late fees.
An interest-rate reduction is especially beneficial if you’ve been struggling to pay off a credit card balance with a high interest rate. For example, repaying a $5,000 credit card balance at 17% APR with $200 monthly payments would cost $1,216.15 in interest. It would take 32 months to pay off the balance.
Reducing the interest rate to 5% on that same credit card with a $5,000 balance and monthly payments of $200 would lower the total interest paid to just $291.14, and cut the repayment time to 27 months.
On top of protection from high interest rates, the SCRA protects against credit-damaging actions such as foreclosure, repossession, and evictions.
Which Military Members Qualify for SCRA Perks
The SCRA covers most members of the military, including:
- Active-duty members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard
- Active-duty members of the Reserves
- Any member of the National Guard mobilized under federal orders for more than 30 consecutive days
- Active-service commissioned officers of the Public Health Service, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
For most military members, your SCRA protections start the day you enter the military. These benefits apply to auto loans, mortgages, other installment loans, and even some student loans.
Unfortunately, benefits aren’t automatic. For example, to get the 6% active-duty interest-rate cap, you’ll have to do a little extra work by sending your creditors a written notice and a copy of your active-duty orders.
You’re still eligible for interest-rate reduction perks even if you don’t alert your credit card issuer right away. You can make the request any time you’re on active duty and up to 180 days after you are released from active duty.
The interest rate reduction is applicable for the entire time you’re on active duty and in some cases, the credit card issuer may have to refund you any interest that was charged above 6%.
MLA Interest and Fee Benefits
Where the SCRA provides protection for debts incurred prior to active duty, the MLA caps interest rates on new loans taken out after starting your service.
Under the MLA, most types of consumer loans are capped at a 36% interest rate, including finance charges and many fees.
Moreover, the act prohibits creditors from:
- Requiring you to go through mandatory arbitration
- Requiring automatic withdrawals from your paycheck to get a loan
- Charging you a prepayment penalty if you pay all or part of a loan early
Active-Duty Credit-Card Fraud Protection
Occasionally, active-duty military members may want to protect themselves from unauthorized credit card use and identity theft while they’re deployed.
To avoid this, you can place an active-duty fraud alert on your credit report for up to one year. The fraud alert will prevent credit cards from being opened in your name while you are serving overseas.
Rewards Cards for Retired Military Members and Spouses
Some military credit card benefits aren’t limited to active-duty servicemembers. You could be eligible for certain military-related credit cards if you are:
- No longer on active duty
- Retired from the military
- The spouse or immediate relative of a military member
These credit cards are offered by military-affiliated credit unions such as USAA, PenFed, or Navy Federal Credit Union.
A good example of two military-affiliated cards are the Navy Federal More Rewards American Express Card and the USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card. Both of these cards provide cash-back rewards for everyday spending.
The card from Navy Federal offers 3 points per dollar spent on supermarkets, gas stations, commuting expenses, and restaurants, plus 1 point per dollar spent on everything else.
The USAA card gives you 5% cash back on the first $3,000 you spend on military bases and gas, 2% on the first $3,000 you spend on groceries per year, and 1% on all other purchases.
Typically, you’re eligible for a military credit card as long as you’re a member of the credit union that issues the credit card. Membership is generally available for both active and retired members of the military, their spouses, dependents, and in some cases, close relatives.
Joining one of these credit unions is relatively easy. In most cases, you can sign up online. Be sure to check the credit union’s eligibility and membership requirements, too. If you’re a spouse or a relative, you may need to provide certain information about the military member who served.
The Bottom Line
Military credit card benefits are meant to help active-duty service members as well as retired members and their families save money on credit card interest rates and more.
Not only does the SCRA provide protection for debts incurred before active duty, the MLA also caps the interest rate on most consumer loans. If you believe you’re eligible for these military credit card benefits, contact your credit card company, bank, or credit union to start saving.