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5 ways to use credit cards to avoid the holiday rush

By , CardRatings contributor
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While Christmas may seem months away, holiday songs will be playing on the radio and the malls will be transformed with decorations before you know it. Start researching and shopping for holiday gifts now and you can take full advantage of your credit card's perks.

Here are five tips to help you avoid the holiday rush and get the most out of your credit cards this season:

1. Use rewards points to purchase gifts

"Most people never use all of their credit card reward points. Using credit card rewards points to buy gifts can be a great way to buy presents while saving money," says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for CreditSesame.com.

Ulzheimer recommends using points to purchase gift cards because they are a good use of points as well as a popular present.

"People love to get gift cards because they are user-friendly and you don't have to worry about getting the right size or color," he says. "You can convert points into gift cards of any amount for most retailers. Many retailers also give you a bonus for purchasing gift cards with points, such as giving you a $50 card when you redeem points for a $40 card."

2. Find out which card offers best purchase protection

If you plan on wrapping up an expensive present like a tablet or camera for someone on your list, you want to make sure that the purchase is protected. Michelle Madhok, founder of SheFinds.com, recommends using a card that offers the best purchase protection or extended warranty when buying a big-ticket item.

"One time my husband ran over my Roomba with his car, and I was very happy that I had used my American Express card to buy it," says Madhok.

By taking a few minutes now to research the protection on all of your cards, you will be able to use the best card for your purchase and save valuable time during the hectic holiday shopping season.

3. Buy gifts from credit card shopping portals

Almost all credit cards offer an online shopping portal, which often has deals, earns higher amount of rewards points, or even cash back. The variety of merchandise available is astounding, from clothing to lawn tools. If you have multiple credit cards, be sure to look at the portals for all of your cards to find the best deal for the gifts on your list.

"The percent you get back or the amount of extra points varies by the different retailers on the shopping portal so spend time researching all options," says Beverly Harzog, credit card expert and author of "Confessions of a Credit Junkie." "Using the online shopping portals for your credit cards is a great way to stretch your budget and earn more points."

4. Determine best credit card in your wallet to use for purchases

Instead of just using the first credit card you find in your wallet when buying that sweater for mom, Ulzheimer recommends spending a few minutes first to determine which credit card makes the most sense for your purchases. "If you are going to be charging a lot of holiday purchases, you should choose the card with the highest limit so that you don't end up with a high credit utilization percentage and hurt your credit score," says Ulzheimer.

By considering rewards when you buy gifts, you may be able to treat yourself to a spring getaway or even buy presents for your loved ones next holiday with your points. However, be sure that you are going to be able to pay off your card at the end of the month because the benefit of earning points is negated if you pay interest.

5. Keep an eye out for holiday bonus specials

Many credit cards offer special perks like discounted merchandise or travel if you use their card to make the purchase. "Pay special attention to any emails and letters you receive from your card company to see if they are using any specials that would be good gifts for your friends or family," says Harzog. "Credit card issuers are really into social media these days and often promote specials on their Facebook page. Be sure to 'like' the page for all of your credit cards so that you can be up on the latest specials and promotions."

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