Personal Finance Rewards Credit Cards

Credit Card Churning 101: A Guide to Hacking Rewards Programs

A typical plan will involve applying for 2-3 cards on the same day, ideally while the cards are running promotions that involve additional bonuses, waiting 90 days for your credit score to start recovering and applying for 2-3 more cards, and so on and so forth. Some people even go so far as to apply for a card, get the rewards, cancel the card, wait a few months, and then re-apply for that same card they just cancelled to double their rewards, although this is only possible with some cards.

Terms and rewards vary greatly across different credit cards, and a lot of work goes into figuring out the order in which to apply to various cards in order to maximize benefits according to your personal situation.

The Downside of Credit Card Churning


However, nothing in life is free, and this applies to credit card churning. Most credit cards have requirements for obtaining their rewards, typically in the form of a minimum spend. Some may require that you spend $500 in the first month, others $2,000 in the first 90 days. For more advanced churners, there are ways of getting around this, but it is risky.

And as with anything high in reward, there is plenty of risk. For every great success story, there are probably a handful crash and burn stories. While you can mitigate risk by doing your research, being financially responsible, staying organized, and making sure that credit card churning is right for you in the first place, you are still playing with fire when you go into temporary debt and meddle with your credit score.

Gretchen, the woman behind personal finance blog Retired by 40, writes about the disaster that was her first attempt at credit card churning. After opening up some credit cards, a handful of large and unforeseen expenses came up. Overwhelmed by insurance, medical, and tuition bills, she plopped them all onto one of her new credit cards and ended up over $4,000 in debt.

You never want to be paying interest on any of the credit cards you use, otherwise the cost is offsetting your rewards. And you want to make sure that you maintain a healthy credit score.

The truth is, credit card churning is not for everyone. Banks rely on a good portion of amateur churners to fall behind, rack up debt that they can’t pay off, and accrue significant amounts of interest so that credit card companies can turn a profit. It’s crucial that you do your research and give your personal finances an honest assessment before getting excited about the rewards and diving in head-first. A free flight is not worth a blow to your credit or a mountain of debt, so churn responsibly!

About the author

Elizabeth Aldrich

Elizabeth Aldrich

Elizabeth is a freelance writer and “digital nomad” specializing in small business, entrepreneurship, career advice, real estate, travel, arts, and culture. She’s written for outlets as varied as Rawckus Music and Arts Magazine, Itcher Entertainment, Sweden Tips, Houzz, Hometalk, JobHero, Tico Times, and Eugene Weekly. Thanks to a three-year stint in a travel job, a knack for mining great deals, and credit card churning, she has not paid for a single flight since 2012, despite her constant travels. You can find her on Twitter @LizzieAldrich or her website, www.elizabethaldrich.com.

1 Comment

  • What kind of credit score do you need to assure being able to replace your closed cards ?? !
    Also it seems the opening and c would hurt your credit score ?

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