Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card 75,000 Point Offer Review

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Citi Hilton HHonorsLimited-time offer. The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card, from our partner Citi, is offering a limited-time bonus increase. Here are the highlights:

  • Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after making $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • 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.*
  • HHonors Silver status as long as you are a cardmember*
  • No annual fee.*

What can I redeem for? Hilton points redemption varies, and they have moved towards dynamic award pricing with more focus on points + cash combinations. 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.

In order to find the points-only redemption rates, you must log into your Hilton Honors account and check the “Use Points” box when running a search. Here are some sample redemptions that I just ran for mid-March, comparing Hilton points vs. Expedia pricing side-by-side:

  • Honolulu, Hawaii. Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort is $501.33 ($440 + taxes) per night OR 50,000 Hilton points.
  • San Francisco, California. Hilton San Francisco Financial District is $418.16 ($359 + taxes) per night OR 60,000 Hilton points.
  • New York City. Hampton Inn Manhattan/Times Square Central is $358.08 ($309 + taxes) OR 70,000 Hilton points.

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)

Please note this fine print:

Hilton HHonors Bonus Points offer associated with a new card opening is not available if you have opened or closed any Citi Hilton HHonors cards in the past 24 months.

Bottom line. The redemption ratio varies and while it is still possible to get $500+ of value out of 75,000 Hilton points, I would say a more conservative range is $350 to $500. The standard bonus is 40,000 Hilton points, with 75,000 Hilton points being the highest that I’ve seen. It is relatively rare to get this size of a bonus on a credit card with no annual fee. The complimentary Silver Status is their lowest elite status and offers a few small convenience perks.

There is also another card called the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card which has a $95 annual fee, but has a bigger upfront bonus and better ongoing perks for frequent Hilton customers. Two free weekend nights can be worth over 160,000 Hilton points. I redeemed for nice weekend stay in Hawaii myself, but I know that some people prefer the simplicity of having 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.”

Barclaycard Ring MasterCard Review: 0% Intro APR For 15 Months + No Balance Transfer Fee

BarclayCard Ring MasterCard

Here’s a new offer for those looking to pay down debt and lower their interest rates. The Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard® has been updated with 0% introductory APR for the first 15 months on purchases and 0% introductory APR for 15 months on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening. Importantly, this card also has NO balance transfer fee both during and after the intro period, which is a rare feature these days. After the introductory period, the card has an 13.49% variable APR that applies to everything – purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances. Here are all the highlights:

  • 0% Introductory APR for the first 15 months on purchases. Plus, you’ll get a 0% introductory APR for 15 months on Balance Transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, 13.49%
  • No balance transfer fees
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Chip technology, so paying for your purchases is more secure at chip-card terminals in the U.S. and abroad
  • Free online access to FICO® Credit Score

No fee balance transfer offer. If you have an existing balance on another card that is racking up interest charges, you can transfer it to this card with no balance transfer fee and if you make the balance transfer within 45 days of account opening, you won’t be subject to any interest until well into 2018 and all of your payments during the first 15 months will go towards paying down the balance principal. You can even continue to put new purchases on the card given the simultaneous intro 0% APR on purchases.

It is very rare these days to find a no fee 0% APR balance transfer that is available to all. Make sure to keep making your minimum payments to keep that 0% APR.

In addition, this posting on the their Ring Community page suggests that you can even perform a balance transfer directly to your checking account:

Online ACH Transfers. You can use the available credit on your Barclaycard Ring account to complete a Balance Transfer to your checking account online. We carefully monitor fraud and credit risk, therefore this ACH transfer capability may not be available to all cardmembers. Also, you can only complete one ACH transfer within a 30 day period.

Free FICO Score details. The free FICO score is based on your your TransUnion credit report, and updates every 1 to 3 months. Specifically, you will get your FICO Score 8 or FICO 08 model, which is the most widely used version of FICO. You can see how your FICO changes as you pay down your balances. Here’s a screenshot from my Barclaycard account:

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Other features. This card does not have any cashback, points, or miles rewards program. There is a “Giveback program” that shares community estimated profits if you meet certain spending requirements, but there is no guaranteed amount and there is a certain hurdle that must be reached before any profits are shared. Since you have little control, I would treat any such profit sharing as a nice surprise but not as a reason to get this card.

Bottom line. The Barclaycard Ring MasterCard is all about the low intro interest rate and no balance transfer fee (even after the intro period). If you have debt, this card can help you lower your interest rate and pay off your balance faster.

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card Review: 5% Back at Amazon

primecreditChase and Amazon have rolled out the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, a new credit card (not store card) available only to Amazon Prime members. I’m surprised how much mainstream press coverage this card received. Highlights:

  • 5% back at Amazon.com for Amazon Prime members. If you stop your Prime membership, you’ll be downgraded to 3% back.
  • 2% Back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores.
  • 1% Back on all other purchases.
  • Sign-up bonus of variable amount based on each person’s account. I was offered a $70 Amazon Gift Certificate. Click on the “Apply Now” link to see your personalized offer, you’ll have time to stop the application.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee.
  • Extended warranty protection. Extends the time period for the U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year, on eligible warranties of three years or less.
  • Purchase Protection. Covers your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.

Existing Amazon Rewards Visa Signature cardholder? If you have the original card and are an Amazon Prime subscriber, you should be “upgraded” to this new card automatically. You may see the change online first (your linked purchases will start earning 5% back instead of just 3% back) before you actually receive a new physical card.

Commentary. I recently did a Amazon Store Card review, about a retail card issued by Synchrony Bank that was only valid at Amazon.com. My overall opinion of this credit card is similar, except for the extended warranty protection. If you use gift cards to buy things at Amazon, you will forgo the extended warranty protection and purchase protection that many other credit cards offer. With this card, you will get the extended warranty protection and 5% cash back. How much is an extra year’s warranty worth? Depends on how many big-ticket items you buy at Amazon and how likely you’ll actually remember to use this benefit.

My rough rule of thumb is that a “hard” credit check can reliably net me at least $500 in value, usually from “try me! try me!” credit card incentives but also potentially from bank bonuses and higher interest. It is very rare that I shop at any specific retailer enough to get $500 in savings. For example, it would take $10,000 of Amazon purchases at 5% back to net me $500 in cash back. If the sign-up bonus gets high enough, then I may take another look.

(2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores only draws a yawn when I can get that much cash back on everything. 1% cash back on everything else… zzzz.)

For the casual Amazon shopper, 5% rotating category credit cards often have Amazon or a place that sells Amazon gift cards as an eligible category. Other cards like the American Express Blue Cash Preferred offer 6% back at grocery stores (that sell Amazon gift cards) or Chase Ink Business cards offer 5% back at office supply stores (that sell Amazon gift cards). Basically, there are other ways that I can stock up on Amazon gift cards at 5% off without having this card.

In the end, if you are a loyal Prime member that spends a lot of money at Amazon and prefer simplicity, then this card can make sense. Link it to your Amazon account, and don’t use it for anything else. You’ll then track all your Amazon spending on one card, and also get extended warranty protection and purchase protection. As with any rewards credit card, you should always pay off your bill in full as the annual interest rate on balances is significantly higher than 5%.

5% Cash Back Credit Cards: Rotating Categories Update 2017

Activation for 1st Quarter 2017 is open. Do it now before you forget.

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 may also get an upfront sign-up bonus. Also, look for opportunities to load up on gift cards to get the 5% back now but spend the gift cards later.

Chase Freedom VisaChase Freedom Card

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

  • Gas Stations (Warehouse clubs are NOT included)
  • Local commuter transportation (includes taxis, subways, local commuter buses and trains)

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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.

Discover it 14 ImageDiscover it® Card

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

  • Gas Stations (stand-alone)
  • Ground Transportation
  • Wholesale Clubs

discover2017

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):

  • The Home Depot
  • Home furnishings stores

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.

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.

“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.”

Amazon Store Card Review: 5% Back on Amazon Purchases with Prime

amazonstoreA few readers have asked my opinions of the Amazon Store Card, a retail card issued by Synchrony Bank. You can only use it to buy things at Amazon.com – note the lack of a logo from Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or American Express. This is a separate product from the Amazon.com Rewards Visa Card (3% back at Amazon), which is a credit card issued by Chase that you can use anywhere that Visa is accepted. The key benefits of the Amazon Store Card are:

  • 5% Back for Amazon Prime members. Amazon Prime members are automatically upgraded to the Amazon Prime Store Card and can earn 5% back on all Amazon.com purchases.
  • No annual fee.

There are also financing offers, that come with the card, similar to retailer cards from Home Depot or Lowe’s.

  • No interest if paid in full within 6 months on any purchase totaling $149 or more. Interest will be charged to your account from the purchase date if the promotional balance is not paid in full within 6 months. Minimum monthly payments required.
  • No interest if paid in full within 12 months on any purchase totaling $599 or more. Interest will be charged to your account from the purchase date if the promotional balance is not paid in full within 12 months. Minimum monthly payments required.
  • No interest if paid in full within 24 months on select items sold by Amazon.com. Items sold by third parties do not qualify. Interest will be charged to your account from the purchase date if the promotional balance is not paid in full within 24 months. Minimum monthly payments required and may pay off purchase before end of promo period.
  • 12 Month Equal Pay Offer: 0% APR until paid in full. 12 equal monthly payments required.

As with those home improvement offers, you have to watch out for the balloon interest payment at the end. If you don’t pay in full, you will get charged back-dated interest starting back from the purchase date and not the end of the promo period. This credit line charges a variable interest rate based on the Prime Rate. The current Variable purchase APR is 26.24%. Yikes.

Commentary. So why don’t I mention the Amazon Store Card all the time? My rule of thumb is that a “hard” credit check can reliably net me at least $500 in value, usually from “try me! try me!” credit card incentives. It is very rare that I shop at any specific retailer enough to get $500 in savings. For example, it would take $10,000 of Amazon purchases at 5% back to net me $500 in cash back.

At the same time, 5% rotating category credit cards often have Amazon or a place that sells Amazon gift cards as an eligible category. Other cards like the American Express Blue Cash Preferred offer 6% back at grocery stores (that sell Amazon gift cards) or Chase Ink Business cards offer 5% back at office supply stores (that sell Amazon gift cards). Basically, there are other ways that I can stock up on Amazon gift cards at 5% off without having this card.

If you are a loyal Prime member that spends a lot of money at Amazon and prefer simplicity, then this card can make sense. The 5% off is automatic with your bill, and you get to easily track how much your Amazon habit is costing you. You’ll also want to be the type that either pays your bills in full or is great at navigating the fine print on financing opportunities. 26% APR interest is scary.

Citi American Airlines AAdvantage MasterCard Review – 50,000 Mile Limited-Time Bonus

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard Art

Limited-time bonus. The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ MasterCard®, from our partner Citi, has increased their sign-up bonus with a limited-time offer. Here are the updated card highlights:

  • For a limited time, earn 50,000 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 Group 1 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*
  • Annual fee is $95, waived for the first 12 months.

Note the following fine print:

OFFER AVAILABILITY
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 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.

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. This limited-time offer is a 20,000 miles increase from the previous 30,000 mile offer. The annual fee is also waived during the first year. Since you can only get one of these bonuses once every 24 months, it it is best to wait for such a bumped-up bonus. 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.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite MasterCard® application page

“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 American Airlines AAdvantage MasterCard Review – 50,000 Mile Limited-Time Bonus

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Limited-time bonus. The CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, from our partner Citi, has increased their sign-up bonus with a limited-time offer. Here are the updated card highlights:

  • Please note this a business card, designed specifically for businesses. Click here for the consumer version.
  • For a limited time, earn 50,000 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 Group 1 Boarding on American Airlines domestic flights*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases.
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines® purchases*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on purchases at telecommunications, car rental merchants and at gas stations*
  • Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile per $1 spent on other purchases.*
  • Annual fee is $95, waived for the first 12 months.
  • Earn AAdvantage® miles on Employee Purchases. Receive employee cards at no additional cost and get closer to your next adventure with every transaction.

Note the following fine print:

Card Offer: This card is not available if the business already has a CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard® card. Bonus miles are not available if you have had any 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.

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. The limited-time offer for this business card includes a higher 50,000 mile bonus and the annual fee is also waived during the first year. Since you can only get one of these bonuses once every 24 months, it it is best to wait for such a bumped-up bonus. 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.

“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.”

How To Stop Balance Transfer Checks from Chase, Citibank, Capital One, Etc.

mailbox‘Tis the season for a mailbox full of catalogs and credit card balance transfer checks. (Hint: There is a connection between the two.) If you want these “access” checks to stop, you just have to ask. You simply call them up (see back of credit card) or go online into their Live Chat or Secure Message systems and ask them.

In the past, I didn’t mind the checks as I wanted the opportunity to get money at 0% APR with no balance transfer fee. However, given the current low interest rates and the fact that nearly all of them have balance transfer fees, I’d rather just have less paper to shred. The wording isn’t particularly important, but you can just copy and paste this if you’d like:

Dear Credit Card Issuer,

I am writing to request that balance transfer and/or purchase access checks no longer be sent to me via mail. I would like for this preference to be applied across all of my credit card accounts.

Thank you,

Your Customer

Here are my successful results after online inquiries to Capital One, Chase, and Citibank. I didn’t have to call anyone.

Citibank. Via their Secure Message system:

nochecks_citi

Chase. Via their Secure Message system:

nochecks_chase

Capital One. I did this one via live chat. In retrospect, rather than waiting around for all the back and forth, it was probably easier to just send off a secure message and wait for the confirmation reply. Below is an excerpt of the chat.

nochecks_cap

If you don’t want any unsolicited offers for new credit cards sent to you, you can also enroll at OptOutPrescreen.com. This is not the same situation as above, because if you already have a relationship they can send you junk until you opt out.

American Express Small Business Saturday 2016

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This year, Small Business Saturday will be on November 26th, 2016. Although it was started in 2010 by American Express on the Saturday after Thankgsiving, since 2011 this day has been officially recognized by Congress.

As was the case last year, there will be no flat statement credits in 2016 for shopping at a small business. Instead, American Express is offering double points or double cash back through the end of 2016 for shopping at small businesses from now until December 31st, 2016. You must register here first. Find local, participating small businesses on their Shop Small map.

The 2X promotion works these various flavors of American Express. When you use your enrolled Card at small businesses:

  • Membership Rewards cards will earn 1 additional Membership Rewards point per dollar spent.
  • Delta Skymiles cards will earn 1 additional mile per dollar spent.
  • Blue Cash cards will earn an additional 1% back per dollar spent.
  • Blue Sky cards will earn 1 additional Blue Sky point per dollar spent.
  • Hilton Honors cards will earn 3 additional Hilton HHonors points per dollar spent.
  • Starwood Preferred Guest cards will earn 1 additional Starpoint per dollar spent.
  • Plenti cards will earn 1 additional Plenti point per dollar spent.
  • Schwab Investor cards will earn an additional 1.5% cash back per dollar spent.

Rewards cap applies; 2X Rewards valid on up to $100,000 in purchases per enrolled consumer card and $250,000 in purchases per enrolled business card.

American Express has also been adding a lot of new offers – including local small businesses! – to their AmEX Special Offers. Log into your account online and see what you have targeted in your area. You may also see 10% off your cable or Satellite TV bill, 10% off your cellular phone bill, $25 off Verizon Wireless, $20 off $100 at Staples.com, or double/triple points at merchants like Amazon, Target, and Home Depot.

If you have a small business and accept American Express but aren’t shown on on their Shop Small map, here’s how to get yourself added:

Please contact the Shop Small Team at 1-800-235-8916, Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, EST and have your federal tax ID handy. We look forward to hearing from you!

Participating small businesses can also sign up for additional marketing materials here.

This Fortune article discusses the positive impact that American Express’s statement credits from 2010-2014 had on small businesses after the 2009 recession. It felt good that this promotion supported independent retailers, whereas most promotions go towards the big chains. Small Business Saturday was also a clever way for American Express to tell the public that they’ve increased acceptance of their cards at small businesses, which has always been their relative weak spot due to their slightly higher fees for the merchant.

[Read more…]

FreeCreditReport.com Review: Free Experian Credit Report Every Month, No Credit Card Required

freecreditreport0Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, has bought the domain FreeCreditReport.com and converted it to a place where consumers can view their Experian Credit Report for free. There is no credit card required, no trial membership required. Like most of its competitors, “free” does mean that you’ll see advertisements and offers for paid premium features. Checking your own credit will not hurt your credit scores.

All things equal, why not get your credit reports “straight from the source”? If I get my Experian data directly from Experian, that means one less third-party that may have access to my personal information. (I admit, I do sign up for a lot of such sites anyway, and I signed up for this one as well.) Here’s a screenshot (click to enlarge):

freecreditreport1

Sign-up process. You will need to provide your personal information like name, address, birthdate, and Social Security Number. You’ll also need to verify your identity by answering some multiple-choice questions based on your credit report data.

I’m okay with some unobtrusive ads and upsells in exchange for free monthly credit reports. I have not tried any of their paid premium features. I did notice that when you sign up, it is not mandatory to sign up for their special offers. You can still proceed even if you uncheck the box.

How can I refresh my report? You can refresh your Experian credit report 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.

Bottom line. FreeCreditReport.com is legit, owned by Experian, and offers free access to your Experian credit report. Experian already has all your information anyway. No credit card is required. Being able to get an updated report every 30 days is more frequent than other options.

See also: Get a free copy of your TransUnion credit report (another of the three major credit bureaus) through the TransUnion-owned site called TrueIdentity.

True Identity Review: Free Unlimited TransUnion Credit Reports, Free Credit Lock, No Credit Card Required

trueidentity0TrueIdentity by TransUnion is a new identity protection website that is free with no credit card required and no trial memberships. The highlights:

  • Free TransUnion credit reports. Unlimited reports and refreshes.
  • Free Credit Lock feature. Stop access to your TransUnion report with a single swipe or click.
  • Free instant alerts. Includes alerts for new accounts, inquiries or address changes.
  • Free mobile app. Android and iOS.

I decided to sign up and dig around. Here’s a screenshot of the main dashboard (click to enlarge):

trueidentity1

Free TransUnion credit report details. A partial screenshot of my report page is below. As one of the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion already has all your other personal information. I’m glad they let me see it for free. Note that you’ll have to pay to see reports from the other two credit bureaus, Equifax and Experian (see below). The report is free and current, although I can’t seem to find how often you are allowed to refresh your report.

trueidentity2

Free Credit Lock feature details. When you credit report is “locked”, it can’t be accessed by creditors, landlords, or employers. If they ask for it, their request will be denied. Credit Lock appears to be another layer created by TransUnion that is separate from a formal credit freeze (which I believe is regulated by law). A credit freeze is free only if you are already a victim of identity theft, otherwise it costs a fee and you often have to call in to get it lifted. I believe the requests must be submitted during the following times for immediate processing:

Monday-Saturday, 2 a.m.-11 p.m. Central Time
Sunday, 5 a.m.-11 p.m. Central Time

During these times (only a 3 hour gap around midnight during weekdays), the credit lock is pretty much instant (they warn that it may take up to 5 minutes). Therefore, you can theoretically keep your TransUnion report locked at all times, and then lift that lock just minutes before you actually apply for a loan or credit card. That’s my plan. Here’s a screenshot of my post-lock page:

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Free instant alerts details. You can pick from instant e-mail or SMS text alerts. I believe there are alerts via the mobile app as well. They will e-mail you weekly or monthly to confirm that you have no new alerts.

If it’s free, how will TransUnion make money? First, you will see ads for credit products (much like similar credit-related sites). Second, you can upgrade to their TrueIdentity Premium tier, which costs $9.99 a month and adds the following features:

  • TransUnion credit score (VantageScore 3.0).
  • Credit report data from the other two credit bureaus, Equifax and Experian.
  • Phone access to Identity Restoration & Lost Wallet Specialists with up to 1,000,000 in Identity Theft Insurance.
  • Premium alerts which monitor additional databases including black market websites, courtroom records, and payday loan databases.

Bottom line. TrueIdentity by TransUnion offers some handy features for the excellent price of free. No trials, no credit card required. You might be able to get your TransUnion credit report data elsewhere, but the real-time Credit Lock feature is unique. You’ll have to upgrade to $9.99 a month for features like cash insurance or an army of helpers to guide you if you do become a victim of identity theft. But again, there is no need to upgrade, ever. Sign up for TrueIdentity here.

What Cards Are In My Wallet? 2006 vs. 2016 Flashback Edition

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What’s in my wallet? Besides trying to land at least $500 on new sign-ups, which cards do I end up using on a regular basis? Apparently, the last time I answered this question was in 2006, more than a decade ago?! Let’s see if I have made any improvements since then. These are the cards that work best for my spending patterns and redemption preferences.

All-around cash back rewards card.

  • 2006: MBNA/Fidelity Investments 529 College Rewards Card. I still have this card, although it is in sock drawer mode now. This Fidelity-branded card went from being issued by MBNA, to FIA Cardservices (subsidiary of Bank of America), now to Elan Financial services. The 2% rewards did help me rack up over $8,000 in tax-deferred college savings (including appreciation from investments).
  • 2016: BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card. After moving over $100,000 of existing index funds from Vanguard and qualifying for their Platinum Honors tier, this enabled me to earn 2.625% cash back on all my purchases – redeemed as a statement credit offsetting any travel purchase. That’s a 31% improvement on 2% rewards. If you don’t have $100k in assets to move over, 2% is still double the 1% many cards give on all purchases – I have the Citi Double Cash card as backup.

Category-specific rewards credit card.

  • 2006: Citi Dividend Platinum Select Mastercard. This card is no longer available to new applicants, which is probably why the 5% categories got rather stale. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I stopped using it so long that Citi closed it due to inactivity. Whoops! It was one of my older cards, but not a big loss as I have so many other cards to contribute to my “average age of accounts” stat.
  • 2016: Chase Freedom Visa and Discover It Card. This quarter, the Chase Freedom is giving 5% cash back at Costco, Sam’s Club, Walgreens, and CVS ($1,500 total). The Discover It card is giving me 5% cash back at Amazon.com. Overall, I think recent competition has made the 5% categories more useful. Note that Chase Freedem technically earns Ultimate Rewards points, which can provide even higher value when redeemed for points/miles (see below).

Points or miles rewards card.

  • 2006: Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card. Still a good card overall (we’ll see how the merger changes things). If you redeem in 20,000 point increments, it will provide 1.25 miles per dollar spent for a variety of airline programs. However, I don’t travel as much as I used to, and even at a 2 cents per mile valuation, that’s only 2.5% back on value (more than 2%, but less than the 2.625% above). SPG does not transfer 1:1 to United. I don’t travel for business much these days so I can’t rack up SPG points for hotel stays as quickly anymore, and I also don’t need this card to keep my stash of SPG points active and useful.
  • 2016: Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This card gives 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining out. Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to both United and Hyatt, for some solid redemption value. If you value at 2 cents per UR points, that’s 4% back value. I also need this card to keep all of my Ultimate Rewards stash active and available to transfer to the various airline and hotel partners. (I also earn UR points elsewhere from Chase Freedom, Ink business card, and their shopping portal.) If you haven’t had 5 new credit cards in the last 24 months, you should check out the Chase Sapphire Reserve card as well.

ATM Debit card.

  • 2006: Bank of America ATM card. I still have this account, but got tired of how BofA pays no interest and charges you money to initiate a transfer out. If I have to use a online bank as a transfer hub all the time, I’m just going to make that hub my primary account.
  • 2016: Ally Bank ATM card. These days, it’s a lot easier to do all of your banking at an online bank with no branches. Mobile deposit with smartphone camera is much easier than scanner. ATM rebates allow me to use any ATM, and up to $10 per statement cycle in rebates is enough for me (Allpoint ATM network is free and doesn’t count towards limit). 1% APY on savings account, which serves as free overdraft source for checking. Their app is solid, I can easily imitate interbank funds transfers (and I can login with just my thumbprint).

So the overall theme of what goes in my wallet has stayed the same, but the players have around changed a bit.