Summer is in full swing. With that comes dreams of vacations—booking a flight out of town, gassing up and hitting the road, or planning a staycation and setting up a brand new BBQ in the backyard.

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With the often high price tag attached to many of summer’s fun activities, it’s no wonder that many credit card holders are swapping their basic card for one that offers rewards in return for everyday spending. Reward programs can provide points for travel, gas, and a list of other consumer products, making the dream of a perfect summer holiday a reality.

But not all rewards cards are created equal, and some may be better suited for you than others.

Here are a few tips to help you narrow down the options and get the best rewards card for you:

1)    Figure out which program is right for you. Maybe you’re a frequent flyer that can gobble up those points quickly, or maybe deals on gas make more sense for your situation. Or perhaps you’ve just moved and need to furnish your home or backyard. Think about your needs, and find the best fit for you, with rewards you’ll actually use and will be beneficial to your finances long-term. Check out some of the reward programs offered by Visa, MasterCard and American Express.

2)    Only buy what you need. Don’t make rewards points an excuse to spend. You’ll do yourself no favors if you rack up credit card bills trying to get a deal. Instead, use your card to make purchases you actually need. Put your rewards plan to work at the grocery store, drug store, to pay for orders and services online, and so on. In other words, don’t spend unnecessarily just to get points.

3)    Keep a zero balance. If you end up paying interest on purchases made, you may be undermining your best efforts to spend wisely. These cards tend to have very high interest rates, some as high as 30 percent, so if you maintain a balance you’ll certainly be paying for it. On top of that, many rewards cards will only let you claim the maximum available points if the card is clear.

4)    Understand the ROI. Do you need to spend $100,000 to be eligible to cash in your points for a BBQ? Your rewards card might not be working as hard as you think. Read up on programs and reward tiers before committing to a card, and be sure to compare and contrast. Use sites like, CardHub, or CreditKarma to conduct a little research.

5)    Don’t spend twice. Because many of these cards have a fee attached, understand what that covers. You may find that you have travel or car insurance on the card, for example, so no need to purchase that separately when you go on a trip.

The bottom line is, read the fine print. Understand how the card works, what you are paying for, and what you get in return. Be informed and do the groundwork to find the card that’s right for you and will help you get the most out of summer.

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