Best credit cards for holiday shopping bonuses

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If you're going to ramp up your shopping for the holidays, you might as well use a credit card that's going to give you big cash-back bonuses you can use for travel or deferred interest that helps you manage big purchases.

On Thursday, CardHub, a credit card comparison website, released its review of more than 1,000 of them, listing the best cards for holiday shopping based on how you shop and whether you're likely to pay off the balance quickly. And this year's offers are better than those from last season, said Jill Gonzalez, spokeswoman for CardHub.

"Just like stores are starting to open earlier on Thanksgiving, card issuers are offering more cash back every year, more discounts every year. They're kind of following suit with what the retailers are doing," she said.

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If you expect to rack up at least $3,000 of purchases within the next three months, several cards offer enticing initial rewards bonuses, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which offers 40,000 bonus points that can be used for $500 in travel or a $400 statement credit. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard both also offer 40,000-mile rewards bonuses.

Among cards offered by the major retailers, Kohl's, Macy's and Toys R Us this year have the best limited-time holiday discounts, according to the CardHub report. The retail cards tend to offer 15 percent or 20 percent off the first day's purchase, plus other bonuses such as cash-back incentives or further discounts.

Of course, retailer cards offering great deals for the holidays are less great if a shopper carries over a balance and a high annual percentage rate accumulates on the the balance. "If you know you're going to pay it off in full, it's very lucrative," Gonzalez said. "If you know you're going to be carrying a balance then ... be very careful."

Some cards have penalties that can ultimately make those introductory offers moot, Gonzalez said.

"Make sure to carefully read the fine print of any retailer-affiliated credit card that offers a 0 percent introductory rate. Many of these deals ... have a clause that allows the issuer to retroactively apply interest to your entire purchase amount if you don't pay off your balance in full by the end of the introductory period," the CardHub report warns.

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If you're in the market for a new credit card, choose the one that best fits a specific need, Gonzalez said. "We recommend using the 'island approach,' really isolating each card to whatever you use it for," she said.

If you're making a big purchase, like a TV for Christmas, for example, look for something with deferred interest and try to pay it off within the that first 18 months, she said. If you already have credit card debt elsewhere, you may want to look for a new card that has zero-interest for balance transfers for an introductory period.

The report also highlights the best options for avoiding interest on holiday purchases. The Citi Diamond Preferred Card MasterCard and the Bank of Hawaii Visa Signature with MyBankoh Rewards credit card both offer no interest on new purchases for 18 months, while the Chase Slate card offers no interest on balance transfers for 15 months.

The Citi Double Cash Card is singled out as the one with the best ongoing rewards even after the holidays. The card offers 1 percent cash back at the time of a purchase and an additional 1 percent cash back when the bill is paid, amounting to the highest base cash-back rate among consumer cards, according to CardHub.

It may be tempting to fill out multiple applications, but be mindful about how many cards you carry, as it could impact your credit rating (applying for several in a short period can also have a negative effect on your credit score). Many credit-scoring models consider both the number and type of credit accounts you have. A mix is good—but too many finance company accounts or credit cards might hurt your score.

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