Smaller issuers, such as credit unions, can often create specialized cards with benefits mainstream cards can’t offer. For example, in April 2017, Alliant Credit Union is launching its Alliant Visa Signature card, with a cash-back rate that few cards that are available to the masses can match.
Our review will help you decide if joining Alliant CU is worth it to get your hands on this card.
The Alliant Visa Signature has a $59 annual fee (waive the first year) and offers:
- 3 percent cash back on all purchases for the first year
- 2.5 percent cash back on all purchases after Year 1
There is no cap on the rewards you can earn. You can redeem your cash back into an Alliant checking or savings account, or for a statement credit (minimum redemption amount is $25). Your cash back rewards will expire five calendar years after they are earned.
Other card benefits
The card charges no foreign transaction fees. It also provides Visa Signature-level benefits, including travel accident insurance, purchase protection and concierge service.
The benefits are pretty basic – this isn’t a perk-heavy travel card. Instead, it’s designed for those who want to squeeze the most cash back possible out of all their spending.
Qualifying for the Alliant Visa Signature
In addition to qualifying based on your credit and finances (as you also would with a mainstream credit card), you’ll need to clear another hurdle – becoming an Alliant CU member, if you’re not already. To become a member, you must be one of the following:
- A current or retired employee of a business or organization Alliant partners with
- An immediate family member or domestic partner of a current member
- A donor to an Alliant charity partner (a nominal $10 donation gets you started)
- A resident of a community near Alliant’s corporate headquarters in Chicago
If you don’t work for an approved organization, aren’t related to an Alliant member and don’t live in or near Chicago, your only realistic shot of becoming an Alliant member is via a charitable donation. See how here.
How it compares to the competition
The Alliant Visa Signature card is attractive because it offers one of the highest flat cash-back rates in the industry. If you don’t qualify for it, there are other options to consider:
- USAA’s Limitless Rewards Cashback Visa Signature card offers 2.5 percent back on all spending. However, USAA has strict eligibility requirements of its own. Unless you or someone you’re related to has served in the U.S. military, it’s probably out of reach.
- The Citi Double Cash card rewards 1 percent cash back when you make a purchase plus an additional 1 percent once you pay it off, for a total of up to 2 percent cash back.
- The Discover it Miles card rewards 3 miles per dollar the first year and 1.5 miles per dollar thereafter. Because these miles can be cashed in for 1 cent each, you’re effectively earning 3 percent cash back the first year and 1.5 percent thereafter.
- Several 1.5 percent cash-back cards exist from various major issuers. Examples include the Capital One’s Quicksilver, the Wells Fargo’s Cash Wise card, the Chase’s Freedom Unlimited, U.S. Bank’s 365 card and Barclaycard’s CashForward. See a full list here.
The bottom line
This card doesn’t have many perks and benefits besides its highly competitive back rate. So consider it simply a cash-back powerhouse.
Remember: Once the annual fee kicks in after the first year, you’ll need $2,360 in annual spending to “earn back” the annual fee. If you’re juggling multiple credit cards and can’t swing that, consider a no-annual-fee cash-back card that gives a lower rewards rate.
However, if you want a single, catch-all cash-back card that maximizes your earnings (and want to become an Alliant member), this card could be a great fit. After all, 3 percent cash back the first year and 2.5 percent thereafter is hard to beat in the industry.
Why we gave it 4 out of 5 stars
This card’s rating was based on our rating standards for cash-back credit cards.
|Rewards-earning rate: To get this star, we require that flat-rate annual-fee cards reward at least 2 percent back on all purchases. This card knocks it out of the park in year one, and exceeds that expectation in year 2.|
|Redemption rate: This card meets our expectations with a cash-back redemption rate of at least 1 cent per point.|
|Rewards simplicity and transparency: This card’s rewards structure is about as simple and transparent as it gets – no caps or category enrollments. However, we deducted half a star due to the barriers of entry to becoming an Alliant member in the first place.|
|Bonus-earning opportunities: This card offers a boosted 3 percent cash back in year 1, but we deducted half a star because, after year 1, there are no ways to earn above the advertised cash-back rate (no bonus shopping portal or redemption bonus).|
|Unique perks: This card’s extra-high rate of 3 percent cash back in year 1 is, in and of itself, a unique perk. At the time of the card’s launch, few cards offer a flat rate of cash back this high.|