Are you getting the most out of your credit card rewards program?
Admittedly, it takes some effort and concentration to maximize your credit card rewards. To get the most rewards, you may need a variety of credit cards. And the more credit cards you have, the harder it is to keep track of everything.
It can be so much work that money expert Clark Howard has likened the process to having an extra part-time job.
Thankfully, technology is making it easier to ensure you’re getting a good rewards return on your purchases without requiring too much extra effort.
And with a few proactive steps, you may be able to get even more out of the rewards you earn.
7 Ways To Maximize Credit Card Rewards
- Apply for the *Right* Credit Cards
- Achieve Your Welcome Bonus
- Establish a Plan for Ongoing Purchases
- Maximize Temporary Bonus Rewards Periods
- Check for Extra Rewards Offers on Select Purchases
- Explore Redemption Options for Maximum Points Value
- Avoid Carrying a Balance on Your Card
1. Apply for the *Right* Credit Cards
The easiest way to get a good return on your credit card purchases is to make sure that the cards in your wallet are tailored to the type of spending that you do.
Money expert Clark Howard recommends that, at minimum, you carry two credit cards from separate issuers. And he strongly recommends that your first rewards credit card be one that offers 2% cash back on all purchases.
Once you’ve secured that guaranteed 2% return, the cards that you add should complement your spending habits.
After all, it makes sense that you’ll maximize your rewards opportunities by picking credit cards that offer the best rewards in the spending categories where you spend the most money.
To help with this process, you may want to use a free tool like Card Wiz to compare credit cards based on your projected monthly spending.
2. Achieve Your Welcome Bonus
Before we get to the nitty-gritty of mining for extra credit card rewards, let’s take care of the easy stuff first.
If you are signing up for a new credit card, there’s a decent chance that the card will come with some sort of welcome bonus offer. And the easiest way to get great rewards returns on this card is to cash in on this offer.
Some cards offer several hundred dollars worth of points or statement credits if you charge a certain amount to your card within a set period of months. An example might be something like, “Receive a $300 welcome bonus if you spend $2,000 within the first six months of card membership.”
When you’re choosing between credit cards, make sure that you’re picking one that offers a welcome bonus you feel confident that you can achieve. It’ll be a huge boost in your efforts to maximize your rewards.
If you have a large purchase coming up, such as a new household appliance, using your new card for that transaction might go a long way toward clearing the spending hurdle.
Team Clark has highlighted some of the best credit card welcome bonuses here.
3. Establish a Plan for Ongoing Purchases
Once you’ve determined that you have the proper mix of credit cards for your spending habits and have taken full advantage of any welcome bonuses, it’s time to make a semi-permanent plan for using these cards.
For most people, developing this concept is actually easier than execution.
The idea is straightforward: Look at each potential spending category in which you plan to make purchases and then determine which card has the best “permanent” reward for that type of purchase.
Have the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa card? The 5% back you get for purchases with Amazon is probably the best you’ll do for those categories. Do you have a Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express? The 6% back you’ll get on U.S. Supermarkets and streaming purchases likely is your permanent “go-to” for groceries and streaming TV.
Mapping this out will help you ensure that you use the “right card” more times than not. And doing that will help maximize the rewards.
But will you be disciplined enough to commit the strategy to memory so that you make the right call? Think of this common scenario: You’re out with friends and you have to whip out a card and pay quickly while you’re in the middle of a conversation.
Clark often talks about a card labeling system he learned from a person who approached him in Costco, and it can be a great low-tech solution.
But there’s are more and more high-tech solutions: phone apps.
4. Maximize Any Temporary Bonus Rewards Periods
Once you have your ongoing card use strategy in place, it’s time to start looking at temporary ways that you can maximize the rewards on your purchases.
The most obvious of these are cards with rotating rewards such as the Discover it or Chase Freedom Flex. Both offer 5% cash back on rewards categories that change every three months. So staying up to date on what kinds of purchases qualify for the bonus and then spending up to the maximum in those categories is a great way to boost rewards.
You also can find cards, such as the Citi Custom Cash or Venmo Credit Card, that will assess your monthly spending with the card and give you bonus rewards for your top categories. This is a great opportunity to be strategic about enhancing your rewards temporarily in a particular spending category, like gas or groceries.
Other credit cards may have limited-time offers for existing customers to encourage you to spend with the card. For example, the Fidelity Rewards Visa has sent me personalized temporary bonus rewards offers that include things like an enhanced cash back return on all purchases for a six-week period or a bonus cash back reward for paying my auto insurance bill with the credit card.
Those may not always come around when you need them, but being keeping up to date on temporary bonus rewards opportunities is a key to maximizing the most out of your credit card spending.
5. Check for Extra Rewards Offers on Select Purchases
Another temporary opportunity to maximize rewards on your spending likely can be found on your credit card’s phone app or website.
Many of the major card issuers, such as Chase, Citi, Capital One and American Express, have a portal that offers enhanced spending bonuses with partner businesses.
These are usually limited-time offers that target specific store chains or brands. You get statement credits in exchange for using your credit card at those stores.
For example, here’s a peek at the American Express program called Amex Offers.
You’ll notice that each offer has an expiration date, and that you must click on “Add to Card” for the offer to be activated.
In recent months, I’ve used these offers to get a discount on a Sam’s Club membership, to get TurboTax at a cheaper price and to earn statement credits for shopping with small businesses.
But be careful with these offers.
Those three I listed above are examples of purchases that I probably would have made even without the promotional offer, but there is the temptation to buy things that you don’t actually need when you see the offers.
6. Explore Redemption Options for Maximum Points Value
Now that I’ve outlined ways that you can maximize your rewards through spending, let’s shift our focus to how you can get the most out of your spending through rewards redemption.
Simply put, not all credit card points redemptions are created equal.
In many cases, cash back redemption may be best, but there are potential bonuses for using the points for things like travel within a card’s rewards program.
Each redemption program is a little different, so you’ll want to take some time to familiarize yourself with your card’s options before developing a strategy for this.
Another thing to consider is the potential to stack your points if you have multiple credit cards through the same issuer. For example, if you are earning Chase Ultimate Rewards with two different credit cards, you may be able to pool those points together to spend them on one vacation package through Chase’s travel portal.
One final note of caution when it comes to developing a points redemption strategy: Check your card’s policy on points expiration. Many cards will tout that your points “never expire,” but read the fine print to ensure that you’re not potentially “giving away” points by hoarding them.
7. Avoid Carrying a Balance on Your Card
One final piece of advice as you seek to get the most out of your credit card spending: Make every possible effort to pay your bills on time and your balances in full.
Getting your full rewards benefits may depend on it.
Some rewards programs don’t pay out your full rewards earnings until your bill is paid for your purchases. For example, the Citi Double Cash awards 1% cash back when you make a purchase and an additional 1% cash back when you pay your bill on that purchase.
And many others stipulate that you could forfeit points you’ve already earned by missing payments or letting your card fall past due.
Ultimately, carrying a balance and paying interest negates the actual value of your credit card rewards. And it goes against Clark’s rules for using credit cards.
If you’re in a financial situation that requires carrying balances on your credit cards each month, Clark says that focusing on finding the lowest interest rate available is much more important than maximizing rewards cards. Instead of implementing the strategies I’ve talked about in this article, you may instead need to visit your local credit union to find a good flat-rate APR on a credit card.
As you may have figured out by now, maximizing your credit card rewards can be hard work. And for some people, some of these strategies simply won’t be worth it.
That’s why Clark recommends grabbing a 2% cash back card that rewards you for every purchase that you make. That way, you can be guaranteed a solid rate of return on each purchases without having to think about anything at all.
However, for those of you who want to squeeze that extra couple of percentage points out of as many purchases as possible, a mixture of the strategies discussed above should help you along the way.
Do you have a successful strategy for maximizing credit card rewards that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear more about it in the Clark.com Community!
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