Originally published on CardRatings.
American Express offers quite the money-saving perk to military personnel: The issuer waives the annual fees for its credit cards – even for The Platinum Card® from American Express, which comes with a $550 annual fee price tag.
This is largely an under-the-radar perk, but can be a huge moneysaver for American Express cardholders, especially if you’re a service member who wants to enjoy the lucrative luxury perks that accompany The Platinum Card® from American Express. As an added bonus, the spouses of military personnel are also eligible for the annual-fee waiver.
Before you start crunching numbers only related to your annual fee savings, know this: The Servicemembers Civil Rights Act (SCRA) offers protections to active duty military personnel and their spouses when it comes to a number of financial situation and loan terms and those terms apply regardless of credit card issuer. Amex takes it a step further, however, with the annual-fee waiver. More on the SRCA below, but first, let’s look at some of the top Amex cards military personnel should consider in light of this annual-fee waiver perk.
American Express cards for military personnel
So, now that you know you can get your American Express annual fee waived as an active service member or spouse of a service member, what are some American Express cards to check out?
Well, since that annual fee is going to be waived, you might as well take advantage of some of the fantastic perks (airport lounge access, for instance, with The Platinum Card® from American Express) available with higher-annual-fee cards. In fact, you and your spouse could apply separately to really take advantage of the features and rake in the rewards.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express is the perfect card to have when the card waives the annual fee. Why? It has a $550 annual fee, but servicemembers can benefit from the card’s perks without paying the annual fee that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive.
This is a premium credit card, and you get a lot with it including a generous rewards program if you’re a frequent flyer. The card offers a whopping five-times the Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with the airlines or with American Express Travel. Plus, you get a 60,000-point bonus when you spend $5,000 on your card in the first three months.
The card offers many travel-related perks, including access to hundreds of airport lounges through the Global Lounge Collection, 24/7 access to the Platinum Club Concierge who can help with travel arrangements, and a credit to cover your Global Entry or TSA Precheck™ application fee every five years. Plus, cardholders have access to the Hotel Collection and Fine Hotels and Resorts programs, which give members perks such as hotel credits for spa services and meals and complimentary WiFi and room upgrades at select hotels. And, as you would expect with a card of this caliber, you won’t be charged foreign transaction fees when you use your card while abroad.
The Platinum Card® from American Express also gives you up to $200 a year in statement credit to cover travel-related charges like baggage fees and in-flight refreshments that you charge on your card.
Not too shabby when you consider you won’t be paying any annual fee.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express doesn’t have an untouchable annual fee – it’s just $95, and, thanks to a special offer, that’s waived for everyone for the first year, but as a member of the military you don’t even have to worry about it after the first year. So, while The Platinum Card® from American Express is probably the card you want to consider first given the huge annual fee savings, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a worthwhile candidate for the second slot in your wallet.
The reward categories for the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express make it an excellent card for your everyday spending; you earn 6 percent back on the first $6,000 spent annually at U.S. supermarkets, 3 percent back on purchases at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores and 1 percent back on all your other purchases. By the way, most supermarkets these days sell a host of gift cards and, yes, you can earn 6 percent back when you buy gift cards at those supermarkets.
Since you, as a member of the military, are eligible for waived annual fees, consider carrying both the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express for your everyday spending AND The Platinum Card® from American Express with which you earn maximum rewards on your travel and enjoy those luxury travel perks described above.
There’s really no reason not to carry both cards and those rewards you’ll be racking up will come in handy down the road.
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express is another exclusive card that charges a $195 annual fee (waived for everyone the first year). It also offers a travel-related rewards program, but it adds restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets to its rewards categories, making this another excellent option for your everyday purchases.
The card offers three times the points for flights booked directly with airlines; two points per $1 spent at U.S. restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets; and one point per $1 for all other purchases. The card also gives you 25,000 points when you use the card for $2,000 worth of purchases in the first three months. In addition, you are also eligible for a $100 airline fee credit to cover baggage fees at one pre-selected airline and a $75 hotel credit and room upgrades through The Hotel Collection.
Overall, the travel rewards are not as generous as with The Platinum Card® from American Express and the everyday rewards aren’t as high as with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, but if you’re committed to carrying only one credit card, rather than combining the rewards from both The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express as described above, the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express offers the best of both worlds.
How to request a waived fee and SCRA benefits from American Express
If you already have an American Express card, you can call American Express at 1-800-253-1720. Tell the representative that you’re an active duty military member and request a waiver of your card’s annual fee as well as the SCRA protections for your card. Don’t be deterred if the customer service rep isn’t familiar with these benefits; just request to speak with a supervisor. You should also expect to answer a series of questions about your military service.
You can also contact American Express online. American Express allows you to log into your account and request SCRA benefits. Once you’ve made contact with American Express, you can also send a copy of documents with the account number to: American Express, Attn: Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, PO Box 981535, El Paso, TX 79998-1535. It’s a good idea to contact the company before sending your documents, so Amex is aware that you’re sending documentation its way.
Once American Express has your information, it will review your SCRA eligibility to confirm you are an active duty military member or the spouse of an active service member. American Express will examine the provided documents and check the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center. Be aware that, depending on how long the verification process takes, you may have to pay the annual fee up-front before being reimbursed when your status is verified.
Even if you don’t choose to take advantage of the annual fee waiver offered by American Express (but, really, why wouldn’t you?) each credit card issuer has a similar process to verify your eligibility for SCRA benefits even though they don’t necessarily waive the annual fee, so contact your card company by phone or online and it can start the verification process.
Speaking of the SCRA, just what are some of the benefits? Keep reading to find out.
SCRA protection for active military members
American Express goes above and beyond with its annual-fee waiver, but there is federal legislation that caps interest rates for active servicemembers and their spouses and that law applies to credit cards beyond those issued by American Express.
Congress passed the Servicemembers Civil Rights Act (SCRA) in 2003, which expanded the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act of 1940. The SCRA protects the finances of military members (and their families) while they are on active duty. The provisions deal with rental agreements, security deposits, mortgage interest rates, health insurance, income tax payments, mortgage foreclosures, and yes, credit cards.
To be eligible, you must be a:
- A member of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty or a reserve component called to active duty,
- National Guard personnel under a call or order to active duty for more than 30 days,
- A Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissioned officer,
- A U.S. citizen servicing with another nation, which is allied with the U.S. “in the prosecution of a war or military action,” or
- The spouse of an active duty servicemember.
The SCRA caps active military members’ interest rate at 6 percent for financial obligations incurred before military service. The servicemember must provide the creditor with a copy of his/her military orders and a written notice to take advantage of the interest rate cap, but that’s not a bad hoop to jump through for an interest rate cap that could literally save you hundreds of dollars if you happen to have some credit card debt you’re working to pay off.
The creditor must forgive interest greater than 6 percent. It can’t defer it to later and must also forgive the interest retroactively. Military members have until 180 days after their end of service to send the required documents to the creditor.