Deb Morris: Fru-Gal

Fru-Gal: Some credit cards have special offers worth using

Deborah Morris, The Fru-Gal
Deborah Morris, The Fru-Gal

In my frugal world, I believe you should not use credit cards. Keep cash on you, and if you don't have the cash, don't buy the item you think you need.

But more and more people are using credit cards to take advantages of the various services that credit card companies offer.

So here are some examples of why you might want to use a credit card instead of cash.

1. If you buy a service or product on your credit card and you were overcharged or disappointed with the service, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company. This can help when stores don't allow returns, or when they specify that clearance items are non-refundable.

If you paid cash for these items and have a problem, you are probably out of luck. If you used a credit card, you can file a dispute.

The Fair Credit Billing Act lets you withhold payment on things that are damaged or of poor quality. There are a few catches. You have to first try to resolve the matter with the seller, the item has to cost $50 or more, and the law says it has to be bought within 100 miles of your home. Fortunately, credit card companies rarely enforce the last two stipulations.

2. I get gift cards to give as presents throughout the year using my credit card rewards program. Right now, I receive up to 5 percent back on certain purchases, too. Get creative with rewards cards to boost your balance and earn more. A woman told me once that she uses her cash-back credit card to load money onto her Speedy Rewards Card, which gives her free items at Speedway when she fills her car up with gas.

3. Some cards offer extended warranties on the items you buy. For example, my American Express card offers as much as an additional year on many items. This is a good reason to buy electronics, appliances and anything that has a short warranty period. Keep the original receipts in case you need to file a claim.

4. If you charge a trip on your credit card, chances are you'll have to worry less about the unthinkable happening on your trip. If an accident causes your death, some card memberships can provide added financial security to your beneficiaries. Travel accident insurance can cover travel by plane, train, ship, bus or helicopter when you buy the entire fare on your eligible card. Check all the travel insurance benefits that are included with your card.

5. When my husband travels, he uses a credit card that includes car rental insurance. This can save him as much as $150 a week. You'll want to read the rules carefully if you use your credit card rental car insurance instead of buying a damage waiver. Not all types of rentals are covered.

6. Some credit cards offer a way to track expenses. It's a wonderful feature when it's time to do your taxes. Receipts can easily get lost, so it's nice to have online statements as a backup. Some card issuers keep those records around for a long time. For example, Discover Card statements stay online for seven years.

7. Many credit cards offer services exclusive to them. My American Express card lets me enroll in complimentary ShopRunner membership to get free shipping and free return shipping when I shop online at eligible stores.

Some credit card options

■ Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express combines excellent cash-back rewards with a generous 15 month, zero percent APR period. You'll earn 6 percent cash back at supermarkets; 3 percent at gas stations and department stores including Sears, JCP, Kohls and Macy's; and 1 percent cash back on all your other purchases. You can take advantage of its 0 percent intro APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers (although there is a 3 percent balance transfer fee). There is a $75 annual fee, which can be off-putting to some, but if you use your card like a typical consumer, you should more than earn this back.

■ Citi Simplicity card offers a 18-month, zero percent intro APR and no annual fee or late fees. Citi Simplicity will carry you well into 2016 interest-free. That APR period applies for purchases and balance transfers. Plus you won't pay late fees, penalty rates or an annual fee. Although I encourage you to pay your cards on time to maintain a healthy credit score, having no late fees and no penalty rates is a huge bonus for anyone who might be late with a payment every now and then.

■ If you're in the market for a credit card but don't have a terrific credit history, Chase Freedom might be right up your alley. It was developed for those with "good" credit scores, which are typically considered to be between 660 and 724 on the FICO credit score scale. Earn a $100 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. Now through March 31, you'll get 5 percent back at grocery stores (not including Walmart and Target purchases), movie theaters and Starbucks stores. Plus, there's no annual fee.

I want to reinforce that I do not recommend getting into credit card debt. If credit is used responsibly, it will allow you to get extra savings from purchases you were already going to make.

Store specials

■ Staples: Grab a free reusable bag at Staples' customer service desk. Fill it up, then present the coupon in weekly sales flyer for 20 percent off your purchase. There are some exclusions.

■ Toys R Us: Print out a 20 percent off your entire clearance toy purchase coupon valid through January at http://bit.ly/1uvPBZX

■ Disney Store: For a limited time, DisneyStore.com is having a sale on their Plush products: buy one, get one for $1..

■ Target: Buy five Keebler cookie products, on sale for $2 each, and receive a $5 Target gift card.

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