California Residents: Southwest Credit Card Companion Pass Shortcut Offer

Southwest Premier Credit Card ArtIf you are a California resident, check out this special offer on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Credit Card that provides a shortcut to the SWA Companion Pass:

The Companion Pass lets a designated person fly with you for free on all your Southwest flights – both paid and award flights! (You must still cover taxes and fees from $5.60 one-way.) Usually, you have to fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards points within a calendar year in order to qualify. However, this special offer lets you get it after applying for a new card and making a single purchase of any amount.

Here are some additional things to consider:

  • How California residency is determined: “Individual must have a valid California address as evidenced by their application for the Rapid Rewards® Credit Card.” PO Boxes are not allowed as billing addresses. You should probably have the same billing address on your Rapids Rewards account.
  • You must open the card by 11/30/17, and allow up to 8 weeks after your first purchase to receive the Companion Pass. The pass will be valid until 12/31/18.
  • Chase has a rule that they will automatically deny approval on this credit card if you have 5 or more new credit cards from any issuer on your credit report within the past 2 years (aka the 5/24 rule).
  • Not available to either (i) current cardmembers of any Rapid Rewards Credit Card, or (ii) previous cardmembers of any Rapid Rewards Credit Card who received a new cardmember bonus for a Rapid Rewards Credit Card within the last 24 months.
  • Rapid Rewards® points won’t expire as long as your card is open or you have flight-earning or partner-earning activity at least once every 24 months.
  • You must still pay the annual fees of $69 or $99, depending on the card.

Southwest recently announced that they plan to start flying to Hawaii, but the flights probably won’t be until late 2018 or early 2019. Therefore, you might try to time your purchases so that you get the 40,000/60,000 point bonus in 2018 as part of a larger plan to earn 110,000 points throughout 2018 and get another Companion Pass good through the end of 2019.

TD Ameritrade Commission-Free ETF List – Changes Effective November 2017

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Updated. As of October 2017, TD Ameritrade notified their clients of the following changes to their commission-free ETF trading program. Here are the highlights from the e-mail:

  • Here is the old ETF list [pdf]. Through 11/20/17, they trade commission-free. Starting 11/21/2017, they will trade at standard commission rates ($6.95 online trades).
  • Here is the new ETF list [pdf]. These 296 ETFs can be traded commission-free immediately (as of 10/17/17).
  • ETFs held less than 30 days will be charged a short-term trading fee of $13.90, down from $19.99. This new fee will go into effect on November 21, 2017.
  • All new ETFs on the commission-free list cannot be used as collateral for a margin loan, nor can they be included in margin equity for 30 days after purchase.

What ETFs are being removed? Initially started in 2010, the “old” list of 100 ETFs was based on advice from Morningstar as to which 100 ETFs that would be most useful for long-term investors to build a ETF portfolio. In other words, these were popular buy-and-old ETFs for “Average Joe/Jane” customers. These ETFs were from the biggest providers (Vanguard and iShares) and had the highest assets, highest trading volume, and lowest expense ratios.

There are now zero ETFs from Vanguard. The most widely-held iShares ETF are also missing. Here are some notable removals:

  • Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI)
  • Vanguard FTSE All-World ex-US ETF (VEU)
  • Vanguard MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (VWO)
  • Vanguard REIT Index ETF (VNQ)
  • Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND)
  • iShares Core S&P 500 (IVV)
  • iShares Core US Aggregate Bond (AGG)
  • iShares TIPS Bond (TIP)
  • iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond (SHY)
  • iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond Fund (TLT)

Note: TD Ameritrade will still provide free dividend reinvestment on your existing ETF positions.

What ETFs are being added? The “new” list of 296 ETFs are mostly niche ETFs. Providers include AGFiQ QuantShares, First Trust Portfolios, iShares ETFs, J.P. Morgan Asset Management, PowerShares by Invesco, ProShares, State Street Global Advisors’ SPDR, and WisdomTree Investments. They cover a wide range of specific investment themes.

Unfortunately, this move also puts TD Ameritrade more firmly into the pack of brokerage with ETF/mutual fund “supermarkets” based on who will pay them for shelf placement:

TD Ameritrade receives remuneration from certain ETFs (exchange-traded funds) that participate in the commission-free ETF program for shareholder, administrative and/or other services, generally ranging from the equivalent of approximately 15% to 30% of the ETFs’ annual net operating expense ratio.

This is a common arrangement and you’ll see the same thing at Schwab and Fidelity, but in my opinion you end up a bigger list of less-attractive products. They also tend to have higher expense ratios. I’ve never even heard of these before:

  • First Trust Alternative Absolute Return Strategy ETF
  • iShares Fallen Angels USD Bond ETF
  • PowerShares Optimum Yield Diversified Commodity Strategy No K-1 Portfolio
  • QuantShares US Market Neutral Anti-Beta Fund

To be fair, there are still some iShares Core ETFs (though not the broadest ones) and some SPDR ETFs that cover broad indexes (though with lower asset size and trading volume). There are maybe 15-20 ETFs that I could see as part of a low-cost, long-term portfolio. A few examples:

  • SPDR Dow Jones Total Market (SPTM)
  • SPDR S&P World ex-US (SPDW)
  • SPDR Lehman Aggregate Bond (SPAB)
  • iShares 0-5 Year TIPS Bond ETF (STIP)
  • iShares Core International Aggregate Bond ETF (IAGG)
  • iShares Core U.S. REIT ETF (USRT)
  • iShares Global REIT ETF (REET)

Here are two ETFs on the list that I have bought myself in the past:

  • WisdomTree Emerging Markets SmallCap Dividend Fund (DGS)
  • WisdomTree U.S. SmallCap Dividend Fund (DES)

Mostly, I just don’t like the fact that they changed it after many years. You might have built up a position with $0 trades, and now it costs $6.95 to buy more. You can try and switch to the closest approximate ETF, but what about next time they shake up the list? TD Ameritrade won “#1 for Long-Term Investing” in the Barron’s magazine 2017 rankings. I don’t know if long-term investors like to switch holdings every 7 years. Maybe the niche ETFs are a better draw for TDA’s target audience.

If you want to construct a low-cost, broadly-indexed ETF portfolio, I would compare with the offerings from Schwab, Vanguard, and Fidelity. None of those are an independent brokerage like TD Ameritrade, but they do offer commission-free trades on low-cost, broad ETFs. You could also look into the free trade offers from Bank of America ($50k+ in relationship assets) and Robinhood (trades done via app only).

Current New Account Promotions. TD Ameritrade will let you trade commission-free for 60 days + get up to $600 if you open a new individual, joint, or IRA account. The specific bonus depends on how much money you move over. Note that unlike some other offers, this one includes IRAs and thus rollover IRAs from 401k plans.

Bottom line. TD Ameritrade has shifted the nature of their commission-free ETF program. Overall, the widely-held, broad ETFs from Vanguard and iShares have been removed. In their place, many niche/sector ETFs and smaller, newer ETFs have been added. If you like specialized ETFs, check to see if it is on their newly-expanded list of 296 ETFs.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® Review: 60,000 Miles Limited-Time Offer

Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage Visa Signature Card

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, from our partner Citi, is running a limited-time offer on their co-branded American Airlines credit cards.  Here are the updated card highlights: For a limited time, earn … [Read the rest]

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® Review – 60,000 Miles Limited-Time Offer

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The CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®, is running a limited-time offer on their co-branded American Airlines credit cards. Here are the details: Designed for businesses For a limited time, earn 60,000 American … [Read the rest]

Social Security Provides Majority of Retirement Income for Most Americans

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The Washington Post has a rather depressing article on The New Reality of Old Age in America, which includes the following chart about Social Security: For 1/3rd of recipients age 65+, Social Security represents 90% or more of all their … [Read the rest]

Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman on Mental Accounting

Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize for Economics this year for his pioneering work in Behavioral Economics. Of course, he promptly said he would spend the prize money "as irrationally as possible". Here's a light-hearted Q&A from the NY Times. … [Read the rest]

CIT Bank Review: Savings 1.35% APY, No-Penalty CD 1.45%, Opening Process

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CIT Bank (not be confused with Citi Bank) has become one of the larger online-only banks with a multi-year history of competitive rates. They don't offer a checking account, so their products are mostly designed to be savings products with high … [Read the rest]

Savings I Bonds November 2017 Update: 2.48% Variable Interest Rate

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Savings I Bonds are a unique, low-risk investment backed by the US Treasury that pay out a variable interest rate linked to inflation. You could own them as a replacement for cash reserves (they are liquid after 12 months) or bonds in your … [Read the rest]

Amazon Prime: Buying Add-On Items Without Minimums w/ Alexa

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On of the main benefits of Amazon Prime is that you can buy things whenever you want with no minimum purchase requirement, shipped to you for free. Mostly. Amazon classifies some of their lower-priced products as "Add-On" items, which must be … [Read the rest]

MoviesAnywhere: 5 Free Digital Movies After Linking Accounts

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MoviesAnywhere is a service that links up movies that you bought online at one retailer and lets you view them on another retailer. For example, you might buy a movie from iTunes and watch it from Amazon Video. This "digital movie locker" service … [Read the rest]

Amazon Cash: Add $25, Get $5 Bonus Credit

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Updated. Amazon is running a new promotion that gives you $5 Amazon bonus credit if you add $25 via Amazon Cash. Amazon ran a similar promo earlier this year that expired, so note that this one is only valid if you haven't used Amazon Cash … [Read the rest]

RealtyShares Update: My First Loan Default and Foreclosure Recovery (Ongoing)

Here's an update on my debt investment at RealtyShares. The borrower stopped paying for unclear reasons, and as a result this is my first investment to go into foreclosure proceedings. I am still hopeful for a full recovery of my principal and … [Read the rest]