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Moving? Use a credit card to rack up major points, rewards

Relocation is costly, but using the right card can save you money all along the way

By Connie Sommers  |  Published: June 19, 2017

Moving? Use your credit card to score major rewards

About 35 million Americans move each year, and spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to do so. For those who smartly take advantage of credit card offers, promotions and awards, however, a big move can mean big rewards.

Consider Naomi Sachs. A busy executive for a multinational food corporation, she had two goals in mind when she moved her family from Los Angeles to Marin County, California: Stick to a budget, and maximize rewards points.

MOVING AND YOUR CREDIT SCORE
The act of moving will not affect your credit score. However, moving comes with its own potential credit hazards:

Opening too many new cards at once.
The weeks before a big move are not the time to open a slew of new credit cards.

“Keep in mind that a credit score takes a 3-5 point temporary hit each time there is a credit inquiry,” says  Shawn Coomer, author of the points blog Miles to Memories.

If you want to open several new cards, do that six months or more before you also plan to apply for a new mortgage.

Forgetting to pay bills.
In the hustle and bustle of changing homes, sometimes a credit card bill goes adrift.

“Be vigilant about keeping up with paying your credit cards even if the mailed statements don't all make it to your new address in a timely manner so you don't tank your credit score and rack up fees,” wrote the Mommy Points blogger Summer Hull.

MOVING AND YOUR CREDIT SCORE
The act of moving will not affect your credit score. However, moving comes with its own potential credit hazards:

Opening too many new cards at once.
The weeks before a big move are not the time to open a slew of new credit cards.

“Keep in mind that a credit score takes a 3-5 point temporary hit each time there is a credit inquiry,” says  Shawn Coomer, author of the points blog Miles to Memories. If you want to open several new cards, do that six months or more before you also plan to apply for a new mortgage.

Forgetting to pay bills.
In the hustle and bustle of changing homes, sometimes a credit card bill goes adrift.

“Be vigilant about keeping up with paying your credit cards even if the mailed statements don't all make it to your new address in a timely manner so you don't tank your credit score and rack up fees,” wrote the Mommy Points blogger Summer Hull.

Sachs began saving money by calling around for the best deal on movers. Then she turned to rewards opportunities by ordering packing supplies online through a portal that gave her extra points per dollar spent at Staples. Every purchase went on a points-bearing credit card. The move cost more than $15,000, but she estimates it earned her more than 20,000 rewards points – enough to treat herself and her family to a birthday weekend at a Hyatt hotel in Napa Valley.

“Any big life event where you are going to be racking up some bills and expenses is an opportunity [for] potentially pretty big rewards,” wrote Summer Hull, a points blogger, in an email.

Getting a new card, meeting the minimum spend
Interested? Great – then let’s start with credit card sign-up bonuses. They’re usually a trade-off: a big boost in points in exchange for a minimum spend in the thousands of dollars. Here are a couple ways to use big moving expenses to meet that minimum spend and get 20,000, 50,000, or even in some cases 100,000 bonus points:

  • Charging the cost of the moving van.
    Expect to spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars for a rental truck and packing supplies to more than $5,000 for professionals to manage the job. Charge it, and you’re at least making a dent in that minimum spend requirement, plus getting a chunk of points in the bargain.
  • Bill-paying services.
    These can help you use your credit card to transform big expenses you’d otherwise pay by check – for movers, for first and last month’s rent and security deposit, for a mortgage – into serious rewards points. Services such as Plastiq or Tio allow you to pay many bills with a Visa, Mastercard or American Express card, in exchange for a service fee of approximately 2.5 to 3 percent. That service fee is almost always higher than your rewards, so such services usually do not make sense financially, but if you need to make your minimum spend, they might be worth the cost.
Using existing cards
Here are some other strategies for bringing home major points during a move.
Disclaimer: The information on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of the offer.
  • Gas.
    Chances are moving is going to involve lots of driving – for the moving truck, if you’re a DIY kind of mover, or for the car you’ll drive to follow the moving van you hire. Check out the Blue Cash Preferred card from American Express, which offers 3 percent cash back on all gas purchases. Or, the PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards card, which offers up to 5 percent cash back. You will, however, have to open a qualifying account at the Pentagon Federal Credit Union and join the credit union – a whole effort unto itself.
  • Airfare.
    The American Express Platinum card offers 5x points on all airline purchases. But Jennifer Yellin, of the Deals We Like blog, says she still prefers to purchase her airline tickets with Chase cards that offer only 2x or 3x for travel purchases, because she thinks Chase provides superior travel insurance.
  • Hotels.
    If you know you’re going to spend a few nights on the road, think about your credit card strategy when you make reservations. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card, for instance, will give 2x points on any travel expenses. But if you’re willing to confine your stays to one hotel chain or family of chains, consider a card like the Hilton Honors card from American Express. Every Hilton charge made on one of those cards is worth 7x  points – but only, of course, toward another night in a Hilton property. 
  • Mortgage.
    If you already have a Chase Sapphire card, you are eligible for 100,000 bonus points if you get approved for a new Chase mortgage before August 6, 2017.
  • Cable, internet and utilities.
    Put these bills on your favorite rewards cards, and turn household expenses into travel points or cash-back rewards.
  • Insurance.
    Some insurance companies offer their own rewards cards. If, for instance, you get Farmer’s Insurance, you can also get the Farmer’s Reward Visa card: 3x on gas, home improvement purchases and insurance expenses, redeemable for a credit on your insurance statement.
  • Home improvement stores and wholesale clubs.
    The Discover it Cash Rewards card offers 1 percent cash back on all purchases – except seasonal bonus categories, which get 5 percent cash back. For the second quarter of 2017, that bonus category is home improvement and wholesale club stores such as Home Depot and Costco.
  • Portals.
    Yellin recommends checking out evreward.com, where you can put the name of a store or a type of store into a search box, and find out which card portal will get you points at that store right now. For instance, if you wanted to book a stay at a Best Western hotel, as of June 2017, the site lists seven different rewards possibilities, including 5 percent cash back using the UPromise portal, or 2 miles per dollar on American Airlines, using the American Airlines portal.

Never overspend
As always, common sense, not rewards, should drive spending decisions. Only spend what you can afford.

If you start spending more than you otherwise would, or don't pay [the card] off each month, then you will come out on the losing end,” wrote Hull, author of the Mommy Points blog, “even if you got hotel award nights or 100,000 points when you first got the card.”

The 0-percent option
Finally, if the cost of moving houses is more than you can bear in one credit card cycle, remember that if your credit score is healthy enough, you may be able to transfer your balance to a 0 percent APR card and pay off the bill over six, 12 or even 18 months, without paying interest along the way.

But be sure, before you commit a debt to one of these cards, that you read the fine print. Most cards charge a balance transfer fee – they usually run around 3 percent – that you may be loath to pay. With others, the introductory rate can vanish early following a single late or missed payment – and the resulting interest rate may be higher than the one on your previous card.

Have a safe and rewarding move!

See related: Video: 5 tips before buying a housePlanning to buy a house soon? Keep unused cards open

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Updated: 08-16-2017

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