Two cents' worth on credit cards

Nov. 2, 2021 – Senior Connections
By Dale Kovar

As we age, we learn from experience, develop different interests, and pursue different goals.

Among these adjustments, I’ve turned credit card benefits into a sport.

There’s only a few cents of profit in it, here and there, but it is a mentally challenging competition to try to beat the mega-corporations at their own game.

Dave Ramsey would tell me not to use any credit cards at all because it becomes too easy to buy things we otherwise wouldn’t (and he’s right).

But first, back to the basics of credit cards.

I jump up and down and scream to my kids: you absolutely must pay off any credit card in full every month, without fail! Otherwise the interest will cost you many times more than any possible benefit you may receive.

With that out of the way, let the games begin!

First, here’s the starting lineup of cards in my wallet.

Card A is an airline-issued card on which we earn points and can make an occasional visit to our out-of-state grandson by paying only the tax on a flight covered with points.

Card B is one of the standards with no annual fee and cash-back on each purchase. This one occasionally throws in a better short-time cash-back offer.

Card C is center of the competition. It offers higher cash back, but changes the categories every quarter.

On the bench is Card D. This one has some pretty lucrative cash-back offers once in awhile, but it only gets into action for those specific times.

Also in reserve is Card E, which is a standing offer of a 5% discount at one specific store. Guess where that gets used?

The competition, then, is to consistently use the right card for the right type of purchase within the right timeframe.

For example, my greatest victory this summer was stumbling across Special K cereal on sale at Menards at a price lower than I ever find it anywhere else. Add to that it was during Menards’ 11% rebate promotion, plus in that quarter Card C was offering 5% cash-back on purchases from home improvement stores. I won!

The only down side of that story was that since I was on a quick in-and-out mission I didn’t have a cart along, so I only ended up with the four boxes of cereal I could easily carry.

Another example is like when Card D offers extra points for spending $500 in a certain period.

That means I pay $501 of a medical bill on Card D, and the rest on Card A, unless there’s a better offer in play somewhere else.

Usually, Card B has 2% cash-back on gas and restaurants, 1% on everything else.

Card C is the wild card that changes categories every quarter but offers 5%, so that means a mental reprogramming every three months to keep straight the pecking order of which gets used where.

Card A made it even more interesting this summer with an extra offer on gas purchases, but it only lasted 45 days. That made it very important to remember the ending date – first to top off the tank of every vehicle, then to switch back to the next best card.

The other aspect of the game is to know the cycle of each card well enough, and when possible, delay purchases until shortly after a billing cycle ends.

That means I get two cents more interest while the money sits in my bank account for another month before the next statement comes.

Before paying the $501 medical expense on Card D, I had to wait a few days to just miss the statement cycle. But that means it’s about 30 more days before the money actually leaves my bank account.

With everything online, it’s easy enough to check and double-check all the details so I can plot my next move.

In the meantime, I have to constantly turn down the invitations to go paperless. I’m going to want a paper copy anyway, so you, credit card company, can print it and mail it to me instead of me having both the effort and expense of doing that.

As I said, the few cents here and there isn’t enough to retire on, although it adds up over time. The fun is in playing the game by using their offers to get the highest payback.

So much for little victories.

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