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Top Tips For Finding A Credit Card

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This guest post comes from the NerdWallet.com team of credit card aficionados and personal finance writers.

This is for all the people who spend their money on gas and groceries – when “gas” means “shoes” and “groceries” means “I didn’t know you could spend that much money in one store.” If you find yourself using your credit card extensively in malls and department stores, here are seven tips to get the most out of your money.

Get a card with “return protection.”
If you find that the clothes you bought looked a lot better on the mannequin than they do on you, consider a card that steps in when the retailer won’t accept your return.

Return protection is a feature on all American Express cards ($300 per incident, up to $1,000 a year) as well as some MasterCard and Visa cards ($250 per incident, up to $1,000 a year). It’s that extra push you needed to get those shoes marked “final sale.”

Get a card with “purchase protection.”
For all the peace of mind that this feature delivers, it’s a surprise that it’s relatively obscure. Purchase protection insures your purchases against theft or accidental damage for 90 days.

Every AmEx card will give you $1,000 per incident, up to $50,000 a year, and the Visa Signature cards will guarantee $500 per incident, up to $50,000. MasterCard offers purchase protection on a selection of its cards.

Check your card’s “Bonus Point Mall” before you online.
Chances are, the website offers bonus points worth 5% or more. 
For example, ing Bloomingdales merchandise via ShopDiscover or Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall effectively gets you 5% off, instead of your normal 1% back. We ran the numbers on how the malls stack up against each other, and in case you’re wondering, Discover came out a clear winner, with Chase a distant second.

Timing is everything
If you’re going to make a big purchase from a department or clothing store, wait for a bonus period. Chase and Discover offer 5% cash back bonuses that rotate quarterly. A significant purchase can reap a pretty hefty crop of rewards points.

Each has its own rewards schedule, but here’s the rundown for 2nd Quarter of 2011 (April – June):

  • Chase Freedom: home improvement & furnishings, lawn & garden
  • Discover More: home improvement, department stores, clothing
  • Never run up a balance, but if (when) you do, never use a rewards card.
    We’re all human. Taking out a line of credit for your purchase is (almost) always a bad idea, but if you can’t help yourself, try to pay as little interest as possible.

  • Before you run up a balance: get a 0% introductory APR credit card.
  • After you run up a balance: get the best possible balance transfer card.
  • When you’re paying the bills: rewards cards generally have much higher APR’s, so pay them off first.
  • If you plan to splurge on a really big purchase (think Chanel and Louis Vuitton) get a free trip to Europe out of it.
    Little-known fact: you get a tax refund when you overseas. Right now, ing an LV handbag in Paris effectively gets you a 30% discount versus ing in the US (as long as you don’t declare it at customs). The money you save can literally pay for your plane ticket.

    Make sure to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fee. It’ll save you from the 2-3% fee that other cards tack on for foreign purchases.

    If you’re a foodie, or if you just hate cooking, get yourself a Citi Forward.
    Citi Forward gives you 5 points for every dollar you spend at a restaurant. 

Next time you go out, put it on the card and collect the cash. 10,000 Citi ThankYou points yields a $100 Bloomingdale’s gift card, so treat your friends, too.

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