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With spring officially here, you might need some new school supplies for yourself or your kids. Whether you’re a college student or parent, can earn points, miles or cash back on every purchase you make on supplies. Making use of credit card rewards isn’t just about racking up free ; you can earn rewards like cash back and welcome bonuses for less glamorous expenses.
As always, shopping with a must be done strategically and with some degree of discipline. If you’re not paying off your balance monthly, what you pay in interest may exceed any rewards (or ) you might earn. The partner offers featured below were selected based on having no annual fee and the best spread of benefits for those looking to maximize their school budget.
The best overall credit card for school shopping
The Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card offers the best of all worlds for school shopping. If you plan to spend at least $1,000 within the first three months, you earn a $200 cash rewards bonus. You’ll also earn a 2% flat in cash rewards on purchases, even those that count toward your spending threshold to unlock the welcome bonus. And if you need a little extra time to pay off your school supplies, you can take advantage of this card’s 0% introductory APR offer on purchases for 15 months from account opening (15.24% to 25.24% variable APR thereafter).
See more details in our full review of the .
Incentivize paying off your purchases with extra cash back
The Citi Double Cash Card offers one of the simplest ways to earn cash back quickly. You’ll earn a flat rate of 2% without having to worry about making purchases from only qualifying retailers or having to think about spending categories. The catch: 1% is awarded at the time of purchase and the other 1% when you pay off the balance. The good news is, this method is like earning an award for paying off your credit card.
For school supplies on Amazon
Furnish a dorm room at Target
The REDcard credit card* can earn you 5% off your purchases online, in-store and at Starbucks located within Target stores. This can come in handy particularly if you’re furnishing or a dorm room. The card comes with plenty of perks that regular Target shoppers can make use of, long after the school season is over. Among them is free shipping for most Target.com purchases and an extra 30 days for returns.
Rotating categories for the whole school year
If you have some big school shopping lined up and need some breathing room, the Discover it Cash Back* card provides you with over a year (15 months 0% intro APR) to pay off your purchases interest-free (12.24% to 23.24% variable APR thereafter). As long as you’re smart about paying off the balance before the 15 months are up, you effectively get a free loan to cover your school-related expenses. Discover will also match your first year’s rewards — so if you accrue $300 in rewards within your first year, you could receive up to another $300 in rewards from Discover.
To get the most out of this card, you’ll want to shop strategically based on quarterly rotating categories that earn you 5% cash back upon activation (on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases, then 1%) — you’ll get 1% back on all other purchases. For January through March 2022, you’ll get 5% back at grocery stores and fitness clubs, including gym memberships. From April through June, you’ll get 5% cash back at gas stations and Target. July through September nets you 5% on restaurants and PayPal, and October through the rest of the year will switch to Amazon.com and digital wallets. Remember, you must manually activate each category through your online account to get the bonus.
Check out more details in our full review of the .
How much do people typically spend shopping for school?
The average family with school-age children in the US spent roughly $850 a year on school supplies in 2021, according to the . This figure is up 7% year over year from 2020.
According to , for the 2020 to 2021 school year, college students in four-year institutions averaged $1,240 just in books and other course materials. Other expenses, like room and board, transportation and tuition, add up to tens of thousands of spending in a year.
How can I save money while school shopping?
Avoid overspending by creating a budget based on the supplies you need and how much you’re willing to spend. Stick tight to your plan and avoid getting swayed by trendy school fashion or sought-after gear. A budget is the best way to avoid spending more than you can afford — when you stick to it.
It’s also smart to comparison-shop. Look online, in-store and in ads to find the best prices on the items you or your kids need. You may need to group supplies by retailer to get the best deals — it might involve buying some items online and others at specific retailers, but the extra effort may be worth the savings.
Can I use credit cards combined with gift cards to save even more?
To maximize rewards hacking and minimize overspending, draw on the power of gift cards by buying one for the amount of your school supply budget. You won’t be able to go over the limit, helping you control your spending. And if you’re smart about where you buy the gift card, you can also earn more cash-back rewards.
Erik Budde is CEO of GigaPoints, a platform that provides personalized credit card recommendations based on your spending. He suggests buying a gift card for your school shopping at a high-rewards category store, such as a grocery store.
“Since Amazon [and other types of] gift cards are sold at so many different types of retailers, this tactic works in a variety of different places,” Budde says. “Many credit cards offer bonus points at office supply stores, drug stores and more.”
Essentially, you may be able to earn points when you at a high rewards category store, while limiting your spending to the gift card amount.
CNET reviews credit cards by exhaustively comparing them across set criteria developed for each major category, including cash back, welcome bonus, travel rewards and balance transfer. We take into consideration the typical spending behavior of a range of consumer profiles — with the understanding that everyone’s financial situation is different — and the designated function of a card.
For cash-back credit cards, for example, key factors include the annual fee, the “welcome bonus” and the cash-back rate (or rates, if they differ by spending category). For rewards and miles cards, we calculate and weigh the net monetary value of a card’s respective perks. And with balance transfer credit cards, we analyze specs such as the duration of the introductory 0% APR period and the balance transfer fee, while acknowledging secondary factors such as the standard APR and the length of time you have to make a balance transfer after you open the account.
More credit card advice
*All information about the Target Redcard Credit Card, Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, and the Discover it Cash Back has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.
The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.
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