America, land of the free. An additional slogan to tack on might be, "where credit cards reign supreme." So much so that the average American carries 3 to 4 cards, depending upon which research survey you choose to look at.
That isn't to say credit cards are a problem. Credit card debt certainly is.
But many cardholders justifiably carry multiple cash-back credit cards for financially smart reasons -- namely, to take advantage of rewards and credit card sign-up bonuses that card issuers willingly offer.
If that sounds like you, watching the video below could help to simplify how you manage multiple cards, while staying on budget. The Motley Fool analysts Nathan Hamilton and Michael Douglass compiled a handful of helpful credit card tips from the Fool's credit card specialists, and included one of those tips in the video.
Michael Douglass: Straight from Adam Levy, who's one of our contributors. His suggestion is, people who are carrying multiple cards should use a service like Mint or Personal Capital to track spending in one centralized location.
Nathan Hamilton: Yeah. Diving in deeper on why that tip makes sense, specifically for Adam, I know he's a guy who tends to carry a few credit cards, so I'm not surprised by his tip. But, essentially, look at it, you have limited bandwidth for everything in life. That's time to focus on family, your finances, your job, career, hobbies, everything. You look at it, one of those tasks that can take up more bandwidth specific to your personal finances if you carry multiple cards, is managing all of them, paying all the bills, keeping the numbers aligned, tracking your budget, all of that.
Douglass: Yeah. And maybe you have a card that's really good for travel rewards, so you're like, OK, cool, I'm going to Omaha this weekend, I'm going to go ahead and use this card for this. Oh, I'm filling up on gas, I should pull up my other card that's really good for gas. Oh, I'm buying something at Home Depot, I have to get the Home Depot card out. And that can become a little bit much after a while, because you're using all that mental energy just trying to control those different cards.
Hamilton: So, boiling it down to something that simplifies that approach, it may work for some people, it's not an approach that they're utilizing. But Mint and Personal Capital are very useful apps. We are not sponsored by any means by them at all. But I know I've used both of them previous times in the past for the same exact purpose that Adam mentioned, saying, "I can see one snapshot of all my bills, all my debts, my spending categories, my budgeting and so forth, and if I'm meeting or beating or losing my budgeting goals." So, it is something that helps simplify that process, and I imagine that's why they've become so popular among people.
Douglass: Yeah. Of course, our take tends be for the vast majority of people -- listen, there are just some people who are really excited about really thinking about credit card hacking, getting every dollar. If that's your thing --
Hamilton: There are benefits.
Douglass: -- then optimizing that to 100% may make sense for you. For a lot of people, you can get 95% of that with only 10% of the effort, and that's really to just have one or two broad cards that fit your major budget priorities. Maybe you're a travelling consultant, then a travel credit card may make a lot of sense for you. Then, maybe something with a general good, strong cash rewards, a number like a 2% cash back on most purchases. That will get you most of the way there with a lot less effort.
Hamilton: Yeah. If you actually run the numbers -- I ran this beforehand -- if you compare a bonus cashback card where, say, for gas, you earn 5% back, versus a flat rate card where you earn 2% back, say you spend $100 a month on gas -- I don't know if that's within most people's budgets, low or high, but seems like a good estimate. If you look at the cashback you would earn on a 5% back card, over one year, that's $60.
Douglass: That's a couple nice dinners.
Hamilton: On the other card, it's $24. So, looking at it, you have to ask yourself, is carrying that additional card worth this extra $36 of time that is required to manage and budget well, and stay on track for your goals? For some people, absolutely, that is a resounding yes. For some people, it's not.
Douglass: Yeah. For me, the way I tend to approach this sort of thing is to think about, for the time that I'm spending, what's my return on investment?
Hamilton: Yeah, return on time, I love it.
Douglass: If it's going to take me an extra hour a month, that's 12 hours for $36, $3 an hour, I can make more than that doing something else.