Rewards credit cards can be a great way of earning a little something extra for the purchases you make every day. Most rewards cards dole out 1–5 points for each dollar you spend. But there are a few transactions that never earn rewards. Keep these in mind so you don’t end up disappointed when you look at your rewards statement later on (and instead try the strategies that follow to boost your rewards earnings).
1. Cash advances at an ATM
If you use your credit card for a cash advance at an ATM, you are running up a balance on your credit card. Unfortunately, that balance won’t earn you any rewards points — or any love from your card issuer. Whenever you take out a cash advance from an ATM, you should plan on paying a higher interest rate immediately on the advance amount, as well as a cash advance fee of 2–5 percent and any fees that the individual ATM charges.
2. Cash advance checks you receive in the mail
Those cash advance checks you receive in the mail might seem like an awesome deal. You write the check out to yourself, cash it, and the money is yours. Unfortunately, that money will need to be paid back, along with fees, of course.
You can expect to pay the same fees as you pay for withdrawing cash from an ATM, except for the ATM fee. You’ll still pay a transaction fee and a higher interest rate on your cash advance, though. There will be no grace period before interest starts accruing on the cash advance, either. And just like a cash advance from an ATM, you won’t earn any rewards for the privilege.
3. Balance transfers
In a perfect world, we could all earn millions of credit card points by endlessly transferring balances. We could transfer the same balance back and forth for years, earning oodles of welcome bonuses and points for our spending.
But in this world, you never earn rewards on balance transfers. Banks would simply lose too much money if they offered this option, so they don’t.
While you don’t earn rewards with balance transfers, that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable. Many of the best 0 percent APR cards charge no interest on the amount transferred for 12–21 months. You can gain huge savings on interest while you pay off your debt.
And while it’s usually best not to use a balance transfer card to make new purchases, if you do have to do that, some balance transfer cards offer rewards on purchases. (See also: 6 Hidden Dangers of Balance Transfers)
4. Purchases made with points
When your credit card has a rewards program, it’s easy to conflate your cash spending with rewards purchases. But if you use points for a purchase (instead of cash), you won’t earn any points when you buy. The bank only wants to reward you for spending actual money on the card.
Here’s an example. Imagine you have a travel credit card and you decide to book an excursion through the card’s travel portal. You set your sights on a snorkeling tour in Grand Cayman, and find you have the option to pay with points or to fork over $70 per person.
If you pay with cash, you’ll absolutely earn rewards for the purchase. But if you turn in your points instead, you’ll be out of luck. (See also: Once-In-A-Lifetime Experiences I’ve Earned With Credit Card Rewards)
How to boost your rewards over time
Fortunately, there are plenty of safe, reliable methods to beef up your point balances on your favorite rewards credit card. Best of all, nothing we’re about to suggest involves paying interest or upfront fees at all.
Here are four ways to earn more rewards over time.
1. Use your rewards credit card for everyday purchases
The best way to earn more rewards isn’t complicated. By simply using your card for all your regular purchases (think gas, groceries, and miscellaneous), you can earn a ton of points over time. If you spend $1,000 on your card every month and earn an average 2 percent back, for example, you’ll rack up $20 per month in rewards — or $240 per year. (See also: How to Save an Extra $1,094.86 a Year)
2. Pay all your bills on credit
Another strategy to boost your rewards is to put your regularly occurring expenses on your credit card. Think of anything you have on automatic payments — life insurance, cellphone bill, utility payments. If they’re currently set up to be paid via debit automatically, you could earn more rewards by setting them up on your favorite credit card instead. Just be sure to check with the provider to make sure you won’t have to pay a fee for using credit. (See also: Paying Your Bills With a Credit Card)
3. Shop through online portals when possible
Many rewards card issuers offer their own online shopping portals that make earning rewards even easier. You’ll need to log in to the portal, then you can click through to major retailers to earn extra points for every dollar you spend. Options vary and deals change often, but you can usually earn at least one or two bonus points for every dollar you spend on that card.
Sometimes you’ll see deals for as many as 30 bonus points. Merchants include online stores like Kohls, Best Buy, Macy’s, and many others. (See also: 5 Ways to Earn Cashback Rewards Without Extra Spending)
Of course, if you want to make your rewards card work for you, avoid running a balance. While earning 1–5 percent back on your purchases is certainly appealing, those rewards will disappear quickly if you’re forking over the average credit card interest rate.
When it comes to credit, tread carefully and only charge what you can afford to repay. If you wind up in debt in pursuit of rewards, you’ll regret it.