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Navigating the world of credit cards in retirement can be a challenging endeavor, especially when you or your loved ones are on a fixed income. As I set out to help find the perfect credit card for my mom, who's enjoying her well-deserved retirement with a pension, we encountered a common hurdle: the minimum annual income requirements many credit card issuers impose.
It's a predicament many seniors face, leaving them with limited choices that often include basic, no-frills cards or secured credit cards. But there’s no reason you should have to miss out on great features and credit card rewards just because you’re retired.
What credit cards did we find that worked for my retired mom and offered the features she wanted? Let’s take a look.
How can seniors boost the odds of credit card approval?
Increasing your income in retirement isn’t always an option. There can be big tax consequences to taking out more money from your RRSP than you need.
Fortunately, there are other ways to increase your chances of being approved for a credit card. Consider the following when you don’t meet the minimum income threshold for the cards you want.
- Apply before you retire. If you haven’t retired yet, take advantage of your current income stream to apply for the credit card you want. This is also the time to increase your credit limit on your existing cards if you think you’ll need it.
- Keep your credit score in good shape. The better your credit score is, the more credit cards you’ll have access to. Pay all your bills on time and try to maintain a score of 680 or higher.
- Qualify based on your assets. If you’re lucky enough to have significant retirement savings, you may be able to qualify based on those assets. You can qualify for many of the best credit cards in Canada if you have savings or investments worth $250,000 or more, even if you don’t have any income.
- Qualify based on household income. If you live with a family member (or your family member lives with you), you can apply based on household income. For example, premium credit cards with the Visa Infinite badge require an individual income of $60,000 or household income of $100,000.
- Meet the minimum spending requirement. Some credit cards will waive their minimum income requirement if you’re getting good use out of your existing cards and keeping up with your payments. One example is the BMO Eclipse Visa Infinite Card, which requires income of at least $60,000 or annual credit card spending of $15,000 or $1,250 per month.
- Be an authorized cardholder. If you don’t qualify for a card on your own, ask someone you trust if they’ll apply for the card and make you an authorized cardholder. The card will be approved based on the applicant’s income and credit score, and you’ll get a card to use it as if it were your own.
Best credit cards for seniors - by category
Best for Everyday spending
based on spending $2,200/mo after $0 annual fee
- Earn rewards
1.25pts – 2pts / dollar earn rate
- Welcome bonus
100 bonus points (a $100 value)
- In your first 10 months as a new SimplyCash® Card from American Express Cardmember, you can earn a $10 statement credit for each monthly billing period in which you spend $300 in purchases on your Card. This could add up to $100 in statement credits in the first 10 months
- Earn accelerated earn rates on eligible gas and grocery purchases
- Earn 2% cash back on eligible gas purchases in Canada, 2% cash back on eligible grocery purchases in Canada (up to $300 cash back annually), and 1.25% cash back on all other eligible purchases
- Access events and special offers curated for Cardmembers with American Express® Experiences
- Insurance coverage and 24/7 Customer Service
- American Express is not responsible for maintaining or monitoring the accuracy of information on this website. For full details and current product information click the Apply now link. Conditions apply
The SimplyCash from American Express credit card lets you earn cash back while removing the complexity. This card is a great option for those who aren’t looking for premium perks or won’t earn enough rewards to offset an annual fee, while offering a great cash back rate, no limit to the amount you can earn, and all the benefits of American Express perks.
- Streamlined rewards structure: Simple and easy rewards structure that doesn’t require any extensive research or understanding
- Robust travel and purchase protection insurance: Comprehensive travel and purchase protection, including travel accident insurance ($100,000), purchase protection, and extended warranty
- 24/7 concierge services
- Exclusive access: Enjoy privileges such as access to Front of the Line Presale and Reserved tickets to concerts, theatre performances, movie screenings, culinary events, and other special offers
- No annual fee: No annual fee for primary or additional cardholders
- Limited acceptance: American Express isn’t as widely accepted in Canada compared to Visa and Mastercard
- Low redemption flexibility: Cash-back rewards are only redeemable once per year
- Low earn rate:The card’s standard earn rate of 1.25% isn’t particularly compelling when stacked up against other no-fee cash back cards
The best cash back credit card for seniors we found is the American Express SimplyCash card. This card has no minimum income requirement, and my mom was happy that it has no annual fee.
This card offers good cash back rewards including 2% cash back on gas, 2% cash back on groceries, and 1.25% cash back on everything else. A downside is that you can only earn a maximum of $300 cash back per year in the grocery category, but I can’t see my mom spending enough on groceries to reach the limit.
Best for Groceries & bills
based on spending $2,200/mo after $120 annual fee
- Earn rewards
1pt – 4pts / dollar earn rate
- Earn 10% cash back on all purchases for the first 3 months (up to $2,000 in total purchases). No annual fee in the first year, including on supplementary cards. Offer ends October 31, 2024.
- Earn 4% for every $1 you spend on grocery store purchases, recurring bill payments, and subscription purchases.
- Earn 2% for every $1 you spend on gas purchases and daily transit purchases.
- Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases with no cash back limit.
The Scotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite Card offers impressive rewards on everyday purchases. This card earns great cash back on many categories – however, its distinguishing feature is the 4% cash back on groceries. This card can help offset rising household expenses and is considered to be one of the best cash back credit cards.
- High cash back rate on essentials: Enjoy significantly higher earn rates on groceries and gas than most other cards (4% cash back)
- Comprehensive insurance coverage: Benefit from strong insurance coverage typically is reserved for travel credit cards
- Lucrative welcome offer
- Spending cap on bonus categories: Annual total spend limit of $25,000 on the 4% and 2% spending categories; thereafter, the earn rate drops to 1%
- Limited redemption flexibility: Cash back reward is only offered as a statement credit once per year in November and cannot be redeemed in smaller amounts or any other time of year
My mom isn’t filling a cart every time she goes to the grocery store, but some seniors definitely love to cook. For them, I recommend the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite card.
This card pays 4% cash back on groceries and recurring payments, 2% on gas and transit, and 1% on everything else. There’s also a welcome bonus - earn 10% cash back on all purchases for the first 3 months (up to $2,000 in total purchases). No annual fee in the first year, including on additional cards. Offer ends October 31, 2024.. An added benefit is included travel insurance coverage for your next holiday, but be aware that you’ll only qualify for its travel emergency medical insurance coverage if you’re under age 65.
This card has an annual fee of $120 and requires an income of at least $60,000 or assets of at least $250,000. If any of those are dealbreakers, take a look at the Scotia Momentum Visa and Scotia Momentum No-Fee Visa cards as alternatives.
based on spending $2,200/mo after $150 annual fee
- Earn rewards
1pt – 5pts / dollar earn rate
- Earn up to 5 points per dollar in eligible grocery and restaurant purchases*
- 2 points per dollar in eligible gas and electric vehicle charging purchases, recurring bill payments and À la carte travel (TM) purchases*
- 1 point per 1 dollar in other purchases
- Up to $150 each year in refund for travel expenses on airport parking fees, seat selection fees, baggage fees, airline ticket upgrades and access to airport lounges worldwide
- Free and unlimited access along with one (1) guest per cardholder to the National Bank Lounge at Montréal-Trudeau airport.
- Reassuring protection. Travel with peace of mind thanks to our comprehensive insurance coverage up to 60 days
- Out-of-province-of-residence medical/hospital insurance
- Departure flight delay insurance
- Baggage insurance in case of delay
- Baggages insurance in case of theft or loss
- Vehicle rental insurance
- Mobile devices insurance against theft or damages for a period of up to 2 years
- Medical, general and legal assistance
- Purchase protection in case of theft or damage*
- Extended Warranty*
- With the À la carte Rewards Plan® (the “À la carte Plan”), you earn points for every dollar on eligible purchases. These points may be exchanged for rewards such as merchandise, a travel package, a gift card, a travel discount, a donation, a financial product, repayment with rewards points or any other reward offered under the À la carte Plan
The National Bank World Elite Mastercard offers fantastic travel insurance coverage and features for seniors, making it a strong contender among travel credit cards. The trip insurance offers will save you money on your next vacation, plus, the strong points earnings you’ll get from the card could help you cover part or all of the cost of your next trip.
- Extensive travel insurance: Strong travel insurance, including extended emergency medical insurance coverage for seniors that will cover you for 15 days of travel plus trip cancellation or disruption and flight delay insurance, and more
- Travel expense refunds: Receive up to $150 each year in refunds for airport parking, seat selection, check-in fees, airline ticket upgrades and access to airport lounges worldwide
- Flexible redemption options: Combined with high, unlimited earn rates on essentials like groceries, gas and dining, this card also provides flexible redemption options on everything from travel through their A La Carte portal or redeeming for travel booked through any provider
- Annual fee: The $150 annual fee is slightly higher than average for this type of card
- Lounge access limitations: The complimentary lounge access only applies to Montreal airport
- Income requirement: The annual income requirement of $80,000 may be a barrier for some users
- Points values are fixed: Point values remain the same regardless of your destination, so it may take longer to accumulate points for longer flights. Plus, your points are worth less for anything other than booking travel through the A La Carte platform
Having unlimited time to travel is one of the reasons why I can’t wait to retire, and the National Bank World Elite Mastercard is the best choice for seniors who want to see the world. This card has some of the best travel insurance coverage of any credit card in Canada, including coverage for flight cancellation, trip interruption, lost and stolen luggage and rental vehicles. Plus, its travel emergency medical coverage extends to Canadians up to age 75 for trips of 15 days and under.
Unfortunately, the eligibility criteria aren’t the most forgiving. You’ll need household income of at least $150,000, investable assets of at least $400,000, or spend at least $25,000 per year on another National Bank credit card.
based on spending $2,200/mo after $39 annual fee
- Earn rewards
1pt – 2pts / dollar earn rate
- Get a 2.99% introductory interest rate with 0% fee on balance transfers for the first 6 months (22.99% after that; annual fee $39).Offer ends October 31, 2024.
- Earn 2% cash back for every $1 you spend on all eligible gas stations, grocery store, drug store purchases and recurring bill payments.
- Earn 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases.
Despite charging no annual fee, The Scotiabank American Express stand out for its generous benefits and ranks among the best credit cards for rental car insurance in Canada, despite charging no annual fee. While the acceptance may be lower as an American Express, this card more than compensates with standard AMEX benefits and a solid welcome bonus, making it a great option for your wallet
- Comprehensive insurance package: This card includes three types of insurance – extended warranty, purchase protection, and mobile device. One notable coverage is mobile device insurance which is rare for a no annual fee credit cards.
- Access to American Express benefits: Despite not being issued by Amex, the card offers standard Amex benefits like Amex Offers and Front Of The Line, providing easy savings and early access to events.
- Solid welcome bonus for a no annual fee credit card
- Limited acceptance: Experience lower acceptance compared to other card networks, as the Scotiabank American Express is an Amex card.
- Insurance coverage constraints: While there is decent purchase protection insurance, this card has no travel insruance coverage.
Seniors who want to earn credit card rewards on gas purchases should take a look at the Scotia Momentum Visa Card. This card has a low annual fee of $39 and pays 2% cash back on gas, groceries, pharmacies and recurring bill payments plus 1% cash back on everything else. There’s no minimum income requirement, making this one of the more accessible cards to seniors.
Best for PC Points
based on spending $2,200/mo after $0 annual fee
- Earn rewards
10pts – 30pts / dollar earn rate
- Welcome bonus
20,000 bonus points (a $20 value)
- Get 20,000 PC Optimum™ points with a new PC® Mastercard®
- Get 10 PC Optimum™ points per $1 on all the stuff you need: groceries, beauty, household products and more at participating stores.
- Earn at least 30 PC Optimum™ points per litre of fuel at Esso™ and Mobil™ stations in Canada.
- Earn 10 PC Optimum™ points per $1 everywhere else.
- Unlock great benefits, like free extended warranty and purchase assurance.
- Mastercard Global ServiceTM: Replaces your card or offers a cash advance in case of emergency. Conditions apply.
- Free Purchase Assurance: In the event of theft, loss or damage in the first 90 days when you pay in full with your PC® Mastercard® credit card.
- Free Extended Warranty: Doubles the manufacturer’s regular warranty for up to an additional year on items purchased with your PC® Mastercard® credit card.
- Fraud Detection: PC® Mastercard® uses best-in-class fraud detection tools right from the start of your application. Provide fraud monitoring to customers on their transactions and have a dedicated team of fraud specialists to support customers.
- Proactive monitoring PC® Mastercard® also offers optional products that can help you proactively monitor, manage and protect your valuable credit and personal information.PC Financial® Mastercard® is provided by President’s Choice Bank. President’s Choice Bank is not responsible for maintaining or monitoring the accuracy of the content on this website. To the extent of any inconsistency with information at the provider’s site, the terms at the provider’s site shall prevail. For full details and current product information click on the “Apply now” button.Please note: Credit approval and eligibility is subject to a number of factors in addition to credit score.Terms and conditions apply; visit card provider’s site for more information including additional interest rates and fees. All information is subject to change.The PC Optimum™ program is provided by President’s Choice Services Inc.
For the inevitable drugstore purchases, I recommend the PC Financial Mastercard. It pays 25 PC Optimum points per dollar spent at Shoppers Drug Mart (equal to 2.5% in rewards), and 10 points per dollar spent at grocery stores like Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore and NoFrills. This card has no minimum income requirement and no annual fee.
Purchase interest rate
- Pay $5/mo
Based on a credit balance of $500
- Annual fee
- Ratehub.ca’s 2023 Award Winner – Best Low Interest Credit Card and Best Balance Transfer Credit Card
- This offer is not available for residents of Quebec.
- No annual fee
- Standard Annual Interest Rates of 12.99% on purchases, 12.99% on balance transfers✪, and 24.99% on cash advances
- You could get a 0% promotional annual interest rate (“AIR”)† for 12 months on balance transfers✪ completed within 90 days of account opening, with a 3% transfer fee.
- Around-the-clock fraud protection
- Use available credit on your credit card to transfer funds right to your chequing account.
Apply for the MBNA True Line® Mastercard® credit card today.
In the Venn diagram of features most sought after by those looking to minimize their credit card debt, the MBNA True Line Mastercard has some considerable overlap. The card has no annual fee and a below-average purchase interest rate of 12.99% on purchases and balance transfers. For anyone trying to work themselves out of debt and rebuilt their credit, the 0% promotional annual interest rate for 12 months provides an excellent head start.
- Best promotional balance transfer offer on the market: A promotional balance transfer of 0% is available for a full year helping pay down or eliminate credit card debt (note: there is a 3% balance transfer fee)
- Fixed low interest rate: The low interest rate of 12.99% is fixed and won’t change regardless of your credit rating, income, or the bank’s prime lending rate
- Accessibility: No annual fee and no income requirements to qualify making it very accessible
- Lack of additional benefits: This card does not include insurance or other benefits
- Restrictions for Quebec residents: Offer not available to residents of Quebec
When you’re on a fixed income like my mom, sometimes you need to carry a balance on your credit card. If that’s your primary reason for wanting one, the MBNA True Line Mastercard is a good choice. This card has no annual fee and a low interest rate of 12.99% on purchases so it’s more affordable to carry a balance. This card has no annual fee and doesn’t specify a minimum income to apply. It is important to note that the balance transfer comes with a 3% transfer fee.
Should seniors get secured credit cards?
Secured credit cards are best suited to people who need to establish or repair their credit. If you have a good history of paying your bills on time, you can likely qualify for a regular credit card which will have better features and won’t require a security deposit.
How can seniors improve credit scores?
If you’re a senior with bad or no credit, a secured credit card is one of the best ways to quickly build your credit score. The Neo Secured Credit Card is a good choice, which pays cash back rewards and can be had with a security deposit of as little as $50.
If you have poor-to-fair credit, improve your credit score by making all your minimum payments on time every month, paying down balances, and keeping your oldest lines of credit open even if you’re not using them.
Does age affect eligibility for credit card travel insurance?
Most credit card travel insurance coverage doesn’t depend on your age, with one exception. Travel emergency medical insurance coverage, which protects you in case you need emergency care while travelling, is often restricted to younger cardholders. One of the best credit cards for seniors’ travel emergency medical insurance is the National Bank World Elite Mastercard. This card trips up to 60 days if you’re 54 and under, 31 days if you’re 55 to 65, and 15 days if you’re 65 to 75.
The bottom line
My mom and I thought it would be a big challenge to find a credit card that would approve her on a fixed income, but it turns out there are lots of great options for seniors like her. Compare credit cards online to find the best card for you and make your retirement a little more rewarding.