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Best credit cards for 2014 holiday shopping

by Peter Andrew

Editor’s Note: The offers in this article are no longer available.

In defiance of the laws of chronology, the holiday season is looming. Wasn't it only a couple of months ago we were taking down last year's decorations? Unfortunately, for most, the holidays mean huge expense as well as family and religious significance. It doesn't matter how smartly you use your credit cards, such expense pretty much inevitably involves some pain. But your plastic, deployed wisely, can take the edge off.

Rewards credit cards

Rewards, in the form of miles, points or cash back, are probably the most obvious way to get back some benefit from your holiday shopping. These typically give back one or two percent on purchases, which is nice to have, but a few cash-back credit cards offer 5 percent on categories of shopping that change each quarter, which is much nicer.

The following credit cards have announced their bonus shopping categories for the last quarter of 2015:

  1. Chase Freedom®: Amazon.com, Zappos.com, selected department stores
  2. Discover it®: Online shopping, department stores, and clothing stores

You might see a theme there -- and an opportunity. To earn the 5 percent you have to re-enroll in the program each quarter through your card issuer's website or call center. Fail to do that, and you stand to earn just the standard 1 percent cash-back rewards. You also have to observe spending caps -- only the first $1,500 you make in combined purchases in any one quarter gets the bonus cash back. Still, that's $75 in rewards (plus the 1 percent on spending once you've exceeded your cap), and that isn't to be sniffed at.

Want cash-back rewards on more than just retail purchases during the holidays and beyond? Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer gives you 1 percent cash back on purchases when you buy, and another 1 percent cash back as you pay your card balance (whether you pay in full or pay over time). This card, which charges no annual fee, also offers an 18-month introductory zero-percent APR on balance transfers.

If your credit score's only average or fair, you might still get the Barclaycard® Rewards MasterCard®. Its rewards are more modest, but are still very worthwhile: two points per dollar on gas, grocery and utility purchases, and one point per dollar on all other purchases. Plus, they're year-round rewards, and you don't have to remember to re-enroll each quarter.

Want your holiday spending rewards in the form of miles that you can redeem for future travel? Consider is the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. This card's current one-time sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles goes to new cardholders who spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening the account, equal to $400 in travel. You'll also earn two miles per dollar spent on all purchases.

Spread the cost with an interest-free period

By definition, all credit cards allow you to spread the cost of the holidays, but some let you do so interest-free. These are ones that offer introductory zero-percent APRs on purchases and balance transfers. Sorry, but they all are likely to require you to have excellent credit. One flavor of the Discover it® card provides 12 months at that zero rate, while another gives you six months.

If you're keen on travel, the Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® might be attractive to you. You get an introductory zero-percent APR on balance transfers for 12 months. You also get, at the time of writing, a sign-up bonus of 20,000 miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases on the card during the first 90 days after your account's opened. That's unlikely to be too high a bar for most holiday shoppers. Those 20,000 miles are enough to redeem for a $200 travel statement credit.

The problem with all cards with promotional APRs comes when the offer expires, and the card reverts to its go-to interest rate. You really need to be sure you're going to be able to pay down everything before that date arrives. If you can't be certain, you may be better off going for plastic that has a low ongoing rate.

The Iberiabank Visa® Select card offers the best of both worlds, though it doesn't provide rewards, and does charge a $35 annual fee. With it, you could get an introductory purchase APR of either zero percent or 7.50 percent for 12 months. After the introductory period the APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate.

Don't forget 2015

Everyone wants the best possible holiday season, and nobody likes stinting. But January's going to come, and those credit card bills are going to arrive. To avoid one of those holiday hangovers that can go on for months, try:

  1. Applying for any credit cards you need now, so you can enjoy their benefits while you shop.
  2. Setting a budget you know you can afford right away, before holiday fever takes over.
  3. Drawing up a list of purchases, including gifts, food, booze, decorations, travel… everything.
  4. Costing the list, and trimming it so it fits your budget.
  5. Shopping early, while bargains are plentiful -- and before panic and desperation set in.
  6. Tracking your spending as you go along. This can help you stay within budget, but may also allow you to recognize that you've shopped so well you can afford additional treats.

Everyone at IndexCreditCards.com wants to be among the first to wish you a very happy holiday season -- and a prosperous and comfortable 2015.

Published 11/03/14 (Modified 06/07/16)


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