If you’ve discovered the power of tapping into your good credit to sign up for new credit cards in order to snag hefty frequent flyer mile bonuses, the inevitable has probably already happened: your wallet is stuffed to the gills with plastic.
Now that you’ve got a dozen credit cards, it’s time to set up a system to manage them effectively.
You want to be sure you’re using the right card for each purchase, that you hit the minimum spend threshold for bonuses, that you never miss a payment, and that you keep track of anniversary dates so you know when the annual fee is due.
Know Your Card Benefits
First and foremost, you need to understand the benefits of each credit card you sign up for. It’s easy to get benefits confused between two cards so here’s a tip: label each card with the info.
For example, if the card pays out 2x miles on gas purchases, write “2x gas on a tiny scrap of paper and tape it directly to the front or back of the card. It won’t interfere when you swipe your card at the register, but you’ll have an at-a-glance reminder of your card benefits.
If you don’t want to tag your cards, use a smartphone app like Wallaby or Reward Summit. They will tell you which card is most rewarding at whatever store you’re about to shop at.
To Carry or Not to Carry?
Next, you need to determine which credit cards you’ll actually carry in your wallet on a daily basis and which will stay at home. Here are a few questions to ask in order to determine if a credit card earns a spot in your wallet:
- Am I working toward a minimum spend on this card in order to earn a bonus? If so, the card goes in the most prominent slot in your wallet.
- Is it my go-to card? It’s best to focus on one program at a time so you can earn an award quicker. Many people opt for a go-to card that offers Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards since these points can be transferred to miles in many airline programs and can also be used to purchase travel. Flexibility is often the key when picking your go-to card.
- Is the usual payout on this card lucrative and am I actively saving for a particular award with those miles? Some cards are more lucrative than others. If you’re working toward a free hotel stay and are deciding between an American Express Starwood card that rewards you with one SPG point for every dollar spent or a Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Signature that gives you three HHonors points per dollar spent, you might select the HHonors card.
Make a List
Now that you’ve divvied up your cards into those that you carry on a daily basis and those that you leave at home, it’s time to take a full inventory. Make a list of all the cards you have. Be sure to list:
- Full card name and type (for example, Citi AAdvantage Executive MasterCard)
- Last four digits of the card and expiration date
- Credit limit
- Anniversary date
- Sign-up bonus
- Minimum spend requirement
- Deadline for minimum spend
- Date you received the bonus
- Earning Benefits (i.e., 2x points on gas and grocery, 1x points on everything else)
- Names of anyone with an authorized card on this account
Refer to this list every few weeks to make sure you’re on track for making any minimum spend requirements.
Track Your Spending
If you’re working toward minimum spend requirements for sign-up bonuses, make it a habit to track your spending to determine if you’re on target. Pick one night a week to log into your credit card’s online account to review your spending.
If you’re on target, give yourself a pat on the back. If you’re falling behind, brainstorm some ways to meet the minimum spend before the deadline.
Set Up Automated Alerts
If you have a lot of credit cards, it can get confusing and that’s when mistakes happen. Use automated alerts to remind you to pay a credit card, complete the minimum spend for a sign-up bonus or pay the annual fee comes due.
You can use Apple’s iCal or Google calendar to set up one-time or recurring alerts. These will be lifesavers, especially when you’re busy with everything else in life and can’t keep track of all the tiny details of your new credit card.