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When used wisely, a credit card that offers perks and rewards can be a beneficial financial tool. But to make a rewards card worthwhile, you need to understand what you’re getting into and how to make it work to your advantage. Here are some tips for making the most of credit card rewards:

Match Rewards to your Lifestyle

If you have a credit card that offers terrific airline miles but you’re someone who doesn’t travel much, those rewards won’t do you any good. Be sure to choose a rewards card that offers perks that are meaningful and valuable to you. When in doubt, a card that offers cash back rewards is the way to go.

Understand the Terms

Make sure you know all the terms that apply to earning and redeeming your rewards. Often, there are special introductory offers that are good only for a limited time, after which the amount of rewards you receive will change. Buying airfare with earned miles can sometimes be tricky, so familiarize yourself with any restrictions, such as blackout dates. Certain cashback cards stop paying back once you reach a certain threshold. And remember to find out when your rewards expire so they don’t go to waste.

Take Advantage of Other Perks

Your card might offer more than miles or cash back. Reward cards often include other valuable advantages including purchase protection, which may allow you to be reimbursed if an item purchased with the card is lost, stolen or damaged. Some cards also offer travel insurance, and even price protection. With price protection, if you purchase an item and then find it elsewhere for less within a given time frame, your card will be credited the difference.

Don’t Carry a Balance

If you’re carrying a balance on a rewards credit card, you might as well not be getting any rewards at all. Paying a high interest rate on the balance will negate any benefits you reap from the rewards. Make your rewards really count by paying off your balance in full every month.

Keep Up with Changes

Rewards programs change frequently, and you might not know about the changes if you don’t seek out the information. Your card company may include notices in paper statements, but if you pay your bills online, that information is easy to overlook. Get in the habit of checking for any changes when you pay your bill every month, or simply call customer service (Yes! That’s still an option.) and ask them to fill you in on the latest rewards news.

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