Credit Card Setup Strategies for Couples Wanting to Maximize Rewards

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Up to this point in our relationship, my girlfriend and I have been manually reconciling our shared expenses at the end of each month and settling up via Venmo. This doesn’t take much time, but both of us agreed that it is a very tedious task, especially if we continue to take this approach as our relationship furthers. So as the finance guy, I set on a mission to find a relatively straight forward solution to end the reconciliation process, without incurring additional credit card fees while maximizing benefits.

Just a Little Background

I have been a credit card churner for 5+ years and currently utilize the Chase Sapphire Reserve as my primary card. The idea of having to manage multiple credit cards from different issuers does not phase me at all and I enjoy extracting the benefits from all the sign-ups bonuses.

My girlfriend on the other hand is not a churner and the idea of managing multiple accounts is something she wants to avoid, which is why she is delegating this task to me 🙂

My Thought Process

My initial idea was to maintain a single “Couple’s” card (adding the other as an authorized user) and then each of us getting separate “Personal” cards for our own expenses. So as long as all of our shared expenses and ONLY our shared expenses went on the “Couple’s” card then all we would have to do each month is divide the statement balance by 2 and settle up. This is a much easier calculation to do and will also remove the headaches of dealing with pre-paid travel, purchase returns and statement credits.

Taking the Analysis to the Next Level

As a finance guy and credit card churner, I couldn’t help but do further analysis on what the best setup would be based on the available credit cards out there and our expected spend patterns.

There were certain considerations that I needed to take into account for the most optimal setup:

  • How many cards would be too many for my girlfriend to think about on a daily basis before she got annoyed at me and this this setup ?
  • The cards I would get for our “Personal” expenses would either need to offer separate account statements for authorized users (AMEX, Capital One or Barclays) or would have to be completely unique from the ones we used for the “Couple’s” card. For example, we could not use a CSR card as a “Couple’s” cards and then both get CSR cards as our “Personal” cards, since one of us would be using our account for the “Couple’s” card.
  • Which combination of “Couple’s” and “Personal” cards would provide the most net benefits based on our spend pattern?
  • Ensure that we maximize the standard card benefits. For example the CSR card offer tons of protection around travel, car rental and big purchases, so I need to take this into consideration in my analysis.

The following is a screenshot of the analysis I did for this setup. The tables show our estimated annual “Couple’s” and “Personal” spend and the benefits in USD Dollar for each of the cards listed.

For example, the CSR card offers 3 points on dining which I value at 1.75 cents each. On the Couple’s table I assume $8K in Dining spend which would equate to $420 in benefit ($8000 x 3 x 0.0175).

Based on my assumptions and calculations above, the best setup as a Couple would be to carry 3 cards, the CSR, Chase Freedom Unlimited & the Chase Amazon card. This would result in a net annual benefit of $919.

As individuals, we do dine out regularly with our own friends and may have 1 or 2 trips with them, but otherwise most of our expenses as individuals are non-dining or travel related. Based on the Personal Expense table, we should both utilize a combination of the Barclays Uber card and one that offers 2% cash back on all purchases such as the Citi Double Cash. This would result in a net benefit of $350 each. But this setup is better than the next best option by only $9 and causes more headaches since we would need to carry 2 personal cards.

The next best option for our personal expenses is to both get Chase Freedom Unlimited cards, but there is a problem here. I am not able to get the Freedom Unlimited card because of Chase’s 5/24 rule and we are using my girlfriend’s Freedom Unlimited card for Couple’s expenses.

So that leaves us with the Barclays Uber card, which offers 4% back on dining, 3% on travel, 2% on online purchases and 1% on everything else. All with no annual fee, which results in a net annual benefit of $330 per person.

The Final Setup

So based on my analysis we are going with the following setup:

Couple’s Cards

  • Chase Sapphire Reserved with Authorized User – Dining & Travel
  • Chase Amazon with Authorized User – Amazon & Whole Foods
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited with Authorized User- Everything else

Personal Card

  • Barclays Uber – Everything

This setup should result in a net benefit of over $1500 per year based on our current spend pattern.

I will still churn cards on the side in lieu of using my Barclays Uber card and will have my girlfriend do the same, but I will manage all that for us and will have us keep the setup above as our base case.

And if you’re curious, I did do scenario analysis around what setup would be best if our spend pattern shifted in the coming years due to life changes and the setup above would still be the optimal one for us.

Thoughts?

How do you handle your finances as a couple?

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Mark Kim
Like 80% of working-class Americans, I also work a full-time job. But my goal in life is not to work, but to maximize the time I have outside of the 40 hour work week. This is where the idea for 128 Hours per Week came from. I want to chronicle my life and adventures and highlight the ways that I am trying to get the most out of my life so that I can share my tips and lessons with you.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Mark, great post. I share much of the same household/couples situation and mentality on credit cards as you, so I definitely appreciate your nuanced analysis. I noticed you didn’t include the travel credit for CSR in your calculation, is there a reason why? For me, I use CSP for couple’s expenses (except Amazon) because I couldn’t justify paying for an authorized user for CSR. My personal card is the Citi Prestige for food and travel, and Venture for everything else.

    • Hi Steven, Thanks for the read! I do take into account the $300 CSR travel credit in my calculations via the net effect on the annual fee. I have the CSR annual fee listed as $225 in my table. ($450 – $300 + $75 for the Authorized user). I thought that maybe the CSP would be a better option for us since it’s doesn’t have a fee for authorized users, but the extra bonus points on travel and dining will more than make up for the $75 fee given our spending pattern. The Citi Prestige seems like a pricey card to have as a personal card. I am pretty frugal as an individual, so I couldn’t justify a high fee card as a personal card.

  2. “How many cards would be too many for my girlfriend to think about on a daily basis before she got annoyed at me and this this setup?”

    I think we’re there. :p

    -the gf, a non-finance guy.

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