AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard Review [2022]: Is It Worth It for Older Adults?

The AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard offers rewards and benefits that could be helpful for older adults.
Last updated Jan 6, 2022 | By Ben Walker | Edited By Melinda Sineriz

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A cashback credit card can be the perfect addition to your wallet if you want to earn rewards on everyday expenses. This could help you save money on purchases you’re already making, but some cashback cards might suit you better than others.

The AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard from Barclays offers 3% cash back on gas and drug store purchases (except for Target and Walmart); 2% cash back on medical expenses; and 1% cash back on all other purchases. This card seems to cater to older adults, but its potential value depends on your situation. Let’s see how it works in this card review.

Earn Cash Back on Medical Expenses

AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard from Barclays

AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard from Barclays

AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard from Barclays

Intro Offer

Earn $100 cash back after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months

Annual Fee

$0

Rewards Rate

3% cash back on gas and drug store purchases (except for Target and Walmart); 2% cash back on medical expenses; and 1% cash back on all other purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • $100 sign-up offer
  • Up to 3% cash back
  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers
  • No annual fee

Drawbacks

  • Has foreign transaction fee
Card Details
  • Earn $100 cash back after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 3% cash back on gas and drug store purchases (except for Target and Walmart); 2% cash back on medical expenses; and 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Intro balance transfer 0% offer: 0% for 15 months then 16.74% to 25.74% (variable)

In this AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard review

Who should get the AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard Review?

Your general expenses tend to change as you age, which is why the AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard from Barclays could appeal to older adults. With bonus earning potential on gas and drug store purchases (except for Target and Walmart), as well as medical expenses, this could be an attractive option for many individuals.

It helps that the AARP name is attached because it’s an organization that focuses on providing benefits to retirees. You don’t need an AARP membership to apply for this card, but you can redeem rewards for a new AARP membership if you want.

This card might not make sense for you if its bonus categories don’t align with your typical expenses or if you can’t meet the recommended minimum credit qualifications of good or excellent credit. But it could make sense if you’re looking for a balance transfer offer on a cashback card.

Card basics

Card type Cash back
Credit card issuer Barclays
Credit card network Mastercard
Annual fee $0
Intro bonus Earn $100 cash back after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months
Reward rate 3% cash back on gas and drug store purchases (except for Target and Walmart); 2% cash back on medical expenses; and 1% cash back on all other purchases
Recommended credit score Good, Excellent
Intro APR 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 15 months, and then 16.74% to 25.74% (variable)
Foreign transaction fee 3%

AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard benefits and perks

  • Generous welcome offer: Earn $100 cash back after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months.
  • Helpful rewards: Earn 3% cash back on gas and drug store purchases (except for Target and Walmart); 2% cash back on medical expenses; and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • No annual fee: With a $0 annual fee, this card’s benefits could provide continued value each year.
  • Charitable contributions: Barclays will donate $10 to the AARP Foundation for each newly approved AARP credit card from Barclays between March 22, 2021, and March 31, 2022. In addition, Barclays will also donate 1% of all eligible electronic and telecommunications purchases made with these cards to the AARP Foundation to help support increased social connection.
  • Balance transfer offer: Receive a 0% introductory APR offer on balance transfers for 15 months, and then 16.74% to 25.74% (variable).

Drawbacks to the AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard

  • Bonus categories: If the bonus categories don’t align with your everyday expenses, this card might not offer as much value to you as other potential options. For more details, check out our list of the best cashback credit cards.
  • Balance transfer period: Cardholders will have to transfer balances within 45 days of your account opening for the promotional offer. This is shorter than the typical 60-plus days of account opening you might see on other credit cards. For more options, check out our list of the best balance transfer credit cards.
  • Foreign transaction fee: You have to pay a 3% foreign transaction fee when using this card for foreign purchases. If you want to avoid this fee, check out our list of the best travel credit cards.

Earning and redeeming cash back

Potential earnings in years one and two

Here's a look at how your cashback rewards can add up with the AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard.

Remember, this is an estimation. The actual value will be determined by how much you spend and in which categories you spend.

Year one earnings: $483

Year two earnings: $383

These values are based on the FinanceBuzz Credit Card Rewards Valuation Model, which looks at points earned via spending, the sign-up bonus, and the annual fee.

The earning categories we include in our valuation model are groceries, dining out, gas, entertainment, travel, and other. For this specific card, including significant spending on medical expenses and drug store purchases would likely increase the estimated amount of cash back earned each year.

Best ways to earn

If you want to earn loads of cash back with a rewards credit card, it’s best to use your card as much as possible on purchases you’re already making. Using this strategy on the AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard will ensure you earn at least 1% cash back on every eligible purchase.

But if you want to maximize your earning potential, always use your card for purchases that fall within its bonus categories. Bonus earning potential on this card include 3% back on gas and drug store purchases (except for Target and Walmart), as well as 2% back on medical expenses.

Categories Rewards rate
Gas and drug store purchases (except for Target and Walmart) 3%
Medical expenses 2%
All other purchases 1%

Considering this card doesn’t offer bonus cash back for all your everyday expenses, including groceries and utilities, an easy way to maximize your overall earnings is to use multiple cards with different bonus categories. To find additional card options, use our dedicated page to compare credit cards.

Maximizing your redemptions

With most cashback credit cards, there’s not much of a difference between the value provided from your different redemption options. The cashback value is typically the same, so which redemption option(s) you choose for your cashback bonus comes down to your preference.

With the AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard, you can redeem your cash back for these options:

  • Bank deposit to a U.S. checking or savings account
  • Statement credit
  • Gift card
  • AARP membership
  • Merchandise

All these redemptions hold the same value with your cash back, but you might find one suits your situation better than another. For example, it could be useful to redeem rewards for an AARP membership rather than paying for one. But, it’s hard to beat a deposit into a linked bank account, which is like receiving cash you can use for anything.

AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard FAQs

Do you need to be an AARP member to get the AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard?

No, you don’t have to be an AARP member to get the AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard. If you’re an AARP member, you can input your membership number while applying for this card, but it’s not required. The cash back you earn with this card can be redeemed for an AARP membership.

What are the benefits of the AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard?

The AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard offers unique spending categories for earning bonus cash back, including 3% back on gas and drug store purchases (except for Target and Walmart) and 2% back on medical expenses. Additionally, you can redeem your cash back for bank deposits, AARP memberships, statement credits, gift cards, and more.

What credit score do you need for the AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard?

You typically need a good or excellent credit score to qualify for this card. For a FICO Score, a type of credit score, good credit starts at 670, and excellent credit is 800 and above.

Other cards to consider

The AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard could make sense in some situations, but it won’t be the right fit for everyone. For other similar options, consider the AARP Travel Rewards Mastercard and the Chase Freedom Flex.

The AARP Travel Rewards Mastercard is also an AARP co-branded cashback credit card from Barclays, but it’s styled as a travel rewards card that focuses on different spending categories. This includes 3% cash back on airfare, hotel stays, and rental cars, as well as 2% cash back on restaurant purchases. Apart from these bonus categories, the two AARP cards are virtually the same, so the better card for you depends on your typical expenses.

For more information, check out our AARP Travel Rewards Mastercard review.

The Chase Freedom Flex is also a cashback credit card, but it focuses more on common everyday expenses. This includes earning 5% on rotating quarterly categories (on up to $1,500 spent) and travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; 3% at restaurants (including takeout and delivery) and drugstores; and 1% on all other purchases. The 5% bonus is higher than what you’d find on either AARP card, and rotating categories in the past have included grocery stores, home improvement stores, select streaming services, gas stations, Amazon, and more.

For more details, check out our Chase Freedom Flex review.

Earn Cash Back on Medical Expenses

AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard from Barclays

AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard from Barclays

AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard from Barclays

Special Offer

Earn $100 cash back after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months

See how these cards compare:

AARP® Travel Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays
AARP® Travel Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays
  • $100 sign-up offer
  • Up to 3% cash back
  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers
  • No annual fee
Chase Freedom Flex
Chase Freedom Flex
  • $200 sign-up bonus
  • Up to 5% cash back on spending
  • Lyft and DoorDash perks

Author Details

Ben Walker Ben Walker is a credit cards and travel writer at FinanceBuzz who loves helping others achieve their travel goals through financially-sound decisions. For nearly a decade, he has been using credit card points and miles for the sole purpose of traveling the world. Ben has been featured in The Washington Post, MSN, Debt.com, and Finder.com.