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October 16, 2013

Consumer Reports: The only rewards cards you really need

One card is good, but two is better if you want the most money back from your credit card purchases.

In August, Consumer Reports Money Adviser applied that hypothesis to more than 60 rewards card programs using a variety of spending scenarios based, in part, on Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer spending data and market research. It turns out that spreading the right purchases across the right two cards can earn you hundreds of dollars more in annual rewards than just one card.

Here are the best two cards for three different types of spenders.

THE FULL HOUSE

Your family spends about $3,900 on gas and $5,700 on groceries a year, the national average for a couple with children, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On a credit card budget of $3,000 a month, you're also spending heavily on entertainment, clothes and utilities.

Your two best cards: American Express Blue Cash Preferred and Fidelity Rewards American Express

Your rewards total: $1,070 in the first year; $1,980 over two years

Your strategy: The AmEx Blue Cash Preferred card offers you 6 percent cash back on groceries (on up to $6,000 a year) and 3 percent on gas. To get the maximum rewards in those categories, Consumer Reports Money Adviser says to put all of your monthly grocery and gas purchases on that AmEx card. Put the rest of your charges on the Fidelity Rewards AmEx, which gives you 2 percent cash back on all of your other purchases. You can pocket that cash or put it into a Fidelity individual retirement account, a brokerage account or your family's 529 college savings plan.

THE ROAD WARRIOR

Whether it's for work or play, you spend lots of time on planes and in hotels, and you want to earn rewards so your next globetrotting trip is free. Three-quarters of your credit card spending is in travel-related categories such as airfare, hotels, rental cars and dining, and you charge a total of $3,000 a month.

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