Saturday, August 14, 2010

Gaming the System with Credit Cards

This is not about trying to get cash back on your credit cards, although we do that on some cards and there is plenty to commend that. We sometimes make out better on that than other times, and I notice it is hard to follow how the rewards are earned on some of the better paying cards. Right now they aren't kicking in so much, as can be expected.

It is also not about credit card "surfing", where you go from one card to another looking for zero or low interest rates. That might be a good way to game the system, but you have to be on top of the fine print I'm sure, and that's not for me. I also have to wonder what such activity looks like on your credit report.

My 'gaming it' is about avoiding interest and maximizing the time you have to pay. I have to say almost no one seems to agree that the latter is of much importance, truly a notion not to be confirmed in personal discussion nor in articles online or otherwise. Nonetheless I happen to believe it is one of the best ways to game the system. I will have to admit that perhaps the satisfaction comes only from knowing they don't intend for you to use your cards this way. Certainly for now there is no way to earn significant interest on the "float".

The idea for this for me came from noticing that sometimes we would only have a couple of weeks to pay for some purchases, it was all about the timing. So once I had more than one card I started to be a little more careful about making sure the billing wasn't almost due on a certain card when I used it. Later I just waited till I got the bill in the mail, then I knew that it was the best time to use that particular card. Then I found myself marking on a calender when the account statement was supposed to come out, and either calling the number on the back of the card or going online to confirm it, then switching to that card even before the statement was received in the mail.

It must be pointed out that this is all fairly pointless unless you pay off the statement in full, not using the revolving payment program, and paying no interest. Since I believe it is important to avoid these charges, I highly recommend life without credit card interest. If you live that life, or would like a reward for doing so already, then I highly recommend anyone maximize also the time for payment.

I checked recently and found out that it works even better than I thought. In the best timed purchases we get about 7 and a half weeks to pay, and for the worst timing, not less than 4 weeks to pay. The satisfaction I get from knowing that 7+ weeks was never intended is immense and makes up for the necessary evil of having to have these cards. And, yes, sometimes we get cash back too to top it off.

To do this, you want to have two cards and have different dates for when the statement comes out, by two weeks. The card companies will accommodate requests for the time of the month you want your payment, you know, but be aware these are two different things, payment date and statement date. I think you would confuse them if you tried to get a certain statement date, better to request a different payment date, in order to change the statement date as well.

So you've done it. You can wait for the statements to come in the mail if you think that is a more sane approach, but online calenders now will email you. Then the mailed statement backs it all up as a reminder. And if life has you to busy to fool with it all, you can just drop the practice anytime. When you notice you are paying for a purchase you just made, though, believe me you will be thinking about going back to it.

IMO this is enormously beneficial for large purchases, as it allows a little planning on how you want to pay for it.

Well that's how I "game the system". You could go a little more crazy and game it with three cards that have statement dates 10 days apart, but I think we can agree there might be a limit to sanely managing the whole business.