Credit Card Churn: Can You Get Away With It in Canada?
Credit card churning is a crafty hack that many Canadians live by. The basic concept? Sign up for multiple credit cards to reap the benefits/bonuses awarded by each, then cancel the cards when those perks run out. Rinse and repeat.
Although churning may sound like a conveyor belt of cheap flights and effortless cash back, it’s easy to bungle if you’re not organized and informed, and it can ultimately do you more harm than good if you’re not careful.
In This Article:
How to Churn Credit Cards Successfully
Churning isn’t rocket science, but doing it well does require you to be on top of your game. Maximize your credit card churning strategy with the following tactics:
Look Frequently for New Card Deals
The Canadian credit card landscape is competitive, and financial institutions jockey customers back and forth with attractive sign-up bonuses designed to lure your business. But most card issuers put an expiration date on these offers, so you should periodically check a running list of the best credit card sign-up bonuses in Canada to ensure you’re not missing out.
Grab Cards with Annual Fee Waivers
A credit card with a first-year annual fee waiver or rebate is the jackpot of the churning game, because you can get a huge bonus value without paying anything for it out of pocket. Other sign-up bonuses may still be worthwhile even if your first-year annual fee isn’t waived, but always do the math to ensure that the combined value of the bonus exceeds the annual fee you’ll pay, and focus on applying for cards with annual fee waivers first.
Meet the Spending Requirements
Most credit cards require the cardholder to charge a certain amount of purchases to the card within the first few months of cardmembership in order to qualify for the bonus. Set yourself up for success by assigning as much of your regular bills to a new card as possible, particularly larger payment sums, like insurance and utilities. You can also buy prepaid cards and gift cards for places where you shop regularly, but check with the card issuer to make sure these purchases are eligible for the spending minimum.
Focus on One Rewards Program
Earning a bunch of separate bonuses in different travel rewards programs might not take you to the heights you aspire, as most programs operate independently, and you likely won’t be able to combine their points or miles into that business class flight to the Maldives you’ve been dreaming about. That said, some rewards can be converted, for instance Amex Membership Rewards Points points can convert to Aeroplan Miles 1:1. A smart churner will combine sign-up bonuses from one of the best Amex cards and one of the best Aeroplan cards, convert the Amex points into Aeroplan, and then use their combined value for a major flight redemption.
How to Mess Churning Up
Lucrative as it can be, churning can also be a slippery slope if you make one of these mistakes:
Skipping the Fine Print
Financial institutions are well aware of credit card churning in Canada, and many have included specific clauses in their cardholder agreements to try to prevent churning. A card’s fine print will typically indicate that although an applicant might be approved for a card multiple times, they can only get a card’s sign-up bonus once per lifetime. Carefully scrutinize a cardholder agreement’s phrasing before you apply, lest you reapply for a card you’ve already held only to find out that you’re not actually eligible for its shiny new bonus.
If you’ve previously received a card’s bonus, you can take a chance and apply again in the hope that the card issuer’s system won’t flag you as a prior cardholder, but the low likelihood of you sneaking through might not be worth the hit your credit score will take from the application.
Too Many Hard Checks
Every credit card application results in a hard credit check, and although a few hard credit checks here and there won’t ding your score credit score too much when spaced out over the span of a year or so, having a bunch in a short period of time can be deleterious.
Some American banks have policies in which they deny credit card applications if a credit check reveals that an applicant has made more than a certain number of card applications in a period of one or two years. Although Canadian banks haven’t publicly commented on similar policies, they are speculated to take comparable approaches internally. After a certain number of card applications you might end up needlessly hurting your credit score without the benefit of being approved for the card.
If you’re juggling too many cards with high spending requirements, you might not end up making the spending minimum on any of them, defeating the purpose of signing up for the card in the first place. And if the card doesn’t have an annual fee waiver, you’ll actually end up losing money.
Having too many cards also runs the risk of missing their monthly payments. It’s relatively easy to keep track of a monthly payment for one credit card; it becomes a bit more chaotic when you’re balancing five cards simultaneously. Missing card payments can result in heavy financial penalties from your bank, compounded interest over time, and serious damage to your credit score.
Pros and Cons of Churning Credit Cards
|Competition among banks makes for a wide variety of sign-up bonuses in the market||Banks typically have clauses in place to prevent you from earning a card’s sign-up bonus more than once|
|High potential for free rewards or accelerated cash back||It may be unrealistic to meet the minimum spending requirements for several cards’ bonuses simultaneously|
|First year annual fee waivers effectively allow you to churn cards for free||Losing track of monthly payment dates can lead to financial penalties|
|Rewards points or miles can be consolidated by converting points to other programs||Balancing multiple rewards programs, spending requirements and monthly payment dates can be very time consuming|
|Having several credit cards can improve your credit utilization ratio||Too many credit card applications in a short time can damage your credit score|
Learn More About Churning
There are small Canadian communities online that share tips and leads about the best credit cards for churning. Reddit’s churning in Canada message board is particularly active, with daily discussion threads covering timely churning issues. The churning subreddit can, however, be a bit disorganized, so you can always email us if you have specific churning questions you’re struggling with.