Credit Card Rewards

A while back, I wrote about how, if you really wanted to put the effort in, you could be maximizing credit card rewards. If you don’t want to put the effort in that I’ll get to in a second, then you could at least have one reward-earning card that you use for all your purchases and pay off each month.

Important reminders:

We don’t use cash. Everything goes on a credit card unless it’s prohibited or there’s a service charge that outweighs our rewards.

We pay off the balance of every credit card every month. We have never paid interest on a credit card balance.

Let’s dive in.

REWARDS

Credit card companies are offering rewards for using their card for purchases. Some even give a reward for making payments on it too. The rewards can be in a point system, cash back, or incentives for specific companies (e.g., Delta, Disney). We prefer more generic reward options, but some people like to use a specific reward card. The best reward credit card for you is one that matches your spending habits.

An example of a specific reward credit card would be a a Disney card. As you earn money, it goes towards their trip to Disney. Psychologically, they feel that their expensive annual trip to Disney is “paid for.” While this may work for some people, our thought process is that if I earn $1,500, then I have the flexibility to put it towards a Disney trip or can buy something else.

The simplest way to collect rewards is to have an all-category-cash-back credit card (e.g., 1% cash back on all purchases). However, to make the most, you could be using multiple credit cards so you can earn extra rewards in different categories. Then you need to know which card to use when, and also keep track of your statement periods so that you pay it off in full each month. A category type credit card can give rewards in multiple categories (e.g., 4% on gas, 3% of restaurants, 1% on all other purchases), can rotate reward categories (e.g., first quarter is 5% on gas, second quarter is 5% on groceries), or can be geared towards one specific category all the time (e.g., 5% on gas). There are typically earning caps in these categories.

CHOOSING A REWARD CREDIT CARD

Each credit card company has a variety of cards that offer different rewards. You can decide what fits your spending pattern the best. If you don’t want to identify the categories that you spend, then the Citi Double Cash is a great “catch all” with no annual fee and no reward earning cap. You earn 1% cash back on each dollar spent, and then an additional 1% on each dollar paid towards your credit card balance. We deposit our earnings into a checking account instead of a statement credit, because we learned that we don’t earn cash back on the statement credit made.

Some credit cards have an annual fee. We typically shy away from anything that has an annual fee because we don’t like paying money to spend money, but we did have a couple of exceptions. For instance, one card had a $450 annual fee. You earn 3% points (one point is the equivalent of a penny if cashed out) on all travel and dining purchases and 1% points on everything else, but if you redeem the points earned through their travel portal, you get a 50% bonus. One of the rewards was reimbursement of $300 worth of travel costs. The card reimbursed the cost of TSA Precheck too, which as $75, and had a DoorDash credit of $30. Then the last $45 of the fee was offset by the rewards granted through point usage. But the annual fee increased to $550, and we no longer thought it was worth keeping and that the cost would be fully offset by the rewards.

We also look for a sign on bonus. If we’re going to have our credit checked, we want to capitalize on it. Sign on bonuses are typically additional cash back or points once you hit a certain spending threshold. For example, the card may say “once you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, you’ll earn a statement credit of $300.”

In addition to a sign on bonus, we would also prefer opening a card that offers a 0% introductory rate. I’ve shared before that we most often look for a new credit card because we have a large expense coming. When faced with paying for in-vitro-fertilization out of pocket, we opened a new credit card that had 15 months worth of 0% interest. This way, when we paid the tens-of-thousands owed, we gave ourselves an interest free loan. That particular credit card was only used for that expense because the reward categories were worse than other cards we had. However, we didn’t close that card because it helps our credit by having more of credit line open.

OUR REWARD USE

Besides the Citi Double Cash, we’re partial to the Chase options out there. We use different cards for different categories, and then use the Citi for anything that doesn’t fit into a category.

Between 5 credit cards, we brought in $4,232 worth of rewards last year. That’s money in our pockets that we did nothing except spend other money to get. In the past, it’s usually about $1,500 per year that we bring in with credit card rewards. The amount in 2021 was higher due to sign-on bonuses that were earned in a previous year, and then the credit card changed their reward redemption options, allowing us to pay ourselves back for restaurant purchases. We had previously been using the rewards to purchase travel needs through their portal, but we were able to dwindle down our rewards with this reimbursement change.

What could you do with a “free” and “extra” $1,500?

If you’re smart with credit cards, they can be a powerful tool to create financial flexibilities.

Prepare for a Closing

We have purchased 16 properties directly (3 personal residences) and 2 properties indirectly (partner); we’ve sold 3 properties. All houses have been mortgaged because we choose to leverage our money rather than own them outright (at least at first). This post covers the closing process in terms of clearing the loan processing.

Your loan must pass through underwriters before being approved and issued. The underwriter is evaluating your financial statements to determine risk and credit worthiness. While you’re given a pre-approval based on your credit score and report, the underwriter is verifying there are no other risk factors in the details. I’ll probably never cease to be amazed at what an underwriter focuses on – sometimes they want every account’s statement and several explanations, and sometimes they want you to confirm you don’t own a property that you never did own while ignoring the accounts you do own.

While a deadline is rarely given, you should provide the paperwork within a couple of days. The longer you take to gather the required documents, the more you jeopardize being able to close on time (the timeframe is set within the purchase agreement).

The are several documents that are going to be requested every time that you can keep filed away or know to start gathering them when you make the offer (some need to be more current than having them filed away). Inevitably, there will be follow up requests from the underwriter, so it’s best to get these files to them as quickly as possible.

  • Most recent 2 years of tax returns
    • Usually we just hand over the PDF version of our tax returns. One time, we actually had to fill out a transcript request form on the IRS page.
  • Proof of income (e.g., W-2)
  • Most recent paystub(s) (e.g., cover 30 days)
  • Color copy of drivers licenses
  • Most recent 1 or 2 bank statements
    • At the beginning of our purchasing, we had to provide a statement for every account (e.g., retirement, investments, banks). Over time, the request has become more focused on showing the statements associated with the accounts that will be used for funds as closing. I don’t know if this is related to our credit worthiness, or if it’s simply how they’ve streamlined the process. Here’s an example that shows they only requested accounts that make up our closing funds.
  • Proof of paid earnest money deposit (EMD)
    • EMD is a deposit made along with the signed contract. It’s the buyer’s showing of good faith to purchase the home. There are different expectations on the amount of the EMD. Sometimes it’s 1% of the purchase price, sometimes it’s a flat rate. We’ve just followed our agent’s lead on the amount to put on there, and it’s usually $1000 or $2000. The EMD is held by your Realtor’s office and credited to the total due at closing. If the buyer breaches the contract, the buyer may forfeit this deposit to the seller (e.g., backing out of the purchase without invoking a clause within he contract, such as the home inspection clause).
    • Proof is usually given by showing the check image along with the bank statement from the account it cleared.
  • Insurance agent contact information
    • This isn’t always known at closing, but you’ll need to provide your agent’s information before closing so that escrow can be set up. If the property won’t be escrowed, then you’ll need to provide proof of an executed policy before closing.

When investment properties are involved, you’ll need to provide documentation associated with those properties. For instance, a mortgage statement may be sufficient if you have the taxes and insurance escrowed. If you don’t have it escrowed or don’t have a mortgage, then you need to provide the current tax statement and insurance declaration. You’ll also be asked whether the property is subject to an HOA, and, if it is, you’ll provide a statement or coupon book showing the payment schedule. Neither Mr. ODA nor I are patient when it comes to illogical requests. For example, we were asked to give mortgage statements for all of our properties, as well as tax documentation and insurance policies for every property. Well, if the property is escrowed, then I don’t have tax paperwork because it’s sent to the bank, nor should I have to prove that the taxes are paid since it’s managed by the bank. I eventually provided all the tax documents though – it just took a while.

There may be large deposits or withdrawals that you’re requested to explain. For instance, I had to sign a statement that the deposit in our account was from the sale of our house. While it can be tracked with paperwork, there are many instances where the underwriter wants the details explicitly stated, versus making assumptions. For the example below, I provided the corresponding withdrawal from our main checking account.

Our first home purchase was at the same time as our wedding (we closed on our house on July 15 and got married on August 4!). A NY wedding isn’t cheap, and we were attempting to pay 20% down on our DC suburb home ($$$), so there was a lot of money movement around this time. Since my parents were helping pay for the wedding, we had large cash deposits into our account that had to be explained. We also had several investment account liquidation transactions. The underwriter had a hard time following the flow of money, and it took me several, very detailed, emails to show how each liquidation entered our checking account. We also had to provide gift letters, which stated we were gifted these sums of money and there was no expectation of paying it back (thereby creating another liability). That’s probably been the hardest closing in terms of our financial status, to date.

You may be requested to provide updated bank statements closer to the closing date, especially if there’s over a month between the initial documents given and the closing date. When you go into a closing, you’re told that it’s not a good idea to open new credit cards, make large purchases, or do anything along those lines that would affect your credit worthiness. They run a recheck of your credit before closing to ensure your credit card balances are about the same, and that there’s been no new credit opened in your name. Verification of more recent bank statements accomplishes the same.


We’ve had two closings delayed.

House 5‘s sale was about 6 weeks delayed due to the buyer’s lack of responsiveness. They didn’t respond to information requests quickly and struggled to provide the necessary documents to underwriting. Unfortunately, as the seller, our only ‘play’ is to take their EMD and walk away. If it’s bad enough, this is worth it. But it brings you back to square one. This was an off-market deal, which is enticing to see through rather than attempt to list and sell it. If we decide not to sell, we’re now looking at January or February before we had a renter; it could be even longer since we struggled in the summer to find someone for the house. Plus, the EMD doesn’t cover the lack of rent we experienced while under contract, where we expected to lose only one month of rental income, but it turned into 2.5 months. We had our Realtor (who was a dual agent, unfortunately for this matter) lean into the attorney on the buyer’s side after already being weeks beyond the contract’s closing date. By the time their delays were acknowledged, it was Christmas, which delayed closing into January, unfortunately.

Houses 12 and 13 were purchased together (and not yet discussed here). That closing was delayed a week, and it was completely the loan officer’s fault. We, the consumer, obviously get no restitution for their mishap. He didn’t order the appraisal timely and then had to put a rush on it, but it still didn’t come in on time. He created several errors in our paperwork (including the house number of one of the purchases). It got so bad that we just worked with the title agency, and she was awesome at getting all the documentation in order, even if it was a week later and Mr. ODA had to be my power of attorney!


Be prepared and be responsive. Understand that the bank is doing their due diligence and you want to be able to close on the loan and purchase that property. While there will be several requests for information, keep in mind that it’s over a short period of time and will soon be over.