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Credit Rewards: Are Points, Miles Or Cash Back Best?

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(credit: CBS) Liz Collin
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Is it better to use points, cash back, or miles? When it comes to credit cards, all rewards are not created equal. With so many options out there, we wanted to know what’s the best deal.

As sifting through her stuff, Jamie Tauer admitted to making what experts consider one of the biggest credit card mistakes of all.

“I know I shouldn’t have a lot of credit cards, but I do,” Tauer said. “That’s just in one pocket. I can’t dig the rest out or it will fall all over the floor.”

When you’re using so many cards, it’s not possible to be saving what you could be.

Michael Sullivan, a professor of finance at St. Thomas, believes the perks are too good not to use plastic.

“If you can be disciplined and pay your credit card when it’s due, then you’re better off using a credit card,” Sullivan said.

The offers are endless: save a percentage on groceries and gas, earn frequent flyer miles to get a free trip, or take the cash back. But what’s the best?

Sullivan believes cash back is the way to go for several reasons: when you’re collecting reward points, 40 percent of them are never used. Points can lose value after a certain period of time and the 1 percent cards usually offer as a cash back option actually compares to about one percent in reward points or purchases anyway.

The only time Sullivan sees a need for consumers to collect on rewards is if you fly or drive for a living or spend an awful lot of time in the air or on the road.

So he suggested keeping it to one card to maximize your miles and rewards.

“You’re better to put it all together in one bigger pile and use it to purchase or to consume,” Sullivan said.

You should also consider how much it costs to have the card. Fees can run anywhere from $50 to $500 a year and, again, it only works if you pay the bill off each month.

“It just doesn’t pay to pay interest. That’s how they pay for the program,” Sullivan said.

Tauer seemed to be ready to make the change, anxious to simplify after spending a little too much time in her purse.

“To be making money in the long run, that sounds nice,” Tauer said.

So what about individual store credit cards? According to Sullivan, it is still usually best to put everything on one card to get the most back but he says it pays to do the math yourself to see if it pays. He also suggested Chase and Capitol One, which seem to be the best cash-back cards on the market right now.

There’s a website that allows you to enter your expenses each month then tell you which credit card will give you the most back. To do it yourself, click here.

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