Do you sometimes use your credit card just to get rewards? According to a new poll from finder.com, more Americans are making purchases to chase rewards – but at least we're spending less in the process.
Finder.com's recent Chasing Points study found that almost 2 in 5 (39%) respondents have used a credit card just to get rewards points. That corresponds to approximately 81.7 million cardholders – a 21% increase over the 71.7 million point-chasers in last year's survey.
Overall, Americans are racking up higher credit card balances. New York Federal Reserve data shows Americans held $870 billion in outstanding credit card balances as of the end of 2018, continuing an upward trend. However, the finder.com survey shows the opposite trend with rewards-based spending.
According to the 2019 survey, Americans racked up $158 billion in credit card purchases just to get rewards. In the previous year, we spent $175.8 billion for the same reason. We're making more purchases, but we're directing a higher percentage of purchases toward necessities. Rewards are just a useful perk.
Two of the top five categories of most frequent rewards-based purchases correspond to necessities. Groceries top the list at 28.1%, with household items at 16.4%.
The other three of the top five purchase groups involve entertainment and vacation categories. Dining out was the second highest reward purchase category at 23%, with hotels at 16.9% and airline flights at 15.3%. Others reaching double-digit percentages include shoes (14.6%), TVs and computers (11.8%), as well as cosmetics and fragrances (10.9%).
As with last year's survey, men are more likely to spend just to get rewards points and spend more in the process. Approximately 21% of men reported spending for rewards, with average annual charges of $1,979.82. Only 18% of women spent just for rewards, dropping an annual average of $1,573.63.
More men than women were rewards-based shoppers in ten of eleven categories. The exception was in cosmetics and fragrances, and men didn't lag behind by much (5.33% to 5.53% for women). (Perhaps the men were buying the items for women, or….) With respect to overall spending, things are more balanced. Women outspent men in five categories (cosmetics and fragrances, household items, flights, hotels, and other).
At just over 35%, millennials are the generation most likely to buy just for rewards points. Generation X was the least likely to buy for rewards alone (23%), but Gen-Xers who do buy for rewards tend to spend the most (averaging $1,750.47 per person compared to $1,355.05 for millennials). Approximately 30% of baby boomers reported spending just for rewards, and they reported the lowest average spending amount at $1,240.69.
Here's a shocker – the average amount spent on purchases just to earn rewards increases with a higher income. Respondents making less than $25,000 annually spent an average of $572.48 on rewards-based purchases, while those making three times as much (between $50,000 and $74,999) spent $1,223.72 in rewards-based spending.
The wealthiest Americans, with incomes greater than $300,000, spend far more on average in rewards-based spending ($4,297.95) – and why wouldn't they? They can afford increased discretionary spending, so they spend away.
We all chase points from time to time, but smart shoppers factor rewards into overall needs. Review your budget and your rewards program. Could you find a card that could provide better rewards given your typical shopping habits? If you want more credit, check out our list of rewards credit card offers.
Check competitor credit card offers to see if you can do better – and verify your credit score and credit report for anything that's dragging your score down. You may be able to qualify for better rewards offers just by cleaning up your financial habits. You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free within minutes by joining MoneyTips.