The saying goes that “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” While that pertains to the weather, it may also apply to your personal finances this month. Start off by maximizing roaring cash-back categories, and finish by gently protecting yourself as a consumer.
Max out your bonus category
Some Discover cards and the Chase Freedom® pay 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined spending on bonus categories each quarter, and those categories change quarterly. As the end of the first quarter of 2018 approaches, be sure to max out your earnings. The bonus categories for eligible Discover cards are gas stations and wholesale clubs. The Chase Freedom® categories are gas stations; internet, cable TV and phone service merchants; and eligible mobile wallet purchases, including via Chase Pay, Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay.
If you need to remind yourself to activate your Q2 categories, set a calendar alert. Discover has already announced its category will be grocery stores. Chase usually announces its categories near the end of the previous quarter. You can check our bonus category tables for more information.
Think twice before paying taxes with a credit card
In 2018, you have a couple more days than normal to file your taxes. The deadline is Tuesday, April 17, because the 15th is a Sunday and the 16th is Washington, D.C.'s Emancipation Day, which the IRS calendar treats as a national holiday.
If you’re considering paying your tax bill with a credit card, think again. First, you have to pay the processing fees, which range between 1.87% and 2.35% of the total. Next, check the credit limit on your card. If your tax bill is $3,000 and your limit is $5,000, your credit utilization will jump, which may affect your credit score.
Finally, think about the interest you’ll pay. Unless you have a 0% introductory rate card, you’ll pay the regular APR. And if you don’t pay your balance in full each month, you’re adding a lot of debt. Use the calculator below to see how much you’ll pay in interest.
Get to know your credit card
Do you know what benefits your credit card offers? According to a recent report by Market Strategies International, a market research firm, 80% of credit card users weren’t clear about the benefits on their primary card. But maybe the cardholder just doesn't care.
The Market Strategies International report listed card benefits ranked by user interest, and among those that ranked low were features such as exclusive access to events, concierge service and contactless payments.
Even if you aren't using all of the benefits your card offers, you should avoid leaving money on the table. NerdWallet’s Best Credit Cards of 2018 shows you which cards we think offer the best value, and our detailed reviews of each card highlight all the benefits it offers.
Plan your summer travel
Although it’s not officially spring yet, it’s time to plan your week at the beach, visit to the grandparents or European holiday. According to TripAdvisor’s 2017 survey, the best time to book a hotel in the U.S. is three months prior to your dates.
If you’ve been hoarding miles to book flights, now is the time to use them. But what if you don’t have enough miles to get to your destination? Most airlines allow you to purchase additional miles to make up the difference. And they often offer discounts on those purchases.
Is it worth it? Probably not, according to NerdWallet's analysis, which notes that "airline points and miles often sell for two to three times their actual value ... so even when there’s a sale, buying these rewards is a little like purchasing overpriced gift certificates."
Accrued mileage in most airline loyalty plans doesn’t expire, so you’re better off waiting until you've earned the miles you need rather than buying more, even at a “discount.”
Participate in National Consumer Protection Week
National Consumer Protection Week, organized by the Federal Trade Commission, is March 4-10 this year. There may be local events you can attend, or you can participate in Facebook Live or Twitter chats. Topics may include scams and how to avoid them, protecting yourself from identity theft, and tackling debt problems.
If you have a problem with your credit card or another financial product, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau online. To learn more about the CFPB and how consumers have benefited from this government agency, read coverage here by NerdWallet's investigative team.
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