How Do I Manage My Credit Cards?

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I’m often asked questions about how I “manage” my credit cards, including:

  • If you have 20+ credit cards, how do you fit them all in your wallet?
  • How do you keep track of which cards earn bonus points in which categories? How do you get family members to put the right purchases on the right cards?
  • How do you keep track of payment due dates and annual fee due dates?

I have a bit of experience with all of the above, so figured I’d share my thoughts:

If you have 20+ credit cards, how do you fit them all in your wallet?

So my credit card organization system is really easy. I have a money clip (with a credit card “slot”), a wallet, and then a credit card binder. I keep the cards I use for everyday purchases in my money clip. These are cards that are potentially useful for everyday purchases if I’m out and about, like the following:

Those three cards have me covered for 99% of my day-to-day purchases.

Then I keep other credit cards in my wallet. These are cards that I’ll sometimes use when the circumstances warrant it, and if I’m traveling internationally I may replace the Premier Rewards Gold Card with one of them in my money clip, since that card has foreign transaction fees:

Then I also put all my airline and hotel elite cards, as well as Priority Pass membership card, in my wallet.

Lastly I have a binder with the cards that I keep but never actually spend money on. This includes cards like:

How do you keep track of which cards earn bonus points in which categories? How do you get family members to put the right purchases on the right cards?

While this isn’t a helpful answer for most, I just know the benefits of each card off the top of my head. But if you don’t (or family members have cards they don’t know the best uses for), what’s the best way to keep track of them? Here are a few options:

  • While perhaps a bit trashy, you can use a sharpie to write the category that you’re supposed to use that card for on the back of it. For example, just write “Dining” or “Groceries” in big letters on the back, and I guarantee they’ll never forget again.
  • You can use the same method as above except attach a Post-It note to the card, though those tend to get lost.
  • Or what I do for my family members is try to keep things simple. Rather than telling my parents the five different cards they should spend money on, I ask them which categories they spend the most on, and then just have them use those cards. So for example, right now I tell my dad to just use the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express for gas and groceries and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card for dining and everything else. In the past I gave him five cards to spend money on to try and optimize every possible spend bonus category, and he just couldn’t keep track of them, so I find sometimes it makes sense to just simplify things and go back to the basics.

How do you keep track of payment due dates and annual fee due dates?

To keep things simple all my cards have the same statement closing date. It’s not the 1st or 15th of the month, since those are hellish days to begin with, but having one consistent date works well for me. That way on the same day every month I can go through all my statements, make sure everything looks correct, etc.

Then as far as card annual fees go, I set a reminder in my calendar for the renewal date of the card so that I can decide whether I want to keep or cancel the card at that point. If I decide to keep it I make the annual fee payment immediately.

What organizational methods do you use for your credit cards?

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Comments

  1. I have a spreadsheet with ALL the cards I have on it organized by the issuing banks. Similar to you Ben, I keep the Sapphire, Freedom, card, but I also keep the Barclays Arrivals in my wallet. The rest that don’t get used daily go into a leather bound fake Prada wallet I picked up in KL in Petaling Street, that has 20 credit card slots on each side. If I can get my hands on more of those…I’m thinking blog giveaway in the near future? 🙂

  2. You can also just stick on circle labels with the bonus categories on them…a bit less trashy for those that need a reminder

  3. I keep an Excel doc with several worksheets. One worksheet is a running chrono of all CC apps (noting outcome; signup bonus terms) and cancellations (noting retention offer, if any). Another organizes cards by issuer, with date of opening & credit line listed; I also have thse color-coded to indicate long-term keeper, signup bonus not yet earned, candidate for retention offer request, or candidate for cancellation.

    At least once every quarter, I evaluate where to maximize benefits in various spend categories. (It changes at least 1x/quarter on account of Chase Freedom.) Instead of using a Sharpie, I tape small printed labels to the front of each card for family members, except for the “go to” card to be used by default for all non-category spend. Normally, this involves 4-5 cards & is therefore pretty manageable.

  4. @Lucky — Do you ever maximize spend on the Citi AA Advantage card when they run the 3x points promo on gas, food, airline tickets, etc like they are currently doing?

  5. How long does it normally take for the sign up bonus for cards such at Citi AA to show up on your frequent flyer program? Do you have to wait till credit card is paid? I notice that for the Amex/Delta card it shows up 1-2 days after you reach the spending level.

  6. @ Brady — I probably should but I don’t. Simply not worth the effort for me given that I don’t spend *that* much in those categories, and given the limited upside compared to the next best option it’s just not worth the effort to me.

  7. I use Quicken to track all mt finances and that has proven to be a great tool to keep track of all spending on credit cards. I almost never access credit card web sites since with a touch of one button on every evening the software downloads all new info from all my credit cards and I can accept them if they are legit. By doing that I was able to quickly identify the four times I had cards cloned and people spending money in places I usualy don’t shop. Easy way to keep eveeything on one place.

  8. @lucky;

    I figured you would use Hyatt Gift Checks (good at international locations) purchased vis SPG Business card (5% back) rather than the Hyatt card.

  9. If you haven’t already, you should look into Mint (mint.com) for managing your monthly payments (including due dates). It tracks them automatically for you and you won’t have to login to each bank each month, something I generally hate doing.

  10. Similar to Beltway, but I just us a word charts, one each for Chase, Amex, and Other noting ap dates, closing dates ann fees, retention offers, and cards that are waiting for a future app-o-rama. For “active cards” I have a note on my iphone that lists spend threshold goals and my current approximate postion. IE: AX Platinum, spend 5,000 by 3/1/14. 3,517 as of 1/12/14…

  11. +1 for mint.com. I have ten or so cards that I never charge anything on, and mint.com is useful in making sure they aren’t stolen and keep a 0 balance.

  12. I’m not that organized but an Excel spreadsheet to track spending and goals. A label maker sticker on the back works good or I like the sharpie idea. I usually I carry the card until I meet spend and then file it in a certain drawer. I also like to make a scan of the front and back then I save this in a cloud file so I can access while traveling to report lost or stolen cards, etc.

  13. I use HSBC’s easyview. It’s a re-branded version of Yodlee MoneyCenter, sans the sucky yodlee flash based interface (if you use yodlee, revert to the non-flash based interface, it’s so much better). Here’s my daily dashboard. I couldn’t survive without it. It shows most of my reward balances (AA, DL, UA, and WN are blocked), bank accounts, investment accounts, credit card balances, bill due datess, etc.

    http://img837.imageshack.us/img837/7655/95235559.gif

  14. Great oversight here is the Chase Freedom with its’ rotating 5X that is always in my wallet for the rotation……….and if you have a Chase account you get an annual 10% bonus instead of Sapphire 7% bonus…still does’t beat Starwood for manufactured spend…. there is no annual fee making it a credit report stud…….sign up bonus of 10-20k is not the point on this card…….it is the slow way to get rich card………..

  15. I’m thinking about getting Coin (www.onlycoin.com), which is supposed to store several credit cards on one credit card-sized device. This seems like it will save a fair amount of space in my wallet, since I hate carrying a ton of cards around but don’t want to miss out on bonus miles/points. However, it looks like they aren’t actually making the devices yet, and I’m not sure if it will actually come to fruition, so I haven’t pulled the trigger.

  16. I pre-ordered Coint mentioned by Andrew B. so will try it out.

    Have had a Mint account for years but found not using it all that much because it became too much of hassle to classify all charges correctly. Perhaps I need to give it another look to see if they improved it.

    Generally, what I found to work the best for keeping track of all of my bills (cards, utilities, rent, etc.) is just having an Excel spreadsheet. I get paid semi-monthly so split bills into two groups and pay/review them twice a month by simply going down the spreadsheet (which includes auto-pay items).

  17. @Andrew B-Coin bothers me for a couple of reasons. 1. When you order, the company will bill you immediately, then ship your coin when they come out in the summer. Seems fishy to me. 2. The battery only lasts ~2 years so you will pay $55 for the first one, then $100 every two years for a replacement. 3. The coin itself doesn’t look much like a credit/debit/charge card so when you hand it to a cashier, are they going to accept it. YMMV

  18. Hi Ben,

    Congrats to your A 350 flight.
    How do you manage to get the same statement date on all of your credit cards.
    Can I do it online, or do I need to call?
    Thanks and all the best
    Ulli

  19. @ Ulli — When you apply for the card you can set your own statement date. Otherwise you can call and have them change your date.

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