Fun with Credit Cards

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For those of us who know how to use them properly, credit cards can actually be quite fun and lucrative. To those who do not know how to use them properly, I would say that you should stop reading this column right about now, or at least I would advise you not to try any of this stuff at home. What I'm about to describe is not one of those illegal credit card schemes. Instead, I'm talking about taking full advantage of the benefits and offers that credit card companies and store chains offer their customers all the time.

I get several credit card offers each month, but I only accept those that come with no annual fee and pay me at least one percent cash back or credit on my purchases. I don't care about the interest rate. It could be some exorbitant rate like 50% for all I care, since I never carry a balance and always pay off what I owe at the end of each month. Right now, I probably have about 15 different cards, but I only regularly use three of them.

I have one card that gives me an instant five percent credit on my gasoline purchases. Therefore, I buy all of my gasoline with this card and never use cash to buy it. I have another card that gives me five percent cash back on any purchase I make at a drug store or grocery store. Needless to say, I try to use that card exclusively at those establishments. The third card I regularly use gives me a one percent instant credit on all purchases. I use it for just about everything except purchases of gasoline or purchases at drug stores or grocery stores. The more I use my cards the more credits and cash back I get. The credit card companies are, in effect, paying me to use their cards and I am more than happy to oblige.

Some credit card companies will take things one step further and even pay you to take their cards. These payments will take the form of gift certificates, bonus cash back, and/or bonus credits. There is one minor catch in that most companies will generally require that you use the cards at least once each to get those benefits. That's never a problem for me as I will use them once to get the benefits and then toss them into my "inactive" drawer.

Having lots of credit cards means I get lots of offers in the mail (and sometimes by phone) from the credit card companies in which I am asked to try out some kind of worthless subscription for 30 days. Most of the time, I just throw these offers in the trash can. However, there are some that I will try because they will "bribe" me adequately to do so. However, they must offer me at least $10 and the offer must have a free trial period. I will then cash their check, put the money in my pocket, and cancel before the free trial period ends. However, I have found that I need to be careful with these offers. Sometimes they'll offer me $10 to try something that costs $10 (or more) per month, with no free trial period. I avoid those like the plague, since the best I can do is break even.

Speaking of worthless subscription offers, most credit card companies will push some kind of credit card insurance. The way it works that you pay about half of one percent of your monthly purchase totals so that this insurance will make your minimum monthly payment in case your are disabled, laid off, have a death in the family, or suffer some other kind of qualifying malady. This insurance may be a good idea for those who run a monthly balance and only make the minimum payment, but it's worthless to those of us who pay off our balances each month. However, the credit card companies will never acknowledge this fact and will pay you to try it and will usually give you a free trial period.

I take these subscriptions only for cards that I don't use, so it never costs me anything. What's better is that when I try to cancel it, they bribe me again to keep the subscription active! The bribe is usually in the form of rebate tickets of $10 to $25 per month for about six months. When I make a purchase that equals or exceeds the face value of the ticket, I send in the receipt along with the ticket and get a cash rebate about eight weeks later for the face value of the ticket. Then, when the tickets run out and I attempt to cancel my subscription again, they offer me even more tickets to stay subscribed. Sometimes, I have tried to cancel before the six months ran out and got even more tickets for the same card in overlapping months! If you have several cards you don't use, each with one of these subscriptions, the rebates could really add up!

In addition to the cards issued to me by the credit card companies, I have several cards issued by store chains like Sears, JC Penney, Hecht's, etc. Most of the store chains that issue credit cards will offer discounts of 10, 15, 20, or even 25 percent at various times for simply using those cards to make purchases at their stores. Some will even offer a bonus discount for just signing up (and being approved, of course) to take one of their cards! They can afford to do this because they know that most people will not pay off their balance each month, but will instead make the minimum payment along with paying an ungodly amount of interest. The stores will more than make up for those discounts right there. Meanwhile, those of us who don't run monthly balances reap the benefits of discounts that other people are paying for!

What I have just described is not illegal, immoral, or unethical. Credit card companies and store chains are in the business to make money and sometimes they'll offer things that don't seem to make sense in order to maintain and/or expand their customer base. Contrary to popular belief, credit card companies do indeed make money off people like me, who never pay a dime in interest or annual fees and take full advantage of all of their offers. The money comes from the businesses that accept those cards by way of the fees they pay each I time I use one of my cards. Those businesses, in turn, are willing to pay these fees in order to attract as many customers as they can. Therefore, everyone in the credit card cycle benefits. Those who use credit cards the way I do are just making sure they are getting their piece of the pie.

Terry Mitchell is a software engineer, freelance writer, and trivia buff from Hopewell, VA. He also serves as a political columnist for American Daily and operates his own website - - on which he posts commentaries on various subjects such as politics, technology, religion, health and well-being, personal finance, and sports. His commentaries offer a unique point of view that is not often found in mainstream media.

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