NerdWallet’s Best Credit Card Tips for May 2015

May 7, 2015
NerdWallet’s Best Credit Card Tips, May 2015

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Managing your credit cards isn’t a once-and-done task — you’ll need to keep at it to get the most out of your plastic. Every month, the Nerds round up a new set of tips to help you maximize rewards and minimize costs with every swipe.

For May 2015:

1. Use bonus malls to earn extra rewards on Mother’s Day gifts

Chances are good that your credit card issuer operates a bonus mall that will help you earn extra points, miles or cash back on your online purchases. Not sure about yours? Log into your credit card account and poke around a bit; if you don’t see “bonus mall,” it might be called a “shopping portal.”

Then, follow the links from the shopping platform to the store of your choice. With a few simple clicks, you’ll be pumping up the rewards you’re earning on the gift for mom you were already planning to buy.

For consumers with credit cards that don’t have a bonus mall, the shopping platform operated by a preferred frequent flyer program is a good alternative. Most major carriers offer this tool as a way to earn extra miles, so doing a simple search for “[airline] shopping portal” should yield results — and rewards.

2. Finalize your summer travel plans

This might not sound like a credit card tip, but just hear us out: By deciding on your summer travel plans now, you’ll have a chance to apply for a credit card with a signup bonus that could offset some of the cost of your trip.

Acting quickly is wise, because you’ll likely have to meet a minimum spending requirement to get a really juicy bonus. But don’t act too quickly — exploring all your options before you pull the trigger on an application is smart. The card you pick should depend on not only your upcoming destination, but also your ongoing needs.

3. Assess the cards in your wallet to make sure they all belong

Before the distractions of summer set in, take some time to assess your credit card collection. It might be time to explore other options if you’re unhappy with your everyday card, or cancel an old card you’re no longer using. This may help simplify your finances and keep you from racking up fees on cards you barely touch.

But don’t cancel a credit card without some serious thought. Generally, it’s good for your FICO score to keep an unused card open, especially if it’s a card that you’ve had for a long time. The only exception is unused credit cards that charge an annual fee.

Paying an annual fee only makes sense if the rewards you’re earning outweigh what you’re being charged each year. The only way this will happen is if you’re swiping the card regularly. So it’s wasteful to hold onto a card that carries annual fee if you only use it occasionally, or not at all.

If you do move forward with canceling a card, you might see a temporary dip in your credit score. Don’t be alarmed — as long as you keep paying your bills on time and steer clear of credit card debt, it will rebound with time.

4. Set a new automatic alert

Enrolling in automatic alerts is one of the easiest ways to get a reminder for when your bill is due. But issuers can send text or email alerts for many different types of account activity, such as:

  • Your current balance (some issuers will send this information daily, if you find that helpful)

  • A balance threshold that you’ve set (you could request to be notified when your balance hits, say, $1,000)

  • Authorized user purchases

  • Suspicious activity

  • Weekly activity summaries

This month, check out which alerts your issuer is offering and sign up for a new one. The more you know about your account, the easier it is to use your card wisely.

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