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Best Cash Back Reward Credit Cards

I’m often emailed by readers to list what I feel are the best reward credit cards currently available. I personally think that “best” is such a subjective term, the best set of reward credit cards really depends on your spending profile. If you spend a lot in a particular category, you’ll want to get the best card for that category and make sure it has a place in your wallet. If you don’t know what you spend a lot on, you might as well save yourself the hassle and get one that works in all scenarios.

The best cash back credit card is the one that maximizes your reward earnings and converts those rewards into cash or products that you would buy at a favorable exchange rate. Many cards offer high reward points on the front end and then effectively reduce your rewards by converting them at a horrible exchange rate when you redeem them. It’s important to look at both sides of the equation.

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How to Max Out Credit Card Rewards

With the price of food and gas where it is, everyone’s looking for an edge and for more and more people, myself included, that edge is in maximizing what you can get out of credit card cash back reward programs. Credit card companies charge vendors a hefty percentage to process credit card transactions (AMEX and Discover charge the most, that’s why they often have the best cashback programs), so doesn’t it make sense that they pass along some of that to you? Of course it does!

So here are eight tips I use to ensure I get the most cash back out of credit cards, hopefully you will find them useful as well.

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How We Got A $1608.43 Cash Back Rebate Check

Citi CashReturns(SM) MasterCard® That’s right, we recently received a $1,075.98 check from Citi to go with our $532.45 check last month, all part of the greatest cashback plan in the world. Okay okay, I’m only kidding, it’s probably not the greatest cashback plan in the world but the Citi CashReturns card but it certainly softened the blow of paying for a wedding and honeymoon. Citi recently cut the promotion on this card so it fell off my list of the best cash back credit cards but it was hot while it lasted!

For those of you keeping score at home, and motivated enough to divide 1608.43 by .05, the cash back rebate included not only our wedding and honeymoon but almost all the spending of the last three months as well… but weddings are pricey.

So, how do you leverage a 3 month 5% cashback program as best as possible? Don’t apply for it unless you know you have a large capital expenditure in the next three months! This is perfect for big family vacations, weddings, home improvement projects, or anything else that’s expensive. I think that if you’re thinking about spending $10,000 or more ($500 cashback), then applying for this card is a smart move. If you don’t have anything on that scale, don’t apply! You want to save it for when you will have a big expenditure.

One other great thing about this card is that they automatically send you the rebate check, you don’t have to request it. I think it’s ridiculous that all cards don’t do this.


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Citi CashReturns: We Got A $500+ Rewards Check

Citi CashReturns(SM) MasterCard® Don’t think cashback reward credit cards are worth it? Well, a month ago I wrote about how the Citi CashReturns card was our wedding spending secret weapon because of its phenomenal 5% cash back rewards program. It was an idea my friend gave me and we’re now thankful he thought of it (and remembered to mention it to us!) because just the other day we received a check from Citi for $532.45. That’s right, in the last month we’ve spent a whopping $13,311.25 on wedding related items (mostly catering deposits, thankfully they took credit cards!) and we’re still a month out from the actual event!

While this is an extreme example, it’s the perfect case of how this CashReturns card has saved us a lot of money. That $500 is like getting our wedding cake for free… or part of our DJ for free… or a tuxedo for free. Another awesome feature of the card is that you don’t have to request the check, something I always felt was a ridiculous requirement. Of course I want my money, why would I ever “stockpile” cash? So, without any prompting, Citi sent us the check (we almost ripped it up because we thought they were convenience checks!).

The only downside to the promotional offer is that the 5% cashback is for only three months but that’s long enough for us to pay for the wedding and a honeymoon… all at an instant 5% discount!


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$5 or 1000 Thank You Points from Citi via Google Checkout

This offer has expired.

Google Checkout is Google’s PayPal killer and if you are a Citi card member you can get $5 or 1000 Thank You points if you register your card by August 1st, 2006 and make a purchase with your card using Google Checkout by September 15th, 2006. If you have a student loan, those 1000 Thank You points are worth $10 so go with that over the $5 cash. (pesky Terms & Conditions, but you should read them)

Need a Citi card? My favorite now is Citi’s CashReturns card because of it’s 1% cash back everywhere with a 20% bonus after your first year, no limit, no annual fee.


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