How to Choose a Rewards Credit Card

Monday, November 14th, 2011

It feels good to be rewarded for something, especially when it is something you do on a daily basis such as spending. While many banks have done away with the rewards programs attached to debit cards, credit card rewards programs are becoming more and more generous with the perks they are availing creditworthy cardholders.

There are a few rules of thumb when it comes to choosing which rewards credit card to apply for. Firstly, you want to pick a card with a program that allows you to earn rewards with the least amount of effort, which means that ideally, you rewards credit card will match your spending habits and allow you to pile up perks without having to go out of your way.

For instance if you drive frequently, look for a card that offers bonuses for buying gas at the station you habitually frequent. If you find yourself making several trips to the grocery store each week, consider a card that offers a higher cashback percentage rate for such purchases. If you do a lot of shopping at a specific retailer or department store, see if they offer a credit card that will earn you rewards such as a discount on your bill each time you spend money there. If you travel a lot and tend to use one airline more often than others, find a rewards card that ears you bonus miles for that particular carrier.

If you are able to match your rewards card with a specific retailer that is already within your shopping circuit you will likely earn rewards that are bigger than those offered by cards that are non-specific. The best part is that you will get perks for simply doing what you normally do without having to alter your spending habits.

Non-specific rewards cards tend to be fairly similar, most offering 1 or 2% cash back on all purchases across the board with some sort of sign on bonus. The bigger the bonus, the more restrictions are involved so make sure you have a complete understanding of the card’s terms and conditions before applying.

Convenience isn’t the only reason why you should pick a rewards program that fits into your current spending behavior. The simple fact of the matter is that there are no rewards offered by any credit card that make it worthwhile to buy things you wouldn’t normally buy. This means that it doesn’t make sense to spend money on things just in order to earn rewards. That cost and additional effort it requires to shop at a different store or meet a minimum spending balance offset any reward benefits.

Finally, the rewards program attached to your credit card matters very little if you are carrying a balance from month to month. If that is the case, the most important feature of your credit card is not its rewards program but its APR. Rewards cards typically have higher interest rates than non-rewards cards, and it does not matter how many airline miles you earn or hotel points if you are paying a lot in interest on your outstanding balance. This means that a rewards credit card – of any type – is most beneficial for people who are able to pay off their credit card balance, in full, every single billing cycle.

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