Perform a Credit Card Rewards Annual Review
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In my mail this week I received a “Rewards Guide” from two of my credit card companies. These guides are brightly colored, well-laid out catalogs explaining all of the rewards available to me. I’ve never received such a fancy-looking piece of mail from a credit card company before. Maybe it’s the fact that more people are turning to debit cards, or credit card companies are fighting over the limited amount of money people are spending these days, but whatever the reason, it was a pleasant surprise to get these catalogs with such helpful information.
In looking through the catalogs, I realized that there was a lot I didn’t know about my cards. I use three — an American Express card for travel and product purchases because of their various warranties and protections, a Capital One for travel abroad (no conversion fees) and extended warranties at stores that don’t take American Express, and a Chase for everyday purchases like groceries and gas. (If you’re wondering what types of rewards your card might offer check out the Ultimate Guide to Credit Card Rewards.)
As part of annual financial planning, it seems that a good plan is to conduct an annual credit card rewards review:
1. Look at Reward-Program Information to Find New or Unnoticed Rewards
Here are some things I learned in browsing the catalogs I received and the actions I will take from learning them:
- One of my cards gives an “annual bonus” in November, which essentially puts the rewards at 1.25%. My action: Check to see if I got this bonus and how much it is for.
- There are bonus offers up to 15% at various stores I frequently shop at for one of my cards. My action: See if these bonus cash-back purchases are only for online or for in-store too. Then make a mental note to use that card when shopping at that store.
- One card only gives additional travel bonuses for the first $5,000 spent on travel. My Action: Check to see if I went over this limit last year and start using a different card if that is the case.
- One card gives me extra bonuses for dining at restaurants for an additional $25/year. My Action: Check to see if last year I would have earned enough in extra bonuses to make this worthwhile. (To check this see #2 below.)
2. Review Annual Statements to See If You Are Using the Right Cards
Each year my credit card companies send annual statements of how much I spent in various categories. Look through yours to see if you are really spending money on the cards that will give the best benefits in those categories.
3. Consider What, If Anything, You Will Do Differently This Year
If you find that there is a reward with one card that you aren’t taking advantage of, or that you are always using a certain card that isn’t giving you many rewards, make a conscious mental note and do something differently this year. Maybe that means leaving a useless card at home, or changing your Amazon account to charge to a different card.
I don’t advocate that you spend an entire day conducting an annual review of your credit card rewards, but the amount of both money and hassle you can save by using the right card and the right time can add up. So take an hour from your day, see how many rewards you are earning, and figure out if you can do anything differently this year.