Most of us pull out our credit cards to pay for our most mundane purchases, such as gas, groceries and restaurant bills. But as you realize the value of your credit card rewards, many start to look for ways to maximize their earnings. And often, this means finding strange ways to use your credit cards to make purchases that most others will use cash or checks for.
Here are 11 strange bills that I’ve found ways to pay for with my credit card, and earned valuable rewards along the way.
Strange Bills I’ve Paid With a Credit Card
Home improvement contractors: Although I’m pretty handy, being a homeowner requires paying an endless stream of people to repair and maintain everything that’s beyond my abilities. The vast majority of these contractors won’t accept credit cards, but there’s a few tricks you can use.
If they don’t accept credit cards because they don’t have a credit card processor, I offer to pay them through PayPal, which works often. But if they’re real problem is that they don’t want to pay the merchant fees, your only recourse is to say that you can only agree to make the purchase if you can pay with your card, without imposing additional fees.
Most contractors won’t know that you avoid interest by paying your entire statement balance (which is the only way to do it if you’re in it for the rewards). They will assume that like almost half of Americans, you’re carrying a credit card balance and can’t afford their services unless you finance the purchase.
Energy bills: My local gas and electric company will allow me to pay with a credit card, but they don’t make it easy. They don’t offer any autopay feature, so I have to login to their site for each and every payment. Thankfully, they charge a reasonable fee of just $1.50, instead of a percentage of the transaction. To save time and money, I just make a few large payments a year, prepaying several months in advance.
Water bills: Like the power company, the municipal water company doesn’t offer autopay options with a credit card. Likewise, I login a few times a year to make large payments, rather than make small monthly payments.
Charitable contributions: Whether it be a one-time donation or regular dues, nonprofits are always happy to accept contributions in nearly any form.
Buying a car: When you purchase a car from a dealer, you always have the option of paying with a credit card. Sure, they’ll never offer you this option. You’ll have to insist on it. But when push comes to shove, I’ve never seen a dealer lose a sale because it wouldn’t take my card as payment.
I’ve done this several times over the years with both new and used cars, so I know the drill. Don’t mention your credit card until you’ve negotiated the price. Only then should you tell them that you can only complete the transaction with your card, and that you’ll go elsewhere if they can’t accept it. Hold your ground and be patient when they “speak to their manager,” and you can be sure they’ll eventually say yes rather than see you walk. The hassle is worth it as the rewards are enormous. Just be sure to pre-clear the large purchase with your card issuer first.
For a big purchase like a car, you could take advantage of a sign-up offer to earn a bonus pretty quickly. For example, with the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you have to spend just $4,000 in the first three months to earn a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points. You will definitely hit that $4,000 if you’re purchasing a new vehicle.
Taxes: You might know that you can pay your federal income taxes with a credit card, but you’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t, due to the “convenience fee” of about 2% that’s imposed. Normally, this advice is true, but sometimes it isn’t. I’ll pay my federal taxes with a credit card in order to earn a generous new account bonus that can be worth far more than the 2% fee.
And if I use a card that offers rewards worth 2% then it’s simply convenient for me to do so compared to writing a check. Some states also accept credit cards for tax bills. With the Citi® Double Cash Card, a 2% cash-back card, you’ll earn 1% when you make a purchase, and 1% when you pay your bill. Plus, there’s no annual fee.
Traffic fines: It’s no fun to receive or pay for things like parking violations and speeding tickets, but nearly everyone who drives will get one from time to time. To encourage prompt payment, many states and municipalities will accept credit cards, without fees.
Local government fees: In Denver, where I live, the city has decided to accept credit cards to pay for all manner of licenses and fees. This is unlike most cities, but otherwise just like nearly any store that you visit. So if you’re registering your car, paying for trash collection or are even getting married, try using your plastic to pay your city, county or state.
Parking meters: Gone are the days when you’d have to fill your cup holder with quarters in order to park downtown, as many cities now have parking meters that take credit cards. I’m a little less enthusiastic about the parking kiosks that require you to enter your license plate number (usually on a screen that you can’t read in the sunlight) and get a receipt that you have to display on your dashboard – turning a one step process into one that requires three or four. Either way, I must have earned dozens of points and miles over the years by using my credit card instead of my spare change. If you use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® on your parking meters, you can earn 2 points per dollar on travel, which not only includes flights and hotel stays, but also parking and public transportation.
Buying goods at a farmer’s market: When you visit a farmer’s stall set up in your local park, or parking lot, you probably don’t imagine that they are equipped to handle credit cards. But you might be surprised if you bother to ask, as many small merchants have card readers attached to their phone.
Money: Buying money with a credit card seems like a ridiculous idea, but you can do so in some form or another. I like to buy coins from the U.S. Mint as gifts, and Visa gift cards can always be purchased with a credit card. I don’t dabble in cryptocurrency, but there’s ways to do that as well. Just make sure that it’s not considered to be a cash advance, or you’ll be on the hook for all of the interest charges and fees imposed on cash advances.