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3 ways credit cards can save you money in 2019

Man with credit card paying salesman at food truck
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Credit cards don't just help build your credit score; they also offer a range of perks. That's why various experts recommend that you use credit instead of debit in many situations, such as when you're making a big purchase or traveling.

When used responsibly — so, as long as you don't spend wildly and you avoid interest by paying off your balances — a top credit card can save the average American hundreds of dollars every year.

Here are three simple ways you can use credit cards to save money in 2019.

Rewards

The simplest way that credit cards earn you money is by rewarding your spending. Many cards offer flat rates of cash back, such that you earn the same percentage back for any purchase you make. Other cards reward different categories of spending with different rates.

The Blue Cash Everyday, for instance, offers 3 percent back at grocery stores, 2 percent back at gas stations and some U.S. department stores, and 1 percent on all other purchases.

Other cards offer rewards points or miles. Typically 1 point or mile comes out to be worth a penny, so 100 points = $1. But with many cards, you'll be able to choose between various redemption options — cash back, merchandise, travel purchases, donations — and which option you go with can affect the value of the rewards.

Experts tend to agree that, to get the most out of your points when you have so many options to choose from, you have to transfer your points to one of your issuer's travel partners and then scavenge for a great deal on a flight or hotel stay. When you do that, points or miles can be worth as much as 7 cents apiece.

Sign-up bonuses

One survey found that an enticing sign-up bonus is the primary motivation for a quarter of the people who get new cards. That's because many bonuses are substantial, and it's usually not too difficult to qualify for them.

For example, if you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of getting the Citi ThankYou Premier card, you get 50,000 points. That's worth $625 when redeemed on travel.

There are a couple things to keep in mind, though. For one, you usually don't qualify for a bonus if your new card is the same brand as one that's already in your wallet. If you apply for the ThankYou Premier card, for example, but opened or closed a Citi ThankYou Preferred or Citi Prestige card in the past two years, the bonus won't be available.

And trying to game the system might work against you. Repeatedly applying for cards, collecting the bonus after a few months and then canceling the cards to avoid having to pay the annual fee could lower your credit score.

Extended warranties and price protection

These last two credit card perks are somewhat lesser-known, but both can save you a lot of money, as long as you're aware of them.

Some cards offer price protection, meaning that, if you buy an item on your credit card and then its price drops within a set time frame, usually a month or two, you can get refunded the difference. But that requires you to submit a claim form.

And many will extend the warranties of major purchases for an extra year or two. As Ramit Sethi, author of "I Will Teach You to be Rich," points out, that can be a great opportunity: "A lot of the money you're spending on extended warranties — don't spend it, you can save it."

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