While there are many reasons to use a credit card when making a purchase, the lucrative promotions and special offers are what make getting a new credit card worthwhile for many.
While playing the credit cards game can certainly involve complex analysis and careful tracking of rewards, bonuses, spending and various accounts, taking advantage of a single credit card offer now and then doesn’t require a spreadsheet full of macros.
Pick the Right Credit Card(s)
You can only apply for so many cards at once before having too many credit inquiries will make you look less like a great borrower and more like someone desperate to extend credit, so choose carefully. If you’re looking for a great deal, find a card with a nice welcome bonus that’ll also reward your spending in the long run. A great option works in the immediate future and for the foreseeable one. Excellent extra benefits that you’ll actually use are great, too.
Use More Than One Credit Card
A collection of carefully-selected credit cards will likely return you more rewards if you’re also mindful about how and when you use the cards. Different credit card reward programs incentivize different spending. With a collection of cards you can earn elevated rewards on gas with one card and yield high cash back on dining with another and so on such that nearly everything you can use a credit card for will earn extra rewards.
Multiple credit cards can also mean multiple welcome bonuses and extra benefits. A card with an auto collision damage waiver benefit may save you much more when renting a car than a card without insurance that has a high earn on rental cars if someone damages your vehicle.
This does not mean, however, that you should apply for all of the cards you want at once. You should leave enough time (about three months) between applications for your credit to recover from each hard inquiry.
Pay Your Balance in Full Every Month
If you pay interest rates on your balance, you will more than likely wipe out the value of any rewards you’ve earned on purchases—and quickly. Credit card interest rates are some of the highest rates you’ll find when borrowing money, but credit cards typically offer grace periods to allow you to pay the balance off before it accrues interest. Pay your balance in full each month by the due date so your reward earnings aren’t eviscerated by finance charges.
Some credit card agreements include stipulations to allow for the cancellation of rewards when customers are late on payments. Be careful to ensure you don’t forfeit unredeemed earnings in their entirety the moment you’re late on a payment.
Redeem Your Rewards Regularly
While your money can work for you if you keep it in the bank, your rewards won’t. The value of points does not improve with inflation and not only do you not actually own your points, miles or cashback, but miles can be devalued by the issuer at any time. For these reasons, it’s best practice to use your rewards if you have them.
Some cards offer auto-redemption features which trigger a redemption when you attain a certain reward threshold. Turning on this feature is a great idea where it makes sense. Otherwise, regularly converting your rewards to cash or redeeming them for flights, hotels or other value is a great way to maximize the value you can earn.
Apply for a New Credit Card With a Large Sign Up Bonus
If you can meet the requirements, sign up bonuses are a great way to achieve more reward value. You will most likely need to spend a certain amount during a specified time period to qualify, but if you were going to spend the money anyway, why not?
While this is a good way to make the occasional few hundred dollars, it is important not to overdo it. If you open too many new credit cards without allowing for the time for your credit score to recover from the hard inquiry, it could hurt your credit score in the long term.
You also shouldn’t spend money you don’t need to spend or don’t have. Credit card bonuses may be a tempting reason to spend more, but spending beyond your means is a quick way to end up with a large bill for interest charges that’ll quickly eat away at any reward you may earn with a bonus.