In October 2015, I was interviewed by the Million Mile Secrets blog as part of a series on points and mile bloggers. In the comment section of that article, reader Maria asked if I had a template of the spreadsheet I use to track my credit cards. I replied that I did not have a template per se, but that I would try to post an article about my tracker. Unfortunately, I never got around to that, but since I am about to write a few articles evaluating my current credit card portfolio, I thought now would be a good time to talk about how I keep track of all my cards, their payment dates, sign-up bonus progress, and spending category bonuses.
Excel is not my financial management tool
Before I get to my credit card tracker, I wanted to point out that Microsoft Excel is not my financial management tool. In order to keep track of my financial life, including my credit cards, I am a huge fan of Igg Software's Banktivity product. It is only available for Mac, but if you are a Windows user you can use a similar product such as Quicken. I know there are online personal finance tools like Mint.com, but I prefer the deeper level of control and detail I get in a dedicated software app. Whichever tool you use, I highly recommend tracking your finances somewhere other than Excel. I think this is advisable for anyone so you can integrated your tool with your financial institutions to access your data. This will help you learn where you money goes as well as with budgeting. But if you are going to start opening credit card accounts for points and miles, your financial life will get more complex very quickly. A personal finance manager may well be enough to track your cards and payment dates, but I also use Excel because I want to track details that I can't in a personal finance tool.
My Excel Tracker: Account basics
For each credit card, I list the issuing bank as well as the points and mile programs where relevant. The issuer is important because each bank has different application rules and some have limits on how many of their cards you can hold. I also have a place to note if my wife is an authorized user on accounts in my name or if I am authorized on her accounts. Because several authorized user accounts appeared on her credit report, causing her to be out of compliance with the Chase 5/24 rule, I want to stay on top of this. Finally, I track the card's annual fee and whether there is a first year fee waiver.
My Excel Tracker: Important dates
In the next section, I track key dates. The application date is critical because the clock for completing initial spend for a sign-up bonus starts on the date your application is approved, not the date you receive the card. While there may be a gap between application and approval dates, I err on the side of caution by starting my clock on my application date.
The renewal data is simply the anniversary of the card approval. For the first year, I use the anniversary of the application date and then update the record with the actual date of the annual fee charge at the start of my second card member year. It is well advised to know when an annual fee is due so that, if you are planning to close the account, you can do so before that date and avoid the annual fee.
Perhaps the most important date to track, especially once you have numerous open accounts, is the payment date. I have a workflow for how I use this field. First, my spreadsheet is sorted in ascending order based on the "Payment Date" field. I do so to make it easier to methodically step through my accounts as the month proceeds, ensuring as I go that each card's payment has been made or scheduled. Once I have scheduled the upcoming payment, I shade the box green and enter the upcoming payment date. As the month progresses, once the payment is made, I change the color to yellow, leaving the date the same, until I repeat the process the next month. I almost always schedule my payment - which pays the balance in full, a good "best practice" if you are going to pursue points and miles with credit cards - once the statement is available. This prevents any last second scrambling to get a payment to post before the due date. Another benefit is that, using Banktivity, I am able to forecast my cash flow and balances on my various accounts, both credit cards and checking.
My Excel Tracker: Progress on initial spend requirement
The main reason for having so many credit card accounts is earning sign-up bonuses. You do not want to miss out on these points by failing to satisfy the initial spending requirement. To monitor my progress, I enter the spending amount required along with the deadline. The period for the initial spend is typically some specified amount of time, often 90 days, from the date that your account was approved. Periodically, I enter how much I have spent toward this threshold and my spreadsheet calculates how much I need to spend on average during each week remaining until the deadline. Once the sign-up bonus has been earned (or missed, though I have not done this thankfully!), I note the status as "COMPLETE."
For an example, let's look at the entry for the Chase Ink Business Preferred MasterCard, my latest rewards card, for which I was approved on January 19. As I previously described, though my approval date was a few days later, I use the application date as the opening of my initial spend period. I need to charge $5,000 within three months (which I show as 90 days) in order to earn 80,0000 Ultimate Rewards points. Adding 90 days to my application date gives me a deadline of April 19, 2018. Earlier this week when I took this screenshot, I had already charged $2,771 to the card. With just over two months to go, I need to average approximately $240 of spend. Knowing my spending profile, that is very reasonable so I do not need to take any extraordinary measures to ensure I earn the massive 80,000 point bonus. If I felt I was in danger of not meeting the $5,000 requirement, I would have enough time to decide how address the potential shortfall, perhaps by buying gift cards or shifting additional spend to the card.
Though I do not show it in any of the screenshots in this article, I have a similar section for tracking promotional spending opportunities that certain cards offer from time to time. For example, two years ago the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard offered 15,000 AAdvantage miles for spending $500 in each of three months. Because these promotions can come in a variety of forms, this section is not quite as structured but it serves the same purpose: keeping me on track to ensure I maximize my points earning opportunities.
My Excel Tracker: Category bonuses
The last section of my spreadsheet is where I keep track of various card features and notes. I indicate whether a card has a foreign transaction fee. Most travel reward cards these days do not, but a few still do. I note these with a bold, red "No" so I am reminded not to take these on overseas trips. I also have a field for various notes where I list any important benefits that a card carries. For example, the Chase IHG Rewards card has a free night certificate on each card anniversary.
The most important fields of this section is where I list the various category spending bonuses. Whenever a card offers additional points in a spending category, I note those in the various category columns on the far right:
- General Travel
- Specific Travel (Airlines, hotel chains, etc.)
- Other (Multiple points on miscellaneous categories or all spend)
If a card has the best category bonus, I highlight it in green so that I am able to quickly identify which card to use for various types of purchases. In the screenshot above, you can see that both the Amex EveryDay Preferred card and the Citi ThankYou Premier Card offer 3x points on gas. (The Amex requires 30 card swipes per billing period to achieve the 50% bonus.) For dining, though the Chase IHG Rewards card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred both offer double points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are not only worth more than IHG points, they are flexible which the IHG points are not. In a nutshell, this section keeps the highlights I need readily available for quick reference.
How you manage your financial life is a personal decision. Perhaps you use a personal finance tool or a spreadsheet or, like me, both. Whatever method you prefer, finding a way to monitor and manage your credit card portfolio is critical as you amass more and more cards. In the long run, no sign-up bonus is worth the late fees you will incur by missing payments or, even worse, damage to your credit by forgetting a small balance on a card you no longer use. On top of this, ensuring you are maximizing your points earning gets proportionally more complicated as your credit card count grows.
How do you manage your credit card portfolio? Do you have any suggestions to offer? Let us know in the comments below!