Credit Card Rewards? Yeah, Right!

from on 26 May 2009

Brownie points. Free hats. Airline miles.

It seems like every time you turn around, the credit card companies are thinking of new ways to bait you into signing up for their cards.

According to MSNBC, the average household that carries credit card debt has a balance of $2,000! If you sign up for an 18% credit card and pay $50 a month on it, you will pay $1,002 of interest in addition to the $2,000 of debt. You just spent $3,002 for a $15 hat you'll probably never wear!

That's not the only way cards can mean trouble. Check out these other plastic tactics:

Annual fees

These can eat your credit card benefits for lunch. Let's say your card offers airline miles and has an $80 annual fee. If you spend $8,000 on the card every year and pay it off each month, you'll have accumulated enough to get the free ticket in three years. The only problem? You'll have spent $240 in annual fees alone ... and you can buy a plane ticket straight up for $250.

Expiration dates

They're just another "gotcha" in the credit card world. The National City Visa card was surveyed by a customer advocate group a couple of years ago. It advertises up to 4% cash back on purchases (not every purchase will qualify, though). The catch is that after two years, the points start expiring. If you spend $12,000 a year on the card, you'll only get back an average of $30 a year. Even more, you can't redeem the rewards until you build up at least $100, which will never happen at that spending rate.

Low caps

Low caps are another way that credit card companies hook you in. They may promise you cash back, but they impose a limit on how much you can get. If they promise 1% cash back and have a $300 cap, then you'll have to spend $30,000 to get $300. That's too much effort for too little reward.

Think about this for a second. When you open up a credit card account, you are likely to pay thousands of dollars in interest over the years as you carry a balance. Even if you promise to pay it off every month, all it takes is one lost or missed payment. If that happens, your interest rate is jacked up, you get slapped with fees, and it dings your credit. Either way, you'll make a big money mess.

Keep your money simple, and you will win with it. When you climb steps, you climb them one by one and go straight up.

Using other people's money and making things complicated is like tying your feet together and trying to jump up the steps. You'll only hurt yourself. Don't make things complicated.

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