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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

6.2/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards

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.

CNET’S PICK
The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays
Learn More

The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays

6.2/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
$100 Cash Back Earn a $100 Cash Back Bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days
Annual fee
$0
APR
21.99%, 25.99%, 29.99% Variable
Rewards rate
1% – 3% 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 Rate
3%
Earn Unlimited 3% Cash Back On Gas and Drug Store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart).
2%
Earn Unlimited 2% Cash Back on eligible Medical expenses.
1%
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 $100 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 variable APR of 21.74%, 25.74% or 29.99%, 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, the AARP Mastercard’s standard 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 20.49% to 29.24% 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.

How The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays compares to other cards

CNET’S PICK
The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays
Learn More

The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays

6.2/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
$100 Cash Back Earn a $100 Cash Back Bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days
Annual fee
$0
APR
21.99%, 25.99%, 29.99% Variable
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Rewards rate
1% – 3% 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.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Learn More

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

7.4/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
Up to $300 cash back Earn an extra 1.5% on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) -- worth up to $300 cash back. That’s 6.5% on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 4.5% on dining and drugstores, and 3% on all other purchases.
Annual fee
$0
APR
20.49% – 29.24% Variable
Intro Purchase APR
0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months
Rewards rate
1.5% – 5% Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 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; 1.5% on all other purchases
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
Apply Now

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

8.8/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
$200 cash rewards Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months. Select “Apply Now” to take advantage of this specific offer and learn more about product features, terms and conditions.
Annual fee
$0
APR
20.24%, 25.24%, or 29.99% Variable APR
Intro Purchase APR
0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening
Rewards rate
2% Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases
Apply Now
On Wells Fargo’s secure website

FAQs

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

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

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, and the Bank of America Customized Cash Reward credit card 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.

Evan Zimmer has been writing about finance for years. After graduating with a journalism degree from SUNY Oswego, he wrote credit card content for Credit Card Insider (now Money Tips) before moving to ZDNET Finance to cover credit card, banking and blockchain news. He currently works with CNET Money to bring readers the most accurate and up-to-date financial information. Otherwise, you can find him reading, rock climbing, snowboarding and enjoying the outdoors.