Maximize your back-to-school purchases with credit cards


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With summer coming to an end, many families are planning back-to-school shopping.

A recent survey by Bankrate found that 43 percent of parents who have been back-to-school shopping feel pressured to overspend when school shopping for their children.

To combat this pressure, we’ve put together a list of rewards credit cards that can help your family save on school year purchases and protect your wallet at the same time.

Rewards credit card options

Whether you’re planning to shop at department stores, wholesale clubs or somewhere new, there’s a credit card that can earn you rewards on your spending.

Credit cards with rotating bonus categories typically include either department store or grocery stores, and if you’re lucky, the grocery store category includes wholesale clubs. These cards can help you earn points, miles or cash back on back-to-school purchases like backpacks, clothing or uniforms, lunch boxes, technology and more.

If you have a favorite retailer or wholesale club, you may want to consider a co-branded card that can help you earn rewards at your store of choice.

Chase Freedom®

With the Chase Freedom, you’ll earn 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1 percent. You won’t be charged an annual fee, and there’s a $150 cash bonus when you spend as little as $500 in your first three months.

Chase Freedom’s third quarter category will earn you cash back on gas stations and select streaming services, and the fourth quarter — unknown for now — is available for activation starting September 15, 2019, right in time for the school year.

If you’re interested in learning more about this card, read our expert guide to Chase Freedom bonus categories.

U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card

The U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature lets you choose two categories to earn 5 percent cash back in each quarter (up to $2,000 in purchases). You’ll also receive 2 percent back on one out of three categories of your choice — gas stations, restaurants or grocery stores — each quarter with no cap and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

A few of the current 5 percent category options include select clothing stores, electronic stores, bookstores and department stores. If you’re interested in learning more about specific merchants that qualify for the card’s 5 percent category, visit U.S. Bank’s Sample Merchants page.

Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

The Costco Anywhere Visa Card will earn you 4 percent cash back on eligible gas worldwide — including gas at Costco — on up to $7,000 per year, then 1 percent.

You’ll also get 3 percent back on restaurant and eligible travel purchases worldwide, 2 percent on all other purchases from Costco and and 1 percent on everything else.

This card is perfect for larger families who tend to buy in bulk. Costco not only offers food and electronics but clothing items for the whole family, backpacks, dorm supplies and more.

Discover it® Cash Back

The Discover it Cash Back offers 5 percent cash back on new purchase rotating categories each quarter — up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1 percent — along with 1 percent back on everything else (activation required). Additionally, Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.

For July through September 2019, you’ll earn a generous rewards rate on restaurants and PayPal; October through December you’ll earn for purchases on, and Target.

Though this card’s retail categories are available later on in the fall, you’ll be able to earn significant rewards for holiday-related purchases, instead. Keep in mind that rewards categories and their timing vary year-by-year.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

For no annual fee, the Blue Cash Everyday offers 3 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year, then 1%), 2 percent back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores and 1 percent on everything else.

Here’s a few U.S. department stores that qualify for the 2 percent category (the full list can be found here):

  • Belk
  • JCPenney
  • Macy’s
  • Dillard’s
  • Nordstrom

The Blue Cash Everyday also offers a $150 statement credit when you spend $1,000 within your first three months of card membership, enough to cover a few weeks of school lunch for your little one.

Utilize credit card and purchase protections

Now that you’ve explored rewards card options that can maximize your back-to-school spending, make sure you’re protecting your wallet in the process.

Check to see if your credit card — or the card you’re looking to apply for — has any of the perks listed below.

Purchase protection

With purchase protection coverage, your issuer will normally cover new purchases for damage or theft up to a certain amount.

The Costco Anywhere Visa offers a version of this with their Damage & Theft Purchase Protection. If a purchase made with your Citi card is lost, damaged or stolen within 120 days of purchase, you may be covered.

Extended Warranty Protection

Extend a U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by a set amount of time with this protection. The Chase Freedom, for example, offers an extension of one year on eligible warranties of three years or less.

Zero Liability Protection on Unauthorized Charges

If any unauthorized charges are billed to your account, you won’t be held responsible. The Blue Cash Everyday offers Fraud Protection, meaning you won’t be held accountable for fraudulent charges — simply call the number on the back of your card.

The bottom line

Summer is coming to an end, but the savings don’t have to. By choosing a card that can offer rewards on department store, wholesale club or retail purchases, you can maximize your back-to-school spending.

Before you apply for a card, though, double-check that it offers card and purchase protections in case of theft, damage, loss and unauthorized purchases.