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NerdWallet’s Best Credit Card Tips for December 2016

Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards
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NerdWallet's Best Credit Card Tips for December 2016

Wait, what? It’s December already? The end of the year is approaching fast, and the Nerds’ top credit card tips this month will help you cross the 2016 finish line and sprint ahead in 2017. Here are four things to consider doing this month.

Check expiring rewards points

You’ve chosen the best rewards credit card so that you maximize your cash back, points or miles. But are you one of those cardholders who have let rewards expire? In a 2011 report, loyalty rewards research firm Colloquy estimated that about $16 billion worth of rewards went unredeemed that year. Don’t let yours go to waste. Many cards now offer rewards that never expire, but others still give their points or miles a use-by date.

Log in to your credit card account to see whether and when your points or miles expire. If the clock is ticking down, use them to purchase merchandise through your issuer’s online shopping mall, buy gift cards for popular retailers or book a winter getaway. And if you have expired miles or points, all may not be lost. Some programs let you restore expired miles — for a fee. Better to check the status of your rewards and use them now.

Donate points or miles to charity

If you have miles or points you aren’t going to use, consider donating them to charity. Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses, says it needs 2.8 billion miles each year to make travel dreams come true. You can donate miles from frequent flier programs with American, Delta, United, JetBlue and Southwest on the Make-A-Wish website. United Airlines has dozens of other charities listed on its website, including the American Cancer Society, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Special Olympics, where you can donate a minimum 500 miles from your MileagePlus account. At American Airlines’ AAdvantage, you can earn miles when you make a cash donation to Miles to Stand Up and Miles for the Cure. You can also donate miles to Miles for Kids in Need, Miles for All Who Serve and Miles of Hope. Note: Donated points or miles are not tax-deductible.

Cure post-holiday blues with 0% APR

No matter which end-of-the-year holiday you celebrate, you’re buying gifts for family and friends and doing more entertaining. According to Discover’s annual holiday shopping survey, consumers plan to spend an average of $1,159 this season. With that kind of outlay looming, you might want to look into a card with an introductory 0% APR on purchases, balance transfers or both:

For a great new cardholder bonus 

Discover it® - 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer: Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. Introductory APR of 0% on Purchases for 6 months and 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 11.74% - 23.74% Variable APR.

For a $0 balance transfer fee

Chase Slate®: Save with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee and get 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and $0 annual fee. Plus, receive your monthly FICO® Score for free. The introductory APR is: 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 15.74% - 24.49% Variable APR.

For a long 0% APR period

Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever: Introductory APR of 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 21 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24% - 24.24% Variable APR.

For rewards and 0% on transfers

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer: Earn cash back twice on every purchase — 1% on every purchase, and another 1% when you pay for it. Introductory APR of 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24% - 24.24% Variable APR.

Opt in to 5% bonus rewards

As we get closer to 2017, remember to opt in to the 5% bonus cash-back categories for January-March if you carry a Discover or Chase card with rotating categories. Discover has already announced its first-quarter 2017 bonus categories: gas stations, ground transportation and wholesale clubs. Chase says it will announce its categories for 2017 in mid-December.

The Nerds wish you a healthy, happy and financially savvy holiday season!

» MORE: Browse more of NerdWallet’s best credit card tips

Ellen Cannon is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ecannon@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ellencannon.