Amazon Local Register: 1.75% Credit Card Processing Fee

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

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

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

US Airways Premier World MasterCard: Limited-Time 40,000 Mile Bonus

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usaircardI think I’ve only flown US Airways once in my lifetime, but I still included the US Airways Premier World MasterCard® in my latest round of credit card applications.

Why? American Airlines and US Airways are in the process of merging and once that is complete, the only Citibank-issued American Airlines cards will be left available. That means this one issued by Barclaycard will no longer be accepting applications and you won’t be able to get its sign-up bonus or other unique perks ever again. Card highlights:

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles after your first purchase and payment of the $89 annual fee
  • First checked bag free on eligible bags for you and up to four companions on domestic US Airways operated flights
  • One companion certificate good for up to 2 guests to travel with you on a US Airways operated flight at $99 each, plus taxes and fees
  • Priority boarding Zone 2 on US Airways operated flights
  • Redeem miles for award travel on US Airways and American Airlines booked through usairways.com or US Airways Reservations
  • Earn miles on every purchase with 2 miles for every $1 you spend on US Airways purchases and 1 mile for every $1 on purchases everywhere else
  • Please see terms and conditions for complete details

The eventual merger also means that the 40,000 US Airways miles you get from this card will turn into 40,000 American Airlines miles, which I do fly often and often get me cheap last-minute award flights. The miles won’t disappear, so I might as well get this bonus now while I can.

Note that 40,000 mile bonus does not require any minimum purchase amount and that there is an $89 annual fee that is not waived for the first year. 40,000 miles for example is enough for a roundtrip from the US to Hawaii, so that is worth it for me. The US Airways companion certificate is also a unique feature which would be awesome if it eventually applied to American flights (though it probably won’t).

Time Warner Everyday Low Price Internet Review: $14.99 a Month

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In late 2013, Time Warner Cable announced a new tier called Everyday Low Price Internet (ELP) for $14.99 a month + taxes. Speed is 2 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. The $14.99 a month is not a sale or promotional rate, that is the retail price available to anyone. If you are located in a Time Warner service area and are looking to save some money on your monthly bill, this is an option to consider. You won’t be able to stream HD Netflix on it, but it should work fine for e-mail and web browsing.

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Things that are not included in the plan:

  • Cable modem rental (additional $5.99 a month) – Get around this by purchasing your own modem from their qualifying model list. Example is this for Motorola Surfboard SB6121 for $68.99. More details on buying your own cable modem here.
  • Home WiFi (additional $4.95 a month) – This feature is nothing more than a WiFi router that may be integrated into your cable modem. Either buy a cable modem with WiFi, or better yet just buy a separate router for under $20. Example is this well-reviewed TP-Link Wireless Router with lots of customization features for $19.99.
  • Installation. I was quoted $29.99 for installation, but it may vary by location. You can also try to “self-install” for free if you have had the service at that address before. Existing customers can downgrade to this plan by calling in, there should be no need for a service visit.

Note that the above are not included on their standard high-speed internet plans either.

Comcast Internet Essentials Review: $10/Month High Speed Internet For Low Income Families

Updated with new sign-up promo and debt-forgiveness program. Comcast recently announced that they are continuing their Internet Essentials program that provides high-speed internet service for $9.95 a month + taxes, a subsidized $150 computer, and free digital literacy training to eligible low-income families. Specifically, you get their XFINITY Economy Internet Service for $9.95 per month with no activation or equipment rental charges.

Comcast will also include up to six months of complimentary service for any new family that has not yet applied for Internet Essentials. Families who are approved for Internet Essentials between August 4th and September 20th, 2014 will receive up to six months of Internet service.

Qualification details:

  • Be located where Comcast offers Internet service.
  • Have at least one child receiving free school lunches through the National School Lunch Program. If I read the income guidelines for the NSLP correctly, a family of 4 within the contiguous 48 states can’t make more than $31,005 a year to get free lunches.
  • Have not subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the last 90 days.
  • If you have a unpaid balance with Comcast that is less than a year old, you’ll need to work out a payment plan. Debts over a year old will be forgiven for a limited time.

This program is not supported with government taxes. Instead, it was a condition of the FCC’s approval of Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal, and now they are extending it because they want to merge with Time Warner Cable. Comcast states that if the merger goes through, they will expand access to all Time Warner coverage areas. They also state that over 300,000 families have signed up since this started in 2011.

(And yes, I know, Comcast has had customer service issues. Is that really shocking?)

Official announcement, via The Verge.

Groupon: BJ’s Wholesale Club Membership Discount

Groupon has a deal that gets you a One-Year BJ’s Rewards Membership ($100 value) and a $50 BJ’s Gift Card for $75. So essentially the membership itself is only $25. New members only (you could get your spouse or partner to sign-up). Valid at all BJ’s Wholesale Club locations (East Coast mostly). Their upgraded Rewards Membership gets you:

  • 2% payback on most in-Club and BJs.com purchases
  • Free second Membership card
  • Access to exclusive savings and in-Club promotions

Remember that you can save even more on your Groupon with cashback shopping sites like eBates ($5 new customer bonus), Mr. Rebates ($5 bonus), and BigCrumbs.

Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card: Limited-Time 50,000 Bonus Miles

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United MileagePlus Explorer Card BigChase has just increased the sign-up bonus on the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card from 30,000 to 50,000 United miles after spending $2,000 in 3 months, plus 5,000 more miles for adding an authorized user and making a purchase on that additional card. Offer ends 9/2/14.

Here are the highlights for the card (application link):

  • LIMITED TIME OFFER: Start with 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months
  • Earn an additional 5,000 miles when you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months
  • Check your first bag for free – save up to $100 per round-trip
  • Priority boarding privileges – get on before general boarding
  • Two lounge passes to their first class United Club every year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn double miles on United ticket purchases, and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Your miles don’t expire as long as you’re a Cardmember, with no limit to the number of miles you can earn
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95

All in all, a good card for regular United fliers with the free bags and priority boarding. Every year you spend $25,000 in purchases using your United MileagePlus Explorer Card, you’ll earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles. That means at 25k of spending, you’ll be getting 1.4 miles per dollar on all purchases.

Adding an authorized user is free of charge, so no reason not to get that addition 5,000 miles. Keep in mind the following terms and conditions:

This new cardmember bonus offer is not available to either (i) current cardmembers of this consumer credit card, or (ii) previous cardmembers of this consumer credit card who received a new cardmember bonus for this consumer credit card within the last 24 months.

“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.”

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T-Mobile New Plan: 4 Lines for $100/Month Unlimited Talk, Text, 10 GB of 4G LTE Data

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T-Mobile just announced 7/30 that their Family Plan will offer 4 lines for $100 a month with unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 2.5 GB of 4G LTE data per line. (10 GB total across 4 lines. Unlimited 2.5G data after your LTE data allotment is used up.) That is an increase of 6 GB (1.5 GB per line) from their previous offer. Offer expires 9/30/14. I’m not sure why, but the bump up lasts only until 2016, after which it will revert back to 1GB of high speed data per line. That is 17 months from now, so hopefully 4G data will have become cheaper by then anyway. Add a 5th line for only $10 more a month.

These plans include T-Mobile’s free international 2G data and texting in 120+ countries. Came in handy for my brother-in-law when he was at the World Cup in Brazil.

These plans do not include any subsidy for a new phone. You can bring your AT&T or Verizon iPhone 5 straight over to T-Mobile just by swapping out the SIM card inside, no special unlocking procedure required. Usually the Prepaid SIM card is $10 but from 8/1 to 8/6 use the promo code SIMDEAL to get it for only a penny ($0.01). Get a nano SIM card if you have a compatible iPhone 5 or iPad Mini. Get a micro SIM card if you have a compatible iPhone 4, 4S or iPad. You can also check compatibility here.

I really hope T-Mobile stays independent because their aggressive pricing will help keep everyone’s plan costs in line.

Alternatively, you can get unlimited talk, text, and WiFi/3G data for $25 a month with Republic Wireless (per line, no minimum number of lines). You’ll have to buy one of their phones (Moto G starting at $149).

Credit Karma Offers Free Full Credit Reports, Updated Weekly

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

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Here’s a summary of their offering now:

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

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

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

Rue La La Shopping: Free $25 Credit

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Shopping site Rue La La is offering an increased free $25 credit for new members that are referred by existing members until August 6th they changed it to 8/1. Keep in mind the $25 credit will take anywhere from several hours to a day to show up. You’ll know you have it when the credit appears in the top right corner of your screen.

The good news is that the credit also applies towards shipping ($9.95) so that if wanted, you could get anything under $15 for free. Also, once you pay that $9.95, future orders will ship free for the next 30 days. The referrer gets $10 credit as well if you buy something, so thanks ahead of time if you use my referral link.

Now that I have girls that like both pink things and rolling in mud, here’s a dress for $17 that ended up under $2 including shipping. They also have non-clothing items, everything seems rather fashionable. Some examples:

(Update: A lot of things are getting sold out as this promo gets popular. Their inventory changes daily, I recommend to keep checking later and sort by price.)

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Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card: 70,000 Bonus Points + Free Night Certificate

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New limited-time 70k offer. Another credit card has upped their usual sign-up bonus given all the competition recently – this time it is the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase. Thanks to reader Naveen for the heads up. The offer for new Marriott cardholder includes:

  • For a limited time, earn 70,000 Points after spending $2,000 in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Receive 1 Free Night Stay after account approval in category 1-4 locations
  • Receive 1 additional free night stay at a Category 1-5 location every year after your account anniversary date!
  • Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, thereafter $85
  • For every $1 spent, earn 5 points at 3,800 Marriott locations, 2 points on airline ticket purchases directly with airlines, at car rental agencies & restaurants and 1 point elsewhere
  • Receive 15 credits toward your next Elite membership level after account opening and every year after your account anniversary
  • Unlimited Point Accumulation
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees and global Chip and Signature technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

“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 Ink Plus Business Card Review: $500 Cash, $625 Travel, or 50,000 Mile Bonus

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Chase Ink Plus(Update: There is now a 70,000 bonus point bonus available if you apply for this card inside a physical Chase Bank branch. However, the $95 annual fee is not waived as it is for the online offer below. Via FW.)

Chase has a new small biz credit card, called the Ink Plus® Business Card. It turns out to be very similar to the Chase Ink Bold Business card (full review), but with the important difference that the Ink Plus is a credit card where you can carry a balance and the Bold is a charge card that you must pay in full each month. The current APR for both purchases and balance transfers is 15.24%.

The good news is that the Ink Plus has a sign-up bonus, offering 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after your after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months your account is open. You can read about my Ink Bold bonus experience here. To briefly recap:

Ultimate Rewards points are very flexible:

  • Cash. 1 point = 1 cent in cash, so 50,000 points = $500 cash.
  • Travel. 1 point = 1.25 cents towards travel, so 50,000 points = $620 towards travel at the same prices at Expedia or Travelocity (no % markups), split up however you like into multiple tickets, down to the penny. Good for people who don’t like to bother with miles.
  • Frequent flier miles and hotel rewards points. Transfers directly to United miles, British Airways miles, Hyatt hotel points, and Marriott hotel points. Best for folks that are willing to research and maximize their miles. Top up your account to reach an award, an transfer over only what you need.

The card also has the following same Ink Bold features:

  • Named “Best for Travel Rewards for Small Business” MONEY® Magazine, October 2013
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Flexibility to pay your balance over time or in full.
  • Earn 5X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 2X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel each account anniversary year.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs with no transfer fees.
  • $0 Intro Annual Fee for the first year, then $95

You can buy Amazon.com gift cards at Staples and OfficeMax and get the 5x points, effectively discounting them 5% in cash (6.25% in travel), which may also help you with the spending requirement. Based on past experiences, you should be able to get this card and bonus in addition to the Ink Bold card as they are different cards. I already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred personal card and the Ink Bold card, so I’ll probably wait for a bit during my no-annual-fee first year and then try out this new card as well for my business.

Many people aren’t aware of the fact that they can apply for business credit cards, even if they are not a corporation or LLC. The business type is called a sole proprietorship, and these days many people are full-time or part-time consultants, freelancers, or other one-person business. 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.

“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.”

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Horizon Motif Review: Commission-Free, No Advisory Fee, Index ETF Portfolios

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motiflogoMotif Investing is a discount brokerage with a twist: you can buy a basket of up to 30 different stocks or ETFs and the entire basket costs just $9.95 a trade. When I first heard of this company, I thought it would be a cool way to build your own custom ETF. It could be dividend income stocks, your own balanced fund of stocks and bonds, whatever. You can start with as little as $250 and they use fractional shares so all your money is invested.

But you could also make a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds. Motif went one step further and introduced their own Horizon motifs, which come with zero trade commissions as well as no management fees. There are 9 different Horizon Motifs – you pick one of three time horizons (1 year, 5 year, or 15 year) and one of three risk levels (conservative, moderate, or aggressive). Consisting mostly of Vanguard and iShares ETFs, here is the asset allocation for their 15-year, aggressive portfolio:

  • 27% US Stocks (VTI)
  • 17% International Stocks (VXUS)
  • 8% US Real Estate (VNQ)
  • 5% Commodities (GSG)
  • 27% International Total Bond (BNDX)
  • 16% US Total Bond (BND)

Overall, the asset allocation portfolios are pretty similar to those offered by other brokerage firms, mutual fund companies, and “robo-advisor” online portfolio managers. I would note that compared to their competitors’ asset allocation models, Horizon Motifs as a whole have a slightly greater allocation to bonds. Usually an “aggressive” long-term portfolio has 70% to 90% in stocks, while Motif has roughly 60%. Their 15-Yr Conservative is ~50% stocks and their 15-Yr Moderate is ~40% stocks. You can adjust the relative percentages of the ETFs inside the Motif, but that will change it to a custom Motif and thus trades will cost $9.95. (I tried.)

I have an Motif Investing account, and here is confirmation that the trade commission is zero and an illustration of how fractional shares work (click to enlarge):

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Horizon Motifs can be a great way for beginner investors to get started without getting eating alive by fees. The impact of zero commissions is greatest when your portfolio size is small. For example, paying $10 commission on a $250 monthly deposit is an instant 4% drop in your balance. Through this whitepaper, I found that the Motif is rebalanced based on tolerance bands linked to time and percentage variations. Rebalancing would be free as well since it is usually just charged as one trade.

I don’t know anywhere else you can buy a basket of 6 low-cost ETFs for $250 with no commission and have every dollar split into fractional shares so that you are always fully invested and have it rebalanced for you regularly for free. Once you start investing larger amounts down the road, then you can switch to something more customized if desired.

To answer a reader question, Motif is a “real” brokerage firm with the usual $500,000 of SIPC insurance and uses Apex as their clearing firm (same as TradeKing, Betterment, OptionsHouse). They also offer two-factor authentication for security.

Motif Investing does have some new customer promos, but some won’t apply if you only make free trades. You can get a $150 cash bonus if you deposit $2,000 and make 5 trades at $9.95 each. They also have a $150 IRA promotion if you transfer over $5,000 in assets.