[This article is by staff writer Holly Johnson.]
My husband and I currently have 34 credit cards between us.
Yes, you read that right. Thirty-four credit cards, and I love them all.
As a travel-hacking enthusiast and staff writer for Frugal Travel Guy, I must admit that I take my beloved hobby to extremes.
One of the most common questions people ask me is how all of this has affected our credit. After all, we all know that having too many credit inquiries can be detrimental to your credit score, and that there are certain other factors at play. Some people I know are even too scared to sign up for too many cards -regardless of how lucrative the rewards may be- simply because they believe they will do irreparable damage.
The good news is, travel-hacking does not have to ruin your credit at all. In fact, there are plenty of ways to ensure that the damage is minimal or nonexistent. Want to travel-hack like a boss without wreaking too much havoc on your credit score? Follow these simple tips:
1. Monitor your credit
Before embarking on any travel-hacking adventure, the first thing anyone should do is sign up for one of the many websites that will track your credit for free. I personally use CreditKarma.com, but there are several other options out there including CreditSesame.com and WisePiggy.com. Sites like these will give you a general idea of what your credit score currently is, and inform you of the impacts of any hard inquiries or credit card cancellations on your report. The information they offer is invaluable since you can use it to guide your travel-hacking strategy in a common sense way.
2. Enlist others for help
If you have a spouse and/or a business, your travel hacking-hobby just got immeasurably easier. That’s because you can alternate credit card sign-ups between anyone in your immediate family and therefore lessen and spread out the impact of having so many cards. I personally alternate signups between my husband, myself, and my business so that we are each taking on a smaller percentage or hard inquiries and open credit fluctuations. If you have family members who will cooperate, it can certainly help!
3. Pay your cards off weekly
Although it may not seem important, it’s actually crucial that you pay your cards off in full before the statement comes due. That’s because one of the most important factors influencing your credit score is your debt-to-limit ratio, and this measurement becomes skewed if you allow your credit card statement to show a balance each month instead of paying it off ahead of time. Basically, it works like this: Imagine your total credit limit on all cards is $10,000 and you allow your statement to generate while owing $5,000. It doesn’t matter that you intend to pay it off in full- it still shows that your debt-to-limit ratio is 50%. Not good.
4. Think twice before you cancel old cards
One of the most popular travel-hacking strategies is signing up for different cards to earn the sign-up bonus then cancelling the card once you’ve earned the rewards. This isn’t a bad strategy, of course, but it can be a dangerous one. According to credit reporting agency Experian, “closing an account causes your overall utilization rate to increase. As a result, your credit scores my decrease.” In order to do as little damage as possible, only cancel old credit cards when it’s entirely necessary. For starters, consider keeping credit cards that don’t offer an annual fee like this version of the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard.
5. Don’t be a whore
A credit card whore, that is. There are dozens of hot credit card rewards deals out there at any given time, but that doesn’t mean that you have to do them all. Instead of signing up for every credit card deal that looks remotely attractive, do some research to figure out what the best deals are. It’s important to understand that all points and miles are not equal and that points in certain programs are practically worthless. Being slightly picky about the programs you sign up for will accomplish two things: First, you’ll save yourself from having unnecessary hard inquiries on your credit report. And second, you won’t end up with a glutton of mostly useless points and miles. The bottom line: Do your research!
Whether we like it or not, one of the most important components of any successful travel rewards strategy is to make sure our credit is pristine. Equally important is your ability to pay your credit card in-full before every billing cycle and never pay interest. If you’re able to pursue this hobby while remaining debt-free and maintaining excellent credit, you’ll qualify for all of the best offers and get all kinds of free stuff. And that’s the whole point, am I right?
Are you worried how travel-hacking will affect your credit? What do you do to make sure your credit score is unharmed?
About The Author: Holly is a wife, mother of two, and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Club Thrifty and a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly and Frugal Travel Guy. Check out more of her super awesome skills at clubthrifty.com. If you’re interested in writing for Vosa contact us here.