5 Tasks for Your Year-End Credit Card Checklist

December is an ideal time to make sure you’re maximizing any credit card benefits that may reset or expire at the end of the year. This is especially true if you’re paying for those benefits through an annual fee. It’s also a good time to review your spending habits to make sure the card you’re using is right for you.

Here’s an end-of-year checklist that can help ensure you’re getting the most out of your credit card.

1. Use your credits

Some credit cards offer statement credits for certain types of spending throughout the year, but terms and expiration dates tend to apply. If it’s a recurring credit, it’s often a use-it-or-lose-it perk, meaning you can’t roll over any unused amount to the next month or year.

If the recurring benefit is awarded annually, it’s also important to know whether it resets each calendar year, or on every cardholder anniversary, the month or date you opened the account. Either way, aim to make your purchase a few days before that date so that it posts to your statement on time. Pending charges that officially post afterward may not qualify.

And as with any credit card benefit, don’t overspend on goods or services you don’t want or need just to get a small discount.

Types of common credits include:

  • General travel purchases: Many rewards cards offer travel credits to offset eligible travel purchases at airlines, hotels, cruise lines and car rental agencies.
  • Airline incidentals: If you’re traveling over the holidays, you can typically apply airline incidental credits to checked baggage, seat upgrades, and in-flight purchases like food and beverages.
  • Streaming: Credits for streaming services like Netflix and Spotify have become commonplace. Often, these are distributed on a monthly basis. “We pay for Hulu, HBO Max and Paramount Plus using the streaming credits on our card,” said Deb Toner, a resident of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who works in the TV and movie industry. “Because of the cost of annual fees, I want to make sure I get every single penny out of it.”
  • Lifestyle: This may include credits for food delivery services, fitness subscriptions or rideshare services.
  • Miscellaneous: Your card may even offer credits at specific department stores, online retailers or subscriptions.

2. Maximize any bonuses linked to spending

Some airline and hotel cards offer benefits like upgraded loyalty status or free night certificates once you spend a certain amount per year on your card. If you’re close to a bonus spending threshold, ask yourself if the benefit would provide enough value to warrant additional spending on the card before the end of the year. If so, you might want to prioritize hitting that target.

But you’ll want to have a plan for using the loyalty status or the free-night certificates before you chase them.

3. Review free trials that may be expiring

Many credit cards offer free introductory trials for premium subscription services at food delivery or rideshare companies. Even if your trial doesn’t expire at the end of the year, now would be a good time to review the promotion terms and — if you’re not interested in keeping the service — set a calendar reminder to cancel it before you’re charged for another year.

And of course, free trial or not, the end of the year is also a good time to review the services you’re already paying for, to make sure they’re still worth it.

4. Consider dusting off unused credit cards

If you stuck your credit card into a sock drawer to avoid the temptation to overspend with it, you may be better off keeping it there. But be aware that many issuers will automatically close credit cards that have been inactive for an extended period, and that closure can come with consequences.

That’s because two big factors that affect your credit scores are credit utilization and length of credit history, and an account closure can negatively impact both.

Credit utilization is the percentage of your available credit that you’re using, and ideally you want to keep that figure low. Losing a line of credit might make that harder to do. “If closing a credit card removes some of the available credit and makes the revolving utilization increase, it could result in a loss of points” from your scores, said Tom Quinn, vice president of FICO Scores, in an email.

And an account closure may also drag down the length of your credit history, depending on how old that account is.

“Bottom line — there is no FICO score benefit associated with closing a revolving account,” Quinn said.

5. Look behind to plan ahead

As the year draws to a close, review your spending habits to see where your money is going. Your credit card statement will make this process fairly easy.

Maybe the amount you’re spending has increased in certain categories, like travel or grocery stores. If so, it might be time to look for a different card that can increase your cash back or travel rewards. Or perhaps you have some big expenses coming up early next year that could be put on a new card to earn a lucrative bonus.

Identifying your habits and shifting your spending to the right credit card could pay dividends in the new year.

Craig Joseph writes for NerdWallet. Email: cjoseph@nerdwallet.com.

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How to Furnish a New Place With Patience and a Budget

Moving season is almost over. But if you’re one of the many people settling into a new home right now, you might feel like the furniture-buying season is just getting started. And that can get expensive.

After paying rent, a security deposit or mortgage down payment — plus all the costs associated with moving — furniture can come as an afterthought, leaving a less-than-ideal budget for the items that make your new place feel like home.

Even with lower-cost items from budget-friendly retailers like Amazon and Target, furnishing an entire space gets costly. And if you want higher-end items, a premium couch or bedroom set alone can run you several thousand dollars.

To save on furniture, try turning to your community and peer-to-peer resale platforms to find quality secondhand pieces, and also spacing out your purchases strategically.

First, see what you can get for free

Before you venture into the Ikea maze or go down a rabbit hole of online shopping, see what your local community has to offer. Ask people you know if there’s anything they’re getting rid of.

“Your friends and family may be moving, too,” says Henna Noor, a full-time student at the University of California, Irvine. Noor recently moved into her first apartment with a furniture budget of under $700 and scored a free couch from her girlfriend’s parents. “It might benefit them to get rid of an item without having to pay to move it or try to sell it before they go.”

Don’t be afraid to talk to your neighbors or make a request on social media; the people in your life are likely happy to help you navigate this exciting life change. Many neighborhoods also have “Buy Nothing” Facebook groups you can join to give and receive household items. However, you’ll likely need to find a way to transport the items, possibly by renting or borrowing a truck, or getting a friend to help you.

Try peer-to-peer platforms

Peer-to-peer resale platforms like OfferUp, Letgo and Facebook Marketplace feature thousands of secondhand items. You might be able to find some hidden gems sitting within a 5-mile radius of your new place.

“There are limited options at a store like Ikea,” says Miranda Escobar, a marketing manager at a tech startup in New York City, who moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn in April. “A peer marketplace opens you up to different, unexpected furniture styles.”

Escobar’s go-to is Facebook Marketplace, where she searches a single keyword like “dresser” and then refines the results by color, material, price and location. For example, she might search for wood items under $50 within 2 miles of her new address.

However, some locales have more listings than others, and it can be time-consuming to sort through the results. Not all items are priced to sell, either; some sellers are more motivated by making a profit than getting rid of old items.

“It can take hours of digging to find the true steals,” says Noor. Noor checked the OfferUp app daily for a week before her move, keeping an eye out for fresh listings from users who needed to get rid of items quickly.

Haggle respectfully

If you’re shopping at peer-to-peer marketplaces, garage sales or estate sales, take the opportunity to bargain. Note that the seller is often trying to get rid of the item, but also try to offer a price within a reasonable range — lowballing may not get you a response.

“I always compare with similar items on the market,” Escobar says. If it’s a name-brand or vintage piece, look up what it would cost to buy new or what other resellers are listing it for. Knowing the ballpark value of the item you want can help you negotiate more confidently with a seller and steer clear of listings with unreasonable prices.

Space out expenses

“Of course, you want to get your new place feeling like home immediately,” Escobar says. “But it’s better to be patient and wait for pieces at the right prices that really fit the space.”

Waiting on the lower-priority items can ensure you’re ready to snag pieces at rock-bottom prices from users who are up against moving deadlines; they’re likely to take the best offer available.

Patience is helpful when shopping retail, too: Out-of-season furniture is discounted in winter and summer to make room for new items arriving in the spring and fall, and most stores offer significant discounts around holidays like Black Friday and Labor Day. At thrift stores, furniture stock can change regularly, and waiting for the right deal on a secondhand piece could save you more than buying it new.

If you need something immediately, like a table for example, try finding an inexpensive placeholder piece to use for now, such as a low-cost folding table. You can always upgrade later when you have the funds.

Dalia Ramirez writes for NerdWallet.

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