USAA, which stands for United Services Automobile Association, began in 1922 as a means of providing auto insurance to military officers. They now provide banking and insurance services as well, and they are not limited to officers. In fact, all members of the Armed Forces, past and present, and their immediate families can take advantage of the services provided by USAA.

One of USAA’s pioneering business decisions was to sell their insurance through direct marketing, conducting most their business over the phone or in person. Nowadays, they also use the internet extensively as a mean of promotion. Instead of using insurance agents, USAA uses direct employees. The company has grown along with the U.S. Armed Forces, and now provides services to over 10.7 million members through 19 financial centers across the country.

 

Rank Chart
APR
Reward Options
Our Score
#1
8.24 - 18.0%
8.3
#2
11.24 - 23.24%
8.0
#3
11.24 - 23.24%
7.9
#4
usaa
10.15 - 26.15%
7.9

The Good

Annual fee range

Where USAA lacks a competitive edge in APRs, they make up for in annual fees. USAA annual card fees range from $0-$35. All of their cards have zero annual fees except one—their USAA Classic American Express® card, which has a $35 annual fee. When contrasted against other company cards, we found a few who have similar offers with most of their cards without annual fees. More companies, however, offer cards with annual fees typically ranging from $79 to $450 for higher end cards. USAA came out ahead of the competition in this area.

Customer support

In terms of customer support, USAA offers several ways to contact them: phone, email, postal mail and fax. Phone hours are Monday to Friday 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. CT(Central Time) and Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. CT. They say that due to high member demand, Mondays are their busiest days. For faster service, the best days to call are Tuesday through Friday. When compared to other companies, we found USAA has limited hours. Most companies we reviewed offer 24/7 phone support. If your credit card are lost or stolen, having around the clock availability is essential.

The email correspondence feature is limited to current USAA customers. You have to sign in to your USAA account to ask questions and get answers. Although we didn’t find this to be a bad thing, we did feel potential customers should be able to email them as well.

Foreign Transaction Fees

The only thing more attractive than USAA’s annual fees are their Foreign Transaction fees. None of their cards have foreign transaction fees for customers traveling outside the United States. This is absolutely unique to USAA in the credit card industry. They were the only company we reviewed that had no cards with foreign transaction fees. At best, a credit card company offers 1-3 cards without foreign transaction fees but many offer an average of 3%.

Cards Offered

USAA offers the following credit cards:

  • Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature®
  • Cashback Rewards Plus American Express®
  • Cash Rewards American Express®
  • Cash Rewards Visa Signature®
  • USAA Rewards™ American Express®
  • USAA Rate Advantage Visa Platinum®
  • USAA Classic American Express®
  • USAA Classic Visa Platinum®
  • USAA Secured Card American Express®
  • USAA Secured Card Visa Platinum®
  • USAA Military Affiliate Visa Signature®
  • USAA Military Affiliate American Express®
Options for Rewards

When it comes to rewards options, here are the ones from USAA we liked the best:

  • Cash Rewards American Express® lets you earn up to 2.25% cash back (Opens pop-up layer) on gas and grocery purchases.
  • RewardsUSAA Rewards™ American Express® is especially rewarding with 2X points per dollar spent on gas and groceries with no caps. You can earn one point for every dollar spent on your everyday purchases and get 2,500 bonus points with your first purchase. (Most companies offer cards with bonus points that can only be earned after spending a large amount of money, i.e. $3000).
Security

If a customer’s card is lost or stolen, USAA has a Zero Liability policy for all of their cards so you don’t have to be responsible for unauthorized purchases. To complement this, USAA offers free text alerts, which send texts directly to your phone to let you know every charge that is made with your card plus other notifications when your payment is due and when your card’s credit limit reached. We found that Zero Liability is also offered with most credit card companies but text alerts are more of a unique feature. It gives USAA customers the advantage of preventing fraud or identity theft before it happens.

Unique Features

One feature that sets USAA apart is that all of their cards have no APR penalties. We found this to be rare among credit card companies. Most cards by these companies offer penalties for making a late payment. With no APR penalties, making a late payment won’t affect your interest rate.

Building Credit/Student Cards

We found that while most credit card companies offer only one or two cards for building credit (if they offer any at all), USAA offers an entire section dedicated to cards that help you build credit.

In total, they offer 4 secured cards:

  • USAA Classic American Express®
  • USAA Classic Visa Platinum®
  • USAA Secured Card American Express® and
  • USAA Secured Card Visa Platinum®

With the USAA Secured Card Visa Platinum® card, you can determine your own credit limit ($250 to $5,000) with an interest-earning CD with USAA. The impressive thing with these cards are that they’re designed for the needs of people needing varying degrees of credit building support. Two cards, USAA Classic American Express® and USAA Classic Visa Platinum® are for average credit while the USAA Secured Card American Express® and the USAA Secured Card Visa Platinum® are for zero to poor credit. None of these cards have foreign transaction fees, so you can use them worldwide.

The Bad

APR Range

The APRs for USAA’s cards range from 10.15% to 26.15%. Unlike many companies who offer credit cards with introductory APRs of 0% ranging from 6 to 15 months, USAA doesn’t offer customers this advantage. USAA customers also don’t have the advantage of the lowest APRs on the market. Their cards cap at higher ranges than most companies, who typically charge APRs no higher than an average of 22-23%.

Late Payment

If you miss a payment date on USAA’s cards, expect to pay a late penalty of up to $35. Although we think this is high in light of the 2010 Credit Card Act stating that $25 should be the cap for late fees, $35 is still a better offer when compared to many credit card companies offering cards with late fees of up to $37. We reviewed a few companies that were outliers with late fees on the higher end and the lower end of $15-$25.

The Bottom Line

USAA offers rates and fees that are among the best on the market. For example, all of their credit cards have a lower-than-average 1% foreign transaction fee, which might be particularly helpful for people in the Armed Forces. Also, there is no penalty APR, and cards offer a 25-day grace period. The Cash Back Rewards Plus cards offer 5% cash back for all purchases made on military bases.

For people with below average credit rating, USAA offers a secured credit card. Notably, it has a lower annual fee and APRs than many of the secured credit cards offered by other credit card companies. And the secured card still has the same low fees as other cards. It seems that USAA is committed to providing a better than average product for military families, and their credit cards show it. For those who are able to take advantage of their better rates, USAA is a smart choice, so it comes highly recommended to all members of the Armed Forces and their immediate families. Even those with bad credit have the opportunity to rebuild their credit without feeling like they are being taken advantage of.

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