4 ways to kick-start good habits with a new rewards credit card

3 min read
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Whether you’re making your first foray into the world of credit or adding another card to your growing collection, getting approved for a new rewards credit card can be exciting — and a bit daunting.

Once that approval notice hits your inbox, you can begin using your card intentionally from the beginning so you can both take advantage of rewards and prevent any trouble with overspending further down the line.

Here are a few things you can do after getting approved for a new card to ensure you start your card use off on the right foot:

1. Begin using your card online

Not every issuer offers the perk, but some cards are instantly available to you for use after your account is approved. Even if you have to wait a few days for the physical card to arrive by mail, you can access your card information for immediate use online or via mobile wallet payment.

Instant card access is common for retail cards (which often offer an immediate in-store discount for signing up), but many issuers are beginning to follow suit with general rewards cards, including American Express and Bank of America.

After being approved for the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example, eligible online applicants can use the new card number anywhere American Express cards are accepted instantly after approval (eligibility largely relies on Amex’s ability to verify your identity). You can save your card information to your mobile wallet or jot it down to begin using it.

If you know you’ll be able to spend responsibly (not using the perk as an excuse to overspend) or you have a planned purchase you’d like to make before your card arrives in the mail, this is a great way to begin using the card and working towards your welcome bonus as soon as possible.

2. Activate the card

Whether or not you’re granted instant access, you’ll still need to activate your new card once it arrives. Most cards arrive by mail within 7 to 10 days of approval, but if you really need your card in a pinch you can often request expedited shipping. When you receive the actual card in the mail, make sure you take the necessary steps to activate it before attempting to make a purchase.

Once your card is in hand, you can easily activate it online or by phone by following the instructions included. Make sure you have your card number and card information (like card identification number or CID and expiration date) handy, as well as your personal information like name, address, social security number and date of birth ready to share with your issuer. You may not need them all, but having the information prepared can help make your activation seamless.

After your issuer confirms the card is activated, you’re clear to begin using it immediately.

3. Begin working towards a sign-up bonus

Sign-up bonuses usually have a time requirement on them, which means once your new account is approved, the clock starts ticking on your bonus period.

You shouldn’t go overboard and overspend simply to qualify for a competitive bonus, but if you know you can stay within your budgeted spending range or you have a large purchase (like booking a vacation or buying a gift) that you’ll need to make regardless, it’s great to do so early to give yourself enough time to meet the spending threshold.

If you want to be diligent in spreading out your spending over the bonus period, do the math to determine just how much you should spend each month. For instance, if your new card has a welcome bonus of 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months of account opening, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll need to spend just over $1,333 each of those months in order to qualify.

Stay on top of your spending throughout the period to ensure your monthly balances aren’t adding up to more than you can realistically pay off — even the most lucrative bonus isn’t worth sending yourself into debt over.

4. Track your spending

Don’t leave your statement balance as an unwelcome surprise for yourself at the end of the month.

As soon as your card arrives at your door (or you add it to your mobile wallet), download your issuer’s mobile app or create an online account so you can easily keep up with the purchases you’re making.

If your new card is a flat cash back rewards card, like the Citi® Double Cash Card, you may plan to charge many of your everyday expenses to it; if that’s the case, checking in on your statement regularly can even act as a budgeting method. Even if you use the new card in conjunction with other cards or it’s dedicated for travel or other specific uses, though, it’s good to get into the habit of checking your statements so you know what to expect at the end of the month and how to allocate your money accordingly.

Bottom line

It’s exciting to receive a shiny, new credit card in the mail, but in doing so you also take on a huge responsibility. Establish good habits early on and put yourself on the right path towards both valuable rewards redemptions and a great credit score so you can continue to benefit long-term.