Chase Freedom Unlimited Alternative Offer: 3% Cash Back During First Year

Chase Freedom UnlimitedThe Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card usually offers an upfront $150 sign-up bonus along with flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases (no caps). However, it looks like they are testing out this alternative offer where instead of an upfront bonus, they will offer you 3% cash back on every purchase during your first year (no caps). Highlights:

  • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on every purchase during your first year.
  • After that, earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase.*
  • Earn a $25 bonus after you add your first authorized user and make your first purchase within this same 3-month period.*
  • No annual fee.

The lesser-known perk of this card is that you actually earn Ultimate Rewards points, which are in turn redeemable for cash back at a rate of 1 points = $0.01. Ultimate Rewards points are worth collecting because of their flexibility. (I hope Chase doesn’t forget this fact.) Ultimate Rewards points can be easily transferred between different Chase credit cards that also earn those points.

If you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you can redeem Ultimate Rewards points at a rate of 1 points = $0.0125 statement credit towards travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal. This is the equivalent of getting 3.75% back towards travel on every dollar you spend for a year. You can also transfer Ultimate Rewards points to other programs like United miles, Hyatt points, or Southwest Rapid Rewards points on a 1:1 ratio.

If you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you can redeem Ultimate Rewards points at a rate of 1 points = $0.015 statement credit towards travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal. This is the equivalent of getting 4.5% back towards travel on every dollar you spend for a year. You can also transfer Ultimate Rewards points to other programs like United miles, Hyatt points, or Southwest Rapid Rewards points on a 1:1 ratio.

If you charge a lot of money on your credit card, this can become a good value. Let’s say you spend $20,000 a year, that’s $600 cash back or $750 toward travel (with Sapphire Preferred) or $900 towards travel (with Sapphire Reserve). You could also transfer to 60,000 United miles with either Sapphire Preferred/Reserve. And so on.

Restrictions. This card is subject to “5/24” restrictions, which means that your application will be automatically denied if you have opened 5 or more credit cards in the last 24 months (check your credit reports). Our household strategy is to have one person only apply for Chase 5/24 cards, and the other person applies for everything else. There is also this language on the consumer card:

This product is available to you if you do not have this card and have not received a new cardmember bonus for this card in the past 24 months.

Bottom line. This is a alternative sign-up bonus for the Chase Freedom Unlimited. It is worth considering if you plan on charging a lot of purchases onto your credit card in the next 12 months, and you have either a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

Southwest Companion Pass: Business Card 60k Bonus + Personal Plus 50k Bonus

swa_logoSouthwest Airlines offers a unique feature called the Companion Pass, which lets you pick one person to fly with free when you book your own paid and/or award flights. If you either fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 Qualifying Points in a calendar year, and you’ll earn the Companion Pass for the remainder of that year plus the following full calendar year. For example, if you earned it in April 2018, you would have the benefit for the rest of 2018 and all of 2019. You can change your designated companion up to three times each calendar year.

Points earned from credit cards count, including sign-up bonuses. Currently, you can earn 110,000 points from just the top two offers. This may or may not last.

southwestbusinessChase Southwest Premier Business card offers 60,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $99 annual fee applies. 6,000 points at card anniversary (and you pay another annual fee). No foreign transaction fees.

Chase Southwest Plus card (Personal/Consumer) is offering 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $69 annual fee applies. 3,000 points at card anniversary (and you pay another annual fee).

Chase Southwest Premier card (Personal/Consumer) is offering 40,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $99 annual fee applies. 6,000 points at card anniversary (and you pay another annual fee). No foreign transaction fees.

Restrictions. All of these Southwest credit cards are subject to “5/24” restrictions, which means that your application will be automatically denied if you have opened 5 or more credit cards in the last 24 months (check your credit reports). Our household strategy is to have one person only apply for Chase 5/24 cards, and the other person applies for everything else. There is also this language on the consumer card:

This product is available to you if you do not have a current Southwest Rapid Rewards® Credit Card and have not received a new Cardmember bonus within the last 24 months. This does not apply to Business Card and Employee Credit Card products.

Basically, you can get one sign-up bonus from a Southwest consumer card once every 24 months. You can also get one sign-up bonus from a Southwest business card once every 24 months. (Before, for example, you might apply for both a Plus and a Premier close together.)

110,000 Rapid Rewards points redemptions vary in a narrow range, but a reasonable approximation from my experience is $1,700 in Wanna Get Away airfare (you are still liable for taxes and fees from $5.60 one-way). Importantly, Southwest does NOT have blackout dates or seat restrictions when you redeem with points. If $1,700 would have theoretically covered 16 free one-way flights, then with the Companion Pass you’d now be getting 16 free one-way flights for two people! You also can’t forget that Southwest still has the customer-friendly perk of two free checked bags per person. That’s a lot of free and flexible travel.

Our family policy is to not try out a new credit card unless it offers us $500 in total value. Just the free award flights from the points are enough to satisfy that rule, and then you can add on the value of the companion tickets.

Bottom line. Right now, you can earn 110,000 Southwest points from qualifying for just two credit card sign-up bonuses, which is enough points to qualify for the Southwest Companion pass (and a lot of free Southwest flights). This would get you a free companion ticket on every flight bought with cash or points for the rest of 2018 and all of 2019. Southwest still includes two free checked bags per person.

Delta Airlines Hack: Free Credit Monitoring From All Three Bureaus for 2 Years

allclear0In early April 2018, Delta disclosed that hackers may have compromised credit card information from ticket buyers on Delta.com between September 26 and ending October 12, 2017. However, as with many of these “cyber incidents”, this may just be the tip of the iceberg. If you realized actual damages, call 1-855-815-0534 and an AllClearID investigator will help recover financial losses, restore your credit and make sure your identity is returned to its proper condition.

Delta has also paid AllClearID to provide 2 years of free credit repair and monitoring services starting April 7th, 2018 to anyone who thinks they have been impacted. Visit https://delta.allclearid.com to get a unique code that you can redeem at enroll.allclearid.com. AllClear Fraud Alerts with Credit Monitoring includes:

  • Protection at the three national credit bureaus: Starting with the ability to request, renew, and remove a 90-day fraud alert through TransUnion. TransUnion will relay the request to set the fraud alert to Experian and Equifax, and AllClear will send a reminder email when it is time to reset the fraud alert.
  • Credit Monitoring: To detect creditors that ignore the fraud alert law. Available with single or triple bureau option.
  • Annual TransUnion credit report and VantageScore 3.0: For added visibility into your credit file.
  • $1 Million in Identity Theft Insurance Coverage: Provides reimbursement of certain fees, lost wages, and fraud losses related to identity recovery. There is no deductible for this insurance.

The primary thing of value that I see is the free credit monitoring of all three credit bureaus for free. I already have credit monitoring of TransUnion and Experian through various free credit score websites, but none of them cover all three at once. If you actually have damages from identity theft, the repair services and insurance coverage may also be of benefit. I don’t know why they focus on the 90-day fraud alerts, as they are already free to anyone that fills out a simple online form without AllClearID.

Opt-in to 3-bureau monitoring. I signed up, and I should note the the default option is single-bureau credit monitoring. The stated reason is that they don’t want to alert you three times if a the same new event is reported to all three credit bureaus. Really? I am quite interested to see if it is reported to one and not the others. Therefore, I was sure to opt into the 3-bureau option. Screenshot:

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I would also note that AllClearID will call your phone every single time you log in and require you to enter a PIN number and/or voice verification.

Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard Review: Cash Back Analysis

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Barclays has updated their Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard, a new hybrid travel/cashback rewards card with miles that can be redeemed for both cash or transferred to select mileage partners. The “miles” are now more flexible, similar to American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points. This card replaces their discontinued “Arrival Plus” card. Here are the highlights:

  • 75,000 MILES EACH YEAR if you spend $25,000 on purchases.
  • After that, keep earning UNLIMITED 2X MILES on every purchase.
  • Global Entry – $100 automatic statement credit for the cost of one Global Entry application fee every five years.
  • Book the best travel deal, no airline, seat or hotel restrictions, and redeem your miles for travel statement credits.
  • Access to over 800 lounges worldwide with Mastercard® Airport Experience provided by LoungeKey, fees apply.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • International Chip and PIN for use at self-service chip terminals around the world.
  • Redeem your miles for travel statement credits, which allow you to book the best travel deal with no airline blackout dates, seat limits, or hotel restrictions.
  • Transfer your miles to participating travel loyalty programs.
  • Complimentary online FICO® score access.
  • $150 annual fee.
  • Terms and conditions

Bonus details. Currently, there is no upfront sign-up bonus. Instead, they have spending bonuses – Spend $15,000 on purchases, get 15,000 miles. Spend an additional $10,000 on purchases, get an additional 10,000 miles, for a total of 25,000 miles after $25,000 in purchases.

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Cash back towards travel analysis. You can redeem 10,000 miles for $100 toward all or a portion of your qualifying travel purchase of $100 or more made within the last 120 days. Basically, you pay for any eligible travel purchase on your card (buy airfare, book a hotel, rent a car, etc) and then you use your “miles” afterward to get a cash credit towards that purchase. The rate is 1 cent per point with a $100 minimum redemption. Travel purchases eligible for redemptions are defined as “airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries and your account annual fee”.

So if you spent $15,000 in a year, you could get the 2x miles (30,000 miles) plus the 15,000 miles bonus for a total of 45,000 miles worth $450 towards travel. That’s effective 3% back towards travel on all credit card purchases. The same thing occurs at $25,000 in annual total spending (50,000 miles + 25,000 bonus = 75,000 miles total). 3% back towards travel is a very competitive rate.

But wait! There is also a $150 annual fee. At $15,000 annual spend, you would net $300 towards travel (2% back overall). At $25,000 annual spend, you would net $600 towards travel (2.4% back overall). Therefore, if you spend exactly $25,000 a year (average $2,083 a month), then you could 2.4% back on travel on all purchases. I’m a geek, so I plugged the numbers into a spreadsheet to get the chart above of effective cash back towards travel vs. annual spending. There are basically three zones.

  • If you don’t spend at least $15,000 a year on this card, you will net worse than 1% cash back towards travel! This card is horrible for light spenders!
  • If you spend between $15,000 and $25,000 a year on this card, you will net a flat 2% cash back towards travel. Not bad, but there are other cards that earn 2% flat with no annual fee..
  • If you spend exactly $25,000 a year on this card, you will net exactly 2.4% cash back towards travel. As you go above that level, your cash back will start to drop slowly but still remain above 2%.

Miles transfer options. The transfer ratio is 1.4 Arrival “miles” to 1 airline mile for the following partners. Note that you earn 2x miles per dollar spent, so that works out to earning 1.43 airline miles per dollar spent. If you spend $15,000 a year on this card, the bonus results in a total of 2.14 airline miles per dollar spent. These numbers do not include the $150 annual fee.

  • Aeromexico
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • China Eastern
  • Etihad
  • EVA Air
  • Jet Airways
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas

The transfer ratio is 1.7 Arrival “miles” to 1 airline mile for the following partners. Note that you earn 2x miles per dollar spent, so that works out to earning 1.18 airline miles per dollar spent. If you spend $15,000 a year on this card, the bonus results in a total of 1.76 airline miles per dollar spent. These numbers do not include the $150 annual fee.

  • Japan Airlines

You may only transfer miles if you are a primary cardmember, and only to a participating travel loyalty program account belonging to you.

Bottom line. The new Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard card has a couple of narrow windows of benefit. If you want cash back towards travel, you must spend more than $25,000 annually on the card to achieve an effective rate above 2%. Aim for between $25,000 and $33,000 annual spend, and you’ll get between 2.3% to 2.4% net cash back towards travel after taking into account the annual fee. If you are good at the airline miles game and can use one of the internationally-based airlines listed above (no domestic airlines), the earn rate is good there as well. Ideally, you’ll want to hit the $15,000 or $25,000 annual spending marks. I prefer simplicity over complexity, so I would point out these alternative cards:

  • If you like airline miles and travel perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve Card Review – 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points bonus (worth $750 towards travel), and $450 annual fee is offset by the $300 annual fee credit, Priority Pass free lounge access.
  • If you like simple cash back: Citi Double Cash Card Review – Simple and flat double cash back, no tiers, no annual fee.
  • If you like cash back towards travel and have $100k in a bank/brokerage account: BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card Review – Up to 2.6% cash back towards travel through Preferred Rewards Program ($100k+ in assets at Bank of America).

To make this card more competitive in the current premium travel card landscape, I would like to see them (1) add a lounge benefit or travel credit to better justify the annual fee, (2) lower the annual fee, or (3) add a sign-up bonus.

Chase Freedom & PayPal: 5% Back on Federal Income Tax Payments

Chase Freedom VisaThe Chase Freedom Visa card has updated its quarterly 5% cash back categories for April 1st to June 30th, 2018. One of the eligible cash back categories is PayPal. April is also the time to make both income tax payments along with 2017 tax returns and also quarterly estimated taxes for 2018. PayUSATax.com is an IRS-approved payment processor and accepts PayPal as a payment with a 1.97% transaction fee.

Here is the fine print:

Includes transactions made using your Chase Freedom card with PayPal for purchases or sending money. Eligible transactions only qualify for a total of 5% Cash Back rewards. Purchases made using PayPal at other current 5% quarterly categories will be awarded a total of 5% Cash Back rewards on up to $1,500 in combined purchases. When you send money to Friends & Family via PayPal using your Chase Freedom card, standard transaction fees apply. See PayPal’s fees. Websites and other information provided by PayPal are not within Chase’s control and may not be available in Spanish. Must have/open a PayPal account to send and receive money.

Technically the Chase Freedom earns 5x Ultimate Rewards points, which might actually get you more than 1 cent per Ultimate Rewards point value if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred (at least 25% more) or Chase Sapphire Reserve card (at least 50% more).

Bottom line. From April 1st to June 30th, 2018, you can make a tax payment of up to $1,500 using PayPal with Chase Freedom as the funding source and get earn 5% cash back while paying only ~2% fee, for a net ~3% profit. You must go through PayUSATax.com. That’s a max profit of about $45, which you could think of as covering your tax prep software.

Equifax Lock & Alert: Block Access to Equifax Credit Report for Free

eq_lock2In case you missed it (as I did), Equifax extended their credit freeze fee waivers through June 30th, 2018. A credit freeze is regulated by your state, and generally prevents access to your credit reports to open new credit accounts. To unfreeze, you must notify them directly by mail/phone/website and provide a 10-digit PIN. However, unless there is new legislation, eventually state-specific fees will apply.

Equifax also rolled out Lock & Alert, which allows you to instantly lock and unlock access to your Equifax credit report. A lock also generally prevents access to your credit reports to open new credit accounts. One difference is that this service is run by Equifax and not regulated by the government. The benefit is that you can lock/unlock instantly via website, iOS app, or Android app. Equifax also promises that this feature will be free forever. Embedded below is their explainer video:

Exceptions. The following places may still access your credit report even if frozen/locked:

  • Companies like Equifax Global Consumer Solutions that provide you with access to your credit report or credit score or monitor your credit file
  • Companies you have an existing account or relationship with
  • Federal, state and local government agencies
  • Collection agencies acting on behalf of companies you owe
  • For fraud detection purposes
  • Companies that wish to make pre-approved offers of credit or insurance to you
  • Companies reviewing your application for employment

My experience. I installed the Lock & Alert app and it’s pretty barebones. Basically a toggle switch with no additional features. To sign up, you’ll need your Social Security number but no credit card is required. The “Alert” part doesn’t mean they tell you if someone tried to check your Equifax report, it just means they’ll let you know when it is locked and unlocked. I was a little confused by that part. Why do I need an alert for something that only I can activate/deactivate?

The recommended practice is to keep it locked by default and then unlock temporarily when you apply for a mortgage, credit card, car loan, or some bank/credit union accounts. I personally prefer using locks over freezes, but am disappointed that it took so long for such a simple feature to be rolled out to consumers.

TransUnion has a similar service called TrueIdentity with free locks. Experian offers locks only as part of their $19.99/month credit monitoring plan. I guess we’ll have to wait until (our information stored on) Experian servers get hacked too, and then maybe they’ll be so kind as to allow us free access.

Bottom line. I plan on using the Equifax instant lock/unlock feature. You may still want to consider a freeze. I think consumers should get both locks and freezes for free from all three credit bureaus as it is our information they are selling and we are the ones impacted if it is incorrect or hacked.

Amazon Prime + American Express Promotion: Fire Tablets from $20

fire7Updated. Here’s a targeted deal for Amazon Prime members that also have American Express Membership Rewards points. First, all Amazon Prime members can get the following prices today (20% off all Alexa-enabled devices):

However, if you have American Express Rewards, first link your American Express card to Amazon. Then check eligibility here for up to a $40 discount when you pay with at least one AmEx point. The final prices would be:

Finally, here is another targeted coupon link that checks your eligibility to save $30 off $60 at Amazon when you buy anything (not just Fire Tablets) with Membership Rewards points. You may have done this older offer already, but the expiration has been extended if you missed it.

Be sure to select your linked American Express card as payment method, select the option to Pay with Points (you can use just 1 point), and apply the promo code to trigger the discount.

NYT Financial Tuneup Day 5: Your Credit Reports

nyt_ftuDay 5 of the NY Times 7-Day Financial Tuneup is about your credit reports. (Yes, I’ve been taking this at my own pace. Sign up for your own personalized tune-up here.) This one felt a bit basic, so I also recommended a bunch of additional sites that are hopefully also helpful. Let’s start with a summary of what the NYT says:

  1. Understand what your credit report means. Your credit report includes data on your credit card payment history, mortgages, student debt, new loan applications, and bankruptcies.
  2. Get a copy of your credit report. AnnualCreditReport.com is the official government-mandated site. You can get one of each of the three major bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) once every 12 months, so one tactic is to stagger them every 4 months.
  3. Check for errors. You can dispute errors using sample letters from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Instructions are included for disputes with both the credit bureau and the lender.
  4. Improve your habits, if needed. Credit repair 101… Pay your bills on time. Keep card balances well below your credit limit.
    Hold off on opening new accounts for a while.
  5. Freeze your credit. The NYT says that it is “generally a good idea” to freeze your credit. You will have you unfreeze your credit next time you apply for a credit card, try to rent an apartment, apply for a mortgage or do anything else where a company may need your credit report. You may need to spend $5 to $10 each time as well.

More free consumer data reports. I would also add my Big List of Free Consumer Reports, Part 1 and Part 2 if you want a complete picture including things like rental history or insurance reports.

My take on credit freezes. Freezing your credit may be a reasonable step if you rarely do anything that would require a thaw. However, between my wife and I, we probably get 10 credit pulls a year. (Don’t worry, zero credit card debt, zero car loan, zero mortgage debt. Credit score is still good too.) Every time I apply for a new credit card or join a new credit union, I might would have to thaw and then re-freeze the bureau, and that’s if I already know ahead of time which one of the three I need to thaw. That adds up to both a lot of time and money.

I would add a free credit monitoring service instead. A timely example – just yesterday on March 5th I decided to apply for a new credit union membership at Sharonview Federal Credit Union. Some preliminary research indicated that they would probably pull a credit report (probably TransUnion), but I wasn’t sure. After making the application, I was notified right away by multiple free credit monitoring services that it was TransUnion (and only them). I’m writing this post on March 6th. If a credit freeze had blocked their check, I would have to manually ask them to check again, which would have delayed my application on a limited-time offer.

Here’s a screenshot of my free alert from CreditSesame.com:

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Here’s a screenshot of my free alert from CreditKarma.com:

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I think you’ll agree that the ability to receive a free alert within a day is a lot better than checking in at most once every 4 months. CreditSesame tracks TransUnion, and CreditKarma tracks both TransUnion and Equifax. There are other options and most are advertising-supported, so you’ll see ads for mortgages and credit cards on the site. There may also be some “premium” features they try to upsell you, but I’ve never had to pay a cent.

Financial Tuneup Recap (still in progress)

Citi ThankYou Premier Card Review – 50,000 Bonus Points

Citi Premier CardThe Citi ThankYou® Premier Card has re-launched from our partner Citi, with an 50,000 point sign-up bonus (worth $625 in airfare towards any airline) plus a waived annual fee for the first year. Here are the rest of the highlights:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3X Points on Travel, Including Gas Stations
  • Earn 2X Points on Dining Out and Entertainment
  • Earn 1X Points on All Other Purchases
  • 50,000 Points are redeemable for $625 in airfare on any airline, anytime with no blackout dates when booked through the ThankYou® Travel Center, or $500 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • Points Transfer allows you to transfer points to participating airline and hotel loyalty programs.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases*

Triple points include both air/hotel/car rental and daily commute items. The triple (3X) points on on travel includes hotels, airfare, taxis, car rental, public transportation, parking, cruises, and even gas. When combined with the 25% travel premium, makes that equivalent to a 3.75% reward towards gas and travel booked through Citi Travel Center. The double (2X) on restaurants (includes bars and fast food) and entertainment (sporting events) makes that 2.5% towards travel booked through Citi Travel Center.

Bonus details. The sign-up bonus was formerly 30,000 ThankYou points, and while we have seen 60,000 for short periods in the past, it has been a while and 50,000 points is a historically high number. Note the following fine print:

Bonus ThankYou Points are not available if you have had a ThankYou Preferred, ThankYou Premier or Citi Prestige card opened or closed in the past 24 months.

What can you do with 50,000 ThankYou Points? Citi has been trying to improve the value and flexibility of ThankYou points, so here is a rundown of what you can do with 50,000 of them. Bonus ThankYou Points not available if you have had a Citi ThankYou Premier card opened or closed in the past 18 months.

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$625 towards flexible airfare, hotel nights, car rentals, and cruises. With the new Citi Premier card, you get a 20% discount on the standard number of points needed for a travel redemption. That is the same as saying 1 ThankYou point = 1.25 cents towards travel. Note that this 25% bonus applies all of your points from all Citi cards linked to the same ThankYou account, thus boosting the value of all your other points.

That means 50,000 ThankYou points will get you $625 in airfare, hotel nights, car rentals, and cruises book through the Citi Travel Center, which in my experience had the same total price with taxes as compared to Expedia, Orbitz, etc. Since you can book any flight that can be otherwise purchased with cash, there are “no blackout dates”.

This can be even more flexible because you can use it across multiple flights, multiple passengers, and you can even do partial redemptions. Let’s say you found a ticket that want for $200 = 16,000 points, but only have 10,000 points available. Citi now lets you pay the difference, so in this case you can get your $200 ticket for 10,000 points and $75. This makes it much easier to use up all of your points at a 25% premium.

$500 in gift, $500 check towards student loan or mortgage. You can view your redemption options at ThankYou.com. I took a quick look and it takes 10,000 ThankYou (TY) points to redeem for a $100 gift card to retailers like Gap, Banana Republic, Barnes & Noble, Bath and Body Works, Bed Bath & Beyond, Cabelas, CVS Pharmacy, Kohl’s, Land’s End, LL Bean, Sears, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Staples, and Walmart. So with 50,000 TY points, you could get five $100 gift cards from different stores.

For a check mailed to you, it is 8,000 points for $50 (1 points = 0.625 cent). A better conversion ratio comes from a check mailed towards your mortgage payment or student loan (it arrives made out to your lender), which is 7,500 points for $75 (1 points = 1 cent).

Hotel points and airline miles transfer options. Citi ThankYou points are also now available to transfer to certain airline mileage programs on a 1:1 basis including JetBlue, Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Etihad, Flying Blue by Air France and KLM, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways. For example, 50,000 TY points can get you 50,000 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles. If you know how to redeem these points wisely, you can get a lot of value.

Bottom line.  Now that I am booking family travel around school schedules, I appreciate the ability to redeem ThankYou points towards any airline without worrying about using a specific airline or hunting for “saver awards”. 50,000 points = $625 in airfare on any airline, anytime with no blackout dates when booked through the ThankYou travel center. The $95 annual fee is waived for the first 12 months, so you can “try before you buy”. If you are willing to do the legwork, the airline transfer partners may get you better value for international flights (or JetBlue for domestic).

“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.”

NYT Financial Tuneup Day 3: Apply For a Better Credit Card

nyt_ftuDay 3 of my NY Times 7-Day Financial Tuneup is called Find the Best Credit Card for You. (Sign up for your own personalized tune-up for full details.) The key again is to actually apply for a better card, not just think about it and then keep your old card with lukewarm rewards and/or high interest rates.

Scenario 1: Carrying a balance

If you are still working on paying down your credit card balance, the NYT (surprise!) recommends a credit card with a low interest rate and fees. The average credit card interest rate is something like 17% APR, which is simply nuts. Ignore cashback and rewards credit cards, as they have higher interest rates in general that will overwhelm any potential rewards. The NYT specifically mentions the following cards:

  • Simmons Bank Platinum Visa has a lower variable APR (currently 9.5%) with no balance transfer. This might be a better solution if you plan on carrying a balance forever (why?!?).
  • Discover it Secured credit card improves your credit score (and thus perhaps your interest rates) as it will help build a positive credit history with no annual fee. You can have poor credit as a $200 security deposit is required for a $200 credit line.

The Citi Secured Mastercard is a very similar card and will also help build a history of on-time payments to the credit bureaus and has no annual fee.

If you’re going to apply for a new card, I prefer the following cards with 0% introductory APRs with no balance transfer fee. Here, the plan would be to consolidate balances and design a plan to pay it all off within the promotional period. After that, the rates will shoot back up again unless you do another balance transfer.

Scenario 2: No credit card debt

If you do pay off your balances every month, then you can ignore interest rates and focus on getting points, miles, or cash back on your purchases. The NYT specifically mentions the following cards.

  • Citi Double Cash card for simple cash back. It pays “1 percent back when you make the purchase and another 1 percent when you pay the bill. The best part? There’s no need for you to track points or decide when to cash out. The money comes back to you automatically.”
  • Bank of America Travel Rewards Card for simple travel rewards with no annual fee.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred for those that collect airline miles and know how to use them efficiently.

Your goal with your new card should be to get all of the rewards you can just for spending as much as you normally would.

I’m giving the NYT an overall thumbs-up on these recommendations for most people. However, I would only recommend the Bank of America Travel Rewards card if you can participate in their Preferred Rewards program and reach the Platinum (2.25% back towards travel) or Platinum Honors (2.62% back towards travel) tiers. Otherwise, the Citi Double Cash is better than 1.5% back.

The hard part: Actually applying for a new card! The reason why there are so many juicy incentives for credit cards is that most people still don’t like to bother with applying for a new card. Change can be hard. If you’ve been thinking about making a switch, let today be the day!

Financial Tuneup Recap (still in progress)

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

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(Updated: Now with 5% back at Whole Foods for Amazon Prime members. Amazon recently announced free 2-hour delivery from Whole Foods in 4 US cities, with nationwide rollout expected later this year…)

Chase 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. Highlights:

  • 5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market 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 credit card sign-up bonuses 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. (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.)

Now, the addition of the 5% back at Whole Foods adds a wrinkle for those that shop at Whole Foods regularly. If you were only getting 2% back before, now 5% on the combined spending at Amazon and Whole Foods might become more compelling. (Amazon recently announced it will offer free two-hour delivery of Whole Foods groceries in four cities – Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas and Virginia Beach. The plan is to expand delivery nationwide later in 2018.)

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.

Bottom line. If you are a loyal Prime member that spends a lot of money at Amazon and/or Whole Foods and prefer simplicity, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card can add up to serious rewards. Be sure to make it your default card for your Amazon account. You can 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%.

Amex EveryDay Credit Card from American Express: $0 Balance Transfer Fee Offer

Amex Everyday Card w ButtonAmerican Express has improved the new member offer on the The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express card to include no balance transfer fee on their intro 0% APR period. Here are the details:

  • 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers for new card members. After that, a variable APR applies.
  • $0 balance transfer fees on balance transfers made within the first 60 days of account opening.
  • Welcome bonus of 10,000 Membership Rewards Points after making $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months for new card members.

It has been a long time since I recall an AmEx with a no balance transfer fee offer. If you have high-interest balances on other card issuers (Chase, Citi, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, etc), this may be a good opportunity to lower your interest charges and pay off that debt faster. Note the following:

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

Here is the ongoing rewards program:

  • 2x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases.
  • 1x points on all other purchases for every eligible dollar you spend.
  • 20% more points: Make 20 or more purchases with your Card in a billing period and earn 20% more points on those purchases less returns and credits.
  • No annual fee.

The unique benefit of this consumer card is that it earns Membership Rewards (MR) points with no annual fee. In addition, if you have Membership Rewards points earned from other American Express cards, having this card would keep all of your MR points from expiring even if you closed those other cards (perhaps to avoid the annual fees). You could always spend or convert the points immediately, but this way you keep the flexibility to transfer the points into a variety of frequent flier miles as needed.

Bottom line. The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express allows to you earn and maintain Membership Rewards points with no annual fee. The sign-up perks have been improved to include a $0 balance transfer fee and an extended 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. If you have high-interest balances on other card issuers, this may be a good opportunity to lower your interest charges and pay off that debt faster.