I got this idea from one of my regular readers. The reader was curious about my own portfolio. In particular, I was asked if I had any regrets or if I would have done something different along the way (assuming I could do it all over again). I was also asked to rank order my cards. I figured this kind of exercise could prove instructional for all of my readers, so I've decided to lay my cards out on the table.
The first thing that should jump out at you is that my card selection is extremely diversified. I have 12 cards from 12 different creditors. That was not done by accident. You never know when a particular creditor is going to go crazy. If it does, I want to have a back up or two (or twelve). Also note that many of these cards are the end result of conversions and combinations. In other words, I may have started out with two Chase cards and then ultimately combined them for just one card. In other cases, I may have had one card but then converted it into a different one. What you see in my portfolio is what I currently have today. Without further ado, then, let me get to the rank ordering.
Favorite to least favorite:
- Pentagon Cash Rewards (link here)
Nordstrom Visa Signature (link here)
Merrill + Visa (link here)
NASA Visa Platinum (with CU rewards) (link here)
Saks Fifth Avenue World Elite (link here)
Citibank Diamond Preferred (link here)
- BMW Platinum (must call 866-861-8187 to apply)
Juniper US Airways (link here)
Chase Platinum (link here)
USAA American Express (link here) (must be a member of USAA)
Washington Mutual Platinum (link here)
American Express Gold (link here) (charge)***
The Pentagon Cash Rewards card is my favorite card. It's a cash-back card and cash rewards are credited monthly. Cardmembers get 5% back on gas purchases (at the pump), 2% on supermarket purchases, and 1.25% cash back on everything else. There is no annual fee; the APR is 13.99%. The highest credit limit possible is $50,000. Pentagon reports the limit to the credit-reporting agencies. Pentagon usually pulls Equifax to evaluate credit history. Customer service at Pentagon is always top notch. This credit union does not offshore any of its customer service calls. This is my favorite card and I don't see that changing anytime soon. No regrets opening this account. I have a blog entry on this particular card here.
Initial reason for getting card: wanted the rewards and knew that high limits were possible with this card.
Verdict: would not change a thing. This has turned out to be my most heavily-used card. I'd recommend this card in a heart beat.
The Nordstrom Visa Signature card is great. I am a shopper at Nordstrom, which makes this card a no-brainer. Interest rates are done on a tiered basis, with the best rate being prime. Note (November 7, 2008): Nordstrom recently changed its interest-rate structure (see story here). Customer service is always excellent. Credit limits are conservative at first but can get quite high after establishing a payment history. Indeed, it's often tough to get a credit-line increase at card activation, but it's fairly easy after you've shown a payment history for six to seven months. There is no cap on how high your credit limit can get. A customer-service rep once told me that Hillary Clinton has a $999,999 limit on her Nordstrom Visa Signature card (who knows how true that is). There is no annual fee on this card. Nordstrom operates its own bank.
Because this is a signature card, there are two limits. There is the hard limit, the limit that you are assigned, and there is a soft limit -- which is the limit that is above and beyond your assigned limit. If my hard limit is $30,000, that means that I could theoretically charge as much as $60,000 on the card during a given month. The only catch is that I have to pay the balance down to at least my hard limit the following month.
Another nice thing about this card is that if I am ever at Nordstrom, and I forget my card, I don't have to worry. Customer service people at Nordstrom can look up my account and charge my purchases to my card (even though I have left it at home). Same goes for the Nordstrom Notes that you earn. If you don't have the Notes with you, a salesperson can find them in the system and apply them to your purchase. Nice. Which reminds me. Notes have expiration dates on them. However, they are not "hard" dates. Nordstrom will accept your expired Notes too. I love doing business with Nordstrom. You can see why.
After several months of using the card, and demonstrating a good payment history, Nordstrom is excellent with credit line increases. Simply call in around month seven and ask for a limit increase (without a credit pull). Anything over a limit of $15,000 will require a credit pull. Anything over $30,000 will require that you provide financials (usually a couple pay stubs). Nordstrom does not report the limit to the credit bureaus; only the high balance gets reported. Oh, and before I forget, Nordstrom is very sensitive to inquiries. If you have a lot of them, don't be surprised to get shot down during the application process. When I originally applied, I had three inquiries. I've always figured that six was too many. Additionally, Nordstrom does not grant instant approvals if you apply through the Web site. However, you can get an instant approval if you apply in the physical store (which is how I did it).
Initial reason for getting card: Am a regular shopper at Nordstrom. Heard that customer service was unbeatable. Knew that Nordstrom would eventually grant high limits.
Verdict: Great card. It's everything I thought it would be. My rate is prime (5%) and I have a healthy limit. This card gets plenty of action.
The Merrill + Visa card comes in at number three. This card has a limit of up to $250,000 (I'm hoping to eventually get that limit before I kick the bucket). The limit is reported to the credit-reporting agencies. The annual percentage rate is 9.99%, but that's not bad for a card that offers plenty of rewards (see the Merrill site). Customer service is excellent. Credit line increases can be done on the Web site. A soft pull is done to evaluate your request. Merrill, which is managed by FIA Card Services (a subsidiary of Bank of America), will notify you if it must do a hard pull to accommodate your request. I've done plenty of limit increases; none ever required a hard pull. Every now and then, though, you might have to discuss your request with a credit analyst. This is my highest-limit card. I'm constantly offered excellent balance transfer deals (currently 0.9% for a year).
Initial reason for getting card: Knew that I would be a lawyer in a matter of no time. Wanted a limit that would be able to accommodate me when I was ready for a card like this. The limit is already outsized; I'm looking forward to breaking $200,000 on the card (it'll probably take some time, but I know the card is capable of a quarter-million limit). Was also intrigued by the rewards on this card. Given that there is no annual fee on the card, it seemed like a sure winner.
Verdict: Outstanding card. Plenty of good rewards. It's everything I thought it would be and more. It's a card that will grow with you as your needs grow.
The NASA Visa Platinum card (with CU Rewards points) is underwritten by a credit union. The APR is 9.9%. NASA allows a maximum of $50,000 on any combination of cards. That means that you can have two cards at $25,000 each or a single card at $50,000 (this is the same way that Pentagon works as well). The credit limit is reported to the bureaus. Customer service is excellent. Like Pentagon, NASA does not offshore its customer-service operations. Like most credit unions, NASA usually requires income verification for its credit-card and loan products. Always be prepared for the request.
Initial reason for getting card: This card was part of my diversification plan. I wanted a credit union to offset my bank credit cards. Also, I knew that NASA granted healthy credit limits. This was an integral card in my "higher-limits-begets-higher-limits" strategy. My limit isn't quite at the max, so I have just a bit more left to squeeze out of it.
Verdict: It served its initial purpose. I was able to get some nice limits after I got approved for this card. Credit line increases can be had through customer-initiated requests or through NASA doing unsolicited line increases. Expect NASA to pull Equifax if you do request a limit increase. Not as heavily used any longer, but very glad that I got the card. It did its job.
The Saks Fifth Avenue World Elite Mastercard has some excellent rewards. There is no annual fee. Credit-limit increases cannot be done on the Web site; they must be done over the phone. Saks Fifth Avenue's Web site allows for a dual application. You can apply for both the store card and the World Elite card -- with just one credit pull (mine was Equifax). If you're going for the Mastercard, you'd be a fool if you didn't add the store card to the application as well. Both cards report the limit to the credit-reporting agencies. This note, though: sometimes people don't qualify for the Mastercard but will be granted the store card. Be aware of that. APRs for both cards are high. I would never keep a balance on either of these cards. This card is underwritten by HSBC. As far as I know, there is no cap on the limit. This card is similar to the Nordstrom Visa Signature card in that it allows you to charge over your hard limit. Same rules apply. The excess must be paid down when you get your bill.
Initial reason for getting card: I shop at Saks. There are plenty of bonus opportunities on this card. Saks is constantly offering $450 Saks gift cards with a purchase of $3,000. If you buy a suit, a pair of shoes, and a tie, you could easily spend $3,000. But even if you aren't a big spender, there are lower thresholds available as well (spend $1,000 and you'll get a smaller gift card). I was also intrigued by the dual application. I liked the idea of applying for both cards and only incurring one hard pull.
Verdict: I've been a little disappointed by the credit limit on this card. Because I have significantly higher limits on the rest of my cards, this card doesn't see a lot of swipe action. As a result, I don't get increases on this card. It's a vicious circle, really. Because I don't use the card much, I can't get an increase. If I can't get an increase, I won't use the card. At some point I might get serious about using the card more. Would be a solid card if I used it more.
The Citibank Diamond Preferred card is relatively new to me. This card used to be a Citi Platinum Select card (but it got converted to this). My limit is fairly high and the APR is just above 7%. The limit is reported to the bureaus. Credit-line increases can be done on the Web site. You'll either be given an instant increase (without a hard pull) or you will be given a form to fill out. If you get the form, and decide to fill it out, a hard pull will be done. I use this card sparingly. I've been busy with other cards and haven't had a chance to really explore the card's features yet. I have it ranked where it is because I've generally been happy with Citibank over the years. I imagine that this card will eventually be a good card for me (and if it's not, I'll convert it to something that is).
Initial reason for getting card: I wanted to get in with Citibank. My initial Platinum Select card got me in the door. Wanted to be with a big creditor that was well known.
Verdict: Glad I have this card. Citibank has been very good to me over the years (even if they weren't always the most generous). Eventually, Citibank opened up and started throwing more available credit my way. This card's limit is about average when compared to the rest of my cards. I'll be keeping the card open. Citibank is a good bank to have a card through.
I grabbed my BMW Platinum card many years ago. I was a BMW (car) enthusiast and figured that I needed this card. The APR is currently at 10.99%. Limits are fairly generous on this card, though financials are required for any limit above $25,000. Credit limit is reported to the credit bureaus. Guideline increases (of $500), without a hard inquiry, are available every 12 months. I do not have the rewards card, though BMW does offer one. I've found that you'd have to spend way too much money to ever be able to realistically take advantage of the rewards that are offered. By and large, this card simply complements my BMW fetish. The card is underwritten by BMW Bank of North America. The Web site is without a doubt the worst of all my cards. BMW needs to upgrade this site. Given the BMW marque, it's embarrassing that they would allow the credit card Web site to remain so pathetic.
Initial reason for getting card: because I drove the cars, I figured that I needed the card. The card is also underwritten by BMW, which gives me yet another bank that I can do biz with.
Verdict: As a BMW fan, I think it's a fun card to have. I don't use the card a lot, but I make a purchase every now and then to keep the card active. If I didn't enjoy BMWs so much, it's doubtful that I would have this card. Additionally, this is not a card I recommend. There are better cards out there.
We're now getting toward the end of my list. This is where the cards once served a purpose that may no longer exist. The Juniper US Airways card is interesting. First, I don't fly US Airways. I live in American Airlines and Delta country. I originally grabbed this card because a friend of mine told me that Juniper offered decent limits. This was the first creditor that offered by a 5-digit limit out of the gate. For that reason, it'll always hold a special place in my heart. After combining this card with a few other Juniper cards, the limit is pretty significant. Because I have the platinum card, the limit is reported to the credit bureaus. Still, this is a quirky company to deal with. I've seen some people get pathetic limits and I've seen Juniper do big credit-line decreases. Additionally, it's tough to get credit-line increases with this creditor. In fact, I have never received a credit-limit increase with this card. I have grown the limit by applying for other cards and then combining them. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of this card. I don't use the card very much but it did help get me on the road to higher limits. The APR is high on this card. I'd never carry a balance.
Initial reason for getting card: no real reason, actually. I applied for this card when I didn't have a credit plan in place.
Verdict: Because the limit is so high, I keep the card open. It helps me attain higher limits on my new cards. Also, I don't have an annual fee on this particular card. I downgraded the rewards package on this card (which helped me eliminate the fee). If you have the US Airways card, and don't use the rewards, you should consider downgrading the card to a slimmed-down version.
My Chase Platinum card has been with me for a long time. But we've had a fairly rocky relationship over the years. Here's why: even though I used to revolve balances (and paid interest for the privilege) and always pay my bills on time, Chase rate jacked me to almost 30% in early 2006. The company was no doubt concerned about the utilization that I had on the card (link here). I immediately paid the card off and threw the card in a sock drawer. I have a long memory, so Chase has spent a lot of time sniffing underwear and socks. I use the card every four to six months (to keep it active). The APR is just over 10% now (Chase eventually reduced my APR when I got my scores well into the 700s). I have received very few credit-limit increases on this card. The limit reports to the credit-reporting agencies. Any limit increase will require a hard pull (Chase loves hard pulls).
I'm considering converting this card to a Chase Freedom card. If I do, I think I'll use the card a lot more. Until then, this card mostly serves on sock-patrol duty.
EDIT (November 1, 2008): I have since converted my Chase Platinum card. I now have the Chase Freedom card. And, just as I thought, I am using the card a lot more. I'm using it for the 3% back in my top three spending categories. I like the card so far.
Initial reason for getting card: Like my decision to bank with Citibank, this was part of my plan to have a card with yet a different bank. Even at the beginning of my credit days, I recognized the importance of not having all of my eggs in one basket.
Verdict: This is one of my older cards. I keep it for credit-history purposes. The card is pretty bland. There are no rewards, the limit is fairly low, and Chase has been known to piss me off. I now treat this card like it used to treat me. I give it no respect. I'll look to convert this card early next year (or when I get around to it).
The USAA American Express card has served its purpose. USAA is well known for granting nice credit limits. But as a non-military member, I have a watered-down relationship with USAA. For those of us who are not military, but who were able to join before USAA closed off membership back in 2006, we're considered ugly stepchildren. We're members of USAA but we're not able to get insurance or rewards cards. What's more, we get higher interest rates on the credit cards we are eligible for. I have mostly used this card (its limit in particular) to leverage against my other creditors. It worked. Other creditors have given me limits that match or exceed the limit on my USAA card. The limit is reported to the credit bureaus.
Initial reason for getting card: Wanted a high-limit card. Also wanted to get in with USAA so that I could partake of the many benefits that members are entitled to.
Verdict: Aside from the high-limit card I got, this relationship is mostly a bust. The card mostly gets used for Costco purchases. I keep the card open because of its limit. If I had known then what I know now, it's unlikely that I would have applied for the card. Because membership is now closed to non-military people, I don't have to worry about dissuading you. If you are military, I think USAA offers plenty of nice cards, loan products, and insurance options.
Last, and definitely least, is my Washington Mutual Platinum Mastercard. I originally got this card through an invitation to apply. Because I bank with Wamu, I figured that I'd get a decent limit. Wrong! Instead, I got a 4-digit limit that pales in comparison to the rest of my cards. The APR is decent (around 9%), but this card does not allow for customer-initiated credit-line increases. Wamu's standard line is that it reviews accounts periodically, yada, yada, yada. Whatever. I've received one increase during my tenure. (EDIT, November 1, 2008): Make that two increases. I recently received another credit limit increase on the card.) The credit limit is reported to the bureaus (though I wish the card would disappear from my reports altogether). I never use the card. In fact, I am so frustrated by the sub-prime feel of this card that I have shredded it. Wamu bought the old Providian portfolio; sometimes I think I have one of those sub-prime cards. Let's just say that I am not used to receiving this level of dissatisfaction.
Wamu has one, and only one, redeeming quality. It's the only reason I don't close the card down right now. Wamu offers a Bankcard Industry Option FICO score every month to cardholders. It's a nice little perk. I'll tell you, though, if I didn't get this free FICO, I would have closed this card a long time ago. Occasionally someone will get a decent limit on the card but it's a rarity. I'd stay away from this particular card (even with the free FICO score). You can read about the Bankcard Industry Option FICO score here (link).
Initial reason for getting card: I bank with Washington Mutual. Figured it was a good credit card to get. Thought I would be offered a decent credit limit.
Verdict: This is the biggest regret in my card portfolio. I wish I didn't have this card. I wish I would have ignored that initial invitation. If I could offer one piece of advice, it would be this: don't bother clicking the Wamu link (above) unless you want what will likely turn out to be a very weak relationship. I couldn't be more negative on a card. Avoid.
***I left the American Express Gold card for last. I didn't put it last because I like it least (that honor goes to Washington Mutual); I put it last because it's a new card for me. American Express is well known for treating its customers well. Unfortunately, it's also well known for conducting those pesky financial reviews that can come at the worst time. (You can read all about my American Express Game Plan here.) I've already had interaction with American Express's customer service agents. They've been very pleasant to deal with. I'm also impressed with American Express's Web site. Really quite good. I got the charge card, which means that I will be paying the balance in full each month. I did not want to get into a credit relationship with American Express. I don't have much more to say about the card at this time. After I've had a chance to use the card in a meaningful way (and had a chance to deal with American Express's customer-service reps a few more times), I'll come back and amend this post. In the meantime, if you're curious, you might want to check to see if you are preapproved for an American Express card. American Express has a nifty area on its Web site that lets you check to see if you're already preapproved for a card. There is no hard pull. It's a soft pull, which does not impact your credit score. However, if you do decide to apply for the card, American Express will do a hard inquiry at that point. The pre-selector link can be found here (link here).
Initial reason for getting card: mostly for diversification purposes. Also wanted to see how customer service was. I know plenty of people who think American Express is top dog. I wanted to find out for myself.
Verdict (update 10/6/2008): After a few months of having the card, I am happy with my decision to apply. So far, so good.
I hope you enjoyed this little exercise. I know it's helped me. It's served as a tuneup of sorts. I'm thinking, after having done it myself, that all of us could use a credit tuneup every now and then. If you haven't done so lately, you might want to reevaluate your cards to see where (and if) they fit in your current plans.
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