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What should you do with your annual fee waived credit cards when you leave, retire, or separate from military service?
All of these sweet Military Lending Act and SCRA annual fee waivers will come to an end when you or your partner retire, separate, or otherwise depart active duty military.
Should you close ALL of your credit card accounts when you leave the military?
My recommendation is no – you should keep the cards open from which you are still getting value. Downgrade expensive cards to lower annual fee cards to retain your points and lower your annual costs. As a last resort, close the cards which do not justify their annual fee.
Remember a credit card can provide value in many ways. The Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card has a $300 travel credit, 3x points on dining and travel after earning the $300 travel credit, and primary rental car insurance.
Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card
Learn how to apply on our partner's secure site
- $550 annual fee waived to $0 for US military + spouses with Chase MLA policy
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards portal
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
- Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually.
- 3x Points on other Travel (airfare, hotels) after earning the $300 travel credit
- 3x Dining restaurants, takeouts, delivery
- Chase Ultimate Reward Points redeemed through the Chase travel portal are worth 1.5 cents, a 50% bonus.
- Priority Pass lounge and restaurant access with over 1300+ airport lounges worldwide
- Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry every 4 years
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Primary coverage with Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
- No foreign transaction fees
- Learn more in the Chase Sapphire Reserve review
The American Express® Gold Card has generous spending reward categories, like 4x points on restaurants and US supermarkets.
American Express® Gold Card
Learn how to apply on our partner's secure site
- Earn 60,000 Membership Reward® Points after spending $6,000 on eligible purchases with your new card in the first 6 months of Card Membership
- Earn 4x points at restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the US
- Earn 4x points on US supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year, then 1x points) – includes OCONUS Commissaries
- Earn 3x points on flights booked directly with the airline or on amextravel.com
- No foreign transaction fees – great for the 4x on restaurants when travelling for fun, OCONUS TDY, or PCS!
- $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Amex Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 annually.
- $120 per year Dining Credit: Earn up to $10 per month in statement credits when you use your Amex Gold at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar, and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
- Choose between the Gold or Rose Gold version when you apply.
- Read my full review of the Amex Gold card for military, terms apply
- $250 Annual Fee* See more details about American Express protections for you and your spouse
Or The Platinum Card® from American Express (review) gives you 5x points on airfare booked directly with the airline or through AmexTravel.com (terms apply). 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 32 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.
We covered this topic in 2 episodes of the Military Money Manual Podcast. You can listen in the player below:
In this post:
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 accumulated 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® Card and cut the annual fee from $550 to $95.
Or you could open a no-annual fee Chase Freedom Flex℠ Credit Card and store all of your Chase Ultimate Rewards points on that card. Or you could 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 or American Express Green and lower your annual fee but hang on to your hard earned Amex points. There's also the no-annual fee Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express. You can store Amex Membership Rewards points on this card. 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
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Learn how to apply on our partner's secure site
- Annual fee of $695* See more details about military protections for you and your spouse
- Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
- Earn 5x points on airfare booked directly with airline or on amextravel.com up to $500,000 per calendar year
- Earn 5x points on prepaid hotels at amextravel.com
- $200 Annual Hotel Credit: Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®. Note that The Hotel Collection requires a minimum two-night stay.
- $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back in statement credits each month when you pay for eligible purchases with the Platinum Card® at your choice of one or more of the following providers: Disney+, a Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal. Enrollment required.
- $200 Uber Cash: Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on Uber Eats and rides
- $200 Airline Fee Credit: Up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at 1 qualifying airline
- $189 CLEAR® Plus Credit: Breeze through security with CLEAR® Plus at 45+ airports nationwide and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership (subject to auto-renewal) when you use your Platinum Card®.
- $300 Equinox Credit: Get up to $300 back each year on an Equinox+ subscription, or any Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Membership subject to auto-renewal.
- $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax.
- Up to $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit, enrollment required
- Access 40+ Centurion Lounges and 1,200+ Priority Pass airport lounge for free
- No foreign transaction fees
- The Platinum Card® from American Express – learn how to apply
- Read my full review of the Amex Platinum card for military, terms apply
As best I can tell from data points, it appears if your Amex card account is annual fee waived under SCRA, you may be good for several years after military service. I have data points of veterans who have been separated from active duty for decades and are still getting annual fee waivers.
If your account is fee waived under MLA, usually any Amex account opened while listed as a covered borrower in the MLA database after 1 January 2020, then you may receive a letter from American Express months after separation.
I separated from active duty in May 2022. I received one letter from American Express for one of my 8 Amex Platinum accounts. I suspect I opened this account after Amex started applying MLA rules to accounts, but I have not confirmed this. I received no Amex MLA letters for any of my 13 other Amex card accounts.
The Amex MLA letter was sent in December 2022, or 7 months after I separated from active duty. The annual membership fee would apply to the account again starting in February 2023, or 9 months after I separated active duty.
I have not seen the annual fee charged yet on any of my accounts, including the account that received the MLA letter from Amex.
Here is what my Amex MLA separation letter looked like:
Amex Military Spouse Fee Waivers After Active Duty
I separated from active duty in May 2022. My wife, who was a covered borrower under the MLA and received annual fee waivers on her Amex and Chase cards, received her first MLA letter from Amex in November, nearly 6 months after I separated from active duty.
The summary of the letter was that she was no longer a covered borrower of the MLA and therefore annual fees would be charged on her account starting in January 2023. That's 9 months after I separated, so plenty of time to assess and make a decision.
The text of the MLA letter from Amex is:
For Account Ending In: XXXXX
We are writing to share an important update about your account listed above.
Here's what you should know:
The Military Lending Act (MLA) provides important protections related to consumer credit extended to members of the Armed Forces and their eligible dependents while on active duty. The Department of Defense maintains the MLA database which allows us to determine eligibility for MLA protections. The MLA database has indicated you are no longer a covered borrower eligible for MLA protections.
Because of this, we will resume charging any applicable fees that were not charged under the protection of this Act beginning January XX, 2023. We'd also like to share the changes in your account terms below:
Important Changes To Your Account Terms
We will resume charging the below applicable fee, which was not charged while protected under the Act, as of the date below.
Revised Terms, as of January XX, 2023
Annual Membership Fee $450
You can review Part 1 of your Cardmember Agreement for more information on the applicable Rates and Fees that apply to your Card account. Membership Rewards Annual Program Fee: If your Card that is no longer eligible for MLA relief is the primary Card for Membership Rewards program purposes, and you have one or more Card(s) that assess a separate Membership Rewards annual program fee, we'II begin charging that annual program fee to the primary Cards account.
My wife was charged an annual fee on one of her Amex accounts: an Amex Platinum card. We are planning on leaving the account open as we get more than the annual fee of value out of the card annually.
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. Amex most likely checks the MLA database or SCRA database before sending you the letter.
After receiving notification that Amex will be charging the annual fee, you will have a few months to decide whether to keep the card open or close it.
If you wait too long and Amex does 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.