How to Stretch Your Holiday Budget with Credit Card Rewards

Rachel Morey
December 17, 2017
Stretching Holiday Budget

Starting the new year with a pile of credit card debt isn’t ideal, but consumers who know how to maximize their credit card rewards and minimize their fees and interest charges throughout the year can use plastic to put a dent in their holiday spending.

The key to getting the most out of credit card rewards programs is paying off the bill in full before interest begins to accrue on the amount owed. Most people don’t have perfect credit, so the only way to avoid paying hefty interest is to commit to paying the bill in full. Credit card rewards programs usually don’t pay off for card holders that carry a balance from month to month.

Store cards present a special challenge because many of them have no grace period on new purchases. This means that to avoid paying the typically high interest rates associated with store cards, card holders need to pay for new charges immediately.

Certain credit card brands, like American Express, offer built-in benefits if the cardholder opts in. Using the card at retail partners triggers a statement credit in a predetermined amount; often a percentage of the purchase.

Some credit cards have rewards that the card owner can redeem for gift cards. This is especially useful during the holidays. Before opening a credit card with this type of program, make sure the points redemption value is bigger than the potential costs associated with owning the card. Letting rewards accrue throughout the year and redeeming them for gift cards is a popular and effective way to make the holiday budget go further.

Rewards programs aren’t the only way to use plastic to save on holiday shopping. Use the price protection guarantee that comes with many traditional credit cards to get the difference back in the form of a statement credit when the price of a previously purchased item drops. For example, Discover cards carry price protection that guarantees refunds within 90 days of purchases. The limit is $500 per item and a total of $2,500 per year.

For the most savings, choose a credit card with a versatile rewards program. Chase Freedom’s rewards program offers 5% cash back on $1,500 in purchases within certain rotating categories. This card also offers a $150 cash bonus that’s awarded after the cardholder spends $500 within 90 days of opening the account.

The Discover it card has cash back rewards that never expire, so letting them build up throughout the year and redeeming during the holidays is a great plan. This card offers 5% cash back in rotating categories and 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases. At the end of the first year of owing the card, Discover matches the cash back bonuses.

Using a rewards card to pay for everyday items and bringing the balance back to zero each month is a popular way to maximize a holiday shopping budget. This type of strategic spending combined with an organized plan to pay off the balance each month is a great way to stretch those holiday dollars.

See all posts →