Five Questions with Jason Steele, credit card journalist and blogger
Jason Steele is a journalist who writes about credit cards, award travel, and other areas of personal finance. A leading expert in the credit card industry, Jason’s work has been featured at Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money, Business Insider, and other news outlets.
Jason’s expertise is also well known to travel-rewards enthusiasts for posts on airline rewards and family travel at The Points Guy and other outlets. Knowledge of the intricacies of earning and spending rewards points and miles have allowed Jason and his family to travel the world using awards miles that would otherwise have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Jason took time between treks to field five questions from The Score.
You are a prolific blogger about credit cards. At some point do you find it difficult to find new topics to cover?
It can be a struggle sometimes, and repeatedly writing about the same subjects is not the most glamorous part of my job. On the other hand, this is a very dynamic industry and new products are constantly being introduced. Also, I work for some terrific outlets that sometimes do the “heavy lifting” for me by assigning interesting topics.
Over the past few years, consumers have been provided free credit scores on an unprecedented level. What impact are you seeing as a result?
When I started covering the industry about 10 years ago, credit scores were largely a mystery to the general public, and now “credit score” is kind of a household term. Not too long ago, you had to pay a company to provide you with a credit score as part of a credit monitoring service. These services were only used by a small fraction of the general public, and most people ignored their scores. But with ready access to scores today, there’s no excuse not to know. By knowing their scores, the public can be more active in managing their credit and becoming better borrowers, which benefits both lenders and the overall economy.
You are one of the early attendees and planners of FinCon, which is now a major event for financial bloggers and journalists. How did FinCon get started and why did it grow so fast?
Phillip “PT” Taylor started FinCon in 2011, and that year it was a modest affair in a suburban Chicago hotel with just about 200 bloggers. But in 2012, he held it in downtown Denver, which also happens to be my hometown. That year we all had an amazing time both during the conference and at events around town afterwards. He’s followed it up by picking great venues in the heart of fun cities, and making sure everything runs smoothly. It’s now grown to over a thousand attendees.
Another key to its success is the fact that he really involves the community in planning the conference so we feel like it’s “our” event. As much as we all interact all year long online and in social media, there’s simply no substitute for gathering everyone together and having a good time for a few days.
Over the years, I’ve tried to do my part by starting a FinCon local meetup event here in Denver, organizing the freelancer’s marketplace at FinCon, and helping to produce events at the conference just for those who write about credit cards and consumer credit.
How do you advise consumers who want to earn credit card points and seek discounts on merchandise but who also should be careful about opening new credit cards and/or becoming overextended?
Whether you are a casual user of reward cards or a hardcore points and miles fanatic, the cardinal rule always is to avoid interest charges by paying your monthly statement balances in full and on-time. Only about half of American credit card users do this. If you don’t, you should be focused on paying off your debt at the lowest interest rate available to you, not earning rewards.
The other important rule is to never have more credit cards than you can responsibly manage. For some people, that number could be one or even zero, while others can manage numerous accounts. Credit cards are a powerful tool, and like any tool, they can be incredibly useful or remarkably dangerous, depending on how they are used.
You are participating in a panel of financial bloggers next May at SourceMedia’s Consumer Credit Summit at Card Forum and Expo 2017. The panel is tasked with discussing how consumers are engaging with card issuers online. Without giving away too much, what is your view on that topic?
I think we are at a crossroads with card issuers beginning to show some real innovation in how they interact with their customers. Every issuer has long provided online statements and email/text alerts, or a basic mobile app. But soon we will see card issuers adopting the latest FinTech to benefit their customers.