Here are two sets of credit cards that can help you with maximizing the amount of rewards you get back from making everyday transactions.
If you’re like me, a soon-to-graduate college student spending a decent amount per month, and you have some experience with credit cards but just want to know what’s ideal, this might be the guide for you.
To start off, you might need to check your credit score, what card companies use to determine if you’re worthy and responsible enough for a credit card based on your history with credit cards and debt. I use CreditKarma — it’s free and their UI is great and easy to use. For the cards I’m suggesting I would recommend a credit score of at least 700, but note that even with a good score there is some unpredictability when applying for cards.
Keep in mind to understand that applying for new credit may lower your credit score in the short term, so if you are taking on any loans/mortgages soon, I would hesitate to app new cards.
Note: I recommend you follow up with your own research about cards before you apply for them. This guide also assumes that getting credit cards doesn’t change your spending habits and assumes that you do pay off your balances in full each month. Otherwise, any rewards you earn would be offset by the interest you lose in keeping a balance on your card.
All of these cards have a $0 annual fee unless otherwise stated.
To understand travel rewards, I want to first introduce Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Points system. When you earn 1 cent of “cash back” with Chase, you are actually earning one Ultimate Rewards (UR) point. These UR points are normally redeemable for 1 cent each, however, Chase’s Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve cards unlock more power with your points, letting you redeem them for 1.25x or 1.5x (cents per point) towards travel and unlocking the ability for you to convert UR points to airline miles for their partner airlines.
With the following trio, you’re looking at (when redeemed for travel with a Chase Sapphire Reserve) of at least 4.5% back on travel and dining, 7.5% on special quarterly categories (via Chase Freedom), and 2.25% back on all other purchases, towards travel. That’s pretty strong!!
That said, starting off early with these cards to generate a solid base of UR points can get you large rewards when you decide to get a Sapphire and cash out (or “travel out”) those rewards. The 3 card system is here as follows:
The Chase Freedom earns 5% back in Ultimate Rewards points in rotating quarterly categories (maximum $1500 for the 5% reward, then 1% cash back afterwards) and 1% back on everything else. This card is also generally regarded as the easiest UR point earning card to get from Chase.
The Chase Freedom also earns a $150 bonus (in the form of 15k UR points) after $500 spend in the first 3 months
This card earns unlimited 1.5% back in Ultimate Rewards on every purchase. The Chase Freedom Unlimited also earns a $150 bonus (in the form of 15k UR points) after $500 spend in the first 3 months
This card is the reason why this Chase combo is so powerful. It earns 3x points on travel and dining and 1 point on all else, and allows you to redeem UR points at 1.5x towards travel (flight, hotel, car, etc) bookings through the Chase travel portal. When used exclusively for travel, this effectively multiplies all your Chase rewards by at least 1.5x
It does have a $450 annual fee, but it earns a $300 annual travel credit that automatically applies to travel expenditures like flights, hotels and Uber, so your net annual fee is more like $150, assuming you spend that $300. It also has a $100 credit towards TSA Pre or Global Entry applied every 4 years.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve also earns a 50k points bonus after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months, around a $750 value when redeemed through their travel portal.
If you’re not too keen on traveling and looking for a (slightly less net $ amount value) in cash back, this two-card combo could be really powerful for you. With this duo, you’re looking at 4% back on dining, 3% back on travel, and 2% back on everything else.
This card is a solid all-around cash back card and often the baseline which travel bloggers compare other credit cards to. It earns 2% back on all purchases — 1% when the card is charged, and 1% when paying off your balance — use it for any purchase where you are not earning more with another card’s special category.
As of the time of posting, the Citi Double Cash also earns a $100 bonus after spending $500 on the card within the first 3 months.
This card is a solid cash back card for spenders on dining and travel — two potential high expenditures that college and new grads would make. This card earns 4% back on dining and 3% back on travel,along with 2% back on online purchases and subscriptions, but you could use your Citi Double Cash for that.
As of the time of posting, the Uber Barclays Visa also earns a $100 bonus after spending $500 on the card. You also can get a $50 statement credit towards certain online subscriptions for spending $5000 on the card each year, a potential 1% bonus if you are a big spender on the card.
I would recommend these if you have a decent amount of spend on these other categories.
The American Express Blue Cash credit card earns 3% on groceries and 2% back on gas. It has a $150 bonus for spending $1000 in the first 3 months.
The Bank of America Cash Rewards card can net you 3% on gas and 2% on groceries. It has a $150 bonus for spending $500 in the first 90 days.
A fairly good alternative is the Citi Costco Anywhere Visa card, which earns 4% on gas and 3% on dining and travel, but requires a Costco membership, and no foreign transaction fees.
As a college student, you’re in a good place to build credit and earn some travel (or cash back) rewards that you could cash out for post-grad travels or expenses. Here are two powerful card combinations that you could use for maximum rewards.