NerdWallet’s Best Credit Card Tips, July 2015

Jul 6, 2015

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Managing your credit cards isn’t a one-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 July 2015:

1. Opt into new 5% bonus categories on your cash-back card.

July is the beginning of the third quarter of 2015, which means it’s time to opt into new bonus categories if you have a card that earns 5% cash back on a rotating quarterly basis. Remember, earning accelerated rewards isn’t automatic -- you have to log into your account and click around a bit to sign up; otherwise you’ll just be getting the standard 1% cash back on all your purchases.

This might seem like a bit of a hassle, but it’s well worth spending the extra 30 seconds. Depending on which card you have, you could be earning a whopping 5% cash back at gas stations, home improvement stores, select department stores, bookstores, and more. That’s a lot of cash to potentially leave on the table, so opt in as soon as you can.

2. Figure out a way to pay while you’re traveling.

Only about 50% of Americans pay their bills online, according to a September 2013 Marketplace report. If you normally pay your credit card by mail, you’ll need to figure out a way to make your payments on time while you’re traveling this summer. Making a late payment could put a dent in your FICO score, 35% of which is determined by your payment history. Plus, you’ll likely get slapped with a late fee of $25-$35.

One option is to plan to bring along your checkbook and a stamp to mail in your payment while you’re on the road. You might also be able to pay by phone, but this may cause you to incur an extra fee. All things considered, this might be a good time to consider moving to online bill payments. That way, you can pay what you owe on your credit card from anywhere that there’s Internet connectivity. What’s more, most major issuers have smartphone apps that make mobile bill payments a breeze.

No matter what you decide, put a plan in place before saying “bon voyage.” That way you won’t be stuck without a way to pay when you should be enjoying your relaxation time.

3. Check your progress on your debt payoff goal, and tweak if necessary.

July marks the official halfway point in the calendar year, so if you made a New Year’s resolution to pay off credit card debt, now is a good time to assess your progress. If you’re on track to accomplish your goal within the timeframe you established, keep doing what you’re doing. If not, it’s time to rethink your budget to get back on target.

It’s also worthwhile to take a hard look at your lifestyle to figure out why you lost your debt payoff mojo in the first place, then re-engineer some things to make it easier to stay on goal for the rest of the year. Spend too much money on socializing with friends? Start a new potluck dinner party tradition. Gas-guzzling vehicle eating into your available funds? Trade it in for something more economical. Housing costs too high? Take on a roommate.

These steps might not be easy, but they’ll get your card paid off quickly, allowing you to move on to bigger and better financial goals.

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