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Lay down your cards

6 personal finance experts reveal which credit cards they use and why

By Sara Aase

Great credit card offers may not be making headlines right now, but they're still out there -- and what better place to look for leads than in financial experts' wallets? Here are the current favorite picks of six personal finance experts. Find out why they love these cards, why their picks may (or may not) be right for you, how to qualify for them, and which cards have fallen out of their favor.

Liz Pulliam WestonLiz Pulliam Weston
Author and personal finance columnist for MSN Money

Cards she carries:

Right for you?
"For these richer rewards cards, you want a FICO of 750 or above," Weston says. You can search CreditCards.com by your credit rating or by issuer. Not sure what your credit score might be? Use the site's free estimator.

You'll also want to travel frequently enough to rack up points and pay your balances in full each month. "If you don't spend enough and you pay a fee every year, it's not a good deal." Weston estimates she spends at least $2,000 monthly. Watch out for "tiered" rewards, which require a certain spending threshold for the best rewards, as well as capped rewards. "I spend so much that I want a return on every dollar." Look for a return of at least 1 percent from a card, Weston advises. Her Starwood card gives her a rebate on hotel rooms in the 4 percent to 5 percent range.

Kicked to the curb
Weston stopped using a Discover rewards card because reward categories for points changed every three months. "I'm busy enough that I didn't want to keep track of that," she says. "I want very specific hotel and air rewards." Weston also signs up for issuer e-mail updates and reviews her credit cards annually to make sure she's still happy with their programs. And she practices serial monogamy with her rewards cards: "If you've got a rich reward, you can pretty much figure they're going to water it down eventually. About every two years, I switch to another rewards card."

Scott TalbottScott Talbott
Senior VP of government affairs for The Financial Services Roundtable, an executive forum for leaders of the financial services industry

Cards he carries:

Talbott likes that points for his Mastercard rewards program can be applied to restaurants, electronics and other goods -- he's earned a dryer and a camera with his.

Right for you?
"It's all about finding a program that fits your personal needs, lifestyle and family," Talbott says. "Really shop around, and remember that no matter how generous the program is, if it doesn't work for you financially, it doesn't make sense."

Kicked to the curb
Talbott used to have an airline rewards card, but then realized that he wasn't flying enough to make it worthwhile. "We found our annual fee about equaled what the airline ticket would cost."

Ron LieberRon Lieber
Personal finance columnist for The New York Times

Cards he carries:

Lieber runs every expense except his mortgage, condominium maintenance and electric bills through his credit cards (around $75,000 annually) to reap maximum rewards and has set up each account to auto-pay in full electronically.

Right for you?
Be honest with yourself about your needs and how you actually use your cards, he says. Chasing rewards requires that you're able to pay your balances in full each month and track your points. "Get your systems in place in your household first, and then think about what would be most valuable to you. Some people don't want to monkey around with redemption of travel awards -- they want a nice check every November 15th for presents or a charitable contribution. That's simple and effective."

Kicked to the curb
"The Chase Visa is a deal they don't offer anymore, so we're ready to ditch that card the moment they yank that deal back."

 

CFarrellChris Farrell
Economics correspondent for American Public Media's MarketPlace Money, aired on National Public Radio

Cards he carries:

"I use my AmEx for business travel because then I always have good computer access with lots of plugs in the (member) lounges, and they have comfortable seats."

Right for you?
"The economics wouldn't work out for people if they don't hang out in airports."

Rick KahlerRick Kahler
President, Kahler Financial Group, a financial planning firm in Rapid City, S.D.

Cards he carries:

  • WorldPerks Visa: Rack up frequent flier miles; also interfaces with Quicken and Mint.com (annual fee: $80). However, I learned that this program, offered by U.S. Bank and Northwest Airlines, is being discontinued because of the Northwest-Delta merger. Will probably switch to an American Express card tied to Delta miles.

Right for you?
"I run all of my spending through my credit cards, right down to groceries, because they're tied to my miles. Elite traveler status is very important to me. Because I do so much business travel, I carry everything on, and I want to get to the overhead storage first."

Kicked to the curb
"I used the Frontier Airlines travel card for a while but could never get their elite upgrade, even though I qualified. I also used an American Express Blue, but I've never found the points to be flexible enough where I could direct them to my airline account."

Manisha ThakorManisha Thakor
Personal finance author

Cards she carries:

"The No. 1 criteria I look for is cost benefit to me to use a card. Also, when I lost my wallet, American Express was amazing with customer service."  Thakor relies on her Chase Visa as a backup. "I haven't seen with other cards the extra layer of online protection it provides. If you log on from a different computer, they send a PIN number to your phone to verify you.

Right for you?
"The right credit card is like the right mate -- it's such a personal decision. If you're carrying a balance, though, then by far the most important thing is the interest rate and how the card handles balance transfers."

See related: Where some of the best rewards cards can be found, Chart: Compare some of the best rewards cards

Published: May 21, 2009


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