You don’t need to have a wallet bursting with cards to get an excellent credit score or earn rewards. But, for some, an arsenal of plastic is vital to their credit and rewards strategies.
That’s why we asked some card-jugglers (including one with 45 cards) to share which tricks, tools and apps they use to manage their large collections – and what they’re getting out of having so many cards.
Note: While nobody should get more cards than they can handle, we recognize that, in the hands of those who are disciplined and organized, they can have many benefits.
Rand Shoaf, founder of WellTraveledMile.com
Number of cards: 15
Why that many?: Each one of those cards gives Shoaf a specific travel benefit (lounge access, elite status with hotels and free checked baggage on various airlines).
“Basically the benefits outweigh the cost of having each card if it has an annual fee,” he says.
How he keeps track: A Google Docs spreadsheet helps Shoaf track rewards, sign-up dates and required spending amounts for bonuses. His travel plans determine which cards are actually in his wallet at any given time.
“If I know I have upcoming travel and want to earn certain rewards, I’ll throw that card in my wallet for upcoming spending,” Shoaf says.
Clint Johnston, founder of Triphackr
Number of cards: 6 currently (fluctuates throughout the year)
Why that many?: It’s about the rewards.
“The fastest way to grow your miles and points bank is to open multiple cards,” Johnston says.
How he keeps track: Automation is the theme of Johnston’s card-juggling strategy, and auto-pay ensures that all his cards are paid off in full and on time.
“The key to card management is being responsible,” Johnston says. “It is easy to manage your money if things are automated, and you aren’t carrying a balance on your cards.”
For the other challenges (such as hitting a required spending amount for a sign-up bonus and knowing which card to use for a particular transaction), there are plenty of apps and online tracking tools. Johnston recommends TPG To Go, an app from The Points Guy.
Ariana Arghandewal, author of Pointchaser
Number of cards: About 12 currently (plans to cancel several soon)
Why that many?: Arghandewal flexes her cards for rewards and elite benefits.
“I applied for most of these cards for the sign-up bonus alone,” she says. “Others offer recurring benefits like generous category bonuses, annual free hotel nights and elite status, which make them worth keeping long term.”
How she keeps track: AwardWallet.com helps Arghandewal keep track of her rewards balances. For the more mundane aspects of organizing her cards, she uses a “very basic spreadsheet” to track card balances, due dates and spending requirements for bonuses (as well as the progress she’s made so far). Culling the herd is also part of her strategy, and her spreadsheet also includes notes about when she plans to cancel her cards if their benefits don’t justify the annual fee.
Scott Bilker founder of Debtsmart.com and author of “Talk Your Way out of Credit Card Debt”
Number of cards: About 45
Why that many? Lots of cards means lots of credit options and less stress about an issuer changing its terms for the worse.
“If one tries something, or tries to raise my rate, I’ve got 44 other cards,” Bilker says.
In addition, because some cards change their reward bonus categories throughout the year, having a battery of cards ensures you’re earning extra rewards practically year round.
How he keeps track: Bilker uses Quicken to track his spending (“I can see everything I’ve spent since 1989,” he says) and also uses a Google Docs spreadsheet to track his cards. Integrating the spreadsheet with Google Calendar helps him stay on top of time-sensitive issues, such as soon-to-expire balance transfer deals.
“Let’s say I have a balance transfer deal on a card that expires in January,” Bilker says. “I have to mark the calendar for November with an alarm to let me know I’ve got to do something with this before interest starts being applied.”
Ryan Lile, Founder of Frequent Flyer Academy
Number of cards: 4 that earn rewards
Why so many?: “The best frequent flier strategy is to use the right card in the right place,” Lile says.
For example, you might use one card as a general spending card, others to book flights on particular airlines and others for sign-up bonuses and perks.
How he keeps track: Lile has a consistent strategy and then uses cards to fill specific roles.
His “rule of thumb,” he says, is to keep the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) for general spending (because of its high point-redemption value) and a co-branded card for the main airline he flies.
“Any other cards would need to offer a benefit of some kind,” Lile says. “Beyond your core cards, wait for a really good deal.”
Travis Sherry, founder of Extra Pack of Peanuts
Number of cards: 20+
Why that many?: “Definitely the rewards,” Sherry says. “I make sure to open up the best cards for the type of spending I’m going to be doing so I can maximize sign-up bonuses and category bonuses.”
How he keeps track: Although he has more than 20 cards, only a few are in his wallet at any one time. The rest are stored safely until they’re needed for a very specific purchase or promotion.
AwardWallet.com tracks his points, while a basic spreadsheet helps him log when a card was opened or closed, the credit limit and how much he needs to spend for a bonus.
“I’ve also found that batching when I open cards helps me keep track of when the annual fees are due so I don’t forget,” Sherry says. “Instead of opening one card this week, one card the next week, and one card the following, I’ll open three cards on the same day.”