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How to Maximize Your Credit Card Rewards

[Thursday, June 13th, 2013]

Your new cash back credit card just arrived in the mail and you are eager to begin using it. But you might be wondering how to make the best use of the card, and get the most value out of it. This guide will tell you how to squeeze the biggest rewards out of your new credit card.

There are many types of reward credit cards. Besides cash back cards, there are frequent flyer cards that earn miles, cards that earn points, and cards that let you save on certain purchases. Here are some ways to get the most from whatever type of card you have:

  • Many cards give 1% cash back on all purchases all the time, but each quarter they give 5% cash back in certain categories. For example, from January through March, you will get 5% back at grocery stores, and from April through July you will get 5% back at restaurants. If you have a cash back card with rotating rewards, make sure you sign up for them – most of these cards require you to sign up each quarter – and plan your purchases ahead of time. Sign up online, by phone, by text message or on social media (many cards let you do this on Facebook or Twitter). Then think ahead when you go out. If you need to make a big purchase at a home improvement store, do it during the quarter that extra savings are given there. If you have several different cards with this feature, you can rotate your use of them to match the 5% back schedule.
  • Pay attention to where you get the biggest rewards. If you have a card that always gives 3% back on gas or dining, or gives you double reward miles when you book plane tickets through a certain airline, then be sure you use those cards when you make those type of purchases. Don’t always pull out the same card out of habit; use the one that gives you the biggest bang for your buck.
  • Use your credit card to pay bills automatically. Monthly utility bills, phone bills and other recurring charges are in your budget already. Instead of having them come out of your checking account automatically, have them charged to your rewards credit card. Then set up the credit card so that it is paid through your checking account automatically—in full, if you’ve made sure your budget allows for it. That way the money moves out of your account in two steps instead of one, earning you extra cash back in the process.

Rewards credit cards aren’t going to make you rich, but they can put a few – or a few hundred – extra dollars in your pocket if you play your cards right. So pay attention to the terms and conditions of your reward program and get the most from the plastic you pack in your wallet.

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