The Best Rewards Cards

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How it works: Rewards cards give points for each purchase, redeemable for everything from digital cameras and golf clubs to gift cards for national retailers. Although the standard award is one point for every $1 spent, the Citi Diamond Preferred Rewards Card gives five points for every $1 spent at the supermarket, drugstore, and gas station during the year. Some rewards cards, such as the Wells Fargo Visa Signature, let you redeem points you accrue for merchandise, or for cash rebates.

Best for: People who want a tangible reward for charging purchases. But crunch the numbers to determine whether the merchandise reward is a good deal compared to a gift card or cash back. "If you take cash back, each rewards point has a value of one penny -- for a $100 rebate or a $100 gift card at 10,000 points," says Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research for Creditcards.com. "Yet if you redeem the points for merchandise, each rewards point is worth only a half cent." Be aware, also, that the point prices assigned to the products may have no bearing as to what they actually cost in the store.

Fine print: Pay close attention to spending caps, redemption fees, and expiration dates.

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