Credit 
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How I earn credit card rewards responsibly

The topic of maximizing credit-card rewards seems to be a popular one lately, especially in the world of personal finance blogging.

Many of us use our credit cards to pay our bills and monthly expenses. We earn cash back and rake in the rewards. Some of us have even mastered the envious ability to churn credit-card rewards to pay for awesome vacations.

Because personal finance readers are so financially savvy, we usually take for granted that, for many people, this is a dangerous habit. After all, the average US household credit card debt is upwards of $15,000.

If you do it right, earning credit card rewards is a great money hack. Last year, for example, I earned $450 in cash-back. But you should have control of your finances before trying any kind of hack like this.

Let’s say you have control of your financial situation and you’re ready to play this credit-card-rewards game. How do you play properly? And what precautions should you take?

Here’s what’s worked for me.
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 Credit 
4
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Why you spend more when you use a credit card

You tend to spend more if you use a credit card than you would with cashEver feel like you go on bigger spending binges when you use a credit card than you would have with cash? You’re not the only one.

There’s a lot of research that suggests using a credit card to make purchases usually means that those purchases are bigger than what we’d make with cash. But if the math is the same, why should it matter which method of payment you use?
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 Banking 
6
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Why debit cards make you more vulnerable to fraud than credit cards

Debit cards can have pretty kitties, serious fraud riskThere are a lot of good things about using debit cards. They force you to limit your spending to the money you have on hand, they don’t leave you vulnerable to revolving debt and interest charges that credit cards can, and you can get pretty kitties printed on the front if you want.

One big downside, though, is how vulnerable they leave users to fraud.

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 Credit 
12
comments

Discover it® Card Review

I’ve started seeing advertisements for a Discover it® Card and having never seen it before, I was curious what it was. Other than a different looking card, it’s actually not much different than their base Discover More card. If you recall, the Discover More card was as straightforward a card as they come – bonus cashback on rotating categories, no annual fee, and a few other little features that most credit cards offer.

So I was surprised when I saw the Discover it® card because I thought maybe there was something special. There is… kind of. The biggest draw of the card is that it offers an 18 month 0% APR balance transfer (3% fee) on top of the types of features you expect from a Discover card – no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee, and 5% cashback on rotating categories (first 1st quarter of 2013, it’s on restaurants and movies).

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 Credit 
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Citi Simplicity® Card Review

Citi Simplicity® CardCredit cards aren’t simple. Nothing having to do with money or banks is simple but the new Citi Simplicity® Card aims to change that.

Maybe this sounds familiar to you: One of the reasons that consumers end up paying a bunch of fees is because they don’t understand the rules. They aren’t going to read all of that fine print that comes with a credit card because not only is it so small that it makes their eyes cross trying to read it but the wording is so confusing that even if they could or wanted to read it, they don’t understand it.

You’re going to be amazed at how un-credit-card-like this credit actually is and for once, the rules work in your favor. If you’re rebuilding your credit, you’re tired all of the fees, or you want a card that allows you to pay down your debt for two years without charging you interest, the Citi Simplicity® Card offered by Citigroup may be worth a second look.

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 Credit 
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Your Take: What Was Your First Credit Card?

I still remember getting my first credit card. It was an AT&T Universal card that still exists today, albeit in a different form. It was one of the first few days of school and I stopped by a desk outside of Doherty Hall at Carnegie Mellon. I signed up not because they were offering free t-shirts or food (they were offering free shirts, though pizza would’ve been more appealing) but because I thought I needed a credit card. As I was filling out the form, I was amazed at how much information the thing required and how they had scanners setup to scan our driver’s license. Looking back, and being a few years wiser, I’m absolutely stunned my identity wasn’t stolen. I think people in general are savvier now but in 1998, when I’m sure identity theft was still a huge business, people just wasn’t as aware of it.

The other amazing thing was I remember asking the guy what I should put into the “income” field, since I clearly had none. He told me to put $30,000 because that’s how much tuition was. First, tuition wasn’t $30,000 (it wasn’t that high, plus I had a ton of financial aid so it wasn’t our out of pocket cost). Second, that’s not income. I don’t get paid $30,000 a year. Either way, I was approved.

The best perk of the card was free long distance minutes every month, which meant free phone calls home. This was before I got a cell phone, which wasn’t until the following year, and long before Skype and other free tools. That card lasted about two years before I discovered cashback and started using a Discover Card (a card that I still have) almost exclusively.

What was your first credit card?


 Credit 
14
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Best Zero Percent Balance Transfers (Updated May 2011)

As the economy improves, I expect to see a lot more activity in the balance transfer space. For the moment, there hasn’t been much change from April to May. Citi ended the Citi Dividend Platinum Select MasterCard’s promotion they launched last month (0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months and 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 12 months) but extended the limited time offer that included $100 cash back after $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. This matches compares very favorably to the Chase Freedom offer, which offers the same bonus and similar introductory periods.

Here are this month’s best 0% balance transfer offers:

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 Debt 
9
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Finances in 55 Seconds: Create a Credit Card Debt Reduction Plan

Credit Card PlanOne of the best things you can do for your finances is to pay down your credit card debt. Credit cards are notorious for high interest rates and fees. Once you are trapped in the cycle of making credit card payments, it can be difficult to get out. And, worst of all, the interest that you pay on your credit card balances goes straight into someone else’s bank account. Interest, paid for the privilege of borrowing money, offers you no other benefit. It’s pure expense.

If you want to improve your finances, and move along the path to financial freedom faster, it is best to pay down your credit card debt as quickly as possible. Creating a debt pay down plan can seem a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. You can put together a credit card debt reduction plan in 55 seconds or less:

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