5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Rewards Credit Card

spring living

One of the best things about choosing to use a rewards credit card for your day-to-day spending is the points, miles or cash back you can earn every time you swipe. But it can be tricky. To make sure you’re getting the most out of your card, take a look at the tips below.

1. Pick a card that offers rewards you’ll actually use

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement around a new card that’s just hit the market. But before you apply, consider whether the card comes with a rewards program that actually fits your lifestyle. Otherwise, you might get stuck with a bunch of points or miles that you’ll never redeem — something that happens to 1 in 5 consumers, according to NerdWallet’s research on reward cards.

Doing some digging upfront to find a card that will be valuable to you is the key to ensuring you’ll get the most out of your plastic.

2. Know your card’s rewards earning structure

By investing a little time in reading your card’s terms and conditions, you might find there are ways to score extra points on certain kinds of spending.

For example, it’s common for travel credit cards to award extra points or miles for every dollar spent on dining out. Consequently, using your travel card when you take your family out to dinner or pick up your morning coffee is a smart idea, because it will help you get to your next vacation faster. Knowledge is power, so get familiar with the ins and outs of how to maximize earning your rewards.

3. Budget carefully every month

If you’re carrying a balance on your card and justifying it with all the rewards you’re earning, here’s a wake-up call: You’re paying out much more than you’re bringing in. Most credit cards return only about 1% of your spending in rewards, and charge double-digit interest rates on unpaid balances.

To make the math work in your favor, stick to a budget so you don’t put more on your card than you can pay off each month.

4. Keep your account in good standing

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with a credit card is to fall behind on payments. Miss one and your account will no longer be in good standing and your ability to earn rewards could be jeopardized. Also, your credit score will suffer.

The solution? Pay your credit card bill on time each month, preferably in full but at least the minimum due. Online bill pay can make that process fast and easy.

5. Be smart about redeeming your rewards

Many rewards cards have multiple options when it comes time to redeem points or miles. For example, in some cases you’ll be able to choose between travel credits or merchandise.

However, it’s common for points or miles to vary substantially in value depending on how you cash them in. Before you go through with a rewards redemption, do the math to figure out which choice will give you the most bang per point. After all, there’s no sense in using your rewards on a vacuum when they would go further if redeemed for airfare.

Following these tips can help sweeten the treats a rewards card can provide while you navigate the tricky ins and outs of how it all works.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Back-to-School Shopping Tips


As summer winds down, stores are already beginning the Back-to-School buzz. Is it the right time to buy school supplies? Here are some tips to help you budget and be a smarter consumer.

Go through the closets:

Before you make a list, it’s best to go through your closets and see if there are any items you could use for the upcoming school year. You may find a composition book, pens, pencils or even a binder or two. Take another look at items purchased last year. They may be able to last until Christmas time.

Make a list:

After going through the closet, create a list of what is needed. Decide what is needed instead of wanted. Remember to stick to the list so that you don’t go over budget.

Wait a little:

Waiting doesn’t seem to make sense as you go about shopping. Remember Sales Tax Holidays? Save money on larger more expensive items during the Sales Tax break. Also look out for promotions that may allow you to save even more green.

Be smart:

Do some research, there may be discounts, especially for college students. The Dollar Store could be a cheaper alternative for some items. Supplies such as paper or composition books may be cheaper if bought in bulk. Use coupons when possible.

Back-to-School shopping is also a great opportunity to teach your kids about being smart with money and making good financial decisions. Kids can will learn about recycling items and wants verses needs. Happy Shopping from BrightStar Credit Union!

Financial Goals: Staying Focused and Motivated

motivation monday 6.27

It’s the middle of the year. Remember that plan to save money this year? Here are some tips to help you stay on track to a richer 2016.

Envision success
Visualizing yourself enjoying the achievement of your goal can help you remember why you’re doing it in the first place. For example, if your goal is to replace you current junker with a new vehicle, imagine yourself enjoying a stress-free cruise in your new ride.

Give yourself rewards along the way
If your goal involves saving $5,000, build little “presents” in the plan for yourself. Like for every $1,000 saved you get to put $20 toward purchasing something for yourself.

Make it a partnership
Is a loved one also trying to reach a goal of their own? Make a pact to regularly check in with each other to monitor progress and offer encouragement. If you there isn’t someone close to you suited for this job, look for a financial support community online. If your goal involves other family members, do your best to not only include them in tracking progress, but get them excited about the process.

Build in reminders
Maybe it’s a Post-it note inside a cabinet you open regularly. Or perhaps it’s an electronic reminder sent via a computer scheduling application. It never hurts to get a reassuring hint that your goals are there for a reason. If you’re a highly visual person, consider putting a picture of your goal where you will see it a lot, like at your desk or in your car.

Treat setbacks as learning experiences
It’s unlikely that you will ever encounter entirely smooth sailing on your way to a financial goal. Because of this, it’s important to have the right attitude about the obstacles that spring up. If you get too discouraged, the whole plan could be lost. By treating unexpected jolts as opportunities for sharpening your skills, you put yourself in a better mind frame for ultimately reaching your destination.

Financial goals take work, but it doesn’t have to feel like work. By developing techniques to stay dialed in on the process of achieving your goals, you may even find the experience enjoyable!

Summer Fun on a Budget


Summer is here, kids are rejoicing and parents are trying to find something to do that won’t break the budget. Here is a list of fun, money-saving, local activities to do this summer:

South Florida is home to several parks that offer a variety of excursions for the entire family. Spend a day at C.B. Smith or T.Y. Park. Flamingo Gardens and Butterfly World allow you to see rare animals at minimal cost. Both C.B. Smith and T.Y. Park have water parks where you can cool off on a hot summer’s day.

More into science and culture? There are several museums for the family to explore in Broward. Young at Art Children’s Museum brings science, art and fun to life. There’s also the Museum of Science and Discovery, the Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum and the Antique Cars Museum. If you are up to the drive, there are several museums in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties as well.

Love the outdoors and animals? Try Miami Zoo, Palm Beach Zoo, Miami Seaquarium, the Little Farm or even Billie’s Swamp Safari for outdoor adventure.

Summer is a great time for the beach or doing things on the water. Stroll along on Hollywood Beach Boardwalk, fish off Dania Pier or ride along a bike path in Palm Beach County. There is also Bluefoot Pirate Adventures where your young adventurers can save the ship from those mean pirates. Water parks, such as Rapids Water Park, offer summer specials.

The ArtsPark at Young Circle in Hollywood has movie nights, glass blowing classes, food trucks, live music and much more. Other activities that you could take advantage of include laser tag, go-kart racing, bowling, miniature golf or even old school roller staking at Galaxy Skateway.

This is the beginning of the endless summer of fun and adventure for the family. Make the most of it. For more discounts on fun activities for the entire family visit the Sun Sentinel Lifestyle section: Summer fun on a budget

Moving Tips for Grads

shutterstock_195716396Graduation is here! For young adults going off to college or starting a career, it can be an exciting new beginning.  Here are some things to take into consideration as you start life in a new area.

  • Moving expenses: If your friends won’t do it for the price of a couple of pizzas, consider hiring some help or renting a moving van. Pack the essentials and sell unnecessary items on apps like OfferUp or Letgo. You may need to budget for storage in monthly expenses.


  • Security deposit: Most landlords require a security deposit, which is held as protection against damages to the premises or unpaid rent. This is usually required upfront with your first month’s rent.


  • Rent: If the rent is due by the first, always pay before the due date or on-time. Being a good tenant today will help you rent another place in the future. The last thing you want is to establish a bad relationship with your landlord – the very person you will turn to for a glowing rental history reference.


  • Utilities: Cable, Internet access, garbage, gas, electric, and water. You will soon understand why your parents were always telling you to turn the lights off when you leave the room. Cell phone bill? Consider switching to a family plan to help you save. If not, budget accordingly. You may not need all that data after all.


  • Furniture and appliances: Most rentals don’t come furnished. Depending on the room, you may have to buy a few key items to be somewhat comfortable-
  • Bedroom – bed, mattress, linens, pillows, dresser, rugs, lamp
  • Living room – sofa, chairs, coffee table, television, DVD player, stereo, lamps, rugs, pictures
  • Kitchen – table, utensils, dishes, cookware, microwave, cleaning supplies
  • Bathroom – hair dryer, shower curtain, bath mat

Sharing your home with roommates? Establish how the bills will be paid from the beginning. You may be able to split some. Another option is for one of you to act as money manager and collect from the others. However you arrange it, if the accounts are in your name, know that you are responsible for sending the complete payment in on time.

It is extremely important to pay all bills on time. If you don’t, you’ll probably be charged late payment fees, and if left unpaid, they will go to a collection agency. Dealing with collectors is not only highly unpleasant, but the negative effect on your credit report is severe. If you default on some, such as utilities, you may not be able to turn them on again until they’re paid (and even then it can be difficult).

Enjoy this time of your life and make the most of any situation.

Saving Green with your Car Color

car sale newletter

Things to think about when Purchasing a Car that may Save You Money

When picking the shade of a car to buy you might be thinking mostly about making a personal statement. But you may also want to think about how the hue will affect your bank statement too. Here are some factors to consider when making the choice.

One of the keys to avoiding costly accidents is to be seen by others on the road as clearly as possible. If you do a lot of driving at night, a dark car might not be a good buy since it will be harder for drivers around you to make you out from the surroundings. White is a good choice both for driving at night and in general. Gray cars on the other hand can be very difficult to see under certain conditions. Some manufacturers have even stopped making gray cars because of this.

Resale value
Unless you are buying a vehicle on its last legs, you will want to give some thought to your ability to sell the car after you are done with it. That lime green ride may fit your zany personality, but it could cost you hundreds of dollars when it comes time to sell the vehicle. Silver and white tend to be popular choices for those buying a used car.

If you live in an area that experiences high temperatures, having a dark car could mean more of the sun’s energy absorbed into the vehicle and more money spent on gas because of the need to run the air conditioning longer.

Unlike with clothes, the color black doesn’t hide stains very well on cars. In fact, black might be the worst color for dirt and grime – they tend to really stand out against the dark background. If you buy a darkly-colored car you may end up paying for more trips to the car wash to keep your vehicle looking sharp. Silver cars are known for keeping a clean appearance longer.

A couple of myths dispelled
There is no evidence that red cars get more speeding tickets. Also, no insurance company has ever said it charges more or less for certain car colors.

Steps for Rebuilding Credit


Know Your Starting Point
Obtain a copy of your credit report from all three credit bureaus so that you have a clear understanding of what is says about you and your current credit scores.

Develop A Plan
If there are errors on your credit report, have the credit bureaus investigate and correct them. Set goals and time frames for future major credit endeavors.

Bankruptcy Today – Homeowner Tomorrow
If you recently filed bankruptcy or if you don’t have any open credit, it is necessary to have new positive items being reported on your credit report. Try to obtain several new accounts or sources such a secured credit card, department store cards or being put on someone else’s account as an authorized user. The lower your starting credit scores, the more your need to have positive items reporting.

For secured cards remember the following:

  • Never carry over balances as the interest rates are very high.

  • Purchase one thing on credit that you would normally pay cash for – say for $20.00 and as soon as the bill arrives write the check and pay the bill. If paid in full during the 25 day grace period no interest is charged. Follow this practice consistently and NEVER miss a payment.

Keep Older Accounts Open
If you already have credit open, keep the accounts you have had for the longest period of time. Even if there were late payments on it in the past, pay it on time now and the length of time it has been open will help your credit.

Make Your Payments On Time

Pay Down Your Credit Card Balances
Target to have the total amount of outstanding revolving debt at 40%, or less, of the total available credit limits.

Once new positive sources are created, avoid all unnecessary inquiries – don’t fill out any additional applications for credit.

For home purchase or refinance, old collections/judgments/unpaid taxes/ unpaid child support/ must be dealt with. Look at the date of the item, compare to statute of limitations for that item, and plan a strategy to address each.

How to Save While Splurging

people having fun

Who says you have to live a life of austerity? Even those of us with serious budget constraints can often indulge in “non essential” items from time to time. Here are some of the most common splurges – and the thriftiest way to get them.

Books, magazines, music, DVD’s, videos: Remember the public library? Free. You just can’t keep what you borrow (but hey, it reduces clutter). Or buy used – the written word does not age. Pre-owned music and movies are often a bargain, and if you purchase from a reputable source you can usually return it if it doesn’t work. Oh, and after you are done enjoying it? Sell it back.

Gourmet coffee: Fancy coffee drinks can easily run over three dollars a cup. Rather than forgo the café altogether, order drip coffee for a third the price. Doctor it up with flavored creams, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chocolate that are usually provided for free. Or switch to tea – it’s almost always the least expensive item on the menu.

Theater Tickets: Simply must see the latest show? Go for free by volunteering to be an usher. Inexpensive seats can often be had during preview nights and matinee seatings. Discounts are usually available for groups, teachers, seniors, and students. For performances that haven’t sold out, theaters will often sell remaining tickets (called “rush tickets”) hours before curtain time for a fraction of their original cost. Many big cities have ticket outlets that sell day-of-the-show tickets for half-price.

Organic grocery items: Die-hard organic food aficionados will debate whether pesticide-free, free-range products are a luxury or a necessity, but no matter – they can often be bought without the considerable markups associated with luxury grocery stores. Farmers markets, co-ops, even swap meets are all good places to seek deals. Stock up and freeze organic delicacies when they are at the peak of their season, abundant and cheap.

Fine dining: If it’s the white tablecloth experience you’re craving more than the actual food, refrain from going when you’re starving so you’re not tempted to over order. Or go for lunch or breakfast rather than dinner – the food is the same but the cost is greatly reduced. Look for coupons and promotions in local newspapers. Many frugal foodies invest in “Entertainment” books. They offer “two-for-one” deals at some of the most exclusive restaurants in town (as well as for more reasonably-priced eateries).

Massages: True, it’s not the same as the real thing, but massage chairs can work wonders for tired, stressed-out shoppers. A famous luxury store located in most malls almost always has display models on the floor, just waiting for some weary soul to sit in them. Investigate massage schools in your area too – they are often on the lookout for people to practice on.

Cosmetics and beauty products: Let’s face it, when we buy department store products, it’s often the label we are attracted to, not the superior quality. So buy the item from your favorite line with the absolute lowest price point: i.e., a $12 make-up remover rather than the $120 eye cream. “Gift with purchase” promotions are a great way to stock up on indulgent skin care products and cosmetics as well. For the price of a lipstick and a sun block you can get a whole slew of complimentary goodies.

Designer clothes, accessories, jewelry: Fashion mavens on a shoestring look to consignment stores, online auctions, and estate sales to purchase top-notch glitz for a fraction of what it would cost new or retail. Even thrift shops sometimes stock high-end items, particularly if they are located in the swankier part of town. Look for shops that benefit the ballet or the symphony; moneyed fashionistas often donate to them first. Designer-inspired goods are another way to get the look of luxe. Low-cost replicas make real sense for trendy fashions.

Classes: Community colleges offer some of the best educational courses around, and for rock bottom prices. If you care more about the knowledge than the credit, ask about auditing the class for free.

Hair salons: Have some time on your hands? Be a hair model at a high-end salon. It will take longer than if you are paying for it, but since highlights and a cut often cost several hundred dollars, an extra hour (or two) in the chair is often the most economical way to get the latest look.

Spas: Okay, so the spa really is a major splurge. But instead of wishfully pressing your nose against the windows of your favorite indulgence, consider booking an appointment for a manicure or for time in the steam room rather than a pricey facial or body treatment.

Health clubs: Avoid signing up for a membership in January, that’s when most gyms bump up prices for countless New Year’s resolution makers. Be on the lookout for specials that are offered in the summer months. Find out if a portion of the initiation fee and membership dues are covered by your health plan. Inquire about family memberships or if you can get an extra discount if a friend joins with you – it pays to ask. Do not be afraid to negotiate fees with the salesperson – prices are rarely set in stone.