I have 26 credit cards and no debt. Here's the best advice I can give you about managing multiple credit cards

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credit cards Holly Johnson ChenonceauHolly Johnson.Courtesy of Holly Johnson

  • The author, Holly Johnson, has 26 credit cards. This number of cards requires some organization and planning, she says.
  • She tracks her credit cards with a simple spreadsheet to monitor sign-up bonuses, annual fees, and other important details.
  • Don't rely on your memory to know which credit cards you've had in the past, she says. It may be harder to keep track than you think - especially when you sign up for new credit cards frequently.

Call me crazy if you want, but my husband and I have 26 different credit cards across our personal and business profiles.

We have credit cards specifically for the travel perks they offer, but most of them earned a spot in our wallets because they help us earn valuable travel rewards, flexible travel credit, or cash back.

With so many credit cards, you may be wondering if we ever get confused, use the wrong card for the wrong purchase - or worse - forget to pay our credit card bills. So far, so good. We don't endure a lot of hiccups with our system, mostly because I am uber-organized and keep a close eye on what I'm doing.

We organize our credit cards with a simple spreadsheet

There are several different categories to keep track of when you're actively pursuing credit card rewards. Not only do you need to keep a running list of credit cards you have now, but you also have to keep track of cards you've had in the past.

This is important since card issuers each have their own rules that dictate how often you can earn sign-up or welcome bonuses on their cards (e.g. the American Express once-per-lifetime rule). Knowing when you've had a card in the past - and when you earned a signup bonus - can prevent you from signing up for one again too soon. This is important if, let's say, you're waiting out Citi's 24-month rule before trying to earn a signup bonus on a rewards credit card within the same family as one you had before.

Either way, I keep an ongoing spreadsheet that includes details on every credit card I've ever had. Categories I track include:

  • The credit card's name
  • Who signed up (myself, my husband, or one of our businesses)
  • Signup bonus and the date I earned it
  • Signup date
  • Annual fee
  • Date annual fee is charged (or when it will be charged)
  • When to cancel if I want to avoid paying an annual fee (or a second annual fee if I paid one the first year)
  • Date of cancellation

Each time I sign up for a new credit card, I fill out any details I can right away. Then I continue adding information as I can. For example, when a sign-up bonus is earned, I head to my spreadsheet and write down the date in the appropriate column before I forget. I also check my spreadsheet regularly to see if I need to cancel any credit cards before their annual fees come due. Once I cancel, I write down the cancellation date on my tracking form.

Why does tracking your credit cards matter?

One of the key tenets of pursuing credit card rewards is keeping close track of your cards - and your spending - so you never get in over your head. I've already gone over how I keep so many credit cards and still avoid credit card debt like the plague, but my credit card tracking spreadsheet helps me track a different component of my rewards game.

Not only does it help me remain aware of which credit cards I've had (which is surprisingly difficult to remember over the years!), but it helps me keep track of annual fees and when they're coming due. All I have to do is look at my spreadsheet every few weeks to know if a card is coming up on its one-year anniversary or not. From there, I can determine whether it's worth keeping another year or not. If not, I call and cancel.

But there's another reason tracking your credit cards is important. You never want to wind up in a situation where you no longer remember which cards you have or why you have them. Keeping a spreadsheet to track all the details in one place makes it easy to take a holistic look at your whole rewards game as a whole. It also helps you stay on top of how many annual fees you're paying.

The bottom line: Don't jump into credit card rewards without some sort of plan, whether that means planning to avoid debt or having a system in place to keep track of your cards and their rewards. Keeping a simple credit card spreadsheet doesn't take a lot of time, but it preserves peace of mind, prevents stress, and saves money in the end.

Curious which credit cards I use the most and why? Here are some of my favorites:

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

Business Insider may receive a commission from The Points Guy Affiliate Network, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.

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