On the surface, the decision looks like a slam dunk: Acquiring a new rewards credit card can yield all sorts of benefits, including cash and travel miles, simply for making your regular purchases. But are all rewards credit cards the same?
The answer might surprise you. A study by J.D. Power found that credit card satisfaction can vary wildly depending on the demographics of the user, their priorities and the types of rewards offered. Customer satisfaction isn’t only about the amount of rewards—there are several variables worth researching before you apply for a credit card. Here are five things you should consider before you get your next rewards credit card:
1. (Critically) Evaluate the Fees on Your Next Credit Card
Credit cards can be a great addition to your wallet—but that doesn’t mean credit card companies are not-for-profit. They have to make their money somehow, and that often comes in the form of fees, including:
- Late payment fees
- Balance transfer fees
- Annual fees
- Foreign transaction fees
Before you add a new credit card to your wallet simply to transfer your balance and gain rewards, you should read through the policies of both cards and look for balance transfer fees that might eat into your overall savings and rewards opportunities. The same is true for foreign transaction fees, especially if you’re a frequent traveler who plans on using those rewards points toward moving around the globe—a card with high foreign transaction fees can quickly erase many of those rewards if you’re not careful.
2. Pay Attention to Point Multipliers
The good news is that not all “rewards” are made the same. You might find that a specific card that offers point multipliers on your most frequent purchases can have a more dramatic effect on your rewards than any other type. For example, large cash back multipliers on groceries are tremendously beneficial for someone who has to feed a family of four or larger.
These point multipliers might not seem like much initially, but receiving twice the cash back due to certain purchases adds up quickly.
3. Read the Fine Print
Imagine that a credit card you’re considering features a 2x bonus for groceries. That sounds like a great deal—but what does your credit card issuer actually consider under the category of “groceries” in the first place?
Using online gift cards or food delivery apps might not fall under this bonus. This means that a customer would have to adjust their habits to fit their lifestyle to the credit card, if gift cards and food deliveries are their go-tos. It’s far more efficient to find a credit card that fits into a customer's current spending habits—and that’s accomplished by checking out the fine print.
4. Understanding Credit Score Requirements
A credit score can mean a lot of different things—a lower payment on a loan, for example. Many customers forget that their credit score can also affect their eligibility for the appropriate rewards on a credit card of their choice.
Many “prime” and “superprime” credit cards—and often the ones that offer the best rewards—require a credit score of 750 or higher. As you search for the right rewards credit card, make sure you understand what your credit score is so that you don’t search through opportunities beyond your particular eligibility.
A credit score is not immovable, however. It’s possible to pay down debt and build strong habits of paying off credit in time to build up a higher credit score. For some credit card customers, it may be more appropriate to look at a lower “tier” of credit cards and credit card rewards programs first.
5. Pick Out Which Rewards You Want
Before you get started, pick out which rewards are ideal for your spending patterns, including:
- Cash back
- Hotel bonuses
- Airline mile bonuses
There are also different credit cards suited to varying arrangements, such as travel credit cards and cards with no foreign transaction fees and small-business credit cards. Before you compare one credit card against another in your research, make sure to measure these credit cards against each other rather than against cards from other categories.
Finding the Best Rewards Credit Card
Discovering the best credit card for your needs comes down to your priorities and your knowledge. Use these five guidelines as you research your next rewards credit card, and find the arrangement that will yield you the most benefits for every dollar spent.
Maxime Rieman is Product Manager at ValuePenguin. Educating and assisting shoppers about financial products has been Rieman's focus, which led her to joining ValuePenguin, a consumer research and advice company based in New York. Previously, she was product marketing director at CoverWallet and launched the personal insurance team at NerdWallet.
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