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By Marshall Loeb

RISMEDIA, July 28, 2008-(MCT)-While rewards credit cards can in fact be rewarding, it really depends on how you use them. Many consumers can get caught in rewards traps, and end up with few or no advantages at all.

From Consumer Reports magazine, here are four tips for how to use reward cards so that you benefit:

– Run the numbers. Before choosing a card, estimate your spending and translate that into how much cash back or points you’ll earn through the program. Once you have that number in mind, find out how many points you’ll need to qualify for something you want. If your spending doesn’t get you anywhere close, it’s best to forget about that card.

– Think twice about rewards if you carry a balance. Rewards credit cards often charge relatively high interest rates. These will cut into your reward if you carry a balance. Card companies may also suspend your points if you don’t pay on time.

– Be wary of charity cards. Charity rewards cards give your rewards to a charity, but the amount often turns out to be minuscule. Most cards pay only between 25 and 50 cents per every $100 you spend. Another downside of these cards is you can’t write off the donation on your taxes. You’d be better off looking for another card and donating directly to the charity.

– Use your miles. If you’ve racked up a considerable amount of frequent flier rewards, you should use them as fast as possible. Cashing them in has become more difficult as airlines have cut back on flights. They are also known to change the rules frequently. Hang on to these rewards for too long and you risk losing them.

© 2008, Inc.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.