Why You Can Trust CNET Advertiser Disclosure
CNET Money's mission is to help you maximize your financial potential. Our recommendations are based on our editors' independent research and analysis, and we continuously update our content to reflect current partner offers. How we rate credit cards

AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard from Barclays: Earn Rewards for Medical Expenses

AARP members can earn cash back for medical expenses, groceries and drug store purchases.

The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays* offers a good opportunity for AARP members to earn particularly high reward rates on gas, drug store purchases and medical expenses, especially for a credit card with no annual fee. You don't even have to be an AARP member.

Its cash-back rate for gas and drug stores is better than most rewards credit cards with no annual fee, but it lacks the versatility of a flat-rate credit card with no bonus categories. The AARP Rewards card does add some utility by giving cardholders a way to pay off some of their credit card debt via a balance transfer, but a flat-rate credit card with an introductory APR offer for new purchases might be the better option.

In this article

The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays

6.5/10 CNET Rating
Card Highlights
Intro OfferEarn a $200 Cash Back Bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days
APR19.74%, 23.74%, or 28.74% variable
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Recommended Credit Excellent Credit
Reward Rates
  • Earn Unlimited 2% Cash Back on eligible Medical expenses.
  • Earn Unlimited 3% Cash Back On Gas and Drug Store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart).
  • Earn Unlimited 1% Cash Back on all other purchases.
Annual Fee$0
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APR0% introductory APR for the first fifteen billing cycles
Balance Transfer APR19.74%, 23.74%, or 28.74% variable
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn Unlimited 2% Cash Back on eligible Medical expenses.
  • Earn Unlimited 3% Cash Back On Gas and Drug Store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart).
  • Earn Unlimited 1% Cash Back on all other purchases.

Rewards and redemption

The AARP Rewards Mastercard offers 3% cash back for gas and drug store purchases and 2% cash back for eligible medical expenses. The latter is a unique bonus category that you don't see on many credit cards, and if you have high medical expenses, it's a nice touch to be able to earn a slight return on them -- though you could also earn the same cash rewards rate on your medical expenses with a flat-rate card like the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card.

Once you've earned your rewards, you can redeem them for:

  • Statement credits
  • Bank deposit to a US checking or savings account
  • Gift cards
  • AARP membership

There's a minimum redemption amount of $25, with the exception of the AARP membership which starts at $16 While a bank deposit will raise the total balance of your bank account, redeeming for statement credits will decrease the overall balance of your credit card account.

Welcome bonus

The AARP Rewards Mastercard provides new cardholders with a welcome bonus of $200 for spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. While this welcome bonus is considerably smaller than most, you also don't need to spend nearly as much to earn it.

Introductory balance transfer offer

Cardholders are able to transfer a balance from another credit card to the AARP Mastercard and then pay it down at 0% introductory interest for 15 months before the standard APR of 19.74%, 23.74% or 28.74%, based on your creditworthiness, takes effect. 

Just keep in mind that any balance transfers must be completed within the first 45 days of account opening to qualify for the intro offer. It's also worth noting that, compared to similar credit cards, its APR is relatively high.

By utilizing a balance transfer, you could improve your credit score and your finances by eliminating some of your existing credit card debt. However, the card features a high balance transfer fee of 5% ($5 minimum). That means if you were to transfer a balance of $3,000, you'd have to pay a fee of $150. 

Most balance transfer credit cards ask a 3% fee, so you could shop around for the best balance transfer credit cards which offer longer promotions and lower balance transfer fees. Overall, paying a one-time fee will be inexpensive when compared with continuous interest charges on a credit card with a high APR.

Alternative cards

The AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard presents a good opportunity for AARP members to both mitigate existing credit card debt and earn a return on their medical spending. However, if you aren't an AARP member or don't have high medical expenses, consider these other options.

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card

The Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card features more control over which purchases you can earn rewards for over most cards. Cardholders can choose one 3% cash back category to earn rewards on top of 2% cash back for at grocery stores and wholesale clubs. However, rewards are limited to the first $2,500 spent in combined categories quarterly before cash back falls to 1%. Because of that, you'll need to consider your budget to see if you're able to get the most from the card. 

Its 3% cash back category choices include drug store purchases, gas, online shopping and dining, to name a few. So you could earn that strong 3% cash back rate for more purchases than you could with the AARP Mastercard. You'd be able to choose one of those bonus categories and still earn rewards for your grocery store purchases. There's also an introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers.

You can learn more about the card in our Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Card review.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

For no annual fee, cardholders can earn rewards for a wide variety of purchases, including 3% cash back at drug stores and 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

For groceries and other purchases, you'll earn 1.5% cash back -- which is pretty competitive for a catch-all rate. 

Whereas the AARP card features an intro APR offer for balance transfers, the Chase Freedom Unlimited provides cardholders with an intro APR offer for new purchases and balance transfers. You'll have 15 months of 0% intro APR before your purchases and balance transfers start to accrue interest at 18.74% to 27.49% variable APR. If you need to finance a large purchase, this card could be very useful.

For more information, see our Chase Freedom Unlimited review.


Do you need to be an AARP member to use the AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard?

No, you can apply for the AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard without being an AARP member.

How much does an AARP membership cost?

AARP costs $16 yearly, and you can use the card's rewards to cover the cost.

What counts as an eligible medical expense?

Eligible medical expenses include purchases with dentists, orthodontists, osteopathic physicians, chiropractors, optometrists, ophthalmologists, opticians, for optical goods and eyeglasses, chiropodists, podiatrists, hospitals, medical and dental laboratories, hearing aids, ambulance services, orthopedic goods, prosthetic devices, nursing and personal care facilities.

*All information about the AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.