The New Financial Bundle: Checking + Savings + Credit Card + Brokerage + Retirement Advice

allytk

Last week, Ally Financial announced that they are acquiring TradeKing. What made this interesting was that they didn’t refer to TradeKing as a discount brokerage firm, but a “digital wealth management company”. This another move from independent start-up (TradeKing merged with Zecco earlier) to big, corporate “bundle”. The traditional communications bundle includes TV, home internet, home phone, cellular phone, and cellular data. The new financial bundle will include:

  • Checking account – Daily cash management, paycheck target, online bill payment, ATM access, debit cards.
  • Savings account – Liquid savings, higher interest rate.
  • Credit card – Easily-accessed credit line.
  • Self-directed brokerage account – DIY investments including individual stocks, options trading.
  • Professional portfolio management – Managed accounts including advice regarding asset allocation, taxes, retirement income, and more. Both lower-cost robo-advisor and higher-touch human advisor platforms.

Here’s my opinionated rundown on some of the bigger firms in this new area. Some of the “pros” aren’t that strong, and some of the “cons” aren’t that bad, but it helps organize my thoughts.

Ally Financial / TradeKing

  • Pros: Competitive interest rates on checking and savings, ATM fee reimbursements, $5 brokerage trades.
  • Cons: No physical branches. No credit cards (yet). Robo-advisor program is still relatively small and new.

Bank of America

  • Pros: Huge physical branch and in-house ATM footprint. Merrill Edge commission-free trades starting at $25k minimum asset balance, $6.95 trades otherwise. Credit card rewards bonus with minimum asset balance.
  • Cons: Low interest rates on banking products. Merrill Lynch advisor network is big and uses traditional fee system, so I’m not a huge fan but others may like it. No robo-advisor program (yet).

Fidelity

  • Pros: Decent cash management account with ATM fee reimbursements, selected commission-free ETFs, somewhat limited but low-cost index fund selection, $7.95 trades otherwise, 2% cash back credit card.
  • Cons: Low interest rates on banking products, human-based Portfolio Advice is relatively expensive and pushes expensive actively-managed funds. Lower-cost robo-advisor is probably coming soon, but yet released.

Schwab

  • Pros: Decent cash management account with ATM fee reimbursements, commission-free Schwab ETF trades with low-cost index options, $8.95 trades otherwise, 1.5% cash back American Express, low-cost robo-advisor via Intelligent Portfolios.
  • Cons: Low interest rates on banking products.

Vanguard

  • Pros: Large selection of low-cost funds and ETFs, commission-free Vanguard ETF trades for all, $7 non-Vanguard ETF/stock trades (or less based on asset level). Portfolio advice includes robo-component plus available human representative.
  • Cons: Limited availability and features on banking accounts. Limited portfolio support for buying non-Vanguard products. No credit cards.

I still believe that the self-directed investor is best off picking individual products a la carte, but it will be interesting to see how things change in the coming years. Each financial mega-institution will likely improve upon their weaknesses, and offer significant perks and discounts for keeping all your money with them.

Bank of America Overdraft Fee Refund

boansfUpdated. Although I originally wrote this post a few years ago, it (unfortunately) still gets regular traffic. Bank reforms instituted in 2010 made overdraft “protection” only applicable on an opt-in basis on ATM/debit card usage. Despite this fact, U.S. banks still collected over $6 billion dollars in overdraft fees in 2015.

The advice below on how to get a BofA overdraft fee refunded still works, as many positive e-mails and comments will attest. But you should also ask to turn OFF your overdraft protection as many people are confused on the actual meaning of the service. If you opt-out of overdraft protection and try to use your debit card with an insufficient balance, you will simply get denied with no fee. If you opt-in to overdraft protection and try to use your debit card with an insufficient balance, your purchase will go through but you will get charged a fee of roughly $35 on each instance. Now you know why I put quotation marks around “protection”.

Just Ask!

I was hit with an overdraft fee from Bank of America when I was trying to close out an account. Luckily, I was able to get it refunded to me. The answer is always no if you don’t ask, so don’t give up the opportunity to save hundreds of dollars with a 10-minute phone call! A few tips:

  • Be nice but firm. Customer service reps are people. This is not the time to outline all the reasons why their overdraft system is unfair. The employee is never going to be able to admit “Yes, they are unfair!”, and you’re only going to put them on the defensive.
  • Admit you made a mistake, and include your personal story. Perhaps you and your spouse had a miscommunication and lost track of the bank balance. Your contractor finally cashed a check from 8 months ago that you forgot about. A spokesperson from Bank of America said they “may waive unemployed consumers’ fees on a case-by-case basis.”
  • Help them find a reason to help you. Are you a first-time offender? Are you a long-time customer? Do you have other accounts with Bank of America? Credit card, loans, or business accounts? Show them you are a profitable customer worth keeping.
  • Try different communication avenues. I used to visit my local branch a lot, and have had some good success with going directly there. Your mileage my vary, but also try any combination of Live Chat, E-mail, and Telephone.

“Hi, I was recently charged an overdraft fee when an old check got cashed. I totally forgot about it and it was my fault. However, I’ve been with BofA for X years, and this is my first overdraft fee. I am calling to see if I am able to get this waived.”

Denied? Escalate!

If you’re not satisfied with your response, it has paid off for many customers to escalate your request to the “Executive Customer Relations” division of Bank of America. Read the many relieved comments below.

Call Executive Customer Relations:
Executive Customer Relations general line: 704-386-5687

E-mail a Bank of America Customer Advocate:
Melissa Russell
Customer Advocate
Office of the Chairman
800-669-2443 Ext 2809
melissa.d.russell@bankofamerica.com

Crystal R. Peterson
Customer Advocate
Office of the CEO and President
336-805-3126
crystal.peterson@bankofamerica.com

A sample success story:

Emailed the office of the chairman 2 weeks ago and received a call today from that office. They credited back $440 in overdraft fees. Issue was my fault since i made the purchases but the merchant submitted all transactions for 3 months on one day. Pretty happy with the result.

Write a snail-mail letter to the CEO:
Brian Thomas Moynihan
100 N. Tryon Street
Mail Code NC-1-007-18-01
Charlotte, NC 28255

Another success story:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. After reading the post about the BoA customer who got $280 in NSF fees refunded, I wrote BoA myself. They had charged me 7 NSF fees in succession (which sucked ass) and was my fault. […] So I wrote a formal letter of complaint to Kenneth Lewis. This past Saturday, they refunded all of the fees – even though it was my fault. I can’t believe it. That rocks. People do have the power.

MaxMyInterest.com Review: Automated Interest Rate Chasing

mmi_logoBack when interest rates were higher, I was a “rate chaser” that was constantly shifting my cash balances to whatever promotional rate was highest. With the growing popularity of “robo-advisors” that manage your retirement portfolio using automated software, what if there was a robo-advisor for rate chasing? Instead of switching between ETFs or mutual funds, you would switch between banks.

That’s the basic idea behind MaxMyInterest.com (Max). You set a Target Value you’d like to keep in your standard “brick-and-mortar” checking account. Max will then sweep any excess funds into whatever online savings bank has the highest yield. If their rates change, Max can move your money again. If your checking account balance gets low, Max will move money back into your checking account for you. The ole’ hub and spoke graphic:

mmi_spoke

If your balance exceeds the FDIC insurance limits of $250,000 per account type, Max will move the rest into the bank with the next-highest yield, and so on. This screenshot is a bit dated, but it shows you the general idea for very large balances.

mmi_ui

What banks does it work with? They officially support checking accounts from the following big banks. Their application suggests that they may support other checking accounts. (The official list has also expanded a bit since their launch.)

  • Bank of America
  • Citibank
  • First Republic Bank
  • JPMorgan/Chase
  • Wells Fargo
  • Charles Schwab Bank
  • US Bank

Max will use one of these five online banks as your spokes (others may be added in the future, but only these work right now):

  • Ally Bank
  • American Express
  • Barclays
  • Capital One 360
  • GE Capital

You can have them open already, or you can only open a few, or you can use their “common application” to apply for all of them at once.

The cost? 0.02% per quarter, or 0.08% per year.

Recap. I certainly think the idea is a neat one. But considering the cost and restrictions to the specific five online banks, the greatest appeal of MaxMyInterest is probably to people with $250,000+ balances that want the maintain the safety FDIC-insurance without having to juggle multiple accounts on their own. Money market funds in brokerage accounts are still stuck offering relatively low yields. You can get an idea of their target audience from their marketing materials. I didn’t even know Hermes sold ties, let alone that they cost $200 a pop!

mmi_hermes

For most people that don’t have that much sitting around in cash, simply picking a single online savings account with a good track record of offering high interest rates should be good enough. These days, I primarily use Ally Bank (review). At this writing (2/28/16), GE Capital is the highest out of the 5, at 1.05% while Ally offers 1.00%, so with the 0.08% fee I’m still better off on my own. With more modest balances of about $5,000 to $20,000, you can actually get higher interest rates using rewards checking accounts or prepaid-linked savings accounts, albeit with some hoops each month to jump through.

Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking Review – New Rate Tiers

ccu_logo_200Consumers Credit Union (CCU) has a Free Rewards Checking account that offers a high interest rate between 3.09% and 4.59% APY if you meet certain requirements. As with similar accounts elsewhere, the catch is if you don’t jump through all of the hoops, you effectively won’t earn any interest at all that month (0.01% APY). As of February 1st, 2016, their rates, balance tiers, and requirements were changed. Let’s take a closer look at the new structure.

Membership
To open a Rewards Checking account, you must be a member. However, CCU has a very open membership policy; basically anyone nationwide can join if they do the following:

  • Join the Consumers Cooperative Association with a one-time $5 fee.
  • Open and maintain a share savings account with a minimum $5 deposit.

Earn 3.09% APY on up to $10,000 + ATM Fee Refunds if you:

  • Complete at least 12 Debit/Check Card point-of-sale purchases (transactions must be made without using your personal identification number [PIN] to count toward the minimum of 12 and must post and clear your account on or before the last day of the calendar month). In stores, select to run it as a “credit” purchase.
  • At least one of the following transactions must post and clear on or before the last day of the calendar month: direct deposit OR ACH debit OR electronic bill payment via CCU’s Free Online Bill Pay.
  • Access Online or Mobile Banking at least once each calendar month
  • Receive e-Documents (enroll and accept the disclosure)

Earn 3.59% APY on up to $15,000 + ATM Fee Refunds if you:

  • Complete all of the 3.09% Tier requirements above, plus
  • $500 or more in CCU VISA Credit Card purchase transactions

Earn 4.59% APY on up to $20,000 + ATM Fee Refunds if you:

  • Complete all of the 3.09% Tier requirements above, plus
  • $1,000 or more in CCU VISA Credit Card purchase transactions

A nice feature is that their online interface has a progress tracker, updated daily, telling you number of debit card transaction and the total spend on your CCU credit card.

ccu_tracker

Tracking is also available via their smartphone app (Apple/Android):

ccu_trackerapp

All tiers will also receive:

  • No minimum balance. No monthly service fees.
  • Free online Bill Pay.
  • Mobile check deposit via smartphone app.

Excess Balances
Note that each tier has it’s own specific APY and balance limitations. Here is a table that shows the APY if you exceed the high-interest balance limits.

ccu_excess

Qualifying Credit Cards
If you don’t have a CCU credit card, the best you can do is the 3.09% APY tier. Here is a list of their credit cards. It looks like the best one is their Visa Signature Cash Rebate Card, which offers a 3% cash rebate on up to $6,000 in “Grocery/Convenience Store” purchases annually, 2% cash rebate for “Gas” purchases, and 1% cash rebate for all other purchases. No annual fee.

Cost/Benefit Analysis
As a benchmark, I choose a “no hassle” high-yield savings account which would roughly yield 1% APY. You could also use a certificate of deposit, but a rewards checking account is liquid with no early withdrawal penalties.

  • $10,000 times 3.09% APY would be $309 per year, or $25.75 per month in interest. $10,000 times 1.00% APY would be $100 per year, or $8.33 per month in interest.
  • $15,000 times 3.59% APY would be $538.50 per year, or $44.88 per month in interest. $15,000 times 1.00% APY would be $200 per year, or $16.67 per month in interest.
  • $20,000 times 4.59% APY would be $918 per year, or $76.50 per month in interest. $20,000 times 1.00% APY would be $300 per year, or $25 per month in interest.

The 3.09% APY tier would be an increase of $17.42 per month over 1% APY, in exchange for tracking 12 debit card purchases a month. If you keep those debit purchases small, then you’d come out ahead by about $200 per year.

The 3.59% APY tier would be an increase of $28.21 per month over 1% APY, in exchange for tracking 12 debit card purchases a month plus $500 in credit card purchases. Let’s say you could earn 2% cash back on credit card purchases elsewhere, but only 1% on a CCU credit card. That is a loss of $5 in (non-taxable) rewards per month, for a net increase of $23.21 per month ($278 per year).

The 4.59% APY tier would be an increase of $51.50 per month over 1% APY, in exchange for tracking 12 debit card purchases a month plus $1,000 in credit card purchases. Let’s say you could earn 2% cash back on credit card purchases elsewhere, but only 1% on a CCU credit card. That is a loss of $10 in (non-taxable) rewards per month, for a net increase of $41.50 per month ($498 per year).

To qualify for the 3.59% APY and 4.59% APY tiers, you’d also have to apply for a new credit card, which would entail a credit check. There is an opportunity cost here, as there are other new credit cards that offer $400 or $500 in sign-up incentives within a few months. You can apply for multiple new credit cards, but once you reach a certain number it will hurt your chances for getting the next one.

My thoughts. These types of checking accounts are not for everyone. Not only do you have to jump through hoops each month to get a reward (higher interest than no-hassle account), if you don’t you’ll actually get punished in a way (lower interest than a no-hassle account). Try to create a reliable system where you satisfy the requirements early on in the month, for example putting some automatic insurance, phone, or utility bills on the credit card. My favorite feature is their qualification tracking; I wish all rewards checking accounts had this feature.

To justify the opportunity cost of getting a new credit card, you should definitely try to reach the 4.59% APY tier. The changes have made the middle 3.59% APY tier much less attractive than before. Otherwise, the debit card-only 3.09% APY tier isn’t bad for more modest balances. Keep in mind that there is no longer any guarantee on how long these rates will last. The positive spin would be that CCU has been running a rewards checking account now for well over 5 years, so hopefully they have crunched the numbers and set the rates at sustainable levels.

Big List of Free Consumer Reports (1/2): See Your Confidential Credit, Banking, and Payday Lending Data

magLinks checked and updated for 2016! Since these are available every 12 months, it is a good idea to check these near or around the same time each year.

There are many companies out there that make money by collecting and selling data – your personal data. In the past, it was often difficult if not impossible to see what they were telling prospective lenders, landlords, even employers about you. Under the FCRA and/or FACT Acts, many consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) are now legally required to send you a free copy of your report every 12 months, as well as provide a way to dispute incorrect information.

Some have an online request form, but many require snail mail with proof of identity. You probably won’t want to bother checking all of them (for example if you rarely write checks or use payday loans), but if you’ve experienced any sort of rejection or adverse reaction in these areas the cause might be found inside one of these databases. Keep in mind that you may not have a file with all of these places.

Credit-Related

Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The three major credit bureaus track your credit accounts, payment history, and other related information like bankrupts and liens. Free copy of each once every 12 months.

CoreLogic Credco. One of the largest credit-related CRAs and often used by mortgage lenders, your CoreLogic Credco Consumer File can contain: previous homeownership and mortgage info, rental payment history, any reported delinquencies, and other debt obligations like child support. Free copy once every 12 months.

LexisNexis. One of the largest personal information databases that includes public records, real estate transaction and ownership data, lien, judgment, and bankruptcy records, professional license information, and historical addresses on file. Free copy, must mail in form.

Innovis. A supplementary credit report and identity verification provider. Free copy once every 12 months.

SageStream, LLC (formerly IDA, Inc.) Per their site, they are a “a credit reporting agency that produces credit reports and scores from our repository of consumer information contributed by a wide array of companies including leading financial services organizations, wireless providers, utilities, retailers, auto lenders and many others” Free copy, must fax or mail in a written form.

Microbilt and subsidiary Payment Reporting Builds Credit (PRBC). Microbilt is a credit reporting agency, per their site a “leading provider of alternative credit data to businesses that want to offer credit and other financial services to the approximately 110 million underserved and underbanked consumers in the United States.” Free copy once every 12 months.

Banking-Related

Chexsystems. A consumer information database used by an estimated 80-90% of all banks to help determine the risk of opening new accounts. Think of it as the banks’ version of a credit bureau. If a person commits check fraud or overdraws their account, it will be listed here. In addition, the simple act of opening or closing a bank account may be recorded in their database. Having a negative ChexSystems record can leave you blacklisted from opening bank accounts at most major banks. Free copy once every 12 months. Must order by phone, mail, or fax.

TeleCheck. Per their site, they provide “industry-leading check acceptance, check processing and risk analytics services to merchants and financial institutions.” One of the major companies that protect businesses and banks from bad checks. Must order by phone or mail.

Certegy Check Services. Per their site, a “check risk management company that provides verification, guarantee and risk analytics to thousands of businesses that choose to accept checks as a form of payment for goods or services.” Clients include check-cashing stores and casinos. Free copy once every 12 months. Must order by phone or mail.

Early Warning Services. A collaboration between a group of big banks including Bank of America, BB&T, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Provides fraud prevention and risk management in relation to bank accounts and payment transactions. Must order by phone.

Subprime-Related (Payday Lending)

The following companies focus on subprime customers with clients including payday lenders, title loan lenders, rent-to-own stores, and subprime auto loan providers.

Teletrack (affiliated with CoreLogic).

FactorTrust. Free copy once every 12 months.

Clarity Services, Inc. Must mail or fax form.

DataX Ltd. Must mail form.

Sources: ConsumerFinance.gov, FTC.gov, Wikipedia

FileThis App Review: Automatically Backup Your Online Statements

filethis_applogo

A few months ago on my post about Paperless vs. Paper Statements, I received this helpful comment from reader Daveraham:

I like the services FileThis.com. It’s setup similar to MInt, where it stores account information, but instead of fetching dollar amounts and transactions, it grabs every statement available and stores them where you direct. Personally I store it an evernote account and then periodically pull it off to store on a removable HD that get’s stored in a fireproof box. Overkill?? Sure…. But its the point. You want to keep that snapshot of data for a long period of time.

I made a mental note to check the site out and… promptly forgot. I was again reminded in this Liz Weston article about apps to organize your financial life. In November 2015, FileThis announced their 2.0 version with new features. You can use the FileThis.com website, iOS app, or Android app (1.0 version only for now).

FileThis is now one of many “bill organizers” that ask for your account passwords in order to sift through your accounts and remind you of due dates. Personally, I don’t need or use due date reminders. I sit down at the end of every month, read through all my paper statements, track expenses, and pay my bills. I’m an old fart like that (although I do use free online billpay).

I previously shared that I maintain physical statements for critical financial accounts and have it mailed to a secure PO Box. But I also have several other financial accounts which are either dormant, temporarily opened for reviews or experiments, or have low balances which are set to paperless. Ideally, I would still log in and download those PDF statements every month and back them up. But I never do.

FileThis will log in and automatically download all your paperless statements and then save them to your cloud service of choice: Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, Amazon Cloud, and more. You can even use their in-house storage (500 mb free). The cost options:

  • Free for up to six (6) connections. Checks weekly.
  • $2 a month ($20 a year upfront) for up to 12 connections. Checks weekly.
  • $5 a month ($50 a year upfront) for up to 30 connections. Checks daily.

Besides things like bank accounts, credit cards, and brokerage statements, FileThis will grab stuff from your mortgage provider, car loan servicer, cell phone bill, utility bills, insurance bills, and even online shopping accounts like Amazon. An added bonus is that they will even grab tax documents like 1099 forms.

I linked up a few accounts, the list is relatively extensive but it couldn’t find a local credit union. Here are some screenshots from my website and smartphone app.

filethis1

filethis2

Remember that the actual files are on your cloud service. Here’s a screenshot from my Dropbox app. The files are stored in the folder Dropbox > Apps > FileThis.

filethis3

This is pretty cool. The initial download basically grabbed all the older documents that were available as well (up to last 3 years, supposedly). They’ll even grab PDF statements if you also get mailed paper statements (assuming they are available), giving you an additional backup copy.

By allowing backups directly to a third-party cloud service (Dropbox in my case), I will still have all of my online statements even if FileThis shuts down some day (remember Manilla?).

The trade-off here is that another FinTech startup has your account logins and passwords. Their security measures seem fair enough (encrypted SSL transmission, passwords are encrypted on server, the documents can be stored at your cloud service). I already track my paperless accounts in real-time with Mint, but I am willing to make this trade-off as I think it’s worth it to have my old statements backed up for me. (Why can’t Mint do this for me too?) The only other service I know that offers something similar is Finovera, but I think they store the statements on their own servers as opposed to your personal Dropbox.

As an existing user, if you sign up using my referral link, both you and I will receive an additional free connection (so you’d have a total of 7 free to start) and an additional 250 mb of free in-house cloud storage.

Square IPO, Direct Deposit Loans, and Controlling Your Cashflow

squaredongleAs you’ve probably heard, the Square IPO was completed last week. For a while, I didn’t understand how a company could have a $4 billion valuation when they basically offer a simplified merchant account. They let small businesses accept credit cards, which means they skim a tiny bit off the 2.75% they charge while most of it goes straight to the networks. (Add in their other expenses, and Square has never made a profit.) Wouldn’t you rather own Visa or American Express directly?

Then I read this Bloomberg Businessweek article How Two Guys Lost God and Found $40 Million (And sold Wall Street on a shady new kind of finance). Although I try my best to avoid carrying any debt, I do try to keep up with the industry. With a normal credit card, you are waiting around for the borrower to pay you back your principal + interest. The borrower gets their paycheck, pays for rent and food and whatever else, and hopefully gets around to pay you some interest. Here’s a cashflow visual:

cashflow_classic

What these guys profiled in Businessweek did is give struggling small businesses a merchant account, and also lend them money. The key difference of their “merchant cash advance” service is that they would take the loan payments (including interest) directly from their gross credit card receipts! They were lending to horrible credit risks at sky-high rates (because nobody else would lend to them), but they knew they’d be fine because were first in line to snatch any incoming money before the business owner could even touch it. Here the modified cashflow visual:

cashflow_square

Hmmm… if Square can pull something like that off on a big scale, maybe they can be worth billions. It turns out that both Square and Paypal do this same sort of lending. They lend to small businesses and taking money out from the incoming transactions. From a WSJ article dated May 2015:

Paypal said it has doled out $500 million in loans in the first year-and-a-half since it introduced the lending program. And rival Square recently said it had extended more than $100 million in cash advances in the year since it started its own version. […] PayPal, like Square, deducts money from merchants’ accounts based on their receipts, so that they aren’t on the hook if business slows.

From another WSJ article dated September 2015:

At both PayPal and Square, payments are taken as a portion of transaction volume, meaning merchants repay more when sales are high and don’t pay on days without sales. That allows for easier repayments, but makes it difficult to calculate an annual interest rate.

Wow. Ingenious or evil genius? It would be like lending to everyday people but being able to intercept their paychecks before they even landed in their bank accounts. You’d get the money before people could even have the chance to default (or pay for food). Some banks already have something called “direct deposit loans” allow them direct access to bank accounts, taking payments almost immediately after your paycheck arrives. It is possible for motivated people to switch off their direct deposit or move banks, but you’re giving the lenders a built-in advantage.

(A problem for Square is that competitor PayPal also does the free credit card swiper thing, but PayPal can avoid paying Visa and Mastercard whenever a user buys something with their existing PayPal balance. They just move some money around internally and pocket the savings.)

So what’s my point? For one, Square may have a growing profit source from these first-in-line loans to small businesses. Second, as a smart consumer, you should be careful to stay in control of your cashflow. I’d never give a lender permission to withdraw money at any time from my bank account. They should have to wait for me to pay them.

Capital One 360 Savings Promo – Earn Up to a $500 Bonus

Capital One 360 Savings has a limited-time sign-up bonus for up to $500 for new customers, tiered depending on your opening deposit. Here’s a quick recap of the features of 360 Savings accounts:

  • No monthly fees or minimum balance requirements.
  • No minimum deposit required to open an account.
  • Free electronic fund transfers to a linked checking account.
  • 24/7 online and mobile access, or talk to a real person 7 days a week 8AM-8PM.
  • % APY as of 2/10/16

Bonus instructions.

  1. You must open your first 360 Savings Account by the promotion expiration date, 11/30/2015 at 11:59 PM EST. (If you’ve had a Savings product with Capital One 360 or ING DIRECT before, you won’t be eligible for the bonus.)
  2. To qualify for a bonus, your account must be funded within the first 10 days of account opening. Deposits from an existing Capital One 360 account will not qualify for the bonus.
  3. The amount of your bonus will be determined based on the highest amount you deposit within the first 10 days of account opening and maintaining that balance on a daily basis for the next 90 days following the 10 day period. You must deposit a minimum of $5,000 and maintain a daily balance of $5,000 for 90 days after the initial 10 day period to qualify for any bonus. The amount of the bonus you actually earn will be determined based on the following balance tiers during the initial 10 day period and the 90 day period after that: $5,000+ earns a $50 bonus, $10,000+ earns a $100 bonus; $20,000+ earns a $200 bonus; $30,000+ earns a $300 bonus; $40,000+ earns a $400 bonus; and $50,000+ or more earns a $500 bonus. The maximum bonus you can earn is $500.

Essentially, if you deposit an amount exactly on the tier level, you will earn 1% of your deposit (i.e. $50 on $5,000 or $500 on $50,000) with a minimum holding period of 90 days following the 10-day deposit window. This is in addition to the existing interest rate.

For more details on the account interface and such, please check out my 360 Savings account review.

Disclosure: I will receive a referral if you open an account via one of the links above, as a paid endorsement. To my knowledge, this is also the best publicly-available 360 Savings bonus offer out there. I won’t be participating myself because I’ve had an account (ING Direct) since 2005. Please refer to my full advertising disclosure.

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card Review: Great with Preferred Rewards Bonus

bofa_travelrewards191The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card is the main “travel rewards” credit card branded by Bank of America. In this review, I’ll cover the card features but also focus on a lesser-known opportunity – if you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% – 75%. For such “relationship” customers, the bonus can change this card from good to great. Read on for details.

Here are the highlights of this card:

  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don’t expire
  • 20,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days –  that can be a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want – you’re not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees
  • Now with chip technology for enhanced security and protection at chip-enabled terminals
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases, then 15.24% – 23.24% Variable APR
  • Get an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% – 75%. Click “Apply Now” to learn more about Preferred Rewards.

The Preferred Rewards program is designed to rewards clients with multiple account and higher assets located at Bank of America banking, Merrill Edge® online brokerage, and Merrill Lynch® investment accounts. Here is a partial table taken from their comparison chart:

bofa_pref1

Let’s consider the options. Bank of America’s interest rates on cash accounts tend to be lower than highest-available outside banks, so moving cash over to qualify may reduce your interest earnings. Merrill Lynch advisory accounts also usually come with management fees. However, if you have brokerage assets like mutual funds and ETFs, moving them over to Merrill Edge may actually reduce your costs because at the Platinum and Platinum Plus levels they will actually give you 30 to 100 free online stock trades every month.

I recently did a partial transfer of a little over $100k of brokerage assets (Vanguard funds) over to Merrill Edge to qualify for Platinum Honors. I should mention it may take a while for your “3-month average combined balance” to actually reach the $100k level and officially qualify for Platinum Honors. Only after that will the 75% rewards bonus on credit card rewards kick in.

(Side note: Stack this offer with their Merrill Edge brokerage sign-up bonus.)

Cash Back Rewards Tiers for Preferred Rewards

This card has a relatively simple rewards structure; you earn 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases. 1 point = 1 cent statement credit against any travel purchase made on the card (flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees). As long you as you travel at least occasionally, I feel it is okay to value them at 1 cent per point, which means you could call this a “1.5% back on all purchases, if applied towards travel purchases” rewards card. Here’s how the bonuses then work out:

  • Platinum Honors: 2.625% back, if applied towards travel, or 2.625 points per dollar spent on any purchase (75% bonus).
  • Platinum: 2.25% back, if applied towards travel, or 2.25 points per dollar spent on any purchase (50% bonus).
  • Gold: 1.875% back, if applied towards travel, or 1.875 points per dollar spent on any purchase (25% bonus).

Note that the terms state “The Preferred Rewards bonus will replace the customer bonus you may already receive with the card.”, which I interpret to mean that you will lose the 10% bonus for redeeming your cash back into a Bank of America® checking or savings account.

(Update: Here are my redemption tips and experiences on qualifying for and receiving 2.625% back towards travel.)

Well, I think their plan is working because Bank of America has managed to convince me to go from only having a checking account with them to now also having a Merrill Edge brokerage account and a Bank of America credit card. I definitely realize not everyone will have this level of assets to move around, and so this is somewhat a restricted offer. But if you do then it is worth considering. Both Platinum and Platinum Honors levels allow you to reach tiers that effectively give you over 2% back on all purchases, with the important caveat that your rewards must offset previous travel purchases on the card.

Not all Bank of America consumer credit cards qualify for Preferred Rewards. Another card that does qualify is the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card. I picked this BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card myself, but for other folks the grocery and gas bonuses specifically available on the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card might give you higher rewards.

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.  “The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.”

Ally Bank Savings Account Review

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Update. I’ve done a significant amount of my banking with Ally for years (checking, savings, and multiple CDs), but the “gateway drug” for me and probably most people will be their Ally Online Savings Account. This is a review specific to using the savings account as a companion account to your existing checking account. Check out my Ally Interest Checking Account Review for more about using their checking and savings products together.

The Ally Online Savings Account has no minimum balance, no monthly fees, and currently pays 1.00% APY (as of 7/15/16). Their interest rates may not be the absolute highest, but they have consistently been within 0.10% of the temporarily top banks, making it not worthwhile to move my money. (See my rate chaser calculator). Let’s go through the important factors.

User Interface. Below is a screenshot of the main page after logging in (click to enlarge). I can see all of my accounts and their balances at a glance. The overall design is clean and minimalist, and it was recently updated to be more mobile-friendly.

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Customer Service. Ally Bank differentiates itself with their customer service. First of all, they are available 24/7 at 1-877-247-ALLY (2559). When you use their smartphone app or log into their website, you can see the wait time beforehand. Even better, if you don’t want to call them you can just use their Live Chat feature.

Security. Ally Bank supports two-factor authentication with security codes sent via either e-mail or text message. They ask for a security code when you log in from a computer they don’t recognize. However, if you’ve logged into that computer before with a security code, they may not ask you again and you can’t choose to have two-factor authentication to always be in effect.

Awards. Ally Bank has won “Best Online Bank” from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in 2014 and “Best Online Bank” from Money Magazine from 2011-2014.

FDIC Insurance. Ally Bank is a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, FDIC Certificate #57803. As with other FDIC-insured banks, this means your Ally deposits are insured by the FDIC up to $250,000 per depositor, for each account ownership category.

Funds Transfers. With no physical branches, online savings accounts should have maximum flexibility as they are often secondary accounts (given most megabank checking accounts pay either no interest or a sad 0.01% APY). Ally Bank allows you to link any other external bank account using the standard routing number and account numbers. As long as you initiate the transfer before 7:30 pm Eastern Time, the transfer will take 2 business days. You can link up to 20 different accounts (it used to be unlimited; but other banks limit to 3; I have 7 myself).

So if I initiate a transfer on Monday afternoon by 7:30pm ET, the money will be debited first thing on Tuesday, and credited to the destination account first thing Wednesday. But know that if you initiate on a Saturday, you’ll get the same result. Even bank computers really don’t like working weekends, it seems. Overall, free transfers within 2 business days during the week is about as good as it gets for online banks.

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The transfer limits are also relatively high. On my accounts, I see that I have a $150,000 daily limit outbound and $250,000 daily limit inbound, with a total monthly limit of $600,000 outbound and $1,000,000 inbound. Keeping in mind that all savings accounts from any bank are limited to six withdrawals per month.

ATM Debit Card. You don’t get a debit card with their Online Savings Account. You can get a debit card with either their Checking or Money Market accounts, but note that those have lower interest rates.

Mobile check deposit. You can use the Ally smartphone app to deposit checks using your smartphone camera. (This is in addition to using your computer scanner and/or free postage-paid deposit envelopes.) I’m not sure if this is the same for everyone, but my deposit limit is $50,000 which is higher than many other electronic deposit programs. I’ve used the app to deposit multiple checks without issue. Screenshot below.

allyreview_echeck1  allyreview_echeck2

Mobile app. Available for iOS and Android… you can do all the important stuff – see transactions, transfer funds, deposit checks, pay bills. It can remember your username, but you must type in your password every time. I usually just use my Mint app for checking balances, as that only requires a 4-digit PIN. The overall design is acceptable, and the ATM locator is helpful if you have the Ally Checking account with free AllPoint ATMs and $10 in fee rebates each statement cycle for any ATM.

Details

  • Interest Compounding: accrued daily, compounded daily, credited monthly
  • Minimum to open: $0
  • Minimum requirements to avoid monthly service charge: None
  • Number of external bank account links allowed: 20
  • Routing Number: 124003116

Ally Bank sent out an e-mail to customers in early October 2015 notifying them that they will introduce balance tiers on November 7, 2015. All existing CDs will not have their rates affected, and any features like Raise Your Rate will be retained. No actual rates or rate changes were announced. For the Savings Account and Certificates of Deposit, the new tiers will be:

  • Less than $5,000
  • $5,000-$24,999.99
  • $25,000 or more

Commentary… I’ve felt that tiers would come to their CDs for a while now. With no minimum opening balance and no interest tiers, you could open up a bunch of $500 or even $5 CDs to avoid penalties on small early withdrawals. Lots of small accounts create more paperwork and increase costs. However, if the rates on their Online Savings Account drop significantly for the lowest tier, I will seriously consider moving accounts. Sometimes my Ally account has a lot of money, sometimes it doesn’t. I need this account to provide a reliable floor of 1% APY (as of 7/15/16) on my idle cash, regardless of balance. I’ll have to wait to see if/how they utilize these tiers for the savings account.

Bottom line. The Ally Online Savings Account is a solid offering with with no monthly fees, no minimum balance requirement, and a historically competitive interest rate. Additional features like a flexible funds transfer system and solid 24/7 customer service help differentiate themselves from the competition. It works fine on its own as a “piggyback” or companion account to your existing checking account.

You can also combine it with the Ally Interest Checking Account (my review) which offers ATM fee rebates (up to $10 per statement cycle), free online billpay, and the ability to use the savings account as a free overdraft source. Ally also has certificates of deposit which offer competitive rates at times.

Best Interest Rates for Savings Accounts and CDs – Updated October 2015

percentage2Rates checked as of October 3rd, 2015. Our family keeps a year’s worth of expenses (not income) put aside in cash reserves; it provides financial insurance with the side benefits of lower stress and less concern about stock market gyrations. In my opinion, emergency funds can have a better return on investment than what you see on your bank statement.

I don’t chase rates nearly as much as I used to, but it still pays to shop around. Too many places are paying ZERO or close to it – most mega banks, short-term US Treasuries, and money market sweep funds. Chase offers on a 1-year CD? 0.02% APY. Bank of America on their 10-year CD? 0.15% APY. Meanwhile, the rates below vary from 1% up to over 3% annualized.

Best Currently Available Interest Rates
Here is a brief roundup of the best interest rates available on deposits backed by the full faith and credit of the US government (FDIC-insured, NCUA-insured, US Treasury Bonds, US Savings Bonds). I will try to sort them from the shortest to longest maturities.

    High-yield savings accounts

  • Online savings accounts, everyone’s got one these days. Currently, the ones with a history of competitive rates are around 1% APY. These savings accounts can change their interest rate at any time, so if you’re going to just pick the highest one, be ready to move your money.
    Short-term guaranteed rates (under 1 year)

  • Everbank Yield Pledge Money Market and Interest Checking account both offer 1.60% APY guaranteed (balances up to $150k on the Money Market) for the first 6 months for new accounts. Since it is fixed, this is essentially a 6-month CD with a higher rate than any other 6-month CD rate out there and with no early withdrawal penalty to worry about.
    Flexible Savings Bonds

  • Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation. Unfortunately, “I Bonds” bought right now will earn nothing for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. For new money, I would wait until mid-October when the next rate adjustment is announced. More info here.
    Prepaid Cards with Attached Savings Accounts

  • There is a special subset of prepaid debit cards that have the option of an “attached” FDIC-insured savings account with high interest rates. Balances are usually capped. Some of these have monthly fees and other fees for things like ATM withdrawals, so you should read the terms carefully.
  • I am currently experimenting with the NetSpend Prepaid Visa and the Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard, both of which offer 5% APY on up to $5,000 each. (Having both means I have $10k at 5% interest.) If you are referred by an existing user (links above are mine), we can both get an additional $20 bonus after depositing at least $40. (You can only get one $20 bonus even if you open both, as they are from the same company.) Detailed review upcoming.
    Rewards checking accounts

  • These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with some risk. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. But the rates can be high while they last.
  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 5.09% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY is easier to achieve unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. The rate is guaranteed until December 31, 2015, although that’s only 3 months away
    Certificates of deposit

  • If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. Why not put some money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay an early withdrawal penalty. For example, Synchrony Bank (formerly GE Capital Retail Bank) is offering a 5-year CD paying 2.25% APY $25k+ balances (2.20% APY for $2k+) with an early withdrawal penalty of 180 days interest. For example, if you withdraw from this CD after 2 years and pay the penalty, your effective rate earned will still be 1.69%.
  • Northwest Federal Credit Union has a limited-time CD offering 3.04% APY for 3-year term. $10,000 minimum and $100,000 maximum. Limited to new deposits only and limit 1 certificate per member. Early withdrawal penalty is 366 days of interest. Check if you qualify for free membership, but anyone can pay $10 to join a partner association and obtain membership that way. More details from Ken at DepositAccounts.
    Longer-term Instruments

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? Did you know that you can buy certificates of deposit via Vanguard’s bond desk? These “brokered CDs” offer the same FDIC-insurance and are often through commercial banks like Goldman Sachs. As of this writing, you can get a 10-year CD maturing 10/2/2025 that pays 2.85% APY. Prices will vary regularly.
  • How about two decades!? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.50% APY). Think of it as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You really want to be sure you’ll keep it for 20 years.

All rates were checked as of 10/3/15.

Best Interest Rates for Savings Accounts and CDs – Updated August 2015

percentage2Our family keeps a year’s worth of expenses (not income) put aside in cash reserves; it provides financial insurance with the side benefits of lower stress and less concern about stock market gyrations. In my opinion, emergency funds can actually have a better return on investment than what you see on your bank statement.

I don’t chase rates nearly as much as I used to, but it still pays to shop around. Too many places are paying ZERO or close to it – the Megabanks, short-term US Treasuries, and money market sweep funds. Do you know what Chase offers on a 1-year CD? 0.02% APY. Bank of America on their 10-year CD? 0.15% APY. Meanwhile, the rates below vary from 1% up to over 3% annualized.

Best Currently Available Interest Rates
Here is a brief roundup of the best interest rates available on deposits backed by the full faith and credit of the US government (FDIC-insured, NCUA-insured, US Treasury Bonds, US Savings Bonds). I will try to sort them from the shortest to longest maturities.

    High-yield savings accounts

  • It seems every bank has their own online savings account, with the best accounts with long-term competitive rates earning around 1% APY. These savings accounts can change their interest rate at any time, so if you’re going to just pick the highest one, be ready to move your money.
    Short-term guaranteed rates (under 1 year)

  • Everbank Yield Pledge Money Market and Interest Checking account both offer 1.60% APY guaranteed (balances up to $150k on the Money Market) for the first 6 months for new accounts. Since it is fixed, this is essentially a 6-month CD with a higher rate than any other 6-month CD rate out there and with no early withdrawal penalty to worry about.
    Flexible Savings Bonds

  • “Series I” US Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation. Unfortunately, “I Bonds” bought right now will earn nothing for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. For new money, I would wait until mid-October when the next rate adjustment is announced. More info here.
    Rewards checking accounts

  • These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with some risk. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. But the rates can be high while they last. Consumers Credit Union offers up to 5.09% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY is easier to achieve unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. I list this one because the rate is guaranteed until December 31, 2015.
    Certificates of deposit

  • If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. Why not put some money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay an early withdrawal penalty. Synchrony Bank (formerly GE Capital Retail Bank) is offering a 5-year CD paying 2.25% APY $25k+ balances (2.20% APY for $2k+) with an early withdrawal penalty of 180 days interest. For example, if you withdraw from this CD after 2 years and pay the penalty, your effective rate earned will still be 1.69%. Capital One 360 also has a similar 5-year CD.
  • Other notable CDs… USAlliance FCU has a limited-time, callable 25-month CD paying 2.27% APY (anyone can donate to eligible charitable organization to gain membership). E-Loan Bank has a 5-year CD paying 2.45% APY but with a big early withdrawal penalty of two years of interest.
    Longer-term Instruments

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? Did you know that you can buy certificates of deposit via Vanguard’s bond desk? These “brokered CDs” offer the same FDIC-insurance and are often through commercial banks like Goldman Sachs. As of this writing, you can get a 10-year CD maturing 8/12/2025 that pays 3.05% APY. Prices will vary regularly.
  • How about two decades!? “Series EE” US Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.50% APY). Think of it as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You really want to be sure you’ll keep it for 20 years.

How about my money? In terms of the opportunities above, I have opened an account at Everbank in the past for the promo rate and I have usually try to buy the max in US Savings I Bonds each year (no EE bonds, too long of a commitment). I don’t currently juggle any rewards checking accounts nor do I have any deposits with any other banks mentioned above. It’s just not worth it me to switch right now.

Besides some older CDs at higher rates, I keep a good chunk of my money at Ally Bank because right now they are the all-around “good enough” bank for me. Sure I could eek out 1.05% in a savings account somewhere, but Ally Online Savings is paying a 0.99% APY (as of 8/6/15) which serves as a no-fee overdraft companion to my Ally Interest Checking with ATM fee rebates. Along the same lines, I could get 2.25% in an outside bank’s 5-year CD, but Ally has 2.00% APY on their 5-year CDs and a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty. A rate difference of 0.25% on $10,000 over a year is $25, and I’m not sure that’s enough to open a CD at another bank when my current Ally CDs mature.

All rates were checked as of 8/6/15.