I currently have six personal credit cards, and it’s getting tough to keep track of rewards, due dates, perks and refunds from COVID-19 cancellations. Now I’m considering a new strategy that includes earning cash back and investing.
I’m only using three of them regularly, and two of the cards that I could easily do without charge annual fees. Some of that is because the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed my spending habits. But even beyond that, there’s a lot of overlap in my current card portfolio.
So far this year, I have averaged 2.8% cash back on my purchases. That’s proof that juggling several cards can be worth it, since the best flat rate cash back cards top out around 2%. There are other benefits, too, like the $299 I received from a purchase protection claim on my Chase Freedom card* when my wife’s Apple Watch broke.
The more cards you have, the more choices you have when it comes to purchase protection and other perks such as extended warranty coverage, rental car insurance and avoiding foreign transaction fees. More cards also help your credit score because they make it easier to keep your credit utilization ratio low, and as long as you pay on time, you can fill your credit reports with positive information.
See related: How many credit cards should I have?
Cons of having too many cards
On the other hand, some people (like my wife) don’t like the trouble of remembering which card to use for various types of purchases.
Several companies have tried to aggregate many different credit cards into a single payment card, although none have become mainstream in the U.S. to date. One that’s currently generating buzz is the European startup Curve, which is planning to launch in the U.S. soon.
Even I’m finding it a bit cumbersome to manage all of the logistics – maximizing rewards, keeping up with six different due dates, monitoring for fraud and tracking down refunds (three of my cards currently have negative balances due to COVID-19 cancellations). And about a year after adding my first annual fee card (followed by two more), I’m still not sold on the idea of paying to hold a credit card, let alone three.
I normally redeem my credit card rewards for statement credits or gift cards. I transferred to an airline partner once, although that backfired when the trip was canceled by COVID-19. Now I have more than $1,200 in value tied up with JetBlue and no idea when I’ll be able to use it.
In hindsight, even though those points were worth a bit more in airfare than cash back, I would have rather had the cash.
See related: Cash back vs. points: Which is better?
New plan: Combining cash back with investing
If I want to open a new cash back card that would serve as my go-to payment method, I could consider options such as the Citi® Double Cash Card (1% when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay it off, with no annual fee) and the Alliant Visa Signature Card (2.5% cash back on up to $10,000 in purchases per billing cycle, with a $99 annual fee that’s waived the first year).
A twist could be to consider a Bank of America card, particularly if I switch my savings account over to them as well. Credit card holders who keep between $50,000 and $99,999 in banking or investment balances with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch get 50% more value from their credit card rewards. That would mean 3x points on travel and dining and 2.25x points on everything else with the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card* (there is a $95 annual fee, but it’s offset by a $100 annual airline fee credit).
However, since I’m earning 1.35% on my savings at Live Oak Bank (compared with 0.05% at Bank of America), I would be better off with my existing savings account and either the Citi Double Cash or Alliant Credit Union Visa Signature.
One other idea is the Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature card. It’s a no annual fee 2% cash back card if you redeem your rewards into an eligible Fidelity investment account. The automated, forced savings aspects of this card are compelling.
By making it easier to get my credit card rewards into the stock market, I could set aside more money and watch it grow. At a 10% rate of return, compounded annually, $500 in rewards would be worth $805 in five years and $1,297 in 10 years. If I put that same $500 into my savings account, I’d only have $535 in five years and $572 in 10 years.
That’s a really intriguing option. And I suspect I would benefit from the behavioral finance aspect of investing my credit card rewards even more than the compound interest math.
See related: Investment apps offer a new way to earn cash back
I contribute to my 401(k) every paycheck, and I have a 529 plan for my daughter, but in both cases I could be saving more. If I automatically tie my “found money” from credit card rewards to investments, I think I’ll be motivated to contribute more on my own, which would have an even greater impact on my overall finances. I’m going to seriously consider going all-in on the Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature card.
Have a question about credit cards? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to help.
*All information about Chase Freedom and the Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. These cards are no longer available through CreditCards.com.