Bank of America Better Balance Rewards Card Review

bofabbrA couple of readers have asked me about the BankAmericard Better Balance Rewards credit card. It definitely has a unique rewards structure (full details):

  • Earn a $25 cash reward for each calendar quarter in which all of your monthly payments are received on or before the due date and are more than the minimum payment due. Your account must remain open and you must have a payment due in each of the monthly cycles of the calendar quarter to be eligible for the quarterly cash reward; a zero balance or a credit balance does not qualify.
  • Earn an additional $5 cash reward per quarter if you have a Bank of America checking or savings account.
  • Cash back is automatically credited to your card balance, unless otherwise directed into your BofA bank account.
  • No annual fee.

The draw is that you could charge just $5 to the card every month, wait for the statement to close, and then pay off that $5 every month, and end up with $100 a year in rewards (or $120 a year with BofA account). It would take $5,000 of total purchases at a theoretical 2% cashback rate to get to $100 in rewards.

The first catch is that you need to maintain this every single month. If you skip just one month and have a zero balance, or somehow a refund has you end up with a negative balance, or you don’t pay the minimum due on time, then you forfeit the entire $25 for that quarter. Remember that by default the $25 reward is applied to your credit card balance, so even that could put you negative in a month. You have to pay attention to this card.

The second catch is that there is no other rewards structure, not even a flat 1% cash back. There is no incentive to put any significant purchases on this card, as you won’t get any additional cash back.

In the end, this card would work best for:

  1. People who naturally charge very little on their cards, but at least something every month. Maybe you’ll miss out on a quarter here and there, but with small total purchase amounts it would still be more than you’d get from a normal rewards card.
  2. Detail-oriented folks who are willing to jump through the hoops to get that $100 to $120 per year by charging small amounts and paying them off every month. (Then put all your other charges on a 1%/5% or flat 2% cashback card or other better card.) You could try and automate this somehow with a scheduled $5 monthly charitable contribution, put Netflix bill on auto-pay, or something similar. I can’t recall if BofA lets you also automate the payment.

I think the best play here is to try and convert an existing Bank of America credit card that you don’t use anymore (cash out the rewards completely first!). Ideally you’ll get access to the benefits without an additional credit check. Otherwise, in the current environment, it is quite easy to get $500 or more value upfront out of a new credit card application. A credit pull is valuable and I’d rather have a big bonus now instead of having to jump through hoops for 4-5 years. If/when the bonuses start to drop, then this card would start to look better.

New Phased Retirement Program Details For Federal Workers

opmI’m always interested in non-traditional retirement stories, and saw that the US government just released their final regulations on Phased Retirement for federal workers. Phased retirement in general refers to transitioning from full-time to part-time work for a period of time before a traditional full retirement.

Participants will be able to start working half-time while collecting half of the pension they would get if they were to fully retire at that date. Then, when they fully retire, they’ll get the other half of their pension, adjusted for the additional work they did while being part-time. At least that’s my version of their lengthy explanation:

At entry into Phased Retirement, the employee’s annuity will be completed as if fully retired and then divided by two. That annuity would be paid while the individual worked a half time schedule receiving half pay. [...] When the Phased Retiree fully retires, there will be a computation of the annuity that would be payable if the employee had been employed full time and then divided by two prior to adjustment for survivor benefits. That amount would then be added to the original Phased Retirement Annuity, and that combined amount would then provide the basis for survivor annuity adjustment and benefits.

Participants will also get to keep their health and dental insurance, access to Thrift Savings Plan, and many other benefits. Fedweek has created a Federal Employee’s Guide to Phased Retirement [pdf], which is a lot easier to read than the actual regulations.

According to this Reuters article, the program should both save money and retain talent:

For the government, the program is expected to be a money saver. The Congressional Budget Office estimated recently that 1,000 employees might take advantage of phased retirement annually, and would continue work for three years. That would cut required contributions to the government’s pension system by $427 million from 2013 to 2022, and boost worker contributions by $24 million.

But phased retirement also will help the government retain talent and expertise at a time when the “brain drain” from an aging workforce is a major concern. About 600,000 people, or 31 percent of the federal civilian workforce, will be eligible for retirement by September 2017, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Phased retirees will be required to spend at least 20 percent of their time mentoring younger employees.

Employess under the legacy Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) will be eligible for phased retirement at age 55 with 30 years of service, or at 60 with 20 years of service. Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) employees must be age 60 with 20 years of service, or have 30 years of service and have reached their minimum retirement-eligible age. Agencies can send their Phased Retirement applications to OPM for processing starting November 6, 2014.

I think this is a neat idea and it looks like there will be strong interest. I hope the idea spreads. Even if your employer doesn’t offer an official policy on phased retirement, I know of several folks who have made their own custom arrangements.

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