When it comes to love and money, not every couple follows the same rules. While some couples decide to combine their finances and share things like their credit score and credit cards, others prefer to keep things separate.
Whatever your case may be, know that being on the same page about how you handle money is an important conversation to have in any relationship — well before you get married.
CNBC Select spoke to five financial experts about their personal credit card strategies and how they manage money with their partners.
Roger Ma, CFP at lifelaidout
Roger Ma, a certified financial planner at lifelaidout® and author of “Work Your Money, Not Your Life,” manages money jointly with his spouse. They share the same checking, savings and credit card accounts.
Their credit card strategy? Keep it simple. Ma and his spouse stick to using only one card for majority of their monthly spending, unless it’s for basics on Amazon.
“Most of our spending — which has traditionally revolved around dining out, travel and transportation — goes on our main joint credit card (Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card),” he tells CNBC Select. When he opened the Sapphire Preferred, Ma added his spouse as an authorized user for free.
“For any purchases we make on Amazon or in drugstores, we use the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card,” he says. “And then for business expenses, I have my own credit card (Chase Sapphire Reserve®).”
In the past, Ma and his spouse have also applied for new credit cards to take advantage of their generous sign-up bonus offers. For their wedding, they opened up three new cards and used the welcome points they earned to help pay for their vacation.
Ma has a strategy when it comes to redeeming his rewards, such as the 2X points he earns on travel and dining on his Sapphire Preferred and the 3X points he earns on travel and dining on his Sapphire Reserve (plus 1X points on all other purchases on both cards).
“Periodically, I transfer the Ultimate Rewards® points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred to the Chase Sapphire Reserve account because it’s more advantageous to redeem Ultimate Rewards points via the Chase portal using the Reserve,” he says.
With Chase’s new Pay Yourself Back feature, cardholders can now get 25% more value on the Sapphire Preferred and 50% more value on the Sapphire Reserve with points that are redeemed for statement credits on purchases at grocery stores, dining and home improvement stores.
Bola Sokunbi, author of “Clever Girl Finance”
While Bola Sokunbi, a certified financial education instructor and author of “Clever Girl Finance,” and her partner use their American Express® Gold Card on travel and high-ticket items, most of their spending is done using cash or a debit card.
“To be honest, I’d rather spend cash,” Sokunbi tells CNBC Select. “I don’t really care about rewards points.”
She says she also has a Citi Rewards+℠ Card but doesn’t use it and doesn’t even carry it in her wallet.
But even though Sokunbi and her partner don’t use credit much, they still have strategies to manage their overall spending and avoid getting into debt. Having once maxed out her credit card in college, she understands the importance of having a repayment plan in place.
Below are the two credit card rules that Sokunbi and her partner abide by:
- Discuss big purchases: Sokunbi says that if a purchase exceeds $500, she and her partner will discuss it together before charging it onto a credit card. “If it can’t be paid off at the close of the statement, then it won’t be purchased,” she says.
- Spend according to your goals: Not only are Sokunbi and her partner on the same page with making expensive purchases, but they share the same short- and long-term financial goals for their family. What they decide to buy or not buy and how they spend their money reflects these ambitions.
Kara Stevens, founder of The Frugal Feminista
Kara Stevens, founder of personal finance and lifestyle blog The Frugal Feminista, says she and her spouse also don’t use credit cards often and the two keep separate credit cards. But they’ve always been very open about money (Stevens had refused to marry her spouse until he paid off his $19,000 in credit card debt) and try to use credit cautiously.
But the couple’s last large expenses — a kitchen renovation including new home appliances and a trip abroad — have made them think more carefully about how to use credit. For things like household purchases, they like to only use one card at a time.
“When there’s a big purchase, we decide whose card we’ll use and get the money to the account to help pay it off,” Stevens tells CNBC Select. To help cover the cost for redoing their kitchen floor, buying a new washer, dryer and refrigerator, and traveling to Ghana (which came to $5,000 total), they used a Chase Freedom® credit card and a Citi ThankYou Preferred Card (Note: this Citi credit card has been discontinued for new applicants and has been replaced by the Citi Rewards+℠ Card).
Here are the two rules that Stevens and her spouse follow when using credit cards:
- Have a plan to pay off any debt: Stevens and her spouse speak openly about credit card debt and plan ahead together. Depending on what the outstanding balance is, they set a timeline for paying it off. It’s less about having a specific method in place, such as the “snowball” or “avalanche” method, and more about ensuring they have enough money between the two of them to pay off a big purchase so they’re not carrying a large balance month to month.
- Think strategically: Both Stevens and her spouse have a cautious, yet calculated, approach to using credit. For Stevens’ spouse, he keeps his oldest credit card, which is the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card, in good standing because it helps his credit score (the length of time you’ve had credit makes up 15% of your FICO credit score) even though it only has a low $500 credit limit. For Stevens, she activates the bonus categories she uses on her Chase Freedom card each quarter to earn cash back. Cardholders with the Chase Freedom can get 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter they activate (then 1%) and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Erica Sandberg, author of “Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families”
Erica Sandberg, consumer finance expert and author of “Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families,” says that not only do her and her partner have their own credit cards — she doesn’t even know what cards he has in his wallet. The two manage their credit cards as separate individuals, and although she notes that it requires a lot of trust, for them it’s the easiest way.
“He’s an adult and makes his own decisions,” Sandberg tells CNBC Select. “I don’t want to micromanage anyone. If a problem erupts, we can deal with it as a couple, but other than that we’re autonomous. For us, it’s the only way to maintain harmony!”
Sandberg carries the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and the United℠ Explorer Card. She admits she is obsessive about managing them carefully and considers each purchase she makes before charging it to a card. “For example, if I’m planning a trip I’ll make sure I use the right card, maximize points, check out the insurance and other perks, then I pay it off right away,” she says.
Sandberg can’t say confidently that her partner does the same, but she’s OK with it: “I have to be.”
Shon Anderson, CFP at Anderson Financial Strategies
Shon Anderson, a certified financial planner and president at Anderson Financial Strategies, LLC, says that he and his spouse have used credit cards for years but they are really in it for the travel rewards.
“The best part is, as avid international travelers, we have been able to take advantage of bonus miles and travel rewards and have flown for free more times than we can count, including free round-trip tickets to three different continents,” Anderson tells CNBC Select.
To help cover the cost of their flights, Anderson and his spouse have used credit cards like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (this Barclays credit card offer is no longer available), the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, as well as various airline cards by American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.
But for those itching to travel right now, Anderson has one piece of advice before you jump on any credit card offer: “It really depends on when the bonuses are the highest — it’s worth waiting,” he says.
Before applying for a new credit card, compare any targeted offer you received with offers on the issuer’s website for that card, as well as do some research on what that same card has offered in the past to make sure you are getting the best deal.
For frequent travelers like Anderson and his spouse, a good sign-up bonus is worth taking advantage of. “Most of the time that is the biggest benefit,” he says.
Anderson suggests that after you get a new rewards credit card and the initial welcome benefits end, call your card issuer and see if you can have your annual fee waived or if you can be downgraded to a lower-cost version of your credit card without an annual fee. This way, it becomes less expensive for you to hold onto and you can keep the credit line open and not be dinged for closing an account.
“Remember, credit is kind of counterintuitive,” Anderson says. “You actually want to have a large amount of open credit compared to the monthly amount you are using. So, more cards and credit actually helps your score! Just remember, you should always pay off credit cards each month and only open one to two cards per year.”
Information about the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, Citi Rewards+℠ Card, Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.