Getting the most out of bankamericard cash rewards

To get the most out of your BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ credit card, you need to go all in. That is, you need to have a checking or savings account with Bank of America® or an investment account with Merrill Edge® or Merrill Lynch® — preferably one with a fat balance — to really move the needle on your total rewards earnings. Putting more of your grocery store and gas station purchases on your card will help, too, but just a little.

The BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ credit card is a difficult card to maximize because it rewards loyalty above all else. There aren’t any shortcuts to loyalty. You either have it or you don’t. Getting more with the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card

Learn More There are two paths to maximizing credit card rewards: spending and redeeming. With the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ credit card, you can get 25% to 75% more rewards when redeeming if you have high enough balances in your affiliated checking, savings and investment accounts. But because of the way the card’s spending caps are structured, it’s more difficult to maximize rewards just through spending.

With the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ credit card, you’ll earn:

3% at gas stations (not including warehouse clubs or superstores).

2% at grocery stores (not including warehouse clubs or superstores).

1% on everything else.

There’s a combined quarterly cap of $1,500 on gas station and grocery store spending. That means you’ll get 2% or 3% on the first $1,500 spent each quarter in those categories together, but once you hit that limit, you’ll be able to earn only 1% in cash back until the following quarter. Shopping strategically will help, a little

To earn more when shopping with the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ credit card:

Shop where it counts. As with other credit cards, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ credit card’s definition of grocery stores and gas stations doesn’t include outlets like Target or Wal-Mart. Instead, you need to shop at stand-alone grocery stores, supermarkets and gas stations to earn these bonuses.

You can check to see how each purchase is categorized when you go to your account online and click on the drop-down menu on a certain transaction. You can also check the Visa supplier locator to see how certain stores are coded.

Max out your bonus spending caps. If you can meet the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ credit card’s spending caps each quarter without overspending, you’ll get more value out of this card. How much you earn depends on whether you spend more on gas or groceries.

Because of the card’s combined spending caps, your rewards shift depending on how you max out these caps — that is, how you split up that first $1,500 between gas stations and grocery stores each quarter:

If you maxed out all your quarterly spending caps at gas stations only, you’d earn $180 in rewards in a year.

If you maxed out half your spending caps at gas stations and half your spending caps at grocery stores, you’d earn $150.

If you maxed out all your spending caps at grocery stores, you’d earn $120.

To earn the most rewards possible, you’d have to max out your spending caps only at gas stations and avoid grocery stores. But this is unhelpful advice: The average American spent about 60% more on food at home than he or she did on gas in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many might also find it challenging to hit those spending caps in the first place.

Instead of bending over backward all year just to eke out an extra $30, it’s easier to focus on maximizing your rewards through redemption. Your gains will be much higher, all for minimal effort, if you have a high enough balance in the right checking, savings or investment account.

» MORE: BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card full review Redeeming wisely: Preferred Rewards will boost your earnings

Your BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ credit card offers three redemption options:

Statement credit, which is a credit applied toward your current balance.

Direct deposit into a Bank of America® checking or savings account or a Cash Management Account at Merrill Lynch® or Merrill Edge®. This option gives you an automatic 10% bonus — so $30 in rewards, for example, would become $33 when you made that online deposit.

Personal check, which may take about 14 days to reach you by mail.

For each option, you need a minimum of $25 to redeem.

To get the most from your card, redeem for direct deposit. This is the only option that gets you a 10% loyalty bonus if you have a Bank of America® checking or savings account or a Cash Management Account with Merrill Lynch® or Merrill Edge®. And your rewards bonuses will be larger if you have a high balance in your combined Bank of America®, Merrill Edge® and/or Merrill Lynch® accounts and qualify for the Bank of America® Preferred Rewards program:

With a combined balance of $20,000 to $49,999, you’ll get 25% more rewards.

With $50,000 to $99,999, you’ll get 50% more rewards.

With $100,000 or more, you’ll get 75% more rewards.

Say you maxed out half your spending caps at grocery stores and half at gas stations, for example. If you didn’t have a Bank of America® account, you’d get $150 in a year. But if you had qualifying accounts with more than $100,000 combined, you’d get $262.50 in the same year.

The 10% loyalty bonus is automatic, but Preferred Rewards aren’t. If you qualify for the program, you have to enroll to start getting the benefits, which you can do here. You can qualify when you have both a Bank of America® personal checking account and a three-month combined average balance of $20,000 or more in a Bank of America® checking or savings account or a Merrill Edge® or Merrill Lynch® investment account, according to Bank of America®’s website.

Keeping $100,000 in your account would dramatically increase your total earn rate on the card, from 3% at gas stations and 2% at grocery stores to 5.25% and 3.5%, respectively.

If you don’t happen to have $100,000 available to put into an account and you aren’t getting many loyalty benefits out of the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ credit card, it might just be easier to earn bigger rewards on other cards, like the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express or the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card rather than trying to qualify for the Preferred Rewards program.

» MORE: Merrill Edge® full review Earn more with loyalty

With the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ credit card, there isn’t a quick and easy way to increase your earnings. It’s designed as a utilitarian cash-back card, not as a card for maximizing rewards. The only way you can really get ahead in a big way is by staying loyal to Bank of America® and maintaining a high balance in your bank account or investment account.

If you can, and if you want, go all in. Get the 10% bonus, or even the 75% bonus. If that’s not an option, look for a credit card that makes earning rewards easier.

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet. com . Twitter: @ideclaire7 .

Image via iStock.

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