ARLINGTON, Va. (MainStreet) -- What do Santa's elves and credit card companies have in common?

For certain people, nothing whatsoever, but for the roughly 50% consumers who have excellent credit, they both can help put presents under the tree.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 50,000 bonus points just for spending $3,000 during the first three months it's open. These points are redeemable for $500, and that could come in handy at the holidays.

We all know the role Santa's helpers play in Christmas lore, but it's understandable if you aren't quite sure how credit cards fit into the equation. Considering the fact that opening the right credit card could decrease holiday costs by up to $500, I'd hazard to guess that you might be interested in learning a bit more.

There are a number of credit card deals on the market seemingly tailor-made for holiday shopping. A great card that doesn't meet your individual needs is worthless, though, so before we get into details, you need to think about whether you are deal-oriented, a big spender, stuck in the past or averse to change.
  • Deal-oriented: There is no shortage of deals during the holidays. But while everyone knows about Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials, the hordes don't tend to descend on the best credit cards during this time of the year. That's a shame, considering that a card such as the Chase (JPM - Get Report) Sapphire Preferred offers 50,000 bonus points just for spending $3,000 during the first three months it's open. These points are redeemable for $500 (check or statement credit), and since the average consumer will spend $831 on gifts during the holidays this year, according to an American Express (AXP - Get Report) study, that cash could sure go a long way.

  • Big spenders: According to that same Amex study, holiday gift giving led 33% of consumers to revolve balances on their credit cards last year. While Amex expects the number to fall to 29% this year, a lot of people are still going to feel the effects of finance charges ... unless they open the right 0% credit card. The Citi (C - Get Report) Dividend World MasterCard (MA - Get Report) is a great option because in addition to 0% on purchases for 15 months, it offers a $100 initial rewards bonus as well as 5% cash back on purchases made at electronics stores, department stores, toy stores and clothing stores until the end of the year.
  • Stuck in the past: Unfortunately, a considerable number of people are still working to pay off purchases made this time last year. If you are one of these people, you obviously want to get rid of this debt as quickly as possible, and a 0% balance transfer credit card could help. More specifically, by transferring your remaining balance to the Citi Platinum Select MasterCard, you'll get 21 months to pay it down without interest. All you have to do is pay a 3% balance transfer fee.
  • Averse to change: If you tend to pay your bill in full and aren't keen on hopping from credit card to credit card as attractive offers hit the market, why not open one of the best rewards credit cards to serve both your immediate and long-term needs? The Venture Card from Capital One (COF - Get Report) fits the bill, given that it offers a $100 initial rewards bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first three months (extra cash is helpful following the holidays) as well as two miles for every dollar spent (essentially 2% cash back as long as you redeem for travel-related charges). Regardless of the time of year, this is a great card to have in your wallet.

Whether the Great Recession has truly ended -- at least in terms of its effects -- is still up for debate, but the result this downturn has had on credit card offers targeted to people with above-average credit is undeniable. We, as consumers, haven't been the only ones struggling over the past few years; credit card companies have been as well, evidenced by the fact that the 11 largest credit card companies experienced a net loss of $5.4 billion in 2009. As a result, they are fighting tooth and nail to make customers out of the most stable consumers and are using initial rewards bonuses and 0% interest rates to accomplish it.

Credit cards therefore hold a lot of potential these days; you just need to know which ones to focus on.

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