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Maximize Your Credit Card Rewards

By: Joe Kenny

For credit card companies, acquiring customers is big business, and most cards today offer some kind of incentive for running up the charges on your plastic. If you're not careful, and use your card at will just to collect a few measly points, you could get stung. But by following a few simple rules, you can turn the tables on the credit cards companies and use that “rewards" card to your advantage.

What to choose?
Most likely, your mailbox is full of pre-approved offers for new and exciting credit cards. In fact, in 2005 over 6 billion unsolicited credit card applications were mailed. The average person received approximately 72 offers. If you're in the market for a new card, it's important to weigh your options carefully. Most credit cards today offer some kind of rewards, but which one is right for you?

Take a look at your lifestyle and spending habits. Would you benefit from a points-based rewards card, an air mileage card, or one that offers cash back on purchases? Points-based cards usually give you one point for every dollar charged. When you accumulate enough, the credit card company will usually have a shopping portal set up, where you can redeem your points on a variety of products (e.g., electronics, gas cards, travel, etc.).

Problem is, most items in the catalogue are ludicrously overpriced, though it's better than nothing. Air mileage cards offer great benefits to the frequent flier, but in today's airline industry, who's to say how much fees will be raised by the time you're ready to redeem? With cash back cards, there's most likely a set amount you'll need to charge annually before you reap any benefits, so make sure you read the fine print before you sign up.

Take Advantage
Quite simply, offering incentive-laden cards are a way for credit card companies to get you to sign up. Rarely are the rewards worth the interest rates you'll pay if you carry a monthly balance. But therein lies the rub—pay off your credit card every month and put those rewards to work. Here's how: Charge as much as you can on your rewards card. We know, it goes against everything you were ever taught about using a credit card. Let us explain.

If your collectors allow it, charge every bill you have to your credit card instead of using a debit card or writing a check. Then, pay that balance off immediately to avoid incurring an interest fee. You'll collect big rewards points fast, and it'll be just like paying cash. Be disciplined about it though, even one month of letting those charges sit on your card can be a killer when the fee kicks in.

Another idea: instead of having separate credit card accounts for you and your spouse, ask for an increase in your credit limit and a companion card for one account. The more you both swipe the plastic, the quicker you'll accumulate rewards points.

Off the beaten path
As rewards cards have become more prevalent, credit card companies have come up with new incentives to make their cards more desirable to consumers. Many cards have a system that provides extra rewards points to customers who shop with certain vendors. Some will even offer coupons where you can save big shopping with certain companies while still earning extra points. It might take a little more effort, but it will certainly rack up the rewards points at a vigorous pace.

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About The Author, Joe Kenny

Joe Kenny writes for the Card Guide, a UK based credit card comparison site.

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