3 Credit Card Mistakes I've Made During the Pandemic

by Maurie Backman | Updated May 17, 2022 - First published on June 11, 2021

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A woman looking frustrated with a credit card in her hand while looking at a laptop.

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As someone who writes about credit cards, you'd think I'd be smarter with mine. Guess again.

Like many people, my lifestyle changed a lot during the pandemic. I used to spend my evenings shuttling my kids to and from activities and spend weekends rushing to birthday parties and gatherings. But this past year, all that was off the table. My kids did their extracurriculars via Zoom. We did attend a few drive-by birthday parades, but our schedule wasn't nearly as jam-packed as it would normally be.

Not only did my schedule shift, but my spending habits changed too. But that actually caused me to make a few major credit card blunders I'm really not proud of. Here are three ways I cost myself money at a time when I should've been more mindful.

1. Not canceling a travel card with an annual fee

In 2019, I opened a travel rewards card that came with a $95 annual fee, which was waived for the first year. The offer made sense at the time. By charging a single flight on that card, I was eligible for a whopping number of bonus miles that got me a second flight for free.

I had plans to fly at several points in 2020. But then the pandemic struck, and those trips were canceled. What I didn't do, however, was cancel my travel card. And that card was virtually worthless because I wasn't taking trips. That forgetfulness meant I effectively threw away $95 when my initial year was up.

The good news is that once I realized my mistake, I put the card's renewal date on my calendar and canceled it before I had to pay again. I'm hoping to take some road trips this year, I don't have plans to fly anywhere, so it made sense to cancel the card. And since I have credit cards that have been open much longer than 2019, closing it didn't hurt my credit score.

2. Not applying for a new card whose rewards better aligned with my spending

My go-to credit card offers a nice amount of cash back on gas fill-ups and restaurant meals. In a normal year, I tend to drive all over town and take long road trips with my family. As such, I have a solid opportunity to rack up rewards. Last year, however, I hardly filled up my car, and we only took one short weekend trip that didn't require a ton of gas. And while my family did order takeout on occasion, we cut back on restaurant meals significantly.

The result? I got very little cash back from that card. I should've instead opened a new credit card that would reward me for the things I was buying, like extra groceries and household supplies. At this point, I'm in the process of comparing different offers to see which card will best sync up with my spending in the near term. But I'll be keeping my go-to card. That account has been open for several years, so I don't want to reduce my overall account age by closing it. Plus, I hope I'll be back to driving more often once things improve on the pandemic front.

3. Letting store points expire

One of my credit cards gives out rewards in the form of store dollars which expire several months after they're issued. Before the pandemic started, I bought a batch of clothing for my kids and racked up $25 in store rewards, which can be redeemed in person or online. But then everything changed, and suddenly, nobody was leaving the house. New clothing wasn't on my radar, and I forgot about those points and let them expire.

Now, I put those expiration dates on my calendar. My kids are constantly destroying their clothing -- socks in particular. The reality is that I can always use store cash, even if I've recently done a major shopping haul. And I figure why let even a $5 reward go to waste if all it takes is a calendar reminder to prevent that from happening?

We all make mistakes, and to be fair, we've all had a lot to deal with during the pandemic, myself included. I don't want to beat myself up too much for these blunders. At the same time, I'm forcing myself to do better going forward. Losing money or missing out on free money makes no sense -- whether there's a major global health crisis or not.

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