Capital One Spark Cash for Business Credit Card $1,000 Bonus

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Here’s a special link for the Capital One Spark Cash for Business Credit Card that includes a $1,000 cash bonus once you spend $10,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. There is a $59 annual fee that is waived for the first year. The fine print states that “Existing or previous Accountholders may not be eligible for this one-time bonus.” Note that there are multiple kinds of “Spark” cards, and even other offers for this Spark card with lower spending requirements and lower bonus sizes. Take a screenshot if you apply.

The spending requirement of $10,000 within 3 months is pretty high, but the Spark Cash for Business also a flat 2% cash back on all purchases so at least you won’t be giving up good rewards elsewhere. This also means that after you spend $10,000 within 3 months, you’ll get $200 cash back + $1,000 bonus cash = $1,200.

Here are the cash back redemption options:

How do I redeem my rewards?
You can get your cash back upon request in the form of a statement credit or a check. You can also set up an automatic redemption preference; options include: (1) at a set time each calendar year or (2) when a specific threshold ($25, $50, $100 or $200) has been reached. Just go online to capitalone.com or contact our Rewards Center. You can also redeem for credits for previous purchases, gift cards, and more. Rates for these redemption options may vary and are subject to change without notice.

Many people aren’t aware of the fact that they can apply for business credit cards, even if they are not a corporation or LLC. Why? Because any individual can be a business as well. The business type is called a sole proprietorship. Your business name is just your personal name, and your tax ID number is your Social Security Number. Whether you have a small business with just one employee or over 100, it is important to track your your business expenses and keep them separate from your personal finances. This applies even if you are starting out small with a blog/website, eBay, Etsy, Amazon store, Uber, Lyft, etc.

Bottom line. This special offer is perfect for someone with a small business that is looking to make a large purchase on equipment, raw materials, inventory, taxes, or advertising. If you put $10,000 on purchases within 3 months of account opening, you’ll get $200 cash back (2%) + $1,000 bonus = $1,200 total.

JetBlue Plus Credit Card: 60,000 Point Limited Time Offer

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The JetBlue Plus credit card by Barclaycard has a new special offer for 60,000 bonus TrueBlue points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. Valid for first-time cardmembers. Expires 12/31/17. This is the double the standard offer of 30,000 bonus points and also higher than previous bump-ups to 40,000 points. Highlights:

  • Earn 6 points per $1 on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per $1 at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • No blackout dates on JetBlue-operated flights & redeem for any seat, any time on JetBlue flights. – Points required for an Award Flight will vary based on the published base fare at the time of booking.
  • First checked bag is free on JetBlue-operated flights.
  • Points awarded in your TrueBlue account don’t expire.
  • Earn and share points together with Family Pooling.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points every year after your account anniversary.
  • 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases including cocktails, food and movies.
  • Enjoy Mosaic benefits for one year after you spend $50,000 or more on purchases after your anniversary date.
  • Get 10% of your points back every time you redeem to use toward your next redemption.
  • Get a $100 statement credit after you purchase a JetBlue Getaways vacation package of $100 or more with your JetBlue Plus Card.
  • $99 annual fee.

Free checked baggage perk can be valued at $25 to $35 each-way, per person. The free checked bag perk applies to you and up to 3 travel companions on the same reservation when (1) the ticket is purchased with your JetBlue Plus card, (2) the primary cardmember’s TrueBlue member number must be entered at the time of booking. If you buy higher fare classes, a certain number of complimentary bags may already be included. Here is a chart of JetBlue’s baggage fees:

jetbluebags

How does redeeming TrueBlue points work? TrueBlue works on a revenue-based system, where the points required depends on the current cash cost of the flight (with no blackout dates). If they sell it for cash, you can book it with points. This is opposed to traditional chart-based systems that charge a fixed point balance but imposes blackout dates and limited seat availability.

TrueBlue points are best redeemed for JetBlue flights. There are some other options like newspaper or magazine subscriptions, but I won’t cover them here.

TrueBlue points can be estimated at 1 points = 1.4 cents. Ex. 30,000 points would cover $420 in JetBlue airfare. The exact value may vary, but 1.4 cents is very close to what I found across Blue, Blue Plus, and Blue Flex fares. You can easily test it out yourself by pricing out the same flight on JetBlue.com using points or cash.

This means 2X points back on restaurants and groceries can be estimated as 2.8% back in the form of TrueBlue airfare. The 3X points back on Jetlue-operated flights can be 4.2% back in the form of TrueBlue airfare. The 6X points back with the Plus card on Jetlue-operated flights can be 8.4% back in the form of TrueBlue airfare.

Upon the renewal of your $99 annual fee, you get another 5,000 TrueBlue points ($70 of airfare value at 1.4 cents/point). If you can take advantage of the free checked bag perk, there is definitely ongoing value for regular JetBlue fliers. I haven’t investigated the $100 off a JetBlue Vacations package, but it could be worth something as well.

Bottom line. At 1.4 cents per TrueBlue point, 60,000 bonus points can be valued at $840 towards JetBlue fares. Add the baggage perk which you could value at an additional $50 per roundtrip Blue fare, per person. Minus the $99 annual fee, and that is still a very solid sign-up incentive for even casual JetBlue customers. If you are a frequent JetBlue flier, the 5,000 point anniversary bonus and other perks can create additional ongoing value.

XKCD on Credit Card Reward Optimization

XKCD has some clever observations about the pursuit of credit card rewards:

xkcdccrewards

I definitely spend more time thinking about optimizing things than is… optimal? rational? That’s why I started a website, so I can justify it as a business pursuit! 🙂 Here’s another good one from XKCD:

efficiency

Don’t forget the time cost of “Arguing with strangers on internet about A vs B”.

Final mention: XKCD Remix: The Secret Life of Personal Finance Bloggers.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card – 50,000 Miles Limited-Time Offer

Capital One Venture Rewards Image

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards credit card has increased their sign-up bonus to 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. Those 50,000 miles can be redeemed as a $500 credit towards any travel purchase made with the card (any airline, any hotel, no blackout dates). It may help to think of “miles” as “points”. The annual fee is also waived for the first year ($95 after that). learnmore_green

The highlights:

  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates
  • Miles won’t expire for the life of the account and there’s no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that

The 2 miles on on every $1 in purchases essentially make this a 2% back card when applied towards travel. This is pretty good overall, but compare with these other 2% cash back cards below.

Bottom line. The combination of a limited-time bump to 50,000 bonus miles and the annual fee waiver for the first year makes this a good time to apply for the Capital One® Venture® Rewards credit card. You’ll also get 2X miles on your purchases, so after you spend your $3,000 within 3 months to get the bonus, you can redeem 50,000 + 6,000 = 56,000 miles for $560 toward travel on any airline or hotel. That could be a nice discount on your next vacation.

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.

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

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard Art

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 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
  • Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
  • Receive 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights*
  • Double AAdvantage® miles on eligible American Airlines purchases*
  • Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back – up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles each calendar year*

Note the following language for the personal card. Basically, to get the personal card bonus, you can’t have had the personal card opened or closed within the last 24 months. Having the business version is okay.

American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles are not available if you have had any Citi® / AAdvantage® card (other than a CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® card) opened or closed in the past 24 months.

To clarify, you can have one of both the consumer version of this card and the CitiBusiness® version designed for businesses under your name. The bonuses are also separate. You can get one consumer bonus every 24 months, and you can also get one business bonus every 24 months.

The annnual fee is $95, waived for the first 12 months.

American Airlines MileSAAver awards are still 25,000 miles for a round-trip ticket within the contiguous 48 states. If the trip is less than 500 miles, then it is only 15,000 miles roundtrip within the contiguous 48 states. Under-500 miles routes include Las Vegas to/from Los Angeles, Charleston to/from Miami, New York to/from Washington DC, Philadelphia to Boston, and many others.

This card also makes you eligible for Reduced Mileage Awards, where you save up to 7,500 miles on roundtrip MileSAAver® awards to select destinations on American Airlines operated flights. Combine this with the 10% rebate on redeemed AAdvantage miles, and you can stretch your miles a lot further.

Bottom-line. Due to the 24-month waiting periods, it is best to apply during a limited-time offer such as now. The annual fee is waived during the first year.  As with most of these co-branded cards, a lot of the potential value comes when you fly on American and utilize the free first checked bag benefit ($50 per person, roundtrip) and also when you redeem miles.

“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.”

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

citibusiness

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 Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
  • Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on purchases at telecommunications, care rental merchants and at gas stations*
  • Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile per $1 spent on other purchases.*

Note the following fine print:

American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles are not available if you have had any Citi® / AAdvantage® card (other than a CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® card) opened or closed in the past 24 months.

To clarify, you can have one of both the consumer version of this card and this business version under your name. The bonuses are also separate. You can get one consumer bonus every 24 months, and you can also get one business bonus every 24 months.

Annual fee is $95, waived for the first 12 months.

American Airlines MileSAAver awards are still 25,000 miles for a round-trip ticket within the contiguous 48 states. If the trip is less than 500 miles, then it is only 15,000 miles roundtrip within the contiguous 48 states. Under-500 miles routes include Las Vegas to/from Los Angeles, Charleston to/from Miami, New York to/from Washington DC, Philadelphia to Boston, and many others.

There are some small differences between this and the consumer version of this card. This business card offers 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on purchases at telecommunications, car rental merchants and at gas stations. The consumer version does not. I also do not see any mention of the ability to earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back on this business card.

However, this business card does make you eligible for Reduced Mileage Awards, where you save up to 7,500 miles on roundtrip MileSAAver® awards to select destinations on American Airlines operated flights.

Business card eligibility. Many people aren’t aware that they can apply for business credit cards, even if they are not a corporation or LLC. Any individual can be a small business. Perhaps you sell items on eBay, Craiglist, or Etsy. Maybe you do some graphic design, web design, freelancing and/or consulting. If you received a 1099-MISC tax form and filled out a Schedule C, that means you have business income, you pay self-employment taxes, and you’re a sole proprietorship. This is the simplest business entity, but it is fully legit and recognized by the IRS. On a business credit card application, you should use your own legal name as the business name, and your Social Security Number as the Tax ID.

Bottom-line. Due to the 24-month waiting periods, it is best to apply during a limited-time offer such as now. The annual fee is waived during the first year. As with most of these co-branded cards, a lot of the potential value comes when you fly on American and use the free first checked bag benefit ($50 per person, roundtrip) and also when you redeem miles.

Please note this a business card, designed specifically for businesses. Click here for the consumer version.

“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.”

Practical Advice on Identity Theft and Removing Unauthorized Accounts

bankshowerThe boilerplate advice I keep reading at the end of every article about the Equifax hack is… Everybody freeze their credit! That certainly is an option, but perhaps it might be overkill to expect 150 million people to do that? The credit reporting agencies seem to make it an painful experience on purpose, charging you $10 a pop x 3 bureaus for freezing/thawing. Some good news: Equifax just announced a new free instant lock/unlock feature, which probably wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for this breach.

For a more practical perspective, I recommend bookmarking the post Identity Theft, Credit Reports, and You by Patrick McKenzie. He has real-world experience in helping others deal with the credit bureaus and navigating the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). My notes:

  • You don’t need to do anything just because your data was leaked or might have been leaked and nothing has actually happened.
  • Don’t pay money for credit monitoring.
  • If you find unauthorized charges on an credit card you opened yourself, just call your bank or card issuer. This shouldn’t be a big headache.
  • If you find an account NOT opened by yourself, either due to fraud or some sort of clerical error, then read the entire post for detailed instructions. You need to create a paper trail because this could easily turn into a big headache.

A lot of nuance is covered and sample text is helpfully included, such as:

On August 5th, 20XX I accessed my credit report from Experian, numbered 1234567. It shows an account with your institution in my name, with account number XXX123. I am unaware of the full account number. I have no knowledge of this account. I did not open it or authorize anyone to open it.

Please correct this tradeline and confirm this to me in writing within the timeframe specified by law. If you cannot correct this tradeline, provide me with your written justification for why your investigation concluded that this tradeline was accurate.

Here are some important things to note if you have to deal directly with a financial institution regarding an unauthorized account:

  • Do not call. Communicate only via written letters sent by postal mail to their official address. Create a paper trail. Keep a scan/copy of everything.
  • Never pay debt which isn’t yours, even if you are being harassed.
  • Never speak to debt collectors on the phone, either. Just ask for their address and hang up so you can communicate in writing. You are not breaking any laws if you hang up on them.
  • You can do this. In his experience, most issues were resolved after 2-3 letters send via certified mail/return receipt.

Bank of America Premium Rewards Card Review – 50,000 Bonus Points

bofa_premium225After some sneak peaks and rumors, the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card is now officially live. This card is a new addition to Bank of America’s rewards card line-up, and the question will be if the added benefits outweigh the $95 annual fee. This card also participates in the Preferred Rewards program, which gives you better rewards if you give BofA more of your business. Here are the highlights:

  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus ($500 value) after making $3,000 in purchases in first 90 days of account opening.
  • Earn 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases.
  • Earn 1.5 points for each dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Reward points can increase by 25 to 75 percent on each purchase for clients enrolled in the bank’s Preferred Rewards program.
  • Up to $100 annual airline incidental statement credit for qualifying travel purchases such as seat upgrades, baggage fees, in-flight services and airport lounge fees.
  • Up to $100 airport security statement credit towards TSA-Precheck or Global Entry Application fee, every four years.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $95 annual fee.
  • No limit to earning points, and points don’t expire.

Tips on qualifying for Preferred Rewards. The Preferred Rewards program is designed to rewards clients with multiple accounts 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 (click to enlarge):

bofa_pref1

Bank of America’s interest rates on cash accounts tend to be much lower than highest-available outside banks, so moving cash over to qualify may reduce your interest earnings. Pass. Merrill Lynch advisory accounts also usually come with management fees. Pass. 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.

A couple years ago, I did a partial transfer of a little over $100k of brokerage assets (Vanguard funds) over to Merrill Edge to qualify for Platinum Honors. (You could also do $20k to qualify for Gold, or $50k to qualify for Platinum.) 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.)

I realize not everyone will have this level of assets to move around, 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% cash back on all purchases. Here’s are the cash back rates after the Preferred Rewards bonuses:

  • Platinum Honors (75% bonus): 3.5% cash back on travel and dining, 2.625% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Platinum (50% bonus): 3% cash back on travel and dining, 2.25% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Gold (25% bonus): 2.5% cash back on travel and dining, 1.875% cash back on all other purchases.

Rewards comparison. This card has a more flexible rewards structure than their BankAmericard Travel Rewards card in that the points don’t have to offset a travel purchase. You can redeem at a flat 1 point = 1 cent value towards a statement credit or deposit into eligible Bank of America or Merrill Lynch® accounts (including deposit, investment or 529 accounts).

Getting a flat 2.625% (Platinum Honors) or 2.25% cash back (Platinum) on all purchases is a very solid base earning level. In terms of the competition, there are now multiple cash back cards in the 2% cash back range such as the Citi Double Cash Card with no annual fee. That means I wouldn’t bother with this card for everyday purchases if I wasn’t Platinum or Platinum Honors.

Also note that you can also earn similar levels of everything rewards (minus the travel/dining bonus category) but restricted to offsetting a travel-related purchase with the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card – except with no annual fee. The question then reverts back to if you can offset that $95 annual fee with the $100 annual incidental airline credit good towards seat upgrades, baggage fees, in-flight services and airport lounge fees. (Do I pay that much in baggage fees every year? Sadly I did this year.) If you can get max value out of that airline incidental credit every year, then that removes the major disadvantage when compared to the BofA Travel Rewards card. You can then enjoy the added perks like the $500 value sign-up bonus, $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit once every 4 years, and the higher rewards on travel/dining bonus.

Bottom line. The Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card is rather average in basic form, but is elevated into an excellent card if you can qualify for the Platinum or Platinum Honors tiers of their Preferred Rewards program for up to 3.5% cash back on travel and dining and 2.625% cash back on all other purchases. The $500 initial sign-up bonus is nice, but note the the $95 annual fee is not waived for the first year. Consider your ability to use up the $100 annual incidental airline credit.

5% Cash Back Credit Cards: Rotating Categories Update 2017

5percentback Activation for 4th Quarter 2017 is live. The credit cards below offer a hefty 5% cash back on categories that rotate each quarter. It takes a little extra attention, but I also rack up over a hundred dollars in additional rewards per year without changing my spending habits. You can also buy gift cards with the 5% back now but spend the gift cards later.

None of these have an annual fee, so it costs me nothing to keep them around. New cardmembers may also get an upfront sign-up bonus.

Chase Freedom VisaChase Freedom Visa – $150 Cash Bonus

From October 1st through December 31st, 2017 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Walmart (includes SuperCenters, Walmart Neighborhood Markets, Walmart.com, and Walmart branded gas stations operated by Walmart)
  • Department Stores (includes JCPenney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Nordstrom Rack)

chase_2017q4

Enroll each quarter at ChaseBonus.com. As long as you activate by the end of the quarter the rewards are retroactive. All other purchases earn 1% back, with no tiers or expiration of rewards. Technically, you earn Ultimate Rewards points which can also be converted to frequent flier miles instead of cash. Currently, the Chase Freedom card is offering $150 bonus cash back if you sign up and make $500 in purchases in your first three months.

Discover it 14 ImageDiscover it® Cashback Match

From October 1st through December 31st, 2017 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Amazon.com
  • Target

Amazon.com purchases include those made through the Amazon.com checkout, including digital downloads, Amazon.com gift cards, Amazon Fresh orders, Amazon Local Deals, Amazon Prime subscriptions and items sold by third party merchants through Amazon.com’s marketplace. Target purchases include any purchase made online or in-store at Target and SuperTarget.

disc_2017q4

Enroll after logging into your online account (look on the right-hand side). 5% rewards won’t apply until after you activate your rewards, so it is best to activate now before you forget.

If you are a new applicant and sign up via my Discover Card referral link, you will get a $50 Cashback Bonus after your first purchase within 3 months of being approved. You will also get Cashback Match for an entire year – a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. That means for the first year your 5% cash back purchases becomes 10% cash back, and your 1% cash back purchases become 2% cash back. Plus, at the end of the year that $50 sign-up bonus will also be doubled to $100.

You can verify all this on the application page by clicking on “See rates, rewards and other info” and looking for this text:

TERMS OF CASHBACK BONUS OFFER: Get a $50 Cashback Bonus after you make your first purchase within 3 months of being approved. Promotional award will be applied within 8 weeks. The promotional award is in addition to the Cashback Bonus earned on all purchases.

Cashback MatchTM: If your account is closed or no longer in the cash back reward program at the time we calculate your potential award, your cash back will not be matched. You’ve earned cash back rewards when they have posted to your account by the end of the 12th consecutive billing period. This promotional offer may not be offered in the future. This exclusive offer is available only to new cardmembers.

usbankcashplusU.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card. This card unique in that you get to choose the two 5% cash back categories every quarter, out of a preset selection of niche categories like “Fast Food” or “Department Stores”.

You also get to choose a single 2% cash back category from a preset selection of broader categories like “Gas Stations” or “Grocery Stores”. 1% cash back on everything else. No limit on total cash back earned. However as you see below getting 2% is not that special, so this card is only really good if you spend significantly in the available niche categories. Importantly, you must remember to choose your categories each quarter, even if they stay the same! If you do not choose your categories, all purchases revert to only earning 1% cash back for that quarter.

5% Cash Back at Amazon. Get 5% back at Amazon.com all year long with the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card. Prime membership required.

Don’t settle for the “1% on everything else” that these cards offer. Get 2% cash back or higher. The following cards currently have the ability to offer cash back rewards as high as 2% or even greater. Please read my card-specific reviews for details.

Big List of Ways To Protect Your Credit: Free Credit Monitoring, Credit Locks, Fraud Alerts, and Credit Freezes

eq_hackAs you probably know, Equifax was hacked and literally half of all Americans could be affected. It seems like every media outlet has a “what you should do now” article, but I’ve also gotten some e-mails asking for my personal take (for which I’m flattered). Here goes…

Free credit reports. Everyone should take advantage of the free copy of their credit reports (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) and their bank report (ChexSystems, TeleCheck) available every 12 months. I would also add LexisNexis to the ones I personally check. This free access is mandated by the government. Here again is my Big List of Free Consumer Reports.

Free credit monitoring. There are many offers nowadays for free credit scores and partial snapshots of your credit report. These are provided by private services, either in partnership with or as a subsidiary of the major credit bureaus. In addition, some offer credit monitoring, where they will e-mail or text you when a significant change occurs (new accounts, etc). I choose to take advantage of this, knowing it is in exchange for some ads. Here’s a recipe for credit monitoring coverage across all three major bureaus:

Free credit locks. The credit bureaus now have a feature that allows you to instantly “lock” and “unlock” the credit report of a specific credit bureau and thus prevent access. These are nice because you can unlock it for a day or so when you need, but otherwise keep it locked. Again, if they are free, they are probably supported by ads and/or upsells (which is fine by me, I will stick with free).

Free 90-Day Fraud Alerts. If you are concerned that your personal information is compromised (you should be!), you can contact any one of the three major credit bureaus and ask for a “Fraud Alert” to be placed on your credit report. This lets all potential creditors know that you are at high risk and that they need to do extra identity verification. Be sure that they have your current contact information as they will call you every time someone tries to check your credit report.

This is free of charge. It will expire automatically after 90 days, but you can call in and renew by submitting a new request within 30 days of your current alert expiring. (If you are a documented victim of identity theft, you can ask for an Extended Fraud Alert of up to 7 years.) By law, you should only need to contact one of them, and they are supposed to contact the other two companies and thus have the Fraud Alert active on all three accounts. Taken from FTC.gov:

Credit Freezes (Fees may apply). This is the most comprehensive but also tedious and potentially-costly measure to take. Once you initiate a credit freeze, it will stay on there permanently in most states (or at least 7 years in others). In order for a business to check your credit report, you must manually “unfreeze” your credit temporarily. To initiate, this may cost around $10, but Equifax is waiving this fee for the next 30 days. Temporary unfreezing may cost another $5 to $10 each time, depending on your state. Finally, it may cost another ~$10 to lift the freeze permanently. Now possibly triple those fees, because you have to pay separately for each bureau. Here is the Equifax fee schedule by state [pdf]. If you are a documented ID theft victim with police report, fees may be waived. You can do this online, snail mail, or by phone. You must contact each credit bureau separately.

My take. That’s the menu; I would start at the top and pick what works for you. I tend to open a relatively high number of credit and bank accounts throughout the year, often for a time-senstive promotion, so I choose to decline the extra hassle and cost that comes with a credit freeze. If you rarely get new accounts or simply feel otherwise, go more extreme. I initiated a free 90-Day Fraud Alert this week to try it out (through Equifax since they should do the extra work).

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I already access my credit reports/ChexSystems/LexisNexis every 12 months, and I continuously monitor my own credit using the services listed above. Here’s a sample free alert I got from CreditKarma just the other day.

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I then cross-referenced with a similar free credit monitoring alert from CreditSesame (TransUnion) that included more info like date and card issuer:

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By the way, yes I decided to set up the free TrustID Premier service for the free Equifax locks. I know there was a lot of concern about the forced arbitration clause as part of TrustedID, but Equifax has since removed that clause. Also, I didn’t like how they made me come back to activate (without any reminder). Of course, even after being patient and coming back on my assigned date, they are making me wait some more…

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Amazon Prime + American Express Promotion: Fire Tablets $15

fire7Here’s another quick deal for Amazon Prime members that also have American Express Membership Rewards points. First, all Amazon Prime members can get the following prices this week:

However, if you have an American Express Rewards account, click here and check eligibility for up to a $30 discount when you pay with at least one AmEx point. Even if the link says you’re not eligible, it should still work as long as you follow all the directions below. Found via SD. You may need to first link your American Express card.

Be sure to select your linked American Express card as payment method, select the option to Pay with Points (you can use just 1 point), and apply the promo code to trigger the discount. So much fighting to be the credit card used at Amazon…