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Best Credit Cards for Seniors and Retirees

Best Credit Cards for Seniors and Retirees

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This article was last updated May 16, 2019. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

When you reach your retirement years, credit cards can become an important tool for maintaining your credit health and can actually help put some extra cash in your pocket. The key is to make sure that once you’re on a fixed income, that you don’t overextend yourself.

Those first couple of years as a retiree can be a dramatic financial transition for some people, says Tiffany Welka, wealth management adviser and vice president of VFG Associates in Livonia, Mich.

“There are income changes, expense changes, and a lot of times we see retirees using credit cards more because their income is not what it used to be,” she says.

In fact, senior credit card debt is on the rise. While in 2001 about a quarter of senior households held credit card balances, by 2016, that number rose to 34%, according to the National Council on Aging.

“Older consumers are turning to credit cards to finance basic necessities such as food, prescriptions or other needs when they have no other means to pay for these items,” says Lori Trawinski, director, banking & finance, with the AARP Public Policy Institute.

If you find yourself using credit to compensate for your lack of wages, it probably makes the most sense to limit credit card use. “To the extent possible, consumers should try to build an emergency savings fund to help finance unexpected expenses so they do not have to turn to credit cards,” says Trawinski.

However, for the other two-thirds of older Americans who are not carrying credit card debt, using plastic responsibly in your golden years is actually a smart financial move.

In this article:

Why it’s important to keep an active credit profile

First and foremost, using credit cards is an easy way to keep your credit file active and to maintain a good credit score, which Trawinski says is important even in retirement.

“That doesn’t mean you have to carry debt,” adds Rod Griffin, director of consumer education and awareness at Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus. Instead, he recommends using your cards periodically and paying those balances right away to keep your credit score strong. 

First and foremost, using credit cards is an easy way to keep your credit file active and to maintain a good credit score, which Trawinski says is important even in retirement.

The reason it matters, he explains, is because life situations may arise for which you’ll want to have credit available to you. Those can include an unexpected and expensive health emergency, or having to maintain or upgrade an older home that has aged along with you. Just think about trying to come up with heating and air conditioning unit replacement costs on the spot, says Griffin. “Credit can be a tool to help you manage that, and it remains a ubiquitous part of your life.”

Of course, it’s not all about doom and gloom – retirees can also leverage credit to help fuel their post-career passions, or offset travel costs or put some cash back in your wallet by charging everyday expenses that are paid off at the end of the month.

Credit card features important for seniors and retirees

When used responsibly (and paid off promptly), credit cards can open up a world of benefits for consumers of all ages. Depending on your financial situation and spending style, some features to think about as you age include rewards value, ease of use and favorable terms that fit your goals.

As long as you have the money to pay your bill at the end of the month, using credit cards for the things you would normally buy anyway can be a great way to earn rewards and save money, says Griffin. “As a retiree, you’re living on a fixed income, so the more you can save, the better,” he adds.

This is especially true if you like to travel. According to an AARP survey, boomers (born between 1946 and 1964, per the Census Bureau) said they planned to take a total of four to five leisure trips in 2019, spending over $6,600. And with 75% of boomers saying they book most of their travel via airline loyalty programs, and 65% enrolled in hotel programs – rewards credit cards that work in tandem with such programs can amplify savings.

As for comparing credit card interest rates, when you consider that the average APR on all credit card accounts jumped to 15.09% in the first quarter of 2019, even low interest cards can keep you in debt. The best strategy is to try avoiding interest charges by not revolving a balance at all, or putting necessary purchases beyond your budget on cards that offer lengthy 0% introductory periods.

How we selected the best credit cards for seniors

To select the best cards for retired seniors, we focused on features that tend to be the most relevant to that age group. Of course, everyone’s financial situation and personal goals are different, which is why we divided our picks into three different card categories to appeal to a variety of senior lifestyles. 

If you choose wisely, says Welka, “credit cards can help you can live the retirement lifestyle and not spend as much doing it.”

That being said, each card below provides a combination of benefits that align well with an active but budgeted retirement lifestyle – such as simplicity and flexibility for rewards earning, consumer protections and favorable terms and conditions regarding fees. If you choose wisely, says Welka, “credit cards can help you can live the retirement lifestyle and not spend as much doing it.”

Best travel credit cards for seniors and retirees

Travel cards run the gamut, but for seniors, it makes sense to stick with ones that have solid rewards, easy redemption and annual fees under $100 (or none at all). We also selected cards with no foreign transaction fee for jet-setting seniors who want to enjoy some international travel, or even live abroad for part of the year.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

  • Annual fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that
  • Rewards rate: 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Welcome offer: One-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Foreign transaction fee: None

Why it’s good: This card comes with a generous sign-up bonus (equal to $500 in travel), as well as offers a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® fee and ability to transfer your rewards miles to 10-plus participating airline partners. If you’re OK with the $0 intro for first year; $95 after that annual fee in year two and beyond, the unlimited rewards potential is an attractive perk.

Check out our Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Review

Discover it® Miles

  • Discover will match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year.*

  • 1.5 Miles per $1 Spent*

  • 0% for 14 months, then 11.99% - 22.99% Variable

Highlights
  • UNLIMITED BONUS: Only Discover will automatically match all the Miles you’ve earned at the end your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles.  There’s no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases - with no annual fee.
  • Redeem for Travel or Cash. Easily redeem Miles as a statement credit for travel purchases or get cash.
  • No Blackout Dates. Simply pay for travel purchases like airlines, hotels, rental cars, and more with your Discover it® Miles card.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • See Rates & Fees

See additional details for Discover it® Miles

More Info

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Rewards rate: Unlimited 1.5 Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases - with no annual fee
  • Welcome offer: Discover will match ALL the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That’s $700 towards travel!
  • Foreign transaction fee: None

Why it’s good: For retirees who don’t feel like crunching numbers or paying attention to rotating categories, the flat rate earnings and easy redemption provide seamless travel savings. Just book your trips, and redeem your miles as a statement credit towards those purchases. Plus, there is no expiration on miles or blackout dates to worry about. The intro APR of 0% for 14 months on purchases (after 11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR applies). There is a 3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*. The card also gives you extra time to pay off that bucket list trip.

Check out our Discover it Miles review

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • 60,000 bonus points

  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide

  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel

Highlights
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That's 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.

See additional details for Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

More Info

  • Annual fee: $95
  • Rewards rate: 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide
  • Welcome offer: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Foreign transaction fee: $0

Why it’s good: Though maximizing rewards earned on this card does take a little finesse, if you redeem travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, you can generally squeeze out more value. For instance, the points you earn via the sign-up bonus can be a redemption value of $750 through the portal. Or, if you are loyal to specific airlines and hotel chains, you might find a good deal by transferring points.

Check out our Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Review

Best 0% intro APR credit cards for seniors and retirees

When you’re on a budget, you sometimes don’t have extra cash on hand to make a large purchase, whether it’s to replace outdated appliances or finance an expensive car repair. Rather than deplete your savings, opening a 0% intro APR card can give you time to pay off the amount gradually without added interest payments. If you can plan ahead and apply for one of these cards, you can save a bundle on interest charges.

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

  • Annual fee: $0*
  • Intro purchase APR: 0%* intro APR for 20 billing cycles on Purchases*
  • Regular purchase APR: 13.99% - 23.99%* (Variable)

Why it’s good: As one of the longest 0% purchase APR offers on the market, this card gives you close to two years to pay off a purchase. Plus, you’ll also get  0% intro APR for 20 billing cycles on Balance Transfers* made within 60 days from account opening, which can be helpful if you are interested in paying off some other high-interest debt within a set period of time. The downside is there are no rewards.

Check out our U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Credit Card Review

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Intro purchase APR: 0% on purchases for 15 months
  • Regular purchase APR: 13.99%-23.99% Variable

Why it’s good: With this card, you get more than a year of 0% interest on purchases. Plus, the card has long-term cashback benefits: 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%). 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores. 1% cash back on other purchases.

Check out our Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express Review

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Intro purchase APR: 0% intro on purchases for 15 months
  • Regular purchase APR: 15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)

Why it’s good: Along with the generous 0% APR introductory period, you’ll also earn 1.5% Cash Back on every purchase, every day. And, the One-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening is like a built-in discount on that big-ticket item you’re buying.

Check out our Capital One Quicksilver Card Review

Best cashback credit cards for seniors and retirees

It’s always nice to get a discount on everyday purchases after retirement, and if you leverage cashback credit cards in the right way, you can put a few more dollars in your pocket. The key is to pay your bill in full each month to avoid paying interest. Here are three popular cashback cards to consider:

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Rewards rate: Earn 2% cash back on purchases: 1% when you buy plus 1% as you pay.
  • Welcome offer: No bonus

Why it’s good: We like this card because it not only rewards you a flat-rate 1% on your spending, but it incentivizes you with another 1% back when you pay your bill. With no limit on earnings, or spending categories to track, you can sit back, relax, and collect your cash.

Check out our Citi Double Cash Card Review

Chase Freedom®

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Rewards rate: Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months. Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Welcome offer: Earn a $200 Bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

Why it’s good: If you have the time and patience to opt into certain spending categories each quarter to get the maximum cash back, you can really amplify your savings with this card. Luckily, the redemption end is simple – you can do it any time, and for any amount.

Check out our Chase Freedom Credit Card review

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Rewards rate: Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice, 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs for the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases, 1% cash back on every purchase
  • Welcome offer: $200 online cash rewards bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening

Why it’s good: The beauty of this card is that it lets you choose the spending category you’d like to earn 3% cash back, with options like online shopping and drugstores – perfect for seniors who shop from home or purchase a lot of over-the-counter items at the pharmacy. And you can change the category once per month.

Check out our Bank of America Cash Rewards review

Bottom line

“Credit is a financial tool; debt is a financial problem – and that’s true regardless of your age,” says Griffin. If you can make credit cards work for you as a senior, rather than rely on them as an income replacement, they can help you live your best retirement life.

The information related to the Chase Freedom® has been independently collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. 


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