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PenFed Defender American Express card review

PenFed Defender American Express card review

Published: November 15, 2017
Published: November 15, 2017
Ratings Policy
Cash Back Rating:
0 rating
0 rating
0 / 5
Rewards Value 2.5
Annual Percentage Rate 3.0
Rewards Flexibility 3.3
Features 2.0

In a Nutshell:

A good value for credit union members, the PenFed Defender American Express card pairs a strikingly low interest rate with solid, maintenance-free rewards. This offer is no longer available.

Rewards Rate
1.5% cash back on general purchases

Sign-Up Bonus
$100 if you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days

Annual Fee

Estimated Yearly Rewards Value ($1,325 monthly spend)

10.24-17.99% (variable)


  • No limit on the amount of cash you can earn
  • Cash doesn’t expire
  • Cash automatically deposited in your bank account each month


  • Few options for redemption: You can only redeem cash by having it deposited in a Pentagon Federal Credit Union account
  • Can’t redeem cash for gift cards, merchandise or travel

Other Notable Features: No foreign transaction fees, emergency travel services, car rental insurance

This offer is no longer available. For current offers, visit our reviews page.

If you’re planning to carry a balance and are looking for an everyday card to use for all or most of your purchases, the PenFed Defender American Express card is a smart choice. It offers one of the lowest interest rates available on a cash back card. However, unlike most low rate rewards cards, it also offers a hefty rewards program that grants a considerable amount of cash back. Cardholders who don’t want to mess with a complicated rewards program will appreciate the card’s single rewards rate for every purchase. Meanwhile, rewards card holders looking for an easy way to cash in on purchases that don’t qualify for bigger bonuses should also be able to get a lot of use out of this card.

The PenFed Defender card is only available to Pentagon Federal Credit Union members, though, so not everyone will be able to benefit. To qualify for a Pentagon Federal Credit Union membership, you must be a military service member or government worker or be related to one.

Stellar APR for cardholders with excellent credit

One of the biggest benefits of the PenFed Defender American Express card is its ultralow APR, which is substantially lower than most of its competitors. Cardholders with the best credit scores, for example, may qualify for an APR as low as 10.24 percent. Meanwhile the card’s maximum APR is capped at 17.99 percent, which is low for a rewards card. The average cash back card, by contrast, charges cardholders with the best credit at least 15.33 percent, while cardholders with lower scores are typically charged rates as high as 21.99 percent or more.

Easy cash back with every purchase

The PenFed Defender card also sets itself apart from other cash back cards by offering the same 1.5 percent cash back rate on every purchase – a valuable perk for cardholders who don’t want to track their spending. Many cards, by contrast, offer a higher rate on certain types of purchases, such as groceries or travel, but only award 1 percent cash back on regular purchases. The higher rate on general purchases makes it an ideal card to use for everyday spending. This card also works well as a supplemental card for rewards card users who want a higher rate on general purchases.

Limited promotions

The Defender card doesn’t offer as high a sign-up bonus, though, so you won’t get as big of a payout as you might with other cards. Cardholders are offered just $100 for spending at least $1,500 in the card’s first three months – a relatively high spending threshold for such a small bonus. To qualify for the sign-up bonus, you would need to use your card regularly and spend at least $500 a month. The Defender card doesn’t offer an interest-free APR either, which is disappointing for a rewards card. It does offer a 4.99 percent rate on balance transfers for the card’s first 12 months. But if you have a large balance to transfer, you’re better off choosing a card that offers a 0 percent APR.

Hassle-free redemption

You must have a Pentagon Federal Credit Union deposit account to redeem your cash back rewards. But, if you already have an account – or you take the time to open one – redeeming your rewards is also a breeze. Unlike many cash back cards, the PenFed Defender card automatically deposits rewards earnings every month, which is a big perk for cardholders who frequently forget to ask for their rewards. The PenFed card doesn’t offer any other types of rewards, though, such as gift cards, merchandise or cash.

Why get the PenFed Defender American Express card?

  • You expect to carry a balance and want a low rate card that still offers significant rewards.
  • You want a low-maintenance cash back card with a significant bonus on everyday purchases.
  • You’d like to use your card abroad without paying a foreign transaction fee.
  • You want a card that automatically deposits your earnings.

How to use the PenFed Defender American Express card:

  • To get the maximum amount of cash back, use your card for all or most of your purchases.
  • If you can afford it, try to spend at least $500 a month for the card’s first three months in order to qualify for the card’s sign-up bonus.
  • If this is your lowest rate credit card, use this card for any purchases you can’t afford to repay immediately.

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All reviews are prepared by staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank’s website for the most current information.

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