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 Review

Citi AAdvantage World Elite MatserCard Art

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®, from our partner Citi, is their premium American Airlines co-branded card and comes with the current highlights:

  • Earn 50,000 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 50,000 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.

“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.”

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.

Free FICO Score For Everyone via CreditScoreCard, No Credit Card Required

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Discover has rolled out a new service called Credit ScoreCard, which provides everyone access to their FICO score for no charge with no trials or credit card relationship required. (Well, free in exchange for right to market things to you based on your personal information.) Checking your own credit does not impact your credit score. This post provides updated information and instructions 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: Either monthly or when you log in, whichever is longer.
  • Limitations: Available to everyone. You do not have to be a Discover cardholder.

Is this legit? The name is a little generic and perhaps even phishy-sounding, but you can view information at discover.com/free-credit-score, which links directly to creditscorecard.com/registration. The domain registry information matches that of Discover Financial Services.

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. You do not need a Discover credit card.
  2. You must agree to their Terms & Conditions and Privacy 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 Discover products and other services to you. Don’t miss this chart:

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  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 is within a few points for me (the check dates are slightly off). The other two major bureaus are TransUnion and Equifax. Note that Discover also offers their cardholders access to FICO Score 8 based on their TransUnion credit report. From their terms:

The FICO® Credit Score we provide is the FICO® Score 8. The score range is 300-850. FICO® Credit Scores are based on information on your credit report, and give you a snapshot of your credit report information at a very specific point in time. As the information in your report changes, your score may also change. According to FICO®, 83% of the population experiences changes to their score by up to 20 points month to month. FICO® Credit Scores as well as other credit scores are based on credit bureau information, and may be different from one credit bureau to the next.

You also get access to data points like Total Number of Accounts, Length of Credit (Oldest Account), Revolving Utilization Percentage, and Missed Number of Payments.

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. From the terms:

Unless you cancel this authorization, we’ll pull fresh credit report information for you the later of every thirty days or the next time you log into your Credit Scorecard.

Screenshots. Here’s a peek at mine:

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Bottom line. CreditScoreCard by Discover is one of the first free services I’ve seen that offers a FICO Score without requiring you to be an affiliated credit cardholder. If you already have access to this score model and credit bureau combination through other means, you may not want another entity to have access to your personal data. If you don’t, you may find this a very reasonable way to get free access to your Experian FICO 8 score.

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

Hilton American Express Cards Limited Time Offers (100k & 75k Points)

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Hilton Hotels have co-branded relationships with both Citi and American Express. Until 5/4/16, both the Hilton HHonors Card from American Express (no annual fee) and Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express ($75 annual fee) have temporarily increased sign-up bonuses. The current AmEx policy is that applicants can only get one sign-up bonus, per card in your entire lifetime, so if you’re going to get one you might as well wait until one of these limited-time offers:

Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have or have had this product.

Whether these cards are good for you depends heavily on how much you value Hilton points and/or their Elite Silver or Gold status. 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 quick sample 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.

Here are the highlights for the AmEx cards:

Hilton HHonorsTM Surpass® Card from American Express

  • 100,000 Hilton HHonors™ Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer ends 05/04/2016.
  • 12X Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
  • 6X Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations.
  • 3X Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
  • Complimentary Hilton HHonors Gold status.
  • Spend $40,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year and you can earn HHonors Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year.
  • $75 annual fee.

Hilton HHonorsTM Card from American Express

  • 75,000 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer ends 05/04/2016.
  • 7X Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
  • 5X Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations.
  • 3X Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
  • Complimentary Hilton HHonors Silver status.
  • Spend $20,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year and you can earn HHonors Gold status through the end of the next calendar year.
  • No annual fee.

Another offer that I would compare with is the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, which offers a certificate for two free weekend nights. I redeemed for two nights at the Grand Wailea in Maui, which otherwise would have cost 140,000 Hilton Honors points (70k per night).

John Oliver on Why The Credit Report Industry is Awful

John Oliver of HBO’s Last Week Tonight did a humorous monologue on why credit reporting bureaus are awful. Appropriately, it was last week and I finally got around to watching the 18-minute video tonight. Here is the full video link, embedded below:

Here’s the condensed version:

  • Your credit report can affect your ability to borrow (and thus buy a home), your ability to rent, the price you pay for all kinds of stuff, and even your ability to get a job. Sheesh, what else is there left?
  • 1 in 20 credit reports have errors that are significant enough to hurt your chances at the rather important things I just listed above. That’s 10 million Americans.
  • In an effort to show Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion how such errors can hurt both reputations and business, they created the three websites Equifacks.com, Experianne.com, and TramsOnion.com. (Warning: I left some of these unlinked because they may be considered NSFW.)

In general, I do not micromanage my credit score, but it is scary than an error outside your control could have such harmful effects on your day-to-day life. Perhaps this information will also motivate you to check your credit and consumer reports if you haven’t done so recently. There are also an increasing number of free and/or ad-supported sources of credit reports, credit monitoring, and credit scores. The bad news is that the error dispute process is still slow and complicated, and after you try patience and perseverance, you may need to lawyer up in order to get their attention.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Review – 1.5% Cash Back + $150 Bonus

Chase Freedom UnlimitedChase has introduced a new cash back rewards card called the Chase Freedom Unlimited which earns a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases. The new card will be in addition to and separate from the existing Chase Freedom, which has 5% cash back on rotating categories every quarter and then 1% cash back on all other purchases. Here are the highlights:

  • NEW! Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase – it’s automatic.
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn A $25 Bonus when you add your first authorized user and make your first purchase within this same 3-month period.*
  • Redeem for cash – any amount, anytime.
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After the intro period, a variable APR of 14.24-23.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum.
  • No annual fee

1.5% cash back on all purchases might have been a great percentage number several years ago, but there are now at least a few competitors with higher effective cash back rates.

(The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Card is also similar at 1.5% cash back.)

But wait, you actually get Ultimate Rewards Points! As with the Chase Freedom card, you technically earn Ultimate Rewards points with this card, which in turn can be redeemed for cash back. 100 points = $1 in cash back, or 1 cent per point. Therefore, you could change the bullets above to the following:

  • You earn 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on all purchases.
  • Earn a 15,000 Ultimate Rewards point bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn a 2,500 Ultimate Rewards point bonus when you add your first authorized user and make your first purchase within this same 3-month period.*

Why does this matter? If you have also have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (or Ink Plus business card), then you can merge your earned points together and transfer all the points in your account into a selection of hotel points and airline miles. If you value those miles/points at more than 1 cent per point, then your 1.5X rewards from this card can be significantly higher. Again, you must have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card as well. Examples:

– You could earn 1.5 United miles per dollar spent.
– You could earn 1.5 Hyatt points per dollar spent.
– You could earn 1.5 British Airways Avios per dollar spent.
– You could earn 1.5 Southwest Rapid Rewards points per dollar spent.

If for example, you placed a perceived value of 1.5 cents on each United mile or Southwest Rapid Rewards point, then you’d receive 2.25 cents of perceived value per dollar spent with this card. Your actual numbers will depend on your own specific redemption choices.

There are no other credit cards with no annual fee that offer such high redemption rates on every purchase, not even from the special co-branded cards from each airline or hotel. Keep in mind though that the Chase Sapphire Preferred itself does have a $95 annual fee. But if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card already (like I do), then this card gives me 50% more points on base purchases at no additional cost.

Recap. As a straight-up cash back rewards card, the 1.5% cash back of the Chase Freedom Unlimited can be exceeded by other 2% cash back cards. However, if you or your spouse also has the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, then this card improves by allowing you to receive the equivalent of 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on every purchase. If you value other travel points like United miles, Hyatt points, or Southwest Rapid Rewards points, then by earning Ultimate Rewards you can obtain solid rewards value and flexibility from this card.

Free FICO Score from Bank of America Credit Cards

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This post provides updated information and instructions regarding the free FICO score that is available to Bank of America credit card holders. (Thanks to reader Andy for the tip.)

Background. Bank of America started rolling out free FICO scores to select cardholders in late 2015, with a stated plan of increased rollout by the end of first quarter of 2016 (March 31st, 2016).

FICO Score details.

How to find the score. You can find the free FICO score on your online account access. The free FICO program is currently not available on mobile apps or the mobile website.

After logging into your BofA.com account, you must opt-in by first going to the “Tools & Investing” tab and clicking on “Learn about credit scores”. Then click on the “Enroll Now” button and accept the terms of the free FICO program.

Here are some screenshots from the website (click to enlarge):

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Here are screenshots of the actual score page (click to enlarge):

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Fine print:

You will be able to view up to a 12-month history of your FICO® Scores in Online Banking, starting when you enroll and for each month up to 12 months after enrollment. After 12 months the history display will re-start. Additionally, you will see two key factors affecting your most recent FICO® Score, except in limited circumstances where TransUnion does not provide us with both key factors. Customers with newly opened credit card accounts may not see their first FICO® Score in Online Banking for up to 60 days after enrollment. In certain circumstances, a FICO® Score may not be available from TransUnion for various reasons, e.g., having a limited credit history. If your Bank of America consumer credit card account(s) are closed by you or us, we reserve the right to end your participation in the FICO® Score Program. You can unenroll at any time by going to the Tools and Investing tab in Online Banking.

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

Pay Taxes With Credit Card: Lowest Fee Rates and Limited-Time Promotions

1040clipWe all know that personal income tax filings are due soon, but so are the first round of quarterly estimated taxes for 2016. Many of us with freelance or side-gig income must makes these payments in order to avoid a tax penalty at the end of the year.

You can pay taxes with a credit card, but there is usually a convenience fee attached. So why would you bother?

  • You may wish to earn rewards for the purchase in the form of cash back, points, or miles. These rewards may be of greater value to you than the fee. (* See bottom of post for examples.)
  • You may want to pay off the balance more gradually, especially if you have a low interest rate offer like 0% for 12 months on purchases.

Here I’d like to keep track of the current rates for convenience fees, any limited-time promotions, as well as some credit card with rewards greater than the convenience fees.

Limited-time offer: 1.75% fee with Mastercard from Plastiq. I received an e-mail from Plastiq stating:

Taxes are due in less than a month, so make it easier on yourself by paying them through Plastiq. To make taxes even less painful, we’re offering a special promotion starting today. Get a 1.75% rate for all federal and state tax payments when you use your MasterCard!*

So get ahead of the game and pay your taxes now. This special rate will expire on April 18, 2016 a 5 p.m. PT, so sign in and take full advantage of this limited-time offer!

There is no landing page, but the offer is mentioned on their Twitter so I assume it is not targeted. You must initiate your purchase from this link, which ensures that you can only use the offer to pay federal or state taxes. The sub-categories include income taxes, payroll withholding taxes, self-employment taxes, business taxes, and more.

Standard convenience fee rates for 2016 start at 1.87%.

The IRS keeps a list of approved payment processors and updates it regularly. Here is the list, along with fees valid until December 31st, 2016. All of them accept Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express.

Note that there is a frequency limit on how often you can make credit card payments. You can make credit card payments towards estimated taxes up to twice per quarter.

Screenshot:

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Are the fees tax-deductible? You may also want to take into consideration that the convenience fee may be tax-deductible or a business expense:

  • The fee is deductible for personal tax types as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. However, only those miscellaneous expenses that exceed 2% of adjusted gross income can be deducted. For more information, see IRS Publication 529.
  • For business tax types, the fee is a deductible business expense.

Personal experiences. I have used Plastiq to make credit card payments (though not tax payments yet), and I have used PayUSATax.com back when they were the cheapest option. Both experiences were positive with no issues. Your credit card statement will list this payment as “United States Treasury Tax Payment.” The convenience fee will be listed as “Tax Payment Convenience Fee” or something similar. Here’s what my statement looked like:

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Notably, I know of no reason why you would not just go with the cheapest available payment processor. If they are on the IRS list, they are all officially accepted by the IRS. In fact, in my testing I found the most expensive one to offer the worst in-browser user experience.

To avoid any headaches, I would take great care when making the payments to make sure they are properly designated, as the payments are not reversible or refundable by the processor.

Specific credit card examples. The following cards currently have the ability to offer cash back rewards equal or greater than 1.75%, meaning you can actually make money by paying your taxes with them. Please read my card-specific reviews for details.