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Maximizing Credit Card Rewards

In their quest to get you to sign up for their credit card, banks and financial institutions are coming up with more and higher incentives to entice you. Frequent flyer miles gave way to gas miles which opened the door for cash rebates and reward points to be used at 'our fine member merchants'. When most other things are equal (APR, annual fees, fees for transfers et al), the style of reward points and how you can make use of them can be the deciding factor in which card you choose to put in your wallet.

One of your best options for a credit card these days is one of the current crops that offer higher rewards/rebates for purchases made in gas stations, convenience stores and supermarkets. These so-called 'everyday purchases' are the market that credit card companies want to capture. That's why the big push to highlight the convenience of using a credit card for things like grocery shopping - a great way to keep track of your purchases, they point out - gasoline purchases and other everyday incidentals. In order to get you to do that, they're offering rewards and cash back on those purchases that are higher than those for other purchases.

Take a look at American Express' credit card offering, Blue Cash. The card offers a 0% introductory APR for the first six months. After that, the APR is from 11.2% to 16.2% depending on your credit report. There is no annual fee, no fee for balance transfers, and the APR for balance transfers is 4.99% for the life of the balance. Already, it's looking like a very nice deal.

Add in, however, the cash back rewards program, and you have a credit card that can actually SAVE you money. If you pay off your balance in full every month on time, there is NO INTEREST for 20 days on any of your purchases. The Rewards program offers you 1% back on all your 'everyday purchases' up to the first $6,500 you pay for with your card. In addition, you'll get .5% on all other purchases that you charge on your card. If you charge more than $6,500 on your American Express Blue Cash card, your cash rebate goes up to 5% on everyday purchases and 1% on all others.

How does that stack up? If you've budgeted $125 per week for groceries, that's $6,500 for the year. Pay for that on your Blue Cash card AND PAY THE BILL WITHIN THE GRACE PERIOD, and you'll save $65 on groceries for the year. If you stick to that, and also pay for your gasoline with your Blue Cash card, you'll get 5% back of those purchases - since your grocery purchases alone put you into the 5% bracket. If you gas up to the tune of $40 a week, that's another $104 in savings over the year.

Granted, taking full advantage of that sort of Cash back rewards program requires discipline and forethought - but it's not as hard as it sounds. It just means thinking of your credit card as just another bill that you pay in full each month. And that, after all, is the best and most common advice that financial experts give.

Joseph Kenny is the webmaster of the credit card comparison sites and also

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