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This article was written by Hala Baig, a client happiness specialist at Earnest.
Can a credit card be worth $450 a year? Chase seems to think so. And so do tens of thousands of people.
In the summer of 2016, Chase unveiled the Sapphire Reserve credit card for the points and rewards-obsessed consumer and made it one of the most sought after cards in the market.
Perks including 3x points for travel and dining, signup for TSA pre-check, and an annual $300 travel credit were so popular, Chase reportedly ran out of cards to issue within two days. The target customer of these sleek metal cards? Millennials.
Despite headlines, credit card use does, in fact, include more of the younger subset of the American population. According to the card ownership stats published on Creditcards.com, “Millennials in general – and older millennials in particular – have warmed up to credit cards. According to the study, 83 percent of millennials aged 25 to 34 use credit cards – more than any other age group studied.”
So what’s the deal?
How Rewards Cards Are Different
There are hundreds of different cards on the market, and many have some kind of benefit associated with them.
Some are basic credit cards with no rewards, but the benefit is no annual fee. Some cards are designed to provide a cash-back benefits, while others are focused on providing airline mileage points.
Rewards cards tend to offer an array of perks but do typically have an annual fee, which can be between around $50 to hundreds of dollars on an annual basis. Many also have a kind of sign-up incentive—where you need to spend a certain amount to unlock the introductory bonus.
Depending on the card company, rewards cards can offer different perks, from cash back to airline miles to admittance into airline clubs. You can find cards to reward every purchase you make for free flights, five-star hotel bookings, and money back in your pocket.
Strategizing Your Rewards
While it sounds easy enough to choose a card and make purchases to get the most bang for your buck, it becomes very complex quickly. You can quickly scan reviews of cards at a site like NerdWallet to compare rewards and costs. Other sites like thepointsguy.com provide tips and tricks to maximize your traveling rewards through efficient credit card utilization.
People who are pros with rewards cards often hold multiple cards, keep track of different perks as they change, and plan purchases at the most opportune time. These can be time-consuming tactics, but many cardholders will tell you it’s more than worth it.
One new cardholder for the Chase Sapphire Reserve said he was a frequent traveler,; he determined the $450 annual fee was made up by the card’s annual $300 travel credit perk and the 100,000-point sign-up bonus.
However, not everyone is eligible for these rewards-driven credit cards. Cards like the Sapphire Reserve are accessible to customers with good to excellent credit, a track record of paying their debt on time and, often, in full. This is why it’s critical to make sure your credit is in great shape if you’re planning to use a rewards card.
How to Pick a New Rewards Credit Card
When choosing a rewards credit card, it is important to follow a few key steps:
- Understand your credit report before you apply: Review your credit report before applying, making sure that you are prepared to accept the hard credit pull a credit card application will bring. You can obtain one free credit report from each reporting bureau a year through annualcreditreport.com. Here are some tips on how to read your credit report.
- Use pre-qualifications to your advantage: Many credit card companies and financial institutions identify customers who are pre-qualified for their cards and mail them an offer or suggest it if you visit a bank branch. If you are interested in a credit card, find out if you are pre-qualified to minimize the risk of getting declined when you apply by calling your bank.
- Commit to a repayment plan: Credit card companies decide your minimum payment when you have a balance on a card, but you can set a payment amount for yourself to help pay down the debt faster or pay it off in completion each month. Carrying a revolving balance can sometimes adversely affect your credit score as well as cost you in accrued interest payments. In contrast, paying off your credit card in full every month is a great way to boost your credit score. Read more about the importance of making on-time payments.
- Set your own maximum spend: Getting approved for a higher credit limit is a reflection of your credit profile, but it is not a reason to reach that limit. Many sites and credit card experts say to keep your utilization around 30% to ensure you can pay off your debt in a manageable amount of time.
- Don’t stretch yourself too thin: As mentioned, many credit cards out there have a rewards program. Don’t sign up for every one of them! Do your research and figure out which ones makes the most sense for your lifestyle.
With these steps in mind and a large selection of credit cards to choose from, the opportunity to travel around the world for free may be closer than you think.