Scott Bilker first applied for a credit card in the late ’80s when he realised he would need to borrow money to pay his tuition bills. His efforts to avoid paying interest and score better deals quickly got him a very fat wallet.”I knew it was expensive to use credit cards and had to find a way to minimize the costs,” he says. His quest for the best rewards deals, coupled with his desire to prove he could still get banks to lend to him after accumulating 20-plus accounts, led him to amass more than 80 credit cards by 2007.
According to Bilker, banks rarely turned him down thanks to his perfect payment history.
“I’ve never missed a payment in my life,” he says, adding that his credit score, hovering around a solid 790, has been as high as 819.
After downsizing in recent years, Bilker has 50 credit cards at his disposal with his total available credit close to $250,000. (To be fair, while this arsenal of credit cards is formidable, it’s not the largest in existence. The Guinness World Record actually stands at close to 1,500.)
Contrary to what some may believe, he says, having a ton of credit cards doesn’t necessarily lead to massive debts.
“I have a car, but I don’t drive it off a cliff,” Bilker says. “A lot of people might have the impulse to [overspend]. I don’t.”
We asked Bilker, who has gone on to share his unique credit strategies in several books and on his Web site DebtSmart.com, to share some of his favourite stories to get a better idea of how his unique spending strategy has paid off.
What’s in his wallet
Bilker, who tracks his credit card usage with software such as Quicken and some simple spreadsheets, rotates the cards he actually keeps in his wallet based on which offer the best rewards. His current favourites include the Chase Sapphire (JPM), since its rewards points can be redeemed for movie ticket gift certificates, and the Discover (DFS) More card, which offers 5 per cent back on gas and allows points to be used directly for Amazon (AMZN) purchases.
His favourite card of all time
Before using the Sapphire card, Bilker scored even better deals on movie tickets by using his now-discontinued Regal Entertainment Group theatre MasterCard (co-branded by Chase). “I was getting $300 per month in rewards,” he says. “I was someone with three children who didn’t have to pay a dime to go to the movies.”
His least favourite card of all time
Bilker signed up for a Spirit Airlines (SAVE) rewards credit card to get discounts on airfare, but found the exercise fruitless.
“There were so many conditions [to the rewards program], I couldn’t leverage it,” he says. Reluctant to close the card and inadvertently lower his credit limit, he switched his account to the no-fee/low rewards card the airline offers.
“I never want to close accounts unless they’re charging high fees,” he says. “You cut out your options [when you close cards] and I want to have as many borrowing options as possible.”
His biggest score
Bilker was able to leverage a promotion that Citi (C) ran a few years ago that entitled cardholders to 10 per cent cash back on home improvement purchases.
“The timing was perfect,” Bilker recalls, as he was getting ready to spend $10,000 on kitchen cabinets. The promotion effectively saved him $1,000 by giving him that money back to spend on other purchases.
“Don’t spend money to get rewards,” Bilker says. “When I have to use a card [to avoid it being closed for inactivity], I use it on the next thing I was going to buy anyway. Having a credit card doesn’t mean you have to spend.”