5 ways your credit card can help you save on back-to-school

Credit Card Benefits Worth the Fees

Stocking up for back-to-school is an expensive endeavor: Spending for students from kindergarten through college is expected to hit $68 billion in 2015, according to the National Retail Federation's Back-to-School Spending Survey. The average family alone expects to spend $630 on electronics, supplies and clothing for their children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

One way to lower the costs of everything your kids needs is to shop with your credit card. Here are five ways your favorite rewards credit card can help you save money and net extra rewards on all your back-to-school buys.

1. Price protection
Back-to-school merchandise will go on sale in September. But if you have a credit card with price protection, you may be able to use it to buy school supplies now, and cash in on the savings later. Price protection allows you to get the price difference between the regular cost and the sale cost reimbursed if the item goes on sale within a specified period of time.
If your card has price protection, make sure to read your benefits statement or visit your issuer's website for restrictions and terms. Many programs won't allow you to use price protection on certain items, such as Internet purchases or personalized goods, so it's important to check the details before you buy. Your terms will dictate how long you have after a purchase to file a claim, as well as the monetary limits on your claim per item and per year.

2. Bonus malls
If you want to avoid the hordes of back-to-school shoppers at your local big-box store, you may do most of your shopping online. To save money or earn extra rewards on your online purchases, see if your card issuer has a bonus mall. Bonus malls are online shopping portals that help you rack up additional rewards or get exclusive discounts.
Many bonus malls include popular back-to-school retailers such as Office Depot, Staples, Wal-Mart and more. It doesn't cost extra to shop through a bonus mall; just make sure you use the credit card associated with that bonus mall to get the rewards or discounts.

3. Extra rewards
Some rewards credit cards give you more points or cash back on certain purchase categories, such as groceries, gas and department store shopping. Department store rewards for back-to-school clothing shopping and extra gas to drive the kids to school are obvious ways to cash in, but a card with additional grocery rewards can pay off even more if you play it right.
Many grocery stores sell gift cards for dozens of other merchants. You can purchase all the gift cards you need for electronics, clothing and office supply stores, and get the extra rewards on your spending because it will be coded as a grocery purchase. Keep in mind that the extra rewards on certain purchase categories may have spending limits. Learn about your card's rewards policy before you shop.

4. Extended warranty
Your back-to-school shopping may include a computer, tablet or e-reader, all of which come with manufacturer warranties. However, a typical warranty only covers about one year, so you may consider an extended warranty.
Sales associates are more than happy to sell you one. But if you buy your electronics with a credit card, you can probably reject that upsell and still get the benefit.
Many credit cards double your warranty (generally up to one year), giving you the option to forgo the extended warranty offered by the merchant. This will save you money while covering your expensive electronics for longer than the manufacturer's warranty.

5. 0 percent APR offers
If you're a bit short on cash for back-to-school supplies, you can use a 0 percent credit card offer to avoid accruing interest for the next 12 months or longer. You'll still need to make at least the minimum payments each month, and pay off the balance in full before the introductory rate expires. If you don't, you'll incur interest on your remaining balance and perhaps retroactively on your original balance.

The bottom line: Buy everything your kids need to go back to school this year with your favorite rewards credit card. Choosing plastic can help you save money, earn rewards, protect your purchases and defer interest, getting the school year off to a fast and frugal start.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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