Discover Card 5% Back at Chevron and Texaco Gas Stations

Just saw this today while filling up at a Chevron. Discover cardholders can get 5% cashback at Chevron and Texaco gas stations from now until March 31st, 2014. Subject to a cap of $250 in purchases. Must sign up first by going to Discover.com/chevron and then logging into your online account. The next screen should look like this:

discoverchevron

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 restaurants and movies for 1st quarter of 2014. The Chase Freedom card also has gas stations as one of their 5% back categories for Q1 2014 if you have that card (good for up to $1,500 in purchases).

Beware Recurring Preapproved Payments on PayPal – Skype Account Hacked

Tonight, I got several email confirmations for separate €25 Paypal payments to “Skype Communications Sarl”. Thing is, I haven’t used Skype in years. At first I thought it was just another phishing attempt. But the domain on the e-mail checked out. I logged into my account (manually) and saw that multiple $35 charges did indeed go through. How? Was my PayPal account hacked? I changed my password, and then another unauthorized payment went through!

paypalpre2

Long story short, it was my Skype account that was hacked. I didn’t even know this, but PayPal has a program of “preapproved” payments where a merchant can repeatedly charge your account without the need to type in your PayPal password. This is meant for monthly subscriptions and the sort. Although I have bought credit from Skype before, I don’t ever recall signing up for any of these subscription-style plans at any merchant. My suspicion is that it was buried somewhere into a default checkbox that I didn’t undo, or worse it was just hidden in the terms and conditions fine print. (I am usually really careful about this sort of thing, so I am quite mad at myself!)

Lesson #1: If you use PayPal at all, check your preapproved merchant list immediately. To find this list, log into your account and then go to My Account > Profile > My money > My preapproved payments. You should see a screen like this:

paypalpre

My recommendation is to make every single one inactive immediately. If not, you should treat your accounts at those merchants as carefully as your bank accounts, because they literally have access to every linked bank account and credit card at PayPal. I had no idea that buying one joke bumper sticker from Zazzle in 2009 could be the equivalent of an open wallet.

Apparently, I’ve been vulnerable for years but I never noticed until now. I bet there are a lot of abandoned Skype accounts with simple or unsecure passwords. The criminals gain access, change the linked e-mail and password so the original owner has no access, and can then sell or use the Skype credit. There are also several other reports of unauthorized Skype/Paypal charges on the Skype forums.

Lesson #2: Never use PayPal to buy things online instead of a credit card unless absolutely necessary, usually for eBay. The big thing is that Paypal is NOT regulated like banks or credit cards. There is no federal law that says you are not liable for unauthorized PayPal charges. Instead, they just claim that you are “protected” when in reality they have all the power to decide if you ever see your money again. I had to open a dispute with PayPal online as they don’t have 24/7 customer service (again, unlike credit cards). If I had just used a credit card, even if the number was stolen, I could be confident that I would get my money back in a timely manner. I’ve already had other bad experiences with PayPal, but we’ll see what happens.

Target Offers Free Credit Monitoring & Identity Theft Protection

After losing their customers’ credit card numbers and other personal data, Target is offering free credit monitoring services at creditmonitoring.target.com to anyone who shopped at their US stores. (Supposedly the data breach “only” affected the 70 million people who shopped at US-located Target stores between November 27th and December 15th, but they also seem to be “discovering” more data lost every week.)

The package includes a complimentary copy of your Experian credit report and 12 months of daily credit monitoring from Experian’s ProtectMyID, which includes identity theft insurance and personalized assistance with identity theft fraud. You must sign up for an activation code by April 23, 2014 and redeem by April 30, 2014. ProtectmyID only monitors your Experian credit report for change, including new inquiries, newly opened accounts, new derogatory information (such as delinquencies or medical collections) and more.

This is not part of Target’s offering, but for better overall protection (2 out of 3 credit bureaus) you can also get free credit monitoring of your TransUnion credit report at CreditKarma.com. If you only used one card for Target (or everywhere) you can just ask for a new credit card number without affecting your credit history or credit score.

Frontier Airlines World MasterCard Review: 50,000 Bonus Miles = Two Roundtrip Award Tickets

UpdateThis offer is now EXPIRED

Frontier Airlines is a lesser-known budget airline that actually has a pretty decent nationwide footprint using its main central hub at Denver. (see route map). For example, you could fly from Los Angeles to New York La Guardia or from Seattle to Orlando (with a stop in Denver). They also fly to Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Mexico.

I looked this up because The Frontier Airlines World MasterCard® currently has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles. You get 40,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in purchases in the first 90 days, and another potential 10,000 bonus miles on balance transfers (1 mile per $1 transferred) in the first 90 days. The extra 10,000 balance transfer miles aren’t really worth it due to the 3% balance transfer fee (there are better no-fee balance transfer options).

The good news is that it only takes 20,000 miles to book a roundtrip award ticket anywhere in the US that they fly. (Roundtrip awards from US to Mexico and Costa Rica are only 30,000 miles.) This means 40,000 miles is enough for 2 domestic roundtrip award tickets (subject to government fees/taxes of $2.50 per leg). I just quickly priced out a San Francisco to New York La Guardia flight and it was $385 roundtrip per person. That’s over $750 of potential value right there.

You will need to subtract out the $69 annual fee that is not waived for the first year. However, the spending requirement is relatively low at $500 within 90 days and the issuer is Barclaycard. This makes it a good option if you’ve already gotten the good cards from the other major issuers like I have. The only Barclaycard that I have so far is the Arrival World MasterCard with $400+ value bonus, but this card can actually offer more value if your flight plans match up with their routes.

Big List of Free Credit Reports, Free Credit Scores, and Free Credit Monitoring

Annual reminder for 2014. Want to get back on track for the new year? Here is a list of ways to get free credit reports, free credit scores, and free credit monitoring services.

Remember that there are three major consumer credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – all with possibly different data. A few of these offers require a free trial and noted as such, which is not preferred but I am not completely opposed to as you’re getting something of value in exchange for a bit of hassle. My personal tip is that I always cancel them the same day as part of one continuous process, preferably within an hour after saving what I need, that way there is nothing to forget later.

Free Credit Reports

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228 to request your federally-mandated free credit report from one or all of the 3 major bureaus. You can get one from each every rolling 12 months, so either get them all once a year or space them out. No trials, no credit card required, although the bureaus may try to sell you a credit score.

Special Situations – Denied Credit, Unemployed, Welfare, Identity Theft. As outlined by the Federal Trade Commission, here are a few other scenarios where you also get a free credit report:

  1. You were denied credit, insurance, or a job due to information on your credit report. A notice stating which credit bureau supplied the report should be included in your letter of denial. You then have 60 days to request a free copy of your report from them.
  2. You are unemployed. You’re also entitled to one free report a year if unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days.
  3. You are on welfare.
  4. You are a victim of fraud, including identity theft. Place a fraud alert on your file, and then ask for a free copy of your credit report.

Here are the numbers you’ll need (remember to mention FTC if needed):

* Equifax: 800-685-1111; Fraud Dept. 800-525-6285
* Experian: 888-397-3742 (same for Fraud Dept.)
* Trans Union: 800-916-8800; Fraud Dept. 800-680-7289

MyFICO Score Watch Trial. If you sign up for a free 10-day trial at MyFICO.com, you’ll get a free Equifax credit report and Equifax FICO credit score. You’ll need a credit card. You must call 1.888.577.5978 to cancel. My recommendation is to get your credit report and credit score, print or save to PDF, and then cancel immediately afterward on the same day so that you won’t forget later. Hours (PDT) M-F 6am-6pm, Sat 7am-4pm, Sun Closed.

Free Credit Scores

Your credit score. Did you know that you have probably 50 flavors of your credit score. Even the “real” FICO score comes in several different versions, and there’s one per bureau. Personally, I would never pay $10-$20 a pop for a score. Many of the free providers below will also provide selected information directly from your credit reports, like overall credit limit utilization or total balances.

Credit Sesame / Experian. You can get a free credit score based on your Experian credit report from Credit Sesame, updated every month. They make money by sending you offers like lowering your mortgage rate. Screenshot:

CreditKarma / TransUnion. Similarly, get a free credit score based on your TransUnion credit report from CreditKarma.com, updated daily as long as you login each time. Also ad-supported. Screenshot:

MyFICO Trial / Equifax. Same as above… If you sign up for a free 10-day trial at MyFICO.com, you’ll get a free Equifax credit report and Equifax FICO credit score. You’ll need a credit card. You can try to cancel online, but it told me that you must call 1.888.577.5978 to cancel. My recommendation is to get your credit report and credit score, print or save to PDF, and then cancel immediately afterward on the same day so that you won’t forget later. Hours (PDT) M-F 6am-6pm, Sat 7am-4pm, Sun Closed.

Citi Idenitity Monitor Trial. Finally, if you’re willing to spend $1 and endure a trial, you can sign up with Citi Identity Monitor get a free credit score and free credit reports from each of the three major bureaus. After you submit your personal info, enter your credit card info, and choose your username/password, be sure to opt for the “free upgrade” which will give you the 3-in-1 report. You’ll have to call 866-279-9637 to cancel within 30 days. Again, cancel the same day if possible. Hours (ET) M-F 8am-11pm, Sat 9am-6pm, Sun Closed.

Free Credit Monitoring

Credit monitoring checks your credit report data daily and sends you an email or text alert if any activities have occurred – for example, if there was a credit pull by a lender or a new address added. This can provide early warning of attempted identity theft, reporting errors, or simply am overzealous lender checking your credit without permission. Many providers charge $10-$20 a month for similar monitoring, and while it’s potentially useful I’ve never warmed to the idea of paying a hundred bucks a year for it.

Credit Sesame. You can get free daily credit monitoring based on your Experian credit report from Credit Sesame. If you’ve already signed up for the free Experian-based credit score, it’s a very simple opt-in. Screenshot:

Selected AAA Members. If you’re an AAA auto club member, you may be eligible for free Experian credit monitoring as well. To see if your local club offers this, visit aaa.com/identitymonitoring.

CreditKarma. Get free daily credit monitoring of your TransUnion credit report from CreditKarma.com, also easy to add if you already subscribe to their free TransUnion-based credit score.

How to Get French Laundry Reservations Without Losing Your Mind

Businessweek has a profile of the latest exclusive, farm-to-table, 16-course-meal restaurant, including a list of the “five toughest restaurant reservations in America”.

I found myself smiling because I recently ate at one of the places on that list – The French Laundry in Yountville, California – with just one phone call. How did I get a reservation? By wringing yet another benefit out of credit cards, of course!

The reservation process for The French Laundry is relatively egalitarian. Reservations are only accepted exactly two months ahead either via phone call or OpenTable.com exactly at 10:00am. No walk-ins allowed. I tried for days with repeated phone calls and frantic clicking, all with no luck.

Then I discovered that some people were able to get reservations using their American Express “Black” card, a card for big spenders willing to pay a $5,000 initiation fee and a $2,500 annual fee. I have a lot of credit cards, but this isn’t one of them.

However, others mentioned using the Concierge feature of Visa Signature cards. Look for the Visa Signature logo on that back of your existing cards. Here are some popular credit cards that are a Visa Signature, many with nice sign-up bonuses and no annual fee:

So I called the special Visa Concierge number (800-953-7392) and asked for help making a reservation for two. The next day, they called back and said that they couldn’t get me a reservation, but that they would keep trying and get back to me when they did. It took a little over a month, but one day I got a message that they had secured me a reservation on a Monday about 6 weeks ahead and for me to confirm that I wanted it. I surprised my wife with the news, and we decided to go for it as a special anniversary celebration.

I’ve read that certain high-demand restaurants have an arrangement with certain credit card companies to set aside a certain amount of seats for their “concierge” services. I imagine most people never use them. I don’t know if someone from Visa Signature really tried to call in every single day, if they have some sort of automated system for snapping up cancellations, or perhaps there is some sort of lottery. All I know is that it worked for me, and it should work for you if you’re flexible on dates.

As for the meal, the food and service were excellent, and we don’t regret splurging for such a memorable eating experience and Napa Valley trip. We even framed the menu and put it in our kitchen. At the same time, we have no plans to spend $600 on dinner again anytime soon. :)

Chase Freedom: $100 Sign-Up Bonus + 2014 5% Cash Back Categories

Chase Freedom ImageThe Chase Freedom® - $100 Bonus is a popular rewards card with no annual fee, as it offers a $100 Bonus after you make $500 in purchases in your first 3 months from account opening, an additional $25 Bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within this same 3-month period and a 5% cash back on rotating categories like gas stations, restaurants, and Amazon.com. It’s free and easy to activate your bonus each quarter! 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). For 2014, you can get 5% back on gas for half the year (see below).

2014 5% Cash Back Categories

From October through December 2014 (activate starting 9/15/14):

  • Amazon.com
  • Zappos.com
  • Select Department Stores

Activate at ChaseBonus.com or call the number on the back of the card. All other purchases earn 1% back, with no tiers or expiration of rewards. Keep in mind that you actually earn Ultimate Rewards points with the Chase Freedom card and they can be converted to miles like United and British Airways as well as converted to cash. Depending on what you redeem for (i.e. plane ticket), Ultimate Rewards can be worth well more than 1 cent per point which means you can actually get more than 5% value back.

“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.”

Chase Freedom 100 Banner

 

Costco.com $15 off $115: American Express Offers

If you have an American Express card, log into your account online and scroll down until you see the “Offers For You” tab. Many (but not all) will find a Costco.com offer where you if you spend $115 on your linked AmEx, you’ll get $10 back. (Looks similar to this). If you’d rather spend money in-store, you can buy a $100 Costco Cash card and a $25 Costco Cash card and you will get the $10 back. I just did it and it worked for me.

Get a one-time $15 statement credit by using your enrolled Card to spend a total of $115 or more online at Costco.com by 12/31/2013.

Also look at the other offers, there are some good ones right now including AMC Theaters, Best Buy, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Kohl’s, Land’s End, and more. (The recent Amazon offer appears to be expired.)

You can also try to access this offer via Facebook. You can also use the Twitter hashtag #AmexCostco if you’re synced up. I was waiting to see if this offer would go wider, but it appears to be limited to those targeted.

Discover it Card: $150 Bonus, 0% Balance Transfers, New 5% Cash Back Categories

Discover it 14 Month BT (RED)UPDATE – The Discover it Card $150 Cash Back Bonus is now EXPIRED

Discover only has one card these days, called the Discover it card. However, there are a few different promotions for new customers going on (including a new $150 bonus offer) each with a different application link – so please click and read carefully. The best offer depends on how much you value 0% interest on purchases or balance transfers for an extended intro period.

$150 cash back when you make $750 in purchases during your 1st three months from account opening. Limited-time boost, the bonus is usually $100 or less. This offer is best for those that don’t need 0% interest on purchases or balance transfers.

Discover it® – 0% APR on balance transfers for 18 months, purchases for 6 months

0% Intro APR* on balance transfers for 18 months. Then the variable purchase APR applies, currently 10.99% – 22.99%. A fee of 3% applies for each balance transferred. 0% Intro APR* on purchases for 6 months. Then the variable purchase APR applies, currently 10.99% – 22.99%.

Discover it® – 0% APR on both purchases and balance transfers for 14 months

0% Intro APR* on purchases and balance transfers for 14 months. Then the variable purchase APR applies, currently 10.99% – 22.99%. A fee of 3% applies for each balance transferred.

New 5% Cash Back bonus categories announced

From now until the end of March 2014, get a 5% Cashback Bonus on up to $1,500 in purchases at Gas Stations. 5% rewards start only after activation each quarter and are not retroactive, so sign up now by logging into your account online.

Common features of ALL Discover it cards:

  • 5% cash back on rotating categories (see above). 1% flat cashback on all other purchases with no tiers.
  • Free FICO® credit score, shown on every monthly statement.
  • Late payment forgiveness. There is no late fee for your first late payment, and your APR won’t automatically increase either. Pay online or by phone for free up to midnight Eastern on your due date.
  • 100% U.S.-based customer service.
  • No foreign transaction fee. Discover is actually one of the best cards for Asia, especially China and Japan. You can use your Discover anywhere you see a China Union Pay, JCB, or Diners Club International logo.
  • No annual fee. No overlimit fee.

Barclaycard Travel Community: Share Stories for Bonus Miles

arrival2xnewBarclaycard recently started a “Barclaycard Travel Community” at Barclaycardtravel.com. Although it’s obviously another “social media” attempt to promote their new Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard (actually a pretty good travel card with 2% rewards), you do earn “Participation Miles” for sharing your travel stories and tips:

  • Completing a profile will earn each Member 500 miles; a profile is considered complete when the following information is added: 1) the City and State in which the member lives 2) At least one travel interest is selected 3) at least one travel companion is selected 4) at least 1 travel style is selected 5) at least 5 cities are added to the “My travels” map
  • Members earn 200 miles for each travel story that is posted.
  • Every time the story that is authored by a member is kudoed by another member, the member will receive 10 miles.

The points earned directly transfer over the miles balance on your Arrival World card (500 = $5 travel credit, or non-cardmembers can get a $25 Amazon.com gift code each time they accumulate 2,500 miles).

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Chase Sapphire Preferred Card New Bonus: 40,000 Points = $500 In Travel, Plus 5,000 Points For Authorized User

Chase has improved the bonus to 40,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, plus 5,000 additional bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a rewards credit card that has upped their sign-up bonus to new cardholders to 40,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. This is quite a good deal, as 40,000 points can be redeemed for $500 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards™. You can buy a more expensive ticket and simply pay the difference. No annual fee for the first year, $95 in future years.

Rewards Program Summary

Points under the Chase Sapphire program are pretty flexible. There are also no earning caps or expiration dates

  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants. Earn 1 point for every dollar in other purchases (100 points = $1, or the usual 1% back).
  • Simple cash rewards. Cash redemptions are easy – you can redeem in $1 increments as long as above $20, so you could cash out $27 or $253 without anything left over.
  • Points redeemed towards travel are worth 25% more, and easy to use. As noted above, hotel room or airplane ticket redemptions can also be maximized because you can book wherever you want and simply pay the difference. For example, 25,000 points can be used for any ticket up to $312.50, but if say you wanted a $325 ticket you could just pay the $12.50 difference. You’re able to use every last point on this program. On other cards, you would have to go up another tier and spend an extra 10,000 point chunk.
  • Transfer to airline miles. If you prefer, you can also transfer to United Airlines, British Airways, Hyatt Hotels, Marriott Hotels, and Amtrak. 1 Sapphire point = 1 mile/hotel point for these transfers. If you collect miles, this is really lucrative as I don’t know of any other card that gives 2 miles/dollar spent on travel and dining.

Ultimate Rewards points are instantly transferable to other accounts like family members, so you can pool points for trips and such.

More Details

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Charts: Credit Card Debt and Household Debt Trends

Here is an interesting Quartz article by Matt Phillips outlining “the most important change in the US economy since the Great Recession that nobody is talking about”. I don’t know about that, I’ve seen a lot of these charts before. But many include more recent data, and below are a few of the notable ones. (Note the truncated scales on several of the vertical axes.)

The overall theme is that household debt levels appear to be settling at a more sustainable level. Household debt service payments as a percentage of disposable income are at their lowest levels in over 20 years:


(click to enlarge)

Breaking this down a bit, we see that total US credit card debt has been dropping pretty consistently since 2009 and remains lower than 2003 levels:

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