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NerdWallet’s Best Credit Card Tips for October 2016

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

As the month in which we celebrate Halloween, October kicks off the end-of-year spending season. The National Retail Federation predicts that Halloween spending will total $8.4 billion this year — the highest amount since the federation began its annual surveys in 2005. That’s a lot of candy and costumes. Before you start shopping, take a moment to browse our top credit card tips for October 2016.

Activate your bonus rewards categories

If you have a credit card with rotating bonus categories, the arrival of October means it’s time to activate your rewards for the final quarter of 2016. Issuers tend to tailor the categories for maximum seasonal impact, and they expect you’ll be doing a lot of gift shopping from now until the new year. Here are the Q4 categories for popular cards:

  • Chase Freedom®: 5% cash back at department stores, wholesale clubs, and drugstores.
  • Citi® Dividend Platinum Select® Visa® Card : 5% cash back at Best Buy and department stores.
  • Discover it® - Cashback Match™: 5% cash back at Amazon.com, department stores, Sam’s Club.
  • U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card: 5% cash back in two categories that you choose, including cell phones, bookstores, department stores, electronics stores and more. (In September 2017, U.S. Bank added a limited-time offer for new cardholders: In the first year you have the card, the 5% rewards rates is increased to 5.5%. After the first year, the rate drops back to 5%.)

The amount of spending eligible for 5% cash back is capped at $2,000 per quarter for the U.S. Bank card, $1,500 for the other cards.

Look into airline and travel card sign-up bonuses

NerdWallet’s 2016 Travel Credit Card Study found that credit card issuers tend to offer their best limited-time offers for travel and airline cards beginning in October and peaking in November. These sign-up bonuses commonly offer something like 50,000 miles or points if you spend, say, $3,000 within the first three months you have the card.

If you have your eye on a Citi credit card, NerdWallet’s study found that Citi’s best limited-time offers have been offered in October.

Another good reason to apply now for a new card with a great sign-up bonus is that you’re more likely to meet the threshold to earn the bonus. If you put all your holiday spending — gifts, decorations, food and drink — on the new card, it may be fairly easy to hit that number in the allotted time.

Get your credit score

Last month, we encouraged you to pull your credit report. Now that you’ve taken care of that, why not get your credit score? NerdWallet offers free TransUnion credit scores, which are updated weekly. (Sign up for your free credit score here.) Meanwhile, most major credit card issuers now give their cardholders free access to FICO scores.

There are many good reasons to keep tabs on your credit score. First, you can see the effects of your credit behavior, which can help you develop good money management habits that will lead to a higher score.

Another benefit of knowing your score is that you’ll be more likely to apply for the right credit card. If you’ve got an average credit score, there’s no point in applying for a credit card that requires excellent credit, which will only result in a rejection (and a further hit to your score). Nobody likes to be rejected for anything, whether it’s a date, a team, a college or a credit card. NerdWallet offers free credit scores so that you have a better chance of being approved.

» 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.