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Commissary Military Star Card to Roll Out in October

Shoppers at the Fort Drum commissary. Ashley Patoka/Northern Regional Medical Command
Shoppers at the Fort Drum commissary. Ashley Patoka/Northern Regional Medical Command

Commissaries will begin accepting the Military Star credit card in October, said officials with the commissary and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which manages the card program.

The Military Star card, operated by AAFES through the Exchange Credit Program, is a popular credit card choice among young service members because approval does not require a long credit history or a good credit score. The card, which historically has been accepted only at exchange facilities across the services, often carries a low credit limit starting at $800 and does not have a yearly fee.

A 2016 law ordered AAFES and the Defense Commissary Agency to expand the program to be accepted at the more than 200 commissaries worldwide. That rollout will be done as part of a previously planned commissary point of sale (POS) system upgrade, DeCA officials said.

"Before the decision was made to allow Star Cards to be used in commissaries, DeCA had already planned to replace its POS system, so the rollout of this system has nothing to do with the ability of our patrons to use their Star Cards in commissaries," said Kevin Robinson, a commissary spokesman. "However, now that Star Cards will be accepted, the function of processing this form of payment will be integrated in DeCA's current and future POS systems."

Robinson said the point-of-sale upgrade is being paid for through funds from the 5 percent surcharge commissary shoppers pay on each transaction. Star Card use costs will be covered by AAFES, he said.

There are currently about 2.1 million Star Card holders, AAFES officials said. Although the card comes with perks for users, including 5 cents off per gallon at exchange gas stations and rewards points that are converted into exchange gift cards, failure to pay off the card can bring serious ramifications. For example, unlike most credit card debts, Star Card default can result in military paycheck garnishments.

AAFES is also running a pilot program to test service member interest in using the card at Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs, including child care services, starting this spring at Fort Hood, Texas, officials said.

For MWR, the exchanges and the commissary system, using the Star Card means lower transaction fees, which AAFES officials say will pay directly back into MWR programs.

"MWR is able to avoid the fees they pay when other credit is used -- such as Visa or MasterCard," said Christopher Ward, an AAFES spokesman. "And since a significant portion of Military Star earnings provide funding that support quality-of-life programs -- $691 million over the last 10 years -- it only helps to ensure those funds continue to be funneled right back to the very channels now accepting the card."

Prior to fall 2015, the Star Card could be paired with a co-branded Chase Bank credit card. Although both accounts were included on one physical card, they appeared as two lines of credit on users' credit scores.

Chase still offers a military-specific card, but it is no longer paired with the Star Card program.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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