4 Credit Card Mistakes I Regret Making

by Maurie Backman | Updated May 19, 2022 - First published on Aug. 27, 2021

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We all make mistakes. Here's how I mismanaged my credit cards -- and how you can avoid doing the same.

Being a personal finance writer doesn't always prevent me from making my share of mistakes in that arena. In fact, I've made a number of credit card blunders in my day that have cost me money. Here are a few I'd like to share in the hopes that others won't follow my lead.

1. Letting rewards expire

One of my credit cards gives me reward certificates I can redeem at a retail chain I shop at often. Those certificates come with expiration dates, and right before the pandemic, I'd done some shopping and racked up some rewards. But then when everything blew up, cashing in my rewards certificate for a pair of jeans or a sweater just didn't take priority. So I accidentally let that benefit expire before I could use it.

Now I'm not totally beating myself up for this one. To be fair, it was early in the pandemic, I was trying to juggle a full-time job while helping my children navigate remote school from our living room, and I had other priorities to deal with. But still, it was unfortunate that I didn't cash out my reward, and I've since made a point to put those certificates' expiration dates on my calendar to avoid a repeat.

2. Not pursuing better rewards

For several years, I had the same credit card that offered 1% cash back on purchases with revolving bonus categories that offered 5% back on certain purchases. That card didn't work well for me because the items I spend the most on, like gas and groceries, were never eligible for added rewards. Rather, those bonus categories encompassed things like home improvement and department stores, which I do spend some money at, but not as much.

It took me a while to replace that card with a new one that came with a better rewards program. Had I done so sooner, I could've started earning more generous rewards sooner. I think a part of me was afraid to change things up since I was so used to that one credit card, but in hindsight, that was a silly reason for stalling.

3. Spending extra to snag a sign-up bonus

Sign-up bonuses are a great way to score free cash. But that's only if you don't have to spend extra to claim them.

Years back, I qualified for a credit card with a $500 sign-up bonus that required me to spend $3,000 within three months of opening the account. Because I had so many bills set to autopay on a different card, and I was too lazy to change that, I didn't meet my spending limit naturally. I wound up having to push myself to spend extra money to hit that $3,000 threshold, which, really, didn't benefit me financially in the end.

What I should've done was wait to apply for that card at the time that I was booking my summer vacation. That would've made it easier to meet the spending requirement.

4. Not canceling an annual fee card I wasn't using

Before the pandemic, I opened a travel rewards card that came with a $95 annual fee. Unfortunately, that card was of no use to me last year since I wasn't traveling anywhere, and I forgot to cancel it. The result? I paid $95 for absolutely no reason.

I've since gone and canceled that card. I didn't have the account open for very long, and I knew that doing so wouldn't really impact the length of my credit history, which is a factor that goes into calculating your credit score. Though I've already been traveling a bit more this summer, I'm not planning to fly anywhere just yet. So I figure it makes more sense to open a new travel rewards card once I'm ready to start booking air travel.

We all make mistakes, and while I'm not proud of the ones above, I do take comfort in my ability to share them with the world. That way, I can at least prevent other people from falling victim to the same set of traps.

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