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Using Cash Back for a Cause

Key Takeaways

  • Using the cash-back rewards you earn is a great way to “pay it forward” without going off budget.
  • Your gift may inspire others to give.
  • Your goodwill may qualify you for tax benefits.

By Melissa Green | Citizens Bank Staff

Stories of heroism and shocking selflessness can often inspire a longing to make a difference in someone’s life. Heartwarming anecdotes about that generous stranger who paid off everyone’s holiday lay-a-way bill or those kind-hearted people who bought that old man a car so he didn’t have to walk to work. They motivate us to want to help.

However, far too often the desire to give is nixed by the old excuse, “If I only had the money I would …”

The truth is there are ways you can give back, even when money is tight. Below are a few real-world examples of people gifting money they redeemed from their cash-back rewards cards.

Pay it forward


While waiting in the check-out line at Target, Jasmine was behind a visibly flustered man who seemed to be buying Christmas gifts for small children. “None of his cards were going through, and the cashier was becoming increasingly frustrated with him,” said Jasmine.

“I remembered being in that same Target a few months before and I was so embarrassed because my card was also declined. That’s when the customer behind me quietly told me she would take care of my purchase. I was so shocked that a stranger would do that for me!”

Looking at the total on the screen, and remembering the kindness that someone afforded her in that same store, Jasmine quietly told the gentleman that she would take care of his purchase. “He was so taken aback, and asked for my contact information to repay me,” Jasmine recalled. “I told him, I was just paying it forward, and that he should try to do the same someday.”

The end of the year is a great time to redeem your rewards for holiday shopping. If you earned $200 in cash-back rewards, you could use a little to “pay it forward” like Jasmine.

Give to a charity


As the New England winter approached, Mr. Edwards noticed that many of the kids walking to school with his daughter weren’t wearing hats or gloves. “I decided to order a bulk of winter hats and gloves to donate to the school. I told the principal to give them out to anyone who needed them,” remembered Mr. Edwards. “She told me that what I did would really make a difference to a child who shivered their way to school today.”

Mr. Edwards continued to buy the hats and gloves every year to donate to the school. The community eventually heard what was happening, and started an annual drive to collect hats, gloves, and even gently-used winter coats so that more children could benefit. “I didn’t set out to do a big thing,” recalled Mr. Edwards, “I just wanted to help.”

Mr. Edwards saw a way to help out others and his singular act of kindness snowballed into a larger community effort. If there is a charitable cause you know of, you can plan to use the cash back you earn to donate to a worthy cause. Mr. Edwards could use the cash-back rewards to help buy winter gear for kids, and get the donated winter coats washed and ready to go for the season.

Help with disaster relief


Unfortunately we live in a world where natural disasters occur. The damage from hurricanes, floods, forest fires, tornados, and earthquakes can cost billions of dollars in damages. National organizations like the Red Cross, are always accepting donations to help disaster victims. It’s important to read the fine print when donating to any organization. You’ll want to know how your money is being spent, and if there are any transaction fees taken away from your donation.

Supporting smaller community initiatives is also a great way to help people in need. For example, consider using your cash-back rewards to donate bottled water, non-perishable food, and toiletries to a local relief effort. For a family who just lost everything they own, a little help from neighbors can be priceless.

How do you receive the cash-back payment?

Several cash-back credit cards have a minimum redemption threshold; which means you only get cash back after you’ve charged over a certain amount. Other cards allow you to redeem your rewards on a rolling basis.

You can choose how you would like to receive your cash back. Typically companies send your rewards in one of four ways:

  • Check or direct deposit
  • Redeem for a statement credit to your card account
  • Redeem for gift cards
  • Make a charitable donation (if you can't do this through your lender, a direct donation from your bank account works just fine)

What to remember

Giving back feels good. And if you itemize your taxes, it’s not entirely selfless either — your goodwill may qualify you for tax benefits. Consult a tax advisor to see if your contributions are eligible.

You don’t have to be rich to help someone in need. Even a small act of kindness, like giving a warm pair of gloves to a shivering kid, can pay off in ways you can’t even imagine. So, if you earned some extra money with your credit card, what would you do with it?

More information

To learn more about our Citizens Bank Cash Back Plus® World Mastercard® or other products please call 1-888-333-5145, or Ask a Citizen at your nearest Citizens Bank branch.

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