We live in an increasingly cash-free society. While cash is still king and accepted almost everywhere, more and more people are moving away from cash. From credit cards and contactless payments, different banks and credit issuers have an incentive to make sure that THEIR card is at the top of your wallet. That can lead to an opportunity for people with the financial savvy to earn a little extra by making the most out of their credit cards.
How many credit cards should you have?
The first question you might wonder in trying to make the most out of your credit cards is how many credit cards you should have. While there is no one right answer to that question, you should consider the possibility of signing up for a new credit card. The reason for that is that the most value you will ever get from your credit card is its welcome or signup bonus.
Normally, credit cards might give anywhere from 1-2 cents (or 1-2 airline miles or points) per dollar spent on most purchases. It’s really hard to get any appreciable amount of rewards only earning one or two cents per dollar. On the other hand, when you sign up for a new credit card, the credit card company will usually offer an initial signup bonus.
An example might be earning 50,000 airline miles for spending $2,000 in the first three months of having the card. So while you’re making that $2,000 of spending, you’re earning TWENTY-FIVE miles per dollar spent. An example like that can help illustrate the power of signing up for new credit cards — it’s just so much easier to get a healthy balance of rewards this way.
How signing up for credit cards affects your credit
Before you start signing up for every credit card you see, there are a few things that you’ll want to know. One of the most common credit card questions people ask is whether signing up for new credit cards hurts your credit score. For most people, signing up for a new credit card every couple of months will not have a material impact on their credit score. In fact, the increased credit limit can actually help your credit score.
The one thing that CAN hurt your credit score is if you aren’t organized and start missing payments on your credit card. So if you do decide to open new credit cards, make sure that you have a system in place for organization. You want to make sure that you have the financial ability and discipline to pay your credit card statement, in full, every month. If you don’t, you risk hurting your credit score, and the interest and late fees can really put a dent into any rewards that you might earn.
Using the “right” credit card
When you only have one credit card, it’s pretty straightforward to decide which card that you should use with any given merchant. You just use the one credit card that you have, every time and everywhere. If you have multiple credit cards, it starts to get a bit more complicated. Some credit cards earn the same amount of rewards no matter where you use them, while others earn bonus points in certain categories.
There are a couple of ways that you can handle using the “right” credit card. Some people just try to remember what bonus categories each of their cards have and use the right one based on their memory. Another strategy is to tape a small note to each card in your wallet with where to use it — groceries, gas, restaurants, everywhere else, etc.
An important thing to remember is that the difference between using the “right” and “wrong” credit card on any one transaction is minimal. We’re talking less than a dollar’s worth of rewards per purchase. And while every bit adds up, it’s not something to lose a whole lot of sleep over.
Maximize your credit card rewards
Once you have earned a good stash of credit card rewards, it’s time to put them to their best use. If you’re wise, you can maximize your credit card rewards without hurting your credit. A good rule of thumb is that most travel rewards are best used with the program where you’ve earned them. Delta Skymiles are best used to travel on Delta; Hilton Honors points are best used to stay at Hilton hotels.
Flexible bank rewards points like American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points, or Chase Ultimate Rewards are more valuable because they can effectively be used in multiple ways. You can use them to pay for travel, transfer them to hotel or airline travel partners or redeem them as statement credits to help pay yourself back. Having that flexibility is a good way to maximize the value of your rewards points.