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LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

How Does LendingTree Get Paid?

LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.
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Advertising Disclosure

LendingTree is an advertising-supported comparison service. The site features products from our partners as well as institutions which are not advertising partners. While we make an effort to include the best deals available to the general public, we make no warranty that such information represents all available products. We are compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (such as the order).
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AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® Review

LendingTree's Review

How LendingTree Rates Credit Cards?

Our experts rate credit cards based on several factors including card benefits, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers do not influence or have a say in our card ratings. Read our credit card methodology here.
1.5
AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard®
Annual Fee
$0
Rewards rate
3% cash back on gas and drugstore purchases (excluding Target and Walmart), unlimited 2% cash back on medical expenses, unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
Regular purchase APR
21.99% - 29.99% Variable
Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It was not reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

Our take: The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® is a unique but mediocre card. It offers elevated rewards on eligible drugstore and medical expenses and a long intro APR on purchases. However, unless you spend heavily on medical expenses, you’re better served with a flat-rate cash back card or one with rotating categories.

Pros and cons

  • $0 annual fee
  • Elevated rewards for healthcare expenses
  • Solid rate on gas purchases
  • Either a welcome offer or long intro APR on balance transfer and purchases, depending on where you apply
  • AARP membership not required
  • Mediocre rewards rate
  • Foreign transaction fee
  • High balance transfer fee
  • Must have $25 in rewards to redeem

Is the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® a good card?

Citi is an advertising partner.

The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® is an underwhelming rewards card with limited bonus categories and a meager sign-up bonus. It may be good for someone who spends heavily on health care and related items since it offers elevated rewards in these areas. It may also appeal to those who like the charitable side of the card, with $10 being donated to the AARP Foundation for each new card issued, plus 1% of all spending going to the same foundation. It’s also a good choice for financing a large purchase, with a longer-than-average intro APR for new purchases.

But the rewards outside of medical-related purchases are limited. Aside from a 3% bonus on gas purchases, all other purchases only earn 1% cash back.

Quick facts

    • Earn a $100 cash back bonus
    • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on gas and drugstore purchases (excluding Target and Walmart)
    • Earn unlimited 2% cash back on medical expenses
    • $0 annual fee
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit scores ranges may vary. Your individual chance at approval may vary due to factors such as creditors using a particular variation at their discretion
  • N/A
  • $0 annual fee
  • Unlimited cash back rewards never expire
  • Free credit monitoring
  • $0 fraud liability protection
  • Complimentary FICO® Score access
  • Charitable contributions to AARP Foundation

Intro Purchase APR

0% introductory APR on purchases for 18 billing cycles

Regular Purchase APR

21.99% - 29.99% Variable

Intro BT APR

0% introductory APR for the first eighteen billing cycles following each balance transfer that posts to your account within 45 days of account opening.

Regular BT APR

21.99% - 29.99% Variable

Annual Fee

$0

Cash Advance Fee

Either $10 or 5% of the amount of each cash advance, whichever is greater

Foreign Transaction Fee

3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars

Balance Transfer Fee

either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

What we like about the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard®

  • No annual fee

    Like many cash back credit cards, the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® has a $0 annual fee.

  • Welcome offer

    The AARP website currently features a welcome offer that allows you to N/A. It’s not the best welcome offer — for example, the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. But it’s easy enough to earn, especially since you have about three months in which to complete the offer.

  • Bonus rewards on medical expenses

    Several rewards cards offer elevated rewards on drugstores and gas, but the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® is a rare one that offers 2% cash back on eligible medical expenses. This could be a plus if you are paying out-of-pocket for these medical expenses.

    Note that with the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® you need to have $25 in rewards before you can redeem them.

    Qualifying medical expenses include:
    DentistsHospitals
    OrthodontistsMedical and dental laboratories
    Osteopathic physiciansHearing aids
    ChiropractorsAmbulance services
    OptometristsOrthopedic goods
    OphthalmologistsProsthetic devices
    OpticiansNursing and personal care facilities
    Optical goods and eyeglassesMedical services and health practitioners not elsewhere classified (NEC)
    ChiropodistsDoctors not elsewhere classified (NEC)
    Podiatrists

    Purchases at gas stations and drugstores earn 3% cash back while all other purchases earn 1% cash back.

  • 0% APR for 18 months

    If the cash back on medical purchases is beneficial, the intro APR on new purchases may extend the usefulness of this card. You’ll get a 0% introductory APR on purchases for 18 billing cycles , followed by a 21.99% - 29.99% Variable APR. If you have an upcoming expense, this offer lets you finance it for a year and a half.

    The offer applies to balance transfers as well, but the 5% balance transfer fee lowers the savings compared to choosing a card with a lower balance transfer fee. If you’re looking at a card for balance transfers, the Discover it® Balance Transfer card is our top pick for best balance transfer credit cards. It has a  3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)* and an 18-month term and lower-than-average ongoing APR.

    The 18-month intro APR offer is available through Barclays’ site as of the time of publishing. This offer doesn’t include a sign-up bonus. You’ll find a different offer through the AARP website, which includes a sign-up bonus, but a shorter intro APR for balance transfers and no intro APR for purchases.
  • No AARP membership requirement

    AARP membership and the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® isn’t limited to people over 50. The organization’s mission is dedicated to serving the needs of that population, but anyone 18 or older can join. For a successful card application, it’s recommended to have a good credit score. If you’d like, you can use your AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® rewards to purchase an AARP membership for yourself or as a gift.

  • Complimentary donation to the AARP Foundation

    Another unique feature of the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® is that, through March 31, 2024, for each successful application Barclays, the card issuer donates $10 to the AARP Foundation. Barclays also donates 1% of eligible purchases to the foundation.

What to watch out for with the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard®

  • Mediocre rewards rate

    Although the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® offers tiered cash back rewards, LendingTree gives it a 1-star rating in terms of cash back value. We estimate that your savings with AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® are just $361 in the first year which seems respectable until it’s compared to the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, which offers a first-year value of $708, even after you include an annual fee. For a simple flat-rate, $0 annual fee credit card, the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card saves you $600 your first year.

    The information related to the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card has been independently collected by LendingTree and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.
  • High balance transfer fee

    Despite the long intro APR offered on balance transfers, this isn’t the best card to use for one as it charges 5%. There are many cards that offer lower fees and you can even find some no-balance-transfer-fee cards if you’re willing to have a shorter term and possibly join a credit union — as that’s where you can find some of the best cards with no fees.

  • Foreign transaction fee

    The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® is one that you’ll want to leave at home when you go abroad. It charges 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars in foreign countries. If you’re a frequent traveler, then a no-foreign-transaction-fee credit card will save you hundreds of dollars on your trips.

  • Exclusions on elevated rewards spending

    While you receive elevated rewards at drugstores, sometimes the same over-the-counter products that you’d buy there are available for less at retailers such as Walmart and Target, both of which are excluded from earning the higher tier of rewards. You will earn 1% on purchases from those stores, but if you’re a devotee to a certain store, their co-branded store cards might be a better fit.

    Are you a loyal shopper? Consider the Target REDcard™ Credit Card, Capital One Walmart Rewards® Card, Sam's Club Mastercard or Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi for savings and store-related perks.
  • Fees may be added for paying medical bills with a credit card

    It’s becoming increasingly common for medical offices to add a surcharge or convenience fee when you pay with a credit card (and this sometimes extends to your debit card and HSA card). It is legal to charge customers a credit card processing fee, so ask about payment options before swiping your card. The fee, in most cases, will wipe out any rewards you’d earn.

Alternative cards to the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard®

AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® vs. Chase Freedom Flex℠

Chase Freedom Flex℠*
Chase Freedom Flex℠
Learn More
on Chase's secure site
0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months
20.49% - 29.24% variable
$0
5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus
  • Earn a $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. You can choose to receive a statement credit or direct deposit into most U.S. checking and savings accounts. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open!
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 20.49% - 29.24%.
  • No annual fee – You won't have to pay an annual fee for all the great features that come with your Freedom Flex℠ card
  • Keep tabs on your credit health - Chase Credit Journey helps you monitor your credit with free access to your latest score, real-time alerts, and more.
660 720 850
Good/Excellent
*The information related to the Chase Freedom Flex℠ has been collected by LendingTree and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply

How Does LendingTree Get Paid?

LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appears on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

An excellent alternative to the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® is the Chase Freedom Flex℠. It offers the same 3% rewards at drugstores and on dining, plus the potential to earn 5% on up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter in the rotating categories.

Previous Chase Freedom 5% bonus categories have included Target, wholesale clubs, grocery stores, gym memberships, Amazon.com and gas stations. Additionally, the sign-up bonus is more valuable. While the intro APR term is shorter, there is a more valuable sign-up bonus and no minimum for redeeming cash back.

AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® vs. Discover it® Cash Back

Discover it® Cash Back
Discover it® Cash Back
apply-now-icon Apply Now
on Discover's secure site
Rates & Fees
0% Intro APR for 15 months
17.24% - 28.24% Variable APR
$0
Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match for all new cardmembers – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases—automatically.
  • Redeem your rewards for cash at any time.
  • Discover could help you reduce exposure of your personal information online by helping you remove it from select people-search sites that could sell your data. It’s free, activate with the mobile app.
  • Get a 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases. Then 17.24% to 28.24% Standard Variable Purchase APR applies, based on credit worthiness.
  • No annual fee.
  • Terms and conditions apply.
660 720 850
Good/Excellent

How Does LendingTree Get Paid?

LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appears on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

Depending on your main spending areas, the Discover it® Cash Back may offer more cash back rewards as well as a solid sign-up bonus. Discover it® Cash Back includes the same $0 annual fee and an intro offer on both purchases and balance transfers, albeit shorter than the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard®.

Like the Chase Freedom Flex℠, Discover it® Cash Back offers rotating bonus categories to maximize rewards. Discover Bonus categories have included restaurants, drugstores, gas stations, Target, wholesale clubs, Amazon.com, Walmart.com, digital wallets and more.

AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® vs. Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card*
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
Learn More
on Wells Fargo's secure site
0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening
20.24%, 25.24%, or 29.99% Variable APR
$0
Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases
  • Select “Apply Now” to take advantage of this specific offer and learn more about product features, terms and conditions.
  • Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months.
  • Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases.
  • 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers. 20.24%, 25.24%, or 29.99% Variable APR thereafter; balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate and fee of 3% then a BT fee of up to 5%, min: $5.
  • $0 annual fee.
  • No categories to track or remember and cash rewards don't expire as long as your account remains open.
  • Find tickets to top sports and entertainment events, book travel, make dinner reservations and more with your complimentary 24/7 Visa Signature® Concierge.
  • Up to $600 of cell phone protection against damage or theft. Subject to a $25 deductible.
660 720 850
Good/Excellent
*The information related to the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card has been collected by LendingTree and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply

How Does LendingTree Get Paid?

LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appears on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

The Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card is ideal for maximizing rewards simply. Cardholders earn 2% on every purchase, without having to opt in or remember bonus categories. Like the Chase Freedom Flex℠, it has a generous, easy-to-attain welcome offer. Plus, It has an intro APR on both new purchases and balance transfers.

Is the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® right for you?

The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® is only a good card if you spend heavily on out-of-pocket medical expenses within eligible categories. Since both the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Discover it® Cash Back offer the opportunity to earn elevated rewards on drugstore purchases, we recommend considering those cards if you want to maximize the cash back you earn.

But if keeping track of rotating categories is too complicated for your taste, the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card is our pick for the best 2% cash back credit card with a $0 annual fee.

The information related to the Chase Freedom Flex℠, Discover it® Cash Back and Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card, Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, Target REDcard™ Credit Card, Capital One Walmart Rewards® Card, Sam's Club Mastercard and Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi has been independently collected by LendingTree and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

The information related to the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® has been independently collected by LendingTree and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.