We eat our own dog food over here and I thought I’d share how it tastes. Over the last couple years, I’ve learned a number of rules that are best respected so as to play this game the best way possible over the long term. We just broke one of the 5 below by applying tonight. I think it’s a good technical lesson in constructed applications by someone that’s a mature card churner.
Amex Business Gold Rewards
My anchor offer is the Amex Business Gold Rewards card offering 75k Membership Rewards points on spending $10k within 4 months with the annual fee waived for the first year. I recommended it to a colleague in the post here. I caught this card earlier in the year myself but since it’s back, I’m ready to pick one up for the delightful Mrs. NF. We can handle the spending requirement but we weren’t planning on doing any more cards for a little while for reasons I’ll describe below. This card offer expires tomorrow, June 26, though and it’s come and gone for the market.
Assuming we get it, I’ll hope for a good transfer bonus to BA or Delta most likely.
Result: Pending. Not terribly surprising and Amex has typically been pretty good about approvals, especially for charge cards. Subsequent call 2 days later confirming identity, address, and name followed by approval. This was for an established rental business with a tax id and documented income (not that any was requested, just noting that we do benefit from having real businesses). Pending’s are to be expected from time to time.
Bank of America Virgin Atlantic
50k Virgin Atlantic on spending $2,500 within 3 months. The annual fee of $90 is not waived. I already have this card but Mrs. NF doesn’t. As I understand it, their program is distance based and has fees to/from Europe so it’s not a recipe I love but they also convert to Hilton at 1:2 so this is actually 100k Hilton points. You can read about why I love Hilton here and over time, you’ll see that almost every application includes some work toward Hilton.
Result: Instantly approved.
While the spending goal is only $2,500 in 3 months, there’s a chance that I may go for $25k ultimately. The extra $22.5k will yield 33.75k points (since you earn 1.5 miles per $) and also hit a threshold where we pick up 15k extra. The net of that is 48.75k points. For the sake of argument, let’s say they convert to Hilton perfectly at 1:2. That nets 97.5k Hilton. With maintaining gold or higher status there, we’ve been treated pretty well and I feel comfortably pegging these at $.007 each. That results in a net return of $682.50 on $22,500 spend. That’s about a 3% value return and we always need more hotel points. This card isn’t the best for high threshold spending but honestly, we hit a LOT of other cards to their threshold. I won’t feel bad if we don’t make it there but I like having some cards where I could put some large charges if I encountered them.
I’m exaggerating slightly calling them rules since, as I mentioned, much of this consists of guidelines based on the observed patterns and your individual situation. Since I’ve told you which cards we applied for, let’s take a look at which rules were obeyed and which we broke.
After applying for credit of any sort, wait for 3 months before applying for any new cards – BROKEN
An (hard) inquiry is a record that the consumer made a request for credit. It’s helpful to know which reports are pulled by which banks both so that you know what they’re likely to see and so that you can spread the inquiries around. Unfortunately, it varies and the best guess is that it does so by location. I’ve observed the following pattern in Minnesota and Louisiana.
AMEX – Pulls Experian.
BANK OF AMERICA – Pulls Experian but not enough experience to say it’s only that one.
BARCLAYS – Pulls Transunion
CAPITAL ONE – Pulls all Equifax, Experian, AND Transunion – UGH.
CHASE – Pulls Equifax primarily, occasionally also Experian.
CITI – Pulls Equifax consistently.
MORTGAGES – Pull all 3 reports.
Notice that both Amex and BOA pull Experian. That means I’m concerned about that report specifically. It also means that 2 new inquiries will be added which will affect my future ability to apply for cards that also pull Experian (e.g. Capital One or even another Chase card).
I haven’t pulled Mrs. NF’s Experian full free credit report lately to check exactly what shows but we applied for a Chase card over 3 months ago. It wasn’t approved instantly and that approval date was after calling in and having it manually considered. I have a strong reason to believe that it was approved nearly, but not quite, 90 days ago. Chase, in our experience, has typically pulled Equifax but occasionally ALSO pulled Experian. Until proven otherwise, I’ve assumed that Chase inquiry is showing on Experian. Worse, we just finished a mortgage refi and that inquiry is less than 8 weeks old. Mortgage applications typically pull all 3 bureaus.
We’re breaking this rule.
Keep your score over 720 – OK
Even better, keep it over 740. Creditsesame.com pulls the Experian credit report and is a good approximation for your real Experian score. We’re good here.
Keep reported balances less than 50% of card limits – PROBABLY OK
You should generally assume that all lenders report your balance to all bureaus with each statement. It’s widely agreed that a balance over 50% of credit limit is seen as a risk factor. I prepaid one card before the statement to keep the balance from looking too high. Nonetheless, we did a lot of activity and we may have had a large balance recently. I really thought we’d wait longer until doing a round of applications. Darn.
That said, this usually is reflected in your score and since we passed that test, I think we’re ok.
Know how many cards a bank will allow – OK
In our experience, we can reasonably reach the following limits:
AMEX – 3 personal, 3 business. Maybe more but that’s as far as we’ve ever went.
BANK OF AMERICA – Not sure. We’ve had as high as 3 personal though.
BARCLAYS – I get the sense they’re becoming more difficult based on reports but we’ve had 3 personal and 1 business before.
CAPITAL ONE – Not enough experience. We’ve only ever had 1.
CHASE – We’ve had 3 personal and 2 business without trouble. Reports seem to indicate pushing past that will be difficult.
CITI – We’ve had 4 personal and 2 business when we ran into total credit issues requiring us to give up some credit or an entire card before getting approved for a new one. I wonder if we were to lower limits, could we get even more cards?
Mrs. NF has 2 personal and 1 business amex so she’s ok there. She has 2 personal BOA cards so we’re ok there.
Know how often you’re allowed back – OK
Aside from the 90 day inquiry rule, some banks get more difficult if you come back for new cards too often. These really are guidelines based on my reading and experience. It’s ok to bend them once in a while if all else above is ok but it’s really best to consider them at least.
AMEX – Seems really easy. I’d say no more than once every 30 days but 60+ is better.
BANK OF AMERICA – Not sure but I’ve read they’re quite liberal.
BARCLAYS – They used to be pretty liberal but I’ve got the sense they’re getting to be more difficult. Both of us were denied in our recent attempts to pick up a 2nd US Air despite it being over 6 months since we’d last added a card.
CAPITAL ONE – Not enough experience. We’ve only ever had 1.
CHASE – Expect a reconsideration call to be required if you go for 2 cards in less than 60 days. They have so many good products that it’s tempting to hit them too hard. Don’t. There’s too much long-term potential. I tend to do 3 cards here a year.
CITI – It’s weird. It seems the computer approves you or doesn’t. My best suggestion is to do two of the same personal product at a time (e.g. 2 Citi Hilton, 2 Citi AA) and then cool it for at least 3 months, preferably 6. And if you aren’t approved, don’t push it hard by a phone reconsideration. I’ve only got a 2nd inquiry and 2nd denial that way. Some have luck with contacting the Citi Executive offices. I just drop it since Citi doesn’t seem to care if I was denied. I try again later.
Her last BOA card was nearly a year ago and her last Amex card was about 6 months ago. That’s perfect.
Why not other cards
I’ve done as many as 7 in a day. Why only 2 this time? Well, we’re pretty heavy on cards at the moment and will close some soon. I’m also trying to let Amex, Chase, and Citi cool a bit as I have plans for later in the year. Capital One didn’t have anything I was interested in. Barclays denied us 3 months ago and made a statement to me that we couldn’t reapply for 6 months after closing a recent Airtran card. I’m letting them cool a bit too.
I suspect our late fall/winter set of apps will include an Amex Hilton Surpass upgrade, 2 Citi AA personal cards (it’s been 18 months since our last), and a Chase card. It’ll be big if all goes according to plan.