How to get the most rewards out of your credit card

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More than 77 percent of Americans prefer using credit cards instead of cash or debit cards for major purchases, yet few take full advantage of or even know what rewards and benefits come with their cards.

That means millions of us may be missing out on experiences, cash back, or other benefits that credit cards offer. With great knowledge can come great rewards, so with the New Year in full swing, let’s resolve to maximize our spending power.

Here are a few tips to make sure you are getting the most when it comes to a rewards card.

Do your research
Aim for cards with rewards to complement your shopping habits. Some cards offer more retail or travel rewards and even cash back; others offer grocery and gas rewards.

“All credit cards offer rewards program,” said Jonathan Marcello, founder, Marcello Solutions. “The key is to find cards with rewards that are tailored to your expenses and spending habits. If you travel a lot, then you should be looking at a travel rewards program.”

Make sure to avoid a rewards program that you’re not likely to use or that requires you to meet a certain spending requirement within a set period. Instead, choose a rewards card that allows you to earn points for everyday purchases, such as dining, gas and groceries.

Also look for cards with rewards points that never expire.

Pay attention to interest rates and other fees
If you’re paying an annual fee that adds up to more than the rewards you redeem, you’re likely not making the most of your credit card rewards program.

A card with a low-interest rate may seem like the most attractive option at first glance. According to TheBalance.com, three other key fees you should also look out for are teaser rates, balance transfer fees, and late fees.

Use the card with the best rewards
Got multiple cards? Aim to do most of your shopping with one card to help you rack up points faster.

It’s also a good way to monitor your spending habits and get your budget in order. Reminder: just because there are rewards at stake doesn’t mean you should amp up your spending or buy more than you can afford. A good tip to manage your debt is to make regular card payments every paycheck to avoid debt surprises.

Don’t miss out on points
Typically, you only need opt-in to your card’s rewards program and start racking up the points. However, for bonus rewards points, many cards require that you activate special rewards program. Make sure to read the fine print and open your card’s emails to see what point deals you could be getting.

Redeem your rewards
This might seem like a no-brainer, but way too many of us stack up rewards points and never even use them. According to MarketWatch, over $16 billion worth of credit card rewards go unclaimed each year.

The process for redeeming rewards used to be a lot more cumbersome, but you can typically just go log in to your account and redeem them

If your rewards points expire, find out expiration dates and make sure to redeem them throughout the year. Another simple way to guarantee you’re redeeming rewards regularly is to have your points automatically credited to your account each time you hit a set number.

For example, changing your settings to redeem your rewards points each time you hit the 1,000-point mark will help you take full advantage of your rewards program, even if you forget an expiration date.

Know your perks, too
Credit cards come with so many other benefits than points and cash back. Some offer other benefits such as TSA PreCheck, free FICO scores, travel insurance, collision insurance on rentals and roadside assistance. Again, make sure to read the fine print to learn about any additional perks your card may have.

Finding the right credit card can take time and energy but earning and redeeming rewards will make the effort worthwhile.

—Information provided, in part, by StatePoint Media