How to Maximize Credit Card Incentives while Minimizing Debt

Some call credit cards the greatest evil of our financial culture. Citing statistics that reflect an average credit card debt of nearly $10,000 per American, they claim that credit cards are going to be the downfall of this country.

They’re wrong. Credit cards are just another financial tool. As the well-regarded financial expert J. Reuben Clark said, people who don’t understand interest pay it, while those who do, use it. This paraphrase reveals a principle for maximizing your credit card rewards and incentives, while at the same time minimizing debt.

In order to maximize our credit cards’ power and incentives while minimizing debt, we need to accomplish three things: Education, Planning and Execution.

You know those documents we all get from our credit card companies that disclose their practices, which they are required to send out due to the Truth in Lending act? Most people throw those away without giving them a second glance. This is a mistake. We should read these documents and understand our credit line, interest rates (we say rates because different kinds of balances have different rates, and our card’s policies.

We need to understand what our potential rewards are and how we go about building points for them. We need to understand when each period ends and when we must make our payment or pay off the balance in order to avoid financing and late fees.

When we understand our card fully, we are ready to plan.

We need to make a spending plan. Everybody needs one. What’s more, when you have a spending plan, you are able to max out your credit card rewards without carrying a balance. Here’s how this works.

Let’s say you have made a spending plan, with amounts allocated for mortgage, utilities, groceries, gasoline, and other necessities. You also allocate money for ‘extras’ such as eating out and something else fun.

When you have your plan, you will then plan to use your incentives credit card to pay for everything. Everything! Yes, even mortgage companies will sometimes take their payments from a credit card. Any utility worth its salt will do the same. Remember that every dollar spent gets you a reward.

If you keep inside your spending plan, you will then be able to pay off your credit card balance each period. But you will also be able to make money off your savings account interest as well! If you use your credit card only each month, your liquid cash will stay in your account longer. What’s more, if you wait to pay off your bill until the day before the due date, you will actually have your money in your account for an extra three weeks on average!

With this plan in place, you are ready to execute and start building rewards like mad!

It is the execution that can sometimes be the sticker. Discipline can sometimes fall by the wayside in the interest of a stress-free, fun and carefree way of life.

But that’s just daft. If your spending plan is good, you will have included an allotment for you to have a bit of fun. Thus, your monthly credit card balance should still be within your abilities to pay off.

So use your card for everything. Watch your balance build in your online statement and then, when the time comes, pay off the entire balance. This will build your credit score along with keeping you out of debt.

If you doubt that these three steps will work for you, read on.

My family and I use our Delta American Express Gold card for everything possible. Our mortgage company is prehistoric, so they don’t take it, but that’s okay, everyone else does. We’ve been doing this for two years now.

We pay off our balance at the end of each period. Thus, we have zero credit card debt. But we also built enough miles for three of the five tickets we used to get to Alaska for Christmas to be free. That’s right, free. We’ve already built enough miles again to allow my wife to fly to California and visit a friend.

It works. So get your plan going and use credit cards as a tool, not a crutch.