Should you stay loyal to one card or play the field?


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Having just one card is simpler, but make sure it’s serving your needs

Allie Johnson

Personal Finance Writer
Award-winning writer covering consumer and small-business credit cards.

Should you stay loyal to one card or play the field?

Nito100 / iStock / Getty Images

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Credit card companies strive to make their card
“top of wallet” – the one you reach for every time. But while loyalty to one
card is great for issuers, it might not be so great for you.

There are three big reasons issuers want to
gain your loyalty, says Ezra Becker, senior vice president, financial services
research and consulting for TransUnion.

First, the issuer of your go-to card collects interchange
from merchants on all of your purchases and earns interest if you ever carry
a balance. Second, that lender now has a better shot at selling you another
product, such as a checking account, car loan or mortgage. Third, a devoted customer is less
likely to let an account get delinquent.

“If you have a favorite card and you’re
running low on money, you’re probably going to do everything you can to pay
that bill,” Becker says.

It’s not just card issuers pushing us toward using
one primary card. Technology also is pushing us toward using the same card over
and over again. For example, one-click payments, set to become even more common
now that Amazon’s
patent has expired
, make it a snap to use your default card without even
thinking about it every time you buy.

But many consumers resist the pressure to
commit to one go-to rewards card. In fact, the J.D. Power 2017 Credit
Card Satisfaction Study
found that 71 percent of consumers reported using
two or more cards in the previous month. These cardholders spent an average of
$1,028 on their main card, $452 on their second card and very little on
additional cards, says Jim Miller, vice president of banking and credit card
practice for J.D. Power.

“There are a lot of people juggling cards,” Miller

with one card for simplicity

In the past it didn’t make much sense to carry
and use multiple cards because most cards had annual fees and didn’t offer the
array of rich benefits they do today, Miller points out.

However, some cardholders are
still fiercely loyal one-card users.

For David Barnett, a business appraiser
and adviser from New Brunswick, Canada, his preference
for using his American Express Gold card determines where he shops. “I simply don’t
go to places that won’t accept AmEx, and I tell them so,” Barnett says.

“It’s not just card issuers pushing us toward using one primary card. Technology also is pushing us toward using the same card over
and over again.”

He’ll call ahead to ask, and has
even found a workaround for merchants that don’t accept the card, but do take
Apple Pay. He simply uses Apple Pay, which is linked to his trusty AmEx.

There are several benefits of using one card
for almost all of your purchases, and they center around simplicity:

  • You
    never have to think about which card to use.

    With one main card, you don’t
    have to use apps or sticky notes to remember which card gives you triple points
    on restaurants or gas. Ease of use is the main priority for Mark Aselstine, an
    El Cerrito, California, resident and founder of Uncorked Ventures, an online
    wine and gift club. Having two small kids plus a business to run makes dealing
    with more than one card “too darn complicated,” he says.

  • You
    can accumulate a bigger pool of points faster.

    If you like to watch one big pot of points grow, using a single card can be
    gratifying. “Some people like to see a bigger number,” says Natasha
    Rachel Smith, personal finance and credit card expert at

    For example,
    Bob Gordon, a real estate agent
    and blogger from Boulder, Colorado, says the miles “seem to pile up
    quickly” on his United Mileage Plus Explorer card, and he now has over 300,000
    in his account. And when it comes time to redeem those rewards,
    you only have to know the ins and outs of one card program.

  • It’s
    easier to stay on top of statements and payments.

    Sticking with one card also means you only have to keep track of one bill and
    one due date, so you might be less likely to accidentally miss a payment. You
    also don’t have to worry about paying multiple annual fees or remembering to
    cancel a card, or ask for a waiver, when an annual fee is about to kick in.

However, some cardholders mistakenly believe
that staying loyal to one card automatically gets you put on a pedestal for better
service. That’s not true, Becker says. “Lenders try to provide good service to
all customers,” he says. “They know that even if you’re not a big user today,
you might be tomorrow.”

Also, issuers might even take you for granted,
or at least not work hard to woo you. For “loyalists” who do 100 percent of
their spending on a card, an issuer might look for “creative and
cost-effective” ways to retain your business, Becker and a colleague wrote in
an article on
redefining the top-of-wallet customer on An example:
thank-you notes.

“I miss out on some great deals I hear friends and family talk about.”

And, of course, if you don’t shop around, you’re
not taking advantage of offers that are readily available in the marketplace. “I miss out on some great deals
I hear friends and family talk about,” Gordon says.

up card use and reap big rewards

There’s no doubt that if you’re willing to put in
the time and effort, using multiple cards offers an array of advantages. The
biggest plus of using multiple cards is the chance to earn and save more, Smith

Here are four benefits of mixing up your card

  1. Maximum
    ability to rack up rewards

    You can boost rewards
    earnings by opening new cards for fat sign-up bonuses and otherwise reaching
    for whatever card offers the most points or miles for a given purchase, says
    Brayden McCarthy, vice president of new markets for the
    small-business lending marketplace Fundera, who currently carries nine cards in
    his wallet. For example, he books travel on his American Express Platinum,
    which gives him five times the points on flights and hotels.

    Another cardholder,
    Alexander Bekhterev, a digital marketer from Indianapolis, went from
    using one card to juggling five when he learned how much he could earn and save.
    He uses his Uber Visa
    when dining out to get 4 percent cash back in
    restaurants, and he pulls out his Target credit card when shopping at that
    retailer to score 5 percent cash back.

    Using several cards strategically has
    allowed McCarthy to go on three big vacations a year, compared with the one
    he’d be able to afford out of pocket, he says. Recently, he’s gone skiing in
    Canada and touring in Italy, and he’s now gearing up for a trip to Japan.

  2. Big
    savings by paying attention to perks

    Savvy card shufflers also earn
    big by reaching for the card with the best perk for that purchase.

    One example:
    Bekhterev books travel with his TravElite card from First National Bank of
    Omaha, which offers a $100 statement credit for incidental airline expenses. He
    pays his cellphone bill with his Uber card, which offers cellphone insurance
    for theft and damage worth up to $600.

    For gifts and other consumer goods
    purchases, he uses the Citi Double Cash card, which offers “Citi Price
    Rewind,” a feature that automatically tracks online prices for items you buy with the card.
    If it finds a lower price on that item within 60 days of
    purchase, it automatically refunds you the difference.

    Recently, Citi has found
    lower prices for Bekhterev on auto parts, kitchen appliances and mountaineering gear.
    “I was able to get over $300 back in the past three months,” he says.

  3. A chance at a better credit score.

    Having multiple cards that you use responsibly, without racking up debt, can
    help your credit score.

    The biggest plus is that having more cards will likely
    increase your overall credit limit, which can improve your credit
    utilization ratio
    . If you open several cards in a short time,
    your score might dip slightly from the “hard pulls,” when issuers check your

    “I’ve noticed it will impact my score for a month, maybe two
    months, but then my score bounces back up,” McCarthy says.

  4. Better offers from issuers.

    Disloyalty just might keep credit card issuers in hot pursuit of your business.

    In the BAI article, Becker wrote that customers who have a high overall spend
    but use a particular card for a low or medium amount of their spending might
    get aggressive offers from that issuer. An “aggressive” offer could cost an
    issuer $200 or more.

    For example, one card issuer had a promotional campaign in
    which low
    spenders received a direct mail offer for 1,000 points or an Amazon gift card
    for spending more on their credit card.

In the end, the question of whether to stick with one card
or not comes down to deciding what you value and doing what is right for you. “The
best loyalty any card user can have is to themselves,” McCarthy says.

See related: Choosing your rewards strategy: One card? Or multiple?, 6 tricks to juggle multiple credit card balances

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