HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE TOO MANY CREDIT CARDS?
How many are too many? Is there a set rule or a prescribed limit? Apparently not from what I have read. But what I have found is that when I have to spend hours almost daily to monitor them, it is too many for me.
HOW DID I END UP WITH SO MANY CREDIT CARDS?
When I discovered that cash reward credit cards could be a reliable way to reduce my monthly expenses, I started applying for them as often as I could. Of course, the idea was to get the largest promotional welcome bonus, the highest % of cash rewards as well as a substantial amount of available credit. Therefore for about the last three years, gathering cash reward credit cards has become a major pastime. Well, guess what? Now I have too many cards.
THE JOURNEY TO TOO MUCH
It has been a tremendously educational experience collecting all the cards I have. Primarily, it has helped and still helps to reduce my expenses. In addition, I have written many blog posts and several Ebooks about this. Doubtless, there will be more. But the most significant comment I can make at this time is that right now I have too many. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I have reached critical mass.
For most of this time, my primary concern has been focusing on the 5 or 6 FICO® credit score factors that go into building a good credit score. Certain cards have taken priority for charging purchases. Then it recently occurred to me that if I did not start using all of my cards, some could be closed for inactivity. That could affect my credit score negatively by lowering my available credit, changing the average length of time I have had cards and flagging too many closures. Low and behold, that is exactly what happened this week. One of my co-branded cards was closed without notice for inactivity.
HOW MANY CARDS DO I NEED?
I need enough cards to satisfy the FICO® score factors. Fortunately, I found a formula that I could use to determine how many cards to own, which ones to keep and those to phase out since I had surpassed critical mass. These are the factors I now consider in which cards to use:
a. the oldest aged accounts
b. those with the best credit line and lowest credit utilization ratio
c. the ones with optimal returns in my top spending categories
d. those that give me the maximum value for use with my favorite merchants, stores, airlines or hotels
HOW MANY CARDS DO I WANT?
My sense is that I would like to have no more than ten at the most. For example, my ‘straight flush’ analogy illustrates most of them. Beyond that, I think that one or two travel cards are essential. Other than that, an additional card or two in the ‘straight flush’ formula would be OK too.
I am at a new beginning. I have climbed the credit card mountain in excellent standing. Now it is time to descend the other side with equal care. Therefore future writings on this topic will involve reducing my load doing my best to maintain my great credit card standing while keeping also 6 FICO® score factors in balance.
In our new Former Middle-Class Life, our weekly salaries and monthly investment incomes no longer existed. Instead, they were replaced by very limited monthly retirement social security incomes that had to last all month. To say the least, it was not easy. To put it bluntly, we became like feral children without the benefit of parents or teachers. We had to learn how to survive on our own and all over again. We had become part of The Former Middle Class.
Supplemental Survival Tools
What changed the most was our daily routine. Rather than showering and dressing in 9-to-5 Manhattan garb, we set out in old jeans or sweats to collect bottles on recycling days and cashed them in on other days. We also dress casually for the other parts of our routine. We frequent two food pantries once a week and one food pantry once a month. Between these tightly budgeted visits to supermarkets on senior discount days and doctors visits on other days, our weekday schedule is complete.
In between these activities we have our own indoor farm. We grow microgreens and sprouts to supplement our food pantry diet which tends not to have much fresh produce. In the warmer weather, these foods are not only delicious but super packed with nutrients. But here as well, indoor farming is time-consuming and can be hard work.
Once a day we do eat a substantial, home-cooked meal. The other two meals are more like snacks that include pantry scavenged food. I tried growing our own food, microgreens as well as sprouts, in our one bedroom apartment. I even got a food compost system to recycle food scraps into worm digested, super fertilizer. But that became arduous. We needed to discontinue these survival supplements and find easier solutions.
To this day, using credit cards for survival and profit is our most sophisticated undertaking. But it in itself has become a daily, part-time job. To keep on target financially requires hours each day checking online credit card accounts, going over spreadsheets, recording expenses, and tallying expenses by credit card and category of expense. At times, it is mindboggling. There are days when I even feel like it is ‘Greek to me’. In addition, I have accumulated a substantial number of credit cards that have to be rotated every few months to keep them active and viable.
With all the challenges involved in this system, we have managed to rise to FICO credit scores of over 800! When it was below that, I was able to find out why and quickly remedied the situation. I am very proud of this accomplishment and still apply for additional cards but much less often. This finally brings me to where becoming ‘a survey junkie’ came into the picture.
It is not a good idea to apply for new credit cards too often. It can raise a red flag with the credit card provider companies, resulting in denials and lower FICO® scores. In order to avoid that, it is necessary to introduce supplemental survival tools. One of my financial gurus, James Wang of Wallet Hacks, often has terrific suggestions on his blog. Here’s one, Surveys for Money.
Surveys for Money
Way back when we became part of the poor middle-class, we really struggled financially. We had to adjust to a much lower standard of living. Not only that, we had to find perks to survive and still live a somewhat healthy life. Taking surveys was an option that came up in our research. But at that time, I found the idea boring and unappealing.
Well, things change over time and one’s perspective on what is acceptable and or distasteful have to adjust. Therefore surveys started to look interesting. They really didn’t take much time and they could actually be fun. In fact, I began to feel like I was part of the population that helps determine marketing procedures for products. I even felt special. The main thing is to take as little time doing it and make it a game rather than a nuisance.
James Wang has suggestions for technique as well as actual surveys. He puts Survey Junkey® first on his list. It is my preference and the only one I use. That is because there are too many available to make it time effective for me to participate in. It is also because I know it has the James Wang seal of approval. I have found that I can comfortably have a survey bonus of about $10. a month. It is possible to get much more. But my Survey Junkie® addiction is satisfied with by that. Stick around for more supplemental survival tools and other helpful topics.
I check my credit scores everytime I check my credit card balances. The scores are stable, fairly consistent and fluctuate a few points at most. The chart below is a clear illustration of that stability.
An Untypical FICO® Score Situation
So when I got a notification last month that my best score had dropped 12 points, I was shocked. The charts below mentions the 12 pt decrease in red.
Because I pay such careful attention to my score, I usually have a pretty good idea why it might change and by how much. As I mentioned, I usually have a fairly stable FICO® score. Therefore a decrease of 12 points was a red flag to me. Something was wrong. But I had no idea what it was. It was time to investigate.
Five FICO® Score Factors System
There are five or six main categories that go into determining a credit score. They are illustrated in the three examples below.
Six FICO® Score Factors System
Primary Credit Factors
The wording may vary slightly and the scoring may as well. But it comes down to basically the same thing. Scoring may be based on a letter system like A, B, C, D or words like, Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average. In my case, my monthly grades have enough excellents that my score remains around 800 for these six categories:
• Payment history (On-time Payments)
• Credit Utilization (Credit Used)
• Age of Credit (Oldest Credit Line)
• Credit Inquiries (Recent Inquiries)(New Accounts)
• Total Accounts (Available Credit)
• Negative Marks
Searching for the FICO® Score Factor Red Flag
The above grades are good enough to rank me around an 800 FICO® score each month. Previous to last month, no action I took lowered my score by 12 points. But I knew that once I found what category was off and why this had happened, my decrease would be explained. In fact, what it was turned out to be kind of humorous.
The Solution Turned Out To Be in the Credit Utilization Category
On an average, I use between 1% and 2% of my credit utilization category. This means that if I have a $100,000 credit limit on all my credit cards, I only charge $1000 to $2000 dollar a month total. Two months ago, I had gotten a new promotional credit card. It offered a cash back reward of $200 if I charged $1,000 on it within three months. I was so excited about the cash reward that I charged the full amount within two months. That reflected a very unusual credit utilization percentage for me. It was much more than normal.
Glancing at the chart above, one can see that my normal credit utilization is 2%. But the new card that I purposely charged a large amount on had a credit utilization rate of 22%. Here’s the irony. In order to fulfill the requirements for the promotion, I charged much more in a month than normal. It did not significantly damage my credit. But it did throw both the credit rating company and me for a bit of a loop at first. I am sure that by next month everything will be back to normal since that kind of utilization is atypical for me. In addition, I will have a statement credit or a cash reward of $200. to ease the pain. Not a bad FICO® score lesson in my book!
I was fortunate in this case that nothing serious had happened to my credit. I did not need to contact any of the credit reporting agencies. They are Transunion®, Experian®, and Equifax®. If there is a situation that does not seem right and that you cannot figure out on your own, do not hesitate to call the particular credit card or one of the three agencies. We live in a time when we have easy access to these agencies and we should be careful as well as protect ourselves from errors and fraud.
Before extreme credit card benefits can become a consideration for someone in The Former Middle Class, two things need to be explained. The first is that one must be thoroughly versed in The Principles of Good Credit Card Hygiene. Even if someone has a history of medicore credit, the credit score must become very good to excellent. ‘One Must Learn to Walk Before One Can Run’.
In contrast, there are people who can achieve even more extraordinary benefits than those of us who are part of The Former Middle Class can. That is because they have the funds to spend from the start. For example, one of the super benefits credit cards requires an expense of thousands of dollars to receive a heftier signup bonus. But in my case, I had started using credit cards with monthly bonuses to add a small amounts of cash to my retired, minimal fixed income.
How Someone from The Former Middle Class Can Obtain Extreme Benefits
During the time I was getting this kind of ordinary cash bonus of between 1% and 3%, I developed the need to acquire a travel point credit card offering both a cash rewards bonus and travel miles. That was when I became aware of the extreme benefits I could receive separate and apart from using credit cards the way I had been. The fact that both my husband and I had credit scores hovering around 800 helped tremendously to move into this new level credit card benefits, the sign up promotion.
Your Credit Score
As explained in the last blog post, a very good to excellent credit score is one of the most important aspects of qualifying for extreme credit card benefits. But let’s go back a step to when credit cards had cash rewards that paid out in increments of a minimum of $25. It was not difficult to earn about $40 over a two month period. But that is not extreme credit card benefits and I needed extreme benefits.
What Extreme Credit Card Benefits Involve
Extreme credit card benefits involve more than just getting monthly cash rewards or travel points. They require additional incentives from the credit card company to get someone to apply for a particular credit card. So that is exactly what the credit card companies started doing. They began to offer either large sign up cash or travel points promotions or both when a certain amount of money was charged by the customer in a given amount of time. The cash usually ranges between $100 and $200. Payment occurs after $500 or $1000 in charges. The period of time to make the charges is usually 3 months.
People who are solidly middle class can make a lot more cash back. But if one compares the percent of return rather than the cash itself, someone in The Former Middle Class can match and even outrank the returns that the Middle Class and above can. In one situation, I got a 40% sign up promotion cash bonus! I only had to spend $500 over a three month period. So $200 cash back from $500 spent is a 40% return. This is definitely Mastering The System of Extreme Credit Card Benefits.
Qualifying For Extreme Credit Card Benefits Cards
We know that the first and most important thing is to achieve and maintain very good to excellent credit. The next thing is to apply for such a card after you have paid your balance in full and have zero debt. Lastly, it is important not to apply for too many credit cards in a short amount of time. Straight forward? So it would seem. But it can get complicated and time consuming requiring a actual bookkeeping system to stay on top of things. This will be discussed in a future post. This is the system of tools that I use to keep track of my extreme credit cards benefits card accounts.
It can become very enticing to continue to apply for and collect extreme credit card benefits cards. They offer a one time promotion that is a lot more than regular cash rewards or travel points. But one must proceed with caution by keeping diligent track of all of one’s accounts as the number of the hot credit cards in one’s possession increases. If a person accumulates a large number of these cards, it can become a job just keeping track of everything. Obtaining these cards can be a way to earn some extra non taxable income for The Former Middle Class person. But at the same time, unless it is a real necessity, it is easier to have a few top notch cards that offer cash back and are “tied to a travel program like an airline or a hotel”. According to Jim Wang of WalletHacks, they offer the best bonuses.
Good Credit Card Hygiene is based upon several principles. They are the focus of and shall be reviewed in this blog post. Before any discussion can be held about extreme credit card benefits, one must have a firm grasp of the basic principles especially the components of your credit score.
The Components of Your Credit Score
To start with, it is very important to gain and maintain between a very good to excellent credit rating. Even if your credit is poor to start with, there are many resources, both nonprofit and professional that can help you to raise your credit or FICO® score. See the pie chart below for the breakdown of components.
Payment history has top billing in the equation. It is crucial to always pay your monthly bills in full and on time. This is the first of the five components of your credit score and counts for 35% of the credit score algorhythm. You could say that it is the key player in good credit card hygiene.
Level of Debt
The next component that counts for 30% of your credit score is your level of debt. What this means is that the amount you owe or your monthly debt should not comprise more than 30% of the entire amount of credit that has been made available to you. If your total credit allocation is $100,000 then you should charge less than $30,000 each month. Actually, the most recent numbers I have heard, are that the credit reporting agencies are looking for a percentage of between 6-9%. This means that one’s monthly debt (credit card charges, loans, mortgage payments, etc.) should not exceed between $6,000 to $9,000.
Age of Credit
The first two factors make up 65% of your score so clearly they are the most important ones in obtaining and maintaining good credit card hygiene. Next is the age of your credit which makes up 15% of your score. Start applying for a credit card as early on as you can so that you will have a long credit history. In order to increase your chances of getting one, apply for a card for which you have been pre-approved. That way your credit score will not go down because of your application. Picking out a card that has not be pre approved will result in the reduction of your credit score whether you get the card or not. But it may not be a serious problem. You can still have good credit card hygiene and a decent FICO score.
Types of Debt and Credit Inquiries
Now you have 80% of your credit score accounted for. These are the three most important factors. But don’t ignore the others. It is good credit card hygiene and good for your score to have a mix of types of debt, credit card, loans, and/or mortgage. Here again, since this makes up only 10% of your score, it is not crucial. Likewise, credit inquiries also make up 10% of your score. So they are not crucial either.
More About Good Credit Card Hygiene
There are numerous types of credit score systems, each with its own algorhythm. Two of the most popular systems are shown above FICO and Vantage. FICO® was created by the Fair Isaac Corporation. VantageScore is comprised of the input from these three reporting agencies, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. They do not have the same exact rating scales but the difference is not far off. So let’s continue with the characteristics of good credit card hygiene.
Good Credit Card Hygiene Do’s and Do Not’s
Do not apply for too many cards in a short period of time. You will know that you are applying for too many in too short a time if you start getting rejections and that is the reason the credit card company gives for it.
Be mindful to not do anything that will result in negative comments on your credit report. If you do, these will reflect poorly on your credit score. This is not considered good credit card hygiene.
Check your credit card activity often and your credit scores regularly. Now that most, if not all credit card companies have this as a free feature, it is very easy to do. If you find any errors on your credit card, contact the company immediately. If you suspect fraud, contact the police as well as the credit reporting agencies. This can be very serious. Do this in a timely matter.
It is recommended not to close credit card accounts especially old ones. But if you must, wait until you have zero debt to do so. You don’t want to negatively affect you debt to available credit ratio.
That’s about it for a review of what good credit card hygiene is. Once you have established a level of comfort and confidence with it, you can move on to the exciting part, Extreme Credit Card Benefits. That is the topic of the next blog post. I promise you will be WOWed by it.
I’ve talked a lot about using cash reward credit cards, lately. It actually feels like I am living in a credit card world. In fact, this for two reasons. One is because I have wanted to learn everything I could about cash reward credit cards, credit scores and credit reports, too. The other reason, probably the most important one, is that cash reward credit cards have become one of my most essential survival tools.
The Credit Card Maven
As a result of my intense interest and need to know everything I can about credit cards, I’ve even created a Facebook page called The Credit Card Maven. This is where I post information as I have researched and sourced it. I have found a number of websites, blog posts, Facebook pages (listed here) and groups that are extremely helpful resources in my quest for knowledge as The Credit Card Maven in my credit card world. Included are:
• Credit Card Mastery
• Credit Karma
• Wallet Hacks
• Wise Bread
Credit Cards as a Survival Tool
As I mentioned at the start of this post, credit cards have become a survival tool in my credit cards world. It was not by design that this came to be.
It was more a matter of circumstances. Once I got a feel for how useful and profitable using credit cards could be, my desire to use them and master it increased. Let me give you an example.
I have had cash reward credit cards for a number of years. I can accumulate up to about $40. in a two month period from one of them. That was a good beginning. Then I decided to get a travel rewards card in anticipation of someday going to visit my family in Colorado. I used it and kept on accumulating points.
Credit Card Currency
When I went to check on the conversion to paying for an airplane ticket, the results were not impressive. I had to find something better. This time by design, I set out to find the best deal I could for air travel benefits using a credit card. I found one that I ultimately used for my flight. It rewarded me with 30,000 points and a $100. discount on my airplane ticket. This was such a great deal that I have enough points to return to Colorado for free, right now.
Now that’s what I call using credit cards as currency. If I could do that with a travel rewards credit card, I wondered what other benefits and rewards I could manifest in my credit cards world. I familiarized myself with a few other travel rewards cards as part of getting a second ticket for my husband and having funds for other things related to our vacation. All in all, my activities resulted in a savings of between $400 and $500 for our trip.
Credit Card Investing
Let me present one more situation where the skilled use of a credit card became very profitable. I found an offer for a cash rewards credit card that would refund $100 on spending $500 within 90 days of acquiring the card. That would be a 20% profit. I had never accomplished that in the stock market. It seemed like a very good investment to me. I wasn’t sure if I would be granted another card as I had accumulated quite a few by this point. But it came through. I fulfilled the requirements. Now I am just waiting for my investment to pay off.
Credit Card Monthly Rotation
I made another discovery. It may seem a bit confusing. In fact, I am kind of surprised that I am even able to do this. I am calling it credit card monthly rotation. It is based upon a combination of the nature of credit cards themselves and good credit card hygiene.
Each credit card has a closing date and a payment due date. Since I have several cash reward credit cards and they have different closing and payment dates, I can stagger them and not have to pay them at the same time. If I make my purchases and schedule my payments using my monthly rotation system, I have a revolving credit situation. In other words, if my budget in a particular month needs to be exceeded, I can use a card that has a closing date that will allow payment the following month. I just have to make sure the funds will be available then. I also have to have a very good bookkeeping system to keep track of every detail of every card.
Based upon my understanding and goals to achieve Credit Card Mastery, I believe that I am on my way but I have not achieved mastery yet. When will I achieve it? There are several requirements that I have established for myself:
• My credit scores average will be over 800 again. It is only about 10-20 points from that now.
• My monthly rotation system will have proven itself to work and I will have a sense of mastery in my credit card world
• My Credit Card Management Chart will be complete and committed to memory. As a result, I will have a firm grasp on all my cards and a natural flow for their use in rotation as needed.
To many people, understanding credit scores and reading credit reports are overwhelming and confusing. There is no need to not have transparency and clarity about your credit cards world. Credit cards are an important tool and can even be crucial for personal survival and business development. Study the resources provided. Take the Credit Card Mastery Course if you can. Having one’s finances in order and being able to live solvently in a credit card world are not luxuries. They are necessities and everyone deserves to have them.
I am The Credit Card Maven. I have learned ways to use credit cards for survival and profit. This post is designed to share these techniques with my friends and followers.
I started using charge cards many years ago. I never abused them. The bills were always paid on time. But they were not credit cards. They were charge cards for department stores. At one point, I decided to eliminate most of them.
Credit Cards Replace Charge Cards
My FICO score has always been in the excellent range. In spite of that, I had no idea how FICO scores worked. It was just one of those mysteries of life. I continued to carry a limited number of cards as well as having a credit score of over 800. When our financial situation changed in 2008, credit cards took on a totally new meaning for us.
Credit Cards Become Currency
Due to circumstances which I detail in my first eBook, The Poor Middle Class Crisis Introduction, our financial profile changed drastically. Our equity was gone as well as our income. We no longer had savings. Suddenly credit cards became a way to earn money and derive other benefits from them, as well.
The biggest incentive to use credit cards as currency was our need to take a trip to Colorado to visit our families. Because of that, I signed up for a total of four travel rewards cards. One of them was the airline travel rewards card. I signed up during a promotion. If I spent $1,000 in three months using this card, I would get 30,000 bonus points and $100. off the airfare. I have earned enough points for a free trip to Colorado and back, again. Hopefully it won’t take six years to see our families again.
Mastering Credit Card Use
As you can imagine, using so many cards can become very confusing. I am still perfecting my system. But I can tell you what I have learned so far. We are fortunate enough to have excellent credit. So we were easily able to secure all the cards we wanted. If you don’t have great credit, do everything you can to improve it. There is a link to an article from NextAdvisor.com in the Sources and Resources section about paying down if not getting out of debt. Do read it.
Treasure An Excellent FICO Score
For the person with excellent credit, you want to keep it. Great credit is precious. Here are some golden rules on how to train yourself to use your credit cards wisely.
• Sign up for cards that best meet you needs and spending habits. There are websites that show you which to use.
• Always pay bills in full and on time.
• Make a chart of closing and payment due dates for all your cards.
• Keep an accounting of how much you spend each month so that you do not exceed your budget.
• Use no more than 30% of the credit limit you have on each card.
• It is better to charge larger amounts on a few cards than to charge small amounts on many cards.
• For cash rewards cards, write on the card itself the cash back % you get on each category of purchases.
• Do not close old credit card accounts. It is best to have as long a credit history as possible.
• Avoid fee based cards unless the benefits greatly outweigh the out-of-pocket expense.
Credit Card Myths and Tips
Myths about credit cards abound. So here are some tips to dispel them.
• A credit score will not necessarily be lowered by having numerous cards. But don’t sign up for too many too close together. That can appear to the credit card score companies like you are in crisis.
• Almost every credit card company has a ‘Check Your FICO score’ feature. You can use it without negatively impacting your score. This is a ‘soft’ check.
• A ‘hard’ check can negatively impact your score. That could be checking by a loan company, a future employer,etc.
There is so much more that can and will be said about credit cards, their use and mastery in future posts. Credit cards can be like a loaded gun. They can be dangerous, even deadly if you do not know how to use it. On the other hand, they can be a lifesaver when properly trained.