My Best Practices for New Credit Cards and Sign Up Bonuses

Good afternoon everyone, I hope your week is going well.  I recently completed the minimum spending requirement for 4 different credit cards (My October 2020 Credit Card App-O-Rama Results) and wanted to share my best practices for new credit cards and sign up bonuses.  I currently have 32 credit and charge cards open and have had 90 other cards since I started travel hacking in 2011.  To the best of my knowledge, I have never missed a credit card sign up bonus by not completing the minimum spending requirement.  Feel free to use all, some, or none of my best practices with your next credit card.  For this post, I am going to use a fictitious credit card as an example to illustrate some of the pitfalls to avoid.

ABC Credit Card has a sign up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months with a $95 annual fee.  You apply for the credit card on January 1 and your application is pending.  Your application gets approved on January 5 and your new credit card arrives on January 15.  You activate your new credit card on January 18.

Credit Card Tidying and Organization

When your new credit card arrives, I recommend activating it immediately.  Then set up online access to view and track your purchases.  If you get paid monthly, you may want to change the bill due date to a date that is more convenient for you (unfortunately, this may not be possible until after the first statement closes).  For simplicity, I like to have all my credit card statements close around the same date, so that I do not need to remember several different credit card due dates or statement closing dates.

If you are concerned about accidentally making a cash advance purchase, call the credit card company and ask to lower your cash advance limit to $0.  If you were approved with a small credit limit and have other credit cards from the same credit card company, ask if they can transfer some of your credit limit over to your new credit card.  If you want to receive your statements electronically, sign up for electronic statements (I will explain why below).

Confirm Sign Up Bonus and Minimum Spending Requirement

Call the number on the back of your credit card to confirm the sign up bonus and minimum spending requirement.  If it has been a few weeks since you looked at the sign up bonus and applied for the credit card, you may not remember the exact details of the minimum spending requirement.  Is it 50,000 points, 40,000 points, or $500 cash back?  Did you need to spend $2,000 in 4 months, $3,000 in 3 months, or $10,000 in 6 months?  Write down the details of the sign up bonus so you have it available.

It is also a good idea to take screenshots or photos of the credit card application and sign up bonus at the time of application in case the system makes a mistake and does not give you the correct sign up bonus (I will explain why below).

Minimum Spending Requirement Timelines

Every credit card company has slightly different timelines regarding when your clock starts and how many days you have to meet the minimum spending requirement.  Some credit card companies might start the clock on the day you applied, or the day you were approved, or the day you activate your new credit card.  Some give you 90 days, 92 days, or 100+ days.  Regardless of the actual number of days the credit card company gives you to meet the minimum spending requirement, assume you have 3 months to complete the spending from the day you applied for the credit card.  That would mean that you would need to complete your spending by March 31 (all of January, all of February, and all of March).

Annual Fees Don’t Count

Please remember that the annual fee does not count toward your minimum spending requirement.  Do not think you need to spend at least $2,905 on ABC Credit Card plus pay the $95 annual fee.  You must spend at least $3,000 excluding the annual fee.

Returns and Statement Credits

If you spend $500 at a store and then later return $300 worth of goods, remember that you actually spent $200, not $500, toward your minimum spending requirement.  Also keep in mind that if ABC Credit Card gives you a $100 statement credit for shopping at XYZ Store, and you spend exactly $100, that $100 should not count toward your minimum spending requirement.  It may count or it may not count, but it is better to err on the side of caution and assume it doesn’t count toward your minimum spending requirement.

Track Purchase for Minimum Spending Requirement

I love Excel, so I create an Excel spreadsheet to help me track my purchases toward meeting the minimum spend requirement.  I like to meet and exceed the minimum spending requirement by a few dollars (so I might spend $3,050 on my new ABC Credit Card – not including the $95 annual fee).  I try to complete the minimum spending requirement as soon as possible and not wait until the last day to complete the spending.  If you make a purchase online, the charge may not go through until your order ships.  If an item is out of stock, your credit card may not be charged until the item is in stock and your complete order ships.  Lots can go wrong if you wait until the very end to meet your minimum spending requirement.

I also recommend trying to complete your minimum spending requirement at least 1 month before the deadline.  If you think you met the minimum spending requirement, but your math is off by a few dollars, you still have another month to double check your math and ensure that you spend every dollar necessary.

Have Purchases in Mind for Minimum Spending Requirements

If you normally spend $1,000 a month on credit card purchases, meeting ABC Credit Card’s $3,000 minimum spending requirement in 3 months should be very easy.  However, if you are juggling 2 or more credit card sign up bonuses at the same time or a large sign up bonus (spending $10,000 in 3 months), it is important to have a plan on how you are going to meet those minimum spending requirements.  Maybe you have property taxes or income taxes due soon and can spend a lot of money easily with those purchases.  Maybe you are planning a wedding, or having a baby, or paying for college tuition where spending lots of money is easy.  Those are great times to apply for a new credit card since meeting the minimum spending requirement will be done in a few transactions.

I do not recommend applying for a credit card with a high minimum spending requirement where you do not have a plan to easily meet those minimum spending requirement.  You might end up buying stuff you do not want or need just to meet the minimum spending requirement.  That is a recipe for disaster.

Pay your Bills In Full and On Time Every Time

When your credit card statement closes, make sure to pay your bill in full and on time.  When you pay interest or late fees, you are giving up part of the sign up bonus (or more) back to the credit card company.  If you do not have the funds available to pay off your bill in full, you probably should not have applied for this credit card in the first place.

Save your Credit Card Statements

I save every credit card statement for every month from every credit card I have ever had.  Since I am signed up for electronic statements, saving the PDF to my computer is easy and takes up very little space on my computer.  It’s also important to rename the PDF file since the default name for most credit card statements is like “20200204-statement-1234.pdf” which is not very descriptive.  In those cases, I rename the file to “Chase Sapphire Reserve 01-02.2020.pdf” which is my Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card statement for purchases made from January to February 2020 and save the PDFs in a specific folder.  Most credit card companies will show credit card statements going back 2-3 years, but older statements may be hard or impossible to access.  Also, after you close a credit card, getting those credit card statements may be hard or impossible to get.  You never know when an old credit card statement will come in handy.

Track your Sign Up Bonus

Once your credit card statement closes and you see the sign up bonus listed on your statement, check to see if the sign up bonus posted correctly.  If points need to be transferred to an airline or hotel program, you may need to wait 2-3 business days after your statement closes to see the points.  If you do not see the points after a week, call the credit card company and investigate.  Maybe you forgot to include your airline or hotel loyalty number on your credit card application, so the credit card company created a brand new account for you.  This is a great time to remind you to enter your airline or hotel loyalty number on the credit card application so your new sign up bonus goes to your existing account.

If the sign up bonus posts but is lower than what you were expecting (only 15,000 points post instead of 50,000 points), reach out to the credit card company.  If you took screenshots or photos of your application and the sign up bonus, this is the perfect time to share them with the credit card company so that they can give you all the points you deserve.

After Receiving your Sign Up Bonus

If you see a better sign up bonus (ABC Credit Card is offering 60,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months), reach out to the credit card company and see if they will match you to the better offer.  If you are within 3 months of signing up for the credit card or a few months after receiving the sign up bonus, you may be eligible for the increased sign up bonus.  If you do not reach out to the credit card company, there is 0% chance they will give you the higher sign up bonus.  The worst thing that can happen is that they will not match you to the new offer.

Track Open and Close Credit Card Dates

Being organized and detail-oriented pays off nicely in regards to managing credit cards and sign up bonuses.  If you are planning on applying for several credit cards over the next few years, I highly recommend keeping a master spreadsheet of all the credit cards you have open and have closed.  It is important to track the opening date, the closing date, the sign up bonus, and when the sign up bonus posted.  Some credit card companies will let you get the same credit card and sign up bonus multiple times, as long as you space out your applications.  Do you need to wait 24 months from opening the card, 24 months from closing the card, or 24 months from when the sign up bonus posted?  Will you get approved if you applied for 5 cards in the last 2 years, 3 cards in the last year, or 1 card in the last 6 months?  Every credit card company is different and has different rules, so it is best to keep track of all the details now so you don’t need to scramble to find answers or rely on your memory.

Follow my Best Practices

If you follow all of those best practices, you will be able to easily complete your minimum spending requirement and get your sign up bonus.  If you have best practices not listed above, please let me know in the comments section.  If you have any questions about any of the best practices, please leave a comment below.  Have a great day everyone!

P.S. If you are thinking of closing a credit card, please read My Best Practices for Closing a Credit Card.

4 thoughts on “My Best Practices for New Credit Cards and Sign Up Bonuses

  1. Harv

    very good article with helpful suggestions. You have had 90 credit cards in 9 years. Do you mind sharing what your credit score is?

    1. Grant Post author

      Hi Harv, I’m glad you liked the article. It’s a little tricky finding an exact credit score since several credit card companies provide credit scores for free, but use different credit bureaus and reports.

      Here are 2 examples:
      * Discover uses FICO Score 8 from TransUnion and my score is 823 as of 11/28/20.
      * Chase Credit Journey uses VantageScore 3.0 from Experian and my score is 817 as of 12/17/20.

      Based on those scores, it looks like my score is around 820.

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