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I’m a travel rewards kind of person where credit cards are concerned, but I think that cashback cards are a seriously practical alternative. Cash is really the most flexible reward, after all. You can apply it against any expense, even travel.

Choosing a cashback card is hard because the reward rates vary so widely. Cards often vary their cashback rate on different types of spending. Will you do a lot of that type of spending, or will you use your card in places where you’ll earn only a mediocre reward rate?

For help in finding the right cashback card, try the ranking just issued by The top-ranked card is the SimplyCash Preferred Card from American Express, which pays 5 per cent rewards on spending for the first six months (to a $300 cap) and then 2 per cent on all spending afterwards. That’s appealingly simple to follow.

The second-ranked card is a bit of a surprise in that it’s from Rogers Bank, part of Rogers Communications. The Rogers World Elite MasterCard pays a base rate of 1.75 per cent cash, 2 per cent on Rogers products and 4 per cent on purchases in foreign currency. This more than offsets the 2.5 per cent markup that most credit cards charge when you make a purchase in a currency other than Canadian dollars.

Third-ranked Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite is an example of a card with different reward rates. You get 4 per cent on gas and groceries, 2 per cent at drugstores and for recurring bill payments and 1 per cent on everything else. You’ll need to buy a lot of gas and groceries to squeeze the most out of this card.

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Rob’s personal finance reading list…

Less stocks – or more – in retirement?

A thorough look at three different approaches to managing the mix of stocks and bonds in your portfolio after you retire. Yes, one of them advocates increasing stock market exposure after retirement.

Her $300 Uber ride was worth the money

She used Uber for a two-hour ride that could have been done by train at much less cost. Why? To avoid stress. All about strategic splurging – spending where it makes a real difference.

The top consideration in who to date is…

It’s home-buying aspirations, according to a survey of millennials by a bank. Seriously?

This wonder product costs $1.28

Find out a bunch of surprising uses for baking soda beyond baking and making your fridge smell better. I priced baking soda at $1.28 on the Wal-Mart website.

Ask Rob

Q: I am travelling to Europe in the fall. My bank has Visa cards that I can load with foreign currency – for example euros – prior to my departure. This is appealing to me because it means I don’t have to organize different currencies prior to my departure or manage them when I am on the move, but I’m wondering if it’s a cost-effective way to plan.

A: Sounds like you’re talking about pre-paid cards. Basically, you load money in various currencies on these cards before leaving and then draw down on your balance while travelling. These cards may help you avoid the 2.5 per cent markup that most – but not all – credit cards charge on transactions in a foreign currency. Whatever pre-paid card you use, check for set-up or annual fees. One thing to remember about using your regular card is that you can earn reward points on your purchases abroad.

Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can’t answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

Today’s financial tool

The popular Globe and Mail cottage buyer’s guide has been revamped (for Globe Unlimited subscribers)

Video of the week

An investment adviser wades into the buy vs. rent debate using what he calls the 5 per cent rule. A rational way to see whether buying or renting is better for you.

What I’ve been writing about

  • Six reasons why a savings account is an awesome place for your money right now
  • Expect a pity party for the middle class and their debt in the coming federal election (for Globe Unlimited subscribers)
  • Four steps to prepare for a great retirement experience (for Globe Unlimited subscribers)

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