New Years in San Francisco
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The start of a new year means it’s time to set big goals for yourself over the next 12 months. Maybe you want to finally go back for a second degree, eliminate your debt or take on that business venture you’ve been dreaming about for years.

If you have lofty goals to achieve in 2019, maximize the credit cards you already have or responsibly apply for new cards that will help offset your costs with rewards and sign-up bonuses.

Here are a few common New Year’s resolutions and how your credit cards can help you reach them.

1. Pay off debt

A great way to pay off debt more quickly while paying less over time is to use a balance transfer card.

There are a few things to consider when you’re weighing your balance transfer options. First, check out the fees.

“Most people don’t realize that most of these balance transfer cards will hit you up front with a 3 percent or 5 percent fee,” Rossman says. “Two that I really like that don’t are the Chase Slate and BankAmericard Credit Card.”

Still, you may decide it’s more important to get a longer introductory period to pay off your debt despite fees. In that case, Rossman says, the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card charges a balance transfer fee of $5 or 3% (whichever is higher). Also get 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 20 billing cycles – after that, a variable APR of 14.74%-25.74% applies while the Citi Simplicity Card offers an introductory APR of 21 months on balance transfers (16.74% – 26.74% variable thereafter) for a 5 percent fee (minimum $5).

If you’ve taken on high-interest credit card debt over time, now is the time to eliminate it. Rising interest rates mean issuers may begin offering shorter balance transfer periods on these cards.

“It used to be more common to see 20, 21, 24 months,” Rossman says. “Now we see the best transfer free offer is 15 months. That could well be 12 months a year from now if there’s more rate hikes ahead, so (New Year’s is) definitely a good time to attack your debt.”

2. Travel more

This is one of the most popular ways to use credit card rewards, and if you’re not already doing so, travel is a great place to start maximizing your spending. There are numerous options to suit your travel plans, your schedule and your preferences, whether it’s through a co-branded airline or hotel card or more general travel options.

If you’re in the market for a new card to help with your travel expenses this year, Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com, says the two best sign-up bonuses right now both equate to about $750 in travel credits. “That’s the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card that just relaunched, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve is still up there,” Rossman says.

Travel cards with hefty sign-up bonuses like these can allow you to save on your big dream vacation and on smaller trips throughout the year.

3. Budget better

If you want to put serious effort into sticking to your budget this year, a simple cash-back credit card can help keep you on track.

The Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card is a great option, especially for Bank of America customers who qualify for the Preferred Rewards program.

“I would view 2 percent as the baseline, whether that’s the Citi Double Cash Card or Capital One Venture or even some of the more rotating category stuff,” Rossman says. Just make sure you’re paying any cash-back card’s monthly bill in full to eliminate interest costs.

Daily spending on a cash-back card also allows you to analyze your monthly statements and track spending.

“I think that’s actually a hidden perk of credit cards,” Rossman says.

Any budgeting expert will tell you the first place to start is by keeping a record of every purchase you make. That way, you can see exactly where your money is going and evaluate each purchase.

“Most people are not as organized as to keep that list, but the card will do it for you,” Rossman says. “Putting spending on a credit card can help you track your spending, just in the sense that it’s all laid out for you.”

4. Start or grow a business

Great rewards from a business credit card may be the extra bit of help you need to finally get your business idea off the ground.

Applying for a business card may be easier than you think. If you’re a side hustler or a sole proprietor without an established LLC or corporate office, you can likely still successfully apply for a business card. Just be careful to only use the card and its rewards on purchases related to your business.

When deciding between business cards, Rossman says the most important thing is to look at your specific spending needs. Cards like the Capital One Spark Cash for Business and Citi Ink family offer rewards on travel, office supplies, shipping, internet bills and even online advertising.

And the sign-up bonuses can really give your new business the boost it needs, especially if it involves travel.

“Business owners are very lucrative audiences, and they’re definitely rolling out the red carpet for these kind of options,” Rossman says.

5. Go back to school

Whether you’re a traditional student on your own for the first time or returning to school for a degree as a non-traditional student, a no-fee credit card can help you earn much-needed cash back on a student budget.

Either a regular cash-back card like the Citi Double Cash, or a card that’s more student-focused in its rewards, like the Discover it Student Cash Back or the Discover it Student chrome, can help you save while earning your degree. Both Discover student cards also offer a $20 statement credit for each year that you earn a 3.0 GPA or higher.

If you do much of your everyday shopping on Amazon already and you have a Prime membership (which is only $59 for students), Rossman says this may be one instance in which a store card is a good idea. With the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, you can earn 5 percent cash back on all purchases at Amazon and Whole Foods, which is especially lucrative if you can purchase your pricey textbooks on the site as well.

Consider your options

No matter what your plans are going into 2019, the right credit card can be invaluable in helping you reach your financial goals. Check out Bankrate’s reviews before submitting a card application to make sure you choose the best card for you.

Advertiser disclosure: The credit card offers that appear on the website are from companies from which this site receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). This site does not include all credit card companies or available credit card offers.