7 ways to track your reward cards like a pro
By Tony Mecia
Sure, if you have one or two credit cards, it’s a snap to keep track of their perks and points.
But what if you have five reward cards? Or 10? Or more? If you juggle that many cards, it suddenly becomes easier to miss a payment or forget a perk. And the perks are often the lures to apply for a card in the first place.
CreditCards.com talked with three experts who have between 20 and 50 active cards to see how they do it. While you might not have that many, you can still benefit from some of their tips:
1. Get organized. Carrying all of your cards in your wallet all the time is inefficient and cumbersome. Carry only those that you regularly use, or those on which you are trying to meet minimum spending requirements.
If you can’t remember which card gives bonuses on certain spending categories, put a small sticky note on the card that says “gas” or “restaurants,” for instance. Or enter your card information on a smartphone app called Wallaby, which tells you the best reward card to use at different merchants. (Wallaby is a sister company of CreditCards.com.)
And what to do with the cards you don’t regularly use – the ones that have perks but that aren’t appropriate for everyday spending? Consider placing them in a binder or a plastic sheet designed to hold business cards (available at office supply stores). Or put them in a Ziploc bag.
2. Enable auto-pay. With so many cards, missing a payment can be easy … and costly. If you turn on your bank’s automatic payment feature online, you won’t risk missing a payment and incurring the big late fees and interest charges that come with it. Of course, you have to maintain enough money in your bank account to cover the payments.
“As soon as I get a card, I set up auto-pay, it gets debited from my bank account, and I don’t have to worry about it,” says Daraius Dubash, founder of the blog Million Mile Secrets. He says he has at least 20 active cards.
3. Master the spreadsheet. Almost all the credit card super users interviewed say they lean on some form of homebrew spreadsheet that allows them to see the vital information on their cards in one place. Fields include: card name, date approved, bank, minimum spend amount, deadline for completing minimum spend, annual fee, perks and date canceled.
Even when you cancel a card, keep its data in a spreadsheet, so you know when you canceled it. That information can come in handy if you want to apply for a card a second time, since some cards require waiting a couple years before they will award a second sign-up bonus.
It’s not foolproof. Blogger Dan Miller, whose website Points With a Crew focuses on inexpensive family travel, says he recently missed out on $400 worth of a sign-up bonus because he didn’t notice that his period for reaching a minimum spending requirement had expired. He says he and his wife have 39 active cards.
“I track which cards I’ve recently signed up for and what I need to spend to get the bonuses, though that doesn’t always work perfectly,” Miller says.
4. Link your card accounts to financial management apps. Some financial programs serve essentially as a second set of eyes on your credit cards. For instance, Mint sends you alerts if your card issuer charges you a fee. You have to enter your account information into Mint, which then logs into your bank and downloads transactions.
So if you didn’t know an annual fee was coming due, Mint will alert you when it posts. Typically, card issuers will remove the annual fee if you cancel the card shortly after it is charged.
5. Link your reward accounts to AwardWallet. Just as you can see all of your card information in one place with a spreadsheet, you can see all of your reward information in one place with AwardWallet. Since you have multiple cards, you will have reward points or miles in multiple programs. It also lets you know when your points are about to expire.
Otherwise, you would have to log in to each separate reward program to track your points and miles.
A basic version of AwardWallet is free. The premium version costs $5 for six months.
6. Use alerts for perk reminders. For cards with time-sensitive perks, consider setting up an alert on your electronic calendar or on your smartphone. For instance, some hotel cards have certificates for a free night’s stay every year, so make sure you are reminded to use that before it expires.
7. Plan for the worst. Having a lot of credit cards for the purpose of accumulating rewards probably sounds unwieldy to many of your family and friends. If you were to pass away, could your next-of-kin navigate the financial labyrinth you have constructed?
“The worst-case scenario is, if I die, how does somebody pick up the pieces?” says Matt Hague, founder of financial website Saverocity. He says he has about 50 active cards.
Just as you would leave information on retirement accounts and where to find safe deposit boxes with family heirlooms, consider leaving a detailed guide that explains your reward assets. Include information on how to access online card accounts and reward programs and where you keep your credit cards. If you die, your family will have a much easier time using the rewards you have left behind if they can still access your accounts.
Published: August 29, 2016
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