Holiday travel and shopping can take a big bite out of the household budget, but you can take the sting out of all that spending.
If you use the right credit cards with the right rewards programs, you can earn hundreds, even thousands of dollars.
And Consumer Reports says two cards are often better than one.
Consumer Reports sifted through more than 90 rewards programs and came up with the cards that if you play them right, can give the most in cash back and free goods and services.
"The trick is to use two different cards for different kinds of purchases. Which two cards are best depends on how much you spend each month and what you spend it on," said Mandy Walker from Consumer Reports.
For example, the LaCollas, just starting out in life, are careful with their money.
"I'm not going to change my habits and go out and spend money when I don't need to, but when I do it's nice to get cash back," said Robert LaColla.
Consumer Reports recommends two cards for them - the BankAmericard Cash Rewards Card and Citicard's Double Cash. The first gives 3 percent cash back on every dollar spent on gas and 2 percent on groceries. Charge $500 dollars in the first 3 months for a $100 dollar bonus.
The Citicard will give you 2 percent cash back on all other purchases. The combo will net a couple who charge $750 dollars a month about $650 dollars over three years.
"If you charge a lot, you may be better off with reward cards that do carry annual fees but offer more cash back and bigger bonuses," said Mandy.
For example, for a family of four who charges $3,000 dollars a month, Consumer Reports recommends the American ExpressBlue Cash Preferred Card and the Capital One Venture. The first gives 6 percent cash back on groceries and 3 percent on gas.
Use the Capital One Venture for everything else and get 2 mileage points for every dollar charged. Total rewards over 3 years? More than $3,500 dollars.
"To get the maximum, keep in mind that the credit cards have to be paid in full each month or the interest and fees will eat away at your savings," said Mandy.
Since the terms of rewards cards can always change, double-check online before you sign up.
Consumer Reports also has recommendations for other types of spenders: the student, the small business owner, the world traveler and people close to retirement.
More information on reward cards is available atConsumerReports.org
Consumer Reports: Earn money with credit card rewards
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