Recent credit card research from BankRate suggests that many American credit card members aren't taking full advantage of what their cards are offering them.
In the video segment below, The Motley Fool analysts Nathan Hamilton and Michael Douglass discuss this overlooked, lucrative credit card perk and why some are ignoring it
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Michael Douglass: Perks, whether they be points or miles or whatever, are a big part of how many people pick their credit cards, and that's why this stat, which is from our friends over at Bankrate, just was crazy to me. Roughly one in three Americans have never used their credit card rewards.
Nathan Hamilton: Yeah, haven't redeemed their credit card rewards. If you think about it, exactly 31%, per the bank rate research; and the two, sort of, categories of people are very far to the right or very far to the left, not politically speaking but in terms of rewards, and you've got the people who actively redeem their rewards every few months. I fall into that category.
Douglass: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Hamilton: Then you've got the people that essentially forget about them and never use those rewards and ... Sure, if you think about, most credit cards will offer 1 to 2% cash back. Not anything game-changing-
Hamilton: ... but for everyday spending, if they are sitting there, if you've met your threshold, many cards have a $25 minimum or a $50 minimum; if you are above those thresholds then it's kind of just throwing money to the side.
Douglass: Yeah. I mean, I'll tell you, about once every year to year-and-a-half, I get a free international airline ticket out of mine. Which, you know, not cheap.
Douglass: And so that's a lot of money that you're leaving on the table that you could instead spend wherever you're going.
Hamilton: I have a feeling the reason, or sort of the initial reason behind why that stat is so high, is people may not be paying attention to their finances, or maybe they don't know where to look to redeem the rewards ...
Hamilton: ... but generally, calling up a customer service number or hopping into your account, you're going to see pretty quickly how to redeem those rewards.
Douglass: Yeah. Perhaps not shockingly, the most popular reward is cash back ...
Douglass: ... by a big margin, and then followed by about, it's 49% choosing cash, about 17% choosing travel credit, and that makes sense, right? Because cash can be used for just about everything, whereas-
Hamilton: Cash is king.
Douglass: Right, there it is.
Douglass: Whereas travel is a little bit more like, well, if you happen to be visiting Grandma ...
Douglass: ... or something like that. That's not as common of a thing; so I think that the moral of the story, when we're thinking about this, is to just really keep it simple.
Hamilton: Yeah, absolutely. And if you're, sort of how I look at credit cards when people ask me for recommendations of which cards to get, I mostly revert the question back to them and say, "How much time do you want to spend on your finances?"
Hamilton: Because if you are hands-on, sure, one to two credit cards, maybe two or three make sense. You just have to manage across other accounts and make sure you're spending within your limits; but if you're kind of that hands-off person that doesn't really like to pay attention to their finances, but still manages their debt well, one credit card is really suggested. Because each additional credit card you add, while it can be useful, is just more time that you're not doing something else. You're spending time on your finances, you're logging into your bank account, you're entering the different credit card numbers in. I have spreadsheets all over the place.
Hamilton: So, you know, it just takes more time to track, and more effort on your part.
Douglass: Yeah, and we here at the Motley Fool, we work here because this is the stuff we just live and breathe in our spare time.
Douglass: We kind of get hired to do our hobbies, so it's kind of a different bog than, maybe, for the average person, so that's something to think about. Keep in mind, we've got a lot more information at fool.com/creditcards, which is our site which is covering everything: Best cards of different types, how to improve your credit score, budgeting and saving tips ... Just a lot of really good information for people from the financial novices to the travel hackers and kind of everybody in between. So check us out there. Hamilton, thanks much.
Hamilton: Thank you!