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What are the pitfalls of rewards credit cards?

By , CardRatings contributor
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Question: What are the pitfalls of rewards credit cards?

Answer: This is a great question, because with every type of reward, there are pitfalls to watch for.

First, consider how much the card will cost you. Card issuers are in business for profit, and if their profit is eaten by rewards, they are out of business. Therefore, historically rewards programs usually have higher interest rates.

There could also be penalties that offset rewards. For example, one late payment could void your existing rewards and cancel eligibility for any future rewards. It's best to know under what circumstances, if any, you could lose your rewards.

Pay attention, also, to the restrictions on the reward. For example in earning rewards do you have to purchase at a certain time or at a specific location? When redeeming rewards, are there periods of blackout, expiration, seating requirements, or other restrictions? Can you expect regular statements of your accumulated rewards? Is there an application procedure for rewards redemption or is it automatic? Are there any caps on how many rewards you can earn?

The biggest pitfall of all--that very few cardholders consider--is that reward programs are designed to create additional debt on your card. Therefore, making purchases just to gain additional rewards is shooting yourself in the foot. It's like buying something because it's on sale; not because you need it.

Finally, while credit card companies notify you of changes to your rewards programs, it is your responsibility to read what they send, as well as to otherwise manage your own rewards program. If you don't take an organized approach and stay on top of your rewards, you'll soon find there is no advantage to paying the higher APR just to earn them.

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