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Keep Your Credit Cards Fresh

Weed out your wallet to ensure you get the most from your credit cards

Chatzky: Weed out your wallet

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If you've kept the same credit cards for many years, you may want to swap them for new cards with better rewards and lower interest rates.

En español | There's a reason credit card issuers fall all over themselves to secure a place in your wallet. Once the cards are there, it's often forever. According to research from CreditCards.com, 20 million Americans have never changed their go-to credit card. Another 25 million haven't swapped out their preferred card in the past 10 years.

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Rewards bonuses rose 5 percent in the last quarter of 2015 and have more than doubled since 2010, according to the website WalletHub. So what's the best way to reshuffle your wallet? First, determine where you fall in the wallet spectrum below: Do you prefer cash over miles? Have you built up a daunting balance? Then, follow the related credit card guidelines.

You want the most cash back—or find it hard to redeem your travel miles.

Travelers, we feel for you. My advice is to forget about points. Focus instead on earning cash back on your purchases. Some cards to consider (offers are subject to change):

Citi Double Cash: 1 percent cash back when you buy, 1 percent back when you pay.

Discover It: 5 percent rotating category rewards each quarter—for instance, 5 percent back on gas and ground transportation in Q1; on restaurants and movies in Q2; and on home improvement and Amazon in Q3. Get 1 percent back on all else.

American Express Blue Cash Preferred: 6 percent on groceries, up to $6,000 a year.

You earn—and use—travel miles.

These days, it's pretty easy to snag a card with a bonus worth the equivalent of a free coach ticket when you spend $3,000 or $4,000 within the first few months. Consider:

Chase Sapphire Preferred: 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months; two points per dollar spent on travel and dining; one point on everything else. Points transfer to 10 frequent-travel programs (such as those of United, Southwest and Marriott) or convert to cash.

Citi ThankYou Premier: 40,000 bonus points after $3,000 in purchases; rewards points range from one to three per dollar spent.

You have a balance to pay off.

Transfer your current balance to a card with a zero percent introductory rate, which will help pay the balance faster and more cheaply. Consider:

Chase Slate: Zero percent interest for 15 months (13.24 to 23.24 percent after) and no balance-transfer fee (if you make the transfer in the first two months of having the card).

Citi Double Cash: Zero percent for 15 months (13.24 to 23.24 percent after), 3 percent balance-transfer fee, 1 percent cash back when you buy, 1 percent back when you pay.

Jean Chatzky is an AARP Financial Ambassador who writes for AARP the Magazine. Additional reporting by Hayden Fiel.

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