This Black Friday, whether you’re braving the crowds or shopping your favorite retailers from your couch, credit cards can help you earn rewards and save time and money. Here are five best practices for using credit cards for your holiday shopping:
1. Pay with rewards credit cards
There’s really no reason to turn down free money. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers expect to spend about $936 for the holidays in 2016, and that’s not including travel expenses. Most rewards credit cards offer 1% to 2% cash back or travel rewards on all spending, which means the average shopper would earn $9.36 to $18.72. If you’re also traveling for the holidays, you could earn significantly more.
2. Shop at your card’s bonus mall
If you shop online, you could earn even more rewards. Many issuers have bonus malls, where you can click through to retailers’ websites to pick up extra rewards when you shop. Examples of bonus malls include the Citi Bonus Cash Center, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Discover Deals.
3. Be aware of your benefits
If your card comes with price protection, you’ll be reimbursed the difference if you purchase a product and its price is reduced within a certain time frame. You usually need to register the item and inform your issuer when you find a lower price, so it takes a bit of effort on your part. But it could be worth it if the price drop is significant.
Purchase protection covers you if an item you purchased is stolen or damaged within a certain time frame. You don’t have to register the item before it’s stolen or damaged, but you have to submit a claim — often with a police report if the item was stolen. You’ll have to decide whether the time and effort are worth it to recoup the loss.
4. Prepare to dip, not swipe
According to a NerdWallet survey, 63% of Americans with EMV chip cards plan on shopping this Black Friday. Many major retailers have upgraded their payment terminals to be EMV-ready, which means you’ll have to insert the card chip-first into the terminal, rather than simply swipe the magstripe.
The extra security that EMV provides for in-person transactions comes at a cost in time: EMV transactions take approximately seven seconds more than those using magstripe. That sounds brief, but expect it to be compounded because of the number of people lining up to buy holiday gifts. So be ready to use your chip card quickly and efficiently to keep the line moving.
You can also consider setting up mobile payments for your in-store purchases. Mobile payments take only about as long as magstripe cards, but have the security of EMV chips — basically, they give you the best of both worlds. Load your favorite cards onto your phone’s mobile payment app, then tap your phone on a mobile-ready terminal to pay.
5. Stick with your budget
When you use a credit card, it can feel like you have unlimited money to spend on gifts for your friends and family members. Have a budget and a list before you head out on Black Friday, and avoid impulse purchases that you can’t cover by your credit card’s due date.