As much as credit card companies have made it easier to manage payments online, it can still be tough to keep track of cards when you’re a “collector” like me, and have 15+.
So I figured I’d share the strategies I use to ensure I’m never late on a payment and how I manage bill pay as easily as possible. The last thing I want is to be hit with a fee for making a payment late, or even worse, get dinged on my credit score for it.
With that in mind, here’s what I do, and I’m curious how your strategies compare:
Set all account closing dates to the same day of the month, and pay your balance before that date
Perhaps this doesn’t work for everyone (especially those that want to stagger payments), but I set all my credit card closing dates to the 1st of the month. I almost always pay off my balance before then, though for me it’s an easy date to remember, since I have a bunch of other payments due that day as well. This makes it easy on me because during the last week of the month I’ll log into all my credit card accounts and review charges, make payments, etc., so that I’m all set well before the closing date. Then on the 1st of the month I’ll log in again and pay off any outstanding balance.
Keep in mind that a big part of your credit score is your credit utilization ratio, and that’s typically calculated based on your average balance when your accounts close. By paying my credit cards off before the account even closes I’m lowering my credit utilization ratio even further, which improves my credit score.
Turn on “auto-pay” for the cards I don’t use
Perhaps my logic is backwards on this one, though hear me out. I have several credit cards I keep year after year for the annual benefits but don’t actually put any spend on. Those would be cards like the Hyatt Visa (for the annual free night certificate), AAdvantage Visa (for the 10% mileage rebate on awards, up to 10,000 miles per year), etc. As a result these are accounts I often don’t actively monitor, so I set them up for auto-pay.
I do this so that I’m not stuck paying a late fee or getting dinged on my credit score if I miss the annual fee date or have a charge hit the card that I wasn’t expecting (sometimes I have recurring charges and I forget which card I have them billed to). Of course I’ll always try to get a retention bonus before paying the annual fee, though that’s covered below.
Have a simple spreadsheet with anniversary dates
Some people have really fancy credit card tracking spreadsheets, though I keep mine simple. It has two columns. All I have on there is the name of the card and the anniversary date of the card, so that I can call a month before that either to cancel the card or aim for a retention bonus. I sort the spreadsheet by anniversary date (as opposed to by card name), making it easy to track when a card is up for renewal. I usually check the spreadsheet the same time that I’m paying my bills every month, to see if I have to take any action.
Turn on paper statements
Not saying other people should do this, though it’s what I do. I still like paper statements for a couple of reasons. First, they’re useful for my records, so once I pay off my balances I file the statements away (though I realize I could store them electronically as well). Second, I find it a lot easier to review payments on paper than online.
While American Express has a fantastic website for tracking charges, the other card issuers just aren’t nearly as good. Chase doesn’t list any level of detail about activity until the statement closes, and in my opinion Barclays and Citi are even worse. So the paper statements at least make it easy to track payments.
Again, not suggesting anyone else should adopt my “approach” to managing online bill pay, though I have often been asked how I do it, so that’s a quick rundown.
I’d love to hear what strategies or tricks you guys have for managing credit cards.