USAA Preferred Cash Rewards® VISA Signature® Offers Simple Cash Back for Military Families: Review

Oct 07, 2016 | Be First to Comment!

USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature for military spending

Earning cash back on every purchase is a great incentive to sign up for a cash rewards credit card but how do you know which one to choose? If you’re an active duty member or the military or you’ve retired from service, USAA Preferred Cash Rewards® VISA Signature® can put money back in your pocket every time you spend. This card pays unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, with no cap on how much cash back you can earn and no annual fee.

MyBankTracker has all the details on USAA Preferred Cash Rewards® VISA Signature®’s features and benefits. Our review is a must-read for military members and their families who want to squeeze some savings out of what they spend.

Simple, unlimited cash back rewards

With some cash back rewards cards, the amount of cash back you can earn is based on how much you spend and where you make purchases. For instance, some cards might pay you more cash back on groceries while another pays you more on gas.

While these cards may have great rewards rates, some of them will limit the amount that you can earn. Once you hit that threshold, your rewards rate tends to drop down to 1% on those purchases. Other cards require you to opt in to activate the bonus each quarter. If you don’t, you’re once again stuck earning 1% cash back.

With USAA Preferred Cash Rewards® VISA Signature®, you don’t have to worry about any of that because the card has a simple rewards program. You'll earn more than the base 1% cash back rate on everything you buy. Therefore, you have no categories or limits to worry about.

Earning and redeeming cash back with the card

Every time you make a purchase with your card, you’ll earn 1.5% cash back. You get the same amount of rewards whether you’re filling up at the pump, making a weekly grocery run, or booking airline tickets for your next vacation.

You can rack up as much cash back as you want and your rewards won’t expire as long as your account is open and it’s in good standing. You can redeem your rewards at any time and in any amount for things like statement credit or a deposit into a USAA checking or savings account. All in all, this card makes it easy  to snag cash back and put it to good use without hurdles.

Special Card Perks for Military Members

Beyond the straightforward cash back program, there are some other reasons to think about getting USAA Preferred Cash Rewards® VISA Signature®. USAA offers several valuable benefits to military members when they open an account, including:

  • Special Deployment/PCS APR – If you’re deployed or you get PCS orders for a permanent change of station, you can get a break on your card’s APR temporarily. For the first 12 months of deployment or PCS, USAA reduces your rate to as low as 4%. After that, it reverts to a regular variable rate, which is based on the Prime rate.
  • Reduced SCRA APR – Military members who are entering active duty with an existing balance on their card can also get their interest rate reduced for up to one year after their service term is completed. Like the deployment rate, this APR can also be as low as 4%.
  • Finance charge rebates – As long as you’re serving on a qualified military campaign, USAA will refund any finance charges that accrue while you’re away.
  • Interest rebates – USAA also rewards its card members who distinguish themselves in service. If you’re awarded the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, or the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal, you may be able to have all of the interest charges that accumulated on the card during your campaign refunded to your account.

All these benefits add to the card’s appeal but they’re not automatic. You’ll have to give USAA a heads-up if you’re headed out on deployment, get PCS orders or earn one of the campaign medals mentioned above to active any benefits you’re eligible for.

Not the Card for Carrying a Balance

As with any credit card, it pays to read all the fine print on the annual percentage rate and the fees before signing up. In terms of the fees, this card has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee. That means you won't pay the typical 3% fee for using your credit card internationally (this is especially good news if you're stationed abroad).

There is a late payment fee of up to $35 and balance transfers or cash advances will cost you 3% of the transaction amount. You won’t get hit with a penalty APR if you pay late and the APR for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances is competitive to what other cards offer.

Your actual APR is based on your creditworthiness, so the better your credit so is the more favorable your rate will be. If you end up with a higher rate, paying your balance in full each month is the best way to avoid the interest charges altogether.

Tip: For tips on how to improve your credit for the best interest rates possible, see our guide on hacking your perfect score.
Generally, it is not a smart move to carry a balance on a rewards credit card because the interest charges will likely exceed the value of the rewards. If you believe that you're going to keep a balance from month to month, consider a low APR credit card instead.

Security, Travel, and Shopping Benefits

USAA takes the safety of your personal information seriously and they want you to be confident about using your card wherever you are. With that being said, members can take advantage of these Visa Signature extras at no additional cost:

  • EMV chip technology
  • Identity theft resolution services
  • Identity-fraud expense reimbursement
  • Concierge service
  • Emergency travel assistance services
  • Worldwide travel accident, baggage delay, and trip cancellation insurance
  • Collision damage waiver coverage for rental cars
  • Extended warranty protection for purchases
  • Price protection

Your cardmember agreement has all the details on how these different features work and when you can use them. If you need to file an insurance claim or just get more information, you can get help by calling the USAA Assistance Center.

Membership Limited to Military Affiliation

USAA Preferred Cash Rewards® VISA Signature® is available exclusively to USAA members. USAA membership is open to any of the following:

  • Active, retired, and honorably separated officers and enlisted members of the U.S. military
  • Officer candidates in commissioning programs (Academy, ROTC, OCS/OTS)
  • Adult children of USAA members who have or had a USAA auto or property insurance policy
  • Widows and widowers of USAA members who have or had a USAA auto or property insurance policy

If you don’t meet any of these criteria, you won’t be able to apply for this card.

Compared to USAA’s Other Cash Back Credit Cards

USAA Preferred Cash Rewards® VISA Signature® is just one of several rewards card that USAA offers. We’ve also profiled three other USAA cards that might be worth considering if you’re looking for a different kind of rewards program.

USAA Cash Rewards Visa Signature®

Card features:

  • Earn unlimited 1.25% cash back on every purchase
  • No annual fee
  • Military member benefits included
  • Visa Signature benefits

Even though the name looks almost the same, the USAA Cash Rewards Visa Signature® differs from USAA Preferred Cash Rewards® VISA Signature® in one very important way: the cash back program. Instead of earning 1.5% cash back, this card pays 1.25% back on every purchase.

Other than that, you get the same military member benefits, including the discounted deployment APR and Visa Signature benefits. So why would you choose this card over USAA Preferred Cash Rewards® VISA Signature®? This card offers a lower starting APR. So, this one might be better if you’ve got excellent credit and you plan to carry a balance.

USAA Cash Rewards American Express®

Card features:

  • Earn up to 2.25% cash back on gas and grocery purchases
  • Earn up to 1.25% cash back on everyday purchases
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No annual fee

If you spend a lot on gas each month or you’re shelling out big bucks at the grocery store to feed growing kids, you might like USAA Cash Rewards American Express®. This card pays up to 2.25% cash back at grocery stores and gas stations, plus up to 1.25% back on everything else.

This card isn’t a good choice, however, if you’re only an occasional spender. To max out the cash back rewards, you have to spend at least $17,000 a year. Otherwise, you’re going to earn a lower cash rewards rate on what you charge. The upside is that that there’s no annual fee so there’s no extra cost eating into your rewards each year.

USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express®

Card features:

  • Earn 5% cash back on the first $3,000 you spend annually on combined gas and military base purchases
  • Earn 2% back on the first $2,000 you spend at supermarkets each year
  • Earn unlimited 1% cash back on everything else
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No annual fee

The USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® is designed for military members who do most of their everyday spending at gas stations, grocery stores, or in the commissary. If you hit the spending limit for the 5% and 2% rewards each year, you’ll earn $190 in cash back. After that, you’ll get unlimited 1% back on those purchases, plus 1% back everywhere else you use the card.

One potential hiccup with this card is the fact that American Express isn’t accepted as widely as Visa. If you’re not sure whether it makes more sense to choose this card over one of the other options, estimating how much you normally spend on gas, groceries, and commissary purchases each year can tell you which one’s going to work best.

This is chart compares all the USAA cash back credit cards:

USAA Cash Back Credit Cards Comparison

Credit Card Cash Back Program Annual Fee
USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Earn 5% cash back on the first $3,000 spent combined annually in gas and military base purchases. Earn 2% cash back on the first $3,000 spent annual on groceries. Earn unlimited 1% cash back on everything else. $0
USAA Cash Rewards American Express Earn up to 2.25% cash back on gas and groceries. Earn up to 1.25% cash back on everything else. The actual cash back rate varies depending on annual spending -- requires $17,000 in annual spending to get the highest cash back rate. $0
USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature Earn 1.5% cash back on everything. $0
USAA Cash Rewards Visa Signature Earn up to 1.25% cash back on everything else. The actual cash back rate varies depending on annual spending -- requires $17,000 in annual spending to get the highest cash back rate. $0

Final Verdict: Get It For the Simple Cash Back Program

USAA Preferred Cash Rewards® VISA Signature® is a solid pick if you want hassle-free cash back rewards with no annual fee. The extra benefits afforded to military members also makes it a preferred choice over a traditional rewards credit card. Just remember that if you carry a balance, the interest could greatly eat into the value of the cash back you’re earning.

If you want a simple rewards program with the great military benefits - and you don't carry a monthly balance - this card is a good fit for you.

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