NerdWallet’s Best Credit Card Tips for December 2021

As you're navigating expenses this month, some credit card strategies may offer additional savings.

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As you reconnect with more friends and loved ones this holiday season, the pressure to spend on gifts, food or other items for the festivities ahead may be high.

Whether you’re being a frugal shopper or splurging, a credit card can offer ways for you to stay true to the budget. As you start planning resolutions for the new year, a credit card that aligns with goals can also be fruitful.

Here are a few ways to get more value from your credit card this month and beyond.

Keep holiday purchases within budget

Some credit cards may offer features that can keep holiday purchases from derailing your budget. Consider the following options.

Citi® Double Cash Card
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Redeem rewards to pay for gifts

If your credit card earns rewards that don’t lose value when redeemed for a statement credit or gift card, they could cover unplanned holiday expenses.

The $0-annual-fee Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, for instance, has a broad range of redemption options. You can cover gifts or other last-minute purchases by redeeming cash back for statement credit or converting it to points and redeeming for gift cards.

The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer earns 2% cash back on all purchases: 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay the bill. By exploring redemption options, it's possible to avoid straying from the budget for holiday expenses.

Keep payments predictable

Some American Express, Chase and Citi credit cards offer plans that allow large purchases to be paid in a different way. You can opt for a plan with fixed payments and a fixed interest rate or monthly fee over a set time frame. Budgeting for these plans can be easier since payments are predictable.

These plans may cost less than the standard interest charged by the issuer. There’s no application or credit check required to use these options.

Nerdy tip: Shop through a cash-back shopping website or app with a rewards credit card to get more value on holiday gifts or meal preparations.

Understand deferred interest and 0% intro APR offers

As you're checking off the list of holiday to-do's, you may stumble upon store cards that advertise “special financing” or “no interest if paid in full” for a certain period of time. These are not true 0% intro annual percentage rate offers that waive interest throughout the duration of the promotion.

deferred interest offer delays interest payments while the charges still accrue in the background. No interest charges apply if you pay off the bill in full during the promotional period. But if any balance is left unpaid when the promotion expires, you'll be charged interest retroactively for the entire amount of the transaction. That retroactive interest has the potential to derail your budget. A true 0% intro APR offer is less risky.

Wells Fargo Active Cash Card
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The $0-annual-fee Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card, for example, offers a 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 14.99%-24.99% Variable APR. That’s a lot of breathing room on holiday expenses, and you don't have to worry about retroactive interest. Plus, the card earns 2% cash back on all purchases.

Nerdy tip: It’s not a good money move to take on debt for holiday purchases like gifts, decorations or other nonessential items. If the budget is a bit tight this year, consider alternative ways to save on holiday expenses.

Get your credit card aligned with New Year's resolutions

As you start thinking about your goals for 2022, consider whether your credit card aligns with them.

Getting out of debt

Wells Fargo Reflect Card
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If you’re soon to embark on a debt-free journey, it may seem counterintuitive to open a new credit card to pay down balances, but that’s the whole purpose of balance transfer credit cards.

A card like the Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card, for instance, allows moving the debt from a high-interest credit card onto it to get a better deal on interest.

For transfer requests made within 120 days from account opening, a balance transfer fee of $5 or 3% intro applies, whichever is greater. After that, the card charges up to 5% of each transfer amount, with a minimum of $5. It's worth paying the fee upfront if it means avoiding costlier interest charges over time.

The Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card offers a 0% intro APR for 18 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers, and then an ongoing APR of 12.99%-24.99% Variable APR. Intro APR extension of up to 3 months with on-time minimum payments during the intro and extension periods. That’s a decent amount of time to put a dent in your debt.

Traveling more

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
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You can jump-start travel aspirations with a travel credit card like the $95-annual-fee Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. It offers a healthy sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Depending on the destination, that could be enough for a round-trip flight or several nights at a hotel.

It also earns 5 points per dollar spent on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 3 points per dollar on dining, select streaming services and online grocery store purchases; 2 points per dollar spent on travel booked outside of Chase Ultimate Rewards®; and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. And, there’s a $50 annual credit offered for hotel stays purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Wellness

Some credit cards with fitness perks can help you get more value from a gym membership, a subscription or fitness equipment. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers a statement credit of up to $60 when you sign up for a Peloton Digital and All-Access membership through Dec. 31, 2021. Plus, through March 2022, the card earns 5 points per $1 spent on each Peloton Bike, Tread and accessory purchase of over $1,800, for a maximum of 25,000 points.

The Platinum Card® from American Express carries a high-end $695 annual fee, but also comes with up to $300 in annual Equinox credits when you enroll, plus up to $300 in statement credit when you purchase a SoulCycle at-home bike. Terms apply.

US Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Credit Card
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For more flexibility, you can look at a card like the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card – NerdWallet Exclusive Offer, which earns 5% cash back on the first $2,000 spent in two categories of your choosing, 2% back on an everyday category like gas, grocery stores or restaurants and 1% on everything else.

The list of potential top-earning categories is long, but the wellness-focused options include gym memberships, fitness clubs and sporting goods stores. Examples of qualifying gyms include Equinox, 24 Hour Fitness, LA Fitness and Pure Barre, to name a few. Sporting goods stores that qualify for the top cash-back rate include Cabela’s, REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Big 5.

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