These introductory tips can help you avoid being an April Fool with your credit cards.
Credit cards can be complicated, from figuring out fees to determining how to earn the most rewards for your spending. But following a few simple steps—and investing a little time—can keep you from falling for financial tricks.
1) Pay off your debt. Rewards can be tempting. But before you worry about earning points, get rid of any balances you’re carrying on your credit cards. A good cash back card will pay you back 2% on your spending. But a “good” credit card interest rate is 15%, far outweighing any rewards you might accumulate.
2) Ditch the debit card. Debit cards are fee-free and can help keep you from overspending. But very few pay rewards for your spending, which means you could be leaving a lot of money on the table. You’ll do better with almost any rewards credit card.
Carry a debit card for withdrawing cash, and use credit cards for as much spending as you can, to maximize your rewards. It usually isn’t worth paying extra fees to use a credit card (for paying your taxes, for instance), but if a merchant will let you use your card, do it!
3) Pick points or cash back. Now that you’re earning rewards for your spending, make sure you’re earning the right type of rewards for you. Cash back cards are generally the simplest to use and the best cards can get you 2% back on everything you buy. But if you’re willing to put in some more effort, you can do better with transferable rewards. Programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards give customers dozens of ways to use points, including flights, hotel rooms and cash. Depending on your spending, you can expect to get at least 3 to 5% back in rewards.
4) Don’t let habit “fool” you. Just because you’ve had a credit card forever doesn’t mean it’s the best one for you—in fact, the opposite may be true. Newer credit cards offer rewards and perks that a lot of older ones don’t. Yes, getting a new card can be a hassle. But proprietary GigaPoints data shows that their average user can save over $1,000 per year by switching cards. That is well worth your time.
5) Avoid airline card tricks. Cards that pay airline miles often aren’t as good a deal as they seem—even if you’re a loyal customer. They often pay skimpy rewards on non-airline spending, and you usually can’t use the points with other airlines. If they change their routes, you change your travel patterns, or the airline makes it harder to pay for flights with points, you’re stuck. If you love to travel, you’re almost always better off choosing a card whose points can be used for different kinds of travel—including your favorite carriers. These cards will often earn you points faster, too.