EDIT 11/12/2017: Edited for Uber Card.
So I’ve become more than a bit of a credit nerd over the past few years. It’s to save myself money and not for any noble purpose, except maybe the bit where you feel a cathartic release for sticking it to The Banker Man through getting them to pay you to spend your own damn money. Given how much time I spend strategizing about this stuff, I wanted to get my thoughts out on the subject matter in case anyone else might find them useful. My parents were like, “Danny, I have no idea how you keep track of so many credit cards,” but IMO as long as you’re responsible and don’t overthink it, you’re fine. So here we go!
Let’s get the basics out of the way first. For those of you newer to this game, the key is to spend like a normal person and always pay in full. Think of your credit card like a debit card and treat it that way; just because you won’t start getting your card declined when you would with a debit card (or at least later than you would with a debit card if you’re like me and have credit limits that dwarf your actual income) doesn’t mean you should just be spending lavishly. Spend like you normally would, and pay everything off in full when the statement cycle closes. No, you don’t have to carry a balance to build good credit, and no, you won’t need to pay interest if you pay off your previous month’s balance within a month of that billing cycle closing (with 99.99999% of cards from any reputable bank).
So I have 12 credit cards at the moment, and they can be largely broken down into two categories – the daily drivers and the specialized cards. The daily drivers are exactly that, the cards I regularly carry around in my wallet with me. The specialized cards don’t see routine day-to-day use but are saved in my payment options in the appropriate contexts; these cards can also arguably be broken down into subcategories of more frequently used and less frequently used. Before going into the details, here’s a summary of how my cashback and perks on various categories breaks down (not including rotating 5% cards):
5% back on Amazon
5% back on ground transportation & cellphone bill
4% back on restaurants/bars/fast food
3% back on flights/hotels
2% back on everything else
6 month financing on all purchases above $199
Also, if it needed to be said, given my current income range and credit card throughput, I’m staunchly opposed to credit cards with an annual fee. I just don’t spend enough money to be able to come out on top with an annual fee of any sort, nor do I travel enough to make the most of the perks that a lot of such high annual fee cards come with. All the cards listed below are zero annual fee.
Citi Double Cash World Elite Mastercard: Operating on a 1% when you spend and 1% when you pay off structure, the Double Cash (DC) is essentially a 2% cashback card, and one of the first and most prominent ones on the market for it. Redemptions are permitted starting at $25. There was a solid period there where the DC was my only go-to card, and given my spending habits, it meant I would be able to redeem for ~$30 every two months or so. The DC also comes with a host of nice perks like Price Rewind – where Citi scours the web for lower prices on one of your recent purchases – and priority access to purchase tickets through Live Nation.
Uber Visa Card: This card has obsoleted my Capital One Premier Dining Rewards (now called Savor by CapOne) and my Bank of America Travel Rewards. 4% back on dining and 3% back on travel? Heck yes please. With the BOA TR, I could only get 3% back if I booked through BOA Travel Center, and I got burned with that last time because the Air Canada fare I booked through it (which wasn’t showing up other places IIRC) got hammered with cancels and delays both ways. Not that it’s BOA’s fault, but left a bad taste in my mouth. Now with this card, in addition to double the 1% extra rewards on dining relative to the PDR and the double rewards on travel relative to the BOA TR, it also comes with $50 off online subscriptions (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime) after 5k spend, and cell phone insurance. Plus, Barclays (the bank behind the card) gave me my to-date largest credit line of 11k! All in all, a great addition to my stable.
Capital One Premier Dining Rewards World Elite Mastercard: The Premier Dining Reward (PDR) is a brand spanking new addition to my stable of cards. I got it when I realized that most of my month spend was going to eating out and groceries, and the PDR has quickly found its niche in my card use. Operating on a 3/2/1 structure of 3% back on dining, 2% back on groceries, and 1% back on everything else, it’s significantly displaced my Double Cash. Nowadays, I whip out the PDR for dining and groceries and the DC for everything else when conducting offline transactions. Obsoleted by Uber Visa Card.
Specialized Cards – Regular Use
Chase Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature: 5% back on Amazon, 2% back on restaurants, 1% back on everything else. I order off Amazon fairly regularly, so this is a nice way of getting money back on my spending. It’s a fancy looking metal card, too; too bad I don’t ever really take it outside, since the 3% on dining on my PDR trumps its 2% and the 2% general on my DC trumps its 1%.
US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature: Another recent addition to my card stable. Arguably has the most interesting rewards structure of any of my cards, as it allows you to choose one 2% category and two 5% categories every quarter. I got it primarily for the 5% back on cellphone and ground transportation, though for this quarter, I selected ground transportation/bookstore, as I know I’ll be spending some money at the Penn/USC bookstores. For me in general though, nice way to make some money back on my cellphone bill and Uber/Lyft/public transit use.
Bank of America Better Balance Rewards Mastercard: Another interesting rewards structure card. If you make more than the minimum payment each month, BOA just gives you $25 at the end of the quarter. So I just stick my $25 gym bill on it every month and reap the rewards every third month. Free $100 every year, why not. For those with Bank of America accounts, you get a $5 bonus on top of the $25 each quarter.
Bank of America Travel Rewards Visa Signature: 1.5% back on all purchases, but what I usually end up using it for is for travel purchases through the Bank of America Travel Center. The prices on the BOA outlet are competitive as anywhere else as I’ve seen, and you receive 3% back on purchase made through it. For those with Bank of America accounts, your 1.5% can get amplified depending on how much money you have with them. Obsoleted by Uber Visa Card.
Specialized Cards – Reserves
Blispay Visa: 2% statement credit on all purchases, but the appeal is the 6 month financing on all purchases over $199. I’m personally of the philosophy that everyone deserves to have some emergency breathing room credit, and the Blispay allows for exactly that.
Synchrony Amazon Prime Store Card: 5% back on Amazon, promotional financing on certain items. This used to be my go-to Amazon card until I got the Chase card. The Chase card accrues your cashback in the form of points, while the Synchrony card gives it back to you as statement credit. As mentioned, the Chase is my Amazon go-to now, but I keep this one open in case I ever need the financing.
Synchrony Carecredit: School doesn’t cover my dental insurance, so I got this in lieu of it since there’s several dentists in the area, including Penn’s student/faculty dental practice, that accept it.
Discover It: Rotating 5% categories. I’m currently on its introductory 0% APR period, so I used it to pay off my phone installment plan from AT&T so I could switch myself to a cheaper prepaid plan, saving myself $30 a month. Double cashback for the first year and it’s likely that Amazon will be one of the 5% categories later this year, so I’ll probably use this card to make significant purchases on Amazon then.
Concluding Remarks & Future Plans
A couple months ago, I got an email from Citi about my Double Cash. It told me that I have earned $300 in cash back during my time with the card – that’s $300 I wouldn’t have had otherwise! I know I’ve gotten at least $250 off my Bank of America Travel Rewards as well, and $60 on my Amazon Store Card. Free money is always great!
I’m “in the garden” (credit nerd scene lingo for not applying for new cards) for a while. My total credit limit is about $50,000 right now, and I slammed my credit reports with a load of new applications this month and in January. Need to let it recover for a year at least, if not more.
I recently decided that close to the end of my PhD program, I’m going to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, or whatever the best travel card is at the time, for its signing bonus to fund a nice holiday abroad. I was initially going to use the miles on one of my three major airline alliance cards (Skyteam/Star Alliance/Oneworld) to fund the flight, but I figure why not save those points or, maybe, use those points to upgrade my seating on a flight paid for with signing bonus points?