Can credit cards help you spend responsibly?
It’s easy to go crazy with your credit card.
But some card issuers are rewarding their customers with financial incentives, like low interest rates, no fees, even cash-back bonuses, if they use their cards more responsibly.
Are these programs worth taking advantage of? It depends on how responsible you are with your credit card.
Here’s a look at three programs from major card issuers.
Chase Blueprint (http://www.chaseblueprint.com/#/home): Chase offers a free budget-tracking feature for people with its Chase Platinum, Sapphire, Freedom, Slate and business credit cards.
It lets you design custom payment plans, which are separated out on your monthly card statements, and create spending or budgeting goals so that you can also monitor your progress on monthly statements.
One option is to separate your charges into specific categories. If you pay off those categories in full each month, you won’t be charged interest on them, even if you carry a balance overall.
You can arrange to pay off a large purchase by deciding how much of it you want to pay off every month or how fast you want to pay it off, and your monthly statement will show how well you’re doing on that goal every month.
If you want to pay down your balance faster, you can set a goal date or monthly payment, and Blueprint will do the math for you and also show your progress on the monthly statement.
And if you want to create a spending budget -- so you put less on your credit card -- Blueprint offers a feature that lets you review your spending history, use a Household Budget Calculator to set up spending goals for specific purchase categories, set up budgets for them and see how well you do in staying on track every month.
To start using the features, it’s wise to first take Blueprint’s eight-question quiz to determine your financial style and what options to take advantage of. Chase says that by mapping out their expenses, Blueprint users pay their balances twice as fast as similar, non-Blueprint users.
The caveat: Blueprint comes in handy if you carry a balance on your card. If you don’t, well, there’s no need to use Blueprint. While Blueprint offers good tools for paying down your card, the goal really is to be past the point of using them.
Citi Simplicity (https://citisimplicity.com): Citi considers this an "uncomplicated" credit card.
And it’s certainly easy to understand the key features: 0% APR for 21 months on balance transfers and purchases, no annual fees or late fees, no late-payment penalties, and one single interest rate for all payments, balance transfers and cash advances.
Citi Simplicity is ideal for people who are responsible in paying off their cards, want more straightforward payment terms and less chance of unexpected fees.
The caveat: Simplicity doesn’t come cheap. After the 21 months of no APR, the "simple" rate for all purchases and transfers is 17%.
That’s significantly higher than the average consumer non-rewards credit card rate of 14.9%.
Speaking of rewards, this card doesn’t have any. If you’re a fiscally responsible cardholder who wants a little reward for paying off your balance without fees, then you’ll need to look elsewhere for those perks.
Discover Motiva (http://www.discovercard.com/motiva/): This credit card aims to go beyond the typical cash-back rewards card.
Not only does it give you rebates when you use the card for purchases, it rewards you if you make your payments on time.
It’s a good card for getting you in the habit of making prompt payments; make six on-time payments in a row, and you’ll earn a credit amount of 5% of a full month’s interest.
For example, if you were charged $50 in interest for a particular month, and you pay on time, you’ll receive $2.50 cash back. Essentially this lowers your interest rate.
The introductory APR of 4% on balance transfers and purchases lasts for 15 months, and there’s no annual fee.
Regarding cash-back rewards, you receive 0.25% in cash back if you spend $3,000 or less each year. More than $3,000, you get 1% on purchases.
Use Discover’s online shopping mall, and you’ll get 5% to 20% back in rebates, with no limit on the amount of cash-back bonuses you can earn.
The caveat: While we like the "good behavior" bonus for paying on time, a 5% bonus on an interest payment probably won’t amount to much unless you use the card to finance major purchases -- and that’s something you would opt to do with a card that offers a 0% introductory APR.
And after the 15-month introductory rate, Motiva’s APR goes jumps up anywhere between 12% and 20%, depending on your credit score.
Regarding cash-back rewards, the premier one only kicks in after you’ve spent more than $3,000 a year, and even then it’s only 1%.
There are other cards, such as Discover’s own More Card (http://www.discovercard.com/more), which offers up to 5% cash-back rewards and a 0% APR.
So while this is a good rewards card for on-time payments, if you are truly a responsible user who pays down your card regularly, there are other cards that will reward you with bigger cash-back benefits.
However, if your credit score won’t let you qualify for a better offer, you can use the Motiva card to bring your score up from "good" to "excellent."