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In many ways, October is the calm before the winter storm. Summer travel has wrapped up, students have settled into a new school year, and we all get to take a collective breath before the whirlwind rush from Halloween through the winter holidays.
That makes October the perfect time to plan ahead and organize your credit card game before the sales, spending and celebrations begin. If you’re looking to maximize credit card earnings during the busy holiday season ahead, here’s your suggested to-do list this month:
Activate quarterly 5% rewards categories
Oct. 1 marks the beginning of a new quarter, and with that comes a change in cash-back categories for popular 5% cash-back credit cards, including the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and the Discover it® Cash Back.
These cards earn 5% back in quarterly bonus categories on up to $1,500 in combined spending each quarter — but activation is required to earn that 5% rate. (All other non-bonus-category spending earns 1% back.)
The good news is that activation is easy and can be done online in a click or two ... but you do need to remember to click. Setting a calendar reminder or alert can help.
In addition to activating, you can take steps now to adjust your spending habits and ensure that you take full advantage of these 5% cash-back categories.
Chase Freedom Flex℠
Q4 2022 bonus categories: PayPal, Walmart
This is the third year in a row that Chase has featured these two bonus categories in the fourth quarter, and both of them can be useful for holiday shopping.
What you can do right now:
One caveat from Chase: You can’t double-dip on this offer. Using PayPal on your Walmart.com purchase still earns a total of 5% cash back.
Discover it® Cash Back
Q4 2022 bonus categories: Amazon, digital wallets
Just in time for Amazon's first Prime Early Access Sale (Oct. 11 and 12), this Q4 bonus category is a great opportunity to stack your holiday shopping savings.
What you can do right now:
Check your email. Recently, some Discover cardholders have received targeted email offers for 5% back at Target, Walmart or grocery chains. These offers vary and can be activated only through the email directly from Discover, but it appears these additional categories are stackable with the 5% cash back on payments from a digital wallet. That means if you get an offer for 5% back at Target, for example, you can use your Discover card via Apple Pay (or another qualifying digital wallet) at Target for a total of 10% back.
Check your annual rewards limits
Several popular credit cards pair high rewards earnings for select categories with an annual limit on the total amount you can earn. At this point in the year, you may be closing in on those limits — and once you reach them, chances are you'd be better served using a different card.
If any of the following cards are in your wallet, check your online account to determine whether it makes sense to switch to a different card for the remainder of the year:
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: With this card, you can earn 6% back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 spent per year, then 1%. (Terms apply; see rates and fees.) If your family spends more than $600 per month at U.S. supermarkets, you’ll probably max out those lucrative 6% earnings this month.
Citi Dividend Card: This card has a $300 annual limit in cash-back earnings, total. If you’ve already reached that threshold for the year, you can forget about the 5% bonus categories for Q4 2022 (restaurants and eligible travel spending).
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi: You can earn 4% cash back on gas and EV charging purchases (both at Costco and other gas stations) on up to $7,000 of spending a year, then 1% back. If your household averages more than $700 per month on gas, you may surpass the annual limit in October.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card: The card offers 3 points per $1 spent on up to $6,000 combined spending for dining, gas and groceries. If you’ve spent more than $650 per month on this card for these categories, your rewards in Q4 will drop to 2 points per $1 spent.
Sam's Club® Mastercard®: This card earns 5% cash back on gas anywhere Mastercard is accepted (on up to $6,000 spent per year, then 1%). If your household averages more than $600 per month on gas, you’re likely nearing this limit.
Adjust custom cash categories
Having a customized cash rewards card in your wallet is a great way to fill any gaps in your rewards earnings. To maximize these cards, though, it’s important to reevaluate how you use them month to month in tandem with changes in other rewards earnings.
Once you’ve figured out your spending adjustments based on the quarterly bonus categories, annual rewards caps, and bonus offers above, consider dedicating one of these custom cash cards to any earnings categories you may be missing.
Citi Custom Cash℠ Card: This card offers 5% cash back on up to $500 spent in your highest-spend category per billing cycle, from a list of eligible options. The 5% is automatic; no activation is required. Available categories include groceries, gas, restaurants, drugstores, home improvement, fitness clubs and streaming services.
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card: Among other things, you can earn 3% cash back on up to $2,500 per quarter in your selected category. Available categories include gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drugstores, and home improvement or furnishings. Categories are managed manually, but may be changed up to once a month.
U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card: You'll earn 5% cash back on the first $2,000 in combined purchases each quarter in two categories of your choice (from a list of about a dozen). Categories must be manually activated each quarter. The 5% category options include TV, internet and streaming services; home utilities; ground transportation; cell phone providers; gyms; and fast food. You can also earn an uncapped 2% back in an "everyday" category that you choose: grocery stores, gas stations or restaurants.
Don’t forget that for the U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card, cash-back categories must be manually activated each quarter even if you’re not changing categories. Without activating, you’ll earn just 1% back on all purchases.
Write down (and share) your fall spending plan
We’ve all been there: You read through some great credit card tips, activate your bonus categories, maybe even apply for a new offer. But then you get to the checkout line or the gas pump and default to your normal routine. Which card were you supposed to use again?
If you share finances with a partner or other household member, communicating your spending plan is especially critical. You could manage this with a note in your phone that's updated regularly and shared with your partner. This way, you can easily track how you plan to spend among different categories.
The information related to the Citi Dividend Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.