Money at 30: My Personal Credit Card Strategy for 2021
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Over the past few years, credit cards have played a larger and larger role in my life. Thankfully, this isn’t because I’ve needed them to make emergency purchases or make ends meet but because they’ve allowed me to earn rewards and enjoy other perks for using them. What’s more, as time goes on, my approach to maximizing these benefits has continued to evolve.
Last year, I shared a look at my personal credit card strategy for 2020 — which was of course later impacted by world events. In addition to that disruption, I did manage to add another card to my wallet that’s also shaken things up a bit. With that, let’s take a look at what cards I’ll be carrying this year, how I plan to use each of them, and more.
What Credit Cards I’m Using in 2021 and Why
American Express Platinum Card
What I’ll Be Using it For in 2021: Amex Offers, special credits, and travel perks (hopefully)
In autumn of 2019, the big addition to my card collection was the Platinum Card from American Express. When I got it, I was excited about all the use I’d get out of it while on some big trips I had booked for 2020. D’oh!
Okay, so that didn’t go exactly to plan but I still managed to get strong value from my Platinum card during the first year. That trend is continuing into 2021 thanks to some awesome Amex Offers and other temporary benefits (more on those later). So, while I may not be making the most of the card’s point multipliers or travel perks just yet, I’m hopeful that will change before the end of the year. In the meantime, there’s still plenty of case-by-case uses for this card, which is why it retains a prime spot in my wallet.
American Express Gold Card
What I’ll Be Using it For in 2021: Most dining and grocery store spend as well as using associated credits
On more than a couple of occasions, I explained why I didn’t think that the Amex Gold card was right for me and why I preferred to stick with cashback options (such as the next card on this list). My position then softened a bit when it was announced that the Gold card would be adding a $10 a month Uber credit that could also be used for Uber Eats orders — but, still, I held off. Well, that was until Amex essentially made me “an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
I come across an offer to earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after I spent $4,000 on the card in my first six months. This meant that I would earn a bonus that was actually equal to what I earned when opening my Platinum card. Plus, the extended timeline for the initial spend requirement was helpful as putting $4,000 on the card during a typical three month period would be a bit of a stretch (especially without any travel to book).
So, now that I have an Amex Gold card, it will likely be my primary card for dining. Additionally, since the card has 4x points at U.S. supermarkets, it easily bests other options I have in that category. Between those two multipliers and the credits that come with the card, I’ll definitely be using the Gold in tandem with the Platinum a lot in 2021.
Capital One SavorOne
What I’ll Be Using it For in 2021: Entertainment and occasional restaurant spend
Undoubtedly, my bringing the Amex Gold card into the fold was a blow to our Capital One SavorOne card. That’s because the main benefit of this no annual fee cashback card is 3% back on dining purchases. However, a closer look at this category reveals that it’s actually “entertainment and dining” whereas the Gold card only applies to restaurants. Therefore, once travel resumes and I can visit places such as theme parks again, this “entertainment” multiplier will definitely come in handy.
On top of that, in spite of the Gold card offering better dining earning on paper, I foresee myself still pulling out the SavorOne for these purchases on occasion. That’s because, if I wanted to cash out my Amex Membership Rewards points for cash, I’d only get 0.6¢ per point — meaning that my Gold Card’s 4X is actually only 2.4% with this option. Thus, if I feel like racking up easy-to-utilize cashback instead of socking away points for someday, the SavorOne will be my go-to.
What I’ll Be Using it For in 2021: Non-category Apple Pay purchases and for any Apple purchases that I may give into this year
I’ll admit that my decision to apply for the Apple Card was mostly driven by curiosity and a desire to review it rather than by an actual need for it in my credit card line-up. Regardless, the card does serve a purpose in my (digital) wallet, albeit a narrow one. In particular, there are places that accept Apple Pay that doesn’t fit into any other spending category that I have multipliers in, allowing me to earn 2% cashback instead of the 1% I’d get with other options. Of course, Apple Card skeptics will point out that I’d be better served by the Citi Double Cash Card that effectively earns 2% back on everything and not just Apple Pay transactions… but c’est la vie.
Meanwhile, another big perk (at least in my eyes) is the 3% back you earn on Apple purchases. This was key for me last year as I purchased an iPhone SE, iPad Pro, and had my wife’s MacBook Pro serviced. Although I don’t currently have any more Apple buys in mind for 2021, that’s always subject to change — and the card has regularly expanded this 3% category to other brands, so here’s hoping that trend continues. In all, while it’s far from my most-used card, I definitely don’t regret having the Apple Card.
PNC Everyday Rewards
What I’ll Be Using it For in 2021: Gas and hopefully finally cashing out our $100
Now, we come to a card that actually isn’t even available for new customers: the PNC Everyday Rewards card. While this option has some strong multipliers such as 4% back on gas and 3% at cinemas, neither of those has been terribly useful as of late. Plus, one drawback is that, instead of being able to redeem your rewards at any time, PNC simply sends you a check once you’ve earned at least $100 in cashback. Unfortunately, we didn’t cross that threshold once in 2020, but are getting somewhat close.
At a certain point, hopefully those 4% and 3% categories will come into play once again. In the meantime, we may try to put a few purchases on this card in a bid to finally push our cashback earnings past that $100 mark, thus earning us our check.
Barclay’s Uber Visa Card
What I’ll Be Using it For in 2021: Earning additional Uber cash to combine with my Amex credits
Last year, the wounds of the huge bait and switch Barclay’s pulled with this card were still fresh. With time, I’ve mellowed on the whole situation and now accept it for what it is. If you missed that whole saga, the bottom line is that this was once a great cashback card now only earns Uber Cash. However, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that I now earn Uber cash through other means, such as my two Amex cards.
That’s actually exactly where this card works for me now: as a backup to my Uber credits. If I place an order that exceeds my Uber Cash amount, I put the remainder on this, earn 5% back on that amount, and then eventually move anything earned over to said Uber Cash balance for future use. Sadly, that’s really about it for now — although, with this being a Visa that doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees, it will also be by my side when travel resumes just in case my other cards aren’t available.
Overall Thoughts on My 2021 Credit Card Strategy
A shift towards points (specifically Amex Membership Rewards points)
Last year, I noted how, despite the addition of the American Express Platinum card to my line-up, I was still running a mostly cashback set up. Well, now that I also gave in and picked up the American Express Gold Card as well, that’s no longer the case. Specifically, with the Gold card earning me 4x on dining and 4x at U.S. supermarkets, it’s got two big spending categories covered to a level that my other cards can’t match.
That said, I do suspect that my Gold card has just been getting more of a workout lately as I put spend on it to try and unlock my welcome bonus. Once that’s done, as I mentioned, I may opt to use the SavorOne in some dining situations — at least until I can actually do a Membership Rewards redemption and get a better idea for how I personally should be valuing these points. Still, at this point, it’s hard to categorize my strategy as “mostly cashback” and could now best described as a hybrid.
$800 in annual fees and getting the most for that money
On a similar note, over the past two years, I’ve gone from having $0 in annual fees to having $800 in annual fees. This is thanks to the $550 Platinum card (note: it’s up to $695 as of July 2021) and now the $250 Gold card. To alter a famed comic book quote, with great annual fees comes great responsibility… to maximize your credits. That’s right — since I’m paying for these cards, I definitely need to ensure that I’m getting all of the benefit I can from them.
Thankfully, even in the face of a pandemic, this hasn’t been too hard as of late. For one, the Gold card just rolled out its $10 a month Uber credit (also good for Uber Eats) and, sure enough, it stacks with the $15 a month I was already getting from the Platinum card. Meanwhile, it also seems that Grubhub purchases will continue to trigger the $10 a month dining credit, although I do wonder how long that can possibly last given competition between Grubhub and Uber Eats.
Turning to the Platinum card, since few cardholders are able to take advantage of lounge access or other perks of the card, Amex has introduced other lucrative offers instead. Among them is a $30 per month PayPal credit that started in January and will continue through June. I already did this credit once and, after some scouting, discovered that I should have no problem using it to its full value in the coming months. On top of that, Amex introduced some truly great Amex Offers for Best Buy, Home Depot, and many more. In this case, I managed to earn $50 back from a Best Buy purchase as well as $50 back when I spent $100 on Goldbelly, but I still have plenty of great offers activated that I’ll be looking to use soon. As a result, I should have no problem covering my $550 (now $695) annual fee in value by the year’s end.
Keeping cards just active enough
Lastly, as my wallet expands, we’ve seen some really low monthly balances on some of our cards — namely, the PNC Everyday Rewards. In fact, we currently use this card so little that it normally might be worth looking to cancel it. However, this happens to be my wife’s longest-held card and, thus, closing it might mean a hit to our credit. Also, to be fair, the lack of use may also be related to the fact that we haven’t been driving much, which means we haven’t had to fill our gas tank too often. In any case, for this card as well as our Uber card, we’ll just need to continue using them for their specific purposes (regardless of how narrow those might be) just to be sure they aren’t shut down against our will.
With so much still up in the air for 2021, similarly, my credit card strategy is also a bit unsettled. If there’s a theme, however, it would be “transition” — moving from a purely cashback set-up to a hybrid cashback-points one as well as going from an annual fee-free wallet to one that requires $800 a year to maintain. Finally, although I don’t anticipate adding any other cards to the mix this year, past experience has taught me to never say never. I guess we’ll see how this work-in-progress credit card strategy serves me in 2021 and determine what changes will need to be made for 2022 and beyond.
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Also published on Medium.