It may seem hard to believe now, but credit card rewards used to be simple.
"These reward programs have been getting more complex since they were created," says Mike Vichich, co-founder of Glyph. "When they first started, you got one point for every dollar you spent, and a point was worth a penny."
Now, of course, every rewards card does its rewards a little differently. Some cards offer double rewards across the board, while others specialize in a specific purchase category. Still others are time-sensitive, with rotating categories that offer 5 percent for a few months at a time.
It can be hard to figure out which card you should get to maximize the rewards you get from your usual spending habits. And if you've already got a wallet full of rewards cards, you might have trouble remembering which one to use for which purchase. Was Starbucks a 5 percent category this quarter, or was that last quarter? Should I just go with the Discover Card that provides 2 percent at restaurants and gas stations? Do I even have time to look up which bonus categories are active for each card?
It's with those questions in mind that Vichich and co-founder Tyler Felous started Glyph, a service that aims to sort out the mess in your wallet. Tell the free iPhone app which cards you carry, and the next time you're waiting in line, bring up the "Guru" feature, which uses Foursquare to locate merchants. Select the store where you're shopping, and Guru will tell you which card provides the best rewards for the transaction.
It will also point out which credit cards might provide you with better rewards for that purchase and allow you to apply directly through the app. (Like other personal finance and budgeting services, it gets revenue from card application commissions, though Vichich stresses that Glyph only recommends cards that make sense for the user.)
If you take the further step of linking your accounts to the app, Glyph can provide more information -- for instance, it can tell you how close you are to each card's limit. It can also pull your account history to see which cards you used for which purchases in the last few months; based on that, it can calculate how much money you've left on the table by not using the best rewards card for each transaction.
It's this calculation that lies at the heart of the service: Vichich was inspired to start the company after tracking his own purchases over the course of a year and finding that he'd left around $2,500 in rewards on the table. Glyph notes on its website that the average American is missing out on $600 in rewards by not using the right portfolio of credit cards.
Of course, not everyone can qualify for the most premium credit cards, and even those who do may have a legitimate reason for not applying -- an annual fee, for instance, or fear of a hit to their credit score.
While the relatively young app still doesn't have every card in its database (there are currently about 300), it is an easy way to quickly compare the rewards cards at your disposal. So if you regularly find yourself fumbling in your wallet in search of the best card to hand the cashier, it's worth checking out.
[Correction: An earlier version of this article indicated that Discover offered a 2 percent rewards card that was effective at all times in all categories; it does not. The Discover Open Roads card offers 2 percent cash-back on restaurants and gas stations, and only on $250 of spending per billing period.]
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.
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