my own advice
the fine print
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Cashback Card Rewards
Latest Update : October 2013
There are thousands upon thousands of credit cards, ranging from secured cards to check cards to debit cards to cash cards to traditional credit cards. The three biggest names in the game have to be Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. There are many others out there, under brand names such as Discover Card, or Diner's Club, just to name a few.
If you haven't figured out yet that you can be a profitable customer for the banks and networks even though you are a transactor or convenience user, then you haven't thought it through. The companies make money on you not only through your annual fees and finance charges, but the "system" also takes a bite out of each purchase you make - usually somewhere between 1% and 3% depending on which card and which network.
What does that mean to you? Find a company that is willing to give you some of that "built-in profit" back. Hello? That means that if you pay off your credit cards each month, you need to be smart about which cards you use because you should always use the ones that give YOU the most back.
Yes, you, the consumer, can get lots of neat stuff like $$$$ CASH $$$$, frequent flyer points, telephone credits, rebates on cars, appliances, or lots of other goodies. For those of you looking for information on cards with Frequent Flyer points, though, I've now got a special page that is specifically devoted to airline cards. Please see the Frequent Flyer page for more details.
The first thing you need to do is decide what is most important to you. My own personal opinion is that cash is always best. Sure, gas points, airline miles, video rentals, show tickets, and other perks are nice... but if you have cash instead, you can buy any of these things on your own schedule at your own leisure - you are not forced to buy one companies products or services. You can always buy phone time, plane tickets, or ever cars if you have cash - but try to buy a car with your frequent flyer credits or your automobile rebate. Doesn't work too well, does it? It's getting harder and harder to find good cash back deals as the companies realize that people actually get cash back, but those deals are still out there.
Although my main interest is on cash-back cards, I want to briefly talk about goodie cards that give you something else back - either merchandise or credit towards specific products. There are some good deals for folks that want to buy GM. They capped the back-end in that the redemption amount is limited depending on which tier a the vehicle falls in to -- there are 4 or 5 tiers from $1000 to $3500).
One of the most popular segments of rebate cards are airline-mile cards. I think this is the biggest segment after cash-back cards (no facts to back that up - just a hunch). Obviously, you know that there are many many airlines, including Delta, American, etc. that offer frequent flyer points for each dollar you spend. Go to the Card Directory and choose Airline cards for more details. I contend that if you add up the free tickets or free goodies you could earn, you are still better off getting cash back. There are a couple of programs out there that allow you to earn miles towards awards on ANY airline. One to mention here is American Express' Membership Rewards program.
Details on the Cards I Use
One of the things I've learned over the years is that these programs definitely do change. I started out with the GE Rewards MasterCard. I then moved to a US West 2% uncapped card (shows how long I've been playing this game!). Then Discover Private Issue... Then I moved to the American Express CashBack card... and now I've actually got a Delta SkyMiles card (that I didn't pay for, through a special promotion at the time) with double points for certain purchases. Add to the graveyard list the Farm Bureau Bank Card and the PowerRewards Card from Bank of America.
Here is the list of what I will be using, in order of preference, and why I will use them:
There are other cards worth mentioning here. First is the PenFed Visa Platinum Cash Rewards. This is a 5% cash back on gas purchase but just .25% on other purchases. Not great. Check out some of their other cards.
If you charge a lot of money, Amex Cashback is your first choice for any expense - charitable donations, groceries, gas, dry cleaning, taxes, mortage payments - anything you can possible get on the card.
One other subject that should be mentioned is anniversary dates and how that plays with your rebate. GE Rewards was based on a July 1-June 30 cycle, so if you start charging up the card in May, you are, in effect, wasting money. Discover Card, on the other hand, works on an anniversary system, where the year period starts immediately when you get the card, so there is no real downside to getting started with it. Fleet is on a calendar year.
Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.