Virtually all consumers will have a credit card at some point in their lives. Is this an understatement? Probably, as most consumers carry multiple credit cards. Selecting a credit card should not be something taken lightly; card companies are constantly looking for new consumers, but only after wisely comparing offers should you select a provider. Pick a company that will give to you a reasonable rate and one that incentivizes their program with some type of reward for using their card.
So, how do rewards cards work? Almost without fail, rewards cards typically give consumers money back on their purchases [usually 1-2%] or allow you to accumulate points toward prizes or discounts on future purchases. If you charge $10,000. per year [not hard to do if you charge your groceries] and your rewards card pays you a 2% reward on purchases, you will receive $200. from the company. Usually you will gain the funds in the form of several credits to your account spread out over the course of a year, but in some cases you will receive the rewards in the form of a check.
Rewards cards are free money, right? Only if you do not have to pay an annual fee and you pay your credit card off every month. If you do not pay your card off every month, your reward could easily be overshadowed by monthly interest payments, especially if your interest rate is high. Not too many companies pay rewards and give you a low rate at the same time. In theory, even if you carry balances for as little as 2-3 months before paying your card off you could find your rewards for the entire year outweighed by finance charges.
When rewards are given in the form of points that you later can redeem for prizes or take discounts on future purchases, you need to consider the following when selecting your card:
1. Is the reward program for something you know you will use? For example, if you are a member of GM’s rewards program, are you certain that you will be purchasing a GM product in the future? If so, go with this card as the return can be as high as 5%.
2. Is there an annual cap on purchases? Many rewards cards will limit to you the amount of cash back funds or rewards points you can accumulate in one year. Most people never come close to the figure, but if you are a business traveler you can quickly approach and pass these limitations within the year.
3. Do points eventually drop off? The majority of rewards cards only allow you to accumulate points for three years before they begin to drop off. If your next car purchase is five years away and you have a program that drops off points, you could find the first two years of card usage to be a waste as those points would vanish. If you still want that particular rewards card, only use it in years 3, 4, and 5 so that when it comes time to purchase your new car you will not have lost any points. You could consider getting and using another rewards card for a different rewards system to cover years 1 and 2.
All in all, rewards cards can be a useful option for the savvy consumer. Remember, points do fall off and carrying balances from month to month will wipe out the value of the card in short order. By showing plenty of discipline you can make rewards cards work well for you.