7OYS investigates credit card cash back rewards

Monday, June 23, 2014
There's a credit card perk everyone loves, called cash back rewards. You spend money and you get some of it back. But Seven On Your Side found out that it's not always easy to collect.

An estimated $16 billion dollars' worth of rewards go unused every year. Much of it is earned on credit cards. So why don't we cash in?

Pat Davis of San Lorenzo has been a happy customer of Citibank since it opened up in town.

"They have all my retirement and trust money," she said.

And so it was puzzling when a little problem cropped up.

"Maybe I'm just not sharp enough," said Davis.

It seems she's has earned $23.29 in cash back rewards on her Citibank credit card. But Citibank won't give her the money.

"They said 'it is our policy,'" Davis said.

This all began when she decided to stop using her card, in part because it doesn't have her photo on it.

"I like a card with my picture because that way no one can steal it and go in and say that they're me," said the San Lorenzo resident.

She cut the card in half, then tried to cash in her rewards.

"And then found out, oh no no, you have to keep using it," Davis said.

Citibank told her she had to spend more money and build her rewards to at least $50 before she could collect any cash back. However, with rewards at one percent of purchases, she'd have to spend $5,000 to earn $50 back.

"I'm one of the little people," Davis said. "And we little people don't spend that much money."

She admits she probably didn't notice the $50 minimum in the cardholder agreement. And she admits $23 is a small amount, but says it raises a big question.

"What happens to that money?" she asked. "What about all these $23, and $25, and $10 that people have earned?"

Citibank would only say it is policy. Davis says you wouldn't know it by looking at the statement.

"It says 'cash back earned,' it doesn't say 'maybe earned,'" Davis said. "So that's when I emailed a note to Michael Finney to say what happens to this money?"

We posed that question to Citibank. It didn't say where the leftover rewards end up, telling us: "The terms and conditions specify that an automatic redemption will occur when a minimum of $50 has been earned, and that checks cannot be issued for less than $50."

Davis isn't planning to spend $5,000 just to get $50 back. But she's still happy with her bank, mostly.

"I earned it, why won't they give it to me?" she asked.

The lesson here -- read the cardholder agreement before you sign up for a rewards card. Many banks require you to spend a certain amount before you can collect. Others give you cash back as you earn it. So it's worth your while to read through that tiny print.
Related Topics:
finance consumer consumer concerns credit cards bank banks u.s. & world 7 On Your Side San Lorenzo
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