I can't tell you how many people I know who pay for everything with credit cards to "get the points". Whether you use them to book travel or get cash back, credit card rewards can provide major value when used responsibly and wisely. We’ve compiled a number of tips and tricks to help you stay ahead of the game.
Don’t bust your budget. "Do you really need that new iPhone?"
The promise of enticing rewards can easily spur customers to stretch their budget. It’s easier to “rationalize” that shiny new gadget if you imagine the shiny new reward that could accompany it. Don't fall into this trap.
Pay off your balance each month to avoid late fees and interest rates. Period.
Those credit cards aren’t so rewarding if you are also paying high interest rates and late fees in order to maintain your credit card. You already know that late fees can also negate your rewards, leaving you with no rewards and a hefty bill.
Pay attention to categories.
Some credit card companies allow you to select which categories for which you want to earn bonus rewards points. If you’re a big grocery spender, you’ll want to concentrate rewards in that category. If you drive a gas guzzler, swing benefits toward the pump. And if categories rotate, pay attention. Mark it on your own calendar. Spend wisely.
Play the field.
Who says you have to be loyal to one card? If you have a strong credit score, you should consider applying for multiple cards that offer point sign-up bonuses. Why not add a Flagship Bank credit card to the list? Then you can spend the minimum amount on each card to earn the bonus. Just make sure you keep track of spending and pay off that balance each month!
Watch for sales.
Believe it or not, even credit card rewards programs offer sales and special offers. Sure, they’re also designed to entice more spending, but if you select wisely, you can nab extra perks with limited extra obligation.
Be aware of limits.
You may earn 6% back on groceries, which sounds fantastic. But if it’s just on the first $6,000 of groceries spent in a year, you can’t possibly earn more than $360 back. Now, that’s certainly nothing to sniff at, but it may not be what you’d hoped for, either. Know the limits.
Comparison shop — and negotiate
Credit card companies compete to win your business. You don’t have to go with the first offer you receive in the mail. (In fact, you almost certainly shouldn’t.) Do some research. Compare offers. Talk to sales representatives and see if there are any special concessions you can secure up front.
Treat your card like cash — and use it for everything.
One of the best ways to rack up rewards is to make plastic your spending method of choice. Retailers and restaurants are increasingly receptive to credit cards, and you can use them for everything from health care payments to utility payments to coffee. Just pretend that you’re spending cash, which means always paying off the full balance. Using a credit card for everything is also a good way to track your spending, because there’s always an electronic record of it. As always, only spend if you have the money. Don’t rack up debt just to earn rewards.
Pay for major, obligatory purchases with a credit card.
You might even be able to make mortgage, rent, or utility payments on a credit card. Beware: some vendors charge fees for charging on a credit card, so make sure this strategy will earn extra value instead of cost extra money.
There are three key facts to remember about credit card rewards programs: First, credit card rewards programs are designed to earn money — for the credit card company; creating value for you takes some strategy. Decide what card will reward you for what you spend money on. Second, always take time to read the fine print; do your homework and know what you’re getting yourself into. Finally, always make payments on time; failure to do so will hit your rewards stash and your wallet.