AT&T Access More MasterCard® from Citi Review – Free Phone Offer (Up to $650)

accessmore180Our partner Citi has launched yet another new card, AT&T Access More MasterCard® from Citi. This AT&T co-branded card obviously targets a niche, but read on if you will be in the market for a new AT&T phone in the next year ($650 is the full price of a new iPhone 6). As such, this card took a little extra research and analysis. Be sure to read all the details before applying, so you understand how to get everything possible out of this offer.

“Exclusive New Phone Offer” details. Yes, the offer screams “new phone”! But lots of ads say that. What kind of new phone? Does it include iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S6? What strings are attached? Do I need to sign a contract?

  • You must spend $2,000 in purchases with your AT&T Access More Card within 3 months of account opening. As with other sign-up bonuses, this is the spending hurdle. The application page also says “If you buy a new phone now it will count toward the $2,000 in qualifying purchases!”. At first, I read this to mean “buy a phone and you don’t need to spend $2,000 anymore”. Nope. It’s just reminding you that if, for example, you buy a $650 phone on this card, then you’ll only need to spend another $1,350 on the card to meet the $2,000 threshold.
  • You can get any new phone on the AT&T website. Apple iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung S6, Samsung S6 Edge, flip phone, whatever.
  • They’ll give you up to $650 back towards a new phone bought full price with no annual contract… At first this may seem like a negative, man I have to buy it at full price? But that’s actually a good thing when the credit is for up to $650! For example, an iPhone 6 starts at $649.99 and Samsung S6 starts at $684.99. (Taxes, shipping, fees, and wireless service not included.)
  • … which also means lower monthly bills! When you essentially bring your own device (BYOD) buy buying the phone outright, AT&T will give you lower bills in the form of $15 to $25 off each month on their Mobile Share Value plans. Also, the $40 per-line activation fee is waived when you buy the phone at full price (and is not waived for 2-year contracts). More details on this below.
  • Since you own the phone and are not on a contract, you can also unlock it for use on any carrier. Here are the AT&T unlock instructions [pdf].
  • You must buy the phone using their special link. After you buy the phone, then activate it on an AT&T monthly plans of you choice for at least 15 days. Remember, you’re not bound to a contract after that. It’s easier just to quote from their Terms and Conditions:

    You must purchase an eligible phone from AT&T with your AT&T Access More Credit Card from Citi (the “Card”) using the Phone Offer Link created individually for you. This link may be accessible to you in several locations including, but not limited to, your approval screen at the time you apply, an email welcoming you to Access More Card membership (if you provide a valid email address) and through your Online Account at citi.com/att. You may redeem the Phone Offer using the link at any time after your Card account opening. Once you have made $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your Card account opening, and purchased and activated your eligible phone, Citi will credit your account for the cost of the eligible phone you purchased up to $650 (exclusive of taxes, fees, shipping and wireless service) within 1 to 2 billing cycles. If you choose to purchase an eligible phone which costs more or less than $650, your credit will equal the cost of the phone or $650, whichever is less.

Side question: How does paying full price for a phone compare with the subsidized 2-year contract or the AT&T Next plan? Most people don’t pay full price for a phone. It’s a lot of money. AT&T Next is basically like agreeing to pay full price for a phone but they let you pay in monthly installments instead. So the $650 iPhone 6 would $21.67 for 30 months (multiply that out and you get $650.10.) Nothing really special there. The traditional alternative is that you get a subsidized phone but you enter a 2-year contract at a higher monthly bill. Here’s how the two options compare:

  • The phone subsidy with a 2-year contract is $450, but you have a $40 activation fee. So the $650 iPhone 6 would only cost $200, plus a $40 per-line activation fee.
  • The monthly bill subsidy with a full price phone adds up to either $360 or $640 over 2 years. With the full price phone, there is no activation fee. If your Mobile Share Value plan comes with 6GB of data or less, you get a $15 discount per month per line. $15 times 24 months = $360. If your Mobile Share Value plan comes with 10GB or more, you get a $25 discount per month per line. $25 times 24 months = $600.

So if you compare the savings between the full price plan as 2-year contract, you’re either behind by $50 over two years, or ahead by $190 over two years. So worst case you’re behind by $50 at the 2-year mark, but if you kept your full price phone and cheaper-by-$15 plan for just an extra 4 months past the contract end date, you’d be ahead again.

Ongoing card rewards program highlights. This card also has a unique rewards program using Citi ThankYou points:

  • 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 you spend on purchases made online at retail and travel websites*
  • 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 you spend on products and services purchased directly from AT&T*
  • 1 point earned for every $1 you spend on other purchases*
  • 10,000 Anniversary bonus points after you spend $10,000 in prior cardmembership year*
  • $95 annual fee.

Here are snippets from the fine print that I think are helpful:

Retail websites are websites that sell goods directly to the consumer through an online website and include department store websites, specialty store websites, warehouse store websites and boutique websites. Travel websites are websites that allow you to book travel and include online travel agencies, hotel websites and airline websites.

AT&T purchases are AT&T consumer products and/or services purchased directly from AT&T. AT&T consumer products and services must be purchased from www.att.com, www.telephones.att.com, AT&T owned stores or AT&T customer service centers. Purchases from independent wireless dealers or AT&T resellers are not eligible, unless they are for payment of AT&T service.

That means you can get 3 ThankYou points per $1 of purchases at Amazon.com, Costco.com, Apple.com, Walmart.com, Target.com, Expedia.com, and so on as well at your AT&T monthly service bill. Please see my Citi ThankYou Premier card review for details on redeeming your ThankYou points for at least $100 value per 10,000 points, but note that the special 25% bonus on travel redemption only apply if you also hold the ThankYou Premier card (you can redeem points earned from this card). Throw in the even-more special American Airlines flight awards from the Citi Prestige card and those 3X ThankYou categories start looking even better.

Bottom line. This is a niche card for prospective or current AT&T customers that will soon be in the market for a new phone. If that’s you, then the sign-up bonus is very generous – up to $650 towards a full-price, no-contract AT&T phone. Looking at all the scenarios above, even in the worst case you’d be behind $50 after two years vs. buying new AT&T phone via 2-year contract. There is also the $95 annual fee. That’s still a net benefit of over $500 and thus one of the top credit card sign-up bonuses currently available. The card then offers you ongoing bonus rewards on AT&T service as well as an interestingly broad category of “retail websites”. However, that $95 annual fee is rather high unless you spend $10,000 annually on the card and get the 10,000 ThankYou point anniversary bonus to offset it.

Chase Total Checking $150 + Chase Savings $100 Bonus

chase250

Here’s a Chase Bank Total Checking + Savings account promotion offering up to $250 total for new customers, broken up into the following two bonuses:

Chase Total Checking $150 Bonus details. Checking offer is not available to existing Chase checking customers, those with fiduciary accounts, or those whose accounts have been closed within 90 days or closed with a negative balance. To receive the $150 checking bonus (taken directly from their offer page):

  1. Open a new Chase Total Checking account, which is subject to approval;
  2. Deposit $25 or more at account opening;
  3. Have your direct deposit made to this account within 60 days of account opening. Your direct deposit needs to be an electronic deposit of your paycheck, pension or government benefits (such as Social Security) from your employer or the government.
  4. After you have completed all the above checking requirements, [Chase will] deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days.

Chase Total Checking® has no Monthly Service Fee when you do at least one of the following each statement period. Otherwise a $12 Monthly Service Fee will apply.

  • Have monthly direct deposits totaling $500 or more made to this account; OR
  • Keep a minimum daily balance of $1,500 or more in your checking account; OR,
  • Keep an average daily balance of $5,000 or more in any combination of qualifying Chase checking, savings and other balances.

Chase Savings $100 Bonus details. To receive the $100 savings bonus (taken directly from their offer page):

  1. Open a new Chase SavingsSM account, which is subject to approval.
  2. Deposit a total of $10,000 or more in new money into the new savings account within 10 business days of account opening;
  3. Maintain at least a $10,000 balance for 90 days from the date of deposit. The new money cannot be funds held by Chase or its affiliates.
  4. After you have completed all the above savings requirements, we’ll deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days.
  5. The Annual Percentage Yield (APY), for Chase SavingsSM effective as of 4/14/15, is 0.01% for all balances in all states.

Chase SavingsSM has no Monthly Service Fee when you do at least one of the following each statement period. Otherwise a $5 Monthly Service Fee will apply.

  • Keep a minimum daily balance of $300 or more in your savings account; OR,
  • Have at least one repeating automatic transfer from your Chase checking account of $25 or more. One-time transfers do not qualify; OR,
  • Have a linked Chase Premier Plus CheckingSM, Chase Premier Platinum CheckingSM, or Chase Private Client CheckingSM account.

Earning $100 on $10,000 for 90 days is the equivalent of 4% annualized return. The bonuses are considered interest and will be reported on IRS Form 1099-INT. You will need to provide your e-mail address and bring the unique coupon code they send you into a physical branch.

New Citi ThankYou Premier Card Review

Citi ThankYou Premier Card ArtThe Citi ThankYou® Premier Card has re-launched from our partner Citi, with a new sign-up bonus and purchase rewards structure. Get 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points as follows:

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

$625 in Airfare (ThankYou Travel Center)

With the new Citi Premier card, you get a 20% discount on the standard travel redemption that a “regular” Citi card offers. 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:

ty1

Expedia.com screenshot:

ty2

So 50,000 TY points will indeed get you $625 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.

$500 in Gift Cards, $500 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, 50,000 TY points can get you 50,000 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 50k 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.

TradeKing $200 Cash Bonus Promotion

tk200To celebrate their 10th anniversary, stock brokerage TradeKing is offering a $200 cash bonus for new customers who open with $3,000 and make 3 trades with 90 days of account opening. Promotion ends 4/30/15. You must keep the $3,000 in account equity (minus any trading losses) for at least 6 months.

This is probably the biggest bonus I’ve seen for this account, the standard offer is $50 and I can only recall seeing it go as high as $150.. TradeKing charges a flat $4.95 for online stock trades; option trades are also $4.95 + 65 cents per option contract.

Navy Federal Credit Union Youth Week $100 Bonus

navyfedlogoNavy Federal Credit Union has solid bank and loan products, including checking accounts with ATM rebates, competitive mortgage rates, and limited-time 0% balance transfer promotions. Membership eligibility for NavyFed is primarily restricted to Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard regular Active Duty and reservists, and Army and Air National Guard personnel, but also includes family and household members of existing NavyFed members and some civilian employees in the Department of Defense.

If you’re a member, the exclusive perks mean that you should sign up your kids sometime… and right now you can get $100 for doing so! As part of their Youth Week 2015 promotions, you can get:

  • $25 for signing up your child (under 18) for membership.
  • $25 for opening a Campus Checking Account for your child (age 14-17), which has no minimum balance requirements and up to $10 in ATM fee rebates per statement period.
  • $25 for opening a SaveFirst Account for your child (under 18) with as little as $5.
  • $25 for opening a reloadable prepaid Visa® Buxx Card for your child (age 10-17).

Expires soon on April 18th, 2015. Thanks to reader Charles for the tip.

Current Amex Special Offers: Smart & Final, LegalZoom, Amazon

amexoffersUpdated 4/16/15. American Express cardholders can participate in “AmEx Offers” which offer discounts to various merchants. These promotions often offer the opportunity for easy savings without changing your spending habits. Sometimes I just buy a gift card if I go the store regularly.

Here are some of the current widely-available offers:

  • Smart & Final $25 off $50. Get a $25 statement credit by using your connected Card to make a single purchase of $50 or more in-store at Smart & Final by 6/30/2015. Limit 3 statement credits. Tweet using #AmexSmartFinal to add this offer to your connected American Express Card. This store sells everything from produce to warehouse items at 250 stores in the Western US. Use it three times for $75 off $150 of stuff.
  • LegalZoom.com $20 off $100. Get a one-time $20 statement credit by using your connected Card to spend a total of $100 or more online at legalzoom.com by 5/31/15. Tweet using #AmexLegalZoom to add this offer to your connected American Express Card. I used Legalzoom to incorporate my business.
  • Sur La Table $10 off $50. Get a one-time $10 statement credit by using your connected Card to spend a total of $50 or more in-store at Sur La Table or online at surlatable.com by 5/31/15. Nespresso shops in Sur La Table are excluded. Tweet using #AmexSurLaTable to add this offer to your connected American Express Card.
  • Best Western $20 off $100. Get a one-time $20 statement credit by using your connected Card to spend a total of $100+ on all room charges, including room rate, at Best Western® branded properties in the US including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands between 3/16/15 and 5/18/15. Tweet using #AmexBW to add this offer to your connected American Express Card.

Targeted offers include $20 off $20 at Amazon, $5 off $10 at FedEx Office, $15 off $50 at 1800Flowers.com, and $10 off $50 at GNC.com. Check your account and you may be pleasantly surprised. Each separate card, including authorized users, may have different offers available to them. Although as commenter Oleg notes “If you have multiple cards and you activated for an offer on one of them, this offer may disappear from others. You can open several tabs, retrieve each card separately and apply for an offer.”

Here are the various ways to access these offers:

  • Log into your AmEx account online and scroll down until you see the “Amex Offers For You” tab.
  • Use the AmEx smartphone app.
  • Access via social media at AmExOffers.com – Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and TripAdvisor.
  • Not everyone can access every offer, but the ones on Twitter tend to be available to everyone. You can track these easily on their Favorites page.

Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card: Two Free Weekend Nights (Which I Redeemed for $1,109 Value) + $100 Statement Credit

hiltonreserveLimited-time offer adds $100 statement credit on top of 2 weekend night certificates. The premium co-branded Citi Hilton Hotels card, from our partner Citi, is the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card. The sign-up bonus includes certificates good for 2 Free Weekend Nights, with “weekend night” meaning a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night AND A $100 statement credit after spending $100 or more on your first hotel stay in the Hilton Portfolio within the first 3 months of account opening. If you like staying at posh hotels, you can get $500+ value out of each certificate and easily $500 of value out of them together. Card feature summary:

  • Limited Time: Earn a $100 statement credit after spending $100 or more on your first hotel stay in the Hilton Portfolio within the first 3 months of account opening.*
  • Earn 2 weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton Portfolio after you make $2,500 in purchases within 4 months of account opening*
  • Earn 10 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on hotel stays within the Hilton Portfolio*
  • Earn 5 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on airline and car rental purchases*
  • Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases*
  • Enjoy the benefits of HHonors Gold status as long as you are a cardmember*
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases*
  • Travel with ease and enjoy global acceptance with your Citi chip credit card

The two free weekend night certificates have no category restrictions, but do have the following exclusions (often these are condo-hotels). Certificates are valid for 12 months after issuance. Must be used on “standard” rooms (no upgraded suites, etc). Room taxes are included with the certificates. Booking the same rooms using rewards points would cost 50,000-70,000 HHonors points per night. Possible choices include:

grandmaui

Update: I applied myself, satisfied the requirement, received my two rewards certificates, and redeemed for $1,000+ worth of rooms in Hawaii. I applied for this card (Day 0) and made my first purchase Day 7, first statement about a month later, was charged the $95 annual fee, satisfied the spending hurdle, second statement closed, and I was issued the two weekend night certificates via e-mail after that (Day 67). Here is a screenshot:

citihiltoncert

According to commenter TJ below who satisfied the spending requirements in the first billing cycle, s/he got the certificates two weeks after the close of the 1st statement. My guess is that they just want to make sure you pay the annual fee. Also, good tip to check your spam folder for the e-mailed certificates!

I called in to book the nights I wanted at my resort of choice – the Grand Wailea (Waldorf Astoria) in Maui. (I’ve never stayed there before, but it looks pretty awesome.) Keep in mind that although there are no category restrictions (it doesn’t matter how expensive the hotel is on average), you can only book a “standard room” which I believe is their cheapest tier of rooms. So if you want a busy weekend that is coming up soon and those cheaper rooms are sold out, you may not get it. However, I was able to get two consecutive weekend nights. I am also able to cancel without any penalty or fees up until 14 days before the booking.

If I was booking with cash on the exact same dates and exact same room, it would have cost me $1,109.25. Here’s proof via screenshot from the booking website:

citihiltoncert2

If I was to have used points, it would have taken 70,000 per night for a total of 140,000 Hilton Honor points. Note that I took out the resort fees, which are reportedly not waived when booking with certificate or points redemptions (any taxes on the room rate are covered). Resort fees are $25 per night ($28.35 with taxes). You actually get the following stuff too: “Guest internet access; beach umbrellas for use on Wailea Beach; admission to twice daily SCUBA clinics; free bike rental”.

Recap

In the end, this is a great way for casual travelers to stay two nights at a really fancy hotel where you can’t imagine paying over $300 a night. We applied and got ourselves two nights at the Grand Wailea in Maui. However, you should keep in mind that the reward certificates are only for Fri/Sat/Sun nights and are based on room availability so some flexibility in either hotel choice or dates is recommended. On an ongoing basis, the card is ideal for Hilton hotel regulars – You get 10x points on Hilton purchases and free Gold elite status (perks include late checkout, free Wi-Fi, and a free breakfast at many hotels). If you spend $10,000 in a year, you get another free weekend night certificate, which you can weigh against the $95 annual fee.

Best Interest Rates for Cash Reserves – Updated April 2015

percentage2Our family keeps a year’s worth of expenses (not income) put aside in cash reserves; it provides financial insurance with the side benefits of lower stress and less concern about stock market gyrations. In my opinion, emergency funds can actually have a better return on investment than what you see on your bank statement.

I don’t rate-chase nearly as much as I used to, but it still pays to shop around. Too many places are basically paying ZERO – the Megabanks, short-term US Treasuries, and money market sweep funds. Do you know what Chase offers on a 1-year CD? 0.02% APY. Bank of America on their 5-year CD? 0.15% APY. The highest money market mutual fund in the country yields 0.06%. My Vanguard Prime is at 0.01%.

Best Currently Available Interest Rates
Here is a brief summary of the best interest rates available on deposits backed by the full faith and credit of the US government. I will try to sort them from the shortest to longest maturities.

  • High-yield savings accounts. There are a variety of online savings accounts out there nowadays, with the highest ones earning around 1% APY. GE Capital Bank has an FDIC-insured Online Savings account paying 1.05% APY with no maintenance fees, no minimum balance, and no minimum to open.
  • Short-term guaranteed rates. Everbank Yield Pledge Money Market and Interest Checking account both offer 1.40% APY guaranteed (up to $50k each) for the first 6 months for new accounts. Since it is fixed, this is essentially a 6-month CD with a higher rate than any other 6-month CD rate out there and with no early withdrawal penalty to worry about. Salem Five Direct has an eSavings account that pays 1.10% guaranteed until 1/1/16 (~8.5 months left) but the rate is only available to new customers.
  • “Series I” US Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation. “I Bonds” bought right now will earn 1.48% total for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. You must hold them for a year, and if you redeem them within 5 years you lose the last 3 months of interest. While future rates are unknown, the net rate after a year is likely to be competitive with top 1-year CD rates at a minimum, while offering upside if inflation spikes. More info here.
  • Rewards checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with some risk. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest all that month. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. But the rates can be high while they last. Consumers Credit Union offers up to 5.09% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY is easier to achieve unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. I list this one because the rate is guaranteed until December 31, 2015.
  • Certificates of deposit. If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. Why not put some money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay an early withdrawal penalty. Synchrony Bank (formerly GE Capital Retail Bank) is offering a 5-year CD paying 2.25% APY for $25k+ balances (2.20% APY for $2k+) with an early withdrawal penalty of 180 days interest. For example, if you withdraw from this CD after 2 years and pay the penalty, your effective rate earned will still be 1.69%.
  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? Did you know that you can buy certificates of deposit via Vanguard’s bond desk? These “brokered CDs” offer the same FDIC-insurance and are often through commercial banks like Goldman Sachs. As of this writing, you can get a 10-year CD maturing 4/22/2025 that pays 2.95% APY. Prices will vary regularly.
  • How about two decades!? “Series EE” US Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.50% APY). Think of it as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You really want to be sure you’ll keep it for 20 years.
  • Finally, how about something out-of-the-box? You can earn up to 2.25% APY within a 529 college savings plan (which can be opened with you as the beneficiary for now). FDIC-insured, and the rate is still pretty good even after a 10% penalty for non-qualified withdrawals.

How about my money? In terms of the opportunities above, I have opened an account at Everbank in the past for the promo rate and I have usually try to buy the max in US Savings I Bonds each year (no EE bonds, too long of a commitment). I don’t currently juggle any rewards checking accounts nor do I have any deposits with any other banks mentioned above. It’s just not worth it me to switch right now.

Besides some older CDs at higher rates, I keep a good chunk of my money at Ally Bank because right now they are the all-around “good enough” bank for me. Sure I could eek out 1.05% in a savings account somewhere, but Ally Online Savings is paying a 0.99% APY (as of 4/12/15) which serves as a no-fee overdraft companion to my Ally Interest Checking with unlimited ATM fee rebates. Along the same lines, I could get 2.25% in an outside bank’s 5-year CD, but Ally has 2.00% APY on their 5-year CDs and a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty. A rate difference of 0.25% on $10,000 over a year is $25, and I’m not sure that’s enough to open a CD at another bank when my current Ally CDs mature.

All rates were checked as of 4/12/15.

Lowe’s $10 off $50 Coupon Code

lowescouponUpdated with new coupon. As a homeowner, unfortunately there’s always a use for these… Lowe’s has a new $10 off $50 coupon available to everyone if you sign up for their promotional e-mails. You can use a secondary e-mail or simply unsubscribe after you get the coupon. Simply visit their front page at Lowes.com and scroll down to the bottom and click on “Save $10 When You Join E-mail Alerts”:

lowescoupon2

Redeemable in store or online. You must use the coupon within 7 days of receipt. There are a few exclusions:

Receive a promo code for $10 off your next purchase of $50 or more (calculated before taxes and after applicable discounts) when you sign up for Lowe’s promotional emails. Offer valid for new email accounts only. Redeemable in-store or online. Coupon is single use, can’t be used in conjunction with any other coupon/discount, and not valid on: previous sales; multiple transactions; purchase of services, installation, or extended protection plans; gift cards; Weber products; Dacor, ICON, GE Café, or Fisher & Paykel, brand appliances; or clearance appliances.

Citi Prestige Card Review: New 50,000 Point Offer (Worth $800 in American Airlines Airfare)

citiprestigecardfrontOur partner Citi has revamped the Citi Prestige® Card, their premium ThankYou point rewards card. The sign-up bonus has been increased to 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. 50,000 TY points are redeemable for an $800 flight on American Airlines or US Airways, a $665 flight on any other airline, or $500 in gift cards.

There is a hefty $450 annual fee that is not waived the first year, but the card also includes a $250 air travel credit every year that is valid towards any airfare bought from any airline (and also baggage fees). Per the fine print, the $250 annual credit resets every December through the next December. So you could conceivable qualify for a $250 credit on airfare in November and then another $250 in January.

Here’s a summary of the one-time sign-up bonuses and perks:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • $100 Global Entry application fee credit. Citi will cover the $100 application fee on a one-time basis when you charge it to the card. Global Entry allows you to get through international customs faster when entering the US. The $100 application fee credit will reset once every 5 years.

Here’s a summary of ongoing highlights of the card:

  • $250 Statement Credit for Air Travel each year. Unlike other cards, airfare counts as well as baggage fees, lounge access, and other incidental purchases. This renews every calendar year, so it can be used to help offset the annual fee every year. “This statement credit is an annual benefit available for purchases appearing on your billing statements from December through the following December. Pending transactions that do not post in your December billing cycle will count towards the next year’s Air Travel Credit.”
  • Complimentary access to nearly 40 American Airlines Admirals Club® lounges, plus hundreds of VIP lounges through Priority Pass Select. Valid for you and your entire immediate family (spouse, domestic partner and/or children under 18 years of age) or up to two companions. Priority Pass lounges tend to be at international airports.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels.
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment.
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on Purchases.
  • Includes chip technology which increases acceptance overseas.
  • Transfer points to a variety of travel loyalty programs from airlines to hotels.
  • Complimentary 4th Night for any hotel stay. This could be nice, but your stay must be booked through their designated travel agent, so I’m not sure if that means the rates will be the same as say Expedia or Travelocity.
  • Complimentary greens fees at more than 2,400 public and private golf courses around the globe. The terms specify that you get 3 complimentary rounds of golf through the Citi Prestige® Golf Portal (provided by GolfSwitch, Inc.) each calendar year.
  • $450 Annual Fee. Not waived for the first year.

The Citi Prestige is most attractive for people who fly on American Airlines and US Airways (the two are merging). Citi and American are tight these days; the competing American Express Platinum no longer offers American Airlines lounge access at all.

With this card, you can redeem 1 ThankYou point to get 1.6 cents worth of American Airlines and US Airways airfare. You can’t do this with any other ThankYou card, but if you have it then all your ThankYou points earned from any other card can be redeemed this way. That means if you redeem your points towards American Airlines or US Airways airfare, you’ll get 1.6% back standard while the 2X and 3X categories turn into 3.2% back at restaurants and 4.8% back on airfare and hotels. (If you have CitiGold checking account or Citi Private Banker, you’ll get an additional 15% or 25% bonus respectively on ThankYou points earned.) You can also get 1.33 cents per point value by redeeming towards airfare on all other airlines.

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.

Bottom line. If you add up all of the perks (including 50,000 TY point sign-up bonus worth $800 in American Airlines or US Airways airfare, $250 annual airfare credit that resets every December, American Airlines first class lounge access, $100 Global Entry application fee credit, 3.2% back on restaurants and 4.8% back on airfare and hotels when redeemed for American Airways airfare), you can see that for the right person the $450 annual fee can be more than worth it. In my mind, that person should fly American or US Airways at least once a year if not more often.

In addition, if you have a big stash of Citi ThankYou points, getting this card could greatly increase the value of your existing point balance due to the special American Airlines conversion rate.

Wealthfront Offers Tax Loss Harvesting With No Minimums

wealthtlh_logoAutomated portfolio managers like Wealthfront will set you up with a diversified mix of index funds and manage it for you for a small fee. I’m an investing geek, so I always lean towards keeping the small fee and manage things myself. But an important variable to this equation is tax-loss harvesting. Tax-loss harvesting tries to improve your returns by minimizing your tax bill, but it is also tedious work that is ideally suited to handing over to a computer.

If the management fee they charge is say 0.25%, as long as the benefit from tax-loss harvesting is at least 0.25%, then you’re already ahead of the game. The problem is that predicting the actual benefit of TLH is difficult. Wealthfront claims that based on past data, their tax-loss harvesting implementation could add 1% annually to your after-tax returns:

wealthtlh_full

Up until recently, you also needed $100k in your portfolio. But Wealthfront has recently announced that as of April 2015, their daily tax-loss harvesting service will be available to all taxable accounts with no minimum balance requirement:

We’re proud to announce that our daily tax-loss harvesting service will be made available to all Wealthfront taxable accounts, starting in April. At Wealthfront, we believe everyone deserves sophisticated financial advice, and this brings us one step closer to that goal.

I would not have predicted this a few years ago: automated tax-loss harvesting for any account size and at such a low cost. A customer with $10,000 would be getting TLH and portfolio management for free. The minimum needed to open a Wealthfront account remains $5,000.

I would say that I am confident the benefit of TLH over the long-run will be greater than zero. However, I would not count on 1%. But even if we split the difference and assume it is 0.5%, then using such a service still has to be considered as it is greater that their management fee of 0.25%. I hate giving up control though, so while I have put a little seed money in various places, I am still 95%+ DIY and keeping a close eye on future developments.

Current sign-up promotions. Wealthfront usually allows your first $10,000 managed for free. With this special invite link, you can get your first $15,000 managed for free, forever (an additional $5k).

(Note: Competitor Betterment also has a similar tax-loss harvesting service. The post structure is similar, but I wanted to make sure any readers that may see only one post get the full context.)

Betterment Offers Tax Loss Harvesting With No Minimums

bettertlh_logoAutomated portfolio managers like Betterment will set you up with a diversified mix of index funds and manage it for you for a small fee. I’m an investing geek, so I always lean towards keeping the small fee and manage things myself. But an important variable to this equation is tax-loss harvesting (TLH). Tax-loss harvesting tries to improve your returns by minimizing your tax bill, but it is also tedious work that is ideally suited to handing over to a computer.

If the management fee they charge is theoretically 0.25%, as long as the benefit from tax-loss harvesting is at least 0.25%, then you’re already ahead of the game. The problem is that predicting the actual benefit of TLH is difficult. Betterment claims that based on past data, their Tax Loss Harvesting+ service could add an estimated +0.77% in after-tax returns, annually:

bettertlh_full

Up until recently, you also needed $50k in your portfolio. But Betterment just sent me an e-mail today (April 2015) that their tax-loss harvesting service will be available to all taxable accounts with no minimum balance requirement:

Using our smarter technology, we’ve now made Tax Loss Harvesting+ available to you and all of our customers—regardless of balance—at no additional cost.

We are the only automated investing service to provide this tax-reduction strategy, once only available to the wealthiest, for all investors. By democratizing tax loss harvesting, we are continuing our mission of making smarter investing accessible to everyone.

I would not have predicted this a few years ago: automated tax-loss harvesting for any account size and at such a low cost. A customer with $10,000 would be getting TLH and portfolio management for $25 a year. Betterment has no minimum investment requirement.

I would say that I am confident the benefit of TLH over the long-run will be greater than zero. However, I would not count on 0.77%. But even if we split the difference and assume it is 0.4%, then using such a service still has to be considered as it is greater that their management fee of 0.15% to 0.35%. I hate giving up control though, so while I have put a little seed money in various places, I am still 95%+ DIY and keeping a close eye on future developments.

Current sign-up promotions. Betterment is currently offering up to 6 months of free portfolio management fees, depending on your initial deposit amount.

(Note: Competitor Wealthfront has a similar tax-loss harvesting service. I know my posts about both are very similar, but I wanted to make sure any readers that may see only one post get the full context.)