When you get deeper into the world of opening rewards cards to get free or luxury travel, there is an inevitable amount of bookkeeping that comes with managing your credit cards.

You have to track:

  • when you opened each card
  • when the annual fee is due on each card
  • how much you’ve spent toward the minimum spending requirement associated with the sign up bonus
  • when each statement closes
  • when payments are due on each card
  • category bonuses

While that looks like a lot to track, and may seem daunting, I estimate that I spend about 30 minutes per month on everything credit card related.

I think about a credit card’s life cycle as having four stages:

  1. Application
  2. Getting the bonus (minimum spending)
  3. Regular use (category bonuses)
  4. Renewal/Cancellation

Here’s what I do at each step to keep track of my cards and minimize my headaches.

What are the steps you need to take to put your credit card tracking on auto-pilot?

1. Application

I keep the time spent on applications as low as possible by applying for any cards I want on the same day (and making these days at least 91 days apart.)

Once I complete an application day, I note 91 days later on my phone’s calendar, so I know when I can apply for new cards.

I spend a lot of time every day thinking about the best credit cards for travel, so it doesn’t take me any extra time to pick out the cards I want. But for a regular person, planning which cards best suit their travel goals could take a lot of time because the Best Cards for Big Spenders differ from the Best Cards for Small Spenders, which differ from the Best Cards for Economy Travel.

How MileValue Can Help Save You Time Planning Your Application

I offer a Free Credit Card Consultation. Fill out the form with relevant details about your travel goals, spending patterns, and where you live, and I’ll tell you the best cards to meet your goals.

2. Getting the bonus

Once the cards come in the mail, it is time to set up your online banking to save time in two ways: by automating bills and by making spending easy to track.

Setting up online banking for the first time is easy on each bank’s website. Adding new cards to an existing online account can be automatic or a few clicks.

Adding New Cards to Existing Accounts

In the past year, I’ve gotten cards from six banks:

  • Chase
  • Barclaycard
  • Bank of America
  • US Bank
  • Citi
  • American Express

If you sign up for a new card with an existing online banking account, Chase, Barclaycard, and Bank of America will automatically add your new credit card to your existing online banking account.

Simply sign in and you’ll see the new card. Then set up a recurring monthly payment to pay your bill in full online from your bank account. They should also have your bank account info stored if you have automatic payments set up for another credit card.

Setting up auto-payments in full is a crucial time saving step. If you can’t do it because you’re not sure you can pay your credit cards in full each month, do not open any rewards cards. The interest on rewards cards will far exceed the value of the rewards.

Annoyingly American Express and Citi do not automatically add new cards into your account. With American Express, it takes two clicks plus the card number to add a new card to an existing online account.

On the home screen of your account, click the teal box next to your existing cards.

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 8.53.41 PMThen click Add Card for Online Access on the popout screen.

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 8.53.47 PM

For Citi, click Link an Account on your account’s home screen.

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 8.54.55 PM

Unfortunately I haven’t figured out how to add new cards to my existing US Bank online account. I better get on that. Any tips?

Once you have your cards in the account, set up a recurring payment. Citi and American Express make you re-type in your bank account info for each credit card.

Tracking Spending

Tracking whether you’ve met a card’s minimum spending requirement takes some effort. I’ve laid out my strategy on How to Meet Multiple Minimum Spending Requirements at Once before.

3. Regular Use (Category Bonuses)

Almost all the time in managing cards will come during applying and meeting their minimum spending requirements. Once we get past those stages, there is very little left to do.

Your monthly statements are all online. You can look at them however often you want to ensure no fraud is occurring. That should be very little time.

The time you’re spending on cards during this period is remembering when to use which card to maximize category bonuses. This should take no time at all.

Either memorize each card’s category bonuses or write them on the card. I bought some tiny circular stickers at the dollar store, wrote the card’s category bonuses, and affixed them to the front of my cards when I was just starting out with rewards cards.

4. Renewal or Cancellation

As soon as I apply for a card, I make a not on my phone’s calendar for 11 months later to decide whether to renew or cancel a card.

When my phone beeps to tell me to make the decision, I weigh: Should I Keep This Card? Whether to Hold or Cancel a Rewards Card When an Annual Fee is Due.

If I decide to cancel the card, I’ll call in. If I am offered a good enough retention bonus to change my calculation, I’ll keep the card.

If I still want to cancel the card after talking to an agent, then I will transfer out any points that would disappear when the card is cancelled before cancelling the card. (Note that hotel and airline points are safe. Only bank points are at risk during credit card cancellations.)

If I keep the card, I will make a note for one year later on my phone to make the decision again whether to keep or cancel my card.

Recap

I estimate that all of that–applying for cards, tracking bonuses, setting up online banking, and deciding whether to cancel cards–averages out to about 30 minutes per month.

And there are ways to reduce the time you spend thinking about cards, like by getting a Free Credit Card Consultation.

This doesn’t include keeping track of all my rewards, planning trips, award booking, or going on all my free vacations. That takes more time, but that’s all fun for me.

If the rewars-managing side isn’t fun for you, there are also ways to reduce this amount of time to basically zero–other than the free vacations–by using Award Wallet and my Award Booking Service.

Just tracking cards takes time, but not all that much time. How much time does tracking your cards take you? What are some time-saving tips?



Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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