Points Pointers: Navigating Credit Card Rewards Programs

Points Pointers: Navigating Credit Card Rewards Programs

Credit card rewards programs—they’re more competitive than ever and designed to suit virtually all consumer lifestyles and purchase habits, offering cardholders a seemingly endless variety of incentives, perks, and bonuses for their spending. According to a 2021 survey of 2,000 credit card holders by Slickdeals, respondents said they saved an average of $757 per year using their rewards credit cards. This collectively adds up to billions of dollars in value to American credit card consumers.

While there are indeed valuable benefits to be earned, navigating the complex landscape of credit card rewards requires some thoughtful study and strategy. In this blog post, we’ll give you some guidance on how to maximize the benefits of credit card rewards programs while sidestepping the potential pitfalls.

Understanding Credit Card Rewards Programs
Credit card rewards programs come in a plethora of varieties, each offering different types of rewards and redemption options. Some common types of rewards include:

• Cash Back: Earn a percentage of your purchases back as cash rewards, which can be redeemed as statement credits, checks, or deposits into your bank account.

• Travel Rewards: Accumulate points or miles that can be redeemed for airline tickets, hotel stays, car rentals, and other travel-related expenses.

• Points Programs: Earn points for every dollar spent, which can be redeemed for merchandise, gift cards, experiences. In some plans, you can even transfer reward points to travel partners, as well.

Choosing the Right Rewards Program
With these myriad choices, how do you choose the right one? When selecting your rewards program, consider these factors to ensure the plan aligns with your spending habits, lifestyle, and financial goals:

• Rewards Structure: Evaluate the earning rates, redemption options, and flexibility of the rewards program. Choose a program that offers rewards that are useful to you and can easily be redeemed.

• Annual Fees: Many credit cards that offer rewards programs charge an annual fee. This can prove to be a “gotcha,” so evaluate it with care. Read and understand the fee structure and then do a little forecasting. Estimate your likely annual card usage and calculate the rewards you’d earn, then decide whether the rewards benefits justify the fee. With some programs, it can take a robust amount of spending to make the rewards truly pay off.

• Interest Rates and Fees: Another potential trap. Pay close attention to the interest rates, late fees, and other charges associated with the credit card. If you often carry a balance on your card, the interest charges may outweigh the value of the rewards you’ll earn.

Maximizing Rewards and Benefits
Once you’ve identified a card with a rewards plan that aligns with your lifestyle, do your best to maximize your benefits by adopting strategic habits and taking advantage of promotional opportunities:

• Strategic Spending: Different categories of products and services (e.g. groceries, dining, travel, gas, etc.) often earn cash-back or rewards at different rates. Concentrate your card spending on product and service categories that earn maximum rewards. You might even consider using certain cards exclusively for specific categories to optimize your rewards earnings.

• Sign-Up Bonuses: Credit card issuers often take their competitiveness up a notch by offering generous sign-up bonuses for new cardholders who meet spending requirements within the first few months. If the requirements align well with your spending habits, consider taking advantage of these offers.

• Redemption Strategies: Formulating a strategy for how and when to redeem your earned rewards is another way to get the most from your plan. Look for opportunities to transfer points to travel partners to extend your redemption value and explore limited-time promotions and offers when they come around. You may be able to leverage your rewards even more.

Managing Risks and Pitfalls
While credit card rewards programs offer enticing benefits, they also come with potential risks and pitfalls. Take time to know these well, and you’ll be able to avoid the downside:

Overspending: Attractive rewards can entice some consumers into spending more than they should. Resist the temptation to overspend with your card to earn rewards; it can result in debt accumulation and resultant interest charges that will quickly obliterate the value of your earned rewards.

Annual Fees and Interest Charges: As mentioned earlier, factor in annual fees and interest charges when assessing the value of rewards earned. To prevent interest charges from eroding the value of rewards, avoid carrying a balance on your cards.

Credit Score Impact: Opening multiple credit cards for rewards can adversely impact your credit score due to the number of inquiries and decreased average account age. Monitor your credit score and limit new credit card applications to minimize negative effects.

Reward Yourself
Credit card rewards programs can yield valuable benefits and rewards for your everyday spending. By understanding the nuances of rewards programs, choosing the right credit cards, and implementing strategic spending and redemption strategies, you can make the most of credit card rewards while steering clear of the pitfalls. Remember to stay informed, monitor your spending, and regularly review your credit card portfolio to ensure it aligns with your financial goals and lifestyle preferences. Do all this, and you can reap some nice rewards.

The information provided in this blog post is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be financial, legal, or professional advice. Readers should not construe any information in this blog post as financial advice from our firm. Our firm provides this information with no representations or warranties, express or implied. Before making any financial decisions or taking any actions, seek the advice of qualified financial, legal, or professional advisors who understand your individual situation.