WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH...


Those Shrinking Rebates

Managing rebates and rewards used to be almost as important as staying on top of your credit-card balances and interest rates -- and it was way more fun. But some of those once-generous cards have turned stingy.

Case in point: Chase dropped its Rewards Plus Visa card, replacing it with the Freedom card. Freedom lets you switch back and forth between cash rebates and rewards points -- which are good for airline tickets, hotel stays, gift certificates and the like. But Rewards Plus doled out 5% rebates on qualifying purchases; Freedom pays only 3%. And you earn that 3% only on the first $600 worth of qualified purchases each month, after which you get 1%. Drugstore purchases (expensive prescriptions, for example) no longer qualify for the higher rebate, although food from Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts does. On the plus side, when you reach $200 in rewards points you can redeem them for a $250 check. But it would take six months and $2,135 in charges (including the $600 earning 3%) to earn that many points.

On some cards, American Express quit granting double rewards points on everyday purchases, limiting points to purchases from certain online retailers. In mid October, Citibank slashed its Dividend card rebate from 5% to 2%.

Annoying as the new policies may be, don't be too quick to switch cards if you're otherwise satisfied with the service and the interest rate. Terms and conditions can change overnight, so chasing a credit-card reward may prove, well, unrewarding.


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