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The 11 IMMEDIATE steps you must take when getting a new credit card
Credit cards are serious business… and in the wrong hands, it can ruin your credit in an instant. It takes years to build a credit score, but a careless mistake or a hacker can cause you considerable pain. Please be careful with you credit and only obtain new cards if you intend on paying the balances off in full each month. The rewards earned are not worth the interest you will pay if you carry a balance. That being said, here are the 10 steps I take whenever I get a new credit card:
1. Count how many cards arrived
This is very basic, but sometimes you will add an authorized user to your account, so you should expect more than one card. Make sure that each of the cards you requested actually arrived. Also, if extra cards arrived that you didn’t order, or with a name you don’t recognize, this could be a sign that fraud is happening on your account.
2. Activate your card by phone
Although activating your card online is quicker, you can get much more accomplished by phone, such as picking your statement end date.
3. Confirm the offer received
While activating your card, ask the agent to confirm the terms of your card offer (annual fee, bonus miles/points, minimum spend required, other benefits) to ensure there is no confusion.
4. Ask the agent to set your Cash Advance Limit to $0
Although doing so could be a hassle in the event of an emergency, setting your cash advance limit to zero keeps transactions from inadvertently posting to your account as a cash advance and reduces the potential for fraud.
5. Write the statement date on the back of your card
By knowing when your statement date is, you can pick and choose which card to use to your advantage. For example, if you have a major purchase to make, choose the card whose statement just closed to give yourself up to 28 days extra (depending on your statement cycle) to pay off the charge or, if possible, come back another day and use the card with the best benefits the day after its statement closes. I write the statement close date on the back of my card in the signature line so that I remember.
6. Know which bonus categories your card offers
Every credit card worth a slot in my wallet offers some sort of bonus points or miles based on spending certain categories. The common bonus categories are gas, travel, airfare, groceries, dining, and, of course, when you use them with the sponsoring company. Some cards also have rotating category bonuses that change each quarter, or you’ll receive an email or mailer promoting increased spend in a certain category. What I do is attach a little sticker to each card reminding me what the bonus categories are. Also pay attention to the benefits your card provides when you meet certain spend thresholds within the time allowed. For example, some cards will boost your status, give you free hotel nights, or give you a companion pass based on your spend or combination of spend and program points earned.
7. Register your account online
You need watch your account activity to control spending against your budget and credit limit, meet minimum spends to collect bonuses and benefits (like free nights or upgraded status), initiate payments, and watch out for fraudulent activity.
8. Set up automatic payment of the minimum due
I always manually pay my credit card balances in full, but sometimes life gets hectic with work, family, and travel, so I recommend that you have the minimum payment paid from your bank account to ensure you don’t get hit with a late fee.
9. Register for Upromise.com
The Upromise.com program earns you money towards future college expenses for your children when you use their online portal, buy gas, or shop for groceries. I linked my cards way before I even thought about having kids, and now I’ve built up over $500 towards their college tuition. Click here to register for Upromise.
10. Register for Dining Rewards
You can earn miles, points, gift cards, etc. for dining at any restaurant in their portfolio. Choices include Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Southwest, United, Hilton, IHG, Shell gasoline, and American Express gift cards (through idine). You can search their catalog of locations when picking where to eat, or you can be like me and be pleasantly surprised when you receive an email notifying you that a restaurant you chose for the food (vs the points) was participating in the program. There are often bonus points for filling out a quick survey about your experience or spending a certain amount when first signing up or during promotions. Click here to register for Dining Rewards.
Mogl.com is another dining rewards program, but it has a relatively limited geographic reach. Luckily for me, they have a good selection of restaurants in my area. You get cash back with each purchase at participating locations. On a pretty regular basis, there are promotions where you can receive additional money back of 50% when spending over a specific amount (ie: $25 when you spend $50) or even 100% up to a specific amount ($10 off of $10). With Mogl, you can elect to receive Hawaiian Airlines miles or cash back. Click here to register for Mogl.com.
The best thing about these programs is that they generally do not overlap, so you can double and triple-dip the earnings (based on program participation) AND they do not interfere with the miles and points you normally earn from the credit card companies, including the category bonuses that many credit cards offer. Do you have any other tips for what you should do when you get a new card? If so, please comment below so that we can all learn just a little bit more.