After the TSP, I invest my money in Betterment and Vanguard. I track all of my investments with Personal Capital. I also wrote a short, 2 hour book summarizing this site. You can buy it here.
Short Answer: No, there are better credit cards out there. Here are the ones I use to get 1-5% cash back, no foreign transaction fees when I’m TDY, and access to airport lounges around the world.
Long Anwer: The AAFES Military Star Card (login required) is offered through the Exchange Credit Program, part of the Exchange, NEX, MCX, and Coast Guard Exchange brand of services offered on most military installations.
The Military Star Card has two main products: the Military Star Rewards MasterCard, offered by Chase Bank, and the regular Military Star Card.
|Military Star Rewards MasterCard||Military Star Card|
|https://i0.wp.com/militarymoneymanual.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/military-star-card.png?resize=150%2C95 150w" sizes="(max-width: 151px) 100vw||151px" />|
|Accepted||Millions of MasterCard Locations||Only at on base and online Exchanges|
|Reward Points||2 points on base 1 point off base||none|
|Foreign Transaction Fees||0%||Not accepted outside of Exchange|
|First Day Bonus||10% off everything you buy in the Exchange||10% off everything you buy in the Exchange|
|APR||Who Cares?||Who Cares?|
As you can see, the Military Star Rewards MasterCard (MSRM) is a traditional credit card while the Military Star Card is more like a line of credit within the military Exchange system.
Based on the two offering, the Rewards MasterCard is definitely the superior product. It’s accepted more places and has a decent rewards program as well.
Both cards should show up on your credit report and factor into your credit score. By using these cards smartly, you could build an excellent credit history early on in your military career which could pay nice dividends later in life. For instance, with a excellent credit score you could have access to better rewards credit cards, churning opportunities, and lower mortgage rates some day.
Military Star Rewards MasterCard Rewards Point Program
The Rewards Program for the MSRM is not the greatest, but certainly not the worst either. One point is issued for every dollar spent, except at Exchange locations (including gas pumps), where 2 points per dollar is given.
These points can then be cashed out for a variety of rewards including:
- Cash back (100 points = $1)
- Exchange Rewards
- Gift Cards
Not as good a program as Chase Ultimate Rewards (especially if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card). If you do a lot of your shopping on base, this could be a good option for you, when used responsibly (I.E., paying in full every month).
Would I recommend either of these cards?
No, unless you have never had a credit card before. Because these are available exclusively to those with Exchange access, you shouldn’t have much of a problem being approved for this card with a poor or nonexistent credit history.
If you have a good to excellent credit score, there are much better options available to you, such as any of these cards or no annual fee (exclusively for active duty military personnel) American Express cards that offer massive sign up bonuses and much better rewards programs.
Military Star Card as a First Credit Card
If you have no credit history, the MSRM could be an excellent first card to begin building your credit history. With no annual fees, a decent points program (100 points = $1), MasterCard global acceptance, and no foreign transaction fees, you could certainly do a lot worse for a credit card. If you’re deciding between the MSRM and a secured card that has an annual fee, definitely go with the MSRM.
The Rewards MasterCard version of the Military Star Card would make a great first credit card. You could use it just to make gas purchases, wait for your statement to post, and then pay the statement in full. Do this for a few months and you’ll rapidly see an increasing credit score (which you can check for free).
Just remember these cardinal rules of credit cards:
- Pay your statement balance in full every time you receive a statement
- Never charge more than you have in your accounts
- Consider setting up a “bills account” so you’re not surprised when the credit card bill comes in
After 6-12 months, you’ll probably be eligible for much better credit cards. Since the Military Star Card has no annual fee, it’s an excellent card to cut up or throw into a drawer and never use again. That way your average age of accounts will continue to increase and you’ll keep your oldest line of credit almost forever.
You’ll probably have to use it once every 5 years or so to keep it active.
2 Websites I Use to Achieve Financial Independence Faster
I have investment accounts all over the place. To keep track of all of them in one place I use Personal Capital. It combines all of my accounts, shows me where I may be overpaying in fees, and provides beautiful charts showing my overall asset allocation and performance.
I use Personal Capital to track my Roth and Traditional TSP, Vanguard IRAs, banking accounts, SDP, and my Betterment taxable account, all in one place. It's free, secure and presents me with a one-stop dashboard so I can see all my money on one site.
Read my full review of Personal Capital and see how easy it can be to manage your investments in one place. Trust me, once you try it, you'll love it.
P.S. - If you have over $100,000 of assets and a 401k, you really need to run the Personal Capital 401k Fee Analyzer.
The best way I know to achieve financial independence is to keep your investments simple, diversified, automatic, and low-cost. Costs eat into your returns like you wouldn't believe! A 1% difference in expense ratios can mean $100,000s lost to fees over a lifetime of investing.
Even if you're a DIY (do-it-yourself) investor like I am, you need to check out Betterment. You can read my full review here, but the bottom line is for only $250 per $100,000 invested (0.25% expense ratio) you get simple, diversified, and automated investing. In addition every account now gets free Tax Loss Harvesting+ features, which should increase returns for the average investor more than the minuscule management fee.
If you're not a DIY investor or are just getting started with investing, then you definitely need to check out Betterment. It's what I recommend to my family and friends who aren't strong investors or don't care to learn about asset allocations, diversification, or rebalancing.