A 33-year-old retired teacher uses a simple credit card strategy to maximize his cash back rewards

  • Steve Chen keeps a calendar to track cash-back rewards for each credit card he has. 
  • He estimates this strategy helps him earn $50 to $100 back each month in cash back. 
  • Using a spreadsheet and keeping a calendar are great ways to help you maximize your returns. 
  • Read Insider’s guide to the best cash-back credit cards

This page includes information about the Discover it® Cash Back product, which is currently not available on Insider and may be out of date.

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Steve Chen was a math teacher at a middle school in Los Angeles, California, before he retired at the age of 33. Even though he was excited to start his career, after looking at his first paycheck, he knew it wasn’t going to be enough for him to support the lifestyle he wanted to live. 

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Chen was on a fixed salary every month, and so he decided to start doing some digging to figure out ways he could stretch his money. Between saving, investing, and side hustling, he was able to quit his job six years later.

Along the way, he picked up some key strategies that he implements to this day. One of his favorites is figuring out how to maximize his credit card rewards — and with this approach, he estimates he earns anywhere from $50 to $100 cash back a month. 

Strategies to earn the most cash back from credit cards

Chen keeps a calendar to keep track of which cards are offering the most cash back rewards during a specific time period. Some cards rotate bonus categories every quarter, and other offer promotions or increase earnings on certain purchases for a limited time. His wallet includes the Chase Freedom® (no longer open to new applicants), Chase Freedom Unlimited®, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, and the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card. 

Chen doesn’t spend more money than he normally would — in fact, he’s strict with his budget and finds ways to cut back. But when it comes to necessities he regularly purchases, such as groceries and gas, he alternates the card he uses based on which one is offering the most cash back at the time. 

Whether you have one credit card or a few, keeping track of rewards programs can be tricky. Here are some tips to help you implement a similar strategy so you don’t miss out on opportunities to maximize your cash-back rewards. 

We’re focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won’t be worth it if you’re paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it’s important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.

Be aware of changes banks make to their rewards programs 

Credit cards like the Chase Freedom®, Chase Freedom Flex℠, and Discover it® Cash Back offer bonus categories that rotate every quarter.

For example, from April 1 to June 30, 2021, you can earn 5% cash back (5x points) on up to $1,500 in combined purchases (then 1%) at gas stations and home improvement stores when you activate the bonus on the Chase Freedom® and Chase Freedom Flex℠. 

Now more than ever, banks are announcing new ways of earning and redeeming rewards throughout the pandemic, in an effort to keep their cards competitive and appealing to customers. Some have boosted rewards earnings for a limited time in popular quarantine spending categories, such as at grocery stores, streaming services, and food delivery. As a result, cardholders can now rack up more credit card points than ever before, even while spending less. 

Figure out a system to keep track of your cards’ rewards programs and their dates

Keeping track of credit card rewards changes, and the expiration dates for limited-time promotions, can seem difficult, so having a calendar at hand is very helpful.

If you love staying digital, you can use online calendars from Outlook or Google to manually key in important dates for each card so you can easily check it from your phone. If you prefer the paper route, writing it out on a calendar you keep on your wall or in a planner is another great idea. 

Insider has put together a list of the latest limited-time bonuses in the most popular categories, so you can choose the right credit card for your purchases. 

A good starting point is to visit your credit card issuer’s website. Most have a rewards portal for each card that gets updated regularly. You should be checking these links on a monthly basis. 

Use a spreadsheet that lists all your cards in one place

Once you’ve identified the web pages where you can access updated credit card rewards details, it’s best to keep this information in one place. If you use multiple cards, a spreadsheet is one good way to keep track of all your options.

Start by listing all the cards you currently hold and link each one to its rewards portal. This is also a great place to note your balances and when they are due, so that you don’t miss any payments along the way. If you’re trying to earn the most rewards (and improve your credit score), it’s important to pay your credit card balance in full and on time each month — otherwise, the interest and fees you’ll accrue will negate the value of the rewards you earn.

Laila Maidan is the personal-finance-storytelling fellow at Insider. She covers personal stories about peoples’ financial journeys. Have a story about a financial accomplishment to share? Email [email protected].

Citi Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit CardChase Chase Freedom Unlimited®

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