I know some financial gurus look down on credit card use, and I understand the rationale. Large amounts of unpaid debt can lead to financial ruin.
However, credit cards used the right way can reap tremendous benefits. For one, they offer more protection as a payment system than a debit card. If there’s an issue with a bank debit card, it can take weeks or months to resolve, and depending on the agreement with the bank, there’s no guarantee you’ll get that money back.
Also, many credit cards offer travel protection and other services.
But probably one of the biggest benefits is earning tax-free cash rewards!
I Used 10 Credit Cards To Earn $4,000 in Rewards
Here I’ll explain how my husband and I earned more than $4,000 in rewards in one year using credit cards. In this discussion, I want to stress that we always pay our balances in full every month, so we don’t incur any interest fees.
To reap maximum rewards, you’ll need to be very organized and stay on top of payments and how much you charge on each card.
A disclaimer: Two of the cards I signed up for have annual fees, but the benefits outweighed the cost of the fees, and I later canceled one of them. Here’s how we earned $4,105.42 in credit card rewards over a year’s time!
Credit Card #1: Chase Freedom Unlimited, $431.50
We’ve had this card for a while, and this amount doesn’t include the welcome bonus we received when we got the card. Between the 5% cash back on quarterly categories and unlimited 1.5% back on every purchase, we earned an average of $40 each month. We use this card to pay for things like insurance, cell phone and streaming service bills as well as some charitable contributions.
Right now a similar card from Chase has an amazing welcome bonus: $200 back on a $500 spend with no annual fee.
Credit Card #2: Chase Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card, $349.86
I feel I need to go ahead and confess about this one. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, we began relying more on Amazon for essentials and (ahem) other things that we didn’t really need, such as this dog game for our pup (just $7.50 when we bought it).
We’ve really cut back on our purchases at Amazon, though. And as long as I knew the item was the best price by comparison shopping and focusing on items we actually needed, I considered the additional 5% back to be an added bonus. I believe we initially got $50 in Amazon store credit for signing up for this card, and there is no annual fee. You can read Team Clark’s full review here.
Credit Card #3: Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card, $1,421
Last October, I saw an introductory offer for five free nights with the Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card, and I decided to sign up. This turned out to be a huge savings, because my husband and I were able to go on our anniversary trip in April for free! Though I did pay $95 initially for the annual fee, our stay at the beach would have cost us $1,421 if we had paid out of pocket. It was lovely!
I have since canceled this card, but I would definitely consider signing up again when we are traveling more. You can learn more about the current card offerings here.
Credit Card #4: Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi, $268.13
This is one card that is definitely in Clark’s wallet, and if you’re a Costco member, it makes sense: You get 4% cash back on gas on top of the already low gas prices that will pay for your membership even if you never buy anything else. It also offers damage and theft purchase protection and doesn’t carry foreign transaction fees.
There is one caveat to this card though. Unlike other cards that award your cash back monthly, this card saves your rewards and issues them in the form of a Costco certificate once a year. (If you want cash, if you take the certificate to Costco, they’ll give you the cash amount in exchange for your certificate.) Read Team Clark’s full review here.
Credit Card #5: My BJ’s Perks Mastercard, $40
Not only are we Costco members, but we are also BJ’s Wholesale members. I signed up again with a deal Groupon offered that made the year-long membership just $20, but we still have a deal over at Clark Deals for a $25 membership, a savings of $30 over the regular price.
This card was a no-brainer with its introductory offer of $40 to use at BJ’s. This card also saves you 10 cents per gallon when you use it for gas at BJ’s. I like shopping at this warehouse club because the grocery prices are much lower for the items we commonly buy, and I LOVE the coupons. These aren’t just 25-cent coupons; these are $1 and $3 off at a time coupons. Also, I love the convenience of store pickup.
Since we re-joined in May, I have saved $297 shopping at BJ’s Wholesale, according to the notice I see when I log into the app. I’m not sure if that’s completely accurate, but we definitely save a ton at BJ’s compared to other stores.
Credit Card #6: Capital One Quicksilver Card: $220.77
This was another easy earn. Upon submitting an application and being approved, I spent $500 within the first three months to get $200 cash back. I spent a bit more than the $500, so I also got another $10.69 in rewards the first month of being a cardholder and $10.08 the next month (not shown below.)
The Capital One Quicksilver card offers 1.5% cash back on every purchase with no annual fee. The welcome bonus I got with this card is still available.
Credit Card #7: American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card, $724.16
This card is an unusual one in that it gives you 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 per year. Though this doesn’t apply to warehouse clubs (Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s Wholesale) or big box stores (Target and Walmart), it does apply to places such as Publix and Sprouts. I try to scoop up as many BOGO deals as possible when I shop at these stores, so the 6% cash back is another bonus.
Though this card does have a $95 annual fee, I did the math to determine if we’d still get more back using this card versus our next highest reward card. Figuring for average expenses at Publix and Sprouts, even though we don’t shop at those stores as much as BJ’s, I learned we’d still earn more than the annual fee, so it’s worth it for us. (If you spend at least $1,600 on food at supermarkets, this cancels out the annual fee because you’ll get $96 back on purchases of $1,600.)
Another thing I like about this card is that there are offers for savings at various retailers. Though I haven’t used many of these offers, I appreciated the extra savings on a pair of prescription glasses at Zenni.
A lesson I learned with this card: If you try to apply for numerous cards from the same brand, such as two different Amex cards, the company may not give you an introductory reward if you’ve already gotten one from it in the past year or two. You’ll want to check the fine print before applying.
As of this writing, you can get up to $350 in credits as an introductory bonus with this card.
Credit Card #8: Bank of America, $400
My husband and I were already cardholders for Bank of America, but we never used our cards.
One day we each got a notice in the mail that if we switched to the new Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards card, we’d be able to earn $200 cash back after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days. We’ve both planned out our purchases to spend $1,000 on each card, so we’ll be getting the $400 ($200 each) back soon.
Credit Card #9: Comenity Mastercard, $100
To be honest I didn’t have much invested in this card. I got an offer in the mail for it since I had the BJ’s card (it’s the same company). So you know what I did? I got my cash back and bounced! I have since closed this card. But it does offer 1.5% cash back.
Credit Card #10: Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Credit Card, $150
My husband opened this card because it offers a pretty high cash back percentage. We earned a $150 welcome bonus for signing up and spending $1,500 in the first 90 days. The other nice thing about this card is that your cash back is deposited into an investment account of your choosing, so it encourages saving. See a full review of this card here.
A Word of Caution
Opening many credit accounts all at once can subject you to more risk when it comes to your credit profile. Once you have opened the cards you want, you should freeze your credit to protect yourself.
Also, having a lot of credit inquiries in a short period of time can ding your credit rating, so be sure your score can withstand the hit. Although I opened five new credit cards and closed three in the past year, my credit score is still above 750.
To keep your credit score high, always pay your bills on time and keep your credit usage low. We always pay our balances off each month and use credit cards just as a payment system.
Credit cards can be a fun way to earn cash back on items you’d buy anyway. They also offer more protections than a debit card.
Just remember always to pay your balances in full each month and treat your credit cards as a payment system — not as accessible money. If you can do each of those things well, you’ll reap the maximum advantages.
Charis Brown is the managing editor of Clark Deals, a site dedicated to finding the best deals you can trust from around the web every day. Sign up for the Clark Deals free daily newsletter to get the best bargains in your inbox.
Have you used credit cards to earn big rewards? Tell us in the comments below!