Allow me (Alexi) to begin this lesson with a disclaimer. The simple reason for this disclaimer is that somewhere out there reading this there may be an ex-roommate, a family member, or a close friend who knows the truth about me. The truth is that I’m not exactly the “organized” type.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m downright messy. I’m disorganized. And I’m highly chaotic.
At the very least it’s ironic, but allow me to shine the best possible light upon this exercise. If Mr. Messy himself has managed to concoct a system that has allowed him to easily stay organized while going through many cards for himself and his wife each year, then surely that system has some value?
Organizing the Strategy Plan
Before we begin let’s take a birds-eye view of the strategy so that we can figure out what needs to be organized from the start.
- We will have to keep track of how many cards and which specific cards we have opened.
- We will have to keep track of our bills in order to pay them on time.
- We will have to keep track of our credit score to make sure we haven’t made any errors and no one is committing fraud upon us.
- We will have to keep track of what miles and points we have accumulated and when they expire.
- We will have to keep track of annual fees to avoid paying them unnecessarily.
- And (happily) will have to keep track of all of our wonderful travel itineraries that we will book with our miles.
1. Keep track of credit card applications
It is important to know when you apply for credit cards so you know when you must hit your spending bonus, and when you may reasonably reapply for that card at a future date.
My method here is quite simple. Each time we open cards I record the date of the applications, the list of cards that I have applied for, the bonus requirements, the promised bonus, and whether or not I was approved.
2. Keep track of bills
This is an important one obviously it is emphatically not worth pursuing this if you carry a balance or sink your credit score by paying your bills late.
My method here is decidedly low-tech:
All of my credit card bills are non-electronic paper bills. Each week I gather up all of my bills and I pay them.
On each bill I note the bank account (or pseudo-bank account) I paid the bill from, the date the bill was paid, and the amount.
Then I file all of my bills in chronological order in a simple accordion file. That way if there’s ever any dispute I can go back and figure out which bank was supposed to pay the bill and for how much.
As a safeguard I also have all of my credit card accounts registered with Personal Capital (the essential free tool I use to track my financial life). That way if there is ever a late fee assessed, or an annual fee assessed, I know about it the day it goes through and can address it.
3. Keep track of credit scores
This one’s pretty easy. I joined both CreditSesame.com and CreditKarma.com for free. They send me updates whenever there is a new alert on my credit report, and allow me to keep track of my credit score on a rolling basis.
I also pull my free credit report about once a year.
4. Keep track of miles and points
I use AwardWallet.com keep track of my miles and points balances and expiration dates. This is kind of the Personal Capital of miles and points. But it does have some flaws, like being locked out of United, and Southwest’s websites. For keeping track of those currencies I simply use the offending companies’ proprietary apps on my smart phone.
5. Keep track of annual fees
My approach is to simply wait for the annual fee to show up on my monthly credit card bill and then call the company. Using this method I have never had to pay for an annual fee on a card that I wished to close.
Recall that Personal Capital helps me to see when annual fees are charged the day they are charged. This is a definite “your mileage may vary” approach, as it is not inconceivable that at some point you could get stuck with an annual fee that you did not wish to pay.
6. Keeping track of travel itineraries
I use TripIt.com for this purpose. This is a clever and free app that works as such:
- When you’re emailed a reservation confirmation, you simply forward it to TripIt’s email address.
- TripIt then organizes all of your itineraries chronologically by trips.
- All of your trip information is then easily organized within TripIt’s smart phone app on your phone.
I was first introduced to this product when I got a free year of their Premium package with a past credit card. But all of the best aspects of the application are available in the free version, so regardless, this app is highly recommended. (Particularly if you are disorganized like the author!)
If you’ve been following along in the course, it will come as no surprise to you that my method of organizing is low-tech.
Simple is how I roll. Or looked at more favorably, I believe taking the complexity out of life makes things smoother and less stressful.
I just rely on my trusty excel file to keep track of everything. Because Laura and I don’t open an enormous number of cards per year, there isn’t quite as much to track.
1. The Cards
When we open a new account I log the info in my excel file and the card immediately goes into my wallet to start the process of hitting the minimum spending requirement.
In the Excel file we keep a running list of the cards we’ve opened and the approximate dates we would consider closing them. When that date arrives, we’ll call the credit card company to discuss our options.
For all closed cards I fill that excel row in a red color to denote that it is closed and that’s about it.
2. Tracking Miles, Expiration and Itineraries
Again, I lean heavily on my excel file here.
I have a running list of my approximate point balances in each of the accounts and in another cell I list the last account activity so I know when I have to be at least aware of an expiration issue.
We only travel a few times per year, so keeping track of itineraries is fairly easy. I have a folder in my Gmail account where I store my confirmations, so I can easily refer to everything at a glance.
I also do the old fashioned thing and print each confirmation to take along with us on the trip.
And that’s about it!