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

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

  • Earn 80,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Plus, earn 7,500 bonus points when you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Enjoy 1 Free Night Stay at a Category 1-5 location every year after your account anniversary date!
  • Earn unlimited Marriott Rewards points and get free stays faster
  • Earn 5 points for every $1 spent at 4,000 Marriott locations, 2 points for every $1 spent on airline tickets purchased directly with the airlines, at car rental agencies and restaurants and 12 point everywhere else.
  • The fastest way to earn Marriott Rewards points towards free nights
  • The fastest way to earn Marriott Rewards Elite Status.  Receive 15 Elite Credits guaranteeing Silver Elite Status or better.  Plus, Earn 1 Elite Credit for every $3,000 spent on purchases.
  • All for an $85 Annual Fee

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

80,000 points is enough to get you a night at any Ritz Carlton Tier 5 hotel in the world. Or, 80,000 points can get you four nights at any Category 4 hotel. Or, it could get you eight nights at a Category 2 hotel. The free night award can be used for up to a Category 5 hotel. In the top right corner of the redemption chart link, you can view a comprehensive list of what hotels are in any specific category. Here are some options that caught my eye.

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

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

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

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

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

Category 4 Hotels (Eligible with Cat 1-5 Certificate or 20,000 points per night standard, 15,000 if Pointsaver)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marriott Premier Banner 80K

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

“The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.”

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

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

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

Original post:

Plastiq.com lets you pay bills and invoices with a credit or debit card, even if they don’t usually accept them. The service fee is 2.5% for credit cards and 1% for Visa and MasterCard debit cards. However, they run limited-time promotion with lower fees. They will charge your card and send out a paper check to the payee (direct bank transfers to a few), so you’d want to plan ahead for any snail mail delays. They recommend 10 business days to be safe. More ideas from their site:

  • Rent or Mortgage
  • Homeowners Association (HOA) dues
  • Tuition
  • Childcare costs
  • Buying a car, RV, or ATV
  • Income or business taxes

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

Selected fine print:

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

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Why would I want to pay a 1.5% service fee?

Sign-up bonus spending requirements. Sign-up bonuses often having spending requirements. For example, you might get a $500 value bonus but need to spend $5,000. Well, that’s effectively 10% back so if you need a little help to get over that hurdle, it’s okay to pay a 1.5% fee. Here are some recent cards with big $500 value bonuses but also spending requirements:

2% cash back credit cards, or similar. If you have a rewards credit card that offers 2% cash back (or equivalent value in points), then you can still make a slight profit by putting them on your credit card. A current example is the Citi Double Cash Card. For example, if you have a tuition bill or tax bill of $5,000 and you earned 2% cash back while paying a 1.5% fee, your net 0.5% is $50.

Combine a rewards card + 0% APR on purchases. Many credit cards offer 0% APR on purchases for an introductory period of 12 months or longer. If the card also has a half-decent rewards program on purchases, the combination of purchase rewards and spreading out the payments over a year at no interest could be attractive.

Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking Review – New Rate Tiers

ccu_logo_200Consumers Credit Union (CCU) has a Free Rewards Checking account that offers a high interest rate between 3.09% and 4.59% APY if you meet certain requirements. As with similar accounts elsewhere, the catch is if you don’t jump through all of the hoops, you effectively won’t earn any interest at all that month (0.01% APY). As of February 1st, 2016, their rates, balance tiers, and requirements were changed. Let’s take a closer look at the new structure.

Membership
To open a Rewards Checking account, you must be a member. However, CCU has a very open membership policy; basically anyone nationwide can join if they do the following:

  • Join the Consumers Cooperative Association with a one-time $5 fee.
  • Open and maintain a share savings account with a minimum $5 deposit.

Earn 3.09% APY on up to $10,000 + ATM Fee Refunds if you:

  • Complete at least 12 Debit/Check Card point-of-sale purchases (transactions must be made without using your personal identification number [PIN] to count toward the minimum of 12 and must post and clear your account on or before the last day of the calendar month). In stores, select to run it as a “credit” purchase.
  • At least one of the following transactions must post and clear on or before the last day of the calendar month: direct deposit OR ACH debit OR electronic bill payment via CCU’s Free Online Bill Pay.
  • Access Online or Mobile Banking at least once each calendar month
  • Receive e-Documents (enroll and accept the disclosure)

Earn 3.59% APY on up to $15,000 + ATM Fee Refunds if you:

  • Complete all of the 3.09% Tier requirements above, plus
  • $500 or more in CCU VISA Credit Card purchase transactions

Earn 4.59% APY on up to $20,000 + ATM Fee Refunds if you:

  • Complete all of the 3.09% Tier requirements above, plus
  • $1,000 or more in CCU VISA Credit Card purchase transactions

A nice feature is that their online interface has a progress tracker, updated daily, telling you number of debit card transaction and the total spend on your CCU credit card.

ccu_tracker

Tracking is also available via their smartphone app (Apple/Android):

ccu_trackerapp

All tiers will also receive:

  • No minimum balance. No monthly service fees.
  • Free online Bill Pay.
  • Mobile check deposit via smartphone app.

Excess Balances
Note that each tier has it’s own specific APY and balance limitations. Here is a table that shows the APY if you exceed the high-interest balance limits.

ccu_excess

Qualifying Credit Cards
If you don’t have a CCU credit card, the best you can do is the 3.09% APY tier. Here is a list of their credit cards. It looks like the best one is their Visa Signature Cash Rebate Card, which offers a 3% cash rebate on up to $6,000 in “Grocery/Convenience Store” purchases annually, 2% cash rebate for “Gas” purchases, and 1% cash rebate for all other purchases. No annual fee.

Cost/Benefit Analysis
As a benchmark, I choose a “no hassle” high-yield savings account which would roughly yield 1% APY. You could also use a certificate of deposit, but a rewards checking account is liquid with no early withdrawal penalties.

  • $10,000 times 3.09% APY would be $309 per year, or $25.75 per month in interest. $10,000 times 1.00% APY would be $100 per year, or $8.33 per month in interest.
  • $15,000 times 3.59% APY would be $538.50 per year, or $44.88 per month in interest. $15,000 times 1.00% APY would be $200 per year, or $16.67 per month in interest.
  • $20,000 times 4.59% APY would be $918 per year, or $76.50 per month in interest. $20,000 times 1.00% APY would be $300 per year, or $25 per month in interest.

The 3.09% APY tier would be an increase of $17.42 per month over 1% APY, in exchange for tracking 12 debit card purchases a month. If you keep those debit purchases small, then you’d come out ahead by about $200 per year.

The 3.59% APY tier would be an increase of $28.21 per month over 1% APY, in exchange for tracking 12 debit card purchases a month plus $500 in credit card purchases. Let’s say you could earn 2% cash back on credit card purchases elsewhere, but only 1% on a CCU credit card. That is a loss of $5 in (non-taxable) rewards per month, for a net increase of $23.21 per month ($278 per year).

The 4.59% APY tier would be an increase of $51.50 per month over 1% APY, in exchange for tracking 12 debit card purchases a month plus $1,000 in credit card purchases. Let’s say you could earn 2% cash back on credit card purchases elsewhere, but only 1% on a CCU credit card. That is a loss of $10 in (non-taxable) rewards per month, for a net increase of $41.50 per month ($498 per year).

To qualify for the 3.59% APY and 4.59% APY tiers, you’d also have to apply for a new credit card, which would entail a credit check. There is an opportunity cost here, as there are other new credit cards that offer $400 or $500 in sign-up incentives within a few months. You can apply for multiple new credit cards, but once you reach a certain number it will hurt your chances for getting the next one.

My thoughts. These types of checking accounts are not for everyone. Not only do you have to jump through hoops each month to get a reward (higher interest than no-hassle account), if you don’t you’ll actually get punished in a way (lower interest than a no-hassle account). Try to create a reliable system where you satisfy the requirements early on in the month, for example putting some automatic insurance, phone, or utility bills on the credit card. My favorite feature is their qualification tracking; I wish all rewards checking accounts had this feature.

To justify the opportunity cost of getting a new credit card, you should definitely try to reach the 4.59% APY tier. The changes have made the middle 3.59% APY tier much less attractive than before. Otherwise, the debit card-only 3.09% APY tier isn’t bad for more modest balances. Keep in mind that there is no longer any guarantee on how long these rates will last. The positive spin would be that CCU has been running a rewards checking account now for well over 5 years, so hopefully they have crunched the numbers and set the rates at sustainable levels.

Bill Fixers: Let Someone Else Haggle Your Cable and Phone Bills For You

billfixers0

(Update: The NY Times recently profiled Bill Fixers, including some interesting insights and takeaways from the service.)

I’ve written about haggling your cable or satellite TV bill for years, with hundreds of comments sharing both success and failures. I’ve certainly negotiated with a healthy share of customer service reps myself. But I don’t like doing it. I do it because unlike say the electrical company, who tells me “you pay based on how much power you use”, the cable company tells me “if you bother us, we’ll give you a discount, but if you are nice and quiet, you’ll pay double”. Big Data is tracking whether you compare prices or not, so it is in my best interest to announce that YES I COMPARE PRICES!

But what if you could just pay someone else to haggle for you? Deal with the long hold times, the “accidental” hang-ups, and the multiple transfers between supervisors? Enter brothers Julian and Ben Kurland of BillFixers.com, who will do just that. I came across them in this Businessweek article:

Despite all the various life-hacking sites that will teach you how to reduce your cable bill, a recent Consumer Reports survey found that fewer than half of people who attempted to do so were effective. Services such as BillCutterz have been offering some relief, but the Kurlands say their success rate—94 percent—is higher. It usually works out because they’re annoyingly persistent. Calls can last several hours as the brothers are passed among operators, managers, and various departments. The Kurlands often call companies multiple times, looking for different representatives who will cut a deal. “You’ll talk to three people who won’t offer anything, and the fourth one will magically have a discount that no one mentioned,” Ben says.

Which companies will they negotiate with? According to their website, they’ll take a shot at any recurring monthly bill you have. They don’t do things like credit cards and medical bills.

  • Television (Cable, Satellite, IP TV)
  • Internet (Cable, DSL, Other)
  • Landline
  • Cellular (AT&T cellular bills are one of the “easiest”. T-Mobile is one of the hardest.)
  • Satellite Radio

How much does BillFixers cost? They work on a contingency basis. If they don’t save you money, you pay nothing. If they do, they charge you 50% of the first year’s savings. You can pay via lump sum or in monthly payments (which in theory would match up with your monthly savings). Some stats from USA Today:

– Of the 650 clients, 94% receive savings
– The average reduction in bills is greater than $300 per customer
– About $155,000 has been saved for customers since 2014

I don’t doubt that someone with the right skills and motivation can be a good hired negotiator. I suppose the only concern would be giving out personal information like Social Security Number. However, if you give them the right information like account numbers, they shouldn’t need that kind of sensitive information.

If you’ve been thinking about haggling but have been putting it off due to either dislike or procrastination, why not give them a shot?

I’m going to add BillFixers to the growing list of services that will help find you money for free (but if they find it, they may take a cut).

  • CoPatient: Negotiate your medical bills. They take a cut of any successful savings.
  • AutoSlash: Helps you track price drops on rental cards. They make money when you rebook at a lower price with them.
  • Paribus: Helps you automatically request price adjustments on all your online retail purchases. They take a cut of the price drop savings.
  • AirHelp, Refund.Me, AirTaxBack: Get fees refunded for certain cancelled or missed flights to/from Europe. They take a cut of the refund.

Google Cloud Storage Promotion: Extra 2 GB Free w/ Security Checkup

February 9th is “Safer Internet Day”. To help celebrate, Google will add 2 GB of free Drive storage to your Google account if you complete their Security Checkup. By default, free users get 15 GB to share across Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Photos.

The Security Checkup tool is a handy feature that Google users should be running anyway. It makes sure you have covered the following bases: update recovery options in case you forget your password, verify which devices are currently connected to your account, manage access for less secure apps, and verify permissions with connected 3rd party apps and websites.

googledrive1

You should instantly see an increase in your Google storage limit. Two birds, one stone!

googledrive2

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

NFL Extra Points Card Image

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

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

  • Earn 10,000 bonus points after making $500 in purchases over the first 90 days. That’s enough to redeem for a $100 cash back statement credit, or see below for more redemption options.
  • Earn 2 points per dollar spent on NFL and DirecTV® purchases. “NFL purchase transactions are Purchases made at NFLShop.com, participating NFL team retail and online stores and NFL Team stadiums. DirecTV® purchase transactions are Purchases made directly with DirecT®.”
  • Earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • 20% off at NFLShop.com.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR, currently 15.24%, 20.24% or 25.24%, based on your creditworthiness. 3% balance transfer fee, $5 minimum.
  • No annual fee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

superbowl16

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

Got Annoying Monthly Subscriptions? Let Trim Cancel Them For You

trim_nologo2You’ve heard the financial media (and me) talk about the importance of automated savings. Things like recurring 401(k) contributions that don’t require flexing your willpower. Well, the other side of the coin is automated spending. Companies love love love it when you buy their stuff on auto-pilot.

A new start-up called Trim helps you identify your recurring charges automatically and cancel the unwanted ones for you, for free. That sounded like a great idea. You’ll have to provide them the login credentials to your credit card or bank account, or you can snail mail them your statements. (I’d say yes to credit card before bank account.) This is going to sound like a humblebrag, but I wanted to test the service out but don’t have any services that I want canceled. Instead, I had a quick e-mail exchange with Trim CEO, Thomas Smyth:

Me: Trim sounds very interesting. Instead of a phone call, do you mind me asking just how exactly do you cancel the service on behalf of customers? I can understand the algorithmic finding of recurring charges, but wouldn’t you need some detailed personal information in order to perform the cancellation? If so, what type of info would you ask people for?

Thomas Smyth, Trim CEO: Absolutely – it just depends on the biller. For some, like Hulu, we simply send a form email that has the user’s account info (email, name) and the most recent charge on the credit card. For others, like credit reports or gyms, we’ll ask the user for more info, like DOB and account number.

We never ask for confidential info like SSN or full credit card numbers — those are NOT safe to send via text message. Sometimes we do run into billers that require this info — for example, LifeLock. In those situations we can’t cancel it for you (sorry!) but we do send you detailed info on how to cancel it yourself.

So they will try, but it won’t work for every biller. In those cases, hopefully them pointing out your wasteful ways will nudge you towards action. The good news is that the NY Times profiled Trim recently and found it to work pretty well. They even broke down the recurring subscriptions with the highest overall cancellation rates by Trim. Here are just the top 10:

trimnyt

You could read this as the most overlooked services, or the hardest to cancel, or a combination. People tended to want to get rid of their credit monitoring services, gym membership, and Gogo Air the most. The vast majority of people kept their Netflix and Spotify. The New York Times itself gets canceled 10% of the time it is found, so I suppose it is rather brave of them to even point this service out!

Amazingly, they don’t have an app! Trim has an online web interface, but the original service works simply over text messages.

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Free identification and cancellation services are nice. But canceling will always be harder than signing up, so I try to avoid them in the first place. Automate your savings, not your spending.

Related: SubscriptMe is an app that identifies recurring subscriptions by scanning your phone. There are also haggling services like Bill Fixers which charge a finder’s fee based on how much money they save on your behalf.

Citi ThankYou Premier Card Review – 40,000 Bonus Points

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

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

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

What can you do with 40,000 ThankYou Points? Citi has been trying to improve the value and flexibility of ThankYou points, so here is a rundown of what you can do with 40,000 of them. Bonus ThankYou Points not available if you have had a Citi ThankYou Premier card opened or closed in the past 18 months.

$500 in Airfare (ThankYou Travel Center)

With the new Citi Premier card, you get a 20% discount on the standard number of points needed for a travel redemption. The reverse math means 1 TY point = 1.25 cents towards travel. Note that this 25% bonus applies all of your points from all Citi cards linked to the same ThankYou account, thus boosting the value of all your other points. (Compare with the Citi Prestige card, which has 33% bonus amongst and other additional features, but also a higher annual fee.)

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

ThankYou Travel Center screenshot:

ty1

Expedia.com screenshot:

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

Don’t have enough points to cover an entire airfare? That’s okay. Let’s say you found a ticket that want for $200 = 16,000 points, but only have 10,000 points available. Citi now lets you pay the difference, so in this case you can get your $200 ticket for 10,000 points and $75. This makes it much easier to use up all of your points at a 25% premium.

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

You can view your redemption options at ThankYou.com. I took a quick look and it takes 10,000 ThankYou (TY) points to redeem for a $100 gift card to retailers like Gap, Banana Republic, Barnes & Noble, Bath and Body Works, Bed Bath & Beyond, Cabelas, CVS Pharmacy, Kohl’s, Land’s End, LL Bean, Sears, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Staples, and Walmart. So with 50,000 TY points, you could get five $100 gift cards from different stores.

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

New Airline Transfer Options

Citi ThankYou points are also now available to transfer to certain airline mileage programs on a 1:1 basis including Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Etihad, Flying Blue by Air France and KLM, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways. For example, 40,000 TY points can get you 40,000 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles.

New Rewards Structure

The Citi ThankYou Premier now earns:

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

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

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

“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.”

TurboTax Discounts with State Farm Bank Account

ttpremier180State Farm is offering significant TurboTax discounts, but only for select bank and mutual fund customers. The promotional prices for 2015 are: TurboTax Federal Deluxe Online free, Premier $20, and Home & Business $30. A free state return is also included with free e-File for all online versions. Details:

  • You must have at least one State Farm Bank or Mutual Fund account linked to your StateFarm.com online profile. This includes checking, savings, IRA, and credit card accounts. However, if you only have insurance with them, you will NOT get this discount.
  • You must register through this promotion link.
  • Offer limited to the first 25,000 qualified customers who register through State Farm to use TurboTax Online. I don’t recall how fast this ran out, but last year I believe it did run out before April 15th.

Some history… According to my notes, from 2006-2009 State Farm offered TurboTax Deluxe for free to all customers including insurance policyholders. In 2010 or 2011, they started restricting it only to bank and credit card customers.

The easiest way to gain access to this promotion is their regular “Checking” bank account with requires a $25 minimum initial deposit and no minimum balance fee. You must link your bank account number to your online State Farm profile, after which the website will recognize you as a State Farm Bank customer and you’ll be given access to the offer. Here is what you should see:

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Reminder: TurboTax only charges you when you finally file your return. To guarantee that you’ll get this discount, you’ll have to access TurboTax via this StateFarm.com link and not TurboTax.com. Some people choose to “lock in” the pricing by registering and paying before actually finishing your return, but I’d only try this if you’re just using the free Deluxe (unless you are 100% sure you’ll use this software).

State Farm® customers can save on TurboTax 2015 by taking advantage of special offers. To receive your special TurboTax offer, you must access and complete your return through the link below. If you access your return directly from Intuit’s site, special offers will not be applied.

TurboTax Desktop Software 2015 Deals, 40% Off at Amazon

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Tax prep season is coming up soon, and Amazon has some deals going on for desktop versions of Intuit TurboTax for Tax Year 2015. Here are some reasons that you may choose the desktop software version (CD or download) over their more-popular TurboTax.com online version:

  • With desktop software, you keep all your sensitive data (Social security number, income, etc.) on your own home computer instead of on someone else’s cloud server.
  • The desktop software allows up to 5 Federal tax returns (including 5 separate e-Files) per product purchase. So if you have extra family members or close friends, you can share it and save money.
  • Depending on the promotion, buying the download/CD version can be cheaper than using the online version. Note when comparing prices: If the download/CD version only says State download is included and not explicitly State e-File, then you can complete a state return, but the State e-File will be an additional cost of $19.99 per return. (By contrast, the TurboTax.com online version charges $36.99 for the state software add-on, but it includes one state e-File.) My suggestion is to simply print out your return, mail it in for the cost of a stamp and envelope, and pocket the savings.

There are two separate Amazon promotions going on right now. First, receive up to 40% off the desktop software versions of Intuit TurboTax 2015 (either Mac or PC, download or physical CD). You can get only Federal or Federal + State. Promotion link. Expires January 30th, 2016. Example prices:

Buy a bundle including both Intuit TurboTax and Quicken on CDs, and save $20 on the entire bundle. You have to add to cart and go to Checkout in order to see the discount. Note that this is physical CD only, but both Mac and PC versions are on the TurboTax CDs. However, Quicken for PC and Mac are different prices. Promotion link. Example prices:

(Note: Please verify prices, as they have been changing. Pretty annoying actually, as only the $20 off is set, but they keep changing the original price of the bundle instead.)

At the time of writing this post, it works out to getting Quicken 2016 PC for about $10 extra. If you turned around and sold the Quicken on Amazon Marketplace or eBay, you’d probably get more than $10, which means your net price for TurboTax would be even lower than the first promotion (in exchange for some extra work).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free SAT Test Prep from Khan Academy

khan_satWhile catching up on some reading, it was refreshing to see Bill Gates offer a more positive spin with his Top 6 Good-News Stories of 2015. One of them was that the College Board announced free, high-quality SAT practice at Khan Academy.

This past June, the company that created the SAT helped the Khan Academy launch a free online learning portal for any student who wants help getting ready for the SAT or PSAT. Check out the site for yourself. If you’re like me, you’ll look at these interactive tools and video lessons and wish they had been around when you were in high school. I’m very excited about this development because of what it means for kids who can’t afford expensive test-prep classes and tutors.

The interactive software offers both short diagnostic quizzes and full exams, along with feedback and interactive tutorials to make improvements. Apparently, the SAT is being revamped again in March 2016 and reverting back to the older 1600 point scale + optional essay. Ah, fun times.