American Express Small Business Saturday 2014 – $30 Total Bonus Per Card

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Reminder: Registration is now live on Shopsmall.com. You will get e-mail confirmation. I would highly recommend registering sometime on Sunday to guarantee your spot, as the number of registrations is limited. The actual day that you must make your purchases is Saturday, Nov 29, 2014. Details are below.

Have you made your SBS Game Plan? Remember that authorized users of eligible cards are also eligible for this promotion. Given that it is three separate $10 credits per card, it’ll make your live easier if you plan out your purchases ahead of time. Here’s my list:

  • Local grocery stores. There’s one where I can find the sunflower seed butter for my kid, and the one with the good raw lasagna.
  • Local restaurants and coffee shops. Just make sure they take AmEx!
  • Local doggie bakery. Usually too pricey for me, but a good place for gifts!
  • Local sporting goods stores and bike shops. Buy some tennis balls, some little things for my bike, etc.
  • Local hardware stores. These are a dying breed, but there are still some non-Home Depot small business hardware stores in my area.
  • Local bookstore. Another rarity, but there happens to be one next to a local restaurant we like!

If they sell gift certificates, buy them! If you only want to spend $10, you can say those can make good stocking stuffers. If you would otherwise buy a $25 certificate for a gift, hey that’s still 40% off what you would have paid. Also don’t be shy about using more than one card at a place. AmEx is paying those $10 credits, not them, so the merchants should still appreciate your patronage.

Original Small Business Saturday 2014 post:

American Express has confirmed that they will bring back Small Business Saturday (SBS) on Saturday, November 29th – two days after Thanksgiving.

The significant change this year is that now it is up to three separate $10 statement credits, for a total of up to $30 per eligible card. Details from the Official Terms and Conditions [pdf]:

  • Limit three (3) $10 statement credits per eligible American Express Card. To receive the offer, Card Members must register any eligible American Express Card for this offer. Corporate Cards and all prepaid Card products (other than American Express Serve® and Bluebird®) are not eligible.
  • The number of registrations is limited. Registration opens at 12:00 A.M. MST (“Mountain Standard Time”) on Nov 16, 2014 and will continue until 11:59 P.M. MST on Nov 29, 2014, unless the registration limit is reached sooner.
  • To receive the $10 statement credit, the Card Member must use his or her registered Card to spend $10 or more in a single, in-store transaction at a qualifying small business location on Saturday, Nov 29, 2014.

Other important terms and tips:

  • Qualifying small business locations appear on the Shop Small Map.
  • If you don’t have anything specific in mind, even gift cards to a local non-chain restaurant, grocer, hardware store, or clothing boutique count.
  • In all previous years, additional authorized user cards have been eligible for their own $10 credit. (Authorized user cards with AmEx get their own unique card number.) I see nothing that changes that in this year’s rules. Many American Express cards offer additional cards for free to authorized users like your spouse, partner, or older children.
  • Most prepaid cards are not eligible, but American Express Bluebird and Serve cards are eligible. Given that these cards are free to obtain (officially you can only have one or the other, though) this is another path to an additional free $30 of small business patronage in 2014.

Small Business Saturday remains a very creative way for American Express to tell the public that they’ve greatly increased acceptance of their cards at small businesses, which has always been their relative weak spot due to their slightly higher fees for the merchant. (It also makes small business that aren’t accepting AmEx to think twice…)

This is a great perk for American Express cardholders. With a little advance planning multiple credits are very easy to get… I’ve gotten them every year without issue.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card Review: 25,000 Point Promo

Southwest Premier Credit Card ArtSouthwest has brought back their 25,000 bonus point promo for the Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. That’s worth two Round trip Flight (over $350 in airfare with no limited-capacity seating hoops or $250 in Amazon.com gift cards) after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account.  There is a $99 annual fee that is not waived the first year.

Besides a lot of spending or flying, the small business version of this card has a 50,000 point bonus. Spend $2,000 on each of these two cards and you’ll qualify for both the 50k bonus and 25k bonus plus the 3k from spending for a total of 78,000 Rapid Rewards points. Spend a little more on the card or take some Southwest flights to make up the last 6,000 points and you’ll have 84,000. Those 84k points will be worth over $1,000 in Wanna Get Away airfare split up into however many flights you want.

More Details
An “average” round-trip $357 Wanna Get Away fare would cost about 25,000 points. In reality, the value of the bonus is $357 in Southwest airfare broken up however you like. Any Wanna Get Away fare is eligible, so this bonus is very useful for Southwest fliers. If you take shorter flights or wait for a fare sale, this could easily be worth multiple roundtrip flights. 25,000 points can also be converted to $250 in gift cards to Amazon.com, Wal-mart, and other retailers.

Currently 70 points = $1 worth of Wanna Get Away airfare, which means you get 1.43 cents of value per point. Southwest is still offering two free checked bags, which can be a significant roundtrip savings. Here are the rest of the details:

  • Earn 25,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account.
  • Named 2015 Freddie Award Winner for Best Loyalty Credit Card
  • NEW – Chip-enabled cards with 24/7 fraud monitoring
  • Points Don’t Expire, No Blackout Dates, Bags Fly Free®
  • 6,000 points after your Cardmember Anniversary.
  • 2 points/$1 spent on Southwest Airlines® purchases and participating Hotel and Car Rental partners
  • 1 point/$1 spent on all other purchases

Southwest Premier Banner

“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.”

Citi American Airlines AAdvantage Mastercard Review: 30,000 Bonus Miles

citinewaaAmerican Airlines and US Airways have announced new details about their upcoming merger. As expected, the two frequent flier programs will merge and all the miles will become American AAdvantage miles in 2015. (US Airways Dividend miles will convert at a 1:1 ratio.) Along with that, they have slightly updated both the Citi American Airlines card and Barclaycard US Airways card.

Here are the updated details on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® from our partner Citi:

New cardholder bonus:

  • For a limited time, earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • Annual fee is $95, waived for first 12 months.

American Airlines and US Airways perks:

  • Earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines and US Airways flights for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
  • Enjoy boarding privileges with Group 1 on American Airlines flights and Zone 2 on US Airways operated flights*
  • Receive 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines and US Airways flights*
  • Double AAdvantage(R) miles on eligible American Airlines and US Airways purchases*
  • Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back – up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles each calendar year*

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

Money Magazine Best Credit Card Rankings 2014

money1410The October 2014 issue of Money Magazine features their annual rankings of the “Best Credit Cards”. Here’s a condensed list of their top picks for various categories. I’ve written about most of them, and in those cases I’m linking to that post which provides more details. Otherwise, I’m linking directly to the card page and including a few highlights about the card.

Best for Balance Transfers (Low, long introductory APR)

  • Chase Slate Card. 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. No balance transfer fee if you transfer within the first 2 months. No annual fee.

Best for Regular Balance Carriers (Low ongoing APR)

Best for Purchases (Low, long introductory APR)

  • Citi Simplicity Card. 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 18 months. 3% balance transfer fee, $5 min. No annual fee.

Best Flat-Rate Cash Back Rewards (Tie)

  • Citi Double Cash Card. 1% flat back when you swipe, 1% flat when you pay your bill. No limits or tiers. If you redeem rewards via check that is 2% flat cash back, if you redeem via statement credit then it is actually technically 1.99% cash back. Spend $2,000 a month on this Mastercard and get back $480 a year without changing your spending patterns. No annual fee.
  • Fidelity American Express. 2% back with no limit or tiers. Rewards must be deposited into a Fidelity account.

Best For Cash Back on Essentials

Best 5% Cash Back Cards (Tie)

  • US Bank Cash Plus. 5% back on two categories from 12 possible choices, on $2,000 in purchases per quarter. No annual fee. Must apply in physical branch, application is not available online.
  • Chase Freedom. 5% in categories that rotate quarterly, on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter. $100 sign-up bonus. No annual fee.

Best For Travel Rewards / Traveling Abroad.

Best For Miles Hounds / Best Sign-Up Bonus.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred. Big upfront sign-up bonus, 2x points on Dining and Travel, Ultimate Rewards points offer flexible transfers to miles, cash, or travel credit.  $0 annual fee first year, then $95.

Best For Hotel Perks.

Best For Small Business Rewards.

  • Chase Ink Cash. Decent sign-up bonus, 5% cash back on up to $25,000 in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services. No annual fee.

Best For Small Business Borrowing.

  • US Bank Business Edge Platinum. 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months, 10% to 18% after that. This is the lowest APR among no annual fee small biz cards. No annual fee.

Best First Card For a College Kid

Best Card For Online Shopping

  • Discover It Card. The ShopDiscover portal offers cash back bonuses of 5% to 20% at select online retailers, which can be redeemed as statement credit. Also has 5% rotating categories. No annual fee.

Discover Card 5% Back At Lowe’s, Shell Gas, or Walgreens

Discover It and Discover More cardholders may be able to get 5% cashback at your choice of one of the following stores: Applebee’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Lowe’s, Olive Garden, Shell, or Walgreens from now until November 30th, 2014. Subject to a cap of $1,000 in purchases. Valid both in-store and online. I think the best options for most would be Lowe’s (home improvement or wide selection of gift cards to Amazon, etc), Shell (gasoline), or Walgreens (coupon book items, expensive meds, or gift cards). I was able to get the promo by doing the following:

  1. First, log into your existing online account at Discover.com.
  2. Then, come back here and click on this link from the same browser.

You should see this page (click to enlarge):

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This is in addition to the standard 5% back categories on the Discover it card, currently 5% back on up to $1,500 in purchases at Online Shopping and Department Stores and movies for 4th quarter of 2014. Selected fine print:

*Sign up to earn 5% Cashback Bonus on up to $1000 in total purchases made at your choice of one of the following stores: Applebee’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Lowe’s, Olive Garden, Shell, or Walgreens from 10/1/14 (or the date you sign up, whichever is later) through 11/30/14. Once you sign up, no changes can be made to your selection. Purchases made using virtual wallets or third party payment providers will not be eligible. Purchases made outside of the U.S. will not be eligible. Rewards are added to your Cashback Bonus account within 2 billing periods. See Cashback Bonus Program Terms and Conditions for further details.

1 Year Free Identity Protection and Credit Monitoring from Home Depot

hdallclearidHome Depot has admitted they were recently hacked and customer information was compromised and stolen. If you have shopped at any Home Depot store after April 1, 2014, you are eligible for one free year of identity protection and credit monitoring at homedepot.allclearid.com (press release).

If you need identity repair assistance during the next 12 months, starting on September 8, 2014, we have a team of dedicated fraud resolution investigators available to assist you. They will do the work to recover financial losses, restore your credit, and make sure your identity is returned to its proper condition.

For additional protection, we are also making available at no cost to you a service that includes credit monitoring, identity monitoring, and an identity theft insurance policy.

It appears you get AllClear Secure identity repair service and a 12-month AllClear PRO subscription (retail price of $14.95 a month, though I’d never actually pay that). Call 1-855-252-0908 for identity repair assistance. You’ll have to provide them with your Social Security number. Keep in mind that with all major credit card issuers, you have zero liability for any unauthorized charges as long as you report them in a timely manner.

Reminder: Everyone can get free daily credit monitoring from all three major credit bureaus through the following sites: Credit Sesame for Experian, Credit Karma for TransUnion, and Quizzle for Equifax (I got offered this last one, but it may be targeted).

Bank of America Better Balance Rewards Card Review

bofabbrA couple of readers have asked me about the BankAmericard Better Balance Rewards credit card. It definitely has a unique rewards structure (full details):

  • Earn a $25 cash reward for each calendar quarter in which all of your monthly payments are received on or before the due date and are more than the minimum payment due. Your account must remain open and you must have a payment due in each of the monthly cycles of the calendar quarter to be eligible for the quarterly cash reward; a zero balance or a credit balance does not qualify.
  • Earn an additional $5 cash reward per quarter if you have a Bank of America checking or savings account.
  • Cash back is automatically credited to your card balance, unless otherwise directed into your BofA bank account.
  • No annual fee.

The draw is that you could charge just $5 to the card every month, wait for the statement to close, and then pay off that $5 every month, and end up with $100 a year in rewards (or $120 a year with BofA account). It would take $5,000 of total purchases at a theoretical 2% cashback rate to get to $100 in rewards.

The first catch is that you need to maintain this every single month. If you skip just one month and have a zero balance, or somehow a refund has you end up with a negative balance, or you don’t pay the minimum due on time, then you forfeit the entire $25 for that quarter. Remember that by default the $25 reward is applied to your credit card balance, so even that could put you negative in a month. You have to pay attention to this card.

The second catch is that there is no other rewards structure, not even a flat 1% cash back. There is no incentive to put any significant purchases on this card, as you won’t get any additional cash back.

In the end, this card would work best for:

  1. People who naturally charge very little on their cards, but at least something every month. Maybe you’ll miss out on a quarter here and there, but with small total purchase amounts it would still be more than you’d get from a normal rewards card.
  2. Detail-oriented folks who are willing to jump through the hoops to get that $100 to $120 per year by charging small amounts and paying them off every month. (Then put all your other charges on a 1%/5% or flat 2% cashback card or other better card.) You could try and automate this somehow with a scheduled $5 monthly charitable contribution, put Netflix bill on auto-pay, or something similar. I can’t recall if BofA lets you also automate the payment.

I think the best play here is to try and convert an existing Bank of America credit card that you don’t use anymore (cash out the rewards completely first!). Ideally you’ll get access to the benefits without an additional credit check. Otherwise, in the current environment, it is quite easy to get $500 or more value upfront out of a new credit card application. A credit pull is valuable and I’d rather have a big bonus now instead of having to jump through hoops for 4-5 years. If/when the bonuses start to drop, then this card would start to look better.

Amazon Local Register: 1.75% Credit Card Processing Fee

Amazon just announced Local Register, which allows small businesses to accept credit cards on their smartphone or tablet much like Square, Paypal, etc. The special thing is their initial promotional rate of 1.75% until the end of 2015 if you sign up by October 31st, 2014. Their standard rate is 2.5%. Square’s standard rate is 2.75%, PayPal is 2.7%. So this is a decent savings of at least 30% on your credit card processing fees. No minimum amounts or monthly fees. Via NYT Bits.

To swipe cards, you have to buy the dongle for $10 with free 2-day shipping, but it also includes $10 in free processing fees. They just don’t want people ordering it and leaving it in their desk drawer (like I did with my Square reader). The lower rates apply to swiped cards only, manually entered numbers cost 2.75%. Compatible with iPhone 4 and newer, Samsung Galaxy S3 and newer, Kindle Fire HD and newer, and all iPads.

I’ve been seeing more Square-type readers at farmer’s markets and smaller retail kiosks. If you have higher volume, you may get a better deal via Costco or other traditional merchant accounts. Individuals may speculate about the churning of cashback or rewards cards through this reader, but in my opinion it has been tried before and is not worth the hassle.

Credit Karma Offers Free Full Credit Reports, Updated Weekly

CreditKarma.com just announced that they will now provide members a full copy of their TransUnion credit report, free of charge and updated once a week if you log in that frequently. You should see a pop-up once you log in, otherwise navigate to My Finances > Full Credit Report (Beta).

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Here’s a summary of their offering now:

  • Free TransUnion New Account credit score. Updated once a week. Not a FICO-branded score, but can still be use to track relative changes over time.
  • Free 24/7 credit monitoring of your TransUnion report. Will alert you if there are any changes, in case you’re like me and don’t really need a weekly update of your credit score. This is handy for tracking the location and timing of credit inquiries.
  • Free full credit report of your TransUnion data. Updated once a week. Nice to be able to track any changes down the smallest detail if needed.

Everything is still free with no trials and no credit card required. Either Credit Karma is making some decent money off their website advertising, or the cost of credit reports and scores continues to drop. I think the latter is definitely an overall trend.

Don’t forget the other major bureaus to get your complete credit picture. Get free non-FICO scores and 24/7 credit monitoring from all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) here. I track and compare all of my free credit scores here.

Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card: 50,000 Bonus Points + Free Night Certificate

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit CardAnother credit card has upped their usual sign-up bonus given all the competition recently – this time it is the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase. Thanks to reader Naveen for the heads up. The offer for new Marriott cardholder includes:

  • The fastest way to earn Marriott Rewards points towards free nights
  • Earn 50,000 Points after spending $1,000 on purchases on your first 3 months from account opening
  • Receive 1 Free Night Stay at a Category 1-5 location every year after your account anniversary date!
  • Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, thereafter $85
  • For every $1 spent, earn 5 points at 3,800 Marriott locations, 2 points on airline ticket purchases directly with airlines, at car rental agencies & restaurants and 1 point everywhere else
  • Receive 15 Elite Credits guaranteeing Silver Elite Status or better
  • No limit to how many points you can earn
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees and enjoy wider acceptance when you travel with your embedded chip card and you make purchases at chip-enabled card readers

We’ve been getting the itch to travel again as a family, so I looked through Marriott’s redemption offerings. Marriott properties include Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance Hotels, Courtyard, Residence Inn, and Fairfield Inn & Suites. You can view their redemption chart here. Hotels on their PointSavers list have temporarily reduced redemption costs. Redeem 4 nights and get the 5th night free.

70,000 points is enough to get you a night at any Ritz-Carlton in the world. Or, 70,000 points can get you two nights at any Category 6, Category 7, or Ritz-Carlton Tier 1 hotel. The free night award can be used for up to a Category 4 hotel. In the top right corner of the redemption chart link, you can view a comprehensive list of what hotels are in any specific category. Here are the options that caught my eye.

Ritz Carlton Tier 5 (Highest tier, 70,000 points a night)

Category 7 Hotels (35,000 points per night, 30,000 if Pointsaver)

Category 6 Hotels (30,000 points per night, 25,000 if Pointsaver)

Ritz Carlton Tier 1 (30,000 points per night, 20,000 if Pointsaver)

Category 4 Hotels (Eligible with Free Certificate or 20,000 points per night standard, 15,000 if Pointsaver)

  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista at Vista Centre
  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando at SeaWorld®
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando Lake Buena Vista in the Marriott Village
  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando International Drive/Convention Center
  • Orlando: SpringHill Suites Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando International Drive/Convention Center

Adding up the value of two Cat 7 nights and one Cat 4 night is going to be easily over $500 of value, possibly closer to $700-$800. But as always, hotel points are only good if you can use and enjoy them. I have gotten to stay at some terrific properties thanks to such point promotions, although I tend to value location and convenience over the bling factor.

I was wrong initially as Marriott points are convertible to gift cards, but it takes 60,000 points to redeem for a $200 gift card for Marriott or retailers like Best Buy, Home Depot, or Nordstrom. That ratio isn’t all that great, you’ll definitely get the most value out of your points if you stay at Marriott hotels.

The annual fee is waived for the first year. If you are regular Marriott hotel guest, then the free Category 5 night is probably worth the $85 annual fee at the end of your first year.

“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.”

Free FICO vs. non-FICO Credit Score Comparison

Updated with new scores. There are many free credit scores are available nowadays, but how do they compare in real life? There are three major credit bureaus – TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian – which all may have slightly different information about you in their database. Here I keep track of all of my available “free” scores (some require specific credit card or other membership) while noting the bureau data used.

  • Discover FICO (TransUnion) – FICO score available free to Discover card holders. Based on the FICO 08 scoring model. Updates monthly. I get mine from the Discover it® card that features 5% cash back in rotating categories and no annual fee.
  • Barclaycard FICO (TransUnion) – FICO score available free to Barclaycard holders. Based on the FICO 08 scoring model. Updates sporadically, usually every 1-2 months. I get mine from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus(TM) World Elite MasterCard that offers great travel rewards.
  • Credit Karma (TransUnion) – Educational credit score available free to members of CreditKarma.com. Based on the TransUnion New Account scoring model. Updates as often as once a week if you log in that frequently.
  • Capital One (TransUnion)- Educational credit score available free to Capital One card holders. Based on the TransUnion New Account scoring model, it updates monthly. I get mine from the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards card, which offers a flat 1.5% back on all purchases, $100 sign-up bonus when making $500 in purchases during the first three months, and no annual fee.
  • Credit Sesame (Experian) – Educational credit score available free to members of CreditSesame.com. Based on the Experian National Equivalency scoring model. Updated up to once a month if you log in.
  • Quizzle (Equifax) – Credit score available free to members of Quizzle.com. Based on the VantageScore 3.0 scoring model. Updated up to twice a year if you log in.

Based on the data points I have collected so far, it does support that the two FICO scores provided by the Discover and Barclaycard are the same (both are part of the FICO Score Access program and use FICO 08 formula) and the Credit Karma and Capital One scores are also the same (both use TransUnion New Account formula).

As for FICO vs. non-FICO, even though they may be based on the same TransUnion credit report and are in the rough approximate range, the scores given can differ by up to 30-50 points. In this individual case, the other non-FICO scores from Experian and Equifax are actually consistently closer to the reported TransUnion FICO scores.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union Free FICO Credit Score (NextGen)

Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed) now offers a free credit score to select members. It may be offered only to members with a credit account with them (auto, checking overdraft, mortgage, etc.). I was offered the free FICO score and only have their Thrifty Credit Service which is just a $500 line of credit in case of an overdraft from my checking account. You can find access via a banner on the main page after logging in:

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The score formula is called the FICO NextGen, which has a range of 150-950 as opposed to the traditional FICO range of 300-850. FICO tried to roll out this new “improved” score several years ago but it never really took off. So while this is a “FICO score”, the number may not be as easy to understand. However, PenFed does state that this score is the actual score that they use when making credit decisions. Also included are the top two “key factors” affecting your score:

penfedfico2

As usual, some of the advice these services offer don’t make much sense. So what if I don’t have an outstanding auto or student loan? I pay cash for my cars and worked hard to paid off my student loans. Why would I voluntarily go into debt again just to bump up my credit score a few ticks? They should know that my credit is already good enough that I’ve never had a problem getting any sort of loan product.