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:

trueidentity3

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

wallet2016

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.

Navy Federal Visa Signature Flagship Rewards Credit Card: 30,000 Bonus Points, 0% APR No Balance Transfer Fee Offer

nfcuflag200

NavyFed Credit Union has brought back the sign-up bonus on their premium rewards credit card, the Navy Federal Visa Signature Flagship Rewards Credit Card. Taken altogether, the sign-up bonus and the low intro balance transfer rate are quite competitive. The highlights:

  • Earn 30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 within the first 90 days of opening a new card. 30,000 points can be redeemed for a $300 statement credit towards the purchase of any flight on any major airline.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months with no balance transfer fee. After that, a variable APR between 10.24% and 18% applies.
  • Earn 2 points per net dollar spent.
  • No limit on the points you can earn; points never expire.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee for the first year, $49 thereafter.

The “catch” is that in order to apply, you must first become a credit union member. Membership eligibility for NavyFed is primarily restricted to those who currently or have ever been affiliated with the Armed Forces, DoD, Coast Guard or National Guard, those with a family member who has those affiliations, or those with a family or household member who is a NFCU member.

This is a solid offer as it has been harder to find a no fee 0% APR balance transfer offer these days even though interest rates are still relatively low. (Other NFCU cards have no balance transfer fee, but only at a much higher APR, not 0% interest.) For example, doing a balance transfer of $10,000 with a 3% balance transfer fee would add up to $300 already. Add in the $300 value sign-up bonus, and you’re already up to $600 total value in the first year. Transfer a higher balance, and the benefit increases further. NavyFed has a reputation for being generous with credit limits, with $50,000 or $80,000 limits not out of the ordinary.

In terms of competition, the Slate Card from Chase is also currently available with a 0% intro APR for 15 months with no balance transfer fee on both balance transfers and purchases and no annual fee. You must initiate your balance transfer within 60 days of opening the account.

Both cards are good opportunities to lower the interest rate on your existing balances and accelerate any debt payoff plans. You can even pay off student loans.

Plastiq: Pay Tuition, Rent, or Taxes With Credit Card or Debit Card

plastiq_logo

New promo. Plastiq has a new promotional rate if you schedule at least six rent or mortgage payments with American Express (2.25%) or Mastercard (1.75%). You must schedule them by October 31, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. PT.

Schedule 6 or more payments, and schedule them as far into the future as you’d like.
-Remember to click “Set Payment Schedule” and not “Review & Pay Now”
-The only limit is your credit card’s expiration date
Make sure those payments are for rent or mortgage
Use a MasterCard OR American Express
Do it before October 31, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. PT

The rates aren’t awesome, but some of you may eek out some gains, especially if you need help with a sign-up bonus hurdle. This is likely in response to their competitor RadPad abruptly ending their rent processing system with no warning (boo).

Original post:

Plastiq.com lets you pay bills and invoices with a credit or debit card, even if they don’t usually accept them. The standard service fee is 2.5% for credit cards and 1% for Visa and MasterCard debit cards. However, they run limited-time promotion with lower fees. They will charge your card and send out a paper check to the payee (direct bank transfers to a few), so you’d want to plan ahead for any snail mail delays. They recommend 10 business days to be safe. More ideas from their site:

  • Rent or Mortgage
  • Homeowners Association (HOA) dues
  • Tuition
  • Childcare costs
  • Buying a car, RV, or ATV
  • Income or business taxes

plastiq2

(Note: This was only an example given during a 1.5% fee promotion. The current fee may be higher or lower.) Why would I want to pay a 1.5% service fee?

Sign-up bonus spending requirements. Sign-up bonuses often having spending requirements. For example, you might get a $500 value bonus but need to spend $5,000. Well, that’s effectively 10% back so if you need a little help to get over that hurdle, it’s okay to pay a 1.5% fee. Here are some recent cards with big $500 value bonuses but also spending requirements:

2% cash back credit cards, or similar. If you have a rewards credit card that offers 2% cash back (or equivalent value in points), then you can still make a slight profit by putting them on your credit card. A current example is the Citi Double Cash Card. For example, if you have a tuition bill or tax bill of $5,000 and you earned 2% cash back while paying a 1.5% fee, your net 0.5% is $25.

Combine a rewards card + 0% APR on purchases. Many credit cards offer 0% APR on purchases for an introductory period of 12 months or longer. If the card also has a half-decent rewards program on purchases, the combination of purchase rewards and spreading out the payments over a year at no interest could be attractive.

Platinum Delta Skymiles American Express Companion Certificate

amexdeltaplatThe Delta American Express card line-up has some limited-time bonus bumps going on right now. Offer ends 11/9/16. In particular, I noticed that the Platinum Delta American Express is offering:

  • 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. If you care about elite status, you’ll get 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) as well (not actual redeemable miles).
  • In addition, earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
  • First bag checked free.
  • Enjoy a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card.
  • $195 annual fee, not waived the first year.

As with all American Express cards, the sign-up bonus is now only one per card per lifetime. If you’ve ever had this card, you can’t get the sign-up bonus again:

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

The companion certificate as deal-maker and deal-breaker. Frequent fliers often complain about Delta’s poor selection in international business-class redemptions, but some people (like me) just want economy seats to a Delta-served airport. If you regularly travel as a couple or otherwise buy two cross-country domestic economy tickets together on Delta, this companion certificate will easily offset the $195 annual fee all by itself. If you are wasting this free companion ticket, then this card probably won’t be worth keeping around. The paid tickets earn miles, MQDs, and MQMs, but the free ticket does not.

Note that you only earn the certificate upon renewal, so you won’t get it the first year and that means you’ll have paid $390 in annual fees by then. So the first year’s annual fee of $195 must be offset by the sign-up bonus. The limited-time offer of $100 statement credit + 70,000 Skymiles should do the trick, assuming you make decent use of the miles. With the Pay with Miles options, you should get at minimum a 1 cent a mile value. That would make it $100 + $700 – $195 annual fee = $605 value in the first year. For future years, you’ll need to get $200 value out of that companion certificate.

Geographical restrictions. If you live in the contiguous 48 states, you must travel roundtrip to/from the contiguous 48 states. If you live in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico or the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), then you can originate there to the contiguous 48.

You must pay applicable taxes and fees, which vary and depend upon the number of flight segments included in the itinerary. They will be no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments).

You can book your Delta flights using the certificate online without having to call in. In my experience, the class restrictions on the certificate have not prevented me from getting the lowest fare available, although it can happen. If I can get a $300 ticket for $25 in fees, then I still consider this card worth it given the other perks like one free checked bag per person. If I don’t use it myself, I can also book a flight for a friend/relative and have them pay me back in cash.

Example with screenshots. I have a live companion certificate in my account right now, and I just ran a test flight. Atlanta (ATL) to San Francisco (SFO), 11/23 to 11/30 roundtrip, flights DL 1401 outbound and flight DL 939 return. If I just searched for a single cash ticket, it would have cost $318.70. Two tickets would be $637.40. If I apply the companion certificate, the first ticket again costs $318.70 and the second ticket costs $0 + $28.20 in fees. The first paid ticket costs the exact same amount as it would have otherwise. Thus, my total savings with this certificate is $318.70 – $28.20 = $290.50. See screenshot below for details:

deltacompcert

Here’s a copy of the terms and conditions regarding the companion certificate:

Delta Platinum Companion Certificate at Renewal
Taxes/fees/restrictions: Companion Certificate is valid for one round-trip Main Cabin Companion ticket with the payment of applicable taxes and fees detailed below and the purchase of certain adult round-trip fares on published routings within the 48 contiguous United States. Residents of Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico or the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) must originate from there to the 48 contiguous United States and have an address on their SkyMiles account in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico or the USVI. Each year, the Companion Certificate will be made available for redemption on delta.com in your renewal month. Applicable government imposed taxes and fees vary and depend upon the number of flight segments included in the itinerary and are no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments). Basic Card Members (not Additional Card Members) with the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, Delta Reserve Credit Card, Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card, Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card, and Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card are eligible to receive the first checked bag fee waiver on Delta and Delta Connection carrier tickets. $35 fee for second checked bag. These allowances are subject to size/weight limits. Contact a Delta agent or visit delta.com for details. Taxes and fees are subject to change, are the responsibility of the passenger and must be paid at the time the primary ticket is purchased and the Companion ticket is issued. All fare rules, restrictions, advance purchase requirements, and availability are per rule of primary ticket fare purchased. Seats are only available in L,U,T,X,V classes of service and may not be available on all flights or markets. Companion tickets are not transferable once issued. Companion certificate cannot be combined with another offer or discount including, but not limited to, web fares, sale fares and eCoupons. Primary ticket and Companion ticket must be purchased with your Delta SkyMiles Credit Card. Both passengers must be booked on the same flights and dates, at the same time. Travel for Companion certificate must be booked and completed by the date on the front of certificate. Validity is not based on the calendar year. Redemption is available only on delta.com. Certificate terms and conditions may vary each year of Card Membership. Additional restrictions apply. See Companion Certificate for details.

Marriott / Starwood Hotels Merger: Status Match, New Points Transfer Options

mr_spg2Marriott completed its acquisition of Starwood Hotels last week, and has already started the merging process for their loyalty rewards programs. Both programs will essentially be run separately for a while, but you can now match status and exchange points. The new name is Marriott International, although a full merger will not be completed until sometime in 2018. Here’s a quick summary of your options:

Manually link your Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Marriott Rewards (MR) accounts at this Starwood page or this Marriott page. They will not be linked automatically. You can only link one MR account to one SPG account (and vice versa), so you’ll need to merge any duplicate accounts first.

If you are an elite member of one program, your status will be matched in the other program. SPG Preferred Plus = Marriott Silver. SPG Gold = Marriott Gold. SPG Platinum = Marriott Platinum.

You can transfer points both ways with no fees. 3 Marriott points = 1 SPG point. You can transfer up to the full balance of your account in increments of 1,000 points into the linked account. Ex. 1,000 Marriott points = 333 SPG points. 1,000 SPG points = 3,000 SPG points. Transfers should be instantaneous.

Points transfer and expirations. Transferring into Starwood will help extend your Starwood points expiration, but transferring into Marriott will not help your Marriott points expiration. If your Marriott points are really going to expire soon, just move them all over to Starwood? Taken directly from their Frequently Asked Questions:

If I transfer points from my Rewards account to SPG, does it count as activity against points expiration?
Transfers don’t count as a qualifying activity in the Rewards program, so transferring points won’t keep your points balance from expiring.

If I transfer points from my SPG account to Rewards, does it count as activity against points expiration?
SPG Starpoints don’t expire as long as your account remains active. Linking and transfers count as activity.

Possible new transfer options. You can now mix and match the various external partners to get improved or previously-impossible transfer options, including:

  • 60,000 Marriott points = 20,000 SPG points = 25,000 American, Hawaiian, Delta, or Alaska Airlines miles.
  • 18,667 Starwood points = 56,000 Marriott points = 25,000 United Airlines miles.
  • 90,000 Starwood points = 270,000 Marriott points = 120,000 Southwest points and 7 nights in a Marriott category 1-5 hotel. Why is this handy? Earning 110,000 Southwest Airlines points in one year will get you the Southwest Airlines Companion pass which lets you choose a friend to fly with you for free – for this year and the next! – your paid or points-redemption tickets. (If you want to do this, do it quickly, as this option may end prematurely…)

Credit card considerations. Given the 3:1 ratio, Chase Marriott card now has bigger relative sign-up bonus, but SPG American Express has earns more rewards on all everyday purchases.

  • Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card can get you 80,000 + 7,500 Marriott points if you meet the purchase hurdle. 87,500 Marriott points = 29,166 Starwood points.
  • Starwood Preferred American Express can get you 25,000 Starwood points if you meet the purchase hurdle. You’ll also get 1 Starwood point per dollar spent = 3 Marriott points per dollar spent on all purchases.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard Review: 50,000 Points = $500 Limited-Time Bonus

BarclayCard Arrival World MasterCard

Limited-time bonus bump, updated review. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus(TM) World Elite MasterCard® is a travel rewards card that has opened up to new applications again, now with a limited-time sign-up bonus worth at least $500 and the annual fee is waived the first year. Here are the card highlights:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days – that’s enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Redeem for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise.  Redemption values vary.
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Chip technology, so paying for your purchases is more secure at chip-card terminals in the U.S. and abroad
  • Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months for each Balance Transfer made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, currently 16.49% or 20.49% or 23.49%, depending on your creditworthiness.  Please note, there is a fee for balance transfers
  • Complimentary online FICO® Credit Score
  • $89 annual fee waived for the first year

Rewards program details. With this card, you earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all purchases. There are no special categories. These miles (easier to think of them as points, really) are then redeemable towards travel booked from any merchant or retailer classified as Airlines, Travel Agencies & Tour Operators, Hotels, Motels & Resorts, Cruise Lines, Passenger Railways and Car Rental Agencies. That means you have the flexibility to redeem towards any airline purchase to any destination with no seat restrictions and no blackout dates.

So basically you just visit Delta.com or Expedia.com or Hilton.com and go buy a ticket with this credit card. You don’t need to use any specific portal. Let’s say you buy an airplane ticket for $250. Then, you visit your Barclaycard account website and you’ll offset your purchase. You’ll redeem 25,000 “miles” and see a $250 statement credit on your statement. (Accruing those 25,000 miles would have taken $12,500 in accumulated purchases, if not part of sign-up bonus or other incentive.) I’ve done this multiple times, and it always went smoothly with no issues.

Travel statement credit redemptions start at 10,000 miles for $100 toward a qualifying travel purchase of $100 or more made within the last 120 days. For example, you could use 10,000 points for a $100 credit towards a $200 plane ticket, if you wished.

On top of that, the card gives you a 5% miles rebate when you redeem for any travel. (The rebate was once 10% but has since been reduced.) So if you redeemed 50,000 miles, you would get 2,500 back in your account after about a week. Although this adds a layer of complexity, you can calculate that technically getting $500 of value out of 47,500 miles at 2X miles/$ spent works out to 2.11% cash back towards any travel.

Everything else (cash credits, gift cards, merchandise) offers a worse redemption ratio. Don’t bother. If you were going to bother, you shouldn’t get this card.

Comparison with alternatives. 2X miles is nice and the rebate adds a bit extra. However, this card also has an $89 annual fee that is waived for the first year. So for the first year you’re good, but the competition offers multiple cards earning close to 2% cash back with no annual fee at all. I’ll list them again below; see the card-specific reviews for details.

Doing the math, you would have to put over $80,000 in purchases on this card annually in order to get the 0.11% advantage to offset the $89 annual fee (after the 1st-year waiver). That’s a big number. Now, Barclaycard did offer me a second fee-free year when I called in to cancel the card a couple years back (your results may vary). This bought me enough time to spend all my miles. A backup option is to downgrade the card to the no annual fee version after a year. Barclays does offer instant approval; if you don’t get it call their credit analyst line at 1-866-408-4064.

Bottom line. Solid sign-up bonus. Flexible travel rewards card. Annual fee too high after the first year. Long-time readers know that I want to see a $500 net value over the first year before I try out a new credit card. Given the limited-time 50,000 miles/points is worth $500 on any travel purchase and the annual fee is waived during the first year, this card satisfies that hurdle. 2X miles on all purchases is also quite competitive. However, past the first year of ownership, I do not like the idea of eventually paying an $89 annual fee with a theoretical max of 2.11% back when I can get 2% back with no annual fee from other cards.

Pay Your Rent with Credit Card With No Fees With RadPad and Android Pay

Update: This offer was ended early, basically saying they had to break their word because they were faced with huge losses. Not a well-run promotion.

radpad0With a new promotion by RadPad and Android Pay, you can pay your rent with a credit card (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) and earn points/miles/cash rewards through the end of 2016. Your landlord will simply receive a check on your behalf from RadPad.

Android Pay requires an NFC-enabled Android device running KitKat 4.4+ and the Android Pay app. A partial list includes LG G4, LG G5, HTC One M9, HTC 10, Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, Samsung Galaxy S6 and S7, and Moto X. Here is a 3rd-party list of NFC-enabled phones.

You must log into Pay with Radpad from an Android device or use the RadPad app, and then pay using Android Pay.

radpadand1

If you have a compatible phone, this promo seems like an easy way to rack up some extra frequent flier miles or satisfy a bonus requirement. You can schedule payments ahead of time if you wish. The standard fee is otherwise 3.49% for credit cards and free for debit cards. (You can now search for an apartment, sign your lease using Docusign, and pay rent using your debit card for free, all through Radpad.)

New Fidelity Rewards Visa Credit Card Review: 2% Flat Cash Back

new_usbank_fido_visa_200Updated with new info for both new and existing customers. Fidelity has (mostly) converted their rewards credit card line-up to a single version – a Visa Signature issued by Elan Financial Services (subsidiary of US Bank). For new customers, the new Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card will receive a flat 2% cash back when directed to an eligible Fidelity Investments account. Here is a different link which includes a $100 bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days. Here are the new card highlights:

  • Unlimited 2% cash back, when redeemed into an eligible Fidelity account.
  • No annual fee.
  • Visa Signature benefits, like Concierge service.
  • Chip-enabled and works with Apple, Android, and Samsung Pay.

Eligible Fidelity accounts. The 2% rewards value applies only to points redeemed for a deposit into the following active Fidelity accounts:

  • Fidelity Cash Management Account
  • Fidelity Brokerage account
  • Fidelity-managed 529 account
  • Fidelity Retirement account (IRA, Roth IRA, SEP-IRA, Rollover IRA)

Rewards value will be less than 2% cash back if you choose to redeem your points for other rewards such as travel options, merchandise, gift cards, and/or a statement credit.

Points redemption details. You can either choose automatic or manual redemption. With automatic redemption, once you reach $50 of rewards (5,000 points from net spending of $2,500), your balance will be automatically swept into your designated Fidelity account (or split between multiple Fidelity accounts if you wish). You can also redeem your points “on demand” either by calling in or online after you reach the same 5,000 point minimum balance.

Previous FIA Cardservices customers. You should have received your new Elan-issued cards by now, and been told what the new rewards structure is. There is no new credit check. Your credit card number will be different, but the credit card history (like age of account) should continue as before on your credit reports. Your existing rewards balance will be moved over. Re-enroll your card for online account management at FidelityRewards.com. Re-enroll your cards for rewards redemption after logging into your account at Fidelity.com / Credit Card Snapshot / Manage Rewards Points. You will need your Fidelity account numbers.

There was (understandably) some angry existing customers when they were told they would only start at 1.5% cash back and not the 2% cash back offered to new customers. Some reps told existing customers that they would have apply for a new card in order to get the 2%. However, it appears that Fidelity has softened that decision. If you call up the number on the back of your card and ask them, they should upgrade you to 2% cash back without hassle. But it won’t happen automatically; you must call.

Commentary. Overall, this move makes complete business sense. They negotiated terms that could offer a Visa card with 2% cash back without any tiers. Fidelity uses this card to encourage customers to keep all their assets within Fidelity-branded accounts. You could theoretically now have your checking account, credit card, brokerage account, IRA, 401(k), all with Fidelity.

Their previous issuer, FIA Cardservices was owned by Bank of America, which is essentially a direct competitor. You could also have a Bank of America checking account, BofA credit card, Merrill Edge brokerage account, and Merrill Lynch wealth management account under their umbrella. In fact, I recently opened up a Merrill Edge account and moved over $100,000 of assets and received (1) 100 free stock trades a month and (2) an effective 2.625% back towards any travel with the Bank of America Travel Rewards card (my review). I pay no annual account fees on either product.

Elan Financial Services is a subsidiary of US Bank, but they are less of a direct competitor. You won’t see “US Bank” mentioned anywhere on this card. Elan quietly co-brands with many other financial institutions (over 1,400) who want a credit card but don’t want to handle the back-end details.

Bottom line. I believe it remains a solid cash back card for existing Fidelity customers (or those willing to open a Fidelity account). As a self-directed investor, I also like to keep my options open. I have this new Fidelity card, but I don’t use it. I use the Bank of America card mentioned above because it offers higher rewards for my situation. I also have (but don’t currently use) the Citi Double Cash card (my review) because it is a similarly solid card with no annual fee (and doesn’t require any companion account).

Why do I have all three? My experience is that good credit cards may stop taking new applicants with no prior notice, but as an existing customer you can often continue to receive grandfathered benefits for a long time. I’ve had some version of this Fidelity co-branded card earning 2% cash back since 2004. They also all have no annual fee.

Citi Prestige Card Review: New 40,000 Point Offer, Feature Changes

Citi ThankYou Prestige Card Art

Our partner Citi has relaunched the Citi Prestige® Card, their premium ThankYou point rewards card. The sign-up bonus is now 40,000 bonus points after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. Here are the updated highlights:

  • $250 Air Travel Credit each year
  • Receive a statement credit, up to $100 every 5 years, as reimbursement for your application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • 4th night hotel benefit for any hotel stay at hotels booked through the Citi Prestige® Concierge.
  • Earn 40,000 bonus points after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • Points are redeemable for a $532 flight on any airline or $400 in gift cards.
  • Transfer points to a variety of travel loyalty programs from airlines to hotels.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on Purchases.
  • $450 annual fee, not waived the first year.

What’s different than before? While many features remain, there are a few notable changes from the previous offer.

  • The sign-up bonus was previously 50,000 bonus points after $3,000 in purchases.
  • Citi and American Airlines connection appears to be going away over time. For example, the application does not mention the previous ability to redeem at 1 ThankYou point = 1.6 cents in American Airlines airfare. There is now only the claim that you can redeem 1 ThankYou point = 1.33 cents in airfare from any airline. Thus, 40k ThankYou points are redeemable for a $532 flight on any airline or $400 in gift cards.
  • Existing Citi Prestige cardholders have been told that the ability to obtain complimentary access to American Airlines Admirals Club lounges will be ending July 23, 2017. Free access to the Priority Pass Select program and its affiliated airport lounges will remain.

What’s the same as before?

  • $250 Statement Credit for Air Travel each year. Unlike other cards, airfare counts as well as baggage fees, lounge access, and other incidental purchases. This renews every calendar year, so it can be used to help offset the annual fee every year. Specifically, “This statement credit is an annual benefit available for purchases appearing on your billing statements from December through the following December. Pending transactions that do not post in your December billing cycle will count towards the next year’s Air Travel Credit.”
  • Citi ThankYou points also transfer directly to certain airline mileage programs on a 1:1 basis including Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Etihad, Flying Blue by Air France and KLM, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways.
  • $100 Global Entry application fee credit details. Citi will cover the $100 application fee on a one-time basis when you charge it to the card. Global Entry allows you to get through international customs faster when entering the US. Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck as well. The $100 application fee credit will reset once every 5 years.

My personal bottom line. As an existing cardholder, there is no doubt the card has lost some important features. I’ve gotten my $100 Global Entry credit and $250 annual airfare credits without issue. But my most often-used feature, the Admiral Club lounge access will last until July 2017 but will disappear after that. Unless the annual fee drops significantly, that single change will probably make it not worth paying for another annual fee.

Overall bottom line: This card still offers a pretty good package during the first year of cardownership. Assuming you fly enough on any airline to make the airfare purchases, you can redeem the $250 annual airfare credit in both later 2016 and again in early 2017, for a total of $500 statement credit. (The $250 annual credit resets every December billing statement.) Then you have the $532 in airfare redemption value from the 40,000 ThankYou points, good on any airline. That’s $1,032 of flexible value, minus the annual fee of $450, for $582 minimum net value in the first year. Then you add in whatever value you place on the other perks like $100 Global Entry fee reimbursement, 3/2/1 rewards tiers, and the 4th night free benefit.

In addition, if you have a big stash of Citi ThankYou points, getting this card could increase the value of your existing point balance due to the special 1.33 cents per ThankYou point conversion rate towards airfare.

“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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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