By Jill Jaracz


5 Min. To Read

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January's usually a month where people do a little fiscal belt-tightening, as the fun spending mood of the holidays ceases, the bills roll in, and you resolve to save more money in the new year. Rewards cards can help you put back a couple of extra dollars, so now may be the time to use those to rack up the rewards.

If you have a Discover or Chase Freedom card, you not only get cashback bonuses with your purchases, you can also earn extra rewards each quarter in certain spending categories, usually five percent of your purchase, rather than the standard one percent. These categories rotate quarterly, generally covering many popular shopping categories throughout the year.

While this is a great deal, one caveat is that you have to register your card with the card company each quarter in order to get the free extra rewards. Discover allows you to start registering for the bonus on the first day of the last month of the quarter, so March 1st for the second quarter, June 1st for the third, and so on. Chase opens up their activation period on the 15th of the month before the quarter, so March 15th for the second quarter and so on. Chase allows you to activate the deal up until the 14th of the last month of the quarter. Although you may have to remember to activate your card, particularly if you're a heavy spender in a featured category for the quarter, Chase does offer a handy calendar reminder to nudge you each quarter.

If you happen to hold both cards in your wallet, you'll also need to remember which bonus categories go with which card. Sometimes they're similar, but often, they're just different enough.

For the first quarter of 2014, both Discover and Chase get into the mood of movie awards season, as they are both offering five percent cash back at movie theaters. Discover expands this to all movie purchases, including movie tickets bought online or at the theater and video rentals online or at a video rental store. Discover is also offering five percent cash back at restaurants. Chase's other categories are gas stations and purchases at participating Starbucks stores, at and through Starbucks' mobile app, including Starbucks Card purchases and reloads.

Both cards put a limit on the amount of bonus rewards you can get -- up to $1,500 in purchases for all categories in the quarter.

"At Discover, it's important to offer our cardmembers Cashback Bonus for the things they shop for every day," said Brian Meier, director of rewards marketing at Discover, in a statement. "Dining out and going to the movies are popular activities for our cardmembers battling cabin fever at this time of year, and they can now earn 5% Cashback Bonus on those purchases."

Discover hasn't announced what its featured cashback bonus categories are for the rest of the year, but Chase already has its calendar published. Chase Freedom will offer bonus cashback for purchases at restaurants and Lowe's home improvement stores during the second quarter, gas stations and Kohl's during the third quarter, and, and select department stores in the fourth quarter.

Discover's also upped the ante on their Cashback Bonus rewards for Valentine's Day shopping. At its ShopDiscover online shopping portal, over 20 merchants have increased the percentage of cash back they'll give on online purchases made through the portal through February 14. The list features many retailers who have upped their cashback bonuses by five percent, including 1800Flowers, which has upped its bonus to 20%;, which is up to 15%; and Bloomingdale's, Macy's and Sears, which are at 10% for the promotional period. Generally, the 200-plus online retailers on the portal give anywhere from five to twenty percent back on ShopDiscover-enabled purchases.

So while you're in the mood to save a little money, check your wallet for these two cards and let them do some extra saving for you this year.

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