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Many Americans are letting valuable points go to waste.

2 minute read

More than 80 percent of Americans who use credit cards have found one that will give them something back in return — those highly coveted rewards. In a time when so many consumers report problems saving money, you’d think they’d be cashing in those rewards at every turn.

But a survey by TD Bank shows that one in five of consumers who’ve earned those rewards, fail to collect them.

And that’s just the average. Despite their well-advertised money woes, 30 percent of millennials  didn’t tap their rewards, compared with 19 percent of Gen-Xers and 8 percent of baby boomers.

Expand the conversation to include loyalty cards and, by one survey’s account, Americans are sitting on more than $100 billion in un-redeemed points.

The problems isn’t just money left untouched. Loyalty cards are more popular than ever and appear to prime their holders into spending more than they might’ve otherwise.

A survey  conducted on behalf of Visa and the branding agency Bond Brand Loyalty came to this conclusion: The anticipation of reward and the ease of getting it is more important than the actual reward.

But this money mistake can be corrected. And for those who do collect what they’re owed, there are ways to up the rewards game to earn more faster, spend those points more efficiently or both.

“If I could offer advice to consumers who use a credit card, it’s to be sensible in spending and mindful about cashing in rewards,” says Julie Pukas, Head of US Bankcard and Merchant Solutions at TD Bank. “It takes smart spending to use your credit card for daily purchases – like groceries and dining – and discipline to ensure you pay off that balance at the end of each month, but for those who can make it work, it’s a very savvy credit strategy that makes your credit card work for you.”

That savvy begins with knowing how you spend.

Credit card rewards programs aren’t one-size-fits-all. Some offer a straight points-for-dollars, others reward certain purchases more than others, while some rotate prime payouts by category and month — earn extra on gas purchases in the summer, more at department stores over the holidays.

Map your spending to find the card that best rewards how you spend. Consumer Reports offers this comparison tool, input your spending and see which cards offer the best returns. Or check out Nerdwallet’s latest ratings, which parses the credit card jungle into categories such as which is best for shopping online, which allows for the easiest conversion of points into airline tickets, etc.

When signing up for a new card, seek one that offers a signing bonus. It might take months for those rewards to appear on your account, but when they arrive, use them.

The easiest way to do that could be to set an automatic payout. Points build to a threshold determined by the customer. When the threshold is met, the rewards are paid out to the credit account.

Also, don’t be late on payments. Some cards won’t let reward points in a month that isn’t paid on time. Not paying off that balance, by they way, means your could be racking up charges as fast or faster than the points you’re earn by spending.

Interested in earning more points? Check out opportunities such as which allows members to earn points for dining out. The appeal of this is the double-dip effect you get when charging the meals to your rewards-earning credit card. With Americans spending about $1,700 a year going out to eat, the rewards could ring up quickly.

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About the Author

Michelle Bryan

Michelle Bryan

Before Michelle began writing about how to save money, she made money as a successful real estate investor and also worked as an Organic Foods reporter and opinion columnist. She is an expert in corporate brand management, so she understands how advertisers try to separate you from your money. Her work has appeared on sites as diverse as Forbes, NBC News, Huffington Post, Yahoo, GoBankingRates, U.S. News and World Report, City Pulse, Newsday, On Call and more… When she isn’t trying to get people out of debt, she’s trying to get them to travel frugal and eat organic and cheap – the Arizona State University journalism major writes passionately on the topic. She attended the prestigious Walter Cronkite School of Communication and Journalism with a major in Mass Communication and Media.

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