If you want to know more about Benson’s story or have questions for him, he will be hosting an AMA on Reddit – Wednesday, April 22nd @ 7:00pm EST!
In January 2012, a software engineer in Ottawa did something that would ultimately change the way people would search for and find the best credit cards in Canada: he quit his day job. With a degree from Carlton University and six years of work experience at a startup under his belt, Benson Wong decided he wanted to start something of his own. He launched CanIPayLess in March 2012, then hired his friend and web developer, Dave Beauchesne, to help with the workload.
Both Benson and Dave are now integral members of the Ratehub.ca team, but Benson is our resident credit card expert. I recently interviewed him to find out more about why he started CanIPayLess and why he and Dave decided to join the Ratehub.ca team. He also opened up his wallet and told me about all eight (yes, 8!) of his credit cards and gave some great tips on how people can manage multiple cards. Note that his strategies will only work if you pay off your rewards credit cards in full each and every month!
Cait: Why did you decide to start CanIPayLess?
Benson: I first started it because I knew I wanted to have a company of my own where I could do something I enjoyed and actually have a chance to make some money from it. I started a credit card comparison site, specifically, because I wanted to help people save money. I don’t spend a lot personally and I still save a lot of money by using rewards credit cards. When I compared my spending to others, I knew people could save even more than I did – and that’s what I wanted to help them do.
Cait: Why compare credit cards over other financial products?
Benson: There are so many rewards programs out there and they all operate so differently; it’s a pretty complicated game you have to play, to try and understand them all. Before I even decided to launch the site, I had started maximizing rewards with a few of the programs – and I got a lot of free stuff (i.e. sign-up bonuses)! It would only take 10 minutes to sign up for a credit card and then all this free stuff would come in the mail. I figured if I could help people sign up for the right cards for them, we could all take advantage of these offers.
Cait: What did CanIPayLess do that other comparison sites didn’t?
Benson: We decided to calculate the value of points in each individual rewards program, so we could show people what the value of using every different credit card would be, based on their individual spending patterns. So we calculated the average value of all points, then gave them the option to enter how much they spent in certain categories, like groceries, gas, restaurants and all that, and then showed them how much the value of the points they would earn would be. If the card had an annual fee, we subtracted that, as well. Basically, we just wanted to show people all of their options, so they didn’t just sign up for whatever credit card their bank told them to get. No other comparison sites showed people the real dollar value of what their returns would be for each card.
Cait: Why did you eventually decide to join forces with Ratehub.ca?
Benson: It’s a long but good story. I’ve always had an interest in personal finance, and used to do lots of research on financial products. Before I bought my first home, I searched for all kinds of information on mortgages and Ratehub.ca always came up in the first, second or third spot in Google. So I realized that you guys knew what you were doing! Anyway, when my mortgage came up for renewal, I had a mortgage broker but then saw I could get a better mortgage rate on Ratehub.ca – so that was my first real interaction with the site.
In 2013, I talked to some consultants about how to drive visitors and get more conversions from the site, but no one really knew how we could rank high for credit cards in Google. Then I remembered that Ratehub.ca knew how to rank high for mortgage keywords.
I hadn’t thought to reach out to you guys, though. Alyssa reached out to me. At the time, Dave and I still weren’t doing a good job of driving visitors over to the site. We just thought that if we made something cool, people would come. But that’s not the way the online world works! We weren’t great at marketing, which is extremely important to driving business – especially online. So when Alyssa contacted us, we realized that joining Ratehub.ca meant we could share what we’d created with a much bigger audience, improve upon our skills and get paid!
Ratehub.ca acquired us in the fall of 2013, we brought all of our code and content over, and the rest is history!
Cait: How many credit cards are in your wallet and how do you use them?
Benson: I have 8, right now!
- Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite – I use this to pay for gas and groceries, because you get 4% cash back on both. I also have any reoccurring payments come off this card, because you get 2% cash back on those. This card is on our list of the best cash back credit cards in Canada.
- Capital One Aspire Cash World – This was the best card ever, when it was available! It has no annual fee and you got $100 cash when you signed up! You then get 1.5% cash back on everything, which is incredible. It’s been discontinued, but anyone who had it has been grandfathered in. Mine was just renewed for another 3 years and I’m so glad! I told so many people to get this card and no one did. They were crazy to ignore my advice!
- Marriott Rewards Visa from Chase – My girlfriend and I were planning a trip and knew this card came with 1 free night + enough points for another free night, which countered the $120 annual fee, so we signed up for that reason. Now we use it to make any purchases in U.S. dollars, though, because it’s one of the few Canadian credit cards with no foreign transaction fees!
- TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite – I just got this one, because it had a great sign-up bonus – enough points for a round-trip flight to San Francisco, which is where we want to go next! So far, I’ve been using it for general spending, because it offers a little bit of a better return than my Capital One card (which was 1.5%). But once I hit my Aeroplan Miles goal, I think I’ll stop using it and go back to using my Capital One card for everything.
- TrueEarnings Card from Costco and American Express – Oddly enough, this card wasn’t that great to use at Costco! Because the purchases you make there are categorized as general spending, you had to spend a lot to break through their tiers to get even a 1% return. Costco doesn’t accept American Express anymore, but I still have the card because you get 3% back on restaurants that take American Express, which are usually all the big chains. When this card expires, I’m going to replace it with the new Capital One Platinum MasterCard, which is the new Costco credit card and, because it’s MasterCard, will be more widely accepted.
- Visa Desjardins Classic – I actually didn’t plan on getting this card. When we bought our second home, it offered 0% financing on new appliances, so we used it to buy some stuff. We’re paying it off in instalments, the way you would a typical loan. When it gets to $0, I’ll cancel it.
- CIBC Tim Hortons Double Double Visa – I only got this card because there was a promotion for a free $400 if you got the card and opened a bank account with CIBC. There’s no annual fee but I really don’t use it. Maybe I’ll cancel it.
- RBC Visa Business Platinum Avion – This is my one and only business credit card, and I got it for a legitimate reason, not just to get free rewards. As we got CanIPayLess up and running, my accountant recommended that I get a credit card for business purchases only. Since the site isn’t up anymore, though, I guess I could cancel it too.
When I cancel those 3 cards, I’m going to get the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. So I’ll go down from having 8 credit cards to 6… but am always keeping my eye on others.
Cait: Do you have any tips on how to manage multiple credit cards?
- Use your calendar – As soon as you sign up, mark your calendar one year from that date, so you’re not surprised by the annual fee, or so you know when to cancel it by if you decide it’s not a good card for you.
- Find a good place for them in your wallet – It takes time to remember which cards you should use for what. My girlfriend puts certain cards in certain cardholders in her wallet, so she remembers which one is for what. You could also stick a post-it on them that says things like “groceries” or “restaurants” or use painters’ tape and do the same.
- Lower or adjust your credit limits – Credit card issuers will send you some hefty limits – $15,000 is not uncommon – and they would love for you to max them out, so you would pay them lots of interest. But it’s complete overkill, and just not smart to have. Sometimes you have to call the issuer to lower it, but you can usually just do it online when you’re logged into your account. Either way, do it!
- Pay them all off every payday – When payday comes, check all the balances, then log into your online banking and pay them all off. If you carry a balance and are charged interest, you shouldn’t have a rewards credit card – you should have a low interest credit card. I love knowing that all my balances go down to $0 twice a month.
- Do your research before you sign up – And don’t just sign up for whatever card your bank wants you to get! When it comes to credit cards, banks don’t care about you – they care about meeting their quota and earning commission. Enter your monthly spending on Ratehub.ca and we’ll show you which credit cards will give you the best value.