As you may know, I’m in the American Express fold again after being absent for several years, and it’s good to be back. There are several things I’ve forgotten, and had to relearn about having an AMEX Gold charge card, and I’ll share them with you now because you may find them valuable, if not hard-earned, nuggets of truth.
The most important thing to remember about an AMEX charge card is that it’s a Paid-In-Full (PIF) card. You don’t carry a balance from month-to-month, you pay everything off when you get your billing statement. Except, just paying off your card every month is not quite enough to make sure you retain excellent credit because, at the end of the month, American Express reports your outstanding balance to the credit agencies.
Since you have a charge card, and not a credit card, that means AMEX does not report what percentage of your “credit line” is being used each month — anything over 30% can negatively affect on your FICO numbers — because a charge card generally has no credit line, so your outstanding balance looks like you’ve 100% maxed out your account when it comes to the credit bureaus — even though you’re paying it all off in a few weeks. Some credit services are smart enough to realize an AMEX charge card, and its challenges, while others are not.
What to do?
The secret to having a good relationship with American Express, and the credit bureaus, is to make regular “mid-cycle” payments. If you have a new account, doing that can be tricksy at first, because AMEX seems to prefer to process one payment at a time for new accounts for the first month or two, but my new, old, account has been active for a week, and I was able to make a $200.00USD mid-cycle payment this morning, and my account doesn’t officially close and cut an online paperless statement until November 11.
Do not use Auto-Pay because that will mess up your mid-cycle payments. I’ve heard horror stories of people paying off their account a few days before their account closes for the month to only have Auto-Pay pay off the balance as well. That means you paid double for the same goods and services! AMEX does not issue instant statement credits for an overpayment issue like that — they’ll cut you a check instead.
The reason you want to pay-as-you-go with AMEX is to keep your outstanding balance at zero for as long as possible, and especially, at least four days before your account officially closes for the month. Having a zero, or low, balance at the close of your cycle means American Express will report a low balance number to the credit bureaus, and that is a good thing for you when it comes to quickly establishing good payment habits.
I believe you can pay American Express at least once a day if you like, and if you don’t have any balance due, but large pending charges are looming, AMEX won’t let you pay using their online portal, but you can push a payment from your bank’s Bill Pay to your AMEX account. That way you can get credited for paying for items that are still waiting to officially post to your account.
If you can afford it, overpaying your account by a few hundred or thousands of dollars each month is another a great way to show American Express you are a serious customer and that sort of ongoing credit balance moving forward will quickly raise any set, or unset, spending limits that are part of your account.
If you have any hints or tips for making sure your American Express charge card experience stays positive, and in good standing, please cast a comment in the thought stream below.