6 Tips To Maximize Credit Card Rewards And Improve Your Finances in 2021

Saving for retirement, building an emergency fund, getting out of debt, and following a budget are among the most popular new year’s resolutions. Having these goals is a great place to start, but without a plan, you’ll never reach them. 

As credit card interest rates climb, more people are using rewards and benefits to maximize their spending.

To help you find a happy medium between making the most of your rewards and paying off outstanding credit card balances, CreditCards.com asked several experts their tips for how to boost your finances in 2020.

1. Don’t Use A Card That Limits Your Choices

If you want to take advantage of travel perks with your credit cards, Dan Artia, BECU’s product manager for Credit Card and Rewards, said to avoid branded credit cards.

“There are some popular, generic travel cards available today that allow travel on virtually any airline, or even at hotels, rental car agencies and cruise lines,” he told CreditCards.com.

He added that basic cashback cards provide rewards that can be applied for statement credits, cold hard cash, and of course, travel. 

These credit cards let you compare offers to find the best deal from several airlines, hotel chains, and more, rather than being stuck with a single company. 

And if you travel abroad, make sure you choose a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

2. Read The Fine Print

After you pick a card you feel is right for you, you might think the hard work is over. But as Rakesh Patel, the vice president of Experian CreditMatch, noted, it’s just the beginning.

“Knowledge about credit card rewards doesn’t stop after you select your cards – you need to be proactive with understanding the rewards associated with them on an ongoing basis,” Patel told CreditCards.com. “The key in maximizing your card benefits is knowing when the rotating rewards categories are in play.”

Cards with rotating spending categories might give you 5% cashback on groceries one quarter and gas in the next. Know which categories are eligible for rewards so you can align your spending accordingly. 

Patel suggests reviewing your card’s rewards program every month to stay abreast of possible changes. 

3. Make Sure Your Spending Doesn’t Offset Rewards

You might feel like you’re gaming the system by accumulating a mountain of points, but if you’re overspending in the process, you’re not getting any benefits, cautions Stephen Newland.

Newland, an accredited financial counselor the founder of Find Your Money Path, explained, “Understand exactly what you are receiving in rewards from the credit card company and what it costs to earn that reward… If [collecting points] makes us go out to dinner, for example, an extra 3-5 times a year then we’ve likely just spent any of those rewards that we collected throughout the year.”

“On paper, it shows that we still received rewards, but if our behavior causes us to spend more, then we really haven’t received any rewards,” he continued. “Knowledge about credit card rewards doesn’t stop after you select your cards – you need to be proactive with understanding the rewards associated with them on an ongoing basis.”

4. Review Your Current Credit Cards

The new year is a time of renewal, which means it’s a good time to review your credit cards.

“Many people get comfortable with their cards and may be missing opportunities to maximize their rewards. Take time each year for an annual review of your rewards cards and their benefits to determine if they still meet your needs,” Carl Thibodeau, card manager of SunTrust, said.

Credit card perks are more than just points. When you go over your current cards, make sure they still provide the rewards that made you pick them to begin with. If a card no longer matches your spending habits or financial needs, find a new one that does.

5. Earn Rewards Doing What You Love

Having multiple rewards credit cards can be useful, but it also risks getting less out of your points. Instead of several accounts with a few points, you may want to consider sticking with one card that offers you the most benefit, suggests Lauren Liss, Capital One vice president of US cards. 

“Find a card that makes it easy to get rewarded for doing what you’re passionate about,” she noted.

6. Pay Your Balance Throughout The Month

Many people pay their credit card bills once a month, but according to Holly Johnson of ClubThrifty.com, it may be helpful to do so several times a month, or even every week.

“I do this consistently to make sure my spending aligns with my budget – and to make sure I feel the ‘pain’ of my purchases as the month progresses instead of putting them off until my credit card bill is due. Most credit card companies let you log in and make payments almost any time you want and they will even deduct the funds directly from your account,” she explained.


  • Chai, Carmen. “Finance Expert Advice for the New Year: ‘If You Only Do One Thing, Do This’.” CreditCards.com, 15 Mar. 2019, www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/one-thing-to-improve-finances/.
Ian Schindler