Credit cards have teams of people running over ten thousand experiments every year trying to find the best way to discourage transactors, people who pay off their credit card every month, and encourage revolvers, people who don’t pay off their credit card every month. Their goal is trying to determine how to maximize and entice the credit payments from revolvers, while minimizing the giveaways, especially for the superusers who take advantage of every reward and perk offered.
I am on the border of being a superuser. There are people who are much more sophisticated than I am at taking advantage of the credit card companies. I know that if I slip, some free burrito may end up costing me $50. I like to set my life up so that I have a routine. Decisions which cost me time and effort are expensive. Things that happen automatically are genius.
Recently, I signed up for the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card offering a $200 online cash rewards bonus and 3% cash back in the category of your choice. I was allowed to pick as my 3% cash back category any of the following categories: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings. My intention was to set the category to “dining’ and use the card exclusively for eating out and receive 3% back on those purchases. The card also receives 2% cash back at the grocery store, so it could be used for food in general.
One thing I’ve learned about credit cards is that the categories are entirely dependent on the correct categorization with a specific card of a company’s primary business. I’ve seen the same business categorized three entirely different ways with VISA, Mastercard, and American Express. That categorization, not what you purchased, will ultimately determine your rewards. I checked the categorization of my charges to ensure that those businesses I thought were grocery or dinning budgets were actually coded that way by VISA.
I made sure that all the various marketing was turned off on this card. You have to do this periodically (every three years) in order to make sure that you avoid as much marketing as possible. Doing so did not stop Bank of America from sending me a promotional offer based on a date over two months after I had requested not to be solicited. The stated reason was that it can take up to 12 weeks for a request not to solicit you to take effect.
I set an alert to automatically notify me if I make a purchase over $1. This is the best fraud alert that I have found. Any time after using my credit card I will receive an email telling me that I made a purchase. This is quick enough that I have not forgotten about my purchase but delayed enough to remind me what my purchase costs.
I then also set my entire credit card bill to automatically pay from my checking account each month.
And I set the bill to come to me via postal mail in order to have a written record of my purchases and also in order to remind me that money will be flowing out of my checking account.
The $200 cash back was only good if you charged over $1,000 during the first 90 days after opening your account. I made sure to charge at least $1,000 in my first 60 days since it took some time to receive my card. I did subsequently receive this $200 bonus.
I received a statement for the prior month and read it carefully. I had a reward summary showing that my rewards had built up. I called the company because I couldn’t find a way for my rewards to be automatically applied to my account. I read:
You currently have no accounts eligible to receive auto-redeemed rewards.
You may set up automatic redemption into an eligible Bank of America® checking or savings account, or an eligible CMA® with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management®.
There isn’t any way for my rewards to be automatically applied to my account balance. This seems to be a punitive and purposeful choice by Bank of America to punish superusers who are getting their card because of the rewards. They are trying to sell their checking or savings accounts or their Merrill Lynch Wealth Management services. This cross-selling is one of the things Bank of America and Merrill are known for and we have criticized them for in the past. They know that such cross-selling is effective.
Because I don’t want to create an account with them, periodically I will need to log in to the Bank of America website and manually apply my rewards to my credit card.
All of this seems to be a great deal of effort in order to receive a 1% better reward for dining purchases than a card which automatically deposits 2% into your investment account or a card that offers 2% back everywhere. That being said, depending on your spending in those categories, the extra rewards may be worth the extra effort.
Background photo by Jean-Philippe Delberghe on Unsplash. Screenshot of Customized Cash Rewards credit card from BankOfAmerica.com.