5 Money Hacks Hiding in Your Wallet

Your wallet has a secret: untapped benefits on your credit and debit cards that could save you money.
Robin Saks Frankel
By Robin Saks Frankel 
Edited by Paul Soucy

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Your wallet has a secret. Buried in your billfold, bound in a money clip, or stuffed in a pocket on your phone case are untapped benefits on credit and debit cards that could save you hundreds of dollars a year. Here are five money hacks hiding in plain sight.

1. Use a savings app

Build savings even as you spend money by linking your credit and debit cards to an app like Acorns or Digit. Acorns automatically rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar and then adds the difference to your savings. Digit analyzes your spending and income and sets aside a little of your extra money for savings. It’s like a tip jar by the register or a spare-change dish, but the money goes to your future.

2. Maximize your card benefits

Credit cards often come with valuable but easy-to-overlook benefits. According to a 2019 J.D. Power study, only 36% of cardholders understand the supplementary benefits on their cards.

“Consumers generally are probably not very knowledgeable about all of the features of their credit cards,” says John Cabell, director of wealth and lending management at J.D. Power and a lead researcher on the study. Money-saving card benefits “may not be clearly communicated or communicated proactively by the issuers.”

Among such benefits:

  • Travel perks. Cabell points to airline cards that offer free checked bags and airport lounge access, as well as cards that charge no foreign transaction fees. Several cards reimburse the application fee for TSA Precheck and Global Entry.

  • Cell phone insurance. Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Mastercard and other credit card companies offer cell phone coverage with certain cards when you pay your bill with the card.

  • Automatic credits. Some cards automatically reimburse you for things like travel expenses, rideshares, meal delivery or purchases at select merchants, up to a monthly or annual limit.

Read your credit card’s benefits guide to see what’s included. You might be surprised by how much you can save. A checked-bag benefit, for example, could save you $120 on a single round-trip with a companion. Getting cell phone coverage from your card could shave $9 to $15 a month off your wireless bill if you were previously paying for it through your carrier.

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3. Use your rewards cards for everything

Some people have a habit of using credit cards only for “big” or “important” purchases while paying for smaller or everyday purchases with cash or debit. But every purchase that isn’t on a rewards card is money left on the table.

“I think if you pay your balance in full every month, it’s kind of silly not to have a rewards card because you’re getting something for nothing,” says Holly Johnson, who with her husband, Greg, runs the money-saving tips blog ClubThrifty.com.

Rewards cards essentially give you a discount on all your spending. Depending on the card, how its rewards are structured and where you use it, you’ll typically earn rewards equal to 1% to 6% of the purchase price. Even earning a paltry 1% on everything, a modest $100 in spending a week turns into more than $50 in rewards in a year.

4. Stack savings with a cash-back portal

Websites such as Rakuten (formerly Ebates) and BeFrugal pay you a percentage back on every qualified purchase from participating retailers. A Rakuten spokesperson, for example, says the average member earns 4% to 6% in cash back on purchases made through the site, which can add up to hundreds of dollars a year.

The trick is to get into the habit of checking the sites before you shop and to use them only for purchases you were going to make regardless.

“I am a big online shopper, and once I learned about Ebates a couple of years ago, I thought ‘Why would anyone not use a program like this?’ You’re ordering from the store anyway, so why not get cash back?” says Stacey Wallenstein, a parenting blogger at The Mint Chip Mama and mother of three from Plainview, New York. Wallenstein says she has saved more than $175 in 2019 just through Rakuten.

Use a rewards credit card on a cash-back site, and you’re multiplying your savings with zero extra effort.

5. Know your price protections

Here’s another good reason to keep your receipts: You might be able to get money back if something you bought goes on sale for less somewhere else. If your credit card has price protection, you can claim a refund of the difference if you submit proof of the lower price on an eligible item within a particular time period after your purchase. Don’t have price protection on your card? Several major retailers offer their own version if certain competitors offer the same item for less. Participating stores include Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy and Home Depot.

An earlier version of this article misstated how the Digit app works. It has been corrected.

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