As I explained in My Introduction to Churning, signing up for credit cards can save you tons of money on travel and other expenses, but it doesn’t come without some risk. All of the risks can be avoided by planning ahead, staying organized, and not over-extending yourself, but if churning is brand new for you, this probably all sounds overwhelming. In this multi-part series, I will go into more detail about how to decide whether or not churning is for you, how to find a good offer to apply for, how to stay organized, and how to plan for the long term.
Getting Started With Churning Series
- Part 1: Maybe You Shouldn’t
- Part 2: Reasons You Should
- Part 3: Getting Organized
- Part 4: Making a Plan
- Part 5: Finding the Best Offer(s)
- Part 6: Planning For the Long Term
Part 3: Get Organized for Churning
The key to optimizing anything involving your finances is organization and churning is no exception. Getting organized will help you keep track of all the new credit cards you will be signing up for, when the bills are due, when you have to meet the minimum spend by, and when the annual fee is going to roll around. Aside from the cards themselves, it’s also important to monitor your credit score and keep track of all the different miles and points you will be earning from the signup bonuses. Tracking all of these details may seem like extra work, but having all of your churning related information easily accessible will give you some peace of mind. Below I explain how I keep track of everything necessary to maximize my benefits from churning and give some tips on how you can do the same.
Stay On Top Of Your Credit Score
Read through Churning: Tracking and Understanding Your Credit Score to find out all the different ways to look up your current FICO scores. I don’t recommend jumping into churning just yet if your credit score is below 700, but regardless of what it currently is, I do recommend you keep track of it. Even though websites such as Mint, Credit Karma, and Credit Sesame don’t give you your actual FICO score, looking at their movement over time will help you understand which way your credit score is moving.
I use a custom “churning” excel sheet that I created to track of several different things and one of my tabs is “Credit Scores”. Every time I get a new credit score, I create a new row with the date, the score, what credit bureau it was from, and how I obtained it. Most of the current rows are from either new credit card applications, the various FAKO websites, or my monthly Discover It statement. This not only allows me to track my score over time as I open and close lines of credit, but also allows me to catch any fraudulent activity that may arise from identity theft.
Whether you use excel, google docs, or a simple notebook at home, I recommend keeping track of your credit score both before and during your own churning adventures.
Track All the Details When You Apply For A New Card
Every credit card you sign up for will have several different details you will want to keep track of. Not only is it important to keep track of the short-term details such as how much you need to spend in what time period to get the bonus, but it’s just as important to track the long term details such as annual fee dates and when the bonus was given to you. For example, many of Chase’s credit cards state that you are not eligible for the bonus if you received the same bonus in the last 24 months. Knowing exactly when the last time you got certain bonuses will help you decide which cards to apply for a couple years from now. Hard pulls on your credit have the largest impact right after they happen and their impact slowly diminishes over time. Knowing how many times your credit has been pulled in the last 3, 6, or 12 months are all questions you will want to know the answers to when thinking about applying for a new card.
Here’s a list of all the information I currently track in my excel sheet:
- Card Name
- Application Date
- Approval (In addition to noting yes or no, I also note if the approval was instant, took a few days, or required a call to customer service)
- Signup Bonus Offer Details
- Spend Required for Bonus
- Spend by Date (Note: the countdown starts on the application date, not when you receive the card)
- Bonus Received Date
- Annual Fee (I note whether or not it was waived for the first year)
- Annual Fee Date (I use the application date + 1 year, but the actual date may vary slightly)
- Credit Limit
- Normal Spending Bonuses (I note bonus categories such as 2x on dining here)
- Forex Fees (Noting this at application time makes it easy to know which cards to use in other countries without having to look up the details for each card before I travel)
- Notes (I typically note extra bonuses for each card here such as free checked bags, rental car coverage, or annual bonuses such as free nights)
This is far from a comprehensive list, and several of the items I track might not be necessary for you. I definitely recommend tracking your application dates, bonus details, and annual fee dates, but the rest is a personal choice. Other things that might be worth tracking include:
- Cancellation Date
- Current Amount Spent
- Current Limit vs. Initial Limit (Sometimes you may transfer credit from a different card in order for the bank to approve your new card without extending their risk with you)
- Additional Spending Goals (Sometimes cards will add additional benefits with a certain amount of spending on the card annually and tracking your progress would be useful)
Don’t Forget The Bills
I’m going to assume you already have a system for keeping track of monthly bills, so I only include this section to make sure you add each new credit card to that system. Personally, I use the Mint Bills app (formerly Check) on my phone to make sure I don’t miss any due dates for everything from utilities to credit cards. As always, make sure you are paying your credit card statements in full to avoid any fees and interest that would cut into your churning benefits.
Track Your Rewards
Over the course of churning, you will probably be joining many different loyalty programs and it will become difficult to stay on top of all your current points and miles. Luckily there are a couple tools that work very well for tracking all of your different accounts. I use AwardWallet for all of my different point balances. From airlines to hotels to flexible points such as Ultimate Reward points, AwardWallet will be able to track both the balances, tier status, and expiration dates for each program. It is even possible to set up multiple people within the same account, which I use to track both my fiance’s points and my own all in one place.
If you follow my referral link for AwardWallet and/or use the coupon code “free-troyie”, you will get a free upgrade to their “Plus” version for the first 6 months. Signing up is a good excuse to find any old loyalty programs you may have signed up for in the past that still have some points left in them. AwardWallet will also track most store programs such as Kroger’s Fuel Points and Sears Shop My Way, and it even tracks most shopping portals such as TopCashBack and Ebates.
AwardWallet’s website and app are both invaluable to me and I highly recommend checking them out for yourself. There are also other loyalty program point trackers such as UsingMiles and points.com, but I haven’t used them so I can’t comment on their usefulness.
Now that you know how to organize all the different data points that go along with churning, start making a plan for yourself in Part 4: Making a Plan.