Ally CashBack Credit Card Review: 2% Cash Back on Gas and Groceries + 10% Relationship Bonus

allycbccIf you have an Ally Bank savings or checking account, you’ve likely been pitched their new Ally CashBack credit card recently. Here are the highlights:

  • $100 bonus when you make $500 in eligible purchases during the first 3 billing cycles.
  • 2% cash back at gas stations and grocery stores
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • No limits on rewards categories.
  • 10% boost on earned rewards when you deposited into an eligible Ally Bank account.
  • No annual fee.
  • Intro 0% APR for 12 billing cycles on balance transfers. (No 0% APR on purchases.) Balance transfer fee is either $10 or 4%, whichever is greater.

As with all the big banks, Ally is working on their cross-marketing. They want you to keep your checking, savings, IRAs, brokerage, and credit cards all at the same place. Ally’s strong in the online banking side (named best online bank by Money Magazine for the fifth year in a row). Credit cards are here, and a brokerage arm is just around the corner (TradeKing). I am personally interested in such convenience, as for years Ally Bank has been my primary checking, savings, and CD accounts.

Including the 10% relationship bonus, this Visa Signature card would get you 2.2% cash back on gas stations and grocery stores and then 1.1% on all other purchases. While this structure is better than the traditional 1% flat credit cards, the competition has heated up in the last few years. Consider:

The best program to compare against is Bank of America. The BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card offers 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and now at wholesale clubs, and 3% on gas up to the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter. Bank of America also offers a 10% bonus on rewards earned when you redeem your cash back into a Bank of America checking or savings account. However, they also have premium relationship tiers that offer up to a 75% bonus on rewards that would work out to 1.75% cash back on every purchase, 3.5% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 5.25% on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter. To me, this made it worth it to build up a “relationship” with them, including opening up a new brokerage account and new credit cards.

Ally touts this new card as “simple”, but what would have really been simple is a flat 2% cash back card on everything and then a small relationship bonus on top of that. That way, when taken together with an Ally Bank account, the card would have been the best in many respects. Combined with their high-interest deposit accounts, you’d have a combo that could shake up the industry. The weakest point of my Bank of America combo is their piddly 0.05% APY on savings accounts and sad CD rates, whereas one of the strongest points of Ally is the 1.00% APY of their savings account and highly-competitive CD rates.

Bottom line. The rewards are above-average overall, and might be worth a look for Ally-centric customers. However, there are top cards in the marketplace that offer close to a flat 2% on everything, and better gas and grocery-specific cards as well. I personally prefer to pick things à la carte unless the sum is greater than the parts, as is the current situation with Bank of America.

Chase Freedom 10% Back on Hotels and Car Rentals via Ultimate Rewards

The Chase Freedom credit card has a new special promotion offering 10% cash back on up to $2,500 in combined hotel and car rental purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards in July. Details:

  • The purchases must be made July 1–31, 2016.
  • Your actual travel dates can be any time.
  • Applies only to hotels and car rentals booked through ChaseUltimateRewards.com.

In general, ChaseUltimateRewards.com offers prices that are comparable to Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, etc. Hotel prices do vary more than airfare, so I would still comparison shop side-by-side. Note that their hotel room quotes include taxes, which some other sites (like Expedia) add in very late in the checkout process. Also, I found how they listed rooms by TripAdvisor rating to be interesting.

This is addition to the quarterly 5% cash back category, which currently includes Restaurants and Wholesale Clubs (Costco, Sam’s Club, BJ’s).

FreeCreditScore.com Review: Free Experian FICO Score, Credit Report, and Credit Monitoring

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The URL is suspiciously generic and raised my scam radar, but Experian-owned FreeCreditScore.com has been revamped to offer a pretty good package – a free FICO score, full credit report, and free credit monitoring based on your Experian credit report data. (Continue to be wary of other less-credible sites.) Like most of its competitors, “free” means that you agree to let them market products to you based on your personal information. This post provides additional details regarding this service.

FICO Score details.

  • FICO Score version: FICO Score 8, or FICO 08. This is the most widely used of the many FICO flavors. Score version is directly shown on the website.
  • Credit bureau: Experian
  • Update frequency: Every 30 days or when you log in, whichever is longer.
  • Limitations: Available to everyone. No specific credit card required.

How to get your score. Here’s a preview of the application and approval process:

  1. You must provide personal information, including Social Security Number. Name, address, etc. This is required for any service that checks your credit score.
  2. You must agree to their Privacy Policy and Ad Targeting Policy. Basically, they will give your free access to your credit score and other credit information, and they will also collect personal information to market products and other services to you. Your information may also be shared with their affiliates.
  3. Identity verification questions. They will ask you some multiple choice questions based on your Experian credit report data in order to verify your identity. If you don’t pass this quiz, I would go over to AnnualCreditReport.com and get a copy of your report to scan for errors.
  4. Set your personal security questions. At this point, you are approved. You just need to set up the standard security questions like “Who was your 2nd grade teacher?”

What kind of information do you get? The score model is FICO Score 8, based on your Experian credit report. This is the same score model and credit bureau offered by American Express and CreditScoreCard by Discover, and is within a few points for me (the check dates are slightly off). The other two major bureaus are TransUnion and Equifax.

The major difference is that FreeCreditScore.com offers your full Experian credit report and ongoing credit monitoring of your Experian credit data. This includes any new credit inquiries, new accounts, pubic records, fraud alerts, and other personal information updates to your Experian credit report.

How often is it updated? As often as every 30 days, but only if you log in to the website. Many sites operate this way, as it reduces their costs of grabbing your score if you are no longer interested. Also, they want you to log in so that they can show you advertisements.

Screenshots. Here’s a look at my sign-up process and account page:

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Bottom line. Experian owns FreeCreditScore.com and has jumped in fully into the “free score for showing you ads” business model. As they aren’t a credit card issuer, they can feel free to open it up to everyone. They offer the full Experian package of free FICO score, full credit report, and free credit monitoring based on your Experian credit report data. Most other Experian-based providers only offer one out of these three.

There are a lot of options out there now, but if you wanted to cover the other two bureaus efficiently, consider that CreditKarma.com offers free weekly updates of both your TransUnion and Equifax credit report factors in one site. You also get free weekly non-FICO credit scores and free automatic, daily TransUnion credit monitoring.

Related: Here are major credit card issuers with free FICO programs:

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card Limited-Time 75,000 Point Offer

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Limited-time 75,000 point offer. The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card, from our partner Citi, is their no-annual fee co-branded card featuring a new limited-time offer with the following perks:

  • Earn 75,000 40,000 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points after making $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*. This is the highest bonus that I have seen on this no-annual-fee card.
  • Earn 6 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent at any participating hotel within the Hilton portfolio.*
  • Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on purchases at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations.*
  • Earn 2 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on all other purchases.*
  • Enjoy the benefits of HHonors Silver status as long as you are a cardmember*
  • No annual fee.*

This card is ideal for people who at least occasionally stay at Hilton hotels (as this card is also giving you a bunch of points and complimentary Silver status to try and get you to become more loyal). Hilton HHonors points are worth the most when redeemed for a hotel stay, as there aren’t really that many great cash-equivalent redemption options.

Silver Status perks include:

  • 15% bonus on all the HHonors Base Points you earn.
  • 5th night free on Standard Room Reward stays of 5 nights or more.
  • Complimentary in-room and lobby Standard Internet access during stays at Waldorf Astoria™ Hotels & Resorts, Conrad® Hotels & Resorts, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton™, Canopy™ by Hilton, Embassy Suites Hotels™ and Hilton Grand Vacations™
  • Two complimentary bottles of water per stay (at Waldorf Astoria™ Hotels & Resorts, Conrad® Hotels & Resorts, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton™, Embassy Suites Hotels™, Hilton Garden Inn™ and Hilton Grand Vacations™ hotels)

Hilton points redemption varies from month to month. You can use this search tool to see how much a hotel will cost in any specific area (i.e. Honolulu or Paris). Here are some example redemptions for the months of April, May, and June:

  • Honolulu, Hawaii. Hilton Waikiki Beach is 40,000 points. Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort is 50,000 points.
  • San Francisco, California. Hilton San Francisco Union Square is 50,000 points.
  • Orlando, Florida. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando is 20,000 points.
  • New York City, NU. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel New York – Times Square South is 70,000 points. Hilton Times Square is 80,000 points.

This Citi Hilton card is the version with no annual fee, the first year or any future year. If you have this card and are looking to sign-up again, please note this fine print:

Hilton HHonors Bonus Points offer not available if you have had a Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card account that was opened or closed in the past 18 months.

There is also another card called the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card which has a $95 annual fee, but has better ongoing perks. I previously applied for the Reserve version and enjoyed nice stay in Hawaii with it, but I can understand that some people prefer no annual fee.

“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.”

BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card Review: $100 Bonus, Preferred Rewards Bonus

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Updated. As of June 1st, 2016, the 2% cash back includes both grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to 3.5% with Platinum Honors Preferred Rewards), with the spending cap raised to $2,500 in combined gas, grocery, and wholesale club purchases per quarter. This is a permanent (non-rotating) category addition that includes Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJs wholesale clubs.

The BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card is the mainstream “cash back rewards” credit card branded by Bank of America. In this review, I’ll cover the basic 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:

  • No annual fee.
  • $100 online cash rewards bonus after you spend at least $500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
  • Earn 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and now at wholesale clubs, and 3% on gas up to the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter.
  • No changing categories and no expiration on rewards
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases AND for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then, 13.24% – 23.24% Variable APR. 3% fee (min $10) applies to balance transfers.
  • Get a 10% customer bonus every time you redeem your cash back into a 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 (click to enlarge):

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 moved a little over $100k of brokerage assets (Vanguard funds) over to Merrill Edge to qualify for Platinum Honors. I realize not everyone will have this level of assets to move around, but if you do then it is worth considering. Also, I later realized that it will take a while for my “3-month average combined balance” to actually reach the $100k level and officially qualify for Platinum Honors. After that the 25% – 75% rewards bonus on credit card rewards kick in.

Cash Back Rewards Tiers for Preferred Rewards

Recall that the basic structure is “1/2/3”; you get 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 3% on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter (1/2/3). Here’s how the bonuses work out:

  • Platinum Honors 1.75/3.5/5.25: 1.75% cash back on every purchase, 3.5% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 5.25% on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter.
  • Platinum 1.5/3/4.5: 1.5% cash back on every purchase, 3% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 4.5% on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter.
  • Gold 1.25/2.5/3.75: 1.25% cash back on every purchase, 2.5% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 3.75% on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter.

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.

Well, I wish my cable company would offer such nice “bundling” incentives, as now 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 with 100 free trades per month and a new Bank of America credit card.

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

Not all Bank of America consumer credit cards qualify for Preferred Rewards. Another card that does qualify is the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card. I initially picked the BankAmericard Travel Rewards credit card myself, but will probably add this card now for the potential to get 3.5% cash back on all my Costco wholesale club purchases. Also, this card gives you cash while the Travel Rewards card rewards must be redeemed against travel purchases.

“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.”

5% Cash Back Credit Cards: Rotating Categories Update 2016

Updated June 2016. Activation for 3rd quarter now open. Chase Freedom 5% back on Wholesale Clubs (including Costco, Sams Club, and BJs) extended until September 30th. Other notable 5% categories include restaurants, home improvement stores, and Amazon.com.

The credit cards below offer a hefty 5% cash back on certain 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. None of these have an annual fee, so it costs me nothing to keep them all around. New cardmembers often also get an initial sign-on bonus.

Side tip: Sometimes I even load up on gift cards so that I can get the 5% back now but spend the gift cards later.

Chase Freedom VisaChase Freedom® – $150 Bonus 

From April 1st through June 30th, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Grocery Stores (not including Wal-Mart and Target purchases)
  • Wholesale Clubs (includes Costco, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club)

From July 1st through September 30th, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Restaurants
  • Wholesale Clubs (includes Costco, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club)

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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. Currently, the Chase Freedom® card is offering $150 bonus cash back if you sign up and make just $500 in purchases in your first three months and a $25 Bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within this same 3-month period. No annual fee.

Discover it 14 ImageDiscover it® Card

From April 1st through June 30th, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Restaurants
  • Movies

From July 1st through September 30th, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Home Improvement Stores
  • Amazon.com

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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. New applicants can get their earned Cash Back doubled at the end of the first year.

Citi Dividend Platinum Select Visa CardCiti® Dividend Platinum Select® Visa® Card (Existing cardholders only) From July 1st through September 30th, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories: (calendar):

  • Hilton Portfolio of hotels and resorts
  • Car Rentals

This a grandfathered card that is no longer available to new applicants. Log into your online account or call 1-800-231-0891 to activate the rewards each quarter (starts upon activation, not retroactive). The total cash back limit is $300 earned per calendar year.

U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card. What makes this card unique is 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 “Sporting Goods 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.

As you’ll see below, getting 2% is not that special, so this card is best if you spend significantly in the available niche categories. Also, you must remember to choose your categories each quarter! If you do not choose your categories, all purchases revert to only earning 1% cash back for that quarter.

Finally, get a better “Everything Else” card! Don’t settle for the “1% on everything else” that these cards offer. 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.

“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.”

New Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi Review

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Updated June 2016; Now open to new applicants. Citi and Costco have released the details of their new co-branded credit cards, the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi and the Costco Anywhere Visa® Business Card by Citi. Here’s a quick overview of the details for each card.

Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi highlights: (For Personal Use)

  • 4% cash back on eligible gas worldwide, including gas at Costco, for the first $7,000 per year and then 1% thereafter. You will not get 4% cash back for gas purchased at superstores, supermarkets, convenience stores and warehouse clubs other than Costco.
  • 3% cash back on restaurant and eligible travel purchases worldwide
  • 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Worldwide Car Rental Insurance and Worldwide Travel Accident Insurance.
  • Damage & Theft Purchase Protection is included, which may cover you for repairs or refunds for items you purchased with your Costco Anywhere Card that are damaged or stolen within 120 days of purchase (90 days for New York residents).
  • No annual fee (with paid Costco membership).
  • Will also serve as your Costco membership card.

Costco Anywhere Visa® Business Card by Citi highlights:

  • 4% cash back on eligible gas worldwide, including gas at Costco, for the first $7,000 per year and then 1% thereafter. You will not get 4% cash back for gas purchased at superstores, supermarkets, convenience stores and warehouse clubs other than Costco.
  • 3% cash back on restaurant and eligible travel purchases worldwide
  • 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Worldwide Car Rental Insurance and Worldwide Travel Accident Insurance.
  • Damage & Theft Purchase Protection is included, which may cover you for repairs or refunds for items you purchased with your Costco Anywhere Card that are damaged or stolen within 120 days of purchase (90 days for New York residents).
  • No annual fee (with paid Costco membership).
  • Will also serve as your Costco membership card.
  • Visa SavingsEdge eligibility. Receive automatic savings after enrollment on qualifying purchases at participating merchants.

Had the Costco American Express? You did not need to apply for a new card. You should have already received the new card in the mail to your registered address. After June 20, 2016, you can start using it. At that time, any cash rewards and/or debt balance will be transferred over to the new card, and your Costco American Express will be closed automatically. You should not have closed your Costco American Express on your own, or you wouldn’t have received the benefits of this automatic transfer.

The rewards will accrue in the form of “Costco Cash Rewards”. This means you’ll get a paper coupon snail-mailed to you once every year in February based on your previous year’s spending, which you can either (1) use as payment for goods directly at the Costco cash register or (2) convert to cash or check at a Costco customer service desk. You may also do a partial redemption at a cash register and they’ll give you the remaining balance in cash. Coupon must be redeemed in person on or prior to its expiration date of December 31 in the year in which it is issued.

Commentary. Here is an overview of the competition:

  • The new Fidelity Rewards Credit Card is another Visa card that should get you 2% back on your Costco purchases.
  • The Citi Double Cash Card exists both a Visa and Mastercard, but reports are you cannot switch to a Visa if you have a Mastercard.
  • The BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card is a Visa and has the potential to earn you up to 2.625% back at Costco in the form of statement credits towards travel (see review; additional requirements apply).
  • The BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card is a Visa and has the potential to earn you at least 2% and up to 3.5% cash back at Costco on up to $2,500 in purchases per quarter (see review; additional requirements apply).
  • Through the end of 2016, the Chase Freedom Card will earn you 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter. You can even stock up on Costco gift cards bought at Costco.com if you want to max out this limited-time promotion.

This card maintains the overall simplicity of the old consumer card, while slightly improving the rewards percentages. The bonus category percentages went up (new Visa is 4/3/1, old AmEx was 3/2/1). The improved 2% cash back at Costco and Costco.com (formerly only 1%) is significant, as it means that you finally won’t be as tempted to use a non-Costco-branded card at Costco! I was hoping for 5% back on gas to match the Sam’s Club card, but I suppose we’ll have to settle for 4%. I would also note that both the personal and business cards now have the same rewards percentages.

Big List of Bank / Credit Card Privacy Opt-Out Links

If you have any sort of financial account, you’ve probably gotten one of these privacy forms in the mail:

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The information they are talking about can include:

  • Social Security number
  • How much you make (Income)
  • How much money you have (Balances)
  • What you buy (Transaction history)
  • How much you borrow (Credit and payment history)

The amount of sharing varies widely:

  • For our affiliates to market to you = We can share with companies who are under the same ownership or control.
  • For non-affiliates to market to you = We can sell your information to anyone! They don’t even have to be financially-related companies.

These companies lobbied heavily to make these forms work on an Opt-Out basis instead of Opt-In. That means that unless you tell them not to, they can share however they want. The fact that you are busy with your own life benefits them by default.

It is just so tempting to not bother, but if you can commit a chunk of time, I’ve tried to collect the information for most of the largest financial institutions below. That way, you can knock them all out at once, and hopefully be done for a few years at least. You’ll often need the bank account or credit card number to complete the form.

* If you are really short on time: At the time of writing here are the companies that share with non-affiliates: Ally, Capital One, Chase, Citibank (bank and credit cards), Discover, FIA Cardservices. Opt out of these first, if applicable.

Ally Financial

American Express

Bank of America

Barclaycard US

Capital One

Charles Schwab

Chase

Citibank (Bank Accounts)

Citi Credit Cards

Discover Card

FIA Cardservices

US Bank

Wells Fargo

  • Privacy Notice
  • Online: Log on to wellsfargo.com, and choose Change Privacy Preferences under the Account Services tab.
  • Phone: 1-888-528-8460

WalletHub Review: Free Daily TransUnion Credit Score and Report

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Here’s a quick review of a new credit service called WalletHub. While the stated mission is to help improve your financial situation, at its core is a service that offers free credit score, free credit reports, and free credit monitoring. In exchange, it will use your personal data to show match you up with advertised offers like car loans, credit cards, and prepaid cards. Highlights:

  • Free non-FICO credit score, updated daily. Credit score model is the VantageScore 3.0, scale 300-850. Credit bureau is TransUnion.
  • Free daily access to full TransUnion credit report. You can take a look at your full TransUnion credit report on any day, but keep in mind that TransUnion only updates the data once a month.
  • Free daily credit monitoring. Since they are already checking your data every day, Wallethub will send you an e-mail alert if there any significant changes to your TransUnion credit report.

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The competition. As noted, this is not a FICO score but something called the VantageScore 3.0. These “FAKO” scores are still useful for tracking changes to your credit report information. However, competitor CreditKarma.com already offers the VantageScore 3.0 for both your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports. CreditKarma updates your score once a week, as opposed to WalletHub’s daily. Both offer daily credit monitoring based on TransUnion data.

Bottom line. For most people, I would say covering two out three credit bureaus by Credit Karma on a weekly frequency is better than the single bureau on a daily frequency. However, I know there are some folks that are meticulously rebuilding their credit and may appreciate daily score updates. The same folks may appreciate full TransUnion report access. I am satisfied with ongoing daily monitoring from Credit Karma and the free annual report mandated by the government. You could always use both if you are okay with providing both services your Social Security number and other personal information.

Free FICO Score from Wells Fargo Credit Cards and Loan Borrowers

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This post provides updated information and instructions regarding the free FICO score that is available to Well Fargo credit card holders and select loan borrowers. Accessing your own FICO Score will not impact your credit score.

Background. Wells Fargo started rolling out free FICO scores to select credit cardholders and certain loan borrowers in early 2016, with a stated plan of increased rollout throughout the rest of 2016.

FICO Score details.

  • FICO Score version: FICO Bankcard Score 2. This is one of the older FICO score models with score range 250-900 amongst the many FICO flavors. Score version is taken from app screenshot.
  • Credit bureau: Experian
  • Update frequency: Monthly (Approximate)
  • Limitations: Available only to affiliated Wells Fargo customers. As of May 2016, customers with credit cards, student loans, direct auto loans, and personal loans are eligible. Home mortgage and Home Equity Line of Credit customers are “coming soon”. As of May 2016, only available in their smartphone and tablet apps. Desktop access to come later in 2016.

How to find the score. As of May 2016, access to the free FICO score is only available via their Wells Fargo smartphone and tablet apps. Desktop access will arrive later. You can find the mobile app download links here. If you already have it, double-check that your app version is the most up-to-date version.

After installation, sign on to your Wells Fargo account. Go to your Account Summary. Select “View Your FICO® Credit Score” and opt in. Here are some screenshots from the app (credit to j615 of myFICO forums, click to enlarge):

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If you do not see the “View Your FICO® Credit Score” button, either update your app or check your eligibility again. You must be the primary cardholder; authorized users are not eligible.

Bottom line. If you are already a Wells Fargo customer, they already have most of your personal information, so I see little reason not to take advantage of this free FICO score offer based on your Experian database. I would take note that this is not the more common FICO 08 Classic score model with score range of 300 to 850.

Here is additional information about other major credit card issuers with free FICO programs:

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard: Limited-Time Offer

Citi AAdvantage World Elite MatserCard ArtThe Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®, from our partner Citi, is their premium American Airlines co-branded card and the sign-up bonus has been bumped up for a limited-time. The highlights:

  • Earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • Admirals Club® membership for you with guest privileges*
  • Complimentary Admirals Club® lounge Access for authorized users
  • 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles from American Airlines after $40,000 spent on purchases every year (January through December billing statement)*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to eight companions traveling with you on the same reservation*

The first special feature on this card is the flexible Admirals Club lounge membership. The 60,000 miles are nice and can be converted to several hundred dollars (or more) worth of airfare. $100 for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry is nice. But the annual fee is a hefty $450. The thing that tips the scales is the Admirals Club membership, which usually costs $500 on its own and allows you and your immediate family (or up to two traveling guests that accompany you) to access over 50 Admirals Club locations worldwide.

You don’t even need to be on an American Airlines flight! You can even give your spouse or trusted friend/family an authorized user card and they’ll get lounge access too, even while traveling separately from you.

You can be flying on any airline, and if that airport has an Admirals Club you and your family can go inside. Lounge access might save you money on certain things like food/drinks and WiFi (and sometimes hot showers), but mostly it just makes the overall flying experience more pleasant. I’ve been to Admiral’s Club with special kids rooms; perfect for delays or layovers. You can enjoy this for an entire year before you have to pay the next year’s $450 annual year.

The second special feature on this card is for the American Airlines elite qualifying miles if you know you can generate the required $40,000 in spending in a calendar year. I’ve given up status chasing for the time being, but if you’re an elite on American, you probably already know the value of accumulating these type of miles. 10,000 elite qualifying flight miles is like going from Honolulu to Los Angeles, roundtrip, twice.

This is a niche premium card; If you don’t care about lounge access and aren’t trying to achieve elite status on American, this card is not for you.

Note the bonus fine print if you’ve had this exact card before:

American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles not available if you have had a Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World EliteTM MasterCard® opened or closed in the past 24 months.

If you fly on American but neither of the two bolded reasons above are attractive to you, I would look into the Citi ThankYou Prestige card instead. (This is how I’ve been checking out all the Admiral lounges.) There are no elite qualifying miles and you need to have a American Airlines boarding pass to gain club lounge access, but it also offers a variety of alternative perks.

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Credit Card Churning vs. Sustainable, Efficient Sampling

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In investing, when a market inefficiency is made well-known and also easy to replicate, you can bet that inefficiency will soon disappear. I was catching up on my magazine stack and saw that Bloomberg Businessweek wrote about credit card churning, where people aggressively sign up for 16 credit cards in a year and bend the rules as far as they will go.

As someone who just came back from Costco, this made me think of their free samples. Manufacturers give out these free samples with the hope their upfront expense will be covered by the additional product sales. Most people will pass on by, some will take one sample, and a few will treat it like their personal buffet line. Now, there are no rules posted, but obviously if everyone takes 10 samples then the system falls apart.

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I’m not hatin’, just observin’. I’ve certainly gotten my share of bonuses in the past. I have a dedicated Google Spreadsheet and know that business card organizers are a great way to keep physical cards organized. (I used to use baseball card pages, but this is more compact and nothing falls out.) However, I am actually quite fine with credit card companies adding some limitations on their bonuses. As the saying goes, I’d rather shear the sheep many times rather than skin it once.

You don’t need to apply for 16 credit cards to earn a healthy dose of travel perks. Keep in mind that for many years, a sign-up bonus of $100 was noteworthy. Right now, I probably won’t write about something unless it is worth at least $500 in total bet value (taking into account both upfront and ongoing rewards, minus any annual fee). This is still a relatively good time for rewards, if no longer the absolute best.

At $500 a pop, just four cards per year will still net you $2,000 in annual perks. Consider it your reward for having a high credit score and good money management skills. (If you don’t have both, don’t do this at all.) Be a sustainable, efficient credit card sampler. Focus on the low-hanging, juiciest fruit only. High value, low work. It’s less stress, less risk, and you can still cover a big chunk of your annual vacation budget every year. I only apply for a maximum of roughly 4 cards per year for myself, and 2 cards per year for my spouse. For example, here are four cards that we have gotten recently that adds up to over $2,500 in value for us:

Back to the Costco free sample analogy. In end, if the product is good, it will be successful. If something isn’t good, giving away stuff won’t matter. For a long time, American Express had the “king” of credit cards points with their Membership Rewards points. But they starting chipping away at the value, and Chase introduced their brand-new Ultimate Rewards points and their Chase Sapphire Preferred card. These days, most people will tell you that Ultimate Rewards are a notch better because they are more flexible and have a higher base value per point.

When you apply for a card, your job is to both happily take the free stuff but also give them a chance to earn your business. Use it for purchases. Try their card website and see how easy it is to pay your bill online or set up automatic payments. Try their points website and see how easy it is to redeem your points. Call up their customer service and see how easy it is to dispute an incorrect charge. If it is a co-branded card, try out the hotels or airlines. See if it fits your lifestyle, be it Four Seasons or Motel 6.

Some can surprise you, especially if you learn about their lesser-known perks. For example, the American Express Delta Platinum SkyMiles card does not heavily advertise that it offers a free economy companion ticket each year upon card renewal. As a couple who regularly flies coast-to-coast on Delta, the free companion ticket has easily offset the $195 annual fee of the card and then some every year, while we also get free checked bags, priority boarding, and improved saver award seat availability.

The article focuses on customers getting stuff from credit card companies. Don’t forget there would be NO bonuses if credit card companies weren’t trying to get your money, either indirectly through the transaction fees you generate and your personal spending habit data, or directly through the interest you pay on your balances. Let them try to earn your business. Keep the good ones. Cancel the ones that fall short. There is nothing wrong with that.