When it comes to credit cards, if you’re pretty good at paying your bill on time and keeping your debt load manageable, you’re ahead of the game. But are you really getting the most from your perks and rewards programs? If the answer is no, you’re like most card users, says Matthew Goldman, CEO of Wallaby, a smartphone app that manages credit card use to maximize benefits. “Most people are definitely leaving money on the table,” he says. Here are some tips for playing your (credit) cards right, so you can earn all kinds of rewards, perks, airline miles and more.
Be a responsible credit user first. If you’re paying high interest on high balances every month, your first goal should be to pay down your debt, not worry about charging more to earn rewards points. What you’re paying in interest is likely more than the redeemable value of the rewards points, anyway.
Cut through the confusion. If you carry a very small or zero balance, then it’s time to start earning.“We acquire cards for their benefits, but then we forget the details and we lose out,” says Goldman. If you’re unsure of the terms and conditions of your credit cards, take the time to understand them. You can get on the phone with customer service or read up on the programs on the card’s website. Once you get a better grasp on what offers you’re entitled to or may have already earned, you can start redeeming some points.
Get an app to monitor rewards programs. Using Wallaby is one way for consumers to save more money and earn more rewards while doing everyday shopping. “You might have a card that has triple points at a restaurant one day only — you’ll never know, but we will,” Goldman said. Individual creditors sometimes offer their own apps to help you maximize their programs.
Choose cards that make sense for you. There are cards with gas, grocery, restaurant, travel and other bonus categories, and others that let you pick a bonus category so that the card is truly customizable. Credit card review websites can help match users to cards based on their spending habits. Goldman’s rule of thumb: “You should be earning at least 2% cash back (or equivalent in points) everywhere you shop. It doesn’t make sense not to.”
Adjust your spending when necessary. Using rewards is all about what they get you and how they meet your goals. If you’re planning a vacation, you can focus on earning hotel points at your destination, freeing up money for everything else. If you like redeeming points for gift cards, keep in mind that sometimes it’s not actually the best deal – you could potentially get more value from cash back or other offers. If you’re spending money wisely and can get rewarded for it, don’t let the opportunity pass you by.