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6 ways to get the most out of your credit card

Credit cards can save you money, protect your purchases and shield your identity while you shop.

Credit card tips
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You might not realize it, but your credit card may be stocked with useful benefits. These tips can help you use your credit cards to maximize savings and keep your purchases and personal information safe. Whether you're shopping online, buying gifts, traveling or otherwise, a credit card with the right features can help stretch your dollars and ease unexpected hassles.

1. Use virtual card numbers when shopping online

It's possible for scammers to get a hold of your credit card information online when you make purchases. When this happens, it's likely you'll have to shut down your account and wait for a new card to be issued. To avoid this hassle, many credit card companies offer one-time virtual account numbers, or virtual credit cards, to make online purchases. You'll be issued a unique 16-digit card number, expiration date and CVV that you can use to safely make a purchase with your account without entering your card's real information. For credit cards that offer this feature, like some select Citi® cards and the new X1 Card*, just log in to your account and request a virtual account number -- it should be generated on the spot.

2. Use the best cash-back rates

Using one of the best cash-back credit cards is a tried and true way of maximizing your savings. If you're planning to do both brick-and-mortar and online shopping, the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card* offers a flat 2% cash rewards on purchases. If you shop online often, you might consider the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card* or the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card*. 

With the Customized Cash Rewards card, you can opt to receive 3% cash back on online shopping (and 2% cash back on grocery stores and wholesale clubs, for up to a combined $2,500 of expenditure in 3% and 2% categories per quarter, then 1%). With the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, you can enjoy 5% cash back on all Amazon and Whole Foods purchases if you have a Prime membership, among other benefits. 

3. Use a card with purchase protection

A lot of people have credit card benefits they're not even aware of that are tucked away in the fine print. Many credit cards offer purchase protection against damage and theft, which acts like insurance for your gifts. For a set amount of days -- generally between 90 and 120 days -- purchases you make on the card that are stolen or damaged may be refunded up to certain value thresholds. For example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a top cash-back credit card that offers Purchase Protection for 120 days on purchases made with the card. If an item you purchased is damaged or stolen from you or your gift recipient, you can receive up to $500 per claim and up to $50,000 per account.

4. Use a card with trip protection

If you're traveling, some credit cards offer flight, hotel, car rental and other trip insurance perks for card holders at no extra cost. Trip protection and trip cancellation insurance are common features of some credit cards -- again, you just have to look at the fine print. There can be a wide range of protection offered on travel-related purchases made on your card, such as car rental insurance, reimbursements for delayed flights and other trip interruptions, baggage insurance and sometimes more. The Chase Freedom Flex℠ is a well-rounded card that offers comprehensive trip cancellation and interruption insurance.

5. Use a welcome bonus

If you're going to be spending anyway -- and you're in the market for a new credit card -- you might as well reward yourself with a new credit card sign-on bonus. Many sign-on bonuses, or welcome bonuses, can net you up to several hundred dollars in cash back, statement credit, rewards points or travel miles. If you're looking for a credit card solely to take advantage of the sign-on bonus, we recommend one with no annual fee, such as the Chase Freedom Flex and Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card*, which both feature a sign-on bonus of $200 after you spend $500 within the first three months of opening an account.

Read more: Best credit card welcome bonuses

6. Use a card with 0% introductory APR

You can apply for a 0% introductory APR credit card to receive interest-free, long-term financing. While many cards offer 0% introductory APR for purchases for 12 to 15 months on average, some offer longer periods -- like the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card, which offers a 0% introductory APR on purchases (and balance transfers) for 20 billing cycles (14.49% to 24.49% variable APR thereafter). One of your current cards may also have a 0% financing -- you can find out by viewing your account offers online. Some cards often offer 0% financing deals even after you've had the account open for a while. As always, be careful not to go overboard with spending and make sure you can make your monthly payments in full.

More of our credit card recommendations

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

*All information about the X1 card, Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card, Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, Wells Fargo Active Cash Card, and the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.