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These days, you can't swing a banana without hitting a credit card with rewards on everyday purchases like gas and groceries. But while groceries are certainly a big part of the family budget, they're hardly the only big bill on the list.
In my family, some of our largest bills come from the utility company -- and the rest are from the cable and cellphone providers. And we're hardly the only ones. But where are all the cards offering bonus rewards for keeping the lights on?
Well, there is one: the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card. And I used mine to save $552 on my bills and utilities in just one year.
Earning rewards with the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card
When I first found this card, I couldn't believe I'd never heard of it before. Here was a cash back credit card with no annual fee that let me choose my own bonus categories.
U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card cardholders need to activate their bonus categories each quarter. Each user can select one 2% cash back category of grocery stores, gas stations, or restaurants. But the real draw is the two -- yes, two -- 5% cash back categories. Plus, you can choose from a long list of options, many of which are rare for rewards cards. I always select:
- Home utilities
- Cell phone providers
Unlike the 2% category which has no spending cap, the bonus rewards from the 5% cash back categories aren't limitless. Unfortunately, you'll only earn that rate on the first $2,000 in combined 5% bonus purchases each quarter. After that, your 5% category purchases will default to the base 1% cash back rate.
For us, that cap is just fine. We nearly always manage to max out our rewards -- we live in Florida, where air conditioners run nearly year-round and summertime cooling can cost a lot. But we've rarely lost out on significant rewards because of the earnings limit. We make sure all our purchases go onto the credit card that offers the best rewards, so this card is only for utilities and cellphone bills. That way we maximize our overall earnings.
All in all, with just bills and utilities alone, we had a net gain of $352 from our US Bank Cash+ in just one year. Why do I say a net gain? Because using a credit card to pay your utilities isn't always free (more on this below).
Don't discount the sign-up bonus
So, if we came away with $352 in cash back rewards, where did we get the rest of the $552 in earnings? From the sign-up bonus, of course!
The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card has a pretty good bonus for a card with no annual fee. It offers new cardholders $200 in cash back for spending just $500 in the first 90 days. Seeing as how my electric bill alone cost me more than $500 in that time, this bonus was a zero-effort way to earn an extra $200.
Considerations before charging your utility bills
The first step is to find out whether your utility company will allow you to pay your bills with a credit card at all. These days, most of them will take online card payments, though some may only accept credit cards from specific networks. For example, your utility company may only accept Visa cards, or may not allow you to use a certain credit card.
Another important thing to keep in mind if you want to use a credit card to pay your electric, gas, or water bill is the potential for extra fees. Credit card networks charge processing fees every time you use your credit card. Fees vary by network, but most are around 1% to 3% of the purchase amount.
Many businesses simply eat those fees or roll them into the final cost of the product. Utility companies, however, tend to pass the credit card processing fee -- often called a convenience fee -- right on to you. These fees can be flat-rate charges, or they may be a percentage of your payment amount.
Remember when I talked about the net gain from our cash back? That's because I subtracted the $48 in processing fees we paid to use our U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card to pay our utility bills. As you can see, though, even with the extra fees, we definitely came out ahead with our rewards card. It certainly beats using an ACH bank transfer, debit card, or (shudder) a check.