Credit cards and charity: 3 ways to give back with plastic

Hope Connolly_iStock_Getty Images

Hope Connolly_iStock_Getty Images

The main draw of rewards cards is their ability to get you something back on your spending (whether it’s rewards or credit-building). But what if you want to give back? Credit cards often allow you to be philanthropic as well.

For example, MasterCard (via its Priceless Causes program) has partnered with Stand Up To Cancer for several years running. While the promotion is running (usually during the summer), every time a cardholder uses a MasterCard credit, debit or prepaid card to spend more than $10 at a restaurant, MasterCard makes a donation to Stand Up To Cancer.

In addition to unique, limited-time programs like this, there are more permanent ways you can use your card to do good. Read on for some examples from a variety of card companies and issuers.

1. Co-branded charity cards

Charity cards (cards co-branded with the logo of your cause) are pretty scarce these days (the Make-a-Wish Foundation, ASPCA, Humane Society and others have seen their co-branded affinity cards discontinued in the past several years). But a few are still around. Some notable examples (all of which have no annual fee) include:

The World Wildlife Fund Credit Card from Bank of America: Bank of America will give a minimum of $3. After that, it will donate 0.08 percent of all net retail purchases made with the card and $3 each year you renew.

The card also gives you 2 percent back on groceries and 3 percent back on gas for the first $2,500 in combined spending each quarter — and 1 percent cash back on everything else.

Stand Up to Cancer Credit Card from Fifth Third Bank: Every year your card stays open, Fifth Third Bank will donate $5 to Stand Up to Cancer. Plus, 0.2 percent of your net retail purchases on the card automatically goes to the charity. From July 2013 through Dec. 2017, Fifth Third is guaranteeing a minimum donated amount of $622,000 in connection with the program.

The card also allows you to earn one “Real Life Rewards” point per dollar spent. These points can be redeemed for cash donations for Stand Up to Cancer, and, when you redeem this way, Fifth Third Bank will make a donation equal to 10 percent of the cash value of your donation:

Fifth third fine print 2

Susan G. Komen Pink Ribbon Card from Bank of America: In addition to donating $3 per card used within 90 days of account opening, Bank of America will give 0.08 percent of all retail purchases (less returns) made with the card. Each year a card is renewed (and is in good standing and does not have a zero balance), Komen receives an additional $3.

Cardholders will also earn 3 percent cash back on gas and 2 percent on grocery store purchases (for up to a combined $2,500 spent per quarter) — and 1 percent on everything else.

2. Giving portals

Given the limited options for co-branded charity cards, you might have more flexibility if you redeem the rewards you earn on a regular rewards card as charitable donations. Fortunately, various issuers have giving portals which let you do exactly that:

Capital One’s No Hassle Giving site: You can donate the cash value of your rewards points to 1.2 million charities. The site allows you to search by ZIP code, if you’d like to donate to a cause near you. If you have the Capital One QuickSilver card, for example, and give all your rewards to charity, you’d be able to donate 1.5 percent of your spending.

American Express’s Members Give site: Here you can donate Membership Rewards points to more than 1 million charities, including local ones. As of October 2016, for every 1,000 Membership Rewards points you redeem, the charity of your choice gets $10 (for the first 500,000 points you donate in a calendar year — after that, it’s $5 per 1,000 points). Keep in mind that American Express will deduct a 2.25 percent processing fee from your donation. American Express is a CreditCardForum advertising partner.

Citi ThankYou Donate With Points site: Citi has partnered with PointWorthy to allow cardholders to donate Citi ThankYou points to a variety of charities, searchable by state. To use this feature, you need to link your Citi card’s account to PointWorthy – and PointWorthy will waive its standard processing fees. Every 1,000 ThankYou points donated results in a $10 donation, a value of 1 cent per point. That’s a better value than you get for Citi ThankYou cash-back redemptions (which is half a cent per point).

Discover Charitable Partnerships: Discover lets you donate your cash-back bonus rewards to several charities, including the American Cancer Society, ASPCA, American Red Cross, Children’s Miracle Network, Junior Achievement and more. Whichever charity earns the most in a given year will receive an extra donation of $25,000 from Discover:

Discover charitable donations

3. Donating miles

If you have a couple thousand miles that you earned with an airline card sitting in your account, there’s not much you can do with them, other than get a 15-month subscription to Wine Spectator Magazine via American Airlines’ “Magazines for Miles” program — or a pin commemorating hockey great Mark Messier (Delta’s got one in its catalog for 1,800 miles).

But combined with other donors’ contributions, your spare miles could help the Make-a-Wish Foundation fly kids and their families around the world — or help the families of wounded military men and women travel to visit their loved ones via Hero Miles.

The best way to give back?

Whichever of the above options you choose, the rewards that end up going to your favorite charity may seem like a pittance. But across thousands of cardholders, those micro-donations can result in a groundswell of giving. Plus, when you give via a card, the donation process is automated (in the case of co-branded charity cards) or at least very easy (in the case of giving portals and miles donations). While you may think you’ll regularly take the time to write out a check or open your wallet for a worthy cause, you might forget or find it too hard to part with real cash; donating rewards can be a painless option for those who may not otherwise give.

That said, the above options may not be the very best way to give back. If you DO want to be extra generous and can remember to do so, you can earn a lot more for your favorite charity by getting a high-yield cash-back card (such as the Chase Freedom, or one of the American Express Blue Cash cards), depositing your rewards into a bank account and making an equivalent donation to a charity.

Updated Oct. 12, 2016

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