18 Life-Changing Credit Card Hacks to Level Up Your Finances

When used strategically, credit card hacks can help you save money and earn rewards for your purchases.

a credit card

As of Q4 2022, there were 166 million credit card users in the U.S., according to Forbes, while over 518 million accounts were open by the year’s end! For many of us, credit cards are an integral of our lives, and there’s growing interest in uncovering credit card hacks that help us maximize rewards while building our credit.

The key is to maintain healthy financial habits to get the best perks while avoiding excessive credit card debt. Whether you are looking for free travel benefits, low interest, or cashback rewards, here are 18 credit card hacks, used by fellow credit card hackers like us, to help you get the most out of your cards.

Key Takeaways

  • When used strategically, credit cards can enable you to build a strong financial foundation.
  • We will go over 18 credit card hacks to help you maximize rewards, save money, boost your credit, get more travel perks, and protect yourself from fraud.

Credit Card Hacks to Maximize Rewards

When we think of credit card hacks, the most common ones involve using our credit cards to maximize our cashback, bonuses, and rewards. There are several different ways to do this, depending on your financial circumstances and goals.

1. Pick One Credit Card to Use

Difficulty Level: Easy

If you want to keep things simple and avoid incurring high-interest debt, use one credit card that best fits your lifestyle for all your purchases. For example, if you travel and dine out often, pick a card like the American Express Gold Card, which has substantial cashback rewards for those two categories.

Compared to other credit card hacks, this one is fairly simple to implement because you only have to keep track of one card. If you want to maintain good credit, you can set up automatic payments anytime to ensure your bills get paid in full and on time every month. You can also create a budget to ensure you are living at or below your means. This strategy will allow you to earn the most points without incurring interest.

Example of a Budget
Example of a Monthly Budget

2. Get Cards Where You Already Shop

Difficulty level: Medium

Most major retailers offer branded credit cards for customers. If you regularly shop at specific stores, consider getting a retail credit card that rewards you for your purchases. For example, if you shop on Amazon often, you can get their Amazon Prime Visa Card, which gives you 5% cash back for purchases on their site. Alternatively, stores like Target, Walmart, Apple, etc., have credit cards that reward loyal customers.

Beware that this strategy may lead to purchase acceleration, where you overspend to get rewards points. As we mentioned earlier, it’s best to maintain a realistic budget and only spend what you can afford. Do not alter your spending habits to get points since that could lead to accruing interest, cancelling out any potential benefits.

3. Leverage Multiple Credit Cards

Difficulty Level: Hard

Once you get comfortable using one or two cards, you can level up to managing multiple credit cards to maximize your rewards. I currently have four credit cards that I rotate between depending on my purchases.

There are many benefits to using multiple credit cards to get rewards. For one, you can earn more rewards. Additionally, you can designate a purpose for each card, such as one for travel, one for shopping, and one for everyday expenses. That can help you maximize your rewards and take advantage of the different perks offered by each card. Having multiple credit cards can also provide a safety net if you lose or damage one of your cards; in that case, you’ll still have another to use in the meantime.

Some brands, such as Chase and American Express, offer a trifecta of cards that can help you get the most out of your credit card rewards when used together. For example, if you pair the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred with the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited, that covers enough categories to meet most of your purchase needs.

The Sapphire Reserve and Preferred offer top-notch travel and dining rewards, while the Freedom Flex covers rotating categories ranging from gas to grocery stores to home improvement stores. For all other purchases, you can leverage the Freedom Unlimited’s 1.5% cashback. With the Chase trifecta, you can also transfer points between cards to redeem them at their highest potential value. When you redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for travel rewards, they are worth more on the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred than the Freedom Flex or Freedom Unlimited.

Apply for credit cards that best fit your lifestyle. If you spend a lot on groceries, choose a credit card with high rewards for grocery purchases. If you drive a lot, find a card that offers you cashback on gas. Of course, there are some drawbacks to using multiple credit cards. It can be easy to overspend if you have too many lines of credit available. The more bills you have to juggle, the higher the risk of debt and missed payments.

Managing several accounts and tracking your spending across all of them can be challenging and time-consuming since you have to pay attention to all your purchases and ensure you get value out of your cards. Additionally, carrying multiple credit cards around may not be practical or convenient for everyone, especially if you like to travel light.

You should only use this hack if you have a track record of good financial behavior. For several years, I only had one credit card because I had limited income and did not want to overspend. However, as I got better at managing my spending and started making more money, I began applying for more credit cards.

4. Avoid Cash and Only Use Credit

Difficulty Level: Hard

To make the most out of your credit cards, you should use them to pay for as many things as possible (within reason). If you only use cash or debit cards, you do not get any perks from them. The key is to ensure you are using your cards for purchases you were already planning on making.

For the last few years, I’ve used my credit cards almost exclusively for all my purchases aside from cash-only establishments. This strategy has allowed me to rack up thousands of dollars in cashback and rewards, which has paid for a wide range of things, including hotels, statement credit, flights, and restaurants.

5. Maximize Sign-Up Bonuses

Difficulty Level: Medium

If you are in the market for a new credit card, one benefit to consider is the sign-up offer bonus rewards, usually rewarded in the form of cashback, points, or miles after you spend a certain amount of money in a given timeframe. Many credit card issuers offer welcome bonuses to attract new customers.

For example, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can earn 60,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months after you open your account. That’s $750 you can redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

If you are on a tight budget, look for bonuses that do not require significant minimum spend within the given timeframe. With the Chase Freedom Flex, for example, you can get a $200 welcome bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months after account opening, roughly ~$167 a month.

6. Use Your Personal Credit Card For Business Expenses

Difficulty Level: Medium

Whether you are an employee or a business owner, you may be able to use your personal credit cards for business purchases. If you are an employee, check with your company on reimbursement policies for work-related expenses.

In my previous roles, I used my credit card for work expenses such as on-site travel and dining, fitness stipends, transportation, etc. All I had to do was submit expense reports with receipts of the purchases and note what the expenses were for. That way, I got points for my purchases even though they were business expenses.

If you are a business owner, the points you earn may get treated as a taxable benefit if you use them for personal rewards. But, personal cards tend to earn better rewards than standard business credit cards, which you can use to put back into your business.

7. Apply For New Credit Cards Every Year

Difficulty level: Expert

Applying for a new credit card every year can be a great way to maximize rewards. By doing this, you can take advantage of sign-up bonuses and other incentives that credit card companies offer to new customers. If you travel often, you can use credit card rewards points from welcome bonuses towards airfare or hotels. That can save you hundreds of dollars per trip when timed right.

But, of course, you should only apply for credit cards if they fit your needs and spending habits. Typically, the cards with the best sign-up bonuses come with hefty annual fees, potentially outweighing the benefits if you fail to maximize the value you get out of the cards. In those situations, you may end up paying a premium for no reason.

Additionally, keep your options open in terms of which cards offer the best rewards for your spending habits. By applying for a new card each year, you can stay ahead of the curve in terms of the latest features and benefits that credit cards have to offer. Remember, you do not have to use all your credit cards everyday. I only use one or two cards regularly for everyday purchases and swipe once or twice a month for the other cards just enough to keep them open and active.

Credit Card Hacks to Save Money

Aside from using credit cards to earn rewards, you can also use them to save money. Here are a few money-saving credit card hacks you can use:

8. Avoid Interest Like the Plague

Difficulty level: Medium

Interest rates on credit cards tend to be very high, so if you are not careful, they can quickly spiral out of control and offset all the earnings from your rewards, plus more. And if you have late payments or miss a payment altogether, the interest rate on your card can go up even more, not to mention the damaging effects that will have on your credit score

credit score range from very bad to excellent

That’s why it’s crucial to avoid high-interest rates on credit cards. Try to pay off your balance in full and on time each month so you don’t have any carry-over balances subject to interest charges. If you have trouble remembering when to pay your bills, set up automatic payments. That ensures your bills get paid on time and forces you to use your cards wisely. It will also help you avoid paying late fees if you forget to make a payment, costing you $20 or more depending on the lender. Alternatively, you can set reminders to avoid missing any payments.

If debt is a concern, shop around for cards with lower interest rates before you decide which one to use for purchases. There are many cards available that offer 0% APR for 12 to 18 months.

9. Limit Annual Fees

Difficulty level: Medium

Some of the top rewards cards in the market carry high annual fees, which is the price you have to pay to keep your account open with credit card companies. If you are paying an annual fee for a credit card that does not bring value, you are effectively throwing away your money — a sin in personal finance.

Avoid credit cards that come with hefty annual fees and bad rewards programs. Before signing up for a credit card that comes with an annual fee, do some research on its rewards structure and benefits. Choose the cards where you believe you will naturally spend and earn enough to justify the cost of the fee.

Look at your spending habits and assess which areas you spend the most money on. Then, compare them to the rewards your cards provide. If you see any credit cards where the fees outweigh the rewards, it may be time to consider closing the card.

10. Use Balance Transfers Wisely

Difficulty level: Hard

If you find yourself dealing with mounting credit card debt, consider doing a balance transfer from a credit card with high interest to one with a 0% promotional offer. With a balance transfer, you move debt from one credit card to another. This process can be done for a variety of reasons, but the most common reason is to get a lower interest rate.

To get a balance transfer, typically, you will need to have good credit to qualify for the best rates. There may also be fees associated with the transfer itself. And finally, you will need to make sure you pay off your debt within the promotional period, or else you will be stuck paying interest at a higher rate again.

If you are considering a balance transfer, read the terms and conditions carefully before making any decisions. When done correctly, a balance transfer can save you money on interest and help get your finances back on track.

11. Pair Your Credit Card with Cashback Sites

Difficulty level: Easy

If you’re looking to earn some extra cashback on your credit card purchases, then pairing your credit card with a cashback site is a great way to do it. Cashback sites give you a percentage of your purchase back in the form of cash back, and there are plenty of them to choose from.

To get started, find a cashback site that you like and sign up for an account. Popular options include Rakuten and Lolli (if you’re into crypto). Then, link your credit card to the account to track your purchases. Once you’ve done that, start shopping as usual and watch the cash back roll in!

Keep an eye on any minimum spend requirements or other restrictions that may apply, as these can vary from site to site. But overall, using a cashback site is an easy way to boost your earnings on everyday spending.

Credit Card Hacks to Boost Your Credit Score

If you want to boost your credit score, there are a few credit card hacks that can help you with that.

12. Raise Your Credit Limit

Difficulty Level: Easy

If you are struggling to make ends meet each month and find yourself constantly maxing out your credit card balance, it may be time to request a credit limit increase from your issuer. That can help improve your financial situation and avoid damaging your credit score.

When requesting a credit limit increase, check if your issuer will pull your credit reports since that will result in a hard inquiry. Hard inquiries can temporarily lower your score by one to five points, so it’s best to avoid them if possible. Ask your lender if they can pull a soft inquiry instead.

If they refuse, it is best to wait until you have a strong history of responsible borrowing and repayment before making this request. If you have been managing your account well for several months or more, there is a good chance the issuer will approve your request, though that is not always the case. For instance, I previously requested a soft pull to raise my credit limit for a credit card I have had for several years. However, my request was denied and I was told to formally make a request, which would lead to a hard inquiry.

If approved, having a higher credit limit can help you in several ways. It can give you some breathing room each month so you are not always maxing out your card. By using less of your available credit, you can gradually create a better credit score over time as well.

                                                            Factors Behind Credit Score Calculation

If you maintain the same spending habits even with a higher credit limit, this will lower your credit utilization ratio, which is the amount of debt you have compared to your available credit. Your credit utilization ratio makes up a significant percentage of your credit score. Experts recommend keeping your credit utilization below 30%, though I prefer to keep mine below 15%.

And finally, a higher limit can also help you qualify for lower interest rates on future loans. All of these factors together can lead to improved financial stability and peace of mind.

13. Keep Old Credit Cards Open

Difficulty Level: Medium

If you have multiple cards open, you may get tempted to close cards that you do not use that often to make things easier to manage. But there are a few solid reasons why you should keep your old credit card accounts open, even if you don’t use them anymore.

Closing an old account can affect your credit. The average length of your credit history makes up 15% of your credit score. If you close an account that you have had for a long time, that can significantly lower the length of your average credit history. Keeping your accounts open and active also shows lenders that you’re a responsible borrower, particularly if you have a good payment history.

Additionally, some cards also offer perks or rewards that can be valuable even if you don’t use the card regularly. For example, in the past, my Bank of America Better Balance Rewards card offered $30 in cashback each quarter. All I needed to do was to make a couple of small purchases every month to get the rewards.

If you do not use your credit cards regularly, your credit card issuer may close your account. When it comes to credit cards, they typically fall under the use-it-or-lose-it scenario. The general rule of thumb is to use your credit cards at least once every six months to keep them active, but if you can afford it, aim to swipe your cards at least once a month.

Credit Card Hacks to Get More Travel Perks

If you are a frequent traveler, there are ways that you can use your credit cards to make the most out of your trips:

14. TSA PreCheck or Global Entry

Difficulty Level: Medium

Credit cards with TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry are a great way to speed up the more stressful parts of your travel experience. With these cards, you can breeze through security lines and get to your destination faster.

TSA Pre-Check is available on many credit cards, including American Express, Chase, Citi, and Discover. With this program, you can enjoy shorter lines and expedited screening at over 200 airports worldwide. Global Entry is another program that allows you to speed through customs when returning to the United States from an international trip. This service is available on select credit cards from American Express, Bank of America®, Barclays, Capital One®, Chase, Citi®, and USAA®.

If you frequently travel by air for business or pleasure, having a credit card with TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry can save you time and hassle, allowing you to relax and enjoy your flight.

15. Airport Lounge Access

Difficulty Level: Medium

Airport lounge access is another great perk that comes with some credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and The Platinum Card from American Express. If you travel frequently, having this benefit can make your trips much more enjoyable.

There are a few things to check when using your credit card to access an airport lounge. Confirm whether your card gives you free access or if there is a fee associated with it. Some cards will give you free entry into the lounge, while others will charge a small annual fee.

Find out what lounges are available and which ones are affiliated with your card issuer. You may have access to more lounges than you realize! And, remember that some airport lounges have dress codes, so dress appropriately before entering the lounge area.

16. Free Checked Bags

Difficulty Level: Medium

Some credit cards come with free checked bags, helping you save money on your flight. By using a credit card that offers this benefit, you can avoid paying the fee for each bag you check. That can add up to significant savings over time, especially if you travel frequently. Note that some cards may restrict how many bags you can check or how often you can use the benefit. Also, your luggage is still subject to all of the normal rules and regulations of airlines, so pack accordingly.

17. No Foreign Transaction Fees

Difficulty Level: Easy

Credit cards with no foreign transaction fees are becoming increasingly popular, especially among travelers. These cards can save you a lot of money on international purchases. They’re also convenient and easy to use since they operate like normal credit cards. If you’re planning on traveling overseas, look for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. That way, you won’t have to worry about exchanging currency or paying high exchange rates.

Credit Card Hacks to Protect Yourself

Finally, protect your identity with this last credit card hack.

18. Set Alerts and Monitor Major Purchases

Difficulty Level: Easy

With identity fraud becoming more prevalent, it’s crucial to protect yourself by setting alerts and monitoring major purchases to keep an eye out for suspicious activity. Many credit card issuers and financial institutions offer these protections, which can help you quickly resolve any issues that may come up and prevent further fraud.

You can also track your spending patterns and see where you may be overspending. I like using Mint and a custom spreadsheet to track all my monthly expenses (note Mint will get shut down on January 1, 2024). This information can help you make necessary changes in your budget to improve your financial health. For example, if you are overspending on takeout or Uber, see if you can cut back to a certain percentage next month.

Additionally, by monitoring large purchases, you can ensure that all charges are legitimate and not the result of fraud or error. This peace of mind is invaluable in today’s uncertain world.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to credit card hacks, the most important thing to keep in mind is to always stay within your means. Don’t spend more than you can afford to pay back, and regularly keep up with your payments. Most reward credit cards come with higher interest rates, which can easily cancel out the rewards if you are not careful.

If you are ever in a tough financial situation, call your credit card company to request support. They may be able to work with you on a payment plan or offer other options. Don’t be afraid to use your credit cards wisely — they can be a great tool for building good credit and establishing financial stability.

We are not financial advisors. The content on this website and our YouTube videos are for educational purposes only and merely cite our own personal opinions. In order to make the best financial decision that suits your own needs, you must conduct your own research and seek the advice of a licensed financial advisor if necessary. Know that all investments involve some form of risk and there is no guarantee that you will be successful in making, saving, or investing money; nor is there any guarantee that you won't experience any loss when investing. Always remember to make smart decisions and do your own research!

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