"A credit card allows you transcend time. For it allows you to put off until tomorrow what you bought today, while you are still paying what you bought yesterday."
-- Robert Morrissette 

Credit cards are indeed a little magical in some ways, letting us buy just about anything we want even if we have no money in our pocket or bank account. Much financial guidance is focused on how to use credit wisely and avoid getting deep in debt so that you don't fork over hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest to credit card issues. Being smart about credit also involves getting as much as you can from cards, though -- and many people are not doing that. They're leaving hundreds of dollars, and potentially more than $1,000, on the table.

lots of hundred dollar bills swirling into a black hole

Image source: Getty Images.

Here are some ways to make the most of credit cards that can reward you.

First off, understand that there are several thousand different credit cards out there, and a handful of major card categories, such as rewards and cash-back cards, balance-transfer and low-interest rate cards, and travel cards. If you're struggling with credit card debt, low-interest rate cards or balance transfer cards will serve you best. But if your credit profile is healthy, you'd do well to favor cash-back or rewards cards.

Rewards left on the table

The folks at WalletHub recently released their 2017 Credit Cards Rewards Report, with some interesting findings. Let's start with the afore-mentioned money left on the table. The report listed a bunch of rewards cards from about 20 issuers and ranked them by how much value each issuer's best card offered over two years. Here are the top rankers:

Credit Card Issuer

2-Year Value of Best Card

Barclays (2 rewards cards)


Discover Financial Services (6 rewards cards)


US Bancorp (6 rewards cards)


Alliant Credit Union (2 rewards cards)


Capital One (6 rewards cards)


JPMorgan Chase (4 rewards cards)


Citibank (5 rewards cards)


Bank of America (4 rewards cards)


Data source: WalletHub.com. 

The lowest two-year value on the list was $555. That might actually sound pretty good -- after all, it's hundreds of dollars that come to you without your having to toil or invest. But it's $1,079 less than what you might have collected from the top card. And if you're not using a rewards card at all, you might be leaving the entire $1,634 on the table.

An illustration of a circular stamp that says "cash back"

Image source: Getty Images.

More reward-ing insights

There's more to being a savvy user of rewards cards. For example, you might have a few and use them strategically. If you shop at a particular retailer a lot, such as Amazon.com or Costco, there are cards that will reward you with up to 5% of your purchase values there. Depending on your spending habits, certain cards will benefit you much more than others.

Another nugget from the WalletHub report is that, "Redeeming for travel is still the best deal, yielding 30% more value than redeeming for merchandise, the worst option." In other words, if you travel a lot, favor travel-oriented cards, and if any card you use offers you travel rewards, give them full consideration, as they may deliver the most value.

Keep in mind, too, that you should consider not just the rewards available from any card, but also the terms of each card. Capital One, for example, isn't among the top three issuers in our table, but its cards are many to others in some key ways: There are no earnings limits and rewards don't expire -- or get forfeited if you miss a payment.

Credit score printed, and below it excellent, good, and fair, with excellent checked off

Image source: Getty Images.

Credit score matters

Finally, note that your credit score can play an important part in the rewards you can reap from credit cards -- because many of the best cards out there require excellent credit scores. Thus, you might want to beef up your score before applying. Ways to increase your credit score include paying bills on time and not exceeding your credit limit.

The smarter you are about credit cards, the more rewards you can reap from them. Yes, they can help you drown in debt and that's bad, but if you're a savvy credit user, you can get more than you give.

Selena Maranjian owns shares of Amazon, Costco Wholesale, and JPMorgan Chase. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Costco Wholesale. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.