So earlier this week I gave you a nice long background on how to credit card hack. I wanted to follow that up with some specific strategies on picking cards. Most of this post will focus on annual fee cards. Ultimately the goal is by the end of this post you can create a churning strategy of your own.
Churning Strategies Change Over Time
Let me start by saying, some aspects of what I will say here changes over time. Signup bonuses change all the time. Rules for cards change all the time. That being said some concepts I am about to discuss have been in place for a few years. For all else I recommend finding a good source for rule and bonus changes. I tend to use the blog Doctor of Credit to monitor changes in card company rules and signup bonuses. The owner has a section for the best credit card signup bonuses you can bookmark and check if and when you need it.
The Best Cards Currently Tend to Be From 2 Providers
Frankly, the best cards tend to be from two card providers, American Express and Chase. These two have been locked in a battle for high end card users for some time. There are always a handful of exceptions to these, but since they are the biggest players odds are you will hold some of either companies’ cards.
The problem is, these companies know it. They also know all about the churning game. As such they have put in place significant controls to keep you from taking too much advantage. These policies are so impactful they can ultimately control your entire card churning strategy
Card Companies Limit Churning Signup Bonuses
Almost all card companies limit how often you can capture a signup bonus. Typically you can only get a bonus for a given card once every 2 years. American Express takes this one step further. For most of their cards you can only get the bonus once per lifetime. Lifetime in this case is generally defined as 7 years, or around the time your credit record resets. This means if you are getting an American Express card you should be looking for times when it has it’s highest signup bonus, because you likely will not get another opportunity for quite a while.
Limits on How Many Cards You Have
In addition to limits on how often you can get a bonus most companies have limits on how many cards you can signup for in a given period and how many cards you can have at once. This limits how many bonuses you can receive from that specific provider in a given period. Typically this is not an issue due to the number of different providers out there.
Chase however has a different tact. Instead of just putting a stop to those who churn their cards, they cast a screen for card churners in general. Their rule is known as 5/24. Basically if you have opened up 5 cards or more in the last 24 months, then Chase will not approve you for an additional card. A note, being an authorized user on a card also tends to count for 5/24. This applies to most of Chase’s cards and basically means it is to your advantage to get Chase Credit Cards first and go after other companies cards after you have exhausted all of your preferred chase options.
So What are The Best Cards To Start With
As noted you should start with Chase since if you get too far into this you won’t be able to get their cards later. For best all around cards I recommend Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve as your first card. (Note you can only have one of these every 24 months). I also can highly recommend the United Mileage Plus Card and the Marriott Premier Card if you use these services. In fact the Marriott card is one of the few cards I have found worth keeping past the first year annual fee. The South West Cards are also great choices. After these 4 I historically have switched to Amex for variations on their Platinum card and whatever other hot offers I find online.
Loopholes to 5/24
The above is great when you are just starting out, but what about when you are approaching or at 5/24? Well there are some potential strategies around 5/24. Chase only considers cards that appear on your credit report for 5/24. As such if you can get a card without it appearing on your report, it won’t limit your number of cards. There are 3 ways to do this.
The first easy way is to have a spouse whom you do not setup as an authorized user. The spouse will have their own separate 5/24 and their own signup bonus limitations. As such you should be able to get 2 of each card as you go.
Business or Personal Card
The second way is to get a Business Card. Most, but not all, business cards do not appear on your personal credit report. It takes a little work to determine which, but it can be worth it. Many business cards have great bonuses, and some do not require significantly different spending levels.
This strategy comes with some caveats. The first is that you need to show you actually have a business. It could be dog walking for 5 dollars a week, but you still need to show some evidence of actually having a business. The second is not all government consumer protections that apply to personal cards apply to business cards. I have found this is not that big a deal so long as you stick to the majors, as they generally apply the same policies to both type of cards. However, your mileage may very. I am just now dabbling in the world of business credit cards.
Apply For Two Cards On The Same Day
Another thing you can do to extend beyond 5/24 is a definite Your Mileage May Very situation. At 4/24 some people will apply for 2 Chase Cards on the same day. There have been many reported cases of both cards being approved whereas applying on separate days would result in a 5/24 denial. I do not have the spend volume to support such an approach, so I will say no more.
Pre Approvals and In Branch Approvals
In some cases Chase provides pre approvals for their cards. These pre approvals generally will get around 5/24. Note these pre-approvals are not the targeted mailers you receive, but actual pre-approvals from in branch or on their website. Similarly every so often American Express sends out mailers not subject to their once per lifetime requirements. It’s not a common thing, but it’s still a possibility.
To be honest, if you do a low volume of card churning like I do, a new card every 2-4 months, then you will likely never run out of high bonus offers. If you switch between spouses you will likely also move in and out of 5/24 fairly regularly. I have periods of 2-3 months a year where I cannot apply to Chase Cards, that hasn’t stopped us from averaging 4-5 cards a year with 2 of them being Chase cards.
Not all cards simply have signup bonuses to consider. Some higher end cards provide travel credits, airline lounge access, Uber credits, Global Entry costs, and any number of other benefits. If these are important to you keep an eye out for them and consider them when deciding which card to get. In some cases these benefits can add hundreds of dollars in added perks to your churning experience.
There is one thing to consider when debating these perks. Some companies provide them on an Application year basis, but others use a calendar year basis. For those on a calendar basis it makes sense to time applying for the card to cross years. In fact, depending on the companies policies on waiving annual fees it might make sense to get the card in December. In some cases it’s possible to get these benefits 3 times without having to pay the fee. For those on the application year basis you might still be able to get the benefit twice during the fee grace period before canceling or down grading the card.
Summary of Churning Strategies
So that’s all I have on credit card churning. I hope it was useful. And remember, only card churn with your normal spend. Do not start this hobby if you think it will drive you to spend more or not pay your card off monthly.