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So, you’re thinking about adding some plastic to your wallet. You want to take advantage of as many bonuses and offers as possible, and you definitely want to earn cash back where you can. You may even be thinking about travel hacking, where you open a number of new accounts in order to reel in a number of introductory point, mile, and cash back offers. Where do you look first?

Chase offers a wide variety of credit cards with different perks, including low-fee balance transfers, travel rewards, rotating cash back categories, and even 5% back at Amazon. They are one of the more prominent card issuers, and frequently issue large sign-up bonuses to encourage new customers. Chase, however, has an interesting rule that makes them stand out when it comes to travel hacking.

The 5/24 Rule

You may have heard about their 5/24 Rule, especially if you’ve spent any time researching card hacking.

Simply put, if you’ve opened up 5 new accounts in the last 24 months, you’ll be denied for most Chase credit cards. This rule is all but inflexible, even with calls to customer service to beg them to reconsider. This is unfortunate, as it could lead to you missing out on some of the largest sign-up bonuses seen on credit cards to-date.

One important note: there are numerous reports that being pre-approved in a Chase branch for these cards leads to approval for the card. Anecdotally, I traveled to New York City last November and was approved in-branch for the Chase Sapphire Reserve at 12/24 accounts. So, this work-around could be a possibility if you live near a Chase branch.

Check Out Its Brother Card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred

If you’re considering taking on the travel hacking game (beware, it requires strong organization skills and a lot of attention to detail!), Chase should be high up on the list of issuers to pursue. You’ll be applying for credit cards regularly, so you’ll quickly exceed the limitations for the 5/24 rule. For example, in the last 24 months I’ve applied and been approved for 15 cards. In the world of travel hackers, that’s not even on the high side of new accounts.

Cards Not Under 5/24

The following cards are reportedly not under Chase’s 5/24 rule:

  • Amazon Prime Rewards Visa (I was approved last month at 13/24)
  • British Airways
  • Fairmont
  • Hyatt
  • IHG
  • Ritz-Carlton
  • Disney (both Rewards and Premier)
  • AARP
  • Marriott Business (note: there are conflicting reports on this but I was approved last October at 11/24)

Note that these credit cards will still result in a hard pull and the opening of a new account. So, if you’re interested in them, you should prioritize them after you’ve put yourself past the 5/24 threshold.

Which Card First?

First of all, a disclaimer: if you’re getting into travel hacking, here’s the criteria you need to meet:

  • Have an excellent credit score (I would put this at 720+, if not 740+)
  • Pay off your credit card statement balances in full each month
  • Be disciplined and organized with your money
  • Be able to meet the minimum spend on a new credit card without being financially irresponsible
  • Unafraid of spending time doing research — there are no shortcuts here!

I would prioritize Chase cards as follows:

  1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
  2. Chase Sapphire Reserve
  3. Chase Ink Preferred
  4. Chase United MileagePlus Explorer
  5. Chase Marriott Rewards
  6. Chase Freedom
  7. Chase Freedom Unlimited
  8. Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier

Note that there are more than 5 on this list, so you’ll have to do some research as to which card is right for you. The Chase Sapphire and Ink lines earn Ultimate Rewards points. These offer flexible and valuable redemptions across a number of airlines and other travel partners. The Chase Freedom line offers cash back perks as statement credits. The other branded cards like United and Marriott offer brand-specific points and miles.

I’ve prioritized the United and Marriott cards ahead of the Freedom cards for a few reasons. First, it’s possible to change your credit card to the no-fee Freedom cards after some time. So, if you’re a Sapphire Preferred cardholder and you’d like to discontinue paying the fee, it’s possible to change that card over to a Freedom.

Second, the bonuses for those two branded cards are relatively valuable at the moment. The United offer at 50,000 miles is higher than it was in 2016. The Marriott points are now eligible to transfer to Starwood Preferred Guest at a good rate (3:1).

If I were just getting into travel hacking, I would be going straight down this list. You may be put off by the Ink Preferred being a business card, but applying for a business card isn’t as daunting as it might seem. Many people run small self-owned business through eBay selling or Etsy shops, and it’s perfectly reasonable to have a business line of credit for those expenses. The process is nearly exactly the same as a personal application, you’ll just need to provide some information about the type of business you operate.

To 5/24-ers and Beyond

My advice to the unfortunate folks who are past 5/24: don’t worry about it. While some of these bonuses are stellar (the previous Chase Sapphire Reserve bonus at 100,000 points was great while it lasted), the sheer number of other card issuers and bonuses means that there’s no shortage of great perks to be had.

Lately I’ve been focusing my efforts on airlines like Delta and American, as well as Membership Rewards points through American Express. New cards are constantly being rotated in and out. So, it’s more important to be able to jump on the higher bonuses when available, than to worry about getting back under 5/24.

Best of luck out there, and happy travels!

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Starwood Preferred Guest American ExpressThe Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is continually one of the best-reviewed cards from this issuer. Card owners are also the most likely to rate high on customer satisfaction surveys. This is probably due to the fact that the card offers excellent incentives and a low interest rate.

NEW LIMITED TIME OFFER (Ends 4/5) – New cardmembers of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express have the opportunity to receive a limited time bonus offer. This includes 25,000 Starpoints® after spending $3,000 in purchases during the first three months, and 10,000 Starpoints® after spending an additional $2,000 in the first six months. Points can be redeemed at more than 1,300 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries, and over 150 airlines with SPG Flights.

This welcome bonus offer is not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months.

The normal rewards program for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is fairly straightforward. It offers points on the following:

  • Earn 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases spent on the Card at participating SPG® & Marriott Rewards® hotels
  • Earn 1 Starpoint® for all other purchases

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) is the rewards program associated with the Starwood network of hotel brands. The participating hotels include Sheraton, Westin, W Hotels, Four Points by Sheraton, Element, Meridien, Aloft, The Luxury Collection, and St Regis, for a collection at over 1,100 hotels in nearly 100 countries. The points members earn can be redeemed for hotel stays, upgrades, flights from over 350 airlines with SPG Flights without blackout dates. At many of the hotels, you can redeem Starpoints for the hotel’s amenities and luxuries designed for guests, often unique to each location. Note that some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express offers a decent variable purchase APR, currently 15.74% – 19.74%. There is an annual fee of $95 associated with this card like most American Express cards. However, there is a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then the annual fee of $95 commences for year two.

With an excellent rewards program and big perks from American Express, many customers choose this card as their number one credit card. For more information or to fill out an application, visit the secure Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express application page. Terms and Restrictions apply.

  • Find out how you can apply for this card here.

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Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

Important Note! The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that offers change frequently. Therefore, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit or charge card prior to applying.

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Along with losing weight, getting out of debt is the most popular New Year’s resolutions in the United States. This resolution, like all others, unfortunately tends to be forgotten within weeks. Well, if you resolved to get out of debt this year — and haven’t yet abandoned that idea now that we are at the end of January– here are some ideas for not losing sight of the goal.

CLIMB DEBT

Don’t focus on zero debt, focus on financial freedom

Debt is at worst slavery; at best, it’s willful indentured servitude.

Say your family takes home $2,500 per month from your job after taxes, but your credit cards, loans, and rent/mortgage total $2,000 each month. This means that you work only one-fifth of your hours for yourself. The remaining four-fifths of your time at your job is exclusively for your creditors. You might as well just hand your paycheck over or work off your debt directly with the credit card companies.

Unlike slavery, though, you are free to leave this arrangement (your job) at any time. You just need to simply quit and look for another job with a pay increase. However, that is not always a simple or practical solution.

If it motivates you, think about what you would do with your freedom from debt. Without having to pay credit card companies, you would have the freedom to choose where your take-home pay goes. If you want to save up for a vacation, place pictures of your favorite getaway spot around your house.

Replace bad habits

Excessive shopping can be a habit. Many compulsive shoppers who go into debt do so because shopping helps them deal with difficult emotions like anger, frustration, and stress. The excitement of shopping helps to temporarily improve a person’s mood. But this habit can be replaced with a healthier alternative.

If starting a shopping trip helps you deal with difficult emotions, replace shopping with jogging, running, or another physical activity. While the act of spending money improves the mood of habitual shoppers, physical activity improves anyone’s mood. This is due to endorphins — natural, mood-altering chemicals released by the body in both situations.

Make getting out of debt fun

The concept of “fun” is personally subjective. One thing that I find fun, someone else might find mundane.

For example: when I was in debt, I liked watching the colorful monthly reporting graphs in Microsoft Money get close to crossing the x-axis of $0 net worth. I fully understand that might not motivate everyone the same way.

Related: How and Why to Track Your Net Worth

Rewards can be great motivators, too — just make sure they aren’t big rewards that will impact your finances negatively. Paying off a student loan and then blowing $200 on a steak and lobster dinner, for example, isn’t very smart. Do something small, yet still enjoyable. You could treat yourself to a movie night every time you pay off a credit card, or plan that weekend hike that you’ve been meaning to do. Celebrate at every possible milestone, but within reason.

Visualize your debt reduction

Losing weight is easy to visualize. Improving finances? Not quite so easy. I’ve seen videos posted online involving time-lapse photography to illustrate weight loss over time. One photograph is taken each week at the same location and in the same position, so when played consecutively from start to finish, the change over time is apparent. You may not realize it, but you can do the same with your debt.

Here are a few visualization tips:

  • When you pay off a credit card, cut it up using a shredder. Save the plastic confetti in a bag and watch it expand as you blow through card after card.
  • Look at your credit card statements before you go to sleep each night. The bad dreams you have will subside when your statements are small enough that they don’t cause anxiety.
  • Here is an extreme option, for those who REALLY need a motivator: If you’ve paid off 20% of your mortgage, paint 80% of your house in a color you don’t like. Once a year, determine how much more you’ve paid off, and paint the corresponding amount in a color you do like. You’ll be encouraged to pay off your mortgage in full just so you can live in a house painted the way you prefer.

Learn More: Should You Ever Cancel a Credit Card?

Do something positive every day. The key to making a resolution stick is to keep it in front of you every day. If your loan or credit card allows you, and if you are not charged an extra fee, make small payments every day before you go to work. Look at your net worth in Mint if it reminds you of your goal. Work an extra hour if it means you’ll get more money for paying off your debt.

Recruit your family and friends. Having a support system is vital, but many people don’t want to let people know about their financial troubles. I think it’s important to have at least one person you trust to talk to about financial issues. It helps to share goals like this because they are often not real until they are spoken out loud with a witness. If no one is aware of your goal to pay off debt, it’s easier to admit defeat without first offering 110 percent of your effort.

Consider your financial options. To truly get started you need to make some financial decisions. It is true that anything you do is better than nothing, but you need to have a plan. First, can you consolidate your debt onto one low-rate card? Call your credit card issuers and ask; the phone numbers are on the back of each credit card. Do you qualify for a loan through a peer-to-peer network? If you have a good credit score, you might find favorable loan terms.

Decide how fast you want to get out of debt and how much you want to pay. If you want to pay the least and succeed the fastest, you’ll want to examine the Debt Avalanche method. If you believe that a small success earlier on the path is important to keep you motivated, check out the Debt Snowball. Research your options and give it thorough thought.

What tips do you have for keeping a resolution to get out of debt?

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A recent survey by Bankrate showed that many millennials don’t carry credit cards on a day-to-day basis. In fact, just 33% of those surveyed in the 18 to 29 crowd even owned a credit card at the time of the survey. People in the 30 to 49 category carried significantly more plastic, with about 55% having at least one card.

millennial credit

Other surveys have shown different results for millennials and credit cards. One from FICO showed that 83% of millennials use credit cards, while an Experian survey showed that two in three millennials own at least one credit card.

Some of these discrepancies can probably be chalked up to different definitions of “millennial.” The Bankrate survey considered those 30 and under in this category, while the other two surveys looked at adults up to age 34. So, it may be that younger millennials are more credit card shy, while older millennials have decided to embrace credit cards.

But which approach is the right one? What are the pros and cons to avoiding credit card use? Here are some to consider:

Avoiding credit can be good when…

…you want to avoid paying interest.

Carrying a balance on an interest-bearing credit card is usually a bad idea. There are times when a card can save you from financial disaster, but it’s best to avoid carrying a balance when you can. With their sky-high interest rates, credit cards can easily double the lifetime cost of whatever you charge.

If you want to avoid paying twice as much for that steak dinner, you’re better off not putting it on a credit card. Of course, you can always pay off your card monthly to avoid paying interest (especially if you want to earn cash back rewards). But unless you’re in a financial position to pay off the balance in full each month, avoiding interest is a good idea.

…you don’t trust yourself.

Credit card spending can be a bit addictive. You can buy what you want, and you don’t feel the financial consequences until later. Some people aren’t big spenders, and have great self control when it comes to using credit. Others, on the other hand, will run up a credit card balance as soon as the account is opened.

If you know you’re the latter type, steering clear of credit cards is probably a good idea. First, work on building up your financial self control. Then, consider adding a low-limit card to your portfolio in order to take advantage of some of the benefits listed below.

…you’re already paying off debt.

If you’re already trying to get out of debt, steering clear of adding more on a credit card can be a good idea. Once you get to the “maintenance phase” of your budget, using a card periodically can net you some benefits. But until then, avoiding further credit card debt is likely a good option.

Resource: Who Needs a Budget?

Avoiding credit can be bad when…

…you need secure payment options.

Paying by credit card is simply more secure than paying by debit card. Although some banks offer debit card protections, fraud protection from credit card companies is typically stronger. Plus, many credit cards come with built-in insurance on the things you buy.

Shopping with a credit card, especially when you’re in higher-risk situations like shopping online, can be well worth your while. And, of course, you can get this benefit without paying interest if you just pay off your credit card balance in full each month.

…you want to build your credit score.

It’s possible to build your credit score without ever taking out a credit card, but it may take longer. Credit scoring algorithms prefer to see a mix of different types of debt in your profile. If you can show that you’re responsible with a credit card by keeping your balance low compared with your limit, your score will creep up over time.

When you’re just starting out, a low-limit or secured credit card can be a great option for building credit. In fact, you may be unable to obtain other types of credit, like a car loan, without first showing you’re responsible with a credit card.

…you want to reap the rewards of responsible use.

Finally, credit cards in and of themselves can offer some serious rewards. Whether you’re going for cash back, travel benefits, or other rewards, you can get rewards just for spending on things you were already planning to buy.

The best way to make the most of those rewards is to game the system. Use the card with the best rewards for your lifestyle, but pay it off every month. That way, you don’t pay the credit card company lots of interest, but they do pay you lots of rewards.

Learn More: How Credit Card Issuers Pay Rewards Without Going Broke

So, is it better to avoid credit cards altogether? For a few people, maybe. But if you can use your credit card responsibly and pay it off in full each month, you’ll reap some great benefits.

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Why Do I Have More Than One Credit Score?

by Stephanie Colestock
credit-score

At some point in your life, you’ve talked about your credit score. In fact, you’ve probably talked about it many, many times. What it is, how to improve it, how much you paid to get it… But what if I told you that “it” is really just one of dozens of potential scores out there, […]

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Which Credit Card Should Be Your First?

by Aliyyah Camp
first-cc

Getting your first credit card is a significant financial milestone. Maybe you’re a college student jumping into personal finance for the first time. Or maybe you’ve just never had a reason to get a credit card before. Regardless, you may be overwhelmed with all the options that are out there. When it comes to getting […]

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How to Get Your Credit Report for Free

by Abby Hayes

Many consumers know that they can get a free annual credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. But this report only shows your credit report, not your actual credit score. When you go to get your free annual credit report, the credit bureau will likely ask if you […]

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Travel reward credit cards — more vacation for your money

by Aaron Pinkston

If travel is in your plans, you may want to know about this offer from American Express. It’s the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card, and it offers 25,000 bonus points when you make $3,000 in purchases in the first three months after opening your account. You can redeem those points for free nights when it […]

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The Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2017

by Luke Landes

Cash back credit cards can help consumers practice responsible spending while earning a little extra for their efforts when used properly. The days of earning 5 percent cash back on all credit card purchases may be just a memory, but the smart use of credit cards can still be profitable for diligent consumers. You may […]

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Balance Transfer Cards for Fair, Average or Excellent Credit

by Richard Barrington

[Editorial note: This offer was last updated on July 13, 2016.] Are you still wrestling down holiday debt? Zero-interest balance transfer credit card offers can help you meet this challenge, but only if you know what to look for. Otherwise, you will end up paying interest anyway, which is exactly what the credit card companies […]

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