Let's face it: We've been spoiled by our credit cards. A low interest rate and no annual fee aren't enough anymore. We've come to expect cash back on our purchases, free airline tickets and upgrades on hotels and rental cars. And just in case our spending gets out of control, we want a low balance-transfer rate.
But just when consumers discover how to use their credit cards as smart money-management tools, card issuers find ways to get back on top. For instance, we're paying more fees for more services more often than ever before: maintenance fees, late fees, convenience-check fees and annual fees in exchange for rebates, among others.The truth is that getting a good deal isn't easy. Which deals are best for you depends on how much you charge, whether you travel a lot and whether you carry a balance.
If you have your spending under control, you just want to know which incentive card offers the best deal for you. The short answer is: none of them - unless you pay off the balance every month. Virtually all rebate cards carry higher interest rates than their non-incentive counterparts.
If you pay in full every month, the question comes down to how much you charge.
If you charge about $500 a month, the best deals by far are grocery rebate cards. With these cards, you usually get the most generous rebates at the grocery checkout and smaller rebates on other purchases. Most grocery cards charge no annual fee.
If you live near a Giant supermarket but don't shop there, consider switching supermarkets. The Giant Visa (800-590-2284) is one of the most attractive deals around - 3 percent on in-store purchases and 1 percent on purchases made elsewhere - giving you $180 back annually if you spend the whole $6,000 at Giant.
Other grocery rebate cards include Marsh Fresh Idea Visa (1 percent on any purchase; 800-774-2424), ShopRite MasterCard (1 percent on ShopRite purchases, 0.5 percent elsewhere; 800-392-8352) and Kroger MasterCard (1 percent on your first $2,500 of Kroger purchases, 2 percent on charges above that at Kroger; 1 percent rebate on purchases made elsewhere; 800-927-0380).
If you're a big spender, the Private Issue by Discover card ($18 annual fee; 800-474-2273) is a great deal, offering $327 cash back if you charge $24,000 a year ($500 maximum rebate per year).