California Residents: Southwest Credit Card Companion Pass Shortcut Offer

Southwest Premier Credit Card ArtIf you are a California resident, check out this special offer on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Credit Card that provides a shortcut to the SWA Companion Pass:

The Companion Pass lets a designated person fly with you for free on all your Southwest flights – both paid and award flights! (You must still cover taxes and fees from $5.60 one-way.) Usually, you have to fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards points within a calendar year in order to qualify. However, this special offer lets you get it after applying for a new card and making a single purchase of any amount.

Here are some additional things to consider:

  • How California residency is determined: “Individual must have a valid California address as evidenced by their application for the Rapid Rewards® Credit Card.” PO Boxes are not allowed as billing addresses. You should probably have the same billing address on your Rapids Rewards account.
  • You must open the card by 11/30/17, and allow up to 8 weeks after your first purchase to receive the Companion Pass. The pass will be valid until 12/31/18.
  • Chase has a rule that they will automatically deny approval on this credit card if you have 5 or more new credit cards from any issuer on your credit report within the past 2 years (aka the 5/24 rule).
  • Not available to either (i) current cardmembers of any Rapid Rewards Credit Card, or (ii) previous cardmembers of any Rapid Rewards Credit Card who received a new cardmember bonus for a Rapid Rewards Credit Card within the last 24 months.
  • Rapid Rewards® points won’t expire as long as your card is open or you have flight-earning or partner-earning activity at least once every 24 months.
  • You must still pay the annual fees of $69 or $99, depending on the card.

Southwest recently announced that they plan to start flying to Hawaii, but the flights probably won’t be until late 2018 or early 2019. Therefore, you might try to time your purchases so that you get the 40,000/60,000 point bonus in 2018 as part of a larger plan to earn 110,000 points throughout 2018 and get another Companion Pass good through the end of 2019.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® Review: 60,000 Miles Limited-Time Offer

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard Art

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, from our partner Citi, is running a limited-time offer on their co-branded American Airlines credit cards.  Here are the updated card highlights:

  • For a limited time, earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
  • Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
  • Receive 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights*
  • Double AAdvantage® miles on eligible American Airlines purchases*
  • Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back – up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles each calendar year*

Note the following language for the personal card. Basically, to get the personal card bonus, you can’t have had the personal card opened or closed within the last 24 months. Having the business version is okay.

American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles are not available if you have had any Citi® / AAdvantage® card (other than a CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® card) opened or closed in the past 24 months.

To clarify, you can have one of both the consumer version of this card and the CitiBusiness® version designed for businesses under your name. The bonuses are also separate. You can get one consumer bonus every 24 months, and you can also get one business bonus every 24 months.

The annnual fee is $95, waived for the first 12 months.

American Airlines MileSAAver awards are still 25,000 miles for a round-trip ticket within the contiguous 48 states. If the trip is less than 500 miles, then it is only 15,000 miles roundtrip within the contiguous 48 states. Under-500 miles routes include Las Vegas to/from Los Angeles, Charleston to/from Miami, New York to/from Washington DC, Philadelphia to Boston, and many others.

This card also makes you eligible for Reduced Mileage Awards, where you save up to 7,500 miles on roundtrip MileSAAver® awards to select destinations on American Airlines operated flights. Combine this with the 10% rebate on redeemed AAdvantage miles, and you can stretch your miles a lot further.

Bottom-line. Due to the 24-month waiting periods, it is best to apply during a limited-time offer such as now. The annual fee is waived during the first year.  As with most of these co-branded cards, a lot of the potential value comes when you fly on American and utilize the free first checked bag benefit ($50 per person, roundtrip) and also when you redeem miles.

“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.”

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® Review – 60,000 Miles Limited-Time Offer

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The CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®, is running a limited-time offer on their co-branded American Airlines credit cards. Here are the details:

  • Designed for businesses
  • For a limited time, earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
  • Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on purchases at telecommunications, care rental merchants and at gas stations*
  • Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile per $1 spent on other purchases.*

Note the following fine print:

American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles are not available if you have had any Citi® / AAdvantage® card (other than a CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® card) opened or closed in the past 24 months.

To clarify, you can have one of both the consumer version of this card and this business version under your name. The bonuses are also separate. You can get one consumer bonus every 24 months, and you can also get one business bonus every 24 months.

Annual fee is $95, waived for the first 12 months.

American Airlines MileSAAver awards are still 25,000 miles for a round-trip ticket within the contiguous 48 states. If the trip is less than 500 miles, then it is only 15,000 miles roundtrip within the contiguous 48 states. Under-500 miles routes include Las Vegas to/from Los Angeles, Charleston to/from Miami, New York to/from Washington DC, Philadelphia to Boston, and many others.

There are some small differences between this and the consumer version of this card. This business card offers 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on purchases at telecommunications, car rental merchants and at gas stations. The consumer version does not. I also do not see any mention of the ability to earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back on this business card.

However, this business card does make you eligible for Reduced Mileage Awards, where you save up to 7,500 miles on roundtrip MileSAAver® awards to select destinations on American Airlines operated flights.

Business card eligibility. Many people aren’t aware that they can apply for business credit cards, even if they are not a corporation or LLC. Any individual can be a small business. Perhaps you sell items on eBay, Craiglist, or Etsy. Maybe you do some graphic design, web design, freelancing and/or consulting. If you received a 1099-MISC tax form and filled out a Schedule C, that means you have business income, you pay self-employment taxes, and you’re a sole proprietorship. This is the simplest business entity, but it is fully legit and recognized by the IRS. On a business credit card application, you should use your own legal name as the business name, and your Social Security Number as the Tax ID.

Bottom-line. Due to the 24-month waiting periods, it is best to apply during a limited-time offer such as now. The annual fee is waived during the first year. As with most of these co-branded cards, a lot of the potential value comes when you fly on American and use the free first checked bag benefit ($50 per person, roundtrip) and also when you redeem miles.

Please note this a business card, designed specifically for businesses. Click here for the consumer version.

“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.”

CIT Bank Review: Savings 1.35% APY, No-Penalty CD 1.45%, Opening Process

citbank200CIT Bank (not be confused with Citi Bank) has become one of the larger online-only banks with a multi-year history of competitive rates. They don’t offer a checking account, so their products are mostly designed to be savings products with high interest rates. Here are their most-interesting products, in my opinion:

They also have traditional term CDs as well as fancy CDs that allow add-on deposits and rate-bumps. Unfortunately, none of those rates are high enough even with the fancy features.

Rates are as of 10/16/17. Compare with the Ally Bank 11-month No Penalty CD, which requires $25,000 to open to get the 1.50% APY rate. At balances under $5,000, the Ally rate is only 1.00%.

Opening process overview. I recently opened an account with them, and here’s my review of the opening process.

  • The application process was completely online. You provide the usual personal information.
  • You must submit to a credit check, but in my experience it was a “soft” pull which did not harm my credit. None of my various credit monitoring services showed it was a hard pull.
  • You may fund via (1) electronic ACH transfer, (2) wire transfer, (3) mobile check deposit via CIT Bank mobile app (iOS and Android), and (4) mailing in a paper check. There was no option for credit card funding. I picked online ACH funding and you need to provide routing and account numbers, followed by manual verification via micro-deposits after a day or two. There was no instant linking option via login information.

After deposit verification, then your funding will go through.

You have successfully verified your external account. Please allow up to 5 business days for your funds to appear in your CIT Bank account.
No further action is required for this account. Thank you!

User interface. While the front-facing website is pretty slick, after you login the backend is run by Fidelity National Information Services (subdomain ibanking-services.com). This is a popular backend software system used by many smaller banks who don’t want to create their own software from scratch. It’s functional, but not very pretty. At least it’s familiar to someone like me who has too many bank accounts. Two-factor authentication is available using voice or SMS.

Amazon Prime: Buying Add-On Items Without Minimums w/ Alexa

alexaboxOn of the main benefits of Amazon Prime is that you can buy things whenever you want with no minimum purchase requirement, shipped to you for free. Mostly. Amazon classifies some of their lower-priced products as “Add-On” items, which must be bundled with $25 of items shipped by Amazon, excluding gift cards.

I understand the reason for this. I usually don’t even use 1-day or 2-day shipping even on larger orders. I pick up the No-Rush shipping credit and then let Amazon bunch up my orders and ship them more efficiently. However, I like actually making the purchase, otherwise some things will languish in my cart and I wonder why it never came. Also, this lets me lock in the current price for items that are temporarily discounted. Sometimes I want a $6 item but I just ordered $100 off stuff yesterday and I don’t need anything else.

You can have Add-On items ship without meeting the minimum purchase requirement by ordering it via the Alexa voice assistant. If you don’t have an Echo Dot or similar, you can also access Alexa on-demand via the Amazon Fire TV Stick, the Amazon Dash Wand with Alexa, and now through the Amazon Music app. These also let you access Alexa-only deals.

Here’s an additional time-saving trick, picked up from minisnoey of SD:

  • For example, let say you need Virbac C.E.T. Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews, Small Dog, 30 count. It costs $8 but is an add-on item.
  • If you tried to order via Alexa and say “order dog chews”, there are a hundred types of dog chews. It might take a long time for Alexa to figure out the exact type, size, and count of dog chews that you want. Some people have resorted to spelling out the product name letter-by-letter. T-E-D-I-O-U-S.
  • However, this time place the Add-On item in your online shopping cart via website or Amazon app. Do not buy it yet.
  • Now using Alexa, ask to buy the item “order dog chews”. Alexa should now know that you want the dog chews that are in your cart. She will verify the name and price, and you can now buy it via Alexa without any minimum order requirement. Frustration-free ordering.

Many times, I already have another order in process so it just gets bundled along.

Bonus tip: This deal is still working: $10 bonus on your first RE-order via Alexa ($10 minimum order).

In order to qualify for the $10 credit offer, you must: (1) be an Amazon Prime member that has never made a reorder with Alexa Voice Shopping and (2) order a physical product in your Amazon.com Order History of at least $10. The reorder must be made using voice shopping on your device with Amazon Alexa.

MoviesAnywhere: 5 Free Digital Movies After Linking Accounts

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MoviesAnywhere is a service that links up movies that you bought online at one retailer and lets you view them on another retailer. For example, you might buy a movie from iTunes and watch it from Amazon Video. This “digital movie locker” service used to be called Disney Movies Anywhere, but just expanded to include Disney, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Universal, and Warner Bros. Per e-mail from iTunes:

We wanted to let you know that Disney Movies Anywhere has expanded its list of participating studios to include Disney, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Universal, and Warner Bros. As a result, the service has rebranded to Movies Anywhere.

As Disney Movies Anywhere transitions to Movies Anywhere, you’ll need to create a new Movies Anywhere account in the Movies Anywhere iOS app or at the Movies Anywhere website before you can reconnect it to your Apple ID.

To encourage people to switch over, they are offering up to 5 free movies after you sign up at MoviesAnywhere for a new account and link up retailers (Vudu, iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play). There is no promo code required (scroll down to see banner), but it is a limited-time offer.

  • Link one retailer, and get Ice Age and Ghostbusters (2016) for free.
  • Link a second retailer, and get Big Hero 6, Jason Bourne, and The Lego Movie for free.

I’ve used this feature for Disney movies, and I like the added convenience. I got my 5 free movies without issue instantly after linking.

Amazon Cash: Add $25, Get $5 Bonus Credit

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Updated. Amazon is running a new promotion that gives you $5 Amazon bonus credit if you add $25 via Amazon Cash. Amazon ran a similar promo earlier this year that expired, so note that this one is only valid if you haven’t used Amazon Cash before.

Amazon Cash let you load cash into your Amazon account and buy things online. You get a unique barcode linked to your Amazon account, and then bring it in to a participating physical store. You can either print it out or use your smartphone. There are no fees. Participating stores include GameStop, CVS Pharmacy, KwikTrip, Fred’s Pharmacy, Cumberland Farms, and more.

Ask the cashier to scan your barcode like you’re buying a physical item. The cashier may not be familiar with the program, but as long as they scan it/see screen/enter $25, and you pay, it will go through. You can pay with pay with cash or credit card, and the funds will be loaded onto your Amazon balance (same place as where gift cards go).

Try Amazon Cash for the first time by adding $25 or more to your Amazon Balance and earn a $5 Amazon Credit towards your next purchase on Amazon.com. Your discount will automatically be applied at checkout. This is a limited time offer, one per Amazon customer account. The promotional credit expires on December 31, 2017.

Something easy to do if you are already in a mall with a Gamestop or shopping at CVS. Note that the $5 free credit must be used on products shipped and sold by Amazon.

20% off at Amazon with 1 American Express Membership Rewards Point (Targeted)

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Amazon has a targeted promotion offering a 20% off your Amazon purchase (max discount $50). This may be targeted to people with an eligible American Express card with Membership Rewards points linked in their Amazon.com account. If you have one that isn’t linked, you may want to try adding it and then checking the link again.

After activating the offer, add only items shipped and sold by Amazon to your cart. During checkout, you only need to spend 1 single American Express Membership Rewards point after choosing your linked AmEx. Verify that you see the 20% discount before finalizing your order. Your maximum discount is $50, which means you could get $50 off $250 in purchases. Not applicable towards Amazon Gift Cards or third-party gift cards.

You could use this on things that are rarely discounted, like getting $50 off Bose QC 35 headphones. I’ve been eyeing the biggest 8-quart Instant Pot after reading this NY Times article about thinking of it as a slow cooker replacement. (The 8-quart goes on sale a lot less often for some reason.)

The wording suggests that you can come back and make multiple purchases at Amazon, and as long as you use 1 single Membership Rewards points on each purchase, you’ll keep getting 20% off until you reach the maximum discount of $50.

Amazon Music Unlimited: 4-Month Free Trial with Eligible Citi Credit Card

Update: The previous $10 credit sold out quickly, but Amazon has brought back this promo with a $5 credit. Still better than nothing if you missed it initially. 🙂

amuHere’s a quick and easy offer for new subscribers to Amazon Music Limited. Even if you don’t like to stream music, you can sign up for a free trial and get a $5 credit towards anything shipped and sold by Amazon.

Best Interest Rates on Cash – October 2017

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Interest rates are slowly waking up from their multi-year slumber. Don’t let a megabank pay you 0.01% APY or less for your idle cash. Here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. I focus on rates that are nationally available to everyone (not restricted to certain geographic areas or specific groups). Rates checked as of 10/2/17.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks rarely offer good yields, there are many online savings accounts offering competitive rates clustered around 1.0%-1.2% APY. Remember that with savings accounts, the interest rates can change at any time.

  • The Mega Money Market accounts of both Redneck Bank and All America Bank (they are affiliated) are paying 1.50% APY on balances up to $35,000. Note that amounts over $35,000 earn only 0.50% APY.
  • Other sample top rates: DollarSavingsDirect at 1.40% APY, CIT Bank at 1.35% APY up to $250k, Synchrony Bank at 1.30% APY, Goldman Bank at 1.20% APY, and UFB Direct at 1.41% APY ($5k min).
  • I’ve experienced the “bait-and-switch” of moving to a new bank only to have the rate lowered quickly afterward. Until the rate difference is huge, I’m sticking with a Ally Bank Savings + Checking combo due to their history of competitive rates (including CDs), 1-day interbank transfers, and a overall user experience. I also like the free overdraft transfers from savings that let’s me keep my checking balance at a minimum. Ally Savings is at 1.20% APY.

Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, you should know that money market and short-term Treasury rates have inched upwards. It may be worth the effort to move your money into a higher-yielding money market fund or ultrashort-term bond ETF.

  • The Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund currently pays an 1.12% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which has an SEC yield of 0.98%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • Vanguard Ultra-Short-Term Bond Fund currently pays 1.46% SEC Yield ($3,000 min) and 1.57% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The current average effective duration is 1.0 years.
  • The following bond ETFs are not FDIC-insured, but if you want to keep “standby money” in your brokerage account and have cheap/free trades, it may be worth a look. The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 1.58% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 1.60% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months. More info here.

Short-term guaranteed rates (1 year and under)
I am often asked what to do with a big wad of cash that you’re waiting to deploy shortly (just sold your house, just sold your business, legal settlement, inheritance). My standard advice is to keep things simple. If not a savings account, then put it in a short-term CD under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • Ally Bank No-Penalty 11-Month CD is paying 1.50% APY for $25,000+ balances and 1.25% APY for $5,000+ balances. The CIT Bank 11-Month No-Penalty CD is at 1.45% APY with only a $1,000 minimum deposit and no withdrawal penalty seven days or later after funds have been received. The lack of early withdrawal penalty means that your interest rate can never go down for 11 months, but you can always jump ship if rates rise.
  • Advancial Federal Credit Union has a 6-month CD at 1.63% APY ($50k min) and a 12-month CD at 1.78% APY ($50k min). If you don’t otherwise qualify, you can join with a $5 fee to Connex Professional Network and maintaining $5 in a Share savings account. Via DepositAccounts.

US Savings Bonds
Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation and backed by the US government. You must hold them for at least a year. There are annual purchase limits. If you redeem them within 5 years there is a penalty of the last 3 months of interest.

  • “I Bonds” bought between May and October 2017 will earn a 1.96% rate for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. While that next 6-month rate is currently unknown, at the very minimum the total yield after 12 months will around 1% with additional upside potential. More info here.
  • In mid-October, the CPI will be announced and you will have a short period where you will have a very close estimate of the rate for the next 12 months. I will have another post up at that time.

Prepaid Cards with Attached Savings Accounts
A small subset of prepaid debit cards have an “attached” FDIC-insured savings account with high interest rates. The negatives are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). The other catch is that these good features may be killed off without much notice. My NetSpend card now only has an eligible balance up to $1,000.

  • Insight Card is one of the best remaining cards with 5% APY on up to $5,000 as of this writing. Fees to avoid include the $1 per purchase fee, $2.50 for each ATM withdrawal, and the $3.95 inactivity fee if there is no activity within 90 days. If you can navigate it carefully (basically only use ACH transfers and keep up your activity regularly) you can still end up with more interest than other options. Earning 4% extra interest on $5,000 is $200 a year.

Rewards checking accounts
These unique 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 for that month. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. But the rates can be high while they last.

  • Northpointe Bank has Rewards Checking at 5% APY on up to $10k. The requirements are (1) 15 debit card purchases per month (in-person or online), (2) enrolling in e-statements, and (3) a monthly direct deposit or automatic withdrawal of $100 or more. ATM fees are rebated up to $10 per month.

Certificates of deposit (greater than 1 year)
You might have larger balances, either because you are using CDs instead of bonds or you simply want a large cash cushion. Buying finding a bank CD with a reasonable early withdrawal penalty, you can enjoy higher rates but maintain access in a true emergency. Alternatively, consider a custom CD ladder of different maturity lengths such that you have access to part of the ladder each year, but your blended interest rate is higher than a savings account.

  • Advancial Federal Credit Union (see above) has increased their rates a bit since last month, with their 18-month CD at 1.96% APY ($50k min) and a 24-month CD at 2.04% APY ($50k min). The early withdrawal penalty is 180 days of interest.
  • Ally Bank also has a 5-year CD at 2.25% APY (no minimum) with a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty and no credit union membership hoops. For example, if you closed this CD after 18-months you’d still get an 1.64% effective APY even after accounting for the penalty.
  • Hanscom Federal Credit Union is offering a 4-year Share Certificate at 2.50% APY (180-day early withdrawal penalty) if you also have Premier Checking (no monthly fee if you keep $6,000 in total balances or $2,000 in checking). HFCU also offers a 3% APY CU Thrive “starter” savings account with balance caps. HFCU membership is open to active/retired military or anyone who makes a one-time $35 donation to the Nashua River Watershed Association.
  • Mountain America Credit Union has a 5-year Share Certificate rate at 2.60% APY ($5 minimum) with a 365-day early withdrawal penalty. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization American Consumer Council for a one-time $5 fee.

Longer-term Instruments
I’d use these with caution, but I still track them to see the rest of the current yield curve.

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? You can buy certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer the same FDIC-insurance. As of this writing, Vanguard is showing a 10-year non-callable CD at 2.65% APY (Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs.) Unfortunately, current long-term CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.
  • How about two decades!? Series EE 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 0.10% rate). You could view as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You could also view it as long-term bond and thus a hedge against deflation, but only if you can hold on for 20 years. Too long for me.

All rates were checked as of 10/2/17.


Premier High Yield Savings

Amazon Prime: Spend $25, Get Free Caramel & Cheddar Popcorn

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Amazon Prime members who spend $25 or more can now get a free bag of Sweet ‘n’ Cheesy Popcorn Mix, Caramel & Cheddar. The page for a free bottle of Amazon Elements vitamins is still up, but readers report the code coming back as expired. Many readers have reported that you can get the deals multiple times (with a separate $25 order) even if you have gotten it before.

To redeem, you must add $25+ worth of products that are sold by Amazon.com or Amazon Digital Services LLC to your cart. Amazon gift cards don’t qualify, but the a $25 physical gift cards from Whole Foods, Starbucks, or Panera Bread should work.

Next, add the bag of Amazon-branded Chicago Mix popcorn, which appears to just be a private label version of the caramel and cheddar popcorn made by G.H. Cretors. (That brand is available at Costco, which I have tried and liked.) You should see the popcorn charge removed.

Tomorrow App: Free Will & Trust, Optional Term Life Insurance

tmrwapp0The newly-launched Tomorrow app brings estate planning to your smartphone. The app includes software that will guide you through the creation of a legal will and trust for your family, and it makes money by also selling term life insurance (which you can use to fund your trust). You can use the free will and trust feature on its own and buy life insurance elsewhere. More press at TechCrunch.

The ready-to-sign wills are legal in 47 states (AK, LA, NC coming later). Here’s a diagram from their website:

tmrwapp

Is this an adequate replacement for an estate lawyer? Estate planning is strange because it is so important, but people always procrastinate about it. Nobody wants to think about death. Meeting a lawyer can be intimidating and potentially expensive. So while you could argue about what is best, most people have nothing. Is it a positive to have free will & trust software that fits many situations, making it more readily available for the public? Can it provide a positive start to a conversation with family? I think so. Are there cases where an estate lawyer would create a better product customized to your personal situation? Certainly.

Here’s what The Consumerist (owned by Consumer Reports) had to say about other DIY will-making software back in 2011:

Our wallet-watching cousins at the Consumer Reports Money Adviser newsletter took a look at three DIY options for will-making — LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and Quicken WillMaker Plus — and found that while all three are better than not having a will, none of them is likely to meet the needs of anything more than the most basic of estates.

I’ve always been a little disappointed with legal software products when they say “we are not a law firm and this is not legal advice”. Okay, they probably have to say that. But really, if they are explicitly providing you with a ready-to-sign will and trust (and historically charging a fee for this service), then aren’t they… kinda… providing you legal advice? I certainly don’t understand it all on my own.

I did download the app and poke around for a bit. I liked the mobile-friendly Q&A format (similar to tax prep software), but as I’m not a lawyer I don’t know about quality or whether it covers the proper scenarios.

Competition. There are many established legal software websites that will guide you through the creation of a will and trust for a fee. For example, the LegalZoom Living Trust package includes a living trust, will, financial power of attorney, advanced medial directive, free revisions, and review from an independent attorney for $299. Willing.com currently offers a basic will for free (no minor children), but their cheapest package that includes a revocable trust also runs $299. A traditional local lawyer will certainly cost more than that, closer to $1,000 and up.

It appears that Tomorrow hopes to subsidize this cost by encouraging you to buy optional term life insurance from them. I think this is a reasonable idea (assuming its not too hard of a sell) as term life insurance is also one of those things people regret not buying until it’s too late. Comparison sites like PolicyGenius life insurance quotes are helpful because premiums are the same no matter which broker or website you buy it from. That means Tomorrow can’t mark up the price.

Our family already has a will & trust set up in-person with traditional lawyers. We bought term life insurance years earlier. On the other hand, I did use a software service to form my business (S-Corporation vs. LLC). Motivating myself to finish our estate plan was hard but I’m definitely glad we did it. I recommend getting something down in writing and starting the conversation, no matter which way you choose to do it.