A credit card offered by a gas brand can actually save you less than a general cash-back card. Here’s why.
(C) Provided by Consumer Reports
By Penelope Wang
With gasoline prices so high–the national average price for a gallon of regular gas as of June 1, 2022, is an all-time-high $4.67 a gallon–is it worth getting a gas-brand credit card to save some money?
It certainly sounds tempting. Gas credit cards, such as those offered by Shell or ExxonMobil, typically offer 5 cents to 10 cents off per gallon of gas. So filling up a 15-gallon tank could shave as much as $1.50 off the total.
But regular cash-back credit cards could save you even more. A rewards card that pays you 5 percent on your gasoline purchases could mean a savings of $3.50 on a 15-gallon fill-up ($70.05), or more than twice as much as the gas card.
That’s not all. Because gas credit cards pay you back in cents rather than a percentage of the total, you actually get less of a benefit when gasoline prices go up.
“When gas prices are high, those gas card discounts lose value,” says Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com.
For consumers who have grown used to relatively tame prices during the pandemic, the recent rise in gas costs has come as a shock.
“We’ve seen the fastest seven-day increase in gas prices ever, and those higher prices are likely to last for months,” says Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, a website and smartphone app that helps drivers find the best deals.
So if you’re looking for ways to combat rising inflation–especially when filling up your car–here’s a closer look at the credit cards that give you the biggest bang for your buck.
General Rewards Card
For the most generous gas discounts, look to rewards credit cards that pay 5 percent cash-back savings on gas purchases, Rossman says.
You can find options with no annual fees. Just make sure you understand the limitations on the discounts.
The Citi Custom Cash Card, for example, gives cardholders 5 percent cash back on their top spending category each billing cycle, which can include gas, for up to $500 in purchases per cycle. Other purchases earn 1 percent cash back.
For those who find it worthwhile to purchase a warehouse club membership, Sam’s Club and Costco offer credit cards that pay generous cash back on gas purchases, which can be made at any gas station.
Sam’s Club MasterCard pays 5 percent cash back up to a $6,000 annual cap, then 1 percent thereafter. The Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi pays 4 percent back on gas purchases up to $7,000 per year, then drops to 1 percent.
If you drive a lot and expect to bump up against a rewards cap, consider using that card just for gas purchases, while opting for another for different spending categories, Rossman says.
Another option is the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature Card, which pays five-times points on gas purchases and electric vehicle charging stations, with no mileage cap. Those points can be used for travel, merchandise, and gift cards, among other categories.
The card is available through the PenFed Credit Union, which is open to new members with a $5 deposit. To earn the highest gas rewards, however, you need to qualify as an Honors Advantage member, which requires you to be in the military or open a checking account with PenFed.
Gas Credit Cards
While rewards cards may offer better discounts, for those who lack good or excellent credit, you may find it easier to qualify for a gas card, because you can often qualify with a fair credit score, says Bill Hardekopf, senior analyst at Moneycrashers.com.
Most gas cards don’t charge annual fees, but you’re likely to be charged steep interest rates if you run up a balance. Shell, for one, levies a 26.49 percent APR vs. the 16.59 percent national average for credit cards.
As noted earlier, gas card discounts are modest. Say you buy 35 gallons of regular gas a month, paying $4.67 a gallon, for a total of $163.45. Assuming your card gives you a 5-cent reward rate, you’d get back $1.75, which works out to a cash-back rate of 1.07 percent.
You may also bump up against caps on the number of gallons that qualify for the discount. And your discounts are typically limited to the gas company’s brand.
Still, some cards offer other benefits, such as discounts on nonfuel purchases or cash back in other spending categories.
Among the top choices, Hardekopf points to the BP Credit Card, which takes 5 cents off every gallon at participating BP and Amoco stations and gives a 1 percent discount on nonfuel purchases at those locations. Another version, the BP Visa Credit Card, takes 10 cents off each gallon and gives a 3 percent discount on groceries and 1 percent on other purchases.
Some gas retailers also offer discounts if you’re signed up with their programs and use a mobile payment app, such as Apple Pay or Google Pay.
Stack Your Rewards
To max out your discounts, try to combine them with other rewards programs whenever possible.
Many gas brands have their own apps that offer a few cents off per gallon on a purchase, and they don’t require a gas-branded credit card. Instead, you can use your rewards credit card to pay those charges.
“By linking a credit card that pays gas rewards, you can stack both discounts,” says Rossman, who uses this strategy himself.
For example, you might use a Sam’s Club Mastercard paying 5 percent cash back on gas with the Phillips 66 app recently paying 10 cents off per gallon.
When it comes to fighting inflation at the pump or anywhere else, every little bit helps.
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