Credit card companies can offer hefty teasers — including tons of rewards points or even cash — to get you to sign up for their products. If you’ve ever considered applying for a credit card just to snatch up the introductory bonuses, you’re not alone. A growing community is developing around the idea of “credit card churning,” where you open and close credit card accounts repeatedly to keep grabbing those rewards for new customers. Learn more about what credit card churning is exactly.
Churning certainly isn’t for everyone, and if you don’t do it right, it can wind up costing you a lot more than what those rewards are worth. However, credit card churning isn’t illegal in 2018, and can even net you some serious cash if you do it in an organized, diligent fashion.
Keep reading this credit card churning guide on how to maximize the rewards you’re getting from your credit cards while avoiding the sort of costly mistakes commonly made by beginners.
How to Get Started With Credit Card Churning
Before you begin, make sure that you have a comprehensive credit card churning strategy in place. Simply signing up for a bunch of different credit cards is, generally speaking, a terrible idea. It’s only with careful planning and organization that you’ll be able to actually make this a profitable enterprise.
At the very least, research which cards have the best bonuses and ensure you can quantify all of the points and rewards you might receive. Without a dollar value, it’s impossible to weigh what you’re getting against the various fees and other costs you might accrue, not to mention the time you’ll spend executing all of this.
It’s also worth taking note of which cards have rewards that are well-suited to your lifestyle. If you don’t travel much, racking up airline rewards points might feel like you’re getting something for nothing, but it won’t provide the sort of utility you need.
Consider Carefully: Should I Have Multiple Credit Cards from Different Companies?
Maximizing Rewards: Credit Card Churning Guidelines
Here are a few rules of thumb if you want to get the most out of churning:
Rule No. 1: Pay in Full and on Time, Every Time
Credit cards are a lucrative industry despite the fact that you won’t pay a dime to use no-annual-fee cards — that is unless you carry a balance over into the next month, run into issues with late or returned payments, incur international fees or incur a variety of other penalties. Credit card issuers are counting on you to make mistakes, and enough people do it to the point where companies make billions of dollars a year.
You will not succeed in churning if you’re paying interest on balances — that’s the bottom line. If you can’t pay the full balance on every card each and every month, credit card churning is not for you.
Take Notes: 13 Banking Fees You Should Never Pay
Rule No. 1a: Use a Savings Account to Take Advantage of Introductory 0% APR Rates
There is one exception to rule No. 1: Many credit cards offer an introductory APR period with zero interest on payments. If that’s the case, you don’t want to overlook an interest-free loan, but simply running up balances with plans to pay later is a recipe for disaster.
One solution might be to set aside the money for those payments in a high-yield savings account. Not only are you not getting charged interest, but you’re also earning some for yourself. And, when you close the card or reach the end of your introductory APR, the money will be waiting there to pay your balance in full.
This comes with caveats, of course. You have to be very disciplined about not using that cash for anything else, and you will still need to be sure you’re making the minimum payments every time.
Rule No. 2: Use a Credit Card Churning Spreadsheet
Given the relatively high cost of failing to pay off a credit card in time or missing a payment, being organized is essential. Use this trick to avoid late payments. What’s more, because many cards require you to spend a certain amount within a timeframe to collect the biggest rewards, you need to know which cards to use at any given time to get the full reward value.
Here are some credit card churning details that are important to keep track of:
- Credit card names and dates of account opening
- Specific timing for any promotional rates
- Annual fees and whether they’re waived for the first year
- Spending requirements and progress toward meeting those requirements
- Balances across each credit card
Rule No. 3: Don’t Start Unless Your Credit Score is High
Credit card churning is going to put a short-term bruise on your credit score as you apply for so many different cards. If your credit card applications start to get rejected, the whole plan will fall apart — and you might be left with undesirable hard inquiries on your credit report, plus no rewards to show for it. Be sure your score is over 720 before you start and keep track of it over time. If it starts to dip too low, get ready to stop.
Rule No. 4: Don’t Rely on Manufactured Spending
If your normal levels of spending are enough to get you to the necessary thresholds to activate the major introductory bonuses, churning can be very rewarding. However, if you’re spending money you normally wouldn’t on things you don’t need, that’s almost never a good idea. Fit your churning strategy to your budget, not vice versa.
Rule No. 5: Don’t Forget to Factor in Your Time
If credit card churning seems like a fun hobby, you should absolutely consider it. But, if you aren’t getting enjoyment out of the extensive organizing and planning involved, don’t forget to consider what your time is worth before you continue. Track how much time you put in and weigh it against the dollar value you’re extracting.
Learn More: Credit Card Hacks to Know Before You Travel
Which Credit Cards Should You Choose?
The easiest way to select credit cards for churning is to figure out which cards feature the best value in terms of their offers. However, beyond the objective dollar value, you should also consider what value the bonuses will have for you based on your lifestyle.
You should do your own research, but here are a few options to get started:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: You’ll get 50,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 or more in the first three months. See how the Chase Sapphire credit cards stack up against each other.
- Capital One Venture Rewards Card: You can earn 50,000 bonus miles on $3,000 or more in purchases within the first three months. What’s more, with 10 times miles on thousands of hotels, that $3,000 could translate to another 30,000 miles if you spend all of it on booking your stays. The Venture Rewards Card is one of the best travel credit cards.
- Platinum Card from American Express: The 60,000 bonus points for spending $5,000 in the first three months can be leveraged the most by people who travel frequently. With five times points on flights booked directly with airlines or prepaid hotels booked on AmExTravel.com, you can score a total of 85,000 points while still spending the minimum. Find out which American Express credit card is right for you.
- Chase Ink Business Preferred Card: You can receive 80,000 bonus points if you spend $5,000 or more in the first three months, with triple points up to $150,000 on travel; shipping; internet, cable and phone services; and advertising purchases on social media or search engines. Learn about the best business credit cards.
- Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard: You need to spend $2,500 in the first three months to grab 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles, and you’ll get double points on those purchases if they’re spent at restaurants or gas stations.
Keep Researching: Best Rewards Credit Cards
Limits on Credit Card Applications and Signup Bonuses
Many credit card issuers have started to crack down on people taking advantage of their introductory bonuses, making it more difficult to sign up for new cards if you’ve been opening and closing accounts. Here are some of the existing limitations on applications and bonuses to keep in mind:
- American Express: A maximum of five cards can be open at once, with only one sign-up bonus per card per lifetime.
- Bank of America: Customers might be limited to having four or five cards open at one time.
- Chase Bank: Generally, you’ll run into issues with your application if you already have over five cards or if you’ve submitted five or more applications with any issuer in the last two years. You won’t be able to receive a sign-up bonus on the same card within 24 months.
- Citibank: Customers can’t receive a sign-up bonus on the same card within two years. You can only apply for one personal card every eight days, and you can’t exceed two applications in a 65-day period.
To stay on top of credit card churning, keep looking for the best credit card offers, deals and bonuses.
More on Credit Card Advice
- Inventive Ways to Make Money Using Your Credit Card
- 10 Things You Should Never Put on a Credit Card
- Things You Need to Know About Credit Card Expiration Dates
Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone and have not been endorsed by American Express.
Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the bank advertiser, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. This site may be compensated through the bank advertiser Affiliate Program.