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Blinded by sign-up bonus rewards points

Julie Sherrier

For the first time in perhaps decades, I received a credit card “payment overdue” notice.

I applied for the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card in early spring to take
advantage of its 50,000 Membership Rewards points bonus offer with the $175 annual fee waived
the first year. I was approved and had to spend $1,000 within three months to get the points.

Spending the $1,000 wasn’t a problem. Paying the bill in a timely manner was.
Blinded by sign-up bonus rewards points
I was particularly confused because I had already made two payments toward my balance earlier
in the month — before the due date. I logged into my account and toggled around the payment
section of the site to check out the balance, charges and payments and found no
irregularities.

And then it dawned on me that perhaps my new card wasn’t a credit card at all, but *head
smack* a charge card!

Charge cards typically don’t allow you to roll over a balance from month to month; rather you
have to pay the entire balance by the due date. I, like most cardholders, don’t take the time
to read the entire terms and conditions pamphlet that arrives in the same envelope with your
new card. I do, however, review the Schumer Box listing the card’s APR and late fees before I apply.
Usually. But I didn’t do that with this card. It was the 50,000 bonus points that lured me
in, and I got sloppy.

In my defense, American Express does not, in bold type (or even regular type), tell you that
the Premier Rewards Gold Card is a charge card. It does say, however, under the “APR” heading that “no interest charges because you pay the balance in full each month.” Oops. Guess I missed that.

But enough shame and blame. I made a mistake and had to fix it before the late payment ended up on my
credit report. Plus, I wanted to protect my 50,000 bonus rewards points. So I immediately
paid the remaining balance online and called AmEx customer service.

Luckily, reporting late payments to the credit bureaus doesn’t occur until 60 days has
passed, according to the AmEx rep I spoke with. I was less than 30 days late. And my points were safe, too. 

My very first piece of plastic was an American Express green card. It also was a charge card,
not a credit card. I had a love/hate relationship with that card as it taught me hard
budgeting lessons when the bill came due at the end of the month. But that was a long time
ago.

Today, I manage my credit portfolio well. I rarely carry balances, and when I do, I know I
have the cash to pay them off.
I find it just a little ironic that even though I write and edit personal finance stories and
columns all day, I made this goof.

But hey, it’s fixed. I doubt I’ll be using the card much after this experience, though. Mismanaging this card almost dinged my credit. Maybe next time I sign up for a new
card, I’ll be a little more careful knowing exactly what it is I’m signing up for.

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  • Alicia

    Hi Julie, thanks for this advice. I’ve been looking for a new credit card and I’ll make sure I pay close attention to what I am signing up for.