Travel Hacking is all about taking advantage of many different kinds of systems to gain cheap or free travel around the world. One way to do so is through loyalty rewards programs with Credit Cards. But a huge deterrent for people is Credit Score and simply not knowing how applying for lots of Credit Cards could affect your future. Never fear! There is a hack for that!
I recently attended a Travel Hacking Course hosted by Creative Live and created by the inspirational Chris Guillebeau and Stephanie Zito. Chris has travelled to all 193 countries, mostly using Frequent flyer points and miles earned stealthily through Credit Card bonuses. Stephanie is a master of the upgrade experience and has made a living out of humanitarian and adventurous pursuits.
If you want a crash course in Travel Hacking with Credit Cards, I recommend checking it out. I was a skeptic at first since I thought there must be a catch or some sort of sales pitch attached, but it turns out these are just two super genuine nice people who have found a system to travel for extremely cheap and want to share it with the world.
IF YOU WANT TO SKIP TO THE HACK TO GET 12 MONTHS OF FREE CREDIT REPORTING, CLICK HERE
DISCLAIMER: I am not a Credit Expert. I have spoken to several parties about how it works and done some research. I encourage you to do the same, mortgage brokers are a great resource as they speak to multiple banks and lenders. I am writing this article to help people understand the concepts around Credit and risks associated with Churning Credit Cards for Travel hacking. The Free Credit Check Deal is relevant for USA and Canadian residents.
What is this magic number people talk about? Well in Canada it is mostly called your Beacon Score and it is a number roughly between 300 and 900 which is assigned to an individual. 650+ is OK, 680+ is good, 700+ is great and 750+ is excellent. The average for Canadians is 720. There is a lot more to your ability to get a mortgage or how much you will be approved for a car loan than just the score, but for credit cards, this plays a huge part. There is a crazy algorithm that makes up the score which is copyright and is rumoured to have as many as 1000 different inputs/sources that it draws on. This score is what financial institutions look at when they try to figure out if we can be trusted with their money. The score indicates how likely you are to pay a bill on time.
CREDIT REPORTING AUTHORITIES
There are two Credit Reporting Authorities in Canada, Equifax (EQ) and TransUnion (TU). These companies basically collect information and sell that information to financial institutions. You can get free Credit reports on paper through their websites but it takes ages and you don't actually get the score with it, just a report. If you want to know your score in just a few days for free and be able to check it unlimited times for 12 months, check out the hack at the bottom of the page.
Financial institutions tell these companies when you apply for credit, how much credit you have, when you pay your bills, and how much your bills were for. This is called a 'Push' where they give the information to both EQ and TU.
The benefit of telling a central reporting authority, means that if a stranger walks up to a financial institution and wants to borrow money, they can assess how reliable the stranger will be with their money, rather than just taking a chance. It's basically an answer to the "Can I trust You?" question. When a financial institution requests information from EQ or TU, it is called a 'Pull'.
Remember that these companies, EQ and TU are NOT federal agencies, and as such are NOT legally obliged to publish accurate information. Therefore it does pay to check your credit score and credit report once a year to make sure there are no mistakes or issues which can affect your credit down the line.
CBC - How to check your Credit Report
HOW IT RELATES TO TRAVEL HACKING
Since we are interested in getting sign up bonuses for Credit Cards, we are interested in getting approved for Credit Cards. To get approved we have to have a good Credit Score. There are a number of things which determine your Credit Score, one of which is simply applying for Credit Cards.
- Payment history ( 35%)
- Amounts owed (30%)
- Length of credit history (15%)
- New credit (10%)
- Type of credit used ( 10%)
See though, that it only counts for 10% of your score. This number fluctuates as I have heard 15%, but you get the gist that it is not a significant factor.
Credit Card applications are considered a Hard Pull and count as 'New Credit'. This can cause a hit of around 5-10 points per application (Source). Although some US Travel Hackers have advised to apply for CC's all on the same day to avoid multiple "Pulls", this is not always the case in Canada so make sure you read up and assess your risk level before you do an App-O-Rama.
Tips to build Credit Score:
- Pay off Credit Card...Always. (Never have a balance owing when the payment is due)
- Always keep the first card you ever got (Age of Accounts goes a long way)
- Hover around 30% of your limit (ie if your limit is $1000, try not to ever have more than $330 owing on the card)
- Cancel carefully (space out your card cancellations by 3-6 months)
APPLYING FOR CREDIT CARDS
When it comes to choice in Canada, Financial institutions can choose between either EQ or TU to pull a report from. Some Banks/Credit companies only look at one of those reports to check your information, and some look at both. But most importantly, they all push the information back to both.
Banks pull reports FROM: Equifax, TransUnion, or Both
Banks push information back TO: Equifax AND TransUnion
So after the information has all been pushed around to the right parties from banks and through the Credit companies, your credit score should be the same on both of them. But just remember, if a TransUnion report was pulled by AMEX, and they decided not to pull the Equifax report, it may take a few weeks or up to 2 months for the applications to show up on Equifax.
For more reading on Travel hacking and Credit enquiries, use our friend google, and don't do anything you aren't comfortable with.
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH THE FREE CREDIT SCORE CHECK?
Home Depot had a security scare last year with some people's credit card information not being completely secure. So as a Public Relations Fix, they came out with a section on their website apologizing and talking about how sorry they are. Here is that page just for your information.
The awesome catch is you don't have to have shopped at Home Depot during that time period to reap the benefits of their PR campaign. Just follow the instructions on the page above.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR OTHER COUNTRIES
Sorry but this offer is only available in Canada and the US right now. Please feel free to report back in the comments any country specific info you have found about your country's process on Credit Score or gaining info on your Credit in those countries?!
INSTRUCTIONS FOR USA
You have to fill in the form found on the website: https://homedepot.allclearid.com/
The USA Form is slightly different. You have to check a box saying that you "think" you have shopped at Home Depot during the time of the security breach. Just a heads up that you may be asked that during the process. It's up to you what you answer. I would say "I'm almost certain I did...". The American offer doesn't give you access to Equifax, it gives you access to All Clear ID PRO which is more of an identity theft security service. Their website mentions that they offer "AllClear Credit Monitoring with Triple Bureau Option". I would look into this a little more before going to the hassle of it as I am not sure it allows you to actually check your Score!?
INSTRUCTIONS FOR CANADA
This gives you your score and access to detailed reports which you can check an unlimited amount of times without being affected for 12 months. It does not auto renew and doesn't cost any money.
Send an email to this email:
Write an email saying something about how you are enquiring about the Equifax premium subscription and are very interested. Then provide this information.
Date of Birth:
If you aren't comfortable providing it over email, you can call 18004663337 ext 8 and they can do it for you over the phone.
They will email you back a redemption code within 2-4 days.
There are instructions in that email about where to enter the code. It looks like as long as you do it before September 2015, it will be valid for 12 months. I checked mine and was happy to find I am sitting at 750. The three recent AMEX applications I made 10 days ago are not present on there. So I will keep monitoring to see when they show up and how much that affects my score. I am also curious to see if it comes up as separate pulls or all as one pull.
Happy Travel Hacking Folks.