Common Credit Card Optimization Mistakes: Early Game

We offer free card consultations on this site, and since launching it, I've noticed a few common credit card optimization mistakes people often make when starting out in their credit journey.

Ask Sebby covers a wide range of topics from credit 101 to advance optimization strategies, but the mistake I often see is beginners trying to implement advance level strategies when they have a thin credit file. 

Mistake #1: Combining Hard Inquiries

We made a post about how to combine hard inquiries and the benefits. The take away was that if you apply for two personal cards from the same credit issuer, you can often combine hard inquiries. 

This strategy is fine if you're in the mid or late game. However, if you have a thin credit file with only one credit card, apply for two cards at the same time makes you seem like a high-risk profile.

There are two main instances that I notice:

Instance #1: No history going for 2 unsecured cards from [abc] instead of a student/secured card.

Your goal here is to "get on the scoreboard" and start building your credit history for at least 12 months, not apply for tons of cards.

Instance #2: 1-2 cards with 1 year of history, going for 2 Chase cards aggressively.

Your goal here is to build history with Chase first. Applying for two cards on the same day makes you seem like a high-risk profile. 

Mistake #2: Applying for Advance/Premium Cards Too Soon

If you're someone with a thin credit profile without a prior relationship with Chase, it's hard to get approved for the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve right off the bat.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a Visa Infinite card, meaning that the minimum credit line is $10,000. If your income is less than $30,000/year, it's going to be hard to get approved for a Visa Infinite card.

With starter cards like the Chase Freedom, there's not a minimum credit limit, so you're likely to get approved for $500+ credit limit with a thin file. 

Exceptions:

  1. 1-2 cards but years of good credit history.
  2. Thin file but substantial funds $10,000+ with Chase
  3. Thin file but substantial income (Investment Banker, Management Consultant, Engineer)
  4. Occupation (???)

Mistake #3: Not Optimizing Chase 5/24

Chase 5/24 is an unwritten rule that states you can't get approved for select Chase credit cards if you've opened 5 or more credit cards in the past 24 months. Read more about 5/24 in this post.

I usually recommend Chase 5/24 cards, but sometimes people ignore the advice, apply for cards from other issuers, and realize they can't get the Chase Trifecta until it's too late.

If you're not a fan of Chase or not interested in Chase Trifecta, then feel free to move on to other cards.

Mistake #4: Getting the Uber Card (Before the Chase Sapphire Cards)

The Uber Visa card is a decent card, but if you're someone trying to maximize travel rewards, the Chase Sapphire cards are the better option since you can redeem points at a higher value. 

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a 50,000 point signup bonus after $4,000 in spend within the first 3 months, and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year. If you cash out the signup bonus (not optimal), 50,000 points are equivalent to $500. If you redeem the signup bonus for travel, you can get $625-$1,000 in value.

After the first year, if you don't get positive expected value, you can product change the card to a Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited. If you get positive value, then keep the card. 

Mistake #5: Being Afraid of Annual Fees

People who are new to credit are usually adverse to paying annual fees. I was in the same boat when I first started out.

My advice is to take a few minutes to do the math and see if you get positive or negative expected value from the annual fee. 

For example, the Chase IHG Premier card has an $89 annual fee, and it gives you a free night each year. If you can redeem the free night at a property worth more than $89, then you're getting positive expected value from the card. 

Mistake #6: Getting Too Many Cards, Too Quickly

The final most common mistake I see is people applying for too many cards too quickly. For example, someone who is new to credit with a thin file and trying to apply for 6 new cards in 3 months. 

Look at this activity from the bank's perspective. Applying for tons of card in a short time span can be deemed as risky behavior to credit issuers. 

Time your credit card applications, ideally 1-3 months between cards.



Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, vendors or companies, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. 

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