Many card users have learned to beat the card issuers at their own game through credit card gaming or churning with Loyalty Reward Cards. This risky practice can lead to great rewards, but it's not a simple venture, and the uninitiated can ruin their credit and severely damage their financial future. Credit Card Gaming in a Nutshell Also referred to as churning, credit card gaming involves the use of multiple loyalty reward cards for the sole purpose of earning rewards. These gamers earn trips, cruises, merchandise, cash and more through numerous points, miles and cash back offers. Essentially, a churner earns intro bonuses and spending rewards, cashes in, and then closes the accounts before incurring any fees or interest rate charges. Skilled gamers identify a specific goal and then go after it with carefully selected top credit card reward programs to accrue their rewards. Though the goal is typically the accumulation of points/miles/cash, some card holders use the practice to help address their debt. They do so by moving their large balances to Loyalty Reward cards with long introductory 0% APR's so they can pay down the principal without accruing additional interest rate charges. How it Works The most important thing to note about traditional credit card gaming is the avoidance of carrying balances. IT WILL NOT WORK if you don't pay your credit card balances every month. Winning strategists use their high rewards yielding cards to make eligible purchases for services and products that are a normal part of their budget. They earn the rewards and pay the credit card statement each month. These are common expenses gamers charge to their loyalty rewards cards to earn points/miles/cash back: • Utility bills • Phone bills – landlines and mobile • Gas • Groceries • Dining • Mortgage payments, car loans, student loans – Note this is difficult, although there are work-arounds. It can be expensive via associated fees through a necessary third party vendor, and not all cards and lending companies allow it or even award points/miles/cash back for these expenditures. AmEx is definitely out. For cards that do allow this practice and offer rewards, it can be an effective way to meet the spending threshold for an introductory signing bonus. Everyday spending is typically a wash however, since the fees are often the same or higher than the amount of awards you can earn. A disciplined and experienced gamer will use these strategies to earn rewards without making foolish expenditures and sinking into debt. Another essential requirement is excellent credit. Clearly, you cannot qualify for multiple loyalty reward cards unless you can demonstrate credit worthiness. Common Risks Unfortunately, the typical consumer struggles with debt. This makes credit card gaming a dangerous venture for most. The following are just a few of the important topics and potential issues related to this practice. • Credit Utilization Ratio Your credit utilization ratio measures your credit card spending against your available credit. Churning can increase this rate, detrimentally impacting your credit score. This happens when you spend a lot on multiple cards and then close the accounts. You're left with a high spending rate and little to no available credit. You need to aim for a CUR below 30%. • Credit Rating Damage A good credit rating is essential in all facets of your life. Credit card gaming has the very real potential of damaging your rating. This can happen if you get in over your head, running up huge balances and missing payment due dates. Your score is further impacted by multiple card applications. Numerous credit inquiries lowers your score. Another red flag is the aggressive use of several new credit cards at once. Issuers are on alert for this type of behavior, recognizing it as a sign of churning. This can lead to termination of your loyalty reward cards and cessation of your relationship with a number of card issuers. What's more, 10% of your FICO score is impacted by this type of activity. • Discipline to Pay on Time It's vital that you stay organized and keep track of your cards, their payment due dates and any other pertinent terms and conditions that may impact your credit and your churning goal. • Flashy Rebate Rates Select your rewards cards carefully. Don't be blinded by the promise of a big intro bonus. Strict guidelines often accompany these offers. Carefully inspect all the terms and conditions of each rewards card you select. Credit Card Gaming is not for Everyone Though enticing, churning can be chancy and difficult. It's foolhardy to risk your financial future just to earn a vacation or cash that you plan to blow through. If you want to try your hand at gaming, ensure you have the discipline and organizational skills to follow-through successfully. In the long-term, the impact on your reputation, and the ability to qualify for a car loan and a mortgage are far more important.