You Might Be Missing Out On Major Rewards

If you’re not swiping, you’re losing. Using your credit cards is the best way to maximize rewards potential

You gotta give a little to get a little, or in this case, give a little to get a lot. Rewards credit cards — they’re the easiest way to get paid whenever you swipe. These cards come in all shapes in sizes. Some cards reward you with cash back, some with airline miles, and some with points to book participating hotels. But if you’re not using your card, you’re not getting rewarded. And if you’re not getting rewarded, then what’s the point?

According to a new study from Bankrate.com, more than half of rewards cardholders are missing out on chances to “literally put money in their pockets.” Why? Because they are opting to pay for purchases with cash, debit cards, or other, non-rewards credit cards rather than swiping the rewards card, says Ted Rossman, Credit Card Analyst at Bankrate. “If you have a rewards card, why not use it?”

The Breakdown

The study looked at four major spending categories: Groceries, dining, gas, and travel. Taking the national spending averages of these categories from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and using the Citi Double Cash Card (which gives 2% cashback on all purchases) as an example, the researchers calculated how much cashback any given spender would earn if using their rewards card for all of those purchases. What they found was $233 of free money back in that user’s pocket each month. Now, let’s just stipulate that you have to — have to — pay off the card in full every single month. Otherwise interest charges can easily wipe out your rewards. But if you are adhering to that good credit behavior, then every time you don’t use the card, you are automatically shrinking the cash you’re putting in your pocket.

There’s a Card for That

What if cash back isn’t your thing? There are many rewards options for all kinds of spenders. For example, if you’re a travel bug, there are cards that will grant you airline miles every time you swipe. Other cards cards give points that are redeemable at different hotels so you can exchange your rewards for a nice night away. Others combine rewards so users can reap multiple benefits while only worrying about a single card.

Choosing A Card

Credit cards are personal, so there is no one answer of the “best card.” In fact, the better way to look at it is “the best card for you.” To get there, track your spending and find out where you spend most. Match your needs to the various rewards on the table. If you’re spending a ton on groceries, find a card that will give you a higher percentage cashback on your trips to the market.

Finally, figure out what you want out of your rewards. If you are really excited about a new trip, try out some airline rewards cards that can get you flying for free. If you want to save up for a new purchase, cashback is the way to go.

The Takeaway

Having a rewards card is just half the battle. Using it is the end goal. Try to break that cash-only habit and reach for your rewards card every time you’re at the register. As Rossman says, doing so will earn you “hundreds in free money every year.”

With Rebecca Cohen

Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky