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Best credit cards – and shopping tips – for back-to-school days

Some shopping savvy and the right card can earn you plenty of rewards as you shop for the inevitable


Whether you’re shopping for yourself or your children, back-to-school shopping can be overwhelming. These shopping tips will help you score savings as you earn rewards on the best credit cards for back to school.

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There’s nothing cheap these days about back-to-school spending. The National Retail Foundation says families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $696.70 on school supplies before summer vacation ends this year.

That’s an all-time high, and up from an average of $684.79 last year. It’s even worse for families with college students. The National Retail Federation says these families will spend an average of $976.78 on back-to-school supplies this year. That’s up from $942.17 in 2018.

Since you’re going to be spending on pencils, backpacks, clothing and scissors this summer, why not earn extra rewards, cash-back bonuses or miles? You can — if you use your credit cards wisely.

Here are the best credit cards and spending tips for boosting your back-to-school rewards and savings this year.

See related: Americans’ favorite credit card feature is 3% cash back on all purchases

Best credit cards and tips for back-to-school shopping

Best credit cards for back-to-school shoppers

Depending on where you do most of your shopping, certain cards may offer better rewards than others. Keep in mind where you already utilize your card benefits so you’re not spending extra money in an effort to build out rewards.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

The big perk: The Chase Freedom Unlimited card is simple, and that’s a nice perk for busy parents. You’ll earn 1.5 percent cash back on everything you charge. This means you’ll earn cash back whether you’re buying notebooks, glue and folders or bigger-ticket items such as computers, gym shoes or shirts.

The sign-up bonus: If you don’t already have a Chase Freedom Unlimited card, new cardholders will receive a $150 cash bonus after spending $500 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card

The big perk: The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card is perfect if you already have an Amazon Prime membership and you do a lot of back-to-school shopping online. You’ll receive 5 percent back on all purchases you make at Amazon.com (if you have that required membership to Amazon Prime). The card also provides a solid 2 percent cash back at drugstores, which can be helpful if you pick up school supplies there, and 1 percent back on all other purchases.

The sign-up bonus: New cardholders get a $70 Amazon gift card – which can buy you plenty of school supplies.

Citi® Double Cash Card

The big perk: You’ll get 2 percent cash back on all purchases with the Citi Double Cash Card, 1 percent when you make your purchase and an additional 1 percent when you pay your bill. This makes the card simple to use for families in the middle of back-to-school shopping.

The sign-up bonus: The one negative with this card? It doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus for new members. But if you already have the card, it’s a good one to use for back-to-school shopping.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

The big perk: You’ll probably be spending a lot on school lunches during the academic year. Supermarkets are also a good place to pick up everything from notebooks and binders to markers, pencils and pens. This makes the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express a good choice for parents. It offers 3 percent cash back when you charge at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in spending per year, then it’s 1 percent) and 2 percent back on select U.S. department stores. You’ll earn 1 percent back on all other purchases.

The introductory bonus: You’ll earn $150 cash back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of opening your account. You receive this in the form of a statement credit.

Shopping tips

Using the right credit card, though, is just one step. It also helps to practice other shopping strategies in conjunction with a rewards-heavy credit card to maximize your back-to-school savings.

Layer your perks

John Sellers, Bank of America Preferred Rewards executive, said parents can boost their rewards with a bit of creativity. And that starts with using a credit card that offers flexible rewards categories.

Sellers recommends that consumers layer together their in-store, credit card and banking rewards programs to maximize the cash back or points they earn on back-to-school shopping.

Sellers points to a recent survey by Bank of America showing 62 percent of Americans make their clothing purchases online. With the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card, cardholders can choose their 3 percent cash back category each month (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases). At the same time, if you are a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member, you can earn additional cash back with the program’s credit card rewards bonus.

Say you do much of your back-to-school wardrobe shopping online and you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member who chooses online shopping as your choice category with the Cash Rewards card. You will now earn up to 5.25 percent cash back on those purchases.

Get creative with your favorite store

Karen Hoxmeier, the owner of coupons and savings site MyBargainBuddy.com, said she likes the Kohl’s branded credit card for back-to-school shopping. Most experts don’t recommend branded department store cards. But if you have a favorite store that you shop at frequently, such cards could pay off.

And that’s the case with Hoxmeier, who says Kohl’s is one of her favorite stores for children’s clothing. As Hoxmeier says, the clearance section in this store is often overflowing with items that are 50 percent to 75 percent off. Kohl’s also offers plenty of coupons throughout the year that can reduce the cost of back-to-school clothing even further.

You can boost these savings even more when you use the store’s branded credit card, Hoxmeier said. Kohl’s sends cardholders coupons for 30 percent off store merchandise several times a year. Those savings can add up significantly — especially when combined with Kohl’s in-store sales and its Kohl’s cash offers.

Hoxmeier does have a warning, though: While it’s smart to use the Kohl’s card for back-to-school clothes shopping, it’s not smart to carry a balance on it.

“The interest rate is high, so it is important to pay it off in full every time the bill comes,” she said. “If you don’t, the extra you’ve saved will get eaten up by interest fees.”

Kevin Panich, owner of personal finance site Just Start Investing, also recommends that consumers match their credit cards with their favorite back-to-school retailers. He recommends the Target REDcard, which provides 5 percent off all purchases at the retailer.

“You’ll be hard-pressed to find a card offering anything better than 5 percent,” Panich said.

Search for sales

April Lewis-Parks, director of education for Consolidated Credit, a nonprofit credit counseling agency in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said it might be more cost-effective to spend time researching retailers that offer back-to-school deals than it is to hunt for the best possible credit card to use when buying these supplies.

She gives this example: You might use a business credit card that offers extra rewards when you make purchases at office supply stores. But buying your children’s back-to-school supplies at one of these retailers might still be more expensive than purchasing them at your closest Walmart or Target.

“If you don’t have the discipline to be a miserly shopper and find the best deals, you might instead choose to shop where you’ll get the most rewards points,” Lewis-Parks said. “But I don’t think this is the smartest move. It’s really not about the points. It’s about the money.”

For this reason, Lewis-Parks recommends using a cash back card that rewards you for all purchases. This way, you can shop at less expensive retailers and still earn at least some bonus money from your credit card provider.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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