Great News for this Credit Card Churner

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When most people first hear about credit card churning (applying for multiple rewards earning credit cards approximately every 3 months) their reaction is usually something along the lines of “Won’t that hurt/ruin my credit!!”. The reality is that for some folks it can temporarily hurt credit scores due to the increased number of inquiries and the decreased average age of account. Prior to churning cards my credit score was around 800 or so – often slightly above 800 (850 is the maximum FICO score). However, when I use the online FICO score estimate services my score now is often around 730-760, depending on whether or not I recently did a churn. While churning cards actually increases some folks credit scores, I thought I wasn’t quite as lucky.

My hypothesis was always that since my credit history is relatively short (compared to those in their 50’s and 60’s) that churning had a larger effect on me than it would on some others. I didn’t mind since my score would always quickly rebound to over 750, and that was good enough for me. Note: if I were planning on getting a mortgage in the next year or so I would not be applying for new credit cards the way that I am now.

However, I have not received my actual credit score in a while, so I was just trusting that the online estimators were in the right ballpark. As I was gearing up for this credit card churn, my online estimate for my Experian credit score was 766. However, it turns out, the situation was better than I hoped. After my most recent credit card churn, I received a letter from Bank of America congratulating me on my new credit card. The letter also included my Experian credit score.

To my surprise, it was 804! That is roughly what it was before I churned a single card. So, I have essentially now received hundreds of thousands of miles and points from credit card sign-ups without having my credit score drop at all.  Or at least I should say I am now confident that my Experian score hasn’t dropped – though it is one of the bureaus that is pulled more frequently for me, so I am pretty confident my other scores wouldn’t be substantially different.  Keep in mind that I am not a heavy credit card churner as I typically obtain between 1-3 credit cards roughly every 91 days as opposed to the 5-6 that some folks do, but this was still great news for this credit card churner.

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I very much agree with the Frugal Travel Guy’s motto that “your credit is your most valuable asset”, and I also agree that as long as you make all of your payments on time, and use your credit responsibly, that obtaining rewards credit cards on a regular basis isn’t going to come anywhere close to ruining your credit. As you can see, my official credit score of 804 is far from ruined. Of course, this was just my own personal experience and not a guarantee of how anyone else’s score will turn out, but hopefully my experience isn’t dramatically different from others in a similar situation.  Coming up later today I will give a rundown of how my most recent credit card churn turned out. Here’s to (hopefully) many more years of miles and points from credit card sign-ups!

I am curious to know how some of your credit scores are looking after churning for a while.  Also, how have your official FICO scores compared to some of the online estimates you get from sites like Credit Karma, Citi Identity Monitor, etc.?

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  1. Recycled alot of plastic in August – BoA Alaska, US Bank FlexPerks, AMEX SPG, Citi AA. Second time new customer bonus on all these cards. Normally I just recycle a card or two a month. No measurable effect on the score, since I don’t leave balances. Run a million or two through about 20-25 cards cards each year.

  2. I’ve been amazed lately at how different credit scores can be from one source to another on the same bureau.

    My problem was that I helped my auto insurance company fight a $5K frivilous claim. It went to court and I lost meaning a “judgement” for $5K showed up. It’s since been changed to “satisfied”. It pulled by score on Credit Karma down by 75 points but on an independent TransUnion soft pull it was a 5 point effect. Credit Sesame showed no change on Experian. Although it shows on both Experian and Equifax, it hasn’t lowered those scores either.

    I haven’t gotten my nerve up yet to do a churn but that’s really the only way I’ll know what my score really is. The scores from approved credit cards do always seem to be higher than the online services show.

  3. Citi Identity Monitor uses the same system as Costco. That score for me has always been very conservative, 20-50 points lower than an “official” score. I have a screenshot of my past year progression of scores, and it stayed consistently safe, so now I don’t bother looking for my score.

  4. The estimators – Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and Quizzle – usually show scores considerably below actual. In my experience, the estimators are 40-60 points below my actual credit score. I always treat them as if they are actual, but it’s nice that the algorithms seem conservative for me. My credit score hasn’t gone up (low 800s when I started churning), but it also hasn’t dropped very far.

    I once applied for a home mortgage refinance and had scores of approx. 770, 760, and 760 on the 3 bureaus at about 1 month after a major 5-card churn. My banker commented that my scores appeared to have dropped a little since my last mortgage refinance, and I have a lot more open lines of credit. I said, “Yes, and I also have conservatively $4,000 more in largely unmeasurable assets – travel rewards points.” As a day trader himself, he understood to some degree. He commented that it wasn’t an “asset class” he really had explored much yet, but it probably was good for diversification. Fun nerd conversation ensued….

  5. I got the same letter for my BoA card. Said I was at 775 for Experian. Karma has me at 710 (what a deadbeat!), Sesame (which supposedly is Experian) says 733.

    So 40-60 points off sounds about right.

    Before my dozen inquiries this year I hovered around 800 (I think).

  6. CK seems to run about 40 points low for DW and ~50 low for me. We’re both “excellent” so having the free score be conservative is quite fine with me. As long as it tracks well, the actual number isn’t too important.

    We have not been churning agressively: 2x SWA, 1 Sapphire Preferred, 1 Freedom, 2 75K AA Citi cards. That is within the last year, for both of us. DW is an AU on the Freedom and I am an AU on the CSP. Both our reports have gone up about 10 points in that time.

    I am inclined to think that the increasing limits (combined with low utiliztion) are the biggest factor in our rising scores.

  7. Thanks for sharing.
    I don’t churn. For one thing, I am a senior citizen and my “window of opportunity” is considerably less than that of younger folks.
    I had read all the credit information on the FrugalTravelGuy before I applied for my first travel credit card. I was turned down.
    Now several years later, I pretty much have all the travel credit cards I want; and it was interesting to me that my credit score is now about 50 points higher. 🙂

  8. -Thanks for everyone sharing their scores! I agree it is important to know the difference between FAKO and FICO scores (FAKOs are the estimates you get – here is a brief article with some basics if you are new to the term http://credit.about.com/od/creditreportscoring/qt/creditvsfico.htm). However, it is interesting that the online estimates seem to be consistently low estimates. You would think they could get their formula a bit closer to the real thing. I guess that is better than them erring in the opposite direction. Bottom line for me is I can pretty much safely continue on the churning schedule I have been on without worrying too much about the effects.

  9. In my case, the number of inquires are more critical than the scores. I had high scores 750+ on all 3 agencies, paid all my bills and mortgages, NO late payment shown on report. Yet I was turned down by Citi when I applied Citi thankyou points and Citi hilton on the same day . Even I’m Citi gold, they only approved Hilton, and denied the 2nd one. I wrote a letter, pleaded my case, gave them my citi gold account number which they can see my high bank balance, my citi mortgage balance, even the local citi branch manager’s name. In the end, a NO which kind of pissed me off considering I’m spoiled by the Citi branch manager who knows my name and was very nice to me whenever I walk to the branch.

  10. My last cycle, CreditKarma had my TU @ 740, and Barclays told me it was actually 796.

    CreditSesame said my EXP score was 751, and it came back from Citi @ 802.

  11. I’m a student taking a year off before medical school, so I will be taking out substantial student loans next year. I know the advice is that if you’re going to take out a big loan, you shouldn’t churn, and I definitely don’t want to damage my score. But does anyone know if one or two hard pulls right now would be OK? I wanted to use my year off to play the miles chasing game to hopefully take a really nice vacation before school starts and I lose my free time for a long while.

    I applied for and was instantly approved for the SPG Amex yesterday, and I am trying to figure out if it would be OK for me to get one more of the big point reward cards – maybe the Citi AA card. Could someone give me some advice on this? I’ve been trying to figure it out but there’s a lot of conflicting information out there.

    • @Remy, you have to decide for yourself, but I would not be worried about two pulls a year before getting student loans. I have had some inquiries off and on forever for various things, including before getting substantial student loans myself. I certainly would not start doing anything crazy, but two cards a year in advance doesn’t sound overly dangerous to me.

  12. None of those other scores are meant to predict your FICO score, or any other score actually used in lending decisions. All they do is a ball park good/bad indicator (which you presumably should know already).

    If you want to know your FICO score, you’ll have to order just that. Equifax sells the general fico formula scores. Other bureaus do not, and you still have to remember there are more fico formulas than general fico one (i.e. your 804 is based on the card fico formula, which is different from your general fico).

  13. MP, why would you not be applying for credit cards as you are if you were planning on applying for a mortgage within the year?

    • @Don T, I doubt a card or two would hurt a mortgage app either, but really churning cards might make a mortgage lender nervous. I wouldn’t want to do anything to possibly increase a mortgage interest rate at all given how huge an impact even a fraction of a percent can make with a mortgage. I know there are mortgage success stories with churners, but it isn’t a risk I would want to take.

  14. My wife’s credit hs been similar to yours-

    We have done 12 inquiries over a 28 month time frame resulting in 11 cards opened with some closed over the period due to annual fees & her score has actually gone up over the period to cracking 800.

    I get the score free once a year from AMEX.

    We have accumulated between the both of us approxiamtely 1.4 million miles/points.

    BTW, the Amex 5,000 point worked for me after I had CS deenroll me since I got it when I activated the card, & then I reenrolled using the link you provided.

    Thanks.

    It has been a wild ride.

  15. “Coming up later today I will give a rundown of how my most recent credit card churn turned out.”

    How am I not surprised. 😉 I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I had read 85% of this post about CCs and it didn’t contain a single affiliate referral link. Whoops, guess the onslaught of affiliate referral links is coming this afternoon folks. I knew there had to be a catch!!!

    • @gregorygrady, no catch. I include links when I talk about specific cards, not when I don’t. One of the three cards I applied for is an affiliate link, so watch out for that “onslaught”. 😉

  16. @Don. We recently refinanced (May) and even though I had just started getting into miles (july 2011) and only had 4 credit card applications (and husband 2 or 3), the bank was very inquisitive about my credit card applications and wanted a detailed explanation for all of them. So yes, careful if you are going to apply for a mortgage or refinance. At the end it didn’t affect me at all but it was an extra hassle to have to explain why i wanted so much new credit.

  17. While I’m not a big fan of all you bloggers in general, I must admit that I do admire the fact that several of you (you/MMS/Lucky/gleff) have some thick skin. This is particularly the case for those of you that allow un-moderated comments. Seems easy enough for people to get under the skin of a FTG or DeltaPoints for example, but you are tough, I’ve gotta give you that. 🙂 Keeps me coming back for more reading…………. 😀

    • @gregorygrady, ha ha. It would be easier some days to moderate comments, but it sure wouldn’t be better. 😉 This is all rainbows and roses compared to some of my previous jobs. I have removed children from their parents for severe abuse/neglect in a former job…..now that is something you take some real heat for! When you need a police escort to do your job, you have to have thick skin. Some jabs here and there about affiliate links is nothing comparatively! Keeps us honest and on our toes I think.

  18. My FICO scores averaged around 820 when I started doing this. The lowest any of them have dropped is 742. It takes about six months of no apps for my scores to recover back up to 800. I have been doing about 4 cards every six months or so. If a really good offer shows up I go for that too if there is a time limit on the offer. I’m not rigid about it.

  19. I’m new to this. I’ve always just kept my travel credit cards, but would love to get new ones and more bonus points! If I cancel a card, for example the United Visa, and sign up for a new United Visa will I get the bonus points again? Do you need to wait a certain period of time post cancellation (12 months)? Thanks for any help you can provide!

    • @Michelle, it various from bank to bank. With Chase it is very difficult to get the bonus again unless it is a new product…..which is probably is for your United card since it is now the MileagePlus Explorer card. With Amex it seems to be 12 months after cancelling. Bank of America seems to be you can get them every few months. There are more examples, but it just varies. I haven’t really had to duplicate much yet since there are so many offers out there and I am pretty conservative with how many I get. 😉

  20. A touch of credit history: Up until discovering the FF world earlier this summer, I had only 3 credit cards– British Airways (opened 2008), AAdvantage (open 2008) and a 20 year old BoA card. My score was ALWAYS in the 803+ range. Then I started maxing out the AA card every month as a points chaser. My utilization rate went to 35% or more, and my fico score dropped 60 points in 2 months. I had no idea that using the cards would cause such a precipitous decline. So, after reading the Frugal travel guy and other tips, 6 weeks ago I got a new AMEX card, with 3 pleasant surprises: 1) the 50K sign up bonus; 2) A credit history that back dated me as a 20+ year account holder. I don’t even remember having an AMEX card, but apparently I once did! 3) My FICO score went up to 792!

    BTW– my Credit Seasame FAKO score is at least 70 points too low.

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