Free Money! The Best Way to Get Your Cash Back


Free money is always useful, especially when it comes from your cash back credit cards. Although the U.S. government has reported the personal income rate to be increasing for many Americans, this winter might still get expensive, considering the holidays and heating bills. But before you cash in on your cash back to make ends meet, there are some questions you should be asking your card company to make sure you’re not losing any of your points. Sometimes, there are better ways to retrieve your bonus cash. You can usually reach a representative by calling the number on the back of your card, or on the card’s application website. Here are a few questions to ask.

Is There a Deadline to Get My Cash Back?

Some cards have a redeem-points-by-this-date-or-lose-your-money provision in their fine print, and it isn’t categorized by the bank. It’s categorized by the type of credit card you have. For example, an older card that was offered a few years ago, the Bank of America Visa Signature Rewards card, has points that expire in 5 years if they’re not cashed in, but the newer BankAmericard Cash Rewards cards have points that “never expire,” Bank of America spokeswoman Lucie Fernandez said. Other related questions to ask are if your points are ever in jeopardy of being lost, and how, and if there is a minimum number of points you need to start getting cash back.

Is there a Higher Cash Back Percentage After I Spend a Certain Amount?

Sometimes, your points will increase in value the more that you spend, so you might not want to cash them in too soon. For example, if you have a Bank of America Visa Signature Rewards card, you’ll want to get beyond 25,000 in points before cashing them in, because you’ll get $1 in cash back for every $100 spent. At the lower spending plateau —for less than 10,000 points — your cash back will only be worth 50-cents per $100 spent, Fernandez said.
(It may not sound like a lot of money, but if you throw all of your expenses on your credit card, every few years, you might get an extra $500 in cash back, depending on your spending habits.) But cards differ. Compare that to the newer BankAmericard Cash Rewards cards, which offers from 1-3% back immediately for anything you buy with the card. (The 3% is usually for gasoline purchases, and means $3 per $100 spent.)

Will I get more value by transferring my points to other things?

Some cards, such as the Bank of America Visa Signature Rewards card offer a 10% bonus if you deposit your cash rewards directly into your Bank of America checking account. And even if you have an airline miles card, and not a cash card, in some cases, it pays to ask. A Southwest Airlines Visa Plus card, for example, offers the option of converting your airline miles to gift cards, hotel stays and car rentals in addition to flights. (66,000 points, for example, are redeemable for 21 gift cards to Amazon, Macy’s, Lowe’s and other stores, each worth $25 each or $525 altogether, according to a Chase card representative. ) You can also transfer the miles to another rapid rewards account, so some family members might use flight miles as holiday gifts.

What are my most lucrative spending categories?

This answer can also usually be found on the card’s website, but you’ll need to know the exact name for your card, and not just the brand. Your bonus will vary per card. The Citi Double Cash Card, for example, offers 1% cash back on purchases, and another 1% when you pay for your purchases on your statement balance. The QuicksilverOne From Capital One offers 1.5% for every purchase, while other cash back credit cards run calendar-driven promotions for their cash back or points. If you have a Discover It card for example, in December you can get a generous 5% back on up to $1500 spent on Amazon, department stores, and Sam’s Club.
The Chase Freedom credit card’s 5% bonus category in December is for purchases at department stores, wholesale clubs and drug stores, and you can score an extra $150 after you spend $500 in your first three months. (source: But both cards require you to activate them for each rewards category, and the rewards vary per calendar month or quarter.
Other cards, such as the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express, offer cash back application incentives. If you spend $1,000 or more on anything within your first three months, you’ll earn $250 statement credit. Couple that with the whopping 6% you get back on U.S. supermarkets purchases (including gift cards,) and this card can give you some serious rewards. Be aware, however: the annual fee is .

What does the card offer beyond earn rates?

“Earn rates are important, but in today’s marketplace that’s one of many considerations   When choosing a new credit card, it’s important to find one that helps you save time and money, and also helps you take control of your finances,” said Alli Sherman, spokeswoman for Capital One.

Even with lucrative cash back opportunities available, it’s also prudent not to overspend and to check the interest rates associated with each card. Revolving balances can accrue interest charges that gobble up the value of your rewards, and hurt your credit score, which will keep you from getting other lucrative offers, lower interest loans and mortgages. To keep an eye on how your spending is reflected in your credit history, you can see a free snapshot of your credit report, updated every two weeks, on

At publishing time, the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express, Citi Double Cash Card, Discover It and QuicksilverOne From Capital One are offered through product pages, and is compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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