For the responsible consumer, a credit card can offer a healthy dose of cash back, airline miles, and rewards points for making purchases that you would usually make. However, in the hands of a responsible and savvy consumer, a rewards credit card can be a highly profitably tool--thanks to certain loopholes and tactics.
If you're managing your debt well and you're interested in making your credit card go further, consider these strategies:
Collect on sign-up offers. You've most likely come across some outrageous credit card offers that seem too hard to pass up. They often come with a significant amount of cash back, miles, or points when you spend enough during a short period after your account is opened. For example, a travel credit card may offer 50,000 bonus miles if you spend $3,000 within the first three months after opening the account.
To meet this requirement quickly, you can purchase gift cards with the new credit card. Since most gift cards have less stringent expiration dates (if at all), you can lock in a sign-up offer without spending on things that you won't use.
Cash back for nearly nothing. With the new American Express Bluebird account (essentially a prepaid account), combined with certain cash back credit cards, some consumers have been able to earn a good amount of cash back for little actual spending.
The Bluebird account is reloadable by purchasing Vanilla Reload cards at certain retailers. Those who have credit cards that earn large amounts of cash back at these retailers can proceed to buy Vanilla Reload cards and refill their Bluebird accounts. Then the Bluebird account can be used to pay for purchases that don't earn cash back.
One caveat: some retailers have caught on to this loophole and have started to require cash as the only payment method for these reload cards.
Fork over less interest on loan payments. From time to time, you may come across introductory credit card offers will offer zero percent APR on balance transfer for a period of time. By transferring some of your high-interest debt to a credit card, you'll be paying less interest over the life of the loans. Some people would even sign up for another balance-transfer offer when the initial zero percent APR period ends.
For those who are willing to go to such lengths to save money on loans, it could be well worth the while. However, such an endeavor requires discipline and responsible money management, as you'll have to make payments on the credit card in addition to the loan payments.
Uncovering rewards where they're not usually found. There are credit cards that offer varying amounts of rewards and cash back depending on where you choose to shop, rather than on what you actually buy. And since some retailers sell branded gift cards to other stores, you can be earning rewards on purchases that you won't get if you used a credit card at those stores directly.
For example, a credit card that doles out 5 percent cash back on groceries may be used to purchase a Gap gift card at a supermarket. Effectively, the credit card user earns 5 percent cash back at Gap.
Simon Zhen is a columnist and staff writer for MyBankTracker.com, a site that covers personal finance and banking products, including savings accounts, checking accounts, CDs, mortgages, and more.