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Back to School: Getting the Most Credit Card Rewards

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By the end of each summer, students and their parents scramble to purchase supplies for the upcoming school year. These expenses can be significant, but thankfully, so can the rewards. The right credit card can offer points, miles, or cash back savings for purchasing school supplies from the right merchants. Here are a few examples of ways to maximize your credit card rewards for buying necessary school supplies.

Use a business rewards card to shop at office supply stores.

Office supply stores offer some of the widest selection of school supplies, and coincidentally, some of the best rewards for business credit card users. For example, Chase’s Ink cards offer 5x points or cash back when used at any office supply store. Similarly, the American Express SimplyCash Business credit card also offers five cents per dollar in cash back from purchases at office supply stores.

Shop office supply stores online.

Many elementary and high school students simply receive a list of necessary supplies that is so specific, they really don’t even need to visit a retail store. Office supply store websites can fulfill these shopping lists from home while offering exceptional credit card rewards. For instance, the American Express OPEN Savings program is available to all business card holders and offers 5% cash back for purchases of $250 or less from OfficeMax.com, and 10% cash back for purchases above $250. Likewise, Chase’s Ultimate Rewards mall offers three additional points to cardholders who make purchases from Staples, OfficeDepot.com, and OfficeMax.com.

Cash in at bookstores.

Citi’s Forward card offers five ThankYou points per dollar spent on entertainment and at book stores, which can be a great place to find school supplies. In fact, there are some reports that some purchases from Amazon.com have been treated as “book store” purchases, although your results may vary.

Use gift cards to shift your spending.

For those whose credit cards do not offer bonuses at book stores and office supply stores, gift cards offer a clever way to earn bonuses at other retailers. For example, drug stores and grocery stores may offer some school supplies, but they also offer gift cards that can be used at office supply stores or online retailers. For instance, the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card offers 6% cash back at grocery stores, and customers there will still receive the cash back if they purchase Amazon gift cards, which can then be used for textbooks and school supplies.

A few words of warning on credit card rewards.

As with all reward credit cards, cardholders should only use these products when they pay their balances in full each month to avoid interest. All other cardholders should use cards with the lowest interest rate, which are not reward cards. And of course, be sure to shop around for the lowest prices first, and never spend more just to earn rewards.

Textbooks and school supplies are a major part of the cost of an education, so students and their parents need to focus on savings. But with some skill, shoppers for school supplies can use their credit cards to cut their costs significantly.

Image: Ingram Publishing

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