Weekly, monthly and yearly tasks for staying on track with your credit cards
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While maximizing your credit card game doesn’t mean you have to live and breathe credit card rewards (that’s what we’re here for), you should be keeping a close eye on your credit score, rewards earnings and overall financial health throughout the week, month and year.
The better handle you have on your own credit journey and rewards portfolio, the better you can make informed decisions to hit your goals — whether you’re looking to boost your credit score before applying for a line of credit or save up enough points to get you to New Zealand for almost no money out of pocket.
Here are a few things to remember as you go through your week, month and year to help you stay on track.
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Make a budget
Budgeting is an important aspect of your overall financial health, but it can also help you maximize your credit card earnings. If you have a general idea of where and when you’ll spend money over the course of the week, you can make sure you’re using the best credit card for those purchases. Plus, budgeting helps ensure that you’ll be able to pay off your bill in full at the end of the month, which helps you avoid interest payments and keep your credit score high.
Related: Best apps for money management
Keep a pulse on your credit card spending
Once you make a budget, keep an eye on your actual spending through your credit card apps. That way you’ll be able to spot any billing errors, notice any rewards that aren’t depositing the way they should, and make sure that you’re following your budget.
For example, I’ve previously had travel expenses not earn rewards on my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Because I log in to check my spending log on my accounts regularly, I was able to flag this issue up to Chase and get it fixed.
Check for new American Express and Chase offers
Amex and Chase both have a solid platform of additional offers available to cardholders. You have to activate the offers that you want to use, but taking the time to do so could help you rack up additional points and savings. I personally sit down every Sunday to budget out my week, check through my previous week’s spending, and do a quick run-through of available offers on both my Amex and Chase credit cards.
Consider your card rotation
Consider which cards you’re using for which purchases. This step is especially important during a year when credit card issuers have been dropping changes, updates and temporary bonuses left and right. It seems that every other week, a credit card is adding a new temporary spending bonus to help cardholders maximize spending when travel is still on hold for many. Don’t get me wrong — these additional changes, bonuses and benefits are all stellar. But it can make it hard to know which cards are best suited for certain purchases.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve announced cardholders can earn 3x points on up to $1,000 per month in grocery store spending through April 2021. You may have been using another card for grocery spending prior, but it could make more sense to switch that spending over to the CSR for the duration of this bonus period to earn those valuable Ultimate Rewards points.
Check your credit score
Your credit score is important — it determines which cards you can be approved for, your interest rates, whether you are approved for loans such as mortgages and car loans, and it can even affect whether you’re able to rent an apartment in some places. Luckily, it’s extremely easy to access your credit score for free. In fact, pretty much every major card issuer provides an easy way to check your score for free through the bank’s app.
Related: How to improve your credit score
Adjust upcoming goals
Once a month, take some time to think about your short-term goals. Are you close to hitting the required spend needed for the next tier of elite status? Do you need to save money on expenses to cover an upcoming large purchase? Is there a post-holiday getaway you have your eye on for a points redemption? With these goals in mind, you can then adjust your earning and burning strategies.
For example, if you are looking to save money on non-travel expenses coming up and have a bank of Chase Ultimate Rewards points on your Chase Sapphire Reserve, it could make sense for you to use some of those points to offset the cost of groceries, dining and home improvement store purchases through the Pay Yourself Back feature at the 50% bonus rate available through April 2021. Alternatively, if you’re really close to hitting the 100k Membership Rewards points needed to book a dream getaway for summer 2021 (fingers crossed), it might make sense to shift spending to your Amex points-earning cards.
Every Year Or So
Dive deep into your credit report
We’ve talked about regularly checking your credit score, but your score is only a small part of your larger credit report. By law, you are entitled to a full credit report from the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) once a year for free, and you should be taking advantage of this. Your credit report will list your identifying information, detailed summaries of your credit account information and a list of the hard and soft inquiries on your account.
It’s important to make sure that all of that information is accurate and to fix any errors as soon as possible, as it can have adverse effects on your credit score and overall financial health.
Adjust your card wish list
Each year, I make a tentative credit card wishlist. Basically, it’s just a list of credit cards I’m considering applying for over the next year as well as a short description as to why. It’s not a list that I live and die by (for example, I had the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card on my wishlist for this year, but ended up putting that application on hold because of a better offer for the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card that I decided to jump on), but it does help me keep an eye out for special offers and elevated bonuses. And don’t forget to check the CardMatch Tool for the latest targeted offers (offers are subject to change at any time).
Plus, having a basic plan for which cards I may want to add to my wallet helps me navigate application rules, such as the Chase 5/24 rule, Amex’s one-bonus-per-lifetime rule and others. For 2020, I had the Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card, Chase Freedom Unlimited, Chase Sapphire Reserve and “an airline credit card” on my list. I ended up holding off on the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Amazon Prime Visa Card because of changing priorities and spending habits, but they’ll likely stay on my list for 2021.
The information for the Amazon Prime Visa Signature card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Plan out your long-term goals
In addition to having shorter-term goals, think about your long-term game plan for earning and burning rewards. Things like saving up for a specific dream vacation, hitting lifetime elite status and prepping your credit score for a mortgage application can take a long time, so it’s important to know that those milestone goals are on your radar. Your long-term goals should help inform your short-term goals, and those should help you figure out which cards to apply for, where to focus your spending and how to plan your redemptions.
Once you have your goals in mind, write out (or type out, if you prefer to keep track of things digitally) actionable steps to help you accomplish those goals. I personally use a free tool called Notion to keep things like this (as well as my monthly bills and weekly budget) organized.
The world of points, miles and credit cards can seem overwhelming at first, but having a game plan can help you take charge of your earning and burning strategies. I’ve been able to take multiple international trips because of the points I’ve earned with rewards credit cards, I’ve saved hundreds of dollars on last-minute hiccups because of travel protections, and I’ve been able to significantly increase my credit score (which helped me score a great deal on my monthly car payment) — all because I took the step a few years back to be diligent about my credit card strategy.
Hopefully, this weekly, monthly and yearly outline will help you stay on track so that 2021 can be a great year for your personal finances.
Featured image by The Points Guy staff.
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