EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m on an annual blogging vacation for the last two weeks of the year. To make sure you still have content, some of the smartest members of the community have stepped up with guest posts in my absence. Special thanks to today’s author, the always helpful and funny SideShowBob233, for writing this post while I’m on vacation. I’ll see you on January 1!

It seems like these days everyone hates on Uber, from drivers who Uber screws out of wages, to people who are sexually assaulted by Uber, drivers who failed their background check but are somehow working with Uber anyway, to people like me, who find themselves shadow-banned from Uber for an unknown reason and have their loaded gift card balances locked in Uber-purgatory™ while Uber support tells you there’s nothing wrong with your account and you should continue using it.

Since I’m a selfish type of guy (hands off my rake!) I’m going to focus on the last one of those reasons to hate Uber.  Sometime in October I found myself unable to place orders on Uber.  Thinking it was a glitch, I reached out to their support.  Uber support is very responsive, kind of like a car with an almost dead battery.  You turn the key, it makes lots noises, but in the end you’re still screwed. 

I went back and forth with Uber support as they “investigated” (if you can call ignoring my support ticket while they approved serial killers as drivers as investigating) and told me it was escalated to a higher team.  What I thought (and was proved right) is that the “higher team” is a description of the team.  They literally smoke weed all day and do nothing else.  So my case is still sitting with that team while they drive around in the Magic Mystery Machine eating Scooby snacks and I am still unable to use my Uber account (likely forever). 

I’m still not clear WTF caused my ban, but there are several possibilities.  One, I added a bunch of promo codes to Postmates (also owned by Uber) about a week before my ban.  However, by itself I don’t think that was the issue – but rather it was coupled with a cancelled order a few weeks earlier.  I ordered food on Uber eats, and about 2 minutes before it was due to be delivered, I was notified the order was cancelled by Uber support.   I reached out to their support to ask about it, and they told me I cancelled it.  I explained I absolutely did not cancel it and they said they’d give me a credit for the order (I actually just wanted the damn food not a credit, but I settled for a credit).  I think this put me on a suspected abuser list (when my best guess is their terrible customer service cancelled my order by mistake trying to cancel a different order) and then when I added some promo codes that sealed my fate.  But I’m just guessing, because their support is so bad they can’t even tell me if I’m banned.  Uber gonna Uber. 

While I know people normally want to be like me (as shown here):

In this case you actually don’t want to be like me, here are some tips to avoid my rake fate:

  • Do not use the same Uber account on multiple devices
  • Do not add more than one new credit card to your account every 3 days (72 rolling hours)
  • Do not go nuts adding promo codes (this usually will only lead to a promo code ban)
  • Do not have your order accidentally cancelled by Uber support (let me know if you figure out how to do this)
  • Do not complain after Uber cancels your order and leaves you hungry
  • Do not pass go, do not collect $200 (now I’m just seeing if you’re still here – shouldn’t you be out probing or something?)

I’ll end my rant here, but let me just say I will dance on their grave when Uber goes bankrupt, leaving us with memories of the Amex Uber credits and leaving Amex with a different coupon they will need to come up with.

– SideShowBob233

Pictured: What SideShowBob233 is missing by not having Uber Eats.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m on an annual blogging vacation for the last two weeks of the year. To make sure you still have content, some of the smartest members of the community have stepped up with guest posts in my absence. Special thanks to today’s author, my good friend Nathan, for writing this post while I’m on vacation. I’ll see you on January 1!

Spend any decent amount of time purchasing physical VISA/MasterCard prepaid or 3rd party gift cards and you’re bound to come across at least one that has been compromised. Purchasing a tampered gift card (GC) and dealing with the fallout is a seeming right of passage into the physical world of manufactured spend. 

For the same reason GCs are useful to manufactured spenders in that they are available in high denominations and easy to liquidate, they are particularly attractive to scammers as they provide the added benefit of anonymity because all that is needed for redemption are the card details itself.

The process of compromising a GC will generally involve the scammer obtaining unactivated cards, bringing the cards to a location where they can record and/or remove essential card details, then placing the cards back on the shelves at retailers. A fraudster’s window of opportunity starts the moment after the GCs are loaded but before you or the recipient has the ability to use the funds or report the card as compromised to the card issuer.

Depending on the extent of the tampering, it may physically impossible for you to redeem / use the card since the magnetic stripe itself was tampered or the pertinent information was defaced. Other times, they will record the information and although you still have the ability to access the funds, they are hoping that they can drain the funds before you do.

Retailers and card issuers usually add hurdles to replace compromised cards and recover stolen funds. The best thing you can do is catch anomalies in the pre-activation phase, as sorting it out after can be a huge headache.

Common Card Features / Attack Vectors

  • Activation Barcode
  • Card Number / Redemption Code
  • PIN (for some brands, synonymous with the redemption code)

Pre-Activation Inspection

Familiarize yourself carefully with the GC you are purchasing, it’s packaging, and card features. Try to find a safe source for cards (ie. freshly stocked cards or shrink wrapped bundles behind the gift card case). 

If possible, open and inspect the packaging and/or card before activating. In general:

  • Inspect the area over and surrounding the activation barcode carefully. Make sure the activation barcode is the original, nothing foreign is covering it, and if it was covered with a reveal tab or security sticker, it was not previously uncovered and re-applied.
  • Check the card number and PIN to make sure they were not tampered with. Tampering includes details being scratched off altogether or security stickers removed and re-applied. 
  • Warped packaging could suggest that the package was opened and resealed.
  • Most manufacturers use a type of one time use glue. Glue that is too sticky or too hard is usually a giveaway that the package has been tampered with.
  • If the activation barcode is separate from the card number itself (common with popular brands such as Apple and Best Buy), there will often be an identification number on both pieces, make sure these numbers match to indicate the card wasn’t swapped.
  • Check sequence numbers of the card batch.
    • If the brand utilizes sequence numbers, a card out of sequence could indicate that cards were planted.
    • When scaling, examining each card carefully can slow you down. If you determine one card from a batch is fine, the rest of the cards from that batch are more likely to be safe.
  • Generally the register will show the last 4 of the serial number of the GC that will be activated. Make sure this matches with the serial number printed on the packaging as they are scanned in.

Activation Issues

If you discover you have a compromised GC after purchasing, act immediately. If you have access to the card details and/or the mag stripe hasn’t been tampered with, make it a priority to spend or use the funds as soon as you can. If you don’t have a quick liquidation plan in mind, contact the card issuer or the retailer as soon as possible. Usually the retailer will defer to the card issuer, but depending on the retailer and manager, they may be able to help you replace the card.

If a GC was purchased with a swapped barcode, you can use a barcode scanner (in a pinch there’s a free online version at https://online-barcode-reader.inliteresearch.com) to help determine which card the funds were routed to.

If you had activation issues and multiple cards were involved, make sure you leave the store with the correct cards as they can easily be confused.

– Nathan

Not all scam gift cards are easy to spot, watch out for this one before it bites you in the, err, foot.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m on an annual blogging vacation for the last two weeks of the year. To make sure you still have content, some of the smartest members of the community have stepped up with guest posts in my absence. Special thanks to today’s author, the consummate churner TeddyH, for writing this post while I’m on vacation. I’ll see you on January 1!

2024 is rapidly approaching, and while that may be disappointing news for some of you who have been getting fat from all the Q4 offers, for many of you it may mean some good news: a new Player may be turning 18.

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows: churning while new to credit is like trying to take public transit in Lubbock, TX (aptly called the Citibus!) 

I moved to the U.S. when I was 12 with no other family members, so when I turned 18, I had to start my credit from scratch. When I first got my SSN, I was declined for even the most basic credit cards. But while I was trying to figure out what cards I could get approved for, I ended up discovering churning. With the right moves, even I was eligible for high sign-up bonus (SUB) offers from elite credit cards after just a couple of months of credit history.

In this post, I will try to break down a guide to churn while new to credit based on my personal datapoints (DPs) as an immigrant as well as my other players.

1. First Day: Preparations

While it is possible to get into this game without a Social Security number, your options will be VERY limited. If you cannot get an SSN, try for an ITIN, which can be obtained by gambling.

2. First Month: Your First Card

While many people believe that the Chase Freedom Rise or the Discover It are great first cards to begin with, I invite you to think bigger: the personal Amex charge cards. Here are some almost concerning DPs:

  • P1 getting approved for an Amex Personal Gold with 2 months of credit history – no FICO score!
  • P2 getting approved for an Amex Personal Platinum WITHOUT a Social Security Number – will talk more about this later
  • P3 getting approved for an Amex Personal Gold on a 3-day-old SSN with nothing but an Amex AU

At this point, I don’t even think Amex bothers checking for a pulse when approving credit lines for their charge card products. Amex will, however, expect to see a valid credit report when they perform a hard pull, so your new player must have something on their credit file. An Authorized User card, especially an Amex AU, is a great solution without sacrificing their 5/24 slot.

If you are first-generation and don’t have someone who can add you as an AU, go for the Discover It rather than the Freedom Rise. My rationale as to why:

  • 10% rotating categories up to $1,500 and a $100 SUB is better than even the most 7-ft-man-with-an-affiliate-link-inflated valuation of Ultimate Reward points 
  • Your oldest account remains safe even in the case of a Chase shutdown as your Discover is likely to have less than $500 in shenanigans per month
  • You can request a credit line increase every single day, online, with no harm. This will help with later Chase apps as banks like to beat other banks’ credit lines.

If you start with a Discover, wait until your second statement cuts before trying Amex to ensure Discover posts to your credit report. Then move to step 3/4.

3. 3 Months In: Patience is Key

By now you’ve probably finished your Amex Gold SUB and your hands might be itchy for some more apps. But there is a crucial Amex velocity limit you should be aware of when you are new to credit: 1 card before 6 months of credit history.

AmEx will grant you one credit line before you have a FICO score, but won’t approve you for any more without proof of income until you actually receive a FICO score (6 months of history).

This 4506-C form to prove your income through your tax returns is a huge PITA and you probably don’t have good enough income to show them if you are new to credit (as you’ll need a tax return to show for it) so I would wait until you are 7 months in for your second AmEx.

4. 4-6 Months In: Stepping into Chase Territory

Many points-and-miles bloggers point out how conservative Chase is at approving cards to those with a thinner credit file. While this is true, there is one simple trick that the Chinese churning community found that breezes past the Chase applications. Before I tell you though, I need to wait for SideshowBob233 to walk into the rake I placed.

Okay, now that he is unconscious for a bit, let me quickly tell you the simple trick: open a Chase deposit account and deposit $10,000 to $30,000 into it. It only takes 2-3 business days for the credit card side of their systems to catch on to the fact that you have a large deposit account, which in turn allows you to breeze through the application process. DPs are showing that your initial credit line on the Freedom products will usually be under $3k, so I wouldn’t try for a Sapphire here. I personally put $30k in an account and got a $3k line for the Chase Freedom Unlimited with 5 months of credit history (still without FICO!). If I were to do it all over again I would have waited a month and jumped to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, as 6 months of history will give you a FICO score.

You can withdraw the funds immediately after card approval, and close the account shortly after, or within 12 months if you also hit the bank bonus with it. Whatever you do, listen to Sideshow and don’t pull shenanigans while you have a deposit account with them. I have just been maxing out my credit line at CVS without cycling, and then paying it down quickly.

5. 8-9 Months: “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man”

By now you should have a FICO score and be past the Amex pre-FICO velocity limit. From here you can start applying for AmEx business cards. If they ask for income verification or deny you, don’t worry, just apply again next week. While you may think that this non-stop application and denial may seem concerning to AmEx, people who cancel applications because of Pop Up Jail do the same thing so they are used to this. Eventually, you will see an approval, either instant or through a simple identity verification. In my case, they wanted my social security card and they approved me even though my card said “valid with work authorization only,” in typical Amex fashion. 

Tip: If you are having trouble getting approved for the business cards, try applying for the Biz Checking (and get the SUB!). That helps the Amex Biz applications sail through as well. 

After approval, you can immediately get started on the employee offers. You’ll need those to keep you occupied since you’ll still be quite limited on card approvals until you are 12+ months in.

12 Months+: Fourteen Million, Six Hundred and Five Possibilities 

Okay, maybe Dr. Strange was exaggerating when he said that, especially if you’re planning to stay under 5/24. If you still kept your Chase account, there are DPs of Chase Sapphire Reserve approvals with a 12-month history, as well as various data points for INKs and cards from other issuers as well. If you are curious about your chances, check out the myFICO forums for various approval DPs and even better, the US Credit Card Forum in Chinese, as many there start with a fresh credit file. I like to Google Search the card name along with “uscardforum” and translate the results. Know that at the end of the day, you can just eat the hard pull and your confidence will pay off with a thick and stable credit file in years to come.

So there you have it. A one-year, five-step guide for a new player to the game. Good luck!


I guess Kanye and Jay-Z also have to call the reconsideration line sometimes to explain their Sole-proprietorship.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m on an annual blogging vacation for the last two weeks of the year. To make sure you still have content, some of the smartest members of the community have stepped up with guest posts in my absence. Special thanks to today’s author, the always helpful and funny SideShowBob233, for writing this post while I’m on vacation. I’ll see you on January 1!

Check kiting is an old fraud practice that is no longer as useful as it once was because balances can be verified in real time by some services. So, yours truly was sure surprised a couple of years ago when I called my hub bank to find out why my bank account was locked, and they told me it was closed because of “ACH kiting”. I asked what that was and the nice, friendly lady who was shutting down my account explained that it was the practice (similar to check kiting) of moving money out before it has cleared for the purposes of fraud. As I had not done this, and none of my ACH transfers had actually failed or been recalled, I asked why they were accusing me of this. She gave me a non-answer along the lines of “we heard this from a different bank but will not disclose who” and it suddenly made sense (can you picture the light bulb going off above my head, causing my flaming red hair to catch fire, set off the sprinklers, and pissing off my whole family?)

I had been using my hub bank as – surprise! – a hub, meaning I was transferring funds from a target account (back in the days when Walmart had bill payment in their app) to my hub bank and then sending them on their merry way back to wherever they were needed.   While this was a terrible idea (see my EWS commentary on why using personal accounts for ACH is terrible) when one of my banks was shut down, they apparently called my hub and told them I was ACH kiting.  Strange considering none of my ACH transfers ever failed, but they clearly didn’t understand why I was doing it and decided it was fraudulent.  I can see why they might have felt this way given my practice of pulling funds a day or two after they arrived.   At the same time I’d run probably $2M through their account by that point, so you’d think if I was going to pull my scam I’d likely have done it already, but compliance folks have to make themselves look useful somehow I guess. 

In the good old US of A, ACH is handled over network connections with cups and string (see below), and those strings sometimes break (ask PaymentUS about this).  Now most countries that also provide free healthcare (some with death panels – looking at you Afghanistan – some without) have instant ACH, but you wouldn’t want your money right away when you can get it in three business days would you? So we will love our cups and strings and enjoy our 3 day fund clearing, but know that our bank infrastructure is the best in the world, if by best you mean worst. 

Since those fateful and fun days of yore I’ve learned a lot and I let funds sit for 3 full business days before moving them on their journey, unless I’m using a bank account where they understand money won’t sit in their account forever and they tolerate this (you can rake taek this however you want).  That and moving all your funds only between business accounts except when absolutely necessary are keys to avoiding my fate. 

Not this fate (who’d want to avoid this anyway!):

But rather this fate:

– SideShowBob233

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m on an annual blogging vacation for the last two weeks of the year. To make sure you still have content, some of the smartest members of the community have stepped up with guest posts in my absence. Special thanks to today’s author, MEAB’s P2, for writing this post while I’m on vacation. I’ll see you on January 1!

Growing up, I never liked to play Luigi in Mario Bros. This wasn’t for any real reason other than the fact I didn’t like his green outfit, and also being player two meant that I had to go second instead of being able to go first. As a kid, nobody else liked to be player two either. 

As an adult… that’s a different story. 

Being a player two in the miles and points community is nothing like playing Luigi in Mario Bros. For example, I don’t have to wear green turtlenecks or overalls. Also, I’m pretty sure Mario never took Luigi to Europe in business class on points, or booked the family in a swanky hotel because a suite upgrade was about to expire. But, while being player two comes with a million and a half perks, like getting upgraded at the best hotel in North America, it also has its challenges. For example:

  • Being a player two means that you spend part of your weekend driving around the valley to five or six different grocery stores (including the one right next to a delicious boba shop) to purchase gift cards. 
  • Being a player two probably means that you have no idea how those gift cards turn into cash and/or points (?), but you’re a passenger princess, so you sip your boba and talk about how excited you are to get upgraded on your next flight.
  • Being a player two means that when you get the mail, there’s twenty five credit cards waiting for your player one. When you text them, the response is “oh cool, the first batch came.” (First batch?!)
  • Being a player two means getting dirty looks from old men who think you’re in the wrong for standing in the first class line at the airport. Especially since you probably have a latte in your hand, are rocking a “just rolled out of bed” messy bun with dark sunglasses, and wearing an old beat up Theranos sweatshirt
  • Being a player two means watching that same old man make his way to comfort plus because he might have status, but your significant other (SO) has more, so you two got upgraded and not him. 
  • Being a player two means getting a battlefield upgrade when you’re already on the plane and looking back at all the plebeians as you race up the aisle like you’re Cinder-fucking-ella. 
  • Being a player two means that there are spreadsheets that you have no hope of untangling in the event something happens to your spouse.
  • No really. I have no idea what the spreadsheets mean. Are there spreadsheets? I’m unclear, but I know I have a boba so it’s prolly fine. 
  • Being a player two means that your SO probably has ten plane tickets for destinations like “Australia”, “Japan”, and “Peru” and when you ask him what trip he’s going to take he says “IDK felt cute, might cancel later.” 
  • Being a player two probably means hotel hopping in the middle of your vacation and, while this is completely normal, you’re more concerned that you’re going to hop to one that won’t give you a free restaurant breakfast. 
  • Being a player two means getting put in the presidential suite at least twice. 
  • Being a player two means that you now ask your SO if they “think we will get upgraded to the Presidential suite?” on each consecutive vacation. 
  • Being a player two means that you probably look like a bougie bitch on your instagram page. You’re not, but you delight in playing one on TV. 

However, this isn’t simply a list where I’m low key flexing about the cool things I sometimes get to do because I live with MEAB. I have a point, I promise! Being a player two also means that you must have a large amount of communication and trust between you and your player one. My husband — MEAB — travels…A. LOT. He travels for family, he travels for fun, he travels because he’s a Sagittarius (IYKYK), he travels with me, and he travels without me. In order for this lifestyle to work, we have to trust each other and have a ton of open communication. I not only have to trust that he works for the good of our family, I have to understand what all that hard work amounts to. It’s more than the fun and games of presidential suites and battlefield upgrades — it’s opportunities for us and our family. More than that, it’s experiences that help us and our children understand the world a little bit better. 

Not only that, but being a player two probably means that your player one is working with your credit.  MEAB and I have always had open dialogue about this. I know exactly what he’s doing and I know that everything gets paid, not in the future, but IMMEDIATELY. There is literally nothing I don’t know about, and if I asked him to stop, he would without question. He’s a risk taker for sure, but not with my credit, and not with things that could really get mucked up. He’s a consummate thinker. He wants to use the system, not break the system. I really admire him for that. 

So, to all my player ones out there: thank you for reading this blog post. And, if you happen to have a player two, take them out for a little bevie bev (short for beverage) and have an open dialogue about what your goals are for miles and points hacking, AND what the boundaries are.

And for God’s sake, take them to the Waldorf Astroia Pedregal with a Hilton free night certificate or two. You’ll thank me later. 

MEAB’s P2 after visiting Kroger #7. NOTE: The boba cup was shrunk to 2/3rds its original size with AI to fit properly in the frame.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m on an annual blogging vacation for the last two weeks of the year. To make sure you still have content, some of the smartest members of the community have stepped up with guest posts in my absence. Special thanks to today’s author, a churning-FIRE sage and podcaster extraordinaire, Kai from The Daily Churn Podcast, for writing this post while I’m on vacation. I’ll see you on January 1!

As the new year approaches and things slow down for the holidays, I’ve been reflecting a bit on the blessing and curse of being an optimizer. I think many of us, particularly churners, love to optimize. We optimize our travel, our miles earned, our points burned, for first class flights, five star hotels, and cashback at almost zero cost. What’s not to love?

Society also loves optimizers. Improve efficiency, get promoted. Launch a startup, get rich. Work smarter. Hustle harder. Eat healthier, live longer. Hack your workout, your morning routine, your relationship, your life.

Nothing builds a habit faster than an activity that produces tangible results. Encounter problem. Find optimal solution. Release dopamine. Rinse, repeat.

Do anything a thousand times, and it’s no longer an activity you do. It’s a part of who you are. There are worse things to be than being an optimizer. In fact, family and friends probably love your optimizing. You help them optimize their vacations, their finances, their diet. It feels good to help others.

Your partner, roommate, or cat might be the only one who sees the other side of the coin.

They see you spend three hours researching the best pillow for stomach sleepers, cross-referencing amazon reviews with Wirecutter recommendations, checking slickdeals and camelcamelcamel for historical lowest prices, cashbackmonitor for the highest portal rates, cardpointers for active credit card offers, retailmenot for coupon codes.

They see you spend days on the phone chatting with customer service to figure out the ins and outs of their award booking system, so you can secure first class tickets for you and your friends.

They see you spend weeks working on a bot to automate thousands of micro-transactions to take advantage of interchange arbitrage opportunities on a few niche fintech platforms (only to see it die before you could really scale it up, sadface).

They also see that year by year, despite everything in your life becoming more optimal, you still spend just as much (often more) time optimizing.

That is the optimizer’s curse.

There are an infinite number of things to optimize. There is no end. After all, stopping short of optimizing everything would be, well, sub-optimal.

Optimizers trend towards maximization. I mean, what kind of wildebeest would you have to be to quit halfway, to buy a pillow before reading the negative reviews, to manually perform a thousand micro-transactions, to leave award availability to pure chance?

But more and more, I see the value in satisficing. The idea of being satisfied with good enough. The middle ground between doing nothing and optimizing everything.

If you’ve ever had to suffer through corporate indoctrination (or took biology), there’s a principle you may be familiar with. It’s the Pareto Principle – 20% of the work often yields 80% of the results. Viewed another way – you spend 80% of your time squeezing out the last 20% of the juice.

My inner optimizer hates this rule. But there is no denying its truth. If I had just blindly bought the best pillow recommended by Wirecutter, it would have taken me ten minutes tops. I would have been perfectly satisfied. I would have saved myself almost three hours of research.

But in the moment, it felt good to maximally optimize all the way to 100. Optimizing puts me in flow state. Time slips away. One minute it’s morning and I’m at my desk sipping green tea. I blink and it’s the afternoon. I have four different browsers open, I’m thirty tabs deep into a reddit rabbithole, and I’m VPNing into Dallas for some reason.

And therein lies the true cost of being an optimizer. Lost time. Time you could have spent with family. With friends. Time you could have spent on your hobbies. On picking up a new hobby. Time spent hanging with your partner, your kids, your pets. Maybe time you could have spent finding a P2.

I’m the best at ignoring this cost. There’s so many ways to justify it. This is saving me money. This is making me money. We’re going on an amazing vacation. My partner loves nice hotels. I love flying first class. I’m helping a friend. I’m helping my parents. I don’t mind doing it. This is a buy-it-for-life [insert item].

Some days, my phone blows up not from texts or calls. But from reminders I set myself days, weeks, months, sometimes even years ago. Reminders for things I need to do to stay on top of my optimizations. Cards I need to cancel, offers I need to redeem, money I need to transfer, calls I need to make, deliveries I need to skip, subscriptions I need to pause, refunds I need to follow-up on, bonus deadlines I need to stay on top of, new opportunities I need to try.

Opening my Google Keep can feel like entering a warzone… duck, swipe, ignore, defer, reschedule for next week. Phew, made it out in one piece.

We optimize to improve our tomorrows, often at the cost of todays. How many vacations have you sat in your hot tub on the balcony of your top-floor oceanview suite, waves lapping at the beautiful beach below, laptop perched precariously on your knees to avoid water from the damn hot tub and glare from the damn sun, as you “quickly” check your email, scroll your blogs, post a pic of your suite to your group chat, while the latest episode of Huberman plays in the background?

Oh you’ve never done that? Cool cool, me neither.

There is always a tomorrow to optimize for. Until one day, there isn’t. You’ll lay on your deathbed, and if you’re lucky, be coherent enough to reflect on your life. Will that time you won 25 stars playing the starbucks game flash before your eyes? Or that free award flight to Lubbock? How about those pillows?

What will flash before your eyes? Maybe we could spend more time doing that.

So this holiday season, I’m advocating for being a little less optimal. To put in 20% of the effort for 80% of the results. To let go of opportunities that aren’t worth your time. To maximize less. To do less. To free yourself from your reminders, your calendar, your self-imposed mind palace of deadlines and commitments. To break the optimizer’s curse through satisficication. Satisfition. Satisfiction? Whatever, good enough.

– Kai from The Daily Churn

This dog is, uh, satisficed with the pillow.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m on an annual blogging vacation for the last two weeks of the year. To make sure you still have content, some of the smartest members of the community have stepped up with guest posts in my absence. Special thanks to today’s author, the always helpful and funny SideShowBob233, for writing this post while I’m on vacation. I’ll see you on January 1!

EWS, or Early Warning Systems LLC, is a credit reporting agency co-owned by some of our favorite banks: Bank of America, Truist, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase, PNC Bank, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo.  I used to think of them as similar to ChexSystems (which anyone who’s been denied a bank account before knows and thoroughly loves in a non-platonic way) but they’re actually less similar to ChexSystems and more like a colonoscopy for your bank accounts, but without anesthesia (or a lollipop at the end).  You can request your consumer EWS report once a year using instructions here.  Once you send them the request they will email you within a few weeks, or tell you they will mail it to you.  It’s quite eye opening, I liken it to opening your trunk and finding 69,420 Airtags inside.  And remember after you request it what the late Tom Petty said (no not Here Comes My Girl – what is wrong with you anyway – the waiting is the hardest part).

Once the suspense has been lifted and EWS has deigned to give you your report the real fun begins.  You’ll get a nice report (164 pages in my case) full of every single freaking thing you’ve done in nearly every bank account you own (some bank accounts do not report to EWS thankfully, but most do).  You will see:

  • Every check written on every account
  • Every ACH transfer made (with destination shown for many of them)
  • Daily bank balances for a few months (and monthly for a few years) for some banks
  • Accounts you closed within the last 3-4 years
  • Accounts you opened in the last 3-4 years
  • Tears streaming down your face when you see how much info about you in tracked
  • In my case a rake between the eyes

In short, it’s an all you can eat buffet of tracking information for a bank that wants to see if you are a churner or not.  Or a money launderer.  Or if you have a strange sexual fetish that involves sending ACH transfers back and forth.   Regardless of the actual reason for the transfers, any bank looking at this kind of thing is not going to be happy.  Now some may shrug, some may open four new bank accounts without telling you (Wells Fargo is a co-owner after all) but some will see the kind of transfers a heavy MSer does and will kick you to the curb.   It’s not a coincidence that about a week before my shutdown letters from Chase arrived, they pulled my report twice.

Well that’s great SideShowBob233 you say (with the heavy emphasis on the “2” in “233” because you’re a bit psycho sometimes – don’t blame the messenger) but what the hell can I do about this? It’s not like you’re going back to your old second job waxing those wrestler’s backs – so is there any hope?   Yes, yes there is. 

You may note on your report that some bank accounts do not show up.  Your first step (after cleaning up the waxed back hair from the wrestlers – I can’t believe you left that on your floor since you quit 3 years ago and starting MSing) is noting all the accounts that DO NOT show on EWS.  Some credit unions do not report to EWS, but some do.  However zero business bank accounts showed on my report, and I’m willing to bet 69% of that back hair you just cleaned up that none will show on your report either.   So you want to move your transfers to business checking accounts whenever possible, as those will not be tracked.  Business checking accounts especially have an added advantage that banks generally do not care how you use them or how much money you run through them (not counting money orders – sooner or later those get noticed and you get shutdown). 

Don’t take my word for it – try it.  I’ve had several banks tell me that my transactions look like business activity and that I needed to stop it.  I’ve yet to have a bank tell me that for a business checking for example, although I like to imagine it going something like this:

Bank: SSB233, is that business activity we’re seeing in your business checking account?
SSB233: Why yes it is business activity

Bank: We’d like you to stop the business activity and move it to a business account
SSB233: But it is a business account

Bank: OK our bad, we’ll just charge you this $50 fee, make you come in branch for no reason,  and you’ll be good to go
SSB233: [steps on a rake]

So there you have it, EWS (which also owns Zelle – because who doesn’t want the people who managed to screw up money transfers so badly also holding all their bank data).  Thanks for listening to my rant, and if it doesn’t make sense to you I say go step on a rake. 

Pictured: SideShowBob233’s EWS report smacks him in the face.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m on an annual blogging vacation for the last two weeks of the year. To make sure you still have content, some of the smartest members of the community have stepped up with guest posts in my absence. Special thanks to today’s author, my original churning buddy and longest friend in hobby, Tyler, for writing this post while I’m on vacation. I’ll see you on January 1!

I’m not interesting. At least I don’t think. It wasn’t until Matt (MEAB) encouraged me to do a guest post that I realized I may be slightly more interesting than a layover in Lubbock. I asked “why me?” and he responded “you have a unique and interesting view on the world”. Coming from him, that is an amazing compliment. Although, Matt encourages us to read between the lines so perhaps that’s not a compliment. So I’ll share what I’ve learned this year. Just consider today’s blog post like going to a restaurant to get a Coke, yet they bring you an RC Cola. Just hang your head in shame and take it.

I took algebra twice, so I’m pretty good at math and I’ve calculated I pulled in over six figures from various MS activities this year (eight figures if I count the two numbers after the decimal point). It’s happened with effort, luck, stupidity, diligence, and tips from others.

I scaled hard this year. Matt told us “if you’re not getting shut down, you’re not pushing hard enough”. I learned this the fun way in a shutdown by a local credit union. I first was a bit frustrated, and even scared as I was grilled by the fraud team while they froze thousands of dollars. The financial proctology exam included every question except my blood type and my favorite karaoke song (that award goes to Gangsta’s Paradise – RIP Coolio). The CU shutdown turned out to be great, as it forced me to look at every CU in my state where I opened as many accounts as I could. I discovered one that allowed cc funding for new accounts/CDs. There are 5,000 credit unions in the US. Frankly, if you haven’t found one that allows CC funding on your own, you aren’t looking hard enough. And it’s not just credit unions. There are even banks that pay you to wire money in.

I better defined my goals, primarily shifting from points/status/miles to max profit. I travel less now, and I previously found myself racking up points and status for airlines I didn’t use. This year I sold a lot of points/status/gift cards on various markets and while it may not have a high cpp value had I used them myself, the mental aspect of having profit vs points was well worth it.

Diversification has been a core part of my investing strategy. This has been a catalyst for turning my miles earn and burn practice into profit earn and burn.  I had a goal to find one profitable activity from each of the MEAB slack channels, I read all channels from cradle to grave where I have been able to find a profitable activity in more than half – the others are there I just haven’t had time to get to them yet. If I just did one from each channel, that is 30+ different opportunities. And each channel as we know has multiple opportunities, even dozens.  Diversification is critical to not just churning, but to your own financial well-being. You need a job, stocks, retirement accounts, multiple small businesses, real estate, etc. For me, churning has turned into a similar thing – although I need to find a balance of being a jack of all trades, master of none and specializing in one thing. Having stocks, retirement accounts, businesses, real estate, multiple players has opened a ton of doors for activities to legitimize my practices.

This year I’ve probed and challenged conventional wisdom at retailers and discovered a few nuisances in my territory that paid off well. I even showed MEAB once how to get free Dominos. He tried it but was not impressed – apparently he has ‘standards’ when it comes to food… What a snob. I discovered even in my Kroger footprint there are different limits based on the technology of the registers in the same store. I’ve found this out with other chains and retailers too. Coupon codes maybe don’t have limits, or discovering you can create plenty of other accounts to score a deal, or promos that apply to things beyond the T&C. The sky can be the limit with some of these – but I gotta put in the time to try them.

As I go into next year and think about ‘what’s next’, I’ve learned spending is easy, liquidation is hard. Liquidation is my main struggle from payment processors, overzealous clerks, account freezes, and more. I’m frequently looking for liquidation channels to help scale so I plan to really invest in this area. I’ve been lucky to be able to float a bunch, though this is an area I need to invest more in. I think I’m going to adopt “WWMD” (What Would Matt Do) into my practice, though that might result in a more upscale taste to my liking. I’ll be selective when I apply this new way of thinking.

– Tyler

Matt MEAB reacting to his free pizza.