Financial Feud

Financial Feud: Earn reward miles vs. Avoid the bills

Liz Weston - Personal finance expert Jun 27, 2013

We’ve got two things going on here: lack of disclosure and lack of common sense.

I love rewards cards. Really, really, really love them. They’re paying for our Hawaiian vacation this summer.

But they only make sense if you can easily pay your balance in full every month, and if you’re not spending more than you would otherwise. If you’re paying interest or late fees, you’re offsetting — if not wiping out — any value from those supposedly free miles. If you’re overspending — which your husband certainly is when paying the credit card bill wipes you out for the rest of the month — then rewards cards are downright dangerous.

Opening and closing a bunch of accounts can also hurt your credit scores, which could cause you to pay more for an auto loan or a mortgage.

If you’re the one who is “good with money” in a couple, though, it’s important not to take on a scolding, parental role. That just causes the other person to dig in. You might try explaining to your husband that these unexpected bills cause you great anxiety. That takes the focus off him and puts it on yourself. Then you can talk about ways to deal with your concerns.

If you’re handling your money jointly, it makes sense to discuss any credit application before it’s submitted. Both of you should have online access to any accounts that are opened so that you (the bill payer) can keep track of balances and budget accordingly.

It also can help to have a “honey check” amount — a dollar figure where you check with the other before spending. That dollar amount can vary according to your circumstances.

Another good idea is to work together to develop a plan for using the miles he’s already accrued. Rewards are constantly being devalued, which means you need more miles to get the same flights. The best approach often is to “earn ‘em and burn ‘em,” rather than letting them sit and lose value. Also, you may lose accrued miles if you close an account.

Again, rewards cards can be great, but only if you’re smart about how you use them.

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