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NerdWallet’s Best Credit Card Tips for January 2017

January is atime to reflect on the year just passed and to makeresolutions to improve your lifein the year tocome. When it comes tocredit cards, the Nerds have some tips on how you can make 2017 better than 2016.

Include credit card debt in your budget

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers planned to spend an average of $935.58 during the holidays.If you put more on your credit cards than you can pay off in full come January, resolve to wipe it out in 2017. Make a budget, and make debt payment one of the essential categories, along with food, housing, utilities, gas and other regular expenses.Figure out how much more than the minimum you can pay on your cards.

The debt snowball method is helpful forstaying motivated. Here’s how it works: Pay off the credit card with the lowest balance as soon as possible, while paying the minimum on your other cards. When card No. 1 is paid off, move on to the next lowest balance. Continue this process until your cards are paid off. By tackling your debt systematically, you can celebrate small successes as you reach your debt-free goal.

» MORE: Credit card payoff strategies

Review your 2016 credit card statements

When you get your final monthly credit card statement of the year, go through itto see how you spent your money and which items are tax-deductible.Your credit card issuer may provide a downloadable annual statement, which usually breaks down spending by category so you can analyze it.

Compare your spending to thebudget you’ve made for 2017 to figure outwhere you can adjust to stay ontrack. Or findwhere you cancut back to put more money toward savings.

Get the right credit card

Now that you know where you spent your money last year, think about whether you’re using the right credit card. Review the benefits and rewards on your current credit cards. Are they relevant to your lifestyle?

Maybe you’ve changed jobs and you’re driving moreeach week. In that case, consider a card with bonus rewards on gas. Maybe you’re planning a big purchase and need a card with a long 0% APR period. Or maybe you want to pair two cards for different kinds of rewards, soyou can use them to your best advantage.

For example, theChase Freedom®gives you 5% cash back in bonus categories thatyou register for each quarter. TheChase Sapphire Preferred® Cardgives you bonus points on dining and travel. Book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, and points can be worth25% more. Consider the cards you have and how you might add one to boost your rewards.

Speaking of bonus categories, don’t forget to opt in to 2017’s first-quarter categories to get your 5% cash back if you have this type of card. For the Chase Freedom®, bonuses for Q1 2017are gas stations and local commuter travel. On Discover cards, theQ1 2017categories are gas, ground transportation and wholesale clubs.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best balance transfer and 0% interest cards

Negotiate better credit card terms

Often, people’soldest credit card is also the card with the lowest credit limit and the highest APR, since they probably got it when they were fairly new to credit.

The age of your credit accounts counts for 15% of your credit score, so you want to hang on to any old cards you have. But if it’s really not the best card for you, call your credit card issuer and see whetheryou can raise your credit limit,lower your APR or even convert the account to a better card. If you’re a good customer — you pay your bills on time and don’t go over your credit limit — your issuer will want to hold on to your business, which could work in your favor.

If youcan negotiate better terms, it’sa double win for your credit score: You keepyour credit history intact whileincreasing your availablecredit.

Here’s to 2017 and getting the new year started right.

Ellen Cannon is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email:ecannon@nerdwallet.com. Twitter:@ellencannon.

The article NerdWallet’s Best Credit Card Tips for January 2017 originally appeared on NerdWallet.

 

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