Credit cards. Either you love them or you hate them; you use them or abuse them. Not gonna lie, up until about 6 years ago I hated mine. I loathed paying the minimum payment every month, feeling more broke than ever as I stared down years and years of interest fees. I felt ashamed of my debt, I felt guilty and I felt alone. Like I had a big Post-It note on my forehead as I walked around Walmart stating “I owe $10k in credit card debt, yet here I am”.
And then Paul and I worked our butts off for a couple of years to pay it all off. We went without a lot of things, we ate at home exclusively, we used coupons to lower our grocery bill, we didn’t go on vacations, we used our tax returns to pay down debt instead of fun things and we generally cut all expenses we possibly could.
When our spending habits changed, everything else changed right along with it. We learned exactly how to use those credit cards to our advantage. How to make them work for us.
It was scary to start using credit cards exclusively. But by staying one month ahead of our expenses I know how much I need for next month, and I am able to budget much more effectively.
Paul and I have two credit cards that we use. I have a Chase Freedom with Ultimate Rewards card. Paul has a Capital One VentureOne card. Paul and I exclusively use these credit cards every single month, for several reasons; namely the rewards we enjoy as a result of our purchases.
We use them for gas in our cars, grocery shopping, on the rare occasions that we do eat out, any time we go to the doctor’s office and pay co-pays, all of our online shopping etc.
In short: I practically never have cash and I never use my debit card and I very rarely write checks.
I asked my credit card using friends which cards they have and what the rewards programs are, and why they enjoy certain cards more than others. If you are considering opening a new credit card, I suggest being diligent with your research and keeping the number of cards you own to a minimum.
THIS IS A SHORT LIST, THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS!
Tips for Choosing Credit Cards (for Their Rewards Programs)
Before choosing credit cards, keep in mind that too many credit cards can be bad for your credit score. However, you do need little credit diversity as well (house, car, credit card, maybe a personal loan etc) to show that you can handle different kinds of credit/debt. Fine line, indeed.
Many different credit card companies offer bonus points if you sign up and charge $x.xx amount within the first three months, for example. This can be a great way to rack up those points IF you are diligent in paying the statement balance off every. single. month. If you do not, you’ll likely end up paying more in interest fees over time than the rewards you end up earning.
Chase Freedom with Ultimate Rewards
This is the card that I personally use. They offer 1% rewards on everyday purchases, and for every quarter of the year you opt-in to bonus rewards. You MUST opt-in every quarter, and you get 5% rewards in select categories.
Some quarters it is gas stations (hello gas rewards!) some quarters it is restaurants, some quarters it is wholesale clubs (Sam’s or Costco etc) and some quarters it is Lowe’s, Kohl’s, Walmart and other big box stores. I’ve redeemed $615 worth of rewards, and there are more sitting there, just waiting to be redeemed.
One other thing I like about these rewards is that you do not have to have enough points to cover your entire point redemption. For instance: say the plane ticket I’m buying is $244 and I only have $215 worth of points, I can make up the difference by charging it on my Chase card.
With Paul’s card (Capital One) you MUST have enough points to cover the entire reward.
Of course, read the fine print and choose which Chase card works for you before signing up.
The Discover rewards program is very similar to the Chase Freedom card. There are different options, but the main difference is that Discover (unlike Chase Freedom) gives you the option to opt out of the quarterly 5% options and get 2% on gas and groceries all year long instead. ~thanks for that tip, Lyndsey!
While 2% is less than half of the 5% offered by Chase Freedom, if you’re not shopping in the categories Chase Freedom is offering for that quarter, you’re just out those rewards. I think I like that constant 2% myself.
Also, if you shop online through them, they offer special cash back options through various retailers, offers ranging from 2% to 20% and you can also choose to redeem your points when shopping on Amazon. ~thanks for that tip, Renee!
Read more about Discover and their card/reward options before signing up.
Amazon Rewards Visa
Amazon Rewards are where its at, folks. They give 3% back for Amazon purchases, 2% back for restaurant, hotel, drugstore and gas purchases and 1% back for all other Visa purchases. Pretty sweet, especially since I use my Amazon Prime (for free shipping) so often.
Make sure to read the fine print, but this is looking pretty darn good to me! They may offer you a bonus for signing up as well. It seems to change, but definitely worth looking into!
What’s not to love? I think I may be switching…
Capital One Venture Rewards
This is the card Paul currently uses. You get double miles on everything, if you redeem them for travel. This could be hotel, airfare, anything travel related. If you cash in your points (to use as a statement credit etc) you only get half of what you would – if you were to redeem for travel. Make sense?
Here’s Paul’s current rewards:
As always, read all of the fine print about Capital One cards and their many options before signing up.
Citi Double Cash
With Citi Double Cash card, you earn 1% cash back on all purchases and 1% cash back when you make payments. I do not have a Citi card, but my friend Emily likes them because they have a very easy and reliable program.
As with the others, you’ll want to read all of the fine print and read about their different cards and what they have to offer before signing on the dotted line.
Thank you to Stacy, Lyndsey, Nicky, Stephanie, Renee, Ashley and Emily for letting me know which cards you love and WHY, along with the details of each card’s rewards programs, and for helping me to compile this list!
I know there are about a million more credit card options. If you have a card with rewards programs not listed here (that you just love and would highly recommend!) please leave a comment so I can add it to this post and let other in on the reward action.
Improve your odds for getting approved
Guard your credit with your life, friends. Okay, that may be a little over-dramatic, but I HIGHLY recommend registering with a credit reporting company (such as Credit Sesame) so that you can better manage and monitor your credit.
They offer advice on how to improve your score, such as diversity of credit and they will also alert you when your credit score changes, when a new account is opened in your name, they offer advice on how much you should have in your emergency fund and more. Oh, and it’s free to sign up.
See more of our finance articles:
How We Joined the 800+ Credit Score Club
Budget 101: How to Manage Your Budget – Like an Adult
Get Credit Quick: 5 Do’s and Don’ts to Boosting Your Credit Score
Tips to Get Started Paying Off Credit Card Debt
Six Reasons You Should *EXCLUSIVELY* Use Credit Cards
Ways to Free Up Money Immediately (When You’re Feeling Broke)