Get Cash Back For Holiday Purchases

With the holiday shopping extravaganza just around the corner it is well advised to look at your finances to properly budget for the event. You should not be dipping into your rainy-day fund for this. Christmas comes every year; it’s not an emergency. Figure out what you can spend and spend less than that.

Last year more than 30 percent of consumers paid for holiday gifts with a credit card according to the National Retail Federation. For those with the discipline to control their debts, credit cards offer security, rewards and money saving. If you are a responsible credit card user, here are some available cards and advice that will keep on giving the whole year.

What’s the Deal?

On September 20, the NRF released its forecast for the upcoming 2007 holiday season, predicting that sales will rise 4.0 percent this year to $474.5 billion.

“Retailers are in for a somewhat challenging holiday season as consumers are faced with numerous economic obstacles,” said NRF Chief Economist Rosalind Wells. “With the weak housing market and current credit crunch, consumers will be forced to be more prudent with their holiday spending.”

According to NRF’s 2007 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, U.S. consumers plan to spend an average of $816.69 on holiday-related shopping. In addition, these shoppers will spend an additional $106.67 on special “non-gift” purchases by taking advantage of promotions and discounts to treat themselves. This brings total planned holiday-related spending to $923.36, an increase of 3.7 percent from 2006.

We all know the enthusiasm and fun or misery that comes with Black Friday shopping. Many people kick off the holiday shopping season by scooping up great deals and ringing in the discounts. Whether you will be spending exactly what BIGresearch estimates consumers will spend this year, or you plan on spending more or less—in the end, how would a rebate check for up to 5 percent sound? That check would be for more than $45 for the survey household.

How does it work?

America witnessed the start of a revolution in the credit card industry when Discover Card was unveiled nationally during the 1986 Super Bowl. At the time, annual fees were common and cash rewards were unheard of. Discover Card set out to change that as a pioneer in offering cash rewards and no annual fee.

Today nearly every credit card issuer has a card available with a cash rebate program; some have a dozen. Cards can be as basic as 1 percent cash back on every purchase, to cards that target specific purchases made at supermarkets, drugstores, gas stations and even utilities like cell phones and cable to earn you even more cash back. A cash rebate is just what the name implies: cash back. Not miles, gift cards or buy something at discount in our special shop—actual cash back.

A new credit card takes time to process and mail out, but if you act quickly you can have a new card in your hand in time to take advantage of rebates for your holiday shopping.

As more and more of these cards have become available and more and more rebates are being given out, card issuers have become very good at making sure they don’t loose money on the deal. Many cards advertise high cash back rewards; some as high as 10%. But these rewards are only for a limited time, usually three to six months, or only for specific purchases. Then the rebate amount often becomes 1%. Read the fine print carefully; it is all laid out.

Who offers what?

One of the newest cards available is the Citibank Cash Returns Card. This card offers the greatest return for your holiday spending, however it is only for your holiday spending. The Cash Returns Card will give you 5 percent cash back on all your purchases for the first 3 months. Anything purchased after about Valentine’s Day will only earn 1 percent; get that gift early.

If you’re not just looking to score a deal for the holidays there are many other cards available for long-term earnings.

When driving around and eating out is more your lifestyle, the Citibank Professional Cash Card offers 3 percent cash back at restaurants and gas stations, and if you drive a rental car you can even get 3 percent back on that too. Plus, you’ll get 1 percent for all your other purchases.

A similar card is the Citibank Dividend Card. You will earn 2 percent on purchases made at supermarkets, drugstores, gas stations, convenience stores, utilities, and cable along with 1 percent on everything else.

Over at Capital One the newest cash rebate card, No Hassle Cash Rewards, is for 1 percent cash back. With this card the upfront rebate is lower but the imaginative addition to this card is that on Halloween every year you will receive a 25 percent bonus on your earnings. That’s not scary. If in the year you charged $20,000 you would have a $200 rebate. With the bonus you would then get an additional $50.

Discover Card, the originator of the cash back program, offers 5 percent cash back all the time on something and 1 percent on everything else. The program is called Get More and every three months the category for the 5 percent cash back changes. The categories include travel, home, gas, restaurants, movies and more.

Also changing your cash back categories is the Freedom Card from Chase. But these changes are done every month to your benefit and you don’t have to do a thing. There are 15 categories for spending and whichever 3 groups you spend the most money on in the month, those will be your 3 categories. So even if you spend more on gas, groceries, and dry cleaning one month, and at drugstores, on utilities and at the veterinarian the next—you'll automatically earn 3 percent cash back in your top 3 spending categories. Everything else will earn you 1 percent.

American Express has a card available called Blue Cash that advertises up to 5 percent cash back. It is worth mentioning because a lot of people fall over its complex rebate tiers. To explain it simply and quickly, with this card you will earn 1 percent at supermarkets, gas stations and drugstores and .05 percent on all other purchases. Only after you have charged $6500 will you earn 5 percent at supermarkets, gas stations and drugstores. That calculator is reset every year.

One of the best cards for your everyday use and made even better if you drive a lot, is called Driver’s Edge from Citibank. It offers 3 percent cash back on gas, supermarket and drugstore purchases and 1 percent for everything else. A unique addition to this card ties into the cards name: Driver’s Edge. This card actually gives you a penny for every mile you drive. Anytime you have service work done, like an oil change, send a copy of the receipt with the odometer reading to Citibank and they credit your account for the miles. A penny may not seem like a lot, but when you drive 25,000 miles a year, that equals an extra 250 bucks in addition to the 3 percent you’re getting back on all that gas. In a few years that’ll pay for your new tires and a brake job.

Driver’s Edge is not an actual cash back card, but since it is one of the best cards available, it is worth mentioning. The rebates you earn can only be used for service maintenance on your car or the purchase or lease of a car. Even though you are limited to using the money for maintenance work—doesn’t the car always seem to need an oil change or something more?

The small print!

Should you sign up? Not without first understanding the difference between what is advertised and what is in the fine print. Secondly, credit cards and their issuers have gotten a lot of bad publicity because of people blaming their problems on them. The fact is credit card companies are not at fault for the spending habits of their customers.

There has been a lot of attention paid to credit cards recently as debt estimates have been exaggerated, and some have gone so far as to call credit cards evil. Credit cards are dangerous, not evil. If you are a mature, responsible and educated person, there are many benefits to using credit cards that will be outlined in a coming article.

Thousands of people charge thousands of dollars a day and get cash back, free airline tickets, free hotel stays, free movies—all with the simple process of swiping a piece of plastic. Why are these people able to handle their credit properly and carefully and others not? It has nothing to do with the credit card company or the card that they use; it has everything to do with the individual using it.

If you are not going to use credit cards responsibly, be it as a way to pay for things with simple convenience, take the rewards and benefits cards offer, or as a strategic financial tool, then you shouldn’t use them.

Compare credit cards and find the best deal at
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