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Credit Card Strategies: Building an ‘Army’ of Cashback Credit Cards


Do you have an “army” of cashback credit cards? Is this plastic in your wallet a force to be reckoned with? Does each of your credit cards serve a special role that, when combined, earn you a ton of rewards just for your ordinary shopping?

These days, some argue that a cashback credit card is a necessity. After all, if you’re going to shop with a credit card, it doesn’t make sense to swipe a card that doesn’t give you something back in return—whether that’s cash, rewards points, or airline miles.

But the savviest spenders have taken cashback credit cards to a whole new level. Every cashback or rewards credit card works a little differently, but many cards pay higher rewards in specific spending categories like gas, groceries, dining, or air travel.

Pulling out one card while shopping for groceries, another at the gas pump, and another one at your favorite restaurant isn’t that out of the ordinary. Having an arsenal of cashback credit cards at your disposal serves one primary goal: Earn as much cash back as possible.

Let’s look at how a few popular cashback credit cards can work in tandem to optimize your cashback earnings. In this example, my army of credit cards includes:

  1. Discover it
    • 5% cashback on rotating categories.
    • 0.25% cashback on all other purchases; one percent after spending $3,000.
  2. Chase Freedom
    • 5% cashback on rotating categories up to $1,500 a quarter
    • 1% cashback on all other purchases
  3. Blue Cash Everyday Card® from American Express
    • Get 3% cash back at U.S. stand-alone supermarkets, 2% cash back on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations and select major department stores
    • 1% cash back on other purchases
  4. TrueEarnings® Card from Costco and American Express
    • 3% cash back on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations, including at Costco, for purchases up to $4,000 per year (1% thereafter)
    • 2% cash back at U.S. restaurants; 2% cash back on eligible travel purchases; 1% cash back on other purchases, including at Costco
    • Cash back is earned only on eligible purchases. You will receive your cash back in the form of an annual reward coupon

As you can see, no single credit card will give more than one percent cash back on everything. There are a few guidelines (i.e., “the battle plan”) that I’ve determined to stick to while using this group of cards:

  • The Discover More card is used only on the rotating categories.
  • The Chase Freedom card is used only on the rotating categories and only if another card doesn’t offer more than three percent cashback.
  • The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is always used whenever another card won’t get more than one percent cashback. This helps me reach the higher cashback tier on the card.
  • The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is used for gas once it reaches the upper cashback tier (instead of the TrueEarnings® Card from Costco and American Express).

If I were planning a ski trip for January, I’d use the TrueEarnings® Card from Costco and American Express card to book the bus ticket, the Discover More card for the hotel, and the Blue Cash Everyday® Card for the gear rental. Or, in a typical day, I’d fill up my tank with the Amex TrueEarnings card, but pay my electric bill and take out my lady friend with the Chase Freedom card.

These four cards will cover plenty of ground in a world where we can’t escape never-ending expenses. But, I do not suggest that everyone start applying for cashback credit cards on a whim just because they are an aspiring frugalist. There are a few things to consider:

Cashback Limits, Payouts, and Your Spending Habits

  • Some cards have a maximum amount of cashback that you can get any single year. Reaching these maximums is a great endeavor but it also means you’ll be saving less for the remainder of the year.
  • Every card has a minimum cashback balance that you must reach before you are able to collect it. The more cards you have, the more your cashback will be spread out. It will take longer to redeem your cashback balance.
  • If you are not spending enough to make this whole process worthwhile, then it is best to just stick with one or two cards.

After All, They Are Still Credit Cards

No matter how you look at it, they are still credit cards—the quickest portal to debt. Don’t let your eagerness to “save” (in quotes because you are technically spending before you save) put you in a position that could lead to financial ruins. First, learn to use your credit card responsibly and then slowly incorporate these cashback credit cards into your repertoire for smarter shopping.

Do you also have an army of cashback credit cards? Which cards make up your army and what is your “battle plan”? Let us know how savvy of a consumer you are (and hopefully provide some insight for others to build their own “army”).

About the Author: Simon is a recent college grad living in Brooklyn. He writes for an interest rate-tracking Website and maintains his own personal finance blog, the Realm of Prosperity.

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Disclaimer: One way I’m able to support my blogging while helping you is to link to products I like and earn a referral commission if you sign up. I only link to products I trust. That said, you should know that if you click the links to these cards and ultimately apply for and are approved for that card, I may be paid for that. If you choose to support Money Under 30 in that way, thanks!

This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

Comments

  1. All great cash back credit cards that you have mentioned. My personal favorite is the TrueEarnings Card.

  2. “…no single credit card will give more than one percent cash back on everything…”

    You can get a 2% cash rebate on all purchases with the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express card. http://bit.ly/8SmjfT

  3. @Kevin: Many consumers do not want to be restricted to having their cashback earnings being deposited into their investment accounts.

    Fidelity and Schwab offer cards that give 2% back on “everything” but into their accounts. My intent was to stick to the general population who do not necessarily have accounts at the respective institutions.

    But, for those that are account holders at Fidelity and Schwab, their cards are also a very good alternative.

  4. @Kevin

    Technically if you average out the various cash back percentages that range from a minimum of 1% to a high of 5% depending on the spending category then assuming normal consumer spending habits the average cash back will be higher than 1%.

  5. For all of those Fidelity haters.

    I also have the Fidelity card. All you needed to do was open their bank account and link it to your credit card. The cash is automatically deposited into my Fidelity account and then I do a transfer to my main bank when there is a decent amount of cash in there.

    Simple as that…

  6. @Eric: I don’t think there is anyone hating on the Fidelity card. Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to how much cashback they get and how they get it.

    Some may want cards from their current banks. Some may go for new account bonuses. Some just want a branch where they can walk in and complain about their late fees and interest rate hikes.

    For example: PenFed has a very enticing cashback Visa card but there are no local branches in many places (much like Fidelity or Schwab)for those who seek the personal touch.

  7. Good info. I’ve been looking into getting a new rewards card. So far I’m leaning toward the Discover card. I don’t spend enough to justify having a whole bunch of different cards though.

    I’d like to have one cash back card plus another card for emergencies only.

  8. I have the Chase Freedom card, and mine does not rotate through categories. They give 3% on “3 everyday categories” where I spend the most. (e.g., groceries, utilities, gas stations). This does not include expensive categories, such as airfares.

    The BEST thing, however, is that if you save up $200 in cashback, you get a $250 check. It is nice to get a $250 check every now and then, as opposed to $10-$20 trickling back here and there.

  9. p.s. also remember the shopping portals Chase Freedom and Discover have, where you get a certain percent back for getting to the retailer’s website through the portal.
    e.g., @ Discover, 5% back on apple store purchases = a few bucks back on an iphone.

  10. Wow GG, you’ve got it good with that Chase Freedom card. I know you’re crossing you fingers and hoping Chase doesn’t send you that notice in the mail that they are changing your terms.

    Are you also a Chase Checking customer? Maybe that’s why you still have the great perks.

  11. @GG & Simon
    When I was in college I had a card that earned 5% at grocery stores, gas stations, and drug stores…that [Citi] program was canceled. However, I previously used a Chase Freedom card (exact plan as mentioned by GG) where it offered the extra $50 if you waited until $200 in order to get the $250. When I first signed up for this card they gave me $50, I hung on to that, and did all my purchasing for close to a year on the card until I’d accumulated an additional $150 to put me at the magical $200 mark. So, after receiving the $250 I decided to see how much I spent to get the $250, realizing that $100 of that was free money that I didn’t have to spend for. I spent around $15,337 in order to get $250. 1.63% (and the wait). I now have a Schwab Visa – 2% all the time, and I get my money every month, which I can turn around and actually make money with that money instead of just watching my total accumulate to magical $200 mark.

  12. @steve: I guess you prefer a card that offers “general” cashback over cards that have dedicated cashback categories.

    In your case, your spending habits justifies having a single, no B.S. card from Schwab. Seems to be working out for you nicely.

    Do you still use any of the other cards?

  13. I love my discover more card. I have had it since I was 18 and instead of me paying alot of finance charges, I make money off discover for using their card. I have accumulated more in cashback rewards than interest and fees paid. I pay my balance in full occasionally but have been carrying over balances for several months now. With the various promotional rates they offer, it makes sense for me. I get more rewards than the interest I pay.