How I Made $712.59 With My Cash Back Credit Card
Q: What’s the easiest way to earn extra money?
A: A cash back credit card!
I made $712.59 last year by using my cash back credit card. Not bad for buying stuff I was going to buy anyway! A cash back credit card gives you a predetermined percentage of money back on purchases you make with that card. Some cards offer a flat percentage whereby they give you the same percentage back on every single thing you buy. Others have rotating percentages or different percentages for different categories of purchases. Both options are super simple ways to make money while spending money. The percentages are typically pretty low (my card gives a flat 2% cash back), so you’re not going to make a million dollars. But hey, it’s one of the easiest ways to make a couple hundred bucks!
Come Hear Me Talk this Friday, April 8th!
Brief unrelated note… I’m thrilled to share I’ll be speaking on a panel this Friday, April 8th at the online Mamas Talk Money: The Legacy You Leave conference. If you’re interested in attending this three-day online conference, you can save $5 off the $49 ticket price by using the coupon code FRUGALWOODS. Go here to get your ticket and register to attend. I hope to see you there!
The Catch to Cash Back Cards
I figure you probably figured there’s a catch to all this free money and here it is:
You have to pay your credit card bill in full every single month.
You should only buy things with your credit card that you can afford. Paying your credit card bill in full does not mean paying the “minimum amount due,” it means paying the full balance due. All the way down to zero. If you find that having a credit card tempts you to overspend, don’t use one. You’ll be better off in the long run if you avoid credit card debt and stick with a debit card or cash.
But if you’re confident in your ability to pay for everything you charge on a credit card, using one is a fantastic way to:
1) Build your credit.
Your credit score is based largely on your ability to service your debt, which basically means: do you pay off your debt on time? Creditors want to know you can responsibly carry debt and pay it on time.
Perversely, if you are 100% debt-free, you might actually have a low credit score because there’s no track record of how you manage debt.
My husband and I ran into this ironic conundrum when applying for our first mortgage. Since we were completely debt-free, and always had been, banks gave us side eye when we applied for a mortgage. Banks want proof of how you handle debt and using a credit card is an easy way to create excellent credit for yourself. Last month’s Case Study subjects encountered this exact problem because they live debt-free, and I offered ideas for building credit in that post.
The inverse also applies: if you don’t pay your credit card bill in full every month, you’re likely to damage your credit score. Carrying a balance on a credit card DOES NOT help your credit score. Paying your bill in full every month, and keeping the same credit card open and in use for many years, help tremendously.
2) Track your spending.
I do almost all of my purchasing on my credit card, which makes it very, very easy to monitor my spending. I also use the free expense and net worth tracking system from Personal Capital (affiliate link). Having most of my spending on a credit card automates this tracking in a way that’s not possible if I use cash.
3) Get rewards!
Credit card companies reward customers who use their cards responsibly and it is a glorious thing. The two most common types of rewards are:
- Cash back
Travel Rewards: Also Great!
I have a travel rewards card too–the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless–which we’ve used for free hotel stays around the world. But on a daily basis, I’m a huge fan of cash back because it’s a reward I KNOW I will use. I think and hope and plan to one day use our flight and hotel rewards, but I know with absolute certainty I’m going to use my cash back rewards.
Travel rewards made a lot more sense for my husband and me back in our pre-pandemic, pre-children days when we reliably traveled outside of the country at least once a year. Now, with two young kids, a homestead to manage, and the pandemic, we’re less certain when we’ll next travel (although we’re dreaming of a trip to Japan… ). At any rate, travel rewards are excellent when you’re a frequent traveler and/or you’re planning for a specific trip.
Another instance where travel rewards are profoundly smart is when you’re traveling for business. If your employer will allow you to book travel with your personal card (and then submit for reimbursement), you can rack up some serious points. My husband and I did this back when we both traveled a lot for work and ended up at something like Platinum Level just from all of our business travel. Even though we both had company credit cards, our employers said they didn’t care if we booked using our personal cards. It is 100% worth asking your employer if this is ok!
As a side note, we plan to take our girls to Disney at some point in the not-too-distant future and you’d better believe I will be ALL OVER utilizing credit card rewards and bonuses for that trip. But until we have a specific timeframe in mind, I’m focusing my spending on my cash back card.
My 2021 Spending & Cash Back By Month
This chart shows our 2021 spending on our cash back credit card, broken out by month. This isn’t my total 2021 spending–you can find that in my monthly expense reports.
|2021 Month||Amount Spent On Card by the Frugalwoods||Cash Back Earned (2%)|
Not bad for not needing to do anything!
Cash Back Cards to Consider
If you’re now cash back curious, there are a number of cards on the market right now that offer pretty good cash back percentages. Here are a few I’ve found that I think are a good deal, along with my thoughts on each.
1) Blue Cash Preferred® from American Express:
- 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
- 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
- 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more).
- 1% cash back on other purchases.
- Earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months.
- $0 fee for the first year; $95 annual fee thereafter. Rates and fees details here.
- Terms apply.
- While it’s kind of a hassle to keep track of these different categories, 6% cash back is incredibly high!
- I also like that you automatically get 1% cash back on all other purchases, so you’re not totally losing out when you buy stuff outside of those categories
- A major downside is that this card is free for the first year, but then has a $95 annual fee. However, if you reliably spend at least $6k at the grocery store over the course of a year, that’s $360 right there, which makes the $95 annual fee seem totally reasonable.
- The $300 statement credit bonus is nice too! Note: that only applies in your first year of having the card.
- Summary: I’d say this is an excellent choice if: 1) you’re able to remember those categories; 2) you spend at least $6k at the grocery store annually (which is $500/month); 3) you commute (3% back on gas and transit is excellent!).
- Furthermore, if you’re an advanced credit card user, you might consider having this card exclusively for groceries and transit and having another card that offers a higher percentage than 1% for all other purchases.
- Now that I’ve researched this card, I’m considering applying myself… we easily spend $6k on groceries and also a lot on gas, so hmm…. I love doing this research for you all and then realizing I need to re-optimize my own self!
2) Blue Cash Everyday ® from American Express:
- 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
- 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations.
- 1% cash back on other purchases.
- Earn a $200 statement credit after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months.
- No annual fee. Rates and fees details here.
- Terms apply.
- This is the no-annual-fee version of the first AmEx card we looked at and it’s also a great deal.
- The emphasis on groceries and gas mean this card makes the most sense if you–like me–spend a lot in those two categories. By the way, knowing what you spend in each category is yet another reason why I recommend everyone track their expenses judiciously!
- I also like that you automatically get 1% cash back in all other categories.
- Summary: A great choice if: 1) you want to avoid the $95 annual fee of the Blue Cash Preferred; 2) you spend heavily in the grocery and gas categories. The $200 statement credit is also nice!
3) Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card:
- 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day.
- $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.
- No annual fee.
- This is as easy as it gets: a flat cash back percentage that doesn’t change based on where or when you’re spending your money.
- The downside is that 1.5% isn’t as high as those category-specific percentages offered by the AmEx cards. But, this is super simple and there’s no annual fee.
- Summary: A good choice, especially if you’re not sure you’d spend heavily in the grocery and gas categories offered by the American Express cards. 1.5% across the board is excellent and means you don’t need to keep track of categories!
4) Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card:
- Unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart and Target).
- 1% back on all other purchases.
- 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through January 2023.
- Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
- No annual fee.
If you spend a lot in the 3% categories (dining, entertainment, streaming services and groceries), this is a nice option. The fact that it’s unlimited 3% on groceries alone is awesome! However, I’d want to know which superstores are excluded, especially if you do most of your grocery shopping at one of those. Depending on which stores are excluded, this card could be much less appealing.
- I have no idea what Vivid Seats are, but if that’s something you spend on regularly, 8% cash back is fantastic!
- Plus, the flat 1% cash back on everything else is nice to have.
- Summary: if your spending categories align with the 3% and/or 8% categories, this is a fantastic option with no annual fee. If you’re less certain of your category-specific spending, I’d go with the flat percentage offered by the Quicksilver Cash Rewards.
- Earn an extra 1.5% on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year), which is worth up to $300 cash back:
- 6.5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 4.5% on dining and drugstores
- 3% on all other purchases.
After your first year (or $20,000 spent), you earn:
- 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service
- Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
- No annual fee.
- This card is an interesting cash back/travel hybrid and I think the major value is if you’re booking travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
- That being said, 4.5% back on drugstores and restaurants is also pretty nice, as is 3% cash back on all other purchases. However, it’s important to remember that these high percentages end after you’ve spent $20k/had the card for a year.
- Summary: Definitely something to consider if you’re looking for a travel/cash hybrid, particularly if you’re planning to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. As a purely cash-back card it’s not bad either, but do note that you’re reverting to a 1.5% (and 3% on drugstores and restaurants) after the first year/$20k spent. Still, a flat 1.5% back is great!
- If you’re more interested in travel rewards, you may want to instead explore the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which a lot of people consider to be the gold standard of travel cards. Many people (me included) have both a cash back and a travel rewards card because usually, a card is only really advantageous for one reward or the other.
5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate.
- New 5% categories each quarter.
- 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service
- Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
- No annual fee.
- If you’re up for keeping track of the rotating categories each quarter, 5% is a stellar percentage. I think this is a great option if you’re interested in parceling out your purchases during the year to try and align with the 5% category each quarter.
- Do keep in mind, though, that it’s only $1,500 each quarter, which is $6k per year, so the total you could earn through those rotating categories is only $300 for the entire year (5% of $6k = $300), which makes this less of a stellar deal than it originally appears. That being said, you’ll still get unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases.
- Summary: I think this card is ok if you’re into rotating categories, you intend to spend on travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, and you do a lot of spending at drugstores and restaurants. But again, keep in mind the $6k annual cap on the high percentages.
4X points on dining, takeout, and restaurant delivery.
- 2X points on streaming services. Plus, a $15 credit for annual streaming purchases like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify®, Apple Music, Disney+, HBO Max and more.
- 2X points at grocery stores, grocery delivery, gas stations, and EV charging stations.
- 1X point on all other eligible purchases.
- Earn 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 90 days of account opening. That’s a $200 value redeemable towards merchandise, gift cards, cash back, travel and more.
- No annual fee.
- This card operates on a points system, as opposed to percentages, which I find annoying because you have to dig around and figure out how much each point is worth. Google revealed to me that each point = $.01.
- What I further deduced is that you get 1 point for every $1 you spend (this is a really confusing way to structure a card, but no one asked me… ).
- At any rate, if I’m reading this correctly, you get:
- 4 points for every dollar you spend on dining, takeout, and restaurant delivery, which is $0.04.
- 2 points for every dollar you spend at grocery stores, grocery delivery, gas stations, and EV charging stations, which is $0.02
- And so on for each category.
- Summary: if you’re up for keeping track of categories, and converting points to dollars, this card seems like a good option IF you spend a lot on restaurants and takeout.
What If I Have Bad or Nonexistent Credit?
The best rewards cards–like the seven I just reviewed–all require good or excellent credit. If you have bad or nonexistent credit, you can improve your credit with a “credit building” card, which you can use essentially as a ladder to good credit. It’s a conundrum: you can only get a great credit card if you have great credit and one of the ways to get great credit is by having a credit card…
Fear not, there are several categories of credit cards designed for people with bad/no/poor credit, including:
- Credit-Building Cards
- Secured Credit Cards
If at all possible, you want to get a credit-building card as those operate more like regular credit cards. However, if your credit history is too minimal (or your credit score too bad), you may need to start with a secured credit card.
A secured credit card is kind of like a debit card: you have to make a cash deposit with the credit card company in order to open an account.
You then “spend” the amount you deposited via the credit card. The whole point of a secured card is to launch your credit history and it’s a fine thing to do if you have nonexistent or bad credit. However, if possible, you want to start with a credit-building card.
1) Credit Building Cards. Start here and see if you qualify for either of these:
- Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card:
- I like this one because you can earn 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away and up to 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases after making 12 on-time monthly payments (although after a year with this card, you may be able to apply for a better cash back card).
- No annual fee.
- Petal® 1 “No Annual Fee” Visa® Credit Card:
- This one also has no annual fee but doesn’t offer a specified opportunity for cash back.
- The upside: it is supposedly available for people with worse credit, so if you don’t qualify for the Petal 2 card, you very well might qualify for the Petal 1.
2) If you don’t qualify for a credit-building card–don’t worry–you can try for a hybrid Secured/Building Card:
- Self – Credit Builder Account + Secured Visa® Credit Card:
- This is a combined credit builder account and secured card
- No credit check and no credit history required.
- If you make at least 3 monthly payments on time, have $100 or more in savings progress in your account, and are in good standing, you’ll automatically be eligible for the Self Visa® Credit Card, without a credit check.
- Your savings progress from your Credit Builder Account acts as your refundable security deposit.
3) If you don’t qualify for that card, move onto Secured Cards:
Applied Bank Secured Visa® Gold Preferred® Card:
- This is not ideal because it has an annual fee of $48, but, that’ll be $48 well spent to improve your credit history if this is the only card you qualify for.
- Secured Sable ONE Credit Card:
- This one looks pretty good as there’s no annual fee and you can get a dollar-for-dollar match on all cash back at the end of your first year. Additionally, it says that they can auto-review you to an unsecured card in a little as four months
- You can also earn 2% cash back on everyday purchases at Amazon, Uber, Uber Eats, Whole Foods, Netflix, Spotify, and more. Plus, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- Up to a $10,000 credit limit.
- Prosper® Card:
- This one has an annual fee of $39, but it’s waived for the first year if you sign up for AutoPay before your first statement.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You now know more about credit cards than most folks!
Today’s top takeaways:
- Responsible credit card usage means paying your bill in full every month and not charging more than you can afford.
- Only use a credit card to buy things you’d buy in cash. A credit card is not an invitation to overspend.
- Using a credit card responsibly is an excellent aspect of a healthy financial life: it builds your credit, helps you track your spending, and you can earn rewards.
- Find a credit card that offers rewards you will actually use.
- Consider carefully if a card with an annual fee is the best option or if you can get similar benefits with a no-fee card.
- If you have bad/nonexistent credit, consider getting a credit-building or secured card to help you ladder up to good credit. Having good credit is important as it determines things like your ability to qualify for a mortgage.
Do you use a credit card? What type of rewards do you find most useful?
Advertiser Disclosure: I partner with CardRatings for coverage of credit card products. Frugalwoods and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers at no extra cost to you. Here’s a boring (but important) explanation of how Frugalwoods makes money. The credit card links in this post are affiliate links.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses and recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.
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Love the photos and the captions! You are so creative!
Question for the group 🙂 my husband and I have always used the Capital One Venture card because I traveled for work and racked up those points. However, I don’t travel anymore and we probably won’t be traveling extensively for at least a few years. How badly would it affect our credit score to close that card (annual fee is $95) and then open the Blue Cash Preferred card above? We just don’t buy enough to justify paying two annual fees and cash back would be better but I don’t want to kill our credit score either.
That’s a great question! It depends a lot on what other things are on your credit report. If this card is the ONLY debt you carry (i.e. you have no mortgages, no other credit cards, etc), it’s probably worth the $95/year to keep it open. However, if it’s just one of many, the impact will be lessened. Another important factor is how long you’ve had this credit card–if it’s your oldest credit item, you may want to keep it because it’s playing a big role in your credit history. That calculation changes if it’s a newer card/one of many items. One idea is to keep your Capital One Venture (and continue paying the annual fee) and get a no-annual-fee cash back, such as the Blue Cash Everyday, to use for the majority of your purchasing. This is essentially what I do with my cash back card and my travel rewards card. Another question is how Capital One will handle your points you’ve racked up–will they transfer or cash out or will you lose them if you cancel the card? I hope this helps!
You can also keep the card open and downgrade to the no annual fee venture one. It counts as the same account for your credit report, and you won’t have to worry about continuing to pay the annual fee
Instead of cancelling, you could look into product changing to a no fee version of the card so you don’t lose the credit history. (I’m not in the Capital One system yet, but I think this might be the VentureOne card.) This is a common trick for people who are churning credit card rewards so they don’t carry a bunch of cards they don’t use after they get the sign up bonus. Put one annual auto-bill purchase and auto-pay on it to keep the credit line open. You can separately apply for the Amex once you’ve downgraded your other card.
I have never tried this myself, but I often see advice to contact your credit card company and–rather than canceling your card–ask them to switch your account to a non-fee one. Looking at the Capitol One site, this might mean switching your Capitol One Venture card to a Venture One card. This keeps your length of time with the card (which is good for your credit score), but ditches the annual fee. I would use up those points before switching, though.
You can probably downgrade it to a no-fee card if you call. Then the same account will still show up on your credit report and won’t affect your score.
It’s my understanding that if this is your oldest credit card it will be a bigger hit to your score than a newer card would be. I would apply for the new card before canceling the old one. Also, if you’re not trying to get a mortgage, refinance, etc anytime soon the hit to your credit score shouldn’t be too bad in the long run.
I agree– a slight drop in your credit score might take a several months to get cleared up. But if you’re not applying for a mortgage, refinance, etc., and if you pay your card off monthly so the APR doesn’t matter, it won’t have painful effects.
I’m in Canada, so these cards won’t apply. But I wanted to pop in and say that I LOVED the glamour shed theme.
Daisy, me too! I love the glamour shed in all ‘her’ (or his?) glory! If someone knows where I can find a credit card comparison for Canadian credit cards, please let me know.
Just signed up for the AmEx Blue Preferred card. The 6% off grocery purchases is a great card benefit especially with all the price increases. I have the AmEx Business card which gets us 5% off our cell plans. Thanks soooo much for the tip!
While I do get the same 2% back I think the cashback concept is BS. Companies charge more for items because we all use credit cards. Gas stations charge more and now many restaurants even add it on the bill. This weekend I was charged 2.9% for a CC fee at dinner. While it seems like we are getting cash back we are really breaking even or even losing money. But we created the game and the consumer is rarely ever the winner.
My husband often asks (and receives) a cash discount from small businesses. It’s worth asking. Our local gas stations charge $0.10 less per gallon for cash. We still carry our CC because many places are going cash less (airport, event venues) but we love using cash (and loosely track it).
Citi bank custom cash is great. No annual fees and you get 5% back up to $500 spend per month on a given category one of them being grocery.
I totally agree. My husband and I each have a Citi bank custom cash card. We use one of them for groceries, so we get 5% on our grocery purchases up to $500 per month. We use the other for gasoline purchases, again up to $500 per month. And there is no annual fee for this card, so I think it beats the other cards mentioned.
Emma, Carolyn, or anyone else,
Can you explain how exactly Citi bank custom cash CC works? I googled it and it sounds a bit confusing to me.
How is the top spending category determined monthly? Say I spend $300 at HD or Lowe’s and $299 for groceries in April, does it mean Citi will give me $15 of TY points for home improvement?
Does a store’s GC count towards $500 monthly spend?
Are Costco, Target and Walmart supermarkets excluded? I suspect so, but maybe you can confirm one way or other.
Do you know what they mean by “Select travel” category and does it entail spending through the TY portal?
The only thing I don’t like is 3% foreign transactions.
I was considering AmEx Preferred Cash CC, but this Citi CC also sounds interesting especially if both partners qualify for it. Thanks to inflation, it will not be difficult to spend $700-$900 on groceries going forward with two teenagers in the house.
I am so here for a credit card discussion! We were devoted to the Citi DoubleCash card for years until I got into the game of credit card churning for travel.
One thing to take note of is that, if you make an Amex your primary card, you’ll want a back-up option for when a vendor doesn’t accept the brand. I like the Amex system a lot, but many stores (like Costco!) only take Visa and/or Mastercard.
Two other things:
1. I love your blog and love it even more that you threw in a David Sedaris pun.
2. I would love to hear about your Disney planning later. We did a two week road trip to Disney (1 week in Orlando, 5 days travel to break up the driving for our toddler) and used points and credit card perks to hack it significantly. The whole thing cost around $4000 for our family of three, and that was with a decent amount of fancy dining. I’d love to hear what you come up with!
Yes very interested in your Disney planning. It is a rabbit hole of online forums and cost savings… We looked into one day at Disneyland for 4 adults – almost $700 in just tickets due to the high demand. My 2 year old would have been free but we opted out just due to the ticket cost. My husband and I did one day in Epcot with a work trip this summer and it was perfect for us but way too pricey to bring our toddler.
Me too on the Disney planning! I was just starting to plan in 2020 and obviously that didn’t happen. Now I am starting again and the cost is overwhelming. A lot of my requirements are pricey like the convenience of staying on site, ideally a 1 bedroom suite with a kitchen area and we need to go during school breaks (I don’t care so much about school but my daughter does competitive dance and they are strict about how many rehearsals you can miss).
I have a 2% cash back card but I have never done credit card travel hacking and it seems like a lot to learn!
Oh, also, we live in CA and we did a Disneyland trip last year which was fairly reasonable. 3 nights in a less expensive hotel, off site but an easy walk. Florida requires plane tickets and a week of accommodation. But my kids (and me too!) really want to go.
Discover has a great student card if there are any college students out there trying to responsibly build credit. The 5% cashback categories cycle, and there’s 1% cashback on other purchases, and even a good grades reward! Once I graduated and increased my income, Discover updated my account on their end to no longer be a student. It gave me a good start on building the length of my credit history, which is obviously hard for young adults.
Also here for the captions. Love when you get playful with the writing and we can see the silly side of your personality shine, thank you!
Another Canadian who wasn’t really interested in the content, but enjoyed the glamour shed photos!
I try to have something for everyone 🙂
One other card type to highlight that wouldn’t apply to rural areas – no fee store cards. We use Target and Lowes as they are 5 minutes from our home and both provide 5% instant savings. It isn’t cash back but it helps offset our tax (6.25% in MA on non-food/clothes purchases). We are renovating a cabin so we often price shop between Lowes and Home Depot (the local lumber yard is not open nights and weekends for those who work full time boo) and Lowes is often cheaper and we get 5% off.
I also price compare Walmart and Target in my local area – both offer drive up and Target is often a few cents more expensive but the 5% off wipes that out plus some. Target also offers a sweet app so I can tell on average I save $100-150 per year on discount plus app discounts and promotions. I know these stores are few and far between in Vermont but they are very common where I live.
Thanks for another excellent post! One consideration is that credit card companies charge merchants a percentage of each transaction a customer makes (I don’t know the exact amounts) and they charge a higher amount when a rewards card is used – basically merchants are subsidizing the rewards that credit card companies claim comes from them. I use a rewards card but mostly either at large/big box store merchants or at small merchants who clearly prefer credit cards to cash (so they can stay largely cashless in case of robbery) or for online purchases; there are a handful of small merchants I shop with who either don’t care or who prefer cash, and with those I pay in cash to help their bottom line.
One also needs to be careful about going over charges that appear on the statement. I have a Capital One rewards card and generally they’ve been good to deal with, except… I had taken advantage of a promotion to transfer a balance from another card without interest for some months, ensuring I paid it in full before the deadline because otherwise all back interest would have been charged in a lump sum as if there had been no waiver. Two months before the deadline I noticed an old $1.50 charge hadn’t hit and kept my eye on the statements. Sure enough, a couple of days before the deadline, the $1.50 charge quietly showed up on the card. I made a small charge and paid that + $1.50 to get it back to zero and avoided being charged the back interest. I’ve found if I want a zero balance on the monthly statement, I need to stop using this card a couple of days before the monthly payment due date, then not use it until they issue the new monthly balance about a week later. Cash comes in handy during that week.
Where are you getting the information about the fee being different depending on the type of card? I’ve never heard that. It isn’t true for payment services like Stripe, PayPal, etc. so I’d like to understand when it is the case if it actually is.
You can find this information on the website of the credit card networks. It is called Interchange fee.
Payment Service providers such as Stripe remit this fee to the banks that issued the credit card. For example: While for a small supermarket this may be 1.5% + $0.07 for a transaction on traditional Visa credit card, it would be 2% + $0.07 for a transaction on a Visa Infinite Card. Visa Infinite Cards usually have better rewards (e.g. 4% on groceries). Source: https://usa.visa.com/content/dam/VCOM/download/merchants/visa-usa-interchange-reimbursement-fees.pdf
Some payment service provider offer flat rate pricing, that is all credit cards have the same cost (of course, it’ll vary by transaction amount). Other payment service providers offer Interchange fee plus pricing where the merchant pays exactly the Interchange fee plus a processing fee to the payment service provider, and these fees are broken down in detail on a monthly statement. Since Stripe (or their acquirer) still needs to remit the Interchange to the card issuer, the flat rate is usually set in such a way that it is on average at least as high as the average Interchange fee plus processing costs.
The whole topic of credit card pricing is really fascinating. So fascinating that those who study it are awarded Nobel Prizes in Economics: https://www.pymnts.com/news/2014/of-nobel-prizes-and-payments/
We have the Amex Preferred, and it is indeed an amazing credit card! We live in a one of the top cost of living areas in the country, and that cash back on groceries and gas adds up! We have used the cash reward for appliance replacement, home maintenance, and other larger ticket items. We do have savings that could cover those, but the ease of credit card use and the reward for things we’d buy anyway makes it well worth it, and the annual fee is negligible at that point, as you mentioned. We always track spending and pay in full every month, of course:) Additional side note, Amex customer service is easy and excellent.
I’m an American living in Spain and use a Discover cashback card for any American purchases I need to make, I’m really just here to giggle with everyone else at the glamour shed photos and captions. I honestly scrolled all the way through just to see what would come next. 🙂
Oh My gosh . I absolutely love the photograph titles 😍😍🥰
Plain old generic no frills card that we do not use at local businesses. While interchange/merchant fees are built into prices everywhere, I find rewards/cash back a bit self-defeating. I’d venture to say most people do not pay off balances every month. Amoco/BP is retiring their gas only card in favor of a VISA card. Sure, the few cents off of gas will remain and points are being heavily hyped in the communication. But the devil is in the details – points expire I believe in 5 years. The issuer reserves the right to limit the number of points used on certain items (but no details on said items). If the merchant equipment is not to their standard, you won’t get points if you pay via Wallet/ApplePay.
So whatever card you choose, make sure to read the fine print.
Haven’t seen any mention of the Costco card. If you’re a member I think it’s a no brainer. Discover’s card that does 5% off specific types of purchases every quarter is also really great. Your first year they double that for a whopping 10% back. Wholesale clubs are included, but of course Costco doesn’t accept Discover, but may be good for others like BJ’s. Other categories are normal popular things like gas, grocery stores, drugstores, etc.
We use the Costco card for 1 percent at regular stores, 2 percent at Costco, 3 percent for travel and dining out and 4 percent on gas. We received a rebate check of $1600 last year that we cashed out as we bought appliances on sale and got 2 percent cash back at Costco on top of that and some other large furniture items. It’s worked very well for our large family too since we shop there every 1-2 wks and besides that we use cash.
Interesting and helpful article –thanks. If you don’t mind me asking, what credit card do you use that gives 2% cash back on all items? Thanks
I have the Fidelity Visa, which I think is great, but the big catch is that you have to already have an account with Fidelity in order to apply for it.
Thanks Liz –very helpful. I have an old 401K parked at Fidelity. I would think that would count, but will check it out.
Much appreciation for your help. Beth
The citi double cash card also pays out 2% on everything, 1% when you make the purchase and 1% when you pay it. I don’t see any reason to ever use a 1.5% card when you can easily get 2%. And it has no annual fee.
I use the Citi Double Cash Back , which is no fee. I get 1% on all purchases, and 1% on all payments, which encourages me to pay the card off. I apply the cash back to my statement amount each month. I set up several recurring charges on it, so I always earn some cash each month.
It’s a good thing that shed isn’t camera-shy!
I try and keep it simple and use the Capital One Savor for groceries and dining. Cap One Silver for purchases not covered by the Savor.
Best takeaway today from your column: GLAMOUR SHED! Love the captions!
I LOVE Glamour Shed in all her seasons.. So witty and I had great fun reading it, I see you are also an avid reader.
Our most useful card (especially during this period of inflation) is probably our no-fee grocery store card that we use for all food purchases. Each quarter we receive cash back that we can use at the store. We also receive additional fuel points.
I have a no-fee REI Mastercard that I love, since I shop there frequently. I receive an additional 5% back on all REI purchases (and 1% back on non-REI purchases). This gets added to my yearly dividend, which usually yields a couple of “free” running shoes each year.
Can we have some Frugalhound throwbacks? Silly maybe, but I miss her.
Does your daughter remember her? Will your family once again adopt a dog?
If yes, I vote for Border Collie! Great Fit!
Love your blog and its contents…Thanking each of you from South Carolina
$700ish in rewards at 2% is $39k in charges over the course of the year. That’s like my total annual spending! But then I am single/no kids
Such a simple business…give us 2% and charge the merchant 2.9%. Make .9% spread.
We use the Citi DoubleCash for our everyday purchases (2% back on everything); Costco Visa for Costco + gas which is where we get 90% of our groceries and all our gas (5% at Costco, 4% at gas anywhere, not just the Costco gas stations, and 3% dining); the Target debit card for Target (5% back at Target); and Amazon’s cc for our Amazon purchases (5% back). No annual fees on any of them! Makes it easy to keep track of what to use where, even if we maybe could make a tiny bit more with a higher percent back (I just really *hate* paying an annual fee).
Hi Liz, thanks for this post! I have followed your blog for a bit (though never commented) and read your book. My kids are almost exactly your kids ages (though mine are boys) and I really appreciate all the honesty and humor with which you write about parenting!
Anyways, you mentioned wanting to take your girls to Disney in the future, and I just wanted to say I would love a post about that eventually! We’d like to go in a couple years and I’d appreciate your perspective!
I’m late to this discussion but would like to add Bank of America’s Travel Rewards card to the list. It gives a credit of 1.5% on all purchases that can be used to offset travel & restaurant purchases in the previous 12 months. Points don’t expire. The best part is that if you are a Preferred Rewards client of BofA, based on your deposits, you can receive up to a 75% bonus credit on rewards, increasing the 1.5% to 2.65% on ALL purchases. I have stock in an IRA and simply moved them to BofA so that I had more than $100,000 on deposit with them, and thus qualified for the highest tier bonus.