Pay with Discover Card Cash Back Points at Amazon.com ($15 First-Time Bonus)

Discover it 14 Image

If you have cash back rewards accrued from Discover credit cards, you can use them to buy eligible items at Amazon.com. The redemption rate is $1 in Cash Back Bonus = $1 to spend at Amazon, which is the same rate as their statement credit redemptions. The only potential added benefit is the lack of minimum redemption amount (and any linked promotions…).

You’ll need to connect an eligible Discover credit card that earns Cash Back rewards, including:

First-time user bonus for Amazon Prime members. There is a first-time user bonus for up to $15 off your order when you use Pay with Points with Discover for the first time and are an Amazon Prime member (trial membership doesn’t count). The terms state this is a targeted offer, but I was able to use this successfully despite not being sent this offer directly. An important tip from the terms is the following:

If you are enrolling in the Shop with Points Program for the first time or have just become a Prime member, please be aware that it may take up to 72 hours before your promotional code will be accepted and applied.

Here is the page to sign up for Shop With Points using Discover. Again, you may need to wait 72 hours if you just signed up before applying this code.

Here are the directions, via FW:

  • Add products sold and shipped by Amazon.com to your Shopping cart.
  • Choose a Discover Shop with Points enrolled card as a payment method.
  • Enter the promo code DISC16EVER in the box provided on the checkout page, and pay for at least part of your order with CashBack Bonus
  • Up to $15 of savings will be reflected on the final checkout page.

Here is a screenshot of my successful application of this offer, using only $1 of Discover Cash Back (click to enlarge):

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(No, I didn’t actually buy the $500 Eero Mesh Router system, but I was just researching it as I’ve been having some WiFi coverage issues in my house. Sounds cool, but pricey.)

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card: Redemption Tips for 2.625% Back

bofa_travelrewards191As previously mentioned, I have switched to using the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card as my primary catch-all rewards cards. This is because if you give them enough assets to hold onto (admittedly not possible for everyone), you can receive 2.25% or 2.625% cash back against past travel-related purchases. Please see my Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card review for details on the card structure. As I’ve made a few points redemptions already, I wanted to share my tips and experiences with that. The good news is that the process is quite simple and I found it easy to use up all of your points to maximize value.

Account setup and eligiblity. I have both a Bank of America checking account and a Merrill Edge brokerage account. The checking account doesn’t have much money in it (it pays no interest) and technically isn’t necessarily at all, but I do keep $100,000 in assets in the Edge brokerage account in order to qualify for the highest tier of Preferred status, Platinum Honors. $50,000 in combined balances will get you the Platinum tier. Vanguard ETFs trade free at Vanguard, but Edge gives me commission-free trades a month on any stock or ETF (100/month Platinum Honors, 30/month Platinum). There are no account maintenance fees for Merrill Edge. Thus, it cost me nothing to switch to Edge besides having yet another account in my life (in fact, they paid me a sign-up bonus).

When logging into BofA, this bundling also offers the convenience of viewing my bank account balance, credit card charges, and Edge investment value all on the same screen. It also tracks which tier I am on their Preferred Rewards program (Gold, Platinum, or Platinum Honors), including my exact qualifying balance:

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The official measurement is of your “3-month average combined balance”, so if you just transfer the bare minimum $100k over into an empty account, it may take a few months to reach the $100k level and officially qualify for Platinum Honors. Only after that will the 75% rewards bonus on credit card rewards kick in. (You may qualify for Gold and Platinum in the meantime.)

Earning rewards, bonus verification. Here is a screenshot taken from one of my monthly statements, which I have highlighted for clarity.

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I put $2,527.99 in purchases on my card during this statement cycle, so at 1.5 points per dollar that came out to 3,791 points. Since I am on the Platinum Honors tier, I received a 75% bonus of 2,846 points. (This appears to be off by a few points when compared to my calculator, but is very close.) Gold members would have received 25% bonus, Platinum members would have received a 50% bonus.

The total is 6,637 points, which will get me $66.37 of statement credit towards a previous travel-related charge (see below). The bonus points were calculated automatically without any additional legwork on my part.

Redemption process. Here are the rules:

  • 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all purchases. No limit to the points you can earn. Points do not expire.
  • Redeeming for Travel Credit offers the best value for your points. There are no restrictions or blackout dates. You can also get gift cards, but why bother?
  • Valid travel-related expenses include airfare, hotels, car rentals, baggage fees, and airline upgrades. (Possibly more depending on merchant categorization, for example inflight food counted for me.)
  • Minimum redemption is 2,500 points = $25 when redeemed for a Travel Credit.
  • A travel purchase is eligible to redeem for a Travel Credit up to 12 months from the date the purchase posts to your account.
  • Partial redemptions allow you to use all your points up. For example, if you have a $26.00 eligible purchase but you only have 2,500 points, you can use just those points and get $25 back. You don’t have to accrue more points to reach any specific purchase value.
  • The system will remember your partial redemptions, and allow you to apply future points redemption up the remaining balance of that purchase. So that big annual vacation bill? You can chip away at it with your rewards over a year.

You can perform all your redemptions online, no need to call anyone. Here is a screenshot of the rewards redemption website, which should provide a good idea of how it works. Click to enlarge.

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(Side tip: If you are worried about cashing out all your points, simply adjust your redemptions to keep a minimum of 2,500 points in your account at all times. Then, if for some reason you want to close the card and do one final cashout (i.e. they announce upcoming changes for the worse), you can do so and use up every last point.)

Recap. I have shown that my real-world experience matches the promised rewards payout. $66.37 of reward divided by $2,527 in purchases is 2.625% back. I was able to get full reward value by offsetting a travel purchase from the last 12 months (airfare, hotel, and all those annoying airfare-related fees). The points arrived without hassle, and redemption was both easy and offered a high level of control.

I realize not everyone will have at least $50,000 of assets to move around, and so this is somewhat a restricted offer. But again it doesn’t have to be idle cash, it can be stocks or ETFs that you’re just holding elsewhere like TD Ameritrade or Vanguard. 2.625% back is a great rewards rate, assuming you charge enough travel-related stuff on the card every 12 months. For example, if you charged $1,000 a month, 2.625% back would be $315 a year. The card has no foreign transaction fees, so you can use it internationally as well.

Please see my Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card review for additional card details.

Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card: 80,000 Bonus Points Review

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit CardMost travel cards offer an ongoing sign-up bonus, but it’s even better when you snag them during a bump-up – this time it is the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase. Check out the highlights below, and remember that it is free and takes just a minute to add an authorized user:

  • Earn 80,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Plus, earn 7,500 bonus points when you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Enjoy 1 Free Night Stay at a Category 1-5 location every year after your account anniversary date!
  • Earn unlimited Marriott Rewards points and get free stays faster
  • Earn 5 points for every $1 spent at 4,000 Marriott locations, 2 points for every $1 spent on airline tickets purchased directly with the airlines, at car rental agencies and restaurants and 1 point everywhere else.
  • The fastest way to earn Marriott Rewards points towards free nights
  • The fastest way to earn Marriott Rewards Elite Status.  Receive 15 Elite Credits guaranteeing Silver Elite Status or better.  Plus, Earn 1 Elite Credit for every $3,000 spent on purchases.
  • All for an $85 Annual Fee

We’ve started traveling 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. Redeem 4 nights and get the 5th night free. Hotels on their PointSavers list have temporarily reduced redemption costs.

80,000 points is enough to get you a night at any Ritz Carlton Tier 5 hotel in the world. Or, 80,000 points can get you four nights at any Category 4 hotel. Or, it could get you eight nights at a Category 2 hotel. The free night award can be used for up to a Category 5 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 some options that caught my eye.

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

Category 8 Hotels (40,000 points per night, 35,000 if Pointsaver)

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 Cat 1-5 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

As always, hotel points are only good if you can use and enjoy them. Poke around their award listings – Marriott has a lot of different hotel brands to choose from. The Courtyards I’ve stayed in have been modernized and updated, while SpringHill Suites are nice for families. I’ve also gotten to stay at some terrific properties thanks to such point promotions, although I tend to value location and convenience over the bling factor.

If you’ve gotten a bonus from this Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card within the last 2 years, please note the following:

This 80,000 bonus point offer is available to you as long as you have not received a new cardmember bonus for this product in the past 24 months.

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.

On your account anniversary, you’ll get a certificate for a free Category 1-5 night which you can weigh against another $85 annual fee. As long as you can use that certificate for a decent hotel, getting $85 value is certainly achievable. For example, a random night at the (Category 4) Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista at Vista Centre was $115 when including taxes.

Marriott Premier Banner 80K

“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.”

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

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Updated. Plastiq just upped their fee for debit card payments to 1%. Previously, there was no fee at all. Just a heads up for those people with plans for future payments. If you have a payment originally scheduled under the 0% fee structure, according to Plastiq you’re still okay as long as you don’t edit them. I’d double-check. Here is the text of the e-mail:

As you may know, at Plastiq we’re always working on ways to offer the very best service at the lowest possible price. Last year this commitment led us to offer a promotional debit card fee rate of 0%. This will be ending effective today, February 9th, at 5pm PT. However, due to the overwhelmingly positive response to reduced debit fees, we’re excited to offer an on-going reduced rate of 1% for personal debit card payments (rather than the standard 2.5%).

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 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

(EXPIRED) The last promotion ran until November 30th, 2015 and lets you make payments with a 1.5% fee for one-time, immediate MasterCard payments.. Here is their blog announcement. No minimum amount required. Does not apply to recurring payments. No special promotional code or sign up required.

Selected fine print:

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, but why wait until then to show how thankful we are that you’ve signed up with Plastiq? To make the holiday even sweeter, we’re excited to share that today is the start of a special promotion. Get a 1.5% rate for all one-time, immediate MasterCard payments to any business! […] This promotion will expire on November 30, 2015 at 5 p.m. PT.

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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.

NFL Extra Points Credit Card Review: Super Bowl Ticket Redemption Details

NFL Extra Points Card Image

The NFL Extra Points Credit Card issued by Barclaycard is the only credit card officially co-branded with the National Football League. They are savvy too – the very first thing you do on the application is pick your team, so it can show you a credit card plastered with your favorite logo on it (not the generic one shown to the right). It is certainly a conversation starter; all 32 team logos are available.

Now, there are plenty of “affinity” cards out there that let people show off their university alumni status, preferred charity, or favorite sports team, but most of them have rather vanilla rewards. In contrast, this NFL-sponsored card offers some unique rewards that you can’t find elsewhere. A lot of people dream about going to the Super Bowl. Since it is coming up, I thought I’d take a closer look at using credit cards points to get you there. First, the card highlights:

  • All 32 team cards are available, customized with your favorite team’s colors and logo
  • Earn 10,000 bonus points after $500 in purchases in the first 90 days, enough to redeem for $100 cash back
  • 20% off purchases at NFLShop.com – that’s $20 off every $100 you spend
  • 0% Promotional APR for 6 months on eligible NFL ticket purchases. After that a variable APR will apply, 15.24%, 20.24% or 25.24%, based on your creditworthiness
  • Earn 2 points per $1 on NFL or Team purchases – eligible game tickets, in-stadium and team pro shop purchases – and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • Redeem points for NFL game tickets, VIP experiences, or 1% cash back beginning at 2,500 points for $25
  • 0% Introductory APR for 15 months on Balance Transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that a variable APR will apply, 15.24%, 20.24% or 25.24%, based on your creditworthiness. Please note, there is a fee for balance transfers.

In terms of cash back rewards, those start at 2,500 points for a $25 statement credit. Considering you only get 2X points on NFL and DirecTV purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases, there are better cash back cards out there. But are the exclusive NFL perks a good deal?

Selected list of exclusive NFL experiences. Sure, you can redeem for a wall poster or t-shirt, but these are examples of the more unique options:

  • 10,000 Points: 2 Tickets to an NFL PreSeason Game
  • 25,000 Points: 2 Tickets to an NFL Regular Season Game
  • 25,000 to 50,000: Official NFL Mascot appearance at your event or party.
  • 100,000 Points: Round of Golf with an NFL Player
  • 160,000 Points: 2 NFL Super Bowl Tickets (Upper Level)
  • 200,000 Points: 2 NFL Super Bowl Tickets (Mid Level)
  • 250,000 Points: 2 NFL Super Bowl Tickets (Lower Level)

There are also Draft VIP parties, Training Camp experiences, Stadium Tours, or having your personal message appear on your team’s scoreboard. The specific redemption amounts vary by team.

Super Bowl Ticket value? You may or may not know this, but the only way for the general public to even have the option of buying Super Bowl tickets at face value ($500 each) is by lottery. To enter this random drawing, you must send a ticket request via certified or registered mail, between Feb. 1 and June 1 of the year preceding the game in question. Those selected in the random drawing will have the opportunity to purchase two tickets.

Super Bowl Random Drawing
P.O. Box 49140
Strongsville, OH 44149-0140

If you’re not one those lucky few, you’re stuck on the secondary market. Check out this FiveThirtyEight article on the crazy markups. According to ESPN, the day after the conference championship games last year, StubHub’s average Super Bowl sale was $3,042. This year? $5,461. Here’s another price chart from BusinessInsider and SeatGeek:

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Let’s say a reasonable estimate is $3,000 per ticket. For 160,000 points, you get two tickets. That makes it $6,000 value divided by 160k points = 3.75%. That’s a whole lot better than 1% cash back. Of course, you’d still have to figure out how to eventually charge $160,000 on your credit card, but some frequent business travelers, small business owners and/or wholesale buyers may have it within reach. Otherwise, just 10,000 points will get you two tickets to a pre-season game, and 25,000 will get you two regular season tickets (available up to a week before game day, usually the specific stadium section number is shown ahead of time).

Citi ThankYou Premier Card Review – 40,000 Bonus Points

Citi ThankYou Premier Card ArtThe Citi Prestige card still has a different 50k offer.

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card has re-launched from our partner Citi, with a new sign-up bonus and purchase rewards structure. Get 40,000 bonus ThankYou Points as follows:

  • Earn 40,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • First year annual fee waived, $95 after that.
  • No foreign transaction fee on purchases.
  • Chip Technology included for improved acceptance while traveling.
  • No limits on earning points or expiration dates.

What can you do with 40,000 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 40,000 of them. Bonus ThankYou Points not available if you have had a Citi ThankYou Premier card opened or closed in the past 18 months.

$500 in Airfare (ThankYou Travel Center)

With the new Citi Premier card, you get a 20% discount on the standard number of points needed for a travel redemption. The reverse math means 1 TY 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. (Compare with the Citi Prestige card, which has 33% bonus amongst and other additional features, but also a higher annual fee.)

For example, with my non-Premier card, I found that a flight that cost $360 including taxes and fees on Expedia would cost 36,000 TY points from Citi Travel. But with the Citi Premier, it would only cost 28,800 TY points. ThankYou Travel Center screenshot:

ThankYou Travel Center screenshot:

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Expedia.com screenshot:

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So 40,000 TY points will indeed get you $500 in airfare, with the Citi Travel Center having the same price as compared to Expedia, Orbitz, etc. Since you can book any flight that can be found on Expedia, there are “no blackout dates”.

Don’t have enough points to cover an entire airfare? That’s okay. 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.

$400 in Gift Cards, $400 Check Towards Student Loan / 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.

Want something closer to cash? For a check mailed to you, it is 8,000 points for $50 (1 points = 0.625 cent). The best deal is a check mailed towards your mortgage payment or student loan (made out to your lender), which is 7,500 points for $75 (1 points = 1 cent).

New Airline Transfer Options

Citi ThankYou points are also now available to transfer 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. For example, 40,000 TY points can get you 40,000 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles.

New Rewards Structure

The Citi ThankYou Premier now earns:

  • 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent travel including gas, airfare, and hotels.
  • 2 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent dining out and entertainment.
  • 1 ThankYou Point per $1 spent on other purchases.

Triple (3X) points on airfare and hotels, when combined with the 25% travel premium, makes that equivalent to a 3.75% reward towards travel booked through Citi Travel Center. Double (2X) on restaurants (includes bars and fast food) and entertainment makes that 2.5% towards travel booked through Citi Travel Center.

With the improvements in ThankYou point redemption, increased sign-up bonus, and new rewards structure, everything looks to be a little bit better than before. The current sign-up 40k sign-up bonus with no annual fee the first year is attractive. However, a cardholder would need a fair amount of spending in the bonus categories (gas, airfare, hotels, dining out) in order to offset the $95 annual after the first year where they waive it.

  • Citi ThankYou Premier Application Page

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.”

RadPad: Pay Rent With MasterCard Credit Card at 1.99% Fee

rp_logoRadPad is a startup trying to be both a better apartment search engine and a better rent payment service. Of course, this translates to: Find apartment on your smartphone. Pay rent on your smartphone. Tap tap done. :)

I haven’t learned much about their rental marketplace, other than it is free for landlords to list. However, RadPad recently altered their fee structure:

  • No fee for debit card payments (Visa and MasterCard debit, under $5,000).
  • 1.99% fee for paying with MasterCard credit card or their Masterpass digital wallet.
  • 3.49% fee for Visa, American Express, and Discover credit cards.
  • Works with Apple Pay.

Your landlord or management company doesn’t have to sign up for anything, Radpad will mail them a paper check. RadPad also guarantees that you won’t be subject to late fees (they require 4 business days lead time). They’ll even send you an alert when the check is deposited by your landlord.

If you write and mail a check now, then you most likely have a debit card already. You can pay no fees, but gain in convenience (and perhaps save a stamp?). Much fewer debit cards offer significant rewards after the Durbin Amendment.

(The notable exception is the PayPal Business Debit card, which gives you 1% cash back on online “signature” purchases. If that is how it is processed, you can net 1% and the money is drawn from your bank account. However, for existing cardholders after 2/1/16 and all new cardholders, PayPal will not pay cash back on “PIN-less debit” transactions. This is a fine distinction, but if that is how the transaction is processed, then you won’t get the 1% cash back. Honestly, nobody really knows until someone tries it after 2/1.)

The lower 1.99% MasterCard fee also opens you up to paying rent with a rewards credit card like the Citi Double Cash card (issued as a MasterCard). Alternatively, you may be working on a spending requirement on a credit-card sign-up bonus. If, for example, you get $500 in rewards after making $3,000 in purchases like the Citi ThankYou Premier card (issued as a MasterCard), then that works out to over 16%.

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Note: Plastiq offers a similar service. It works with a wider variety of payments (not just rent), but the default fee is 2.5% for credit card payments. If you catch them during a promotion, the rate may be lower.

Five Ways To Get a Free Credit Score (No Trials!)

Updated 2016. As noted, the government requires the credit bureaus to provide you a free credit report once every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com. However, checking your credit score on a regular basis allows you to track changes in your credit data much more frequently.

The services listed below provide you a free credit score updated throughout the year (at varying intervals). Besides just a score, many include data taken directly from your credit reports like account balances, credit inquiries, and any negative marks. Some even offer free daily credit monitoring with e-mail alerts.

Being ad-supported, they can do so without the hassle of annoying trial membership offers, requiring credit card numbers, or having to remember to cancel anything. As of July 2016, all three major credit bureaus are covered: Experian, Equifax, TransUnion.

Credit Sesame

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CreditSesame.com offers a free credit score every month, either based on your TransUnion credit report (VantageScore). They used Experian data in the past, but it appears that most members have been migrated over to Transunion. Range is from 300-850. They also offer free daily credit monitoring, either via e-mail alerts or smartphone app. They make money with ads on the site.

No trial or credit card required. You will need to provide your personal information and Social Security number to some of these companies, naturally, so be comfortable with that. None of these methods by themselves will affect your credit score as you are requesting them for yourself.

And now, for a limited time, Credit Sesame is offering $50,000 in identity theft insurance and access to identity restoration help for FREE.

Quizzle

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Quizzle.com offers a free credit score based on your Equifax credit report (VantageScore), updated once every 6 months. They also provide a free, full copy of your Equifax credit report once every six months. No trial or credit card required. The score scale is also 300-850. Quizzle is also ad-supported; they are under the same umbrella as Quicken Loans, which explains I’m offered a mortgage quote every time I log in. 😉

Credit Karma

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CreditKarma.com offers you two free credit scores, based on your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports and updated weekly. Range is 300-850. You can also opt-in to free daily credit monitoring based on your TransUnion data. No trial or credit card required. Credit Karma is also ad-supported; I’m usually pitched various credit cards.

Lending Tree

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LendingTree.com offers a free credit score based on your TransUnion credit report (VantageScore), updated once a month. Range is from 300-850. LendingTree is another mortgage broker, I guess buying a home is one of the main reasons why people check their scores.

Credit.com

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Credit.com offers a free credit score based on your Experian credit report (VantageScore), updated once a month. Range is from 300-850. Credit.com is ad-supported; I’m usually pitched various credit cards.

Free Monthly FICO Score

It is often pointed out that the scores above are not FICO scores. No, they are not FICO scores because Fair Isaac charges a lot more money for them and these companies can’t cover those costs with their advertising. However, these credit scores can still be very useful for tracking changes and general trends in your credit history. Free credit monitoring is also a great way to track any big changes including fraudulent activity. There is value in getting an e-mail notification whenever a new account is added to my report.

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Discounted One-Time FICO Score

Finally, if you want a discounted FICO score without having to sign up for a new credit card, you will need both a credit card and sign up for a trial. This should be reserved for cases where you really want your FICO score. You can sign up for a month of ScoreWatch at MyFICO.com for $14.95. You’ll get an instant free Equifax credit report and Equifax FICO credit score. The regular price for a FICO score is $19.95 so you’ll be saving 25%. You must call 1.888.577.5978 to cancel but will be charged each month you renew.

Chase Freedom Review: $150 Sign-Up Bonus

Chase Freedom Visa

The Chase Freedom® – $150 Bonus is a popular rewards credit card. What makes it unique is the combination having no annual fee and the ability to get 5% Cash Back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter.

Here are the highlights:

  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn a $25 Bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within this same 3-month period
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
  • Enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months like Gas Stations, Restaurants, and Select Grocery Stores
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – it’s automatic
  • Cash Back rewards never expire as long as your account is open
  • No Annual Fee

Note the following text regarding the sign-up bonus eligibility:

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.

2016 5% Cash Back Categories

From January 1st through March 31st, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Gas Stations
  • Local Commuter Transportation (includes taxis, subways, local commuter buses and trains)

freedom_q1_2016

Activate each quarter at ChaseBonus.com, via your online account page, or call the number on the back of the card.  The categories usually include at least one big-spending area, and seem to go with the seasons (home improvement for spring, gas and travel for the summer). This is another “keeper” card for me, as I can keep it around and use it when the bonus categories fit my spending needs.

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“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.”

 

Pay with Chase Ultimate Rewards Points at Amazon.com ($10 First-Time Bonus)

Chase Sapphire Preferred ImageIf you have Ultimate Rewards points accrued from Chase credit cards, you can now use them to buy eligible items at Amazon.com. The redemption rate is 1 Ultimate Rewards points = 1 cent at Amazon, which is the same rate as their statement credit redemptions. The only added benefit is that there is no minimum redemption size. However, you may still get a better value by converting them to frequent flier miles like those from United Airlines or British Airways.

You’ll need to connect an eligible Chase credit card that earns Ultimate Rewards points, including:

However, if you have even one Chase Ultimate Rewards point, you can now get $10 off your first purchase using this feature. See the details at this Chase / Amazon promotion page. Offer valid through 12/31/15 with promo code SWP15CH10S. Limited-time offer, while supplies last.

The instructions are pretty clear:

1. Link your Chase Sapphire® or Chase Sapphire Preferred® card to your Amazon account.
2. Enroll your Chase Sapphire or Chase Sapphire Preferred card in Shop with Points.
3. Add products sold and shipped by Amazon.com to your Shopping cart.
4. Choose your enrolled Chase Sapphire or Chase Sapphire Preferred card as your Payment Method and select to use your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to pay for all or part of your order. Click “Use this payment method”.
5. Enter the promo code SWP15CH10S in the box provided and press “Apply”.
6. Redeem at least $0.01 (or 1 Chase Ultimate Rewards point) and press “Apply”. If you receive an error message while attempting to apply the promo code, please wait 72 hours and try again.
7. The Shop with Points promotional offer of up to $10 of savings will be reflected instantly on the right side of the checkout page. If the shopping cart order is less than $10, the promotional credit will be applied against the full order. You can change the amount of points redeemed at any time prior to placing the order.

Here is a screenshot of my successful application of this offer (click to enlarge):

swp1b

I only had to use 1 Ultimate Rewards point, and it took $10 plus $0.01 off my order. Remember to add only products “sold and shipped by Amazon.com” to your cart.

Credit Card Industry Charts: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover

Here’s a quick infographic for followers of the credit card industry. As part of the Bloomberg Businessweek article How Bad Will It Get for American Express?, there was an informative graphic comparing the number of cards, number of accepting merchants, and total dollar amount of purchases processed by the four major US payment networks: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. (Click to enlarge.)

amex_stats

I was a little surprised that the gap between the number of Visa’s and Mastercard’s was so big. I thought they were roughly equal. It was also interesting that the number of Discover and AmEx cards out there were about the same, and while Discover has more accepting locations, AmEx process over double the amount of payments.

Square IPO, Direct Deposit Loans, and Controlling Your Cashflow

squaredongleAs you’ve probably heard, the Square IPO was completed last week. For a while, I didn’t understand how a company could have a $4 billion valuation when they basically offer a simplified merchant account. They let small businesses accept credit cards, which means they skim a tiny bit off the 2.75% they charge while most of it goes straight to the networks. (Add in their other expenses, and Square has never made a profit.) Wouldn’t you rather own Visa or American Express directly?

Then I read this Bloomberg Businessweek article How Two Guys Lost God and Found $40 Million (And sold Wall Street on a shady new kind of finance). Although I try my best to avoid carrying any debt, I do try to keep up with the industry. With a normal credit card, you are waiting around for the borrower to pay you back your principal + interest. The borrower gets their paycheck, pays for rent and food and whatever else, and hopefully gets around to pay you some interest. Here’s a cashflow visual:

cashflow_classic

What these guys profiled in Businessweek did is give struggling small businesses a merchant account, and also lend them money. The key difference of their “merchant cash advance” service is that they would take the loan payments (including interest) directly from their gross credit card receipts! They were lending to horrible credit risks at sky-high rates (because nobody else would lend to them), but they knew they’d be fine because were first in line to snatch any incoming money before the business owner could even touch it. Here the modified cashflow visual:

cashflow_square

Hmmm… if Square can pull something like that off on a big scale, maybe they can be worth billions. It turns out that both Square and Paypal do this same sort of lending. They lend to small businesses and taking money out from the incoming transactions. From a WSJ article dated May 2015:

Paypal said it has doled out $500 million in loans in the first year-and-a-half since it introduced the lending program. And rival Square recently said it had extended more than $100 million in cash advances in the year since it started its own version. […] PayPal, like Square, deducts money from merchants’ accounts based on their receipts, so that they aren’t on the hook if business slows.

From another WSJ article dated September 2015:

At both PayPal and Square, payments are taken as a portion of transaction volume, meaning merchants repay more when sales are high and don’t pay on days without sales. That allows for easier repayments, but makes it difficult to calculate an annual interest rate.

Wow. Ingenious or evil genius? It would be like lending to everyday people but being able to intercept their paychecks before they even landed in their bank accounts. You’d get the money before people could even have the chance to default (or pay for food). Some banks already have something called “direct deposit loans” allow them direct access to bank accounts, taking payments almost immediately after your paycheck arrives. It is possible for motivated people to switch off their direct deposit or move banks, but you’re giving the lenders a built-in advantage.

(A problem for Square is that competitor PayPal also does the free credit card swiper thing, but PayPal can avoid paying Visa and Mastercard whenever a user buys something with their existing PayPal balance. They just move some money around internally and pocket the savings.)

So what’s my point? For one, Square may have a growing profit source from these first-in-line loans to small businesses. Second, as a smart consumer, you should be careful to stay in control of your cashflow. I’d never give a lender permission to withdraw money at any time from my bank account. They should have to wait for me to pay them.