Friday, April 8, 2022

Making Credit Cards Work for YOU! Credit Card Hacking Basics

 FTC disclaimer:  This post contains affiliate links.

One of the things I disagree with Dave Ramsey on is credit cards.  He says in The Total Money Makeover that no one ever got rich on credit card rewards, and while that's true, I have had my life enriched by those points and I want to explain the basics of credit card hacking.  If you can't pay of your cards in full each month, stop reading now.  If you do pay off your cards, please proceed.

A few years ago I read a book about maximizing credit card rewards, which is unfortunately now out of print.  One of my takeaways was not to be afraid of an annual fee if you are a heavy credit card user.  I have sold on eBay full time since 1998.  I purchase the things for resell, packing materials,  purchase postage, etc. Until the last couple years eBay charged fees to a credit card, now they take them out of your account before sending you your payout.  So you can see how this could add up to a large amount of spending that would all be deductible on my taxes.

My first credit card with a fee was for a hotel chain I love.  When my mother got sick in 2013, I was able to stay eight days at a hotel near the cardiac intensive care unit without it costing me anything.  I had hoped to take an amazing vacation, but being able to be with her during that time was more important than any vacation to Hawaii, and I don't regret using those points -- I am so thankful I had them to use.

I have collected a whole wallet full of credit cards.  Because different cards will rotate where you get the most points, at the beginning of every quarter (January, April, July, October) I get them out, look at what the bonus categories are for the next three months, and change around which card should be used for what purpose.  I have enough cards (and a husband with a bad memory) that I make things easy by taking a small piece of paper and taping to each card what spending to put on that card.  For instance, I have one for "everyday spending" which is the one that gives me the best rewards.  But, usually one card will have a 5% bonus for gas stations.  Sometimes that is for only at the pump, so I have a "gas station -- inside" designated card.  As I write this, I have designated cards for pharmacies, filling up the car with gas, buying something inside a convenience store, restaurants, travel (sometimes even things like parking and toll roads can count!), Target, Amazon, streaming services (which of course, I can just change that online until the next three months and don't have to have that marked on a card).  This trick of being able to keep track of what card I should use when really helps me not make mistakes and put a 5% reward on a card that only is giving 1% that month. 

I knew last fall I would be making a large purchase (a new MacBook Pro) around Black Friday.  Because I knew this, I went shopping around for the best credit card rewards for me.  (This can vary from person to person.  Some people may want to focus on travel, some on cash back, some on investments -- yes, using your credit card can help you plan for retirement if used correctly!)  Because 2020 and 2021 were such bad years for the economy with so little travel and so much shut down, the rewards were great.  Between my husband and I, we opened three new cards in less than two years, which is unheard of for us.  Also, Chase has a 5/24 rule -- meaning they don't give rewards to you if you have taken out five credit cards in the last 24 months.  So I keep my opening new accounts to a minimum. But the sign up bonuses were amazingly good, and making an almost $2,000 purchase, it was well worth it to find a card to use and get a sign up bonus.

Of course, to do this, you need a good FICO score.  This is often free to check online at your bank's site or on a credit card site.  One thing to keep in mind, cancelling a credit card will often cause your credit score to fall.  So unless you are paying a fee, it's worth it to keep any cards you currently have and use it for a small purchase every 6 months or so.  If you are paying a fee, it may be worth it to close that account if you aren't earning great rewards.  I would love to move in the next few years so I am trying to increase my credit score, so I am not opening any more credit cards and asking for limit increases on the ones I have.  

The higher your credit score the more options you will have available to you as to what cards you will be able to get.  But even with a lower credit score you can earn rewards, just not maybe the same ones that someone with a metal card would be able to earn.  (These are nearly the top of the line cards and yes, they can really be made of metal.) 

In years past, people learned they could order one dollar coins from the U.S. Mint with no shipping fees, put it on their credit card, take the coins to the bank.  The U.S. Mint was wanting people to go out and spend these $1 coins to try and get them to catch on.  What actually caught on was the Mint to the fact that people were buying coins, depositing them, and earning credit card rewards like crazy.  So the Mint put a stop to that.  

Each card is different.  Some allow points for pre-paid Visas purchased at a store to earn points, others don't.  You will need to check with what your card allows and doesn't.

I will be detailing different cards in future posts and telling what I think of them, the pros and cons.  But until then, here are a few things I've been able to do, purchase, and destinations I have visited thanks to using credit cards to my advantage.

  • A two week cross country road trip, and all hotel stays were paid for except for one night.  We even stayed in a $300 a night resort in Sedona.
  • An eight day hotel stay in Pittsburgh when my mother was in CICU.
  • A flight to Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • A flight to Nashville, Tennessee.
  • A flight to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • A flight to New York City.
  • $200 of Christmas gifts
  • A Silhouette Cameo Machine
  • $1,000 put on my credit card for grocery purchases when my husband was out of work for Covid
  • An air fryer both for us and one for my inlaws as a gift.
  • A trip to New Mexico for two with all nights paid for in hotel, plus airport lounge access and rental car.
  • Lots of other small rewards.

Like I said, none of this made me rich, but it sure has enriched my life.  I currently have enough credit card points to stay at a hotel that is hosting a convention this summer that I want to attend, and I have up to 9 nights at other hotels just ready for me to use when I want to travel!  

Check out my other posts about what I think about different credit cards, their rewards, pros and cons:

  • Discover (This is my choice for someone with poor credit, or if you don't want to pay an annual fee)

No comments:

Post a Comment