If credit card issuers stopped offering rewards, most American credit cardholders say they wouldn’t change their spending habits, according to a report conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI) for Bankrate.com.
The results reflect the fact that consumers use credit cards for a variety of reasons. Some 40 percent of the survey’s respondents said cards are easier and more convenient than paying with cash. Meanwhile, financing emergency expenses was a distant second at 19 percent, and earning rewards ranked third with 14 percent.
“I was surprised rewards were really secondary when it came to credit card use,” said Jeanine Skowronski, credit card analyst at Bankrate.com.
Generally, credit card users fall into two categories: a revolver or a transactor. A consumer who has a revolving balance is a revolver, whereas a transactor is someone that uses a card to make purchases, but pays balances off in full at the end of each month.
Credit cards offer a lot of purchasing power to people who use them correctly, says Skowronski, so anyone who is paying their balances off in full is someone who should be taking full advantage of rewards programs.
“If you’re reaping the rewards off of a card and the rewards go away, it may be time to call your issuer up and ask them if they have a different product you can move to, or do some comparison shopping to find a card that better suits your needs,” Skowronski said.
Big spenders who don’t carry a balance should consider rewards when determining which card to use as their primary piece of plastic. It’s all about doing a little bit of research, figuring out what category you spend the most in and then finding a card that “offers the biggest bang for your buck on that category,” Skowronski said.
You don’t want to get stuck with a card that doesn’t work for you because certain terms and conditions change, or your needs change. Because closing cards can hurt your credit score if you terminate the account, you can keep the card open, but stop using it as your primary account, Skowronski explained.
If you do carry a balance and you have a card that has a high interest rate, shopping around for a card with a lower interest rate is also a good idea. Most people also don’t realize they can call their credit card company and tell them the rewards offered on the card aren't working for their needs anymore.
“Sometimes they’ll waive the fee. Many times they’ll have another product that is very similar that has fewer rewards, but doesn’t carry a fee,” Skowronski said.
The type of rewards you should look for depend on your spending habits. If you travel often, you’ll do best with a miles card. However, if you’re someone who puts a lot of monthly household expenses on the card and pays off the balance at the end of the month, you may want to look for a cash-back card.