Money at 30: My Personal Credit Card Strategy for 2020
Often times when I tell people I blog about personal finance, they assume I’m some Dave Ramsey type who mostly just advises people on how to become debt-free. Yet, given my personal experiences, these days I find myself writing way more about credit rewards than credit card debt. Moreover the last few months have had me thinking far more about credit cards and my wife and I have made some significant changes to our wallets and overall strategy.
Given all that — and with the new year just around the corner — I thought I’d offer a close look at what cards we’ll be utilizing in 2020 and how we plan to make the most of each:
American Express Platinum
What I’ll Be Using it For in 2020: Booking flights and hotel stays, various purchases that don’t fall into bonus categories on other cards
A couple of months ago my wallet got a big shakeup when, after years of keeping annual fee cards at bay, my wife and I went big and added a $550 card to the mix. Thankfully the Amex Platinum has plenty of perks to help justify this hefty fee, including $200 in annual Uber credits (that are also good for Uber Eats), $200 for airline incidentals, $100 total annual credits to Saks Fifth Avenue, complimentary Gold status for Marriot Bonvoy and Hilton, and — most importantly — access to several types of airline lounges. Because of this, we didn’t just view the Plat as a charge card but also as an annual pass.
Nevertheless there are still plenty of credit card reward changes that come with the addition of the Platinum card. For one, it’s now easily the go-to for booking fights and hotel rooms as it offers 5x points in those categories. Additionally, while many other purchases simply fall into the 1X catch-all, it’s worth noting that these points can be worth more than 1¢ if redeemed creatively. At the same time, it could also be worth a lot than 1¢ when used for more convenient options like statement credits or Amazon purchases. Meanwhile, another surprising benefit I’ve already seen from the Platinum card is the usefulness of Amex Offers. For example on Black Friday, I was able to earn a $60 statement credit from GoPro by spending $300 or more.
With all that said, there’s no denying that bringing a points-based card into our cashback set up is a pretty significant change… but we’ll talk more about that a bit later.
What I’ll Be Using it For in 2020: Apple Pay purchases (that don’t fall into bonus categories on other cards), Apple items
With its lack of sign-up bonus, limited functionality, and alleged sexism, the Apple Card has made some enemies since launching this summer. Admittedly my main interest in obtaining it for myself was so that I could review it. Despite that, I don’t have nearly the same amount of vitriol for the product as others seem to. Instead, I can say I definitely have a place for it in my (digital) wallet.
First, my favorite feature of the card is that it offers 2% back on purchases where you utilize Apple Pay. Sure this matches the base amount for cards like the Citi Double Cash, but this works well enough for me. What’s been more interesting to see is the growth in Apple’s 3% back category. Originally this was limited to Apple products but has since added Uber, Walgreens, Nike, and others. By the way, the company actually just upped the cashback amount on Apple purchases to 6% for the rest of the year. Although I don’t currently need a new phone or computer, when I do, I’ll be glad to have my Apple Card locked and loaded.
Barclay’s Uber Visa
What I’ll Be Using it For in 2020: Not a whole hell of a lot
Sigh. It still stings to write about what was my favorite credit card. In case you missed it, recently Barclay’s and Uber announced a major revamp of this once-great card that not only pulled back on non-Uber-related perks (dropping 4% on dining to 3%, for example) but also switched from a straight cashback scheme to earning only Uber Cash. With my product changeover set to occur in February of 2020, I don’t expect to be using it too much beyond that. But, to be fair, I do plan on keeping it active by leaving my cell phone bill on there, using it as a back-up travel card, and merging any Uber Cash I do earn with those aforementioned Uber Credits I get with my Amex Platinum.
Capital One SavorOne
What I’ll Be Using it For in 2020: Dining, theme park purchases, other entertainment, foreign purchases
The Capital One Savor One card is the newest addition to our card line-up, joining our wallets mere days ago. As you may have guessed, this acquisition came about mostly because of the major changes to the Uber card. That said, I’m pretty excited about a few aspects of this card and what it can do for us.
First, the 3% back on dining matches what the new version of the Uber card has. Additionally, in a bonus for us Disney Parks enthusiasts, it offers 3% back on “entertainment,” which seemingly includes theme parks. Incidentally, this dual category helps clear up a couple of confusing purchase questions that have come up in the past. For one, I no longer have to wonder if Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is a restaurant or a movie theatre. Moreover, when looking at our previous transactions, we noticed that some restaurants in Disneyland Paris coded as “amusement parks” instead of dining — so this will patch that hole as well.
Speaking of Paris, another way in which the SavorOne card is replacing the Uber Visa for us is that it will come in handy overseas. Although the Amex and (yet to be discussed) Discover don’t carry foreign transaction fees, there’s no denying that those networks aren’t as widely accepted as Visa. However, with the SavorOne being a MasterCard, I feel pretty good about its acceptance chances.
What I’ll Be Using it For in 2020: Rotating 5% categories, occasional other purchases
My Discover It card continues to hold a special place in my heart as it was the first card I applied for after learning that my credit was far better than expected. Of course it helps that the card continually comes through with its bonus categories — especially this time of year when it offers 5% back on Amazon purchases and more. Luckily, the 2020 5% quarterly categories also look good:
- January-March: Grocery Stores (excluding Walmart and Target), Walgreens, and CVS
- April-June: Gas Stations, Uber, Lyft, and Wholesale Clubs
- July-September: Resturants and Paypal
- October-December: Amazon.com, Walmart.com, and Target.com
Outside of the 5% purchases, I do find myself occasionally using the card for items that don’t earn more than 1% with any other card. Plus, as I mentioned, the Discover doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees. This was useful for a recent trip to Japan where Discover has a partnership with JCB, granting it fairly a wide acceptance. Sadly, I don’t have any trips to Japan planned for next year yet but, should something come up, you can bet my Discover card will be coming along for the ride.
PNC Everyday Rewards
What I’ll Be Using it For in 2020: Gasoline, grocery shopping
Finally, the last card (alphabetically) we have also happens to be our oldest. Funny enough, after swearing off credit cards for several years, I’ve always assumed that my wife making me an authorized user on this card is what helped get my credit in shape. Because of that, this one has always been a sentimental favorite but it also has some important functionality in our wallets as well.
The biggest benefit of this card is the 4% it offers on gas. This comes to the rescue on road trips, of which we took four (12+ hours each) in 2019. Additionally the card has 2% back on groceries, so that’s the other place where we use it. If you know your credit cards well, you may realize that the SavorOne also has a 2% grocery category. However, with the two being equal, it just makes sense to keep things as is going forward.
Overall Thoughts on My 2020 Credit Card Strategy
Still mostly a cashback setup
After deciding to pull the trigger on the American Express Platinum card, my wife and I still had plenty of questions to ask ourselves about what we wanted from our credit card set up. For example, before landing on the SavorOne card, we considered doubling down on our quest for Amex Membership Rewards points by getting the Gold or Green cards. Alas, we decided that a (mostly) cash back setup was still best for us.
What does this mean? Well, the current plan is use the Platinum card’s points for some “aspirational travel” upgrades and other such perks while still utilizing our other cards mostly along the same lines as we have previously. Perhaps we could even use some of this cashback to cover that $550 annual fee — speaking of which…
Just one card with an annual fee
Not only did going all-in on points not seem like the right call for us at this time but neither did piling on annual fees. Although we do still expect to get positive value out of the Platinum and probably would have from the other Amex charge cards we explored, the truth is that shelling out hundreds upfront for rewards yet to be determined made us a bit nervous.
Incidentally, once we ruled out those cards due in part to the annual fees, we also purposely avoided the upgraded version of the SavorOne card, the Capital One Savor card. Although it offers 4% on dining and entertainment (compared to the SavorOne’s 3%, in case you forgot) and waived the $95 annual fee for the first year, we still felt the free version made the most sense. On top of that, part of that decision was thanks to the $150 sign-up bonus after $500 spend the SavorOne card offered compared to the $300 for $3,000 spent on its big brother.
Looking back at 2019, despite us previously saying we were all good on credit cards, three cards managed to make their way into the mix. Thus, as 2020 approaches, my wife and I have been doing a lot of thinking about the credit cards we use and the rewards we earn from them. Luckily I’m fairly confident that we have a pretty good plan for now — although you never know what could change in the months ahead. So, should there be more shakeups, I’ll be sure to share.
Also published on Medium.