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How to Make the Most of Your Store Credit Cards

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The holiday season is a peak time for shopping, and also for signing up for those ubiquitous store credit cards. But with holidays behind us and spring around the corner, what should you do with all of the store credit cards that now fill your wallet?

Here are a few ideas for how to manage all of those store credit cards to build your credit and maximize your purchasing power.

1. Leave the cards at home.

While you probably don’t want all of these cards taking up space in your wallet or purse, you definitely don’t want to use them for impulse buying. By leaving at home any cards that you don’t use regularly, you can still take them with you occasionally for needed purchases without being tempted to use them for unnecessary purchases.

2. Pay off your balances. 

Store credit cards can offer great bonuses when you sign up at the register, but they tend to have very high interest rates. Since you’re going to pay more for the cards with the highest interest rates, it will usually make sense to pay off any balances on your store cards first.

3. Check every statement. 

Recent high profile cases of credit card data theft have served as a reminder that cardholders must be vigilant about checking each statement for fraudulent transactions. Just remember that store cards are no different than any other credit cards, and cardholders should pay equal attention to every charge. If you spot an unusual charge, contact your card issuer.

4. Learn the rewards program.

Now that you have the card, you might as well get the most from its rewards program. Start by logging in and checking your rewards balance. You may already be able to redeem your points for some kind of award.

5. Double-dip with online portals. 

Store credit cards earn bonus rewards when you use them at the retailer whose name is on the card. Yet you can earn even more rewards by first clicking through one of the many reward malls operated by airline and hotel loyalty programs. For example, when shopping at Macy’s online store using the American Airlines AAdvantage online shopping mall, you can earn three miles per dollar spent, in addition to rewards earned from using your Macy’s credit card.

6. Don’t cancel your account.

Even if your store card is used rarely, or never, it still helps your credit score to keep the account open. Each account contributes to your total credit extended. While this factor is not as important to your credit score as paying your bills on time, every bit can help. If you want to see where your credit currently stands, you can get two credit scores for free with the Credit Report Card, a tool that updates your scores monthly and shows you a breakdown of the major factors impacting your scores.

7. Keep the account active. 

According to Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com’s director of consumer education, “If you don’t use a card for a long time you may find it closed for inactivity. Using a card every once in a while — sometimes just once a year — is often enough to keep it active and open.”

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