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Military servicemembers and military spouses get their annual fees waived on all Chase and American Express personal credit cards. There are over 30 cards that waive annual fees for military. But what to do with your annual fee waived credit cards when you leave, retire, or separate from military service?
All of these sweet MLA and SCRA annual fee waivers will come to an end!
Should you close ALL of your credit card accounts when you leave the military?
My recommendation is no. Keep the cards open from which you are still getting value. Close the cards which do not justify their annual fee. Downgrade expensive cards to lower annual fee cards to retain your points and lower your annual costs.
There's the generous spending bonus categories like 4x points on restaurants and groceries with Amex Gold card. Or the Amex Platinum gives you 5x points on airfare. You can also get an annual free night with Amex Hilton Honors Aspire.
Take a good look at the cards in your collection. In my case, that's 27 credit cards. I will probably close some when I leave the military. That's okay! At least every year you should reevaluate and optimize your credit card portfolio to meet your needs at whatever stage you are in life.
How to Close a Credit Card Account
Over the years I have opened up over 40 credit cards and closed dozens of accounts. It's a simple and easy process. I usually do it over the phone by calling the number on the back of the card.
Before closing the account, I make sure any recurring transactions like Amazon, Netflix, or any other subscriptions has been changed to a different credit card.
I also ensure that there is a $0.00 balance on the account. If I'm expecting any refunds or money to go back on the card, I will keep the card open until I receive those funds.
If the card does have a balance in my favor, I will ask that the bank send me a check or direct deposit into my payment account. Usually they mail me a paper check.
Closing a credit card has very little effect on your credit score, usually only 5-10 points of fluctuation that recovers quickly in a few months. However, if the card was the first card you ever opened, you might want to consider leaving it open to help age your credit report. Aging your credit report is probably not worth it if the card has a high annual fee.
How To Keep Your Points and Miles Leaving the Military
The easiest way to keep your points and miles accumluated while in the military with fee waived cards is to keep the cards open. However, this may come with a hefty annual fee.
If you don't want to keep the card open, I suggest downgrading the card to a lower annual fee card in the same family of cards or opening up a new card to hold your points on it.
For instance, let's say you earn 500,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. You could downgrade it to a Chase Sapphire Preferred and cut the annual fee from $550 to $95. Or you could open a Chase Freedom card and store all of your Chase UR points on that card. Or just cash out your points at 1 point = 1 penny.
For Amex Membership Rewards points, you can easily use them on Amazon.com or cash them out through the Amex Platinum from Charles Schwab into your Schwab account at 1 MR point = 1.25 cents. Or you could open an Amex Gold card (Gold card review) or Amex Green (Green card review) and lower your annual fee but hang on to your hard earned Amex points. It's up to you how you do it!
As far as miles go like Delta Skymiles, Southwest, Hawaiian, United, etc, usually these will not expire if you close the card you earned them with. You may have to have activity on the account every so often to keep them from expiring, but closing the card you earned them with will not cause them to disappear.
Personally, I will probably keep one of the flagship cards open from all issuers when I leave the military. So yes, I will happily have to start paying for my Amex Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve.
It was a good few years of getting these cards for free, but I will never go back to not having airport lounge access!
AMEX Platinum Leaving the Military
Fortunately for us, it appears AMEX DOES NOT check your active duty status very often. Some veterans who have contacted me have said their SCRA or MLA AMEX cards have been annual fee waived for over 5 years since separating from the military.
It's good to know that Amex will notify you before they charge you any annual fees on your SCRA or MLA fee waived cards. Amex will send you a letter stating their record shows you are no longer on active duty. They probably check the MLA site or SCRA database before sending you the letter.
After receiving notification that Amex will be charging the annual fee, you will have a few weeks to decide whether to keep the card open or close it. If you wait too long and they charge the annual fee, you have 30 days to close the account and receive a full refund of the annual fee. After that, the fee is refunded pro-rated by month if you have other accounts opened with Amex, according to Doctor of Credit.
What To Do With Chase Credit Cards After Leaving the Military
It appears Chase is much more proactive about checking the MLA database than Amex is. I have received many reports of veterans who received a letter from Chase only a few months after they received their DD214.
Chase has a similar policy to Amex. The bank will notify you that their records show you are no longer active duty and they give you a date at which the annual fee will first be charged.
You should have plenty of time to close the card if it's no longer the right card for you now that you have moved on from the military.
Final Thoughts on What To Do With Annual Fee Cards After Leaving the Military
My recommendation is based on dozens of data points I have received over the years from many veterans with military annual fee waived credit cards.
I recommend you keep your cards open when you leave the military. At least keep them open until you receive notification from the cedit card company that your annual fee waiver is going away. At that point, you decide whether the perks, benefits, and spending bonus categories justifies the annual fee on the card.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, AMEX does not waive annual fees for retired military. However, many servicemembers report that, after separating or retiring from military service, AMEX continues to waive annual fees on all of their cards for a few years after you leave. This includes fee waivers on the AMEX Platinum card.
No, Chase does not waive fees for retired military. Chase does waive annual fees on their cards for active duty military servicemembers and their dependents with their Chase Military Lending Act policy. The MLA does not apply to retired military.
Most recent data points show that AMEX does not review your MLA or SCRA military status for a few months after you leave active duty military service. This is true whether you separate or retire. I would recommend keeping the AMEX Platinum card open until you receive notification from AMEX that they will charge you the annual fee. You have 30 days after the annual fee is charged to close the account and get the full amount reimbursed.
I would advise you analyze your cards and see which ones you use the most and which cards provide you the most value. For instance, the Amex Hilton Honors Aspire card can justify the high annual fee if you often stay at Hilton's for work or pleasure. The Priority Pass airport lounge access that comes with the Chase Sapphire Reserve or AMEX Platinum Centurion lounge access can justify the annual fees with enough usage.
Amex does not waive credit card annual fees for veterans. If your AMEX Platinum card or other AMEX account was covered under military SCRA or MLA rules, your fee as a veteran should be continued to be waived for a few years after you leave active duty service. Any new Amex cards you open after leaving active duty service will not be annual fee waived.