Legally Thrifty: Credit Cards - The Necessary Evil That Can Be Used for Good

Plastic is fantastic. That is, if you know when to whip out the plastic and when to freeze it in a block of ice to deter usage. I kid on the latter, but all too often we’ve heard stories or seen on television the horrific consequences of credit card debt.

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Credit cards can be good. When used wisely, credit cards help build your credit score and get you cash or rewards, depending on which you prefer. I personally love getting cash back. If I’m going to spend money anyway, I might as well get “free” money out of it. Plus I use Ebates to get “double” the cash back when shopping online (here’s my referral link – hey, I get $5 if you sign up!).

Anyway, I’ve compiled a list of the best credit cards out there for those who are looking to get some extra mileage. Before you proceed to sign up for a new card, however, please make sure that you are already following these cardinal rules.

1. Never ever make apayment late.

I admit that I slipped up once and missed a payment, but in my defense, I was traveling out of the country at the time. Just one missed payment can hurt your credit score and incur a huge late fee. Subscribe to email alerts, set up automatic payments from your checking account, whatever works to keep you in line. If you do end up forgetting to make a payment, call customer service and explain that you’ve been a loyal customer for X years and never missed a payment before, and could they please forgo the late fee this one time. Usually the rep is nice about it.

2. Pay your balance in full.

It’s too easy to let the balance grow on your credit card because you think that making the minimum payment will be enough. NO! While you’re only required to pay the current balance on your statement to avoid interest charges, you should really just pay the whole thing off in every cycle. If you can’t pay your balance in full, then it means you’re buying things that you can’t afford.

Now onto the fun stuff! Here are the best cards, in my humble opinion.


Cash Back

Chase Freedom Visa

- Earn $100 Bonus Cash Back after you make $500 in purchases in your first 3 months.

- 0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers.

- Seasonal offers for up to 5% cash back in categories like home goods, flights and car rentals, etc.

Citi Dividend Platinum Select Visa (also available as Mastercard)

- $100 cash back after $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

- 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers and Purchases for 12 months. After that, the APR will be 12.99%-22.99% variable based on your creditworthiness.

- Seasonal offers for up to 5% cash back in categories like home goods, flights and car rentals, etc.


Air Mileage

Chase Sapphire Preferred

- Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months - that's $500 toward travel rewards.

- 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

- Get 20% off airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises when you redeem through Ultimate RewardsSM (if you redeem for travel booked through this tool, your points are worth 25% more)

- No foreign transaction fees.

- 1:1 point transfer to participating frequent travel programs.

- Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95.

Capital One® Venture Rewards Credit Card

- Earns a flat 2 miles per $1 spent.

- Pays out in No Hassle Miles rather than airline-specific miles, which are redeemed as a statement credit against any travel expense – gas, airfare, baggage fees, hotel stays, you name it.

- Can book through discount sites like Expedia.

- No foreign transaction fees.

- A $59 annual fee, waived the first year and offset by a 10,000 Capital One No Hassle Miles signup bonus.



Hilton HHonors

- The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card from Citibank includes automatic Gold status, bumping you into preferred rooms and granting you Executive Lounge access at many Hilton properties.

- The no annual fee Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card from Citibank offers a sign-up bonus large enough for a few free nights in most cities.

  • Earn 40,000 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points after spending $1,000 within 4 months of account opening.
  • Earn 6 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent at a participating hotel within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio.
  • Earn 3 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on purchases at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations.
  • Earn 2 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on all other purchases.*

- Frequent fliers may find more value in the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express. This card includes complimentary airport lounge access and a discounted private car service among its benefits. At just a $75 annual fee, those features alone can save you a few hundred dollars each year.

- The basic Hilton HHonors Card from American Express carries no annual fee and upgrades you to Gold status for a year when you spend $20,000 on the card.

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

- 2 bonus Starpoints for every dollar you spend at participating SPG hotels,

- Upgrade to Gold or Platinum status for an extra bonus Starpoint.

- One Starpoint per dollar on your everyday purchases.

- Flexible redemption program and ever-expanding lineup of hotels and resorts. Your reward stays even earn credit toward future free nights.

- Starpoints® bonus: earn up to 25K bonus points — 10K with your first purchase and another 15K when you spend $5K within the first 6 months of Card membership.

- Free Hotel Nights: redeem Starpoints at over 1,000 hotels in over 100 countries worldwide - with no blackout dates.

- $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65.


0% APR on Balance Transfers

Citi Simplicity® Card

- 0% APR on balance transfers and purchases for 18 months.

- No over limit fees or late payment fees, as you can both transfer a balance and also keep charging purchases on it during the introductory period,

- Balance transfer fee is 3% with a $5 minimum.

- No annual fee.

Capital One® Platinum Prestige Credit Card

- 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers until November 2013!

- Includes a very low 10.9% – 18.9% variable APR after the intro period is over.

- Balance transfer fee is 3% with no balance transfer minimum fee and this card includes travel accident insurance and auto rental insurance.


[Disclaimer – This list of credit cards was compiled from my own research, I was not paid or sponsored by any bank or company to write about their cards.]

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