Every credit card company exploits our weakest moments. Lose your job and miss a payment? Don't expect any sympathy. You'll get charged retroactive interest, lose your promotional rate, get smacked with a late fee and watch your credit score free fall, only to have the interest rates on all your other debts skyrocket. Nice.
However, there are ways for you to flip the tables and rough-up the banks. The marketplace is littered with promotional offers and incentives waiting to be hacked.
Here's a playbook on how to exploit the banks and line your pockets with their money, free of charge:
1. Churn baby churn.
Churning is simple. Apply for a card, get the welcome bonus and cancel the card. Rinse, wash, repeat. You'll make $100 on each offer, costing the bank just as much. Why more people aren't doing this is a mystery.
Credit cards routinely offer massive sign-up bonuses to new cardholders that can get you free round-trip flights to anywhere in North America. If flying isn't your thing, you can do the same with hotel credit cards, getting five free nights or more.
Just make sure the minimum spend requirement (if any) is achievable. Secondly, try to find a welcome bonus offer with no annual fee in the first year, making it truly free.
2. Go surfing.
Surfing for low rates is easy. It's especially useful if you already have credit card debt. Get a 0 percent balance transfer card, and transfer your high-rate balances. At the end of the low-rate promotion — let's say it's 12 months — transfer your balance once again to another 0 percent balance transfer card. Rinse. wash, repeat.
There are deals out their now that will give 0 percent for up to 21 months, with a 3 percent balance transfer fee. In the UK, companies have some incredible deals as long as 32 months, at 0 percent interest, with only a .72 percent transfer fee.
When surfing, watch out for one-time balance transfer fees. They can range from 0 percent to 5 percent. Obviously, the lower the balance transfer fee, the better. Play your cards right, and you'll have the banks lending you money for free.
3. Stack your cash.
Cash-back cards are awesome. The best cash-back credit cards give extra cash back in bonus categories like gas, groceries, restaurants, drugstores, recurring payments, etc. with no annual fee. Instead of earning 1 percent when spending in those categories, you could earn as much as 5 percent.
Instead of getting one cash-back card that only has two bonus categories, get multiple cash-back cards so you're getting as many bonus categories as you can. Then use the cash-back card that gives you the most cash back at the store you're shopping in.
With savings of 5 percent, earnings can be colossal. You can literally have as many no-fee cash-back cards as you like to help maximize your earnings across all merchant categories.
4. Find yourself a travel buddy.
Some travel credit cards offer cardholders a round-trip companion ticket anywhere the airlines flies every year, just for keeping the credit card open and active. That means you can bring your girlfriend to Hawaii for $115!
The crazy thing is, all you have to do is keep the card open, and the companion ticket is yours, year after year. There's no minimum spend requirement. No minimum number of flights. Keep the card, and you get the ticket. This is ripe for exploitation.
No matter which of the above opportunities you take advantage of, make sure you don't trip over the many land mines the banks have put in your path to even the odds. Set up automatic monthly payments so you're never late. Don't spend more than you know you can afford. Understand the rules of the game.
Whether you're in the United States, UK, Canada or Australia, there are opportunities to milk the system. Have no regrets, guilt or second thoughts. You know the banks would prey on your weakness in a heartbeat, so now it's your turn to prey on theirs.