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Insider Tips to Max Out Your Credit Card Rewards



Audio Transcript

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That’s my favorite way to use rewards because it’s just happening automatically without you giving it any thought. And I’ve got several of those types of cards in my digital wallet. Welcome to the money girl podcast. I’ve got a special interview show for you today. I’m Laura Adams, a leading personal finance and small business expert. And award-winning author. I’ve been hosting money girls since 2008 and am so thrilled to have you along for the ride, no matter what you want to achieve with your money. It all starts with financial literacy or education. This show is for everyone, no matter your age, who wants more financial wellness, knowledge tips, and down to earth practical advice. My goal is to help you live a healthy and rich life by making the most of what you have planning wisely for the future and making smart money decisions, being a wise money manager and building wealth is a marathon, not a sprint.

If you’re feeling frustrated about not being where you want to be with your finances or you’re doing great, but you’ve got questions about credit debt, retirement, investing, insurance taxes, real estate, business, money mindset, and more. You are definitely in the right place. We cover all those topics in the show. I’m so glad that you’re here and I’m really excited about today’s show to talk about tips to max out credit card rewards. I interviewed Kristy Olander, a credit card product manager at citizens. She’s been deep in the credit card and technology worlds for decades and even specializes in product storytelling and communication as the cohost of the opposite of small podcast. Kristy’s no stranger to getting behind a mic. So we connected virtually for a really great chat about ways to take full advantage of different types of cashback cards. My favorite part of our discussion was remembering some of the best ways we’ve used our card rewards.

You might be surprised about what my answer is on the money girl podcast, Christy. And I talk about how to know if you should have a flat rate or a category rewards credit card. Why analyzing your spending habits is critical for maxing out rewards, the best number of credit cards to have for good credit ways to use rewards that truly give you the most enjoyment insider tips for tailoring cards to your financial situation. How a no foreign transaction fee card can save money when used in the United States and abroad. And we also talk about the role self-awareness plays and using a credit card to your advantage. So I won’t keep you waiting. Here’s my conversation with Christie Christie. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Thank you for having me. I am super fascinated about the role that you have at citizens bank. What exactly is a credit card, product manager –a credit card product manager.

I partner across multiple areas of the bank. So think about things like marketing analytics research, really to care for the strategy behind the product. So we’re sort of collectively responsible for understanding the needs of the customers and improving, not just the product, but also the experience.

It’s the best job ever. Very cool. Yeah. I love that. How you can make the technology apart of the product and the experience. It’s just so important to everybody. We kind of rely on all of those great experiences and you really come to expect them now. Right? That’s true. And we’re going to talk about credit card rewards. And so first I’d love to know, you know, what you think about credit cards as somebody in the industry. You know, we all know the dangers of using credit cards, like using them excessively racking up debt that you can’t afford to pay off, but there are also a lot of amazing benefits of using cards. So I would love to know, in your opinion, what do you think are the primary benefits of using cards? How do you use them to your benefit?

So Laura, I have to laugh at the way you teed that up. Cause I actually think it’s perfect talking about the dangers of racking up credit card debt, because you’re hitting on an important point. I think a lot of folks have fear of getting into debt and that holds people back from really taking advantage of what cards have to offer. I’m willing to bet that if someone’s listening to this podcast, they’re already either stable or on their way, and they’re definitely financially savvy. So they’re ready to hear how, you know, how to make credit cards work for them. But I don’t want to overlook the point that you’re making, um, just in, in the tee up, because I mean, that’s a problem because you are missing out if you’re not using credit cards, because the truth is they’re easy and convenient, but also they give you things like fraud protection and purchase protection that you don’t have when you’re using cash. And then just earning cash back is the piece that I’m most excited to talk about because I mean, who doesn’t want a little bit of extra cash back and that’s a piece that you’re missing out on if you’re not using credit.

Yeah. I do think that there, the key here is for people to know themselves, if you know that you just can’t use a credit card responsibly or wisely, don’t use one, you know what I mean? That’s the bottom line, but for most people it’s pretty easy to figure them out, to get into a good rhythm of only charging what you can afford to charge and paying them off. Or if you’re going to make some big purchases do that strategically, you know, have a plan for when you’re going to pay that off. Like, you know, am I going to make 12 payments over a year to get that big purchase of whatever, maybe a sofa or computer or something that you wanted to finance. So it really is about knowing yourself. And I would say, as people get older, they tend to financially mature. They B they get more, um, I think responsible when it comes to metering how they use credit cards.

I mean, I can remember being in my twenties and totally overspending on cars. It was like, whoa, you know, you’ve got this, you’ve got this freedom now. And you don’t really see the downside of it until that bill comes in and maybe you rack up some, some debt over time and then it’s just so difficult to pay it off. So the key, the key is just understanding how, you know, how, what the negatives are, but then as you said, weighing that against all the positives, because for me, there are way too many positives to using cards, not to have them in my wallet or in my digital wallet.

And I think the thing that I would add on to what you’re saying about how things have changed is the technology has changed so much. I can remember going to an ATM to check my balance, right? And now we’ve all carrying around computers in our pockets that we can have access to understand what we’re, what we’re spending and making sure that we’re spending responsibly. And so that’s a big game changer in terms of being able to use credit in the way that’s going to work for you. Yeah, that’s so true.

I love that. So Christy, if a listener is not familiar with cash back credit cards, I am sure everyone listening is familiar with them. They may not be familiar with the fact that there are some different types of cashback cards. So tell me a little bit about that, how these different types of cards work…

Describe it as two different categories. So there are flat rate cards, which just means that you’re earning a single percentage of cash back across any types of purchases that you’re making. And then the other are category based cashback cards. And those are the ones where you may be earning a higher cash back rate on a specific type of purchase, a category of transactions, and then a lower rate on everything else. And so that second type, the category based has a lot of different flavors and they can even, uh, you know, they can be based on rotating categories and have a lot of nuance to them. And so from a personal standpoint, I’ll say like I am in the flat rate camp because I don’t really want to have to think about, about it. Just give me the most cash back. You can give me for everything that I spend, because I really do use it for everything. But if you’re someone who spends heavily in specific categories, then you might want to look at a category based card to see if that’s right for you.

So what, what kind of categories are we typically talking about? Yes. So I would say, uh, grocery gas travel. Those would be sort of the primary ones that you see out there, your sort of your everyday spending categories. So if you spend a lot of groceries, if you have a very large family and you’re spending a ton in groceries every month, and that’s really, for whatever reason, the only thing that you use your credit card for you might want to seek out a category based card that has a higher percentage rate on groceries. The watch item I would say is a lot of those cards have a cap on the amount of cash back you can earn at that higher rate. So you really do have to do a little bit of math and figure out is this, is this truly going to be better for me? Or would I be in a better spot if I had a flat rate for everything because I spend across a variety of categories, oftentimes issuers have like sign on bonuses that are limited time offers of value that you can get at the time that you sign up for the credit card.

So if listeners happen to be listening at the time that we’re publishing this, which is the summer of 2021, we have a travel offer where our new cash back plus card holders get 5% on gas and travel, um, up to $1,500 a quarter through the end of the year. That’s something that’s available through August 6th. And those are the kinds of things where if you’re in that moment where you’re looking for a new credit card, comparing across a variety of places and thinking about how you spend can really make the difference. Um, again, a lot of people are ready to do some traveling this summer, so might want to take advantage of that offer. So those are just some of the specifics about the card that citizens.

I always recommend that people have at least one card in their wallet with no foreign transaction fees. So if you don’t have one and you are thinking about traveling, you’re thinking about going outside of the United States, you don’t realize how much those transaction fees overseas add up. I mean, it, it’s just incredible how expensive those can get. And, um, I remember going on a trip, gosh, I mean, I think we went to, was it Sweden, um, a few years back and I did not have a card with no foreign transaction fees and, you know, I didn’t plan on making, using the card a whole lot over there, but, um, the, the charges that I did make were just ridiculously expensive. And so the minute I got home, it was like, I’m getting a card with no foreign transaction fees and that can help you. Not only if you’re traveling outside the us, but if you buy something from an overseas company, you can have foreign transaction fees just on that transaction, buying something from an overseas company. And so that’s another great reason to have, have something with new foreign fees.

It’s a podcast. So you can’t see me nodding my head who has not gotten burned by making a purchase for some cool gadget that they saw and not realizing that it was a foreign based company, you know, company and getting hit with a, an extra amount that they weren’t expecting. So I, that’s a really good point, Laura. Yeah.

I feel like they should disclose that to you when you’re making. Cause you have no idea when you’re making that charge. That you’re, oh my gosh, you’re going to have this. Like, and sometimes it’s expensive. It’s like a $50 add on and you know, it just takes you totally by surprise. That’s awesome. I love that. You’re encouraging people to get out there, travel and just take advantage of, of all of these different categories with the card. Now with these two different types of rewards cards that we’re talking about, the flat rate and the category, how do you know which one is right for you? Let’s say you’re only going to have one rewards card. I mean, I don’t know why you would limit yourself to just one, but if you were going to limit yourself, how would you truly know which one would give you the biggest bang for your buck?

Yeah. So it really is dependent on your lifestyle and how you choose to use credit cards. So again, I’m someone who uses my credit card for everything that I can, if it’s possible to use a credit card, to pay for a purchase, I use it. So I’m spending across multiple categories. And for me, I’d rather have a flat rate card where I know that I’m getting, you know, the most, the most cash back, you know, break out a spreadsheet and just plug in the numbers of what you’re spending on a monthly basis. Um, and look across some cards, options out there and do the math to see how it works out. And it may surprise you, uh, which one ends coming out on top, but it really isn’t too difficult to do that, but you’ve got to do it based on your own personal spending habits. Um, I will say if you go to citizens, forward slash money girl, we’ve curated a couple of articles where you can think about why you use cash back cards and why use your, you know, your credit card for all of your purchases. So listeners could take a look at that just to be sure

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You know, thinking about.

Rewards cards. And it’s kind of fun to think back on the ways that you’ve used them. You know, particularly if you have gone on some special trips or you’ve racked up a bunch of, of just cash rewards and use them for, for yourself or something special, I would love to know if there’s anything special that you’ve purchased or any just special memories that you have when you’ve used your cashback rewards.

I love this question so much because this is my favorite thing to learn from customers, right? To, to hear from our customers, how they’ve used their cash back. So I love having the tables turned and getting to answer myself. I think back to when I was first starting out as a young adult and didn’t have a lot of discretionary money to spend. And so I had a tight budget and I didn’t go out to dinner very often with my husband. Like, you know, we would go out every once in a while, but not to very nice places. And there’s this emotional toll that you have when you’re still trying to build your financial stability. And, you know, instead of going out to dinner, you probably should be building your emergency fund. And so it kind of takes a little bit away from the, your enjoyment of that time.

And so one of the ways that I would use my cash back, I would redeem for cash back and I can vividly remember going to the bank and taking it out as physical cash and going to a nice restaurant and paying for the dinner with that cash. Like somehow it was this separate bucket of money, but it truly was because it wasn’t part of what was in the budget as income that was expected for that month. It was something extra. And that made it just so much sweeter in terms of being able to go to dinner and not, not feel guilty about spending that money and really, really enjoy the time. So that is special to me only because it was so unique at the time, um, to my experience. But I’d like to hear from you, Laura, do you, what’s your redemption experience?

Oh man. Yeah. So I, I would say, and I have a lot of great stories in ways that I’ve used points and travel rewards. But one thing that kind of comes to mind is back in the day I had, I had a card and it was offering a, like a, like a bonus and it was almost like a contest where, okay, if you use the card within this month, you’re entered to win like thousand dollars. Or even there were multiple, there were like some prizes that were higher, but one of them was to win a thousand dollars. And I got a notice in the mail from the card that I had, and it wasn’t even a notice. It was like, it was like a check. It was a paper check for a thousand dollars. And this was weeks later and I had forgotten, you know, forgotten about the promotion.

And I actually did not believe, I thought it was like junk mail that, and it wasn’t true. I put it in the garbage can Christie, because I literally thought it was junk mail. I was like, oh, this, this is just some check that they’re mailing, you know, like, uh, trying to kind of get you to open the mail. And I tossed it in the garbage can. Well, my husband came home later and he kinda went through the garbage can and was like, what, what is this? Like, do you realize that you just threw away this thousand dollar bonus from this card? And it wa and I was like, oh my gosh, this is a legitimate check. And it was for that promotion. And my husband and I were like, you know, this was amazing. Like you, this was something early in our marriage. We were young.

And it meant a lot because just to get a thousand dollars out of nowhere was kind of crazy money. And I remember that my husband ended up using it to buy a trolling motor for our boat. And, and I guess because I remember the trolling motor in the boat and using the boat, that’s why it stuck so much with me anyway. And he still talks about it to this day. He’s like, remember the time we got that thousand dollars, I thought that trolling motor, because like you mentioned, I would never have been like, sure, go spend a thousand dollars on a, you know, a trolling motor at that point in our lives. And we, you know, we had this kind of inexpensive used bode, and I knew it was something that he really would increase his enjoyment of the boat. So I was like, yeah, go for it. Why not? So, yeah, that, um, that’s a pretty cool memory. Thanks for asking.

They’ll try to do that to this day where I, I will redeem it into my checking account instead of just applying it to my credit card balance and like, think about, okay, what am I, what’s extra special thing. Am I going to get that? I wouldn’t typically get, it’s just fun. Yeah.

Now, speaking of your, your wallet, your digital accounts, I want to know if I opened up your physical wallet or your digital wallet right now, what types of cards when I find there, Christie.

All right. Well, my, my digital, well, it’s easy because it’s just the cashback plus card because I find it difficult to switch between cards in my digital wallet. So I just have one, it’s the one that automatically pops up. My physical wallet is my physical cash buy plus card. My citizens debit card, my library card, I’m a library user, but it might surprise your listeners to know that I also have, uh, several credit cards from other issuers and really that’s part of my job. So I am responsible for sort of understanding the credit card products that are out there and the experiences that a customer has when they have those products. And while we’ve got a team that does market research, and I can certainly read up on it personally, applying and experience the credit cards really helps me to stay in tune with what’s best in class to make sure that citizens is meeting the bar. So I don’t use all of them and I don’t carry them all around in my wallet, but I do have a lot of credit cards in there. Yeah,

No, that makes sense. And I would recommend that people don’t carry all of their credit cards with them, you know, because if your wallet is stolen, you know, you’re going to have more exposure there. And I’m like, you, I have a variety of cards. And a question that I often get is, well, how many cards should I have? You know? And, and, and my answer is always the number that you can manage responsibly. If you can manage, you know, 10 cards responsibly, fantastic, have 10 cards. If, if it’s just one, do one, there’s not really a benefit from a credit standpoint of having more cards. It’s just how you manage those cards. So if you’re managing them by making your payments on time, you’re not letting your balances get too high, et cetera. Then your credit is going to be an, in some cases benefited by having more cards, actually, because you’re getting more available credit compare to your outstanding total balance.

And so I’ve done podcasts before about credit utilization ratio. And so what we, one strategy is not to max out one card, but to spread your balances out over multiple cards to three or even more cards. And so you kind of get the benefit of having more available credit with a lower balance on the card. And so that does help you look a little less risky to the credit world, because it’s going to help keep your, your credit score as high as possible when your credit utilization is low. So it kind of works like a Seesaw. When the utilization goes down, the credit score can go up. There’s no hard rule that says you must only have, let’s say four cards or five cards. I know people that like you are in the industry and have literally like over 20 cards. Now that’s a little extreme, you know, for most people, but I know people that really juggle the rewards and the miles, and they do a lot of sort of travel hacking with different mileage rewards. And so they really know how to work it. Um, that’s probably not for everybody, but, you know, I would say for most people, having it least you want at least two cards in your wallet in case you have a problem with one of them, you want a backup card, at least. So I would say at a minimum two, probably three cards, um, is great. And like I said, if you can manage more, you know, that’s, that’s fine. Go

For it. I think that’s really sound advice because you’ve got to know yourself. So I don’t know what it says about me. I’ve been in this industry for 20 years, but if I have balances like small balances on multiple cards, I start missing payment due dates. Right. So I’ve found that I found that I’m kind of a OneCard girl in that, in that respect, but I think you’re right. If you can manage them and manage your payments, then that’s do, do what works for you, right?

Yeah. And so what else? So using one card, what else is, is a good that you’ve found that, that you’re using to your advantage?

Well, I mean, the other ironic thing is, again, I’ve been in this industry for 20 years. It’s only been in the last two or three years that I enrolled in autopay. So I have it set up so that my credit card is paid automatically from my checking account. I get an email notification a few days before, so I can make sure things are all set. I can’t even believe I spent all those years, like trying to remember what my due date was and, you know, go in there and manually make the payment. That’s been something that, um, has been very helpful to me. And again, like having really the accounts that you’re using all with one bank, um, now with mobile banking and being able to access everything on your phone has just made it so much easier. I don’t want to have to go into five different apps to manage all of my accounts. So that would be sort of part of my strategy as well. Yeah. I love it.

So as an insider in this industry, I would, I would guess you probably know a lot about credit cards that the average person doesn’t know. What’s one thing about rewards cards that you think everyone should know.

So I believe, especially for the audience listening to this podcast, that there is sort of an understanding of the importance of financial literacy and educating yourself. Um, and I feel like we’ve got that down. That’s, that’s preaching to the choir, but the piece that I think that people need to know is that they can consult with their banker and ask questions and get some guidance based on their specific circumstance. So I’ll give you a really silly example of this. People may not know that when you open a credit card, you get assigned a random due date. And it’s usually based on the number of cards that are booked that day and the number of cards that have that due date or any other variety of factors. Well, if that date doesn’t work for you, you can change it. But most people don’t know that. And they don’t think to call and ask that question. So like, I would just say, everyone should be thinking about not just seeking their own information, like through this podcast, but also combining it with a trusted relationship with your banker, because that’s what they’re there for. That’s so true.

It really is. And it’s true with investing as well. There are typically representatives who can help you for free. And so why not take advantage of that, of that advice and guidance. So I love that. And I think you’re right, most people would not know that changing your due date was even possible. So yeah, make it is tailored to your financial needs as possible. And if you’re not sure, just ask the question, it doesn’t hurt. So Christie, as we wrap up, I would love to know if you got any resources you can recommend. What can you share for listeners who want to learn more about just smart ways to use their credit cards, good ways to use cash back, all of that good information that will help them use cards wise.

If listeners go to citizens, forward slash money girl, we’ve got a few resources linked out there as well as the information about the cashback plus MasterCard. So that would be the perfect place for folks to go to get started. I love

It. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your, all of your credit card tips with us today. I think listeners will find it really helpful.

Oh, I’m so glad. And thank you for letting me geek out about credit cards and podcasting. It’s like combining two of my favorite things in one. I love it.

Anytime. Awesome. Thanks again. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did before we go. I want to invite you to connect with me on Instagram at Laura D. Adams. Another great way to stay in touch is to join my private Facebook group. Dominate your dollars, just text the word dollars to the number 3, 3, 4, 4, 4 for your invitation, or you can search dominate your dollars on Facebook. Also be sure to sign up for my free newsletter. That’s filled with money, tips, tools, and some fun personal stuff that I think you’ll enjoy. Just visit Laura D to sign up. And that’s also where you can find more about me, my books and online courses. That’s all for now. I’ll talk to you next week until then here’s to living a richer life. Money girl is produced by the audio wizard, Steve or Ricky Berg with editorial support from Biatta Santura. If you’ve been enjoying the podcast, it would mean the world to me. If you’d give it a quick rating and review on apple podcast or wherever you’re listening to this show, and don’t forget the backlist episodes and show notes are always available for [email protected].

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If you’re not using one or more rewards credit cards to make the most of your purchases and qualify for special promotions, you need to get more strategic. The cards you keep in your physical and digital wallets can help you rack up rewards points and save money on everyday purchases, such as groceries, gas, travel, and more.

Some cashback credit cards give you a statement credit or gift card balance to apply to purchases at retailers such as Amazon. That’s my favorite way to use rewards because it happens automatically, without giving it any thought.

To discuss clever ways to max out card rewards, I interviewed Kristy Olinger, a Credit Card Product Manager at Citizens. She’s been deep in the credit card and technology worlds for decades and specializes in product storytelling and communication.

As the co-host of The Opposite of Small Talk podcast, Kristy’s no stranger to getting behind a mic. We connected virtually for a great conversation about ways to take full advantage of different types of cashback cards. My favorite part was remembering some of the best ways we’ve used card rewards!

On the Money Girl podcast, Kristy and I discuss:

  • How to know if you should have a flat-rate or category rewards credit card.
  • Why analyzing your spending habits is critical for maxing out rewards.
  • The right number of credit cards to have for good credit.
  • Ways to use rewards that give you the most enjoyment.
  • Insider tips for tailoring cards to your financial situation.
  • How a no-foreign transaction fee card saves money in the U.S. and abroad.
  • Some benefits of Citizen’s Cash Back Plus™ World Mastercard®.

[Listen to the interview using the embedded audio player above or on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloudStitcher, and Spotify]

What questions do you have about using credit cards wisely and building credit? Leave a voicemail for Laura by calling 302-364-0308. Follow her on Instagram and sign up for her weekly newsletter at

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