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Home repair costs are an unpleasant part of homeownership that no one enjoys. Even if you have savings set aside for unexpected expenses like I do, withdrawing your hard-earned money to pay for a big ticket repair isn't much fun.
But not too long ago, I found a way to take the sting out of an $8,000 home-repair bill. I paid for an HVAC replacement with a rewards credit card, and I earned 10 free flights in exchange. The best part of my story is that I didn't pay one dollar in credit card interest.
How I Earned 10 Free Flights
A few years ago, my husband and I had an unpleasant surprise the first time we tried to turn on our air conditioner in the spring. Our HVAC unit was broken. We called a trustworthy local repairman we knew and—to our dismay—he told us that it was time to retire our old HVAC. The replacement cost plus labor for a new HVAC was a little north of $8,000. Ouch!
1. Home Improvement Savings Account
Fortunately, my husband and I have a general savings account we use for these types of surprise expenses. A good savings account is the first key to my success when it comes to earning valuable credit card rewards.
As a rule, if I don't have the money to pay a charge in full, I don't use my credit card. I know that if I charge more on a credit card than I can afford to pay off by the statement due date, I'll have to pay interest. Credit card interest is notoriously high. The Federal Reserve reports that the average APR on interest-assessing credit cards was 15.91% in February 2021.
Slick Tip: High-interest fees will quickly offset the value of any credit card rewards you might earn if you don't pay your statement balance in full each month.
2. Asking to Pay with a Credit Card
Rather than pay the repairman cash out of our savings account, I asked if he accepted credit card payments. He said that he did.
Businesses have to pay merchant processing fees — often around 3% — to accept credit card payments from customers. So, you can't assume that every service provider will let you pay for home improvement costs with a credit card.
Merchant fees aside, it's my experience that many service providers do accept credit cards. (When I owned a small company years ago, we accepted credit cards and wrote the fees off as a cost of business.) In the past, I've paid for a roof replacement and other major home repairs with a credit card as well.
3. The Right Sign-Up Bonus
My husband and I weren't in a rush to replace our HVAC unit. So, we each had time to to apply for a new credit card to cover the HVAC costs. Why open two new rewards cards? We wanted to take advantage of sign-up bonuses to maximize our rewards-earning potential.
After researching the best rewards credit card sign-up bonuses available, I found a popular airline credit card was a good fit for us. Back then the card featured a welcome offer of 30,000 bonus miles plus a Southwest Companion Pass for the remainder of the year after meeting the spending requirement—$4,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months from account opening.
4. $3,800 Worth of Free Flights
At the time of this story, I was still a travel rewards credit card beginner. Yet despite my inexperience, my husband and I earned 10 free flights that year by paying for our home repair with a credit card. Here's how we did it.
- We earned two credit card sign-up bonuses — At the time of signing up, we earned 30,000 Rapid Reward Points each and two coveted Southwest Companion Passes. The spending requirement for each sign-up bonus was $4,000. So, we split our $8,000+ home repair bill and paid for it with our two new cards.
- Our initial rewards redemption saved us over $1,700. That spring break, my husband and I cashed in around 60,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points in for two free domestic plane tickets. With our Companion Passes, our two children joined us for free. (Note: We each paid around $10 for taxes.)
- We used our Companion Passes for six more free flights. In addition to the initial spring break trip, our family of four took three more flights that year. Each time, our two children flew for free. We got an estimated $2,100 in additional value out of those six free flights.
In total, our family enjoyed around $3,800 worth of free travel thanks to the rewards we earned paying for our home repair with credit cards.
Why I Use Credit Cards for Home Repairs and More
I pay for every expense possible with a credit card. That includes day-to-day spending, monthly utilities (when accepted) and major expenses like home repairs. Once, I bought a car with my credit card. And I use a credit card to pay for medical bills too.
There are three reasons I pay for purchases — both big and small — with a credit card. You can probably guess the first reason from this story. I like earning credit card rewards for the things I need to buy anyway.
Next, credit cards protect me better than cash or debit cards. Credit cards come with price protection and let me dispute fraudulent charges when needed. And if I lose my card or someone steals it, my personal liability is capped at a much lower level thanks to federal protections like the Fair Credit Billing Act.
The final reason I prefer credit cards is because they give me the opportunity to build credit. My credit card issuers report my account history to the three credit bureaus each month. As long as I keep my credit utilization levels low and my payments on-time, those credit cards help me maintain good credit that I can rely on when I need to apply for new financing in the future.