As more Americans get vaccinated, there’s an urge to do more and spend on things that the pandemic caused you to miss out on in 2020. Perhaps you didn’t spruce up your wardrobe (hello, sweatpants) while staying at home. You may have postponed travel. Or you traded hosting social gatherings for social distancing.
Dubbed as “revenge spending,” making up for lost time with purchases can be a risky combination with credit cards. If your finances are already struggling, it can potentially catapult you into debt.
As you start taking out your wallet for more activities and more shopping, here are some strategies to use credit cards wisely.
Take a midyear pulse on your finances
Checking in with finances can help you make educated decisions. Seeing the amount of money left over after bills and debts can help you determine if it's possible to splurge a little.
Even if you have spending money available in the present, unplanned future expenses could derail your budget. Think summer wedding gifts, back-to-school purchases, back-to-work expenses, and even the not-so-distant holiday season. It doesn't mean you can't enjoy many things you want to do or buy; you can live a little and still pace your spending to keep finances manageable.
Pay down debt
A post-pandemic future will likely result in new pressures to spend as you get out into the world, so it's better to nix debt now. A balance transfer credit card may offer a way out if you have a good credit score (690 or higher FICO).
Get an ultralong 0% intro APR on balance transfers
The U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card, for example, offers an ultralong 0% introductory APR period. Get 0%* intro APR for 20 billing cycles on purchases and balance transfers*, and then the ongoing APR of 14.49% - 24.49%* Variable APR. A fee of 3% or $5, whichever is greater, applies to the balance you transfer over. It's worth the cost if it means saving more on interest over time.
Or consider a card with long-term incentives like the $0-annual-fee Discover it® Balance Transfer. It offers a shorter window to pay off debt, but you’ll earn rewards. It offers a INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300. Plus, you’ll get 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories on up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter when you activate. All other purchases earn 1% back. It has an intro balance transfer fee of 3%. To keep debt from piling up, it’s best to hold off on adding purchases to the card until after you pay off the balance transferred.
Use credit cards wisely if 'revenge spending'
Whether you’re indulging or making much-needed purchases, your credit card may pack deals or incentives that offer more value. As long as you can pay off the purchase in full to avoid interest, using it to earn rewards or snag deals can go a long way.
If you’re hosting a Fourth of July barbecue, a pool party or any gathering this summer, earn a side of rewards on your spread. The $0-annual-fee Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express earns 3% back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 spent annually and rewards in other categories. Terms apply (see rates and fees).
And, if you have the $0-annual-fee Chase Freedom Flex℠, in Q3 of 2021 it’s earning 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent per quarter on groceries and select streaming services when you activate. All other purchases earn 1% back. Plus, it has the following bonus: Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. And earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
» MORE: Best credit cards for groceries
The new Citi Custom Cash℠ Card is a good choice for everyday essentials or an occasional treat like travel or dining out. It comes with a solid introductory offer: Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $750 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back. Plus, you’ll get some breathing room on interest: 0% intro APR on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR. There are rewards, too. It earns 5% cash back in a top eligible spending category, on up to $500 each billing cycle (1% back after that). Eligible categories include grocery stores, restaurants, streaming services, travel and live entertainment. So if you must spend on nonessentials, you can avoid interest payments for that time frame. To keep debt at bay, spend only what you can afford to pay back.
For expenses at department stores or general online purchases, look to a flat-rate credit card that offers a decent 2% rate on all purchases.
If you’re traveling this summer or in the foreseeable future, a similar strategy applies.
Use a 0% introductory APR offer
If you must stray from the budget with travel expenses, financing a vacation with a 0% intro APR is better than paying interest on one. The $0-annual-fee Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card provides 0% intro APR for 12 billing cycles on purchases, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR. Plus, it has a decent sign-up bonus: 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases. It also earns an ongoing 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases.
Redeem your rewards or stash them for future travel
NerdWallet recently found that Americans with travel credit cards are sitting on an average of 64,800 points or miles, as of February 2021. If you’ve been saving up rewards throughout the pandemic, consider redeeming them for the options that get the most value for your next trip. And, if a travel credit card and a vacation are on the horizon, there’s no better time to start saving points or miles, especially if you’re traveling during the holiday season. Aim to apply for a travel credit card six months ahead of your trip to snag a sign-up offer and make the most of any other perks on the card.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, for instance, currently has a rich sign-up offer: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. It earns 2 points per $1 spent on travel and dining at restaurants. All other purchases earn 1 point per $1 spent. It has a $95 annual fee. If you already have this card, it's possible to transfer points to partners at a 1-1 ratio. Partners include Marriott, Hyatt, United and Southwest.
Book travel with a card that has travel benefits or protections
Book travel with a card that has built-in benefits like an auto rental collision damage waiver, trip cancellation or interruption insurance, lost luggage reimbursement or any other helpful protections that can save you money when faced with the unexpected.
To view rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, see this page.