Best credit cards and strategies for maximizing home improvement spending
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When it’s time to remodel or build a home, you’ll likely face significant costs. Readers routinely ask us what credit cards will maximize their rewards on purchases at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware and other home improvement stores, even more so as people are using this downtime to tackle DIY home improvement projects.
Today we’ll cover several strategies and credit cards you should investigate when it comes to maximizing the return on your home improvement expenses. As you’ll see, many of the best cards for home improvement purchases don’t carry an annual fee and are useful for other types of purchases as well. Store cards typically aren’t good picks because they offer poor returns, or none at all. The Home Depot Consumer Credit Card, for instance, doesn’t offer any cash-back rewards, though it does have the benefit of special financing offers.
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The best cards for home improvement purchases
- Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Huntington Voice Credit Card
- Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature
- Chase Freedom(No longer open to new applicants)
Related Reading: Best credit cards for Amazon purchases
The best cards for home improvement purchases
Annual fee: $0
Welcome bonus: Earn $500 cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Earning rates: 5% back on the first $25,000 in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year. You’ll also earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year and you’ll get an unlimited 1% cash back on everything else.
Why we like it: This card is useful for earning maximum Ultimate Rewards on your purchases. It earns either 5% cash back, or 5x points if you have a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, when you buy Lowe’s or Home Depot gift cards from office supply stores like Staples or OfficeMax/Office Depot.
Those 5x points equate to a 10% return based on TPG valuations. Likewise, the $500 welcome bonus bonus can become 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points, which is worth $1,000 based on TPG valuations. And getting approved for a business card may be easier than you think.
Annual fee: $0
Welcome bonus: Earn $200 cash back after you spend $500 in the first three months.
Earning rates: 5% cash back on Lyft rides; 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
Why we like it: With this card, you’ll earn 1.5% cash back regardless of where you buy your home improvement goods. That equals a 3% return based on TPG valuations if you have an Ultimate Rewards-earning card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Although we always recommend paying off your credit card in full every month, the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers an introductory annual percentage rate of 0% for the first 15 months on new purchases in case you need some extra time. Just make sure you can pay off the entire balance before the intro period is over because after that, you’ll pay a variable APR of to 14.99% – 23.74%.
The card offers 120-day purchase protection and extended warranty protection that extends eligible manufacturer’s warranties by an additional year. Cardholders also get three free months of DoorDash’s DashPass, with the next nine months for 50% off.
The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Annual fee: $0
Welcome bonus: N/A
Earning rates: 3x points on your first $2,000 spent each quarter in the bonus category of your choice and 1x points on all other purchases.
Why we like it: This card earns a solid 3% back in the bonus category of your choice, though it’s capped at $2,000 per quarter. You can choose from 10 categories, including home improvement stores, and change your choice once per quarter. The redemption process if straightforward — points are always worth a flat 1 cent apiece.
Annual fee: $0
Welcome bonus: Get a $70 gift card automatically loaded into your Amazon.com account upon approval.
Earning rates: 5% cash back on all Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2% back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores and 1% back on all other purchases.
Why we like it: If it’s straight cash back you’re after and you buy your home improvement supplies from Amazon, this card isn’t a bad pick. It earns 5% back at Amazon and comes with perks like purchase protection and extended warranty protection. You need a Prime membership ($119 per year) to qualify for this card.
The information for the Amazon Visa Signature card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Annual fee: $0
Welcome bonus: Earn $200 cash back (or 20,000 points) after you spend $500 in the first three months.
Earning rates: 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases on rotating quarterly bonus categories each quarter you activate and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Why we like it: You can get a lot out of value from this card if you don’t mind keeping track of quarterly categories. Home improvement stores are routinely listed as a bonus category. You might also be able to purchase items typically found in a home improvement store in another one of the bonus categories, like Amazon.com or wholesale clubs, in order to qualify for the 5% cash-back earnings. Or, if you have an Ultimate Rewards-earning card, that return is effectively 10%.
The card offers an intro APR of 0% for the first 15 months on purchases (14.99%-23.74% variable APR after). It also provides 120-day purchase protection and extended warranty protection, as well as the same DoorDash and Lyft benefits as the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
The information for the Chase Freedom has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
When other cards could make sense
Believe it or not, you don’t always need to use the card with the highest return for your home improvement purchases. Here are some situations where it could make sense to use another rewards card.
Meeting a minimum spend — With a large expense on your horizon, you should think about whether your loyalty portfolio is missing a card. If so, use home improvement purchases to quickly knock out minimum spending requirements on one or more new cards and qualify for bonus points.
Meeting annual spend bonuses — Taking care of a home isn’t cheap, so make sure to check the cards in your wallet and see if you could use this spending to hit an annual spend threshold that triggers bonus miles, a companion ticket, free award night or status:
- British Airways Visa Signature Card: Spend $30,000 in a calendar year and earn the Travel Together Ticket.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®: Spend $40,000 in a calendar year and earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card: Spend $10,000 in a year and earn 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points for every $10,000 in purchases. Get up to 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points annually.
- World of Hyatt Credit Card: Earn two elite-qualifying nights for every $5,000 spent, with no cap on the number of nights you can earn.
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: Earn 15,000 Medallion Qualification Miles toward status when you spend $30,000, $60,000, $90,000 and $120,000 on the card in a calendar year.
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: Earn 10,000 MQMs toward status when you spend $25,000 and $50,000 in a calendar year spending (up to 20k per year).
- Hilton Honors American Express Card: Spend $20,000 in a calendar year and receive an upgrade to Hilton Honors Gold status.
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: Spend $15,000 in a calendar year and earn a weekend-night certificate. Spend $40,000 and receive an upgrade to Hilton Honors Diamond status.
- Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: Spend $15,000 in a calendar year and earn a free-weekend-night certificate. Spend $60,000 total and earn a second free-night certificate. Spend $40,000 and receive an upgrade to Hilton Honors Diamond status.
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: Spend $60,000 in a calendar year and receive a free-weekend-night certificate, in addition to the one complimentary weekend-night award you get each year after your account renewal.
Earning credit card rewards when financing home improvements
If you’re looking to refinance or take out a loan for home improvements, you’ll have to make payments directly to your bank. There’s no fee-free way to make those payments with a credit card and earn points. If your financial institution will accept a check, you can use services like Plastiq which typically charge a 1-3% service fee to make it possible to use your credit card (and earn points).
The vast majority of the time, the rewards you earn in exchange for the fee aren’t worth enough to make up for the charge, or the margin you come out ahead is so small that it should be avoided. However, if you’re able to earn enough Plastiq referral credits by having friends, family and coworkers sign up for the service and make a payment using your referral code, you may be able to get a few months of fee-free payments under your belt and earn credit card rewards.
Another option is to negotiate with the contractor/laborer you use and buy the supplies yourself from the home improvement store of your choosing, thereby earning credit card rewards on the purchases. Most contractors do not accept credit cards for their own work because margins in the construction business are tight enough without having to give up 1-3% in merchant transaction fees to a card issuer.
If you aren’t comfortable negotiating over purchasing supplies, a friend or family member may be able to help you so you don’t miss out on potentially huge rewards for your large expense.
More ways to save money
Aside from using the right credit card, there are a few money-saving strategies for home improvement purchases:
- Discount Gift Cards — You can routinely find gift cards for home improvement chain stores on sale for a discount on sites like Raise, Gift Card Mall and Cardpool. I’ve seen gift cards for Lowe’s for as much as 15% off during the holidays which, when combined with one or more of the methods listed below, can add up to significant savings. Remember, however, what you give up in return for saving money with discounted gift cards: purchase protection, return protection and extended warranty policies which are benefits of a lot of the credit cards listed below.
- Shopping Portals — As mentioned here at TPG time and time again, shopping portals should be at the forefront of your mind when it’s time to spend money. Your best bet is to use a shopping portal aggregator like CashBack Monitor to search multiple portals for stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot and then click to the one with the highest return. As of publication time, Home Depot had several categories of purchases that qualified for up to 10% cash back at Top Cashback.
- Amex and Chase Offers — Home improvement stores routinely appear in Amex Offers and Chase Offers, with promotions such as $10 back when you spend $75. Log into your online accounts to see which offers you’re eligible for and add them to your card.
- Lowe’s Coupons — There seems to be an endless supply of Lowe’s coupons in the world and many can be picked up from eBay for less than $1. Remember to separate your purchases into multiple transactions in order to use multiple coupons and stack your savings.
- Lowe’s Military and Veteran Discount — Attach your proof of qualification to your My Lowe’s card either through the automated system on Lowe’s.com or by taking your DD-214 to your local Lowe’s, where customer service will take care of you. You’ll then save 10% automatically on almost everything in the store every time you scan your card at checkout.
Most home improvement projects represent a significant expense and you should do everything you can to minimize the sting. With the right combination of savings tactics and rewards-earning credit cards, you’ll come out well ahead of what you would pay if you walked into a store and paid cash.
At the end of the day, the best card for your home improvement purchases depends on the amount and type of goods you’re purchasing. For instance, if it’s a lot of inexpensive goods or basic building supplies, you might want to use a combination of discounted gift cards and coupons to save as much money as possible. Just keep in mind that if you’re using gift cards, you’ll lose out on credit card purchase protection benefits.
If it’s an appliance or electronics, you might want to use a card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited through a shopping portal to earn maximum points while still getting the purchase and extended warranty protections the card offers. Likewise, if you have a card like the Chase Freedom, you should always keep your eye on the quarterly rotating categories to see if a home improvement store is listed or if you could purchase the items you need from a store in another one of the bonus categories.
The only wrong answer when it comes to your home improvement purchase is doing none of the above.
Additional reporting by Richard Kerr.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Amex card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Platinum Amex, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Amex, please click here.
Featured photo by Maskot/Getty Images
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