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The Best Credit Cards for the Holiday Shopping Season

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The holiday season seems to come earlier every year. The first day of school comes and goes, then Halloween goes by in a blur. Pretty soon we're sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, and then all of a sudden it's Black Friday and time to buy gifts for Christmas and Hanukkah. Where does the time go?

When gift-giving season arrives, most of us are in such a frenzy to get the perfect presents for all the special people in their lives that we hardly give a thought to how we're paying for the purchases. However, if you plan on buying all those goodies with a credit card, you could be missing out on a bunch of great benefits if you shop with a less-than-ideal card. This is why it's important to select the right card for all of your holiday shopping needs.

Of course, pretty soon you probably won't have time to go shopping for the perfect credit card in addition to all the gifts you'll be cultivating, so take a look at the great shopping perks offered by the following cards; while one card beat out the others by a small margin, the two runners-up are also worth considering.

The best card for 2013 holiday shopping: the Discover It Card
The Discover It is pretty much the best card for holiday shopping in the fourth quarter of 2013. From October through December, it gives 5% cash back on online shopping (Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, Macys.com, you name it) up to $1,500 spent per quarter. It has a few other perks that make it holiday-shopping friendly:

  • Pretty solid warranty and return protection.
  • Entree to ShopDiscover, Discover Financial Services' online bonus mall, where you'll get 5%-20% off at many popular stores.
  • 14 months of 0% purchase APR, should you need time to pay off your bonuses.

All of these amazing bonuses make the Discover It card the ultimate piece of plastic for your holiday shopping needs -- after all, why not get some hassle-free perks for buying the stuff you were going to get for your loved ones anyway? The one downside is that the Discover It isn't really the best card for ongoing value: It has no signup bonus, and its selection of 5% bonus categories typically lags behind the Chase Freedom's. Speaking of ...

Runner-up No. 1: Chase Freedom
When it comes to shopping bonuses, the Chase Freedom card is no slouch. Through December, it pays 5% cash back on select department stores, including J.C. Penney, Kohl's, and Macy's, as well as Amazon.com, up to $1,500 spent per quarter. It, too, comes with a 0% introductory APR period (15 months) but it actually has a signup bonus -- $100 when you spend $500 in the first three months. Its ongoing bonus categories have historically been better than the Discover It, and it gives rewards in physical as well as online stores, but the Discover It offers access to ShopDiscover and has a wider selection of online rewards. It's pretty much a tossup: If you fit the Freedom's select retailers, that one is better; if not, go with Discover.

Runner-up No. 2: American Express Blue Cash Preferred
If you're an American Express fan looking to home in on some great shopping rewards, the Blue Cash Preferred card is for you. Like the Discover It and the Chase Freedom, Blue Cash offers 15 months interest-free on purchases and balance transfers. Plus, this card offers 6% back at grocery stores (up to $6,000 annually), so you'll earn some major bonuses on your shopping for holiday meals. Moreover, you can purchase gift cards at the checkout stand and earn 6% rewards on anywhere that sells them: Amazon, iTunes, Gap, you name it. It also provides 3% back at select department stores and 1% on all other purchases.

The major drawback of the AmEx Blue Cash Preferred card is that it carries an annual fee of $75, but it's important to balance this against the potential savings and perks you'll realize when you use the card. Typically, the breakeven point is $50 per week in groceries: Spend more than that, and the Blue Cash Preferred's higher rewards rate beats out the annual fee; spend less, and you're better off with the no-fee Blue Cash Everyday, which gives 3% on groceries and 2% on gas/department stores.

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