Couples and credit: Managing cards and rewards with a less-interested spouse

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    Ted Rossman has seven years of experience in the credit card and personal finance industries as a member of the award-winning communications department at CreditCards.com and its sister sites The Points Guy and Bankrate.

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    Just like most couples have a spender and a saver, I suspect a lot of you are in a relationship in which one person (probably you, since you’re reading this) plays the credit card rewards game and the other person isn’t nearly as interested. I know that’s the case in my marriage.

    Even though my wife Chelsea thinks it’s a hassle to juggle multiple credit cards, she tries to play along. We came up with a system: I write notes like “5% gas,” “3% groceries” and “3% restaurants” on little slips of paper. I place these over the relevant cards and take a photo that she saves on her phone. We have four different cash back cards, and this system works quite well, although Chelsea draws the line at new cards (“Don’t we have enough credit cards already?”).

    She’s fine with me getting a new card in my name only, she just doesn’t want to have to carry a fifth joint card. My reluctance to go it alone is because the new card I’m most interested in is the Citi Double Cash Card, which would replace the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card as our “everything else” card. We’d get 2 percent back on everything instead of 1.5 percent. This would have earned us an extra $257 last year. We’d use it for everything but travel, dining, groceries and the rotating 5 percent categories on our Chase Freedom card.

    The problem is that Chelsea does most of this “everything else” spending – 64 percent of transactions and 62 percent of spending, I determined after sorting through our last three monthly card statements. I was surprised to note that I do most of the spending on our other cards.

    See related: How many credit cards should you have? 

    Travel ‘propels’ our card use 

    In the past three months, I’ve made 100 percent of the transactions on our Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express (3 percent back on groceries, on up to $6,000 per year in spending, then it’s 1 percent), 100 percent of the transactions on our Chase Freedom (currently 5 percent back on gas, tolls and drugstores) and 91 percent on our Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card (3 percent back on travel and dining).

    I always talk about how I hardly buy anything, so this shocked me. I knew I did the grocery shopping and filled the car with gas, but those are necessities that don’t really count as spending, right? After all, I have a reputation to uphold as a cheapskate.

    I didn’t expect to be such a power user of the Propel card, although it makes sense the more I think about it. Travel and dining are typically family activities, and when we’re together, I generally handle the payments. This card got a workout recently because we went to Disney World and planned an upcoming trip to visit Chelsea’s parents.

    See related: How I’ll use card-linked offers to multiply my savings this year

    Snap up a new card for ‘everything else,’ or wait for something better? 

    The only card Chelsea uses frequently is the “everything else” card I’m considering replacing. Most of that spending is for our daughter: clothes, extracurricular activities and birthday presents for her friends. 

    Chelsea does a great job running that part of our household. I told her about my recent research and suggested a new card would actually be very easy for her. Since she’s only using one card on a regular basis anyway, the Citi Double Cash would replace it and she wouldn’t need to carry the others every day.

    We’re still mulling it over. For her, the main hurdle is logistics. For me, it’s being respectful of her wishes, but also pondering whether something better will come along, like the $300 sign-up bonus we enjoyed on the Propel card last year.



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