Image: Charity donation form © David Gould, Photographer

You're planning to transfer your credit card balance, thanks to a better deal. But you have unused rewards points on the old credit card. You don't have enough rewards points to redeem them for something you want, but you'd hate to see them go to waste. Here's a charitable idea: Donate your unused credit card points to a good cause.

Many major credit cards, including those issued by American Express, Citibank, Chase, Capital One and Discover, make it easy for you to do just that.

Log on to your account on the credit card's website and click on the "redeem rewards points" tab. You can donate your unused rewards points just as you would redeem them for gifts or cash. You also can call the customer service number on the back of your credit card to donate by phone.

One advantage of donating rewards: Some credit cards absorb the transaction costs. "That ensures 100% of the donation gets to the charity," says Sukhi Sahni, a senior communications manager for Capital One.

Some simple caveats apply

There are some things to keep in mind:

Some credit card companies require you have a minimum of rewards points to donate. For example, American Express requires at least 1,000 points. "For every 1,000 points, $10 will be donated to your charity of choice," says American Express spokeswoman Desiree C. Fish. "There is no limit to the number of reward points you can redeem as donations, provided you have the available point balance in your rewards account," she notes.

Some credit card issuers require a minimum of 2,500 rewards points or $25 donations.

Not every charity accepts credit card rewards points. Your charity of choice may not accept credit card rewards. But Fish says that it shouldn't be hard to find an acceptable charity. American Express gives cardholders the flexibility to donate their rewards points to more than a million U.S. charities. Capital One allows cardholders to donate rewards to more than 1.2 million U.S. charities.

Charities appreciate donations

Melisa Pratt, a senior manager for corporate alliances at Make-A-Wish Foundation of America, says the organization accepts credit card miles from any of three airlines that it has relationships with: United Continental, Delta and US Airways. It also accepts rewards points for hotel stays from co-branded credit cards for Hilton and Hyatt.

Pratt, who has donated her credit card reward miles to Make-A-Wish, says the charity depends heavily on such donations as it grants 14,000 wishes a year, and 70% of them involve travel. Make-A-Wish needs about 2.5 billion miles a year to continue its efforts. "If we can get someone to donate miles or credit card points toward miles, it makes it that much more affordable for us and the kids," she says.

Donating miles to Make-A-Wish is easy, Pratt notes. "Just go to our website."

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