Just Do It: 9 Guilt-Free Ways to Rip Off Your Credit Card Company

Sitting on the edge of the Sonoran desert, along the main highway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs, lies Hadley’s, a popular fruit stand and tourist stop that sells, among other things, banana date shakes.

I love ‘em; they’re an incredibly tasty treat — especially on hot arid summer days.

Don’t tell that to my 12-year-old daughter, Nina, though. She hates banana date milkshakes; claims the mere sight of them makes her gag.

What’s really funny is Nina swears that the only thing worse than a banana date shake is escargot — although she’s never tried either of them. I know.

My daughter is no different than folks who stubbornly refuse to try credit cards for the first time. They’re certain that credit card companies take advantage of consumers. They think nothing good can ever come from credit cards — nothing! — and they know this because, well, somebody told them so. Heh.

If they only knew what they’re missing.

Fiscally responsible people don’t fear credit cards and the companies that issue them. They embrace them.

The savviest credit card holders know how to use those “evil” credit card companies to their advantage, playing them like a fine Stradivarius. I know I do.

The reason we can is because the competition for credit card customers is extremely fierce, as evidenced by my chronic junk mail problem; until I got it under control I used to get two or three credit card offers from companies vying for my business every week. That rabid desire to gain — or hang on to — customers puts us firmly in the driver’s seat, folks.

With that in mind, I try to take advantage of my credit card company as often as I can — and I do so without feeling the slightest hint of guilt. Here’s several ways you can too:

1. Take advantage of their ludicrously large sign-up bonuses.

In the world of personal finance, patience is a virtue. For months, Marriott had been trying to lure me to sign up for their rewards card. In January, they offered me 40,000 points. By June, they had upped the ante to 50,000 points. I finally bit after they incredibly sweetened the pot to 70,000 points. Chumps!

2. Demand a lower interest rate.

That’s right. If you’ve been a good customer, by all means, call up your credit card company and ask them to lower your interest rate. Odds are they’ll cave. But if they balk, tell them you’re going to close your account and:

3. Transfer your balances to a new credit card with a 0% APR.

If you’re already carrying a balance on your other credit cards — and paying high interest rates in the process — then make sure you get the last laugh by finding a new card with an introductory 0% APR that allows you to transfer the balances.

4. Have customer service waive your interest charges and other fees.

Last year I was charged $107.47 interest when my credit card company received the payment after the grace period. Since that was only my third or fourth late payment in 20 years, I asked them to waive the charges. They did. Push overs.

5. Avail yourself of their concierge services.

Higher-end rewards cards offer fabulous concierge services that will virtually bend over backwards to help their members with almost any request they can think of — everything from securing last-minute dinner reservations and hard-to-find concert tickets, to happily hunting down giant tubs of nacho cheese sauce. And they say credit card customers are the easy marks. Right.

6. Tell them you want a higher credit limit — without pulling your credit.

If you need a little more credit for, say, a vacation, ask your credit card company if they’ll raise your limit without making a credit inquiry — which usually affects your credit score. You’ll have more leverage if you’ve been a longtime customer with good credit history.

7. Take advantage of their free extended warranty plans.

Because it results in more business for them, many — but not all — major credit card companies eagerly play the fall guy by offering free extended warranty protection. Yes, free. For example, all products purchased with an American Express card automatically receive an additional year of protection beyond the manufacturer’s warranty.

8. Take advantage of their free insurance.

Most credit cards offer at least secondary rental car insurance that will cover what your auto insurance doesn’t if you get in an accident. And higher-end credit cards provide other kinds of insurance too, protecting you from unforeseen events like lost baggage and even canceled trips.

9. Always pay off your credit card bills in full each month.

By paying off your credit card balance in full each month, you’ll avoid wasteful interest payments that can be used for more important things like building your retirement nest egg. And don’t worry about the credit card companies; they’ll still make plenty of money off the fees they charge merchants whenever you use your credit card.

Even if you use it to buy a banana date milkshake — or a plate of snails.

Photo Credit: http2007

48 comments to Just Do It: 9 Guilt-Free Ways to Rip Off Your Credit Card Company

  • I agree. Credit cards are only for responsible people. I learned my lesson the hard way. So, when I had the chance to transfer my balance at 0% APR, I grabbed the opportunity. After that, I see to it that the balance is paid off at the end of each month.

  • My brides airfare to Fincon11 was courtesy of my American Express card. Paid for the fee twice over, not even using miles.

    You must pay attention however!

    • Len Penzo

      My Marriott card comes with a annual fee of $75 — although they waive it for the first year. In theory, I could cancel the card after six months and still get to keep my 70,000 points. Not sure what I’ll do in that regard, but I’m leaning toward keeping it, assuming the points I earn more than make up for it.

  • one thing to help out #9 is to make sure you have a written out budget and as a companion to that, an monthly expense sheet to keep track of every dollar spent that month.

    and if you hang on to these monthly expense sheets it makes doing the next year’s budget much easier and more accurate.

  • We take the cashback rewards we get from our cards and use those to buy things like flat screen TVs and such that we wouldn’t otherwise buy. It leads to guilt free upgrades!

    • Len Penzo

      Me too, MB. I’ve taken my credit card company for thousands of dollars in dividend checks. And all I do is use their card to buy stuff!

      (WARNING: Of course, that strategy doesn’t pay off too well if you fail to pay off the balance in full at the end of each month.)

  • I love Hadley’s date shakes. My Dad used to buy us those when we were kids after a weekend out in the desert. Back before trucks had air conditioning, that was about as good as anything ever tasted.

    • Len Penzo

      They’re still great, Bret. Hopefully, Nina will eventually get the courage to try one. Then she’ll kick herself for not trying one earlier!

  • Leave the cash at home – get mugged, lose the cards and cancel them when you get home later.

    Hey, it’s a fringe benefit!

  • tracee

    Great article! And great pointers….too bad I have no self control and don’t get to have credit cards :( After bailing myself out twice I’ve found it best to just stick with my debit card, although I may have to learn sooner than later seeing as BofA wants to start charging me for using my debit card.

    • Len Penzo

      It’s true, credit cards aren’t for everyone. And debit cards are a good solution for folks who are easily tempted by larger credit lines offered by credit cards. I think that blows that BoA is charging folks to use their debit cards. If you have to, find a new bank, tracee.

  • I take advantage of my credit card companies all the time. I recently applied and received a couple of new cards. I did it to take advantage of the 40K miles per card. I am stocking up for my trip to Europe next year. Thanks credit card company, I love flying first class.

    • Len Penzo

      It truly is amazing, isn’t it. This weekend I read a claim by someone who said they regularly sign-up for cards with these ridiculous bonuses, cancel the cards, and then reapply a year later and claim the same ridiculous bonus again. And then do it again … and on and on. Why not, right?

  • DC

    #10. Chargebacks. Not a “rip off” as such, but being able to request a chargeback if you are having trouble with a merchant is a nice bonus too.

    OTOH, I consider debit cards to be evil in-card-nate and refuse to have one. No, I’ve never tried one either. (Haven’t tried frog legs either, which has been described to me as tasting like chicken marinated in swamp water.)

    I don’t like the idea of merchants “freezing” large chunks of my checking account just because I purchased something small with a debit card. Not to mention if the debit number is stolen, the results can be cascading bounced checks and a headache to straighten out. Nope, I’ll stick to credit cards, thank you very much.

    • Len Penzo

      You’re right, DC; chargebacks are a great service. You have a lot of leverage when your credit card company is there to fight on your behalf with a merchant who has ripped you off in some form or another.

      I rarely use my debit card. And when I do I usually choose “credit” (for a variety of reasons, but that’s another post).

  • Len,
    I’m all in with #1. Take advantage of the sweet sign up bonuses. This year I’ve accumulated over $7,500 worth of economy travel or over $10,000 worth of business class travel. All by taking advantage of the sign up bonuses.

    • Len Penzo

      Beautiful! I’m telling you, the credit card companies are there for the taking. What is everybody waiting for?????

      • DC

        Well… I’m heard too much credit card churn can lower your credit card score. But I hear a lot of things. :)

        What do you do Len? Hang on to a small set of older cards for the longevity score, while churning a round of new cards for the goodies?

  • Spedie

    Top 5 things I do with what is left of my last Credit Cards:

    1. It is great for scraping ice/snow off my car window in the morning;
    2. It’s really nice to shave off a piece and use it as a toothpick;
    3. Make a collage that says “I’m debt free and lovin’ it” with some of the pieces (not with those from number 4, below);
    4. Clean up cat poop (I have small cats that don’t drink much water);
    5. A great screw driver when I can’t find my straight screwdriver…

    Naw, now seriously, I don’t have credit cards. I paid the ones I had off every month for 18 straight years, without fail. I was one of those “responsible” people.

    I have no desire to have one again. It’s my choice, and I am loving every minute of:

    a. Not getting screwed with;
    b. Not having my identity scanned by bad folks;
    c. Not worrying about the time I lost my purse at the store – there was nothing in it very interesting;
    d. Total lack of understanding what day my credit card bill is due and how it changed that month.

    Ad nauseum.

    Spedie

    • Len Penzo

      LOL! Good stuff, Spedie! I appreciate you desire not to own a card. Have you thought about getting the cards just to take advantage of their sign-up bonuses, and then throwing them in a drawer for ever more?

  • Spedie

    Naww…not me…been there, done that. I take a special delight in planning out all my expenses, even big ones, ones that are many thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars…

    I like living debt free, totally – and the stress that is relieved by it is..gone.

    I do not partake in credit cards…I tried to make light of it.

    It is truly freeing. Credit cards will never give you that….it is a mind game with “me” that I overcame, no matter what rewards. My reward is within myself.

    This, for me, is debt free, and living it.

    But, I am weird, and I know it.

    Lovin’ every minute of it. But, heck, if you like your rewards for credit cards, so be it, I still value many things you say….just not all of them, for me.

    Spedie

    • Len Penzo

      Hey, how can anybody argue with that? (Not that you’re weird, the part about you enjoying living debt free.) ;-)

      Seriously, I totally understand where you’re coming from, Spedie.

      And you know what else? The Honeybee values almost nothing that I say. So I won’t complain that you value many — if not all — of my points of view. ;-)

  • I’m all about straight-up cash back rewards. I always pay in full and while I only average about 2% back depending on cards and categories, that’s a decent chunk of change each year tax-free!

    • Len Penzo

      I’m with ya, Darwin. I prefer the straight up cash back rewards cards too. The jury is still out whether I will try racking up the Marriott points in place of the bucks, at least for a little while. I need to run some numbers and see how much a marriott point is worth in terms of real money.

  • I avoid using my CC as much as possible, but when it comes time for a big purchase (such as my recent splurge on a snowboard + accessories) I busted it out for the cashback. I know I could probably rack up the cashback using it everyday, but I prefer to limit my use as much as possible. I don’t spend much, so I only get a check once in a while. It’s still nice to get a check though.

  • Tony

    Many banks and credit cards offer free life insurance, it’s only about $2k or $3k. Their spin is to convince you to buy a policy. I have about 10 free policies (stored in safe deposit box). / Tony

    • Len Penzo

      Interesting! Thanks for sharing that tip! I did do a little more research after you left your comment, and it turns out American Express, VISA, Mastercard, and Discover really DOES offer free accidental death & dismemberment (AD&D) insurance on some or all of their credit cards. How did I not know that??? Is that what you have?

  • This is a slick way to get the most out of your credit card. Thanks for the great tips Len. Everyone else’s comments have been helpful too! I wasn’t aware of the free insurance policy. Can I just call my cc company to ask about it?

  • Carmen Schwagereit

    I got divorced about 2 years ago. Previously, my husband had a bad business deal and maxed out all of our credit cards, which he is not able to pay. In our divorce agreement we stated that he is responsible for the payment, but in the end those were in both of our names and my more than perfect credit score is now ruined. I was wondering if there is anything I can do (other than pay off his debt and cancel the cards) to reestablish my credit, despite the unpaid cards.

  • Charlie Brown

    I always rent the car or purchase airplane tickets with the credit card BUT with the cash on hand, so at the end I pay full with cash but earn the points. It’s so sweet.

  • Nice one! Use your CC’s as free money for a month and never pay them a fee.

  • BTW Len, where’s that retweet button?! I’m still blind.

  • Asking a credit card company to raise your credit limit is smart. You FICO score could go up if you are using a smaller per centage of available credit. That’s easy to do if your credit level has been raised.

  • Hey Len,

    On the subjects of chargebacks I believe you can only do 2-3 a year so don’t go around buying expensive stuff and then doing a chargeback on everything just to game the credit card companies. Also, you can link your credit card to Paypal and do a chargeback through Paypal so you have an extra added security barrier.

    Also, as a side note be careful about asking for an increase credit line because this will cause them to pull your file, resulting in a hard inquiry which will hurt your score in the long run.

    Garen

  • I love your tips, and have actually used some of them myself. There is no need to fear credit cards as long as you are responsible! If you have no impulse control, then maybe you don’t need to have one.

  • Gregg

    No offense to anyone, but we don’t use credit cards, except on vacation, and let our credit union know they should expect transactions from a particular place at a particular time. The hassle with credit cards is not worth the points or anything else…we get discounts many other ways, and we don’t fly on planes anyway. I might carry 20 dollars in my wallet…if you don’t have the money or the cards, you don’t spend. We are retired with no debt, house and autos paid for…it works for us.

  • [...] Just Do It: 9 Guilt-Free Ways to Rip Off Your Credit Card Company: Len Penzo points out that sometimes the advice to avoid credit cards at all costs isn’t very good. After all, there are plenty of ways to get the upper hand. Browse > Home / Moneyed / Roundup: Financial Advice [...]

  • [...] * 9 Guilt-free Ways To Rip Off Your Credit Card Company by Len Penzo.  Rule #1, never carry a balance dummy! [...]

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