Keeping tabs on your reward cards
Reaping your Rewards: A system in place helps you keep up with payments, perks
More and more people are signing up for more and more reward cards. That’s usually a good thing.
But with more cards comes more complexity. You have to remember when payments are due. You have to use the right card at the right place. You have to be mindful of the perks. You have to be aware of spending requirements and timelines for sign-up bonuses. You have to pay attention to when annual fees are approaching and make decisions on whether to keep or to cancel a card.
All that work isn’t complicated. If you have just one or two cards, you can probably keep the information in your head. But if you have more than that – and many people do – you need to pay attention to details. Should you slip up – by missing a payment, neglecting to use a perk or hanging onto a card you meant to cancel – you won’t get as much value out of your cards as you could.
To manage your reward cards effectively, you have to develop a system that allows you to easily see all of your information and act on it. Everybody has different ways of organizing the information, but for most people I know with multiple cards, it involves a combination of a low-tech spreadsheet with high forms of technology, such as mobile-phone apps or features on card issuers’ websites.
Spreadsheet. It sounds pretty basic, but taking a few minutes to develop a spreadsheet allows you to customize the information you want and to add to it and change it. For instance, you might list your current cards in one section and include information such as what day of the month the payment is due, the date you were approved for the card, the minimum spending requirements and deadlines, and the amount you paid on the card each month and whether you paid it.
Each of those pieces of information is important, for different reasons. Obviously, you need to know when your payments are due. Missing payments or failing to pay in full will cut into your rewards substantially. But you also want to remember when you applied for a card, because that will give you the information you need to figure out if an annual fee is coming due.
You’ll also want to know when you close an account. Maybe you create a column for the date you close a card, and when it’s closed, move it to a different page or section on the spreadsheet. That information can be valuable, too, because some card issuers will allow you to receive a sign-up bonus if you apply for the card again in the future – but only if you haven’t had the same card open in the past 24 months.
Technology. You’ll want to combine that spreadsheet with some form of technology that acts as a backstop. For instance, you might program an alert on your smartphone for each day of the month when a card payment is due. Or maybe you turn on an autopay feature on a card issuer’s website so that you don’t miss a payment. Or perhaps you receive credit card bills in the mail and have a system for paying them on time and in full.
You might also set up reminders somewhere about important deadlines related to your credit card rewards. For instance, if you have the American Express Platinum card, you have a $200-per-year credit on a single airline. You can change the airline eligible for the credit only in January. So you might set a reminder on a calendar or on your phone for January, in case you want to make a change.
There are also any number of websites and apps aimed at reward card users. Ours is CreditCards.com Wallet. It helps you organize your rewards and become more strategic about your spending.
Category bonuses. Stay on top of the category bonus months for each card by either using an old-fashioned sticky note on the cards, so you know which one to use for dinner and which one to use for groceries. Or, you can use a mobile app to alert you when a category bonus comes up. Bonuses are a great way to rack up rewards fast, so a little organization can go a long way when it comes to achieving your travel and rewards goals.
Everybody will have a different way of organizing. But the important point is to make sure you have all the information somewhere so you can draw on it when needed – and to make sure you’re prompted not to miss crucial deadlines.
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