Chase Freedom Unlimited Review – 1.5% Cash Back + $150 Bonus

Chase Freedom UnlimitedChase has introduced a new cash back rewards card called the Chase Freedom Unlimited which earns a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases. The new card will be in addition to and separate from the existing Chase Freedom, which has 5% cash back on rotating categories every quarter and then 1% cash back on all other purchases. Here are the highlights:

  • NEW! Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase – it’s automatic.
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn A $25 Bonus when you add your first authorized user and make your first purchase within this same 3-month period.*
  • Redeem for cash – any amount, anytime.
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After the intro period, a variable APR of 14.24-23.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum.
  • No annual fee

1.5% cash back on all purchases might have been a great percentage number several years ago, but there are now at least a few competitors with higher effective cash back rates.

(The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Card is also similar at 1.5% cash back.)

But wait, you actually get Ultimate Rewards Points! As with the Chase Freedom card, you technically earn Ultimate Rewards points with this card, which in turn can be redeemed for cash back. 100 points = $1 in cash back, or 1 cent per point. Therefore, you could change the bullets above to the following:

  • You earn 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on all purchases.
  • Earn a 15,000 Ultimate Rewards point bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn a 2,500 Ultimate Rewards point bonus when you add your first authorized user and make your first purchase within this same 3-month period.*

Why does this matter? If you have also have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (or Ink Plus business card), then you can merge your earned points together and transfer all the points in your account into a selection of hotel points and airline miles. If you value those miles/points at more than 1 cent per point, then your 1.5X rewards from this card can be significantly higher. Again, you must have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card as well. Examples:

– You could earn 1.5 United miles per dollar spent.
– You could earn 1.5 Hyatt points per dollar spent.
– You could earn 1.5 British Airways Avios per dollar spent.
– You could earn 1.5 Southwest Rapid Rewards points per dollar spent.

If for example, you placed a perceived value of 1.5 cents on each United mile or Southwest Rapid Rewards point, then you’d receive 2.25 cents of perceived value per dollar spent with this card. Your actual numbers will depend on your own specific redemption choices.

There are no other credit cards with no annual fee that offer such high redemption rates on every purchase, not even from the special co-branded cards from each airline or hotel. Keep in mind though that the Chase Sapphire Preferred itself does have a $95 annual fee. But if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card already (like I do), then this card gives me 50% more points on base purchases at no additional cost.

Recap. As a straight-up cash back rewards card, the 1.5% cash back of the Chase Freedom Unlimited can be exceeded by other 2% cash back cards. However, if you or your spouse also has the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, then this card improves by allowing you to receive the equivalent of 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on every purchase. If you value other travel points like United miles, Hyatt points, or Southwest Rapid Rewards points, then by earning Ultimate Rewards you can obtain solid rewards value and flexibility from this card.

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

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Successful haggle update, April 2016. Shortly after the NY Times profile of Bill Fixers came out, I submitted a request for them to help me lower my Time Warner cable bill. I had haggled with Time Warner in the recent past, but was currently back on regular pricing, so I figured I’d give them a shot. It took them about two months to get around to my request due to the flood of interest they got after the NYT article, but here were my real-world results:

  • $263.52 reduction of bills over the next 12 months, verified.
  • They gave me a 20% discount on their fee (half of first year savings) due to the delay, so I owed them $105.41.
  • One of the discounts they haggled for me ran for 24 months, which added up to another $83.26 in savings on which I owed no fee since they only charge for the first 12 months.
  • My total net savings: $241.37

The only work I did was to scan and upload a copy of my cable bill, and provide a personal security question and answer (not sure if it was right, or if they had to use it). I understand that some people may not feel comfortable with this, but I did not have to supply my bank account number, credit card information, Social Security number, or birthdate for this situation.

Original post:

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.

Free FICO Score from Bank of America Credit Cards

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This post provides updated information and instructions regarding the free FICO score that is available to Bank of America credit card holders. (Thanks to reader Andy for the tip.)

Background. Bank of America started rolling out free FICO scores to select cardholders in late 2015, with a stated plan of increased rollout by the end of first quarter of 2016 (March 31st, 2016).

FICO Score details.

How to find the score. You can find the free FICO score on your online account access. The free FICO program is currently not available on mobile apps or the mobile website.

After logging into your BofA.com account, you must opt-in by first going to the “Tools & Investing” tab and clicking on “Learn about credit scores”. Then click on the “Enroll Now” button and accept the terms of the free FICO program.

Here are some screenshots from the website (click to enlarge):

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Here are screenshots of the actual score page (click to enlarge):

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Fine print:

You will be able to view up to a 12-month history of your FICO® Scores in Online Banking, starting when you enroll and for each month up to 12 months after enrollment. After 12 months the history display will re-start. Additionally, you will see two key factors affecting your most recent FICO® Score, except in limited circumstances where TransUnion does not provide us with both key factors. Customers with newly opened credit card accounts may not see their first FICO® Score in Online Banking for up to 60 days after enrollment. In certain circumstances, a FICO® Score may not be available from TransUnion for various reasons, e.g., having a limited credit history. If your Bank of America consumer credit card account(s) are closed by you or us, we reserve the right to end your participation in the FICO® Score Program. You can unenroll at any time by going to the Tools and Investing tab in Online Banking.

Here is additional information about other major credit card issuers with free FICO programs:

RingPlus: Basic, Free Cellular Phone Service – 1000/1000/1000 Talk/Text/Data

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Update March 2016. It has been six months and I have been enjoying my free cell phone service from RingPlus with no hassles or unexpected charges. I still don’t use it for my primary business/personal line, but at this point I’d be comfortable using it as a kids’ or grandparents’ low-usage line. It’s tough to beat $0 a month (not even taxes!). Some quick points for prospective new customers:

  • They are still rolling out new plans all the time. As of today, a new member can still get 1000 minutes, 1000 texts, and 1000 mb of data for $0 a month ongoing with a one-time $25 upfront balance top-up. I still have my initial $10 top-up sitting in my account. Be sure to read the rules.
  • Starting April 17th, you can no longer buy a new prepaid phone and activate it on RingPlus. Up until now, you could for example buy a $50 Moto E meant for Boost Mobile but activate it on RingPlus instead with no problems (assuming it was brand new and had never been activated on Boost Mobile). The Moto E is a very decent phone for fifty bucks. But starting April 17th, Sprint won’t allow this anymore. The good news is that if you activate before that date, Sprint has agreed not to retroactively kick phones out. If interested, get yours before the deadline! Details here.
  • You can still buy eligible used, off-contract Sprint phones. Be sure to verify eligibility with this BYOD checker. Right now, you can get a used Sprint Samsung S4 for about $100 or a used Sprint Apple iPhone 5 for about $130 on Swappa.com.
  • In general, the customer service is spread quite thin, so you should be willing to navigate their forums for some self-directed help.

Original post:

RingPlus is a Sprint MVNO that offers cheap cellular phone plans, starting at… $0. You can bring over an off-contract Sprint phone (check eligibility) or you can buy one from them (slightly more expensive that on secondary market). They make money partially from ads – ads play whenever you call someone instead of the normal ringing. When your friend picks up, the ad stops immediately. You also pay for any overages past your free allotment. There are no contracts and no activation fees.

Recently, Ringplus has been aggressively courting new customers with limited-time plans. RingPlus free plans are usually only open a for a limited window, and then it closes for a while. But recently, their plans have been getting more generous, with special super-generous plans available for a few hours only. These have very little notice, but it’s worth checking their site daily if you are very interested. For example, I was able to jump on a plan with 1000 min, 1000 text, and 1000 mb every month for free. The fine print states that I must keep a non-zero balance, otherwise I will be charged a $10 top-up that will apply to any future overages.

Here are all their current plans and details on promo plans. Be sure to read the whole page for the rules for each specific plan. If you miss one round, be on the lookout for future phases. The most important thing is to find an eligible phone and activate it during the window. It can be an ancient flip phone from Virgin Mobile (Sprint MVNO). Later, you can swap the phone out for 99 cents and keep the free plan.

You will need a credit card on file, although some of their plans don’t even require a credit card (but come with much fewer free minutes). No additional activation fee. Not even additional taxes are due on the zero plans (taxes are due on top-ups). Here’s a screenshot of their current plans, but again they change daily.

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Here’s a screenshot of my dashboard that tracks your usage:

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Are there any catches?

  • You have to sign up for their free plans during certain availability windows. That means you’ll need the ESN of an eligible off-contract Sprint phone waiting around, ready to go. If you’re like me, you have to resort to asking all your friends if they have any old Sprint phones you can have.
  • In the past, RingPlus has discontinued their free plans without much notice if they can’t line up enough advertisers in your calling area. That would be annoying, especially if you invested good money into a Sprint phone. Have a backup plan.
  • Honestly, I don’t know if giving away this much free talk and data is a viable business model. They are definitely trying to grow customer base and sacrifice short-term profitability. Again, know that they may cease operations with little or no notice. Plan ahead as to how you would quickly port your number to another cheap service.
  • If your phone is not eligible, then they may de-activate your plan in the future, even if you manage to activate it initially.
  • You must maintain activity on your plan. If you don’t make a call every 60 days (may differ by plan), they will de-activate your account and you’ll have to pay a fee to re-activate.
  • If you do sign up and decide to link your credit card, know that overages cost 2 cents per text, minute, or MB. MMS picture messages are at an additional cost (4 cents each). Roaming is available, but those overages are much more expensive. I would disable roaming completely on your phone to avoid such surcharges.

In case you were wondering, this is not a VoIP-only service like FreedomPop as normal calls use the Sprint voice network. However, free WiFi calling is an option so you can save your minutes. I know there are some RingPlus users out there as readers, so please share and discuss in the comments!

New Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi Review

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Citi and Costco have finally released the details of their new co-branded credit card, the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi. However, the new card is not available for new applicants until at least June 20, 2016. Here’s a quick overview of the card details based on their FAQ and full T&Cs.

Already have the Costco American Express? You do NOT need to apply for a new card. There will not be an additional hard credit check. This new Visa card will automatically be mailed to the user’s address on file in May 2016. You have to wait until June 20, 2016 to start using it. At that time, any cash rewards and/or debt balance will be transferred over to the new card, and your Costco American Express will be closed automatically.

Do not close your Costco American Express on your own, or you won’t receive the benefits of this automatic transfer.

Card highlights:

  • 4% cash back on eligible gas worldwide, including gas at Costco, for the first $7,000 per year and then 1% thereafter. You will not get 4% cash back for gas purchased at superstores, supermarkets, convenience stores and warehouse clubs other than Costco.
  • 3% cash back on restaurant and eligible travel purchases worldwide
  • 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Worldwide Car Rental Insurance and Worldwide Travel Accident Insurance.
  • Damage & Theft Purchase Protection is included, which may cover you for repairs or refunds for items you purchased with your Costco Anywhere Card that are damaged or stolen within 120 days of purchase (90 days for New York residents).
  • No annual fee (with paid Costco membership).
  • Will also serve as your Costco membership card.

The rewards will accrue in the form of “Costco Cash Rewards”. This means you’ll get a paper coupon snail-mailed to you once every year in February based on your previous year’s spending, which you can either (1) use as payment for goods directly at the Costco cash register or (2) convert to cash or check at a Costco customer service desk. You may also do a partial redemption at a cash register and they’ll give you the remaining balance in cash. Coupon must be redeemed in person on or prior to its expiration date of December 31 in the year in which it is issued.

Commentary. I appreciate that this card maintains the overall simplicity of the old card, while slightly improving the rewards percentages. The bonus category percentages went up (new Visa is 4/3/1, old AmEx was 3/2/1). The improved 2% cash back at Costco and Costco.com (formerly only 1%) means that you won’t be as tempted to use another Visa card at their stores. I was hoping for 5% back on gas to match the Sam’s Club card, but I guess we’ll have to settle for 4%.

In terms of the competition, the new Fidelity Rewards Credit Card is another Visa card that should get you 2% back on your Costco purchases. The Citi Double Cash Card is available as both a Visa and Mastercard, but reports are that you can ask Citi to switch from one to the other (update: readers report that you can only go from Visa to MC, not MC to Visa). Finally, the BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card is a Visa and has the potential to earn you up to 2.625% back at Costco in the form of statement credits towards travel (requirements apply).

5% Cash Back Credit Cards: Rotating Categories Update 2016

Activation for 2nd quarter 2016 now open – includes Sam’s Club and BJs Wholesale clubs!

The credit cards below offer a hefty 5% cash back on certain categories that rotate each quarter. It takes a little extra attention, but I also rack up over a hundred dollars in additional rewards per year without changing my spending habits. None of these have an annual fee, so it costs me nothing to keep them all around. New cardmembers often also get an initial sign-on bonus.

Chase Freedom VisaChase Freedom® – $150 Bonus 

From January 1st through March 31st, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Gas Stations
  • Local Commuter Transportation (includes taxis, subways, local commuter buses and trains)

From April 1st through June 30th, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Grocery Stores (not including Wal-Mart and Target purchases)
  • Wholesale Clubs (includes BJ’s and Sam’s Club)

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Enroll each quarter at ChaseBonus.com. As long as you activate by the end of the quarter the rewards are retroactive. All other purchases earn 1% back, with no tiers or expiration of rewards. Currently, the Chase Freedom® card is offering $150 bonus cash back if you sign up and make just $500 in purchases in your first three months and a $25 Bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within this same 3-month period. No annual fee.

Discover it 14 ImageDiscover it® Card

From January 1st through March 31st, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Gas Stations
  • Ground Transportation (includes taxis and Uber)

From April 1st through June 30th, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Restaurants
  • Movies

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Enroll after logging into your online account (look on the right-hand side). 5% rewards won’t apply until after you activate your rewards, so it is best to activate now before you forget. New applicants can get their earned Cash Back doubled at the end of the first year.

Citi Dividend Platinum Select Visa CardCiti® Dividend Platinum Select® Visa® Card (Existing cardholders only) From April 1st through June 30th, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories (calendar):

  • Drugstores
  • Fitness Clubs

This a grandfathered card that is no longer available to new applicants. Log into your online account or call 1-800-231-0891 to activate the rewards each quarter (starts upon activation, not retroactive). The total cash back limit is $300 earned per calendar year.

U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card. What makes this card unique is that you get to choose the two 5% cash back categories every quarter, out of a preset selection of niche categories like “Fast Food” or “Sporting Goods Stores”. You also get to choose a single 2% cash back category from a preset selection of broader categories like “Gas Stations” or “Grocery Stores”. 1% cash back on everything else. No limit on total cash back earned.

As you’ll see below, getting 2% is not that special, so this card is best if you spend significantly in the available niche categories. Also, you must remember to choose your categories each quarter! If you do not choose your categories, all purchases revert to only earning 1% cash back for that quarter.

Finally, get a better “Everything Else” card! Don’t settle for the “1% on everything else” that these cards offer. The following cards currently have the ability to offer cash back rewards as high as 2% or even greater. Please read my card-specific reviews for details.

“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.”

New JetBlue Card Review from Barclaycard

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JetBlue has announced two new consumer credit cards – the JetBlue Card (no annual fee) and the JetBlue Plus card ($99 annual fee). These are both issued by Barclaycard, as JetBlue recently ended its credit card relationship with American Express. Are they worth getting? Here’s my brief review of the card highlights and the value proposition breakdown.

Had the JetBlue Card from American Express? You do not need to apply again. Your AmEx card will automatically be replaced with the new JetBlue Rewards MasterCard, issued by Barclaycard, in late March 2016. The JetBlue Rewards MasterCard is slightly different that either card described below and is only available to grandfathered users. It has a $40 annual fee, but you can also request your card to be converted to one of the cards below.

Highlights of the new JetBlue card:

  • Limited-time offer: Earn 10,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
  • Earn 3 points per $1 spent on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per $1 spent at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases including cocktails, food and movies.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No blackout dates on JetBlue-operated flights & redeem for any seat, any time on JetBlue flights.
  • Chip-card technology and $0 Fraud Liability protection.
  • 0% introductory APR for first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that a variable APR will apply, 12.24%, 20.24% or 25.24%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • No annual fee.

Highlights of the new JetBlue Plus card:

  • Earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
  • Earn 6 points for every $1 spent on JetBlue purchases; 2 points for every $1 spent at restaurants and grocery stores; 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Free first checked bag for you and up to 3 companions on JetBlue operated fights when you use your JetBlue Plus Card.
  • Mosaic benefits after spending $50,000 or more in purchases each year.
  • Get 10% of your points back every time you redeem to use toward your next redemption
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points every year after your account anniversary
  • Annual $100 Statement Credit after you purchase a JetBlue Getaways Vacation Package of $100 or more
  • No blackout dates on JetBlue-operated flights & redeem for any seat, any time on JetBlue flights.
  • Chip-card technology and $0 Fraud Liability protection.
  • $99 annual fee.

What are the TrueBlue points rewards worth? You earn JetBlue TrueBlue points on your purchases, which are best redeemed for JetBlue flights. There are some other options like newspaper or magazine subscriptions, but I won’t cover them here.

  • JetBlue TrueBlue works on a revenue-based system. You can book any flight without blackout dates, but the points required depends on the current cash cost of the flight. This is different than a chart-based system, for example might require 25,000 points for any flight within the 48 contiguous states (subject to blackout dates and availability).
  • A reasonable estimate of value is 1 points = 1.4 cents towards a Blue, Blue Plus, or Blue Flex fare. The exact value may vary, but that is the average that I found and the variance is low. Ex. 10,000 points would cover $140 in airfare. See calculation example below.
  • The value of a free checked bag is $15 to $25 one-way, per person. Depending on fare level, JetBlue now charges for checked bags. If you buy it separately on a base fare, a checked bag will cost $20 one-way upfront or $25 one-way at the ticket counter. If you buy the Blue Plus fare which includes one checked bag, that usually costs $15 more one-way. At $30 to $50 roundtrip, the value of the free checked bag feature can add up quickly if you travel as a family or group.
  • Families can share and pool points together, with no transfer fees.
  • TrueBlue points don’t expire.

Every 10,000 points can be redeemed for $140 in airfare. This means 2X points back on restaurants and groceries can be redeemed for 2.8% back in the form of TrueBlue airfare. The 3X points back on Jetlue-operated flights can be redeemed for 4.2% back in the form of TrueBlue airfare. The 6X points back with the Plus card on Jetlue-operated flights can be redeemed for 8.4% back in the form of TrueBlue airfare.

This is in addition to the existing 3X points for TrueBlue members buying Blue airfare, and the 3X points for anyone booking JetBlue flights online. If you have Mosaic elite status, you also get another 3X points.

Calculating the value of a JetBlue TrueBlue points. You can test for yourself quite easily. Here is a randomly chosen, roundtrip San Francisco (SFO) to New York City (JFK) flight. Screenshots are below. It would have either cost $423.30 in cash, or 29,400 points + $11.20 in taxes. The value of a point comes out almost exactly to 1.4 cents per point:

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Recap. The new JetBlue card from Barclaycard can be a good value for regular customers of JetBlue and their free DirecTV. You get extra savings when purchasing JetBlue airfare on the card, and the rewards are free JetBlue airfare. The standard version offers a limited-time sign-up bonus as well as perks with no annual fee. The Plus version with $99 annual fee is best for frequent fliers who can take advantage of the free checked bag feature and also the 5,000 point anniversary bonus. However, if you don’t fly JetBlue enough to have the opportunity to either earn or spend the points, then you should just stick with a more general travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or a top cash back card like the Citi Double Cash.

Navy Federal Credit Union 0% APR No Balance Transfer Fee Promotion

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NavyFed Credit Union has a limited-time promotion going on until Saturday, April 30th where if you do a balance transfer from an external financial institutions to your existing Navy Federal card, you’ll get a 0% APR for 12 months with no balance transfer fee. (All NavyFed cards now have no balance transfer fee, but usually the APR is 10% to 18%.) It is unclear if this offer is targeted to specific customers as it is not mentioned on the home page, but it appears you can simply log in and try for yourself (or call in).

Membership eligibility for NavyFed is primarily restricted to military personnel including Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force – including retirees and family members – but also includes some civilian employees in the Department of Defense. Similar previous offers from NavyFed have used “existing” in their terms to suggest that new credit card applications are ineligible, but that wording does not appear on this offer.

You can save big when you transfer your high-interest credit card balances to your Navy Federal credit card. Make a balance transfer to your Navy Federal credit card and get a 0% intro APR for 12 months. After that, your standard rate will apply. Plus, pay no balance transfer fees.*

This is a solid offer as it has been harder to find a no fee 0% APR balance transfer offer these days even though interest rates are still relatively low. However, you’ll note that Chase is not mentioned in their little balance transfer fee comparison chart as the Slate® Card from Chase is also currently available with a 0% intro APR for 15 months with no balance transfer fee on both balance transfers and purchases and $0 annual fee. You must initiate your balance transfer within 60 days of opening the account.

Both cards are good opportunities to lower the interest rate on your existing balances and accelerate any debt payoff plans. You can even pay off student loans.

Redeeming Citi Prestige ThankYou Points For American Airlines Flights

tyaa0It has been nearly a year since I picked up my Citi Prestige card (review), and I’ve done my best to take advantage of the available perks:

– $250 in Airfare credit for 2015
– $250 in Airfare credit for 2016
– $100 statement credit to offset my TSA PreCheck / Global Entry membership
– Free access to Business Class lounge at Vancouver International Airport via Priority Pass (2 adults, 2 children)
– Free access to Admiral Club lounge at Los Angeles Airport (2 adults, 2 children)
– I reserved a free round of golf ($210 value) at the Ko Olina Golf Course on Oahu, Hawaii via GolfSwitch. Here’s a picture of me at Ko Olina trying to avoid their water(fall) hazard.

You know I was going to get my value out of that $450 annual fee! If I travelled more, I could’ve gotten more usage out of the lounge access, but that’s all I could manage this year.

The final thing for me to do is to redeem my 50,000 ThankYou points (plus the points earned from making purchases on the card). As noted in my review, the easiest way to maximize value is by redeeming the points for any economy flight on American Airlines. (I’m sure you could come up with a higher value via conversion to Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines miles and getting business class tickets.) Every 10,000 points = $160 in American airfare, so 50,000 points = $800 in American airfare. (For other airlines besides American, the conversion is every 10,000 points = $133 in airfare.)

In order to get the 1.6x value, you need to book while you have an active Citi Prestige card. The flight itself can be scheduled far ahead of time. Otherwise, you can still keep the ThankYou points with another linked valid ThankYou card (no annual fee options available), but you won’t have the improved American Airlines redemption option.

How to redeem. You can either log into your Citi Prestige account at Citicards.com and then click on the ThankYou points link, or go directly to ThankYou.com. Once there, click on “Travel” and then “Flights” as shown in the screenshot:

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From there, it works like any other flight booking website like Expedia or Travelocity. Input your desired flight details, and it will show you options. The advantage here is flexibility, as there are no geographic limitations or blackout dates. Here are the results of a roundtrip flight during the summer from San Francisco to Honolulu for $571 or 35,687 points:

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Quick math confirms the 100 points:$1.60 value ratio.

Are the Citi ThankYou Travel Center prices the same as AA.com or Expedia? Yes, for every search that I’ve done. Here is a screenshot of American Airlines website for the exact same date and flight details as above, showing the same $571 cost:

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In fact, for another route the Citi Travel center actually showed an additional cheaper flight option with a stopover, while AA.com only showed the more expensive, direct flight.

What if you don’t have enough points to cover the entire flight? Use the Points + Cash option. Citi allows you to split the cost up. You can use up every ThankYou point available at the 100 points:$1.60 value ratio, and then pay cash for the remaining amount.

For example, let’s say the flight you want costs $200 and you only have 10,000 ThankYou points. With your Citi Prestige card, you can book the flight for 10,000 points ($160 value) and $40 cash. Any leftover cash amount can be charged on the Citi Prestige and thus be covered by the $250 annual airfare credit (it doesn’t have to be used up all at once either, and applies to any airline).

Free State Income Tax E-File Options For All 50 States (Updated 2016)

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Re-checked and updated for 2016 (Tax Year 2015). With commercial tax prep software, it is always wise to note the cost of your state return and e-File as it may actually cost more than your federal return. As such, you may wish to do your state return separately. Based on their current, regular published prices:

* Got a simple return? This year, TurboTax has an “Absolute Zero” promotion where you can get Fed + State + Fed eFile + State eFile for $0. However, you must have a simple-enough tax situation so that you can file Form 1040A or 1040EZ, including a taxable income of $100,000 or less and claiming the standard deduction rather than itemizing deductions. TaxACT also charges $0 if you file 1040A/EX.

Now, the convenience that these programs offer may be worth the extra money to you. But there may be other options available. States that levy individual income taxes fall into three categories:

  1. They offer all taxpayers free electronic filing via official state-supported software.
  2. They offer all taxpayers access to free “fillable forms” which are basically electronic versions of the paper forms where you can type in numbers and any mathematical calculations are done for you. If your state tax returns are relatively simple, this is all you really need.
  3. They allow commercial vendors via the “FreeFile Alliance” to offer free online filing for certain groups, usually through income limits, age restrictions, and/or active duty military personnel. The vendors in turn make money when some folks end up not qualifying and have to pay at the end.

Below, you’ll find free e-file information for all 50 states. See my lightning review of TaxACT, TurboTax, and H&R Block for why it may be worth it for some folks pay more for the time-saving or audit-protection features of the “brand name” products.

In alphabetical order (just click on the state):

State Restrictions
Alabama Free electronic filing using through My Alabama Taxes (MAT). No income restrictions.
Alaska (no state income tax)
Arizona File using AZ-specific fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Arkansas Various FreeFile options; Income and/or other restrictions apply.
California Free electronic filing using through CalFile. No income restrictions. No capital gains/losses or Schedule C income allowed.
Colorado Free electronic filing using through Revenue Online. No income restrictions.
Connecticut Free electronic filing using through TaxPayer Service Center (TSC). No income restrictions.
Delaware Free electronic filing through official state website. No income restrictions.
Florida (no state income tax)
Georgia FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Hawaii Free electronic filing through Electronic Filing (ELF). No income restrictions.
Idaho FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Illinois Free electronic filing through MyTax Illinois. No income restrictions.
Indiana FreeFile options available through INfreefile; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Iowa FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Kansas Free electronic filing through KS WebFile. No income restrictions.
Kentucky FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Louisiana Free electronic filing through Louisiana File Online. No income restrictions.
Maine Free electronic filing through Maine FastFile. No income restrictions.
Maryland Free electronic filing through their iFile service. No income restrictions.
Massachusetts Free electronic filing through WebFile for Income. No income restrictions.
Michigan FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Minnesota FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Mississippi FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Missouri FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Montana Free electronic filing through Taxpayer Access Point (TAP). No income restrictions.
Nebraska Free electronic filing through NebFile. No income restrictions.
Nevada (no state income tax)
New Hampshire Free electronic filing through e-File New Hampshire. No income restrictions. (No state personal income tax, but there is tax on investment income.)
New Jersey Free electronic filing through NJ WebFile. No income restrictions.
New Mexico Free electronic filing through New Mexico Taxpayer Access Point. No income restrictions.
New York Free electronic filing of select forms online with New York State Income Tax Web File, but note that New York law prohibits commercial software from charging an additional charge for e-filing.
North Carolina FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
North Dakota FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Ohio Free electronic filing through Ohio Online Services. No income restrictions.
Oklahoma Free electronic filing through Oklahoma Taxpayer Access Points (OkTAP). No income restrictions.
Oregon File using OR-specific fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Pennsylvania Free electronic filing through PA DirectFile. No income restrictions. Free Fillable PDF Forms also available.
Rhode Island FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
South Carolina File using SC-specific free fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
South Dakota (no state income tax)
Tennessee Free electronic filing through state website of Hall Income Tax. No income restrictions. (No state personal income tax, but there is tax on investment income.)
Texas (no state income tax)
Utah Free electronic filing through Taxpayer Access Point (TAP). No income restrictions.
Vermont FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Virginia File using VA-specific free fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Washington (no state income tax)
Washington DC File using DC-specific free fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
West Virginia FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Wisconsin Free electronic filing through Wisconsin efile. No income restrictions.
Wyoming (no state income tax)

 
Whew, that took a while. Please share this if you think it’ll help others! Also let me know if you find any errors or changed links.

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express – 35,000 Points Limited-Time Offer

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Limited-time offer. The sign-up bonus for this SPG American Express is now 35,000 Starpoints with the annual fee waived for the first year. Ends March 30th, 2016. This is the highest level the bonus has been, which is good to know since you can only get it once – “Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have or have had this product.”

The travel rewards card that has been in my wallet the longest is the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. It is quite famous in the travel junkie circles, but not very well known otherwise. Once you understand the combination of flexibility and value, you will better understand why this is my favorite hotel rewards card and also the only annual fee card that I’ve kept consistently over the last 7+ years.

Highlights:

  • Limited-time offer: Earn 35,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • New: No Foreign Transaction Fees on international purchases.
  • New: Receive free in-room, premium internet access. Booking requirements apply.
  • New: Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide. Enrollment required.
  • Earn free nights at over 1,200 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries with no blackout dates.
  • Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.

My personal review:

  • When redeeming towards hotel stays, I regularly get 2-6 cents of value per point, more than often the value you’d get from airline miles. Get free stays in hotels that otherwise charge $300+ a night.
  • Rather have miles? You can convert 20,000 points to 25,000 miles, which is 1.25 miles per dollar spent, 25% more miles than most other airline-specific cards.
  • Easy transfers mean you can “top off” a frequent flier account to get to that coveted reward ticket level. Your miles aren’t worth anything until you actually use them!
  • You can convert just a few miles to keep your other miles from expiring.

Either I’ve had one, or my wife has had one, or I’ve had the business card version of this card for the last 5+ years. Transferring points within between household members is quite easy and free.

Starwood Points transfer to Frequent Flier Miles

The first reason why this card is so useful is that Starwood points (or Starpoints) can be converted to miles to major domestic airlines and several international ones. This includes Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, and United. Most transfer at a 1:1 ratio (1 Starwood point = 1 frequent flier mile), unless otherwise noted. For example, the ratio is lower for United (2:1 means 2 Starpoints = 1 United mile.

Imagine that you’re only a thousand miles short of a free ticket, but you need to buy a ticket and would really like to make it free. Although there may be other options that involve spending money, you can simply “top off” your balance by transferring as little as 1,500 miles to the specific airline programs that you want. You can even convert a specific number of points. Just need 2,854 miles here and 1,567 somewhere else? No problem.

With most airlines, your miles expire after a period of inactivity. But since any activity counts (not only flying), I could quickly transfer 1,500 miles over in order to save 20,000 hard-earned miles from expiring.

  • Aeromexico Club Premier
  • Aeroplan/Air Canada
  • Air Berlin
  • Air China Companion
  • Air New Zealand Air Points (65:1)
  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  • Alitalia MileMiglia
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club
  • American Airlines AAdvantage
  • Asia Miles
  • Asiana Airlines
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • China Southern Airlines’ Sky Pearl Club
  • Delta Airlines SkyMiles
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Etihad Airways
  • Flying Blue
  • Gol Smiles (2:1)
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Japan Airline (JAL) Mileage Bank
  • Jet Airways
  • LAN Airlines LANPASS Kms (1:1.5)
  • Miles and More
  • Qatar Airways
  • Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus
  • United Mileage Plus (2:1)
  • US Airways Dividend Miles
  • Velocity Frequent Flier
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

For every 20,000 points you convert, you get an additional 5,000 point bonus. So 20,000 Starwood points = 25,000 miles on the airlines listed above. That’s 25% more miles per dollar than those airline-specific credit cards (although the waived baggage fees are appealing).

Great Hotel Rewards Card

Starwood is a growing collection of over 1,000 mid-scale to very-upscale hotels in nearly 100 countries, from the business-oriented Four Points and Sheratons to the upscale W and Westin hotels. This card has come in very handy for travel to international and bigger US cities.

Short-notice and emergency stays. All room taxes are included when you use points, and there are no blackout dates unlike other hotel programs. I’ve used them in a pinch, burning just 3,000 points for a last-minute $120 a night room at the Vancouver Airport Four Points (now Category 3).

Luxury international hotels. I’m usually happy with a Holiday Inn Express by the airport for a business trip, but when traveling for leisure it can be very convenient to stay downtown near the action and sights. In a city like Paris or Rome, this can mean big bucks. With this card, I’ve stayed at $300 a night hotels like the W New York, Westin Madrid, and Westin Venice. Being able to stay up late into the night in Venice instead of having to leave was amazing. If you redeem for 4 nights in a row in a Category 3 or higher hotel, the 5th night is free.

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Cash and points option. Don’t miss “cash and points” opportunities. For example, I found a $400 room at the Westin Rome in Italy or W Hotel New York Times Square for 8,000 points + $150 a night. Run the numbers yourself using the booking engine at SPG.com and look for the “SPG Cash & Points” option. The value of 30,000 points can be easily greater than $500.

This last option is not the best value, but for the purposes of setting a last resort and baseline value, 9,500 Starpoints = $100 gift card at Amazon.com.

“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 is 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.”

Pay with Discover Card Cash Back Points at Amazon.com ($15 First-Time Bonus)

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If you have cash back rewards accrued from Discover credit cards, you can use them to buy eligible items at Amazon.com. The redemption rate is $1 in Cash Back Bonus = $1 to spend at Amazon, which is the same rate as their statement credit redemptions. The only potential added benefit is the lack of minimum redemption amount (and any linked promotions…).

You’ll need to connect an eligible Discover credit card that earns Cash Back rewards, including:

First-time user bonus for Amazon Prime members. There is a first-time user bonus for up to $15 off your order when you use Pay with Points with Discover for the first time and are an Amazon Prime member (trial membership doesn’t count). The terms state this is a targeted offer, but I was able to use this successfully despite not being sent this offer directly. An important tip from the terms is the following:

If you are enrolling in the Shop with Points Program for the first time or have just become a Prime member, please be aware that it may take up to 72 hours before your promotional code will be accepted and applied.

Here is the page to sign up for Shop With Points using Discover. Again, you may need to wait 72 hours if you just signed up before applying this code.

Here are the directions, via FW:

  • Add products sold and shipped by Amazon.com to your Shopping cart.
  • Choose a Discover Shop with Points enrolled card as a payment method.
  • Enter the promo code DISC16EVER in the box provided on the checkout page, and pay for at least part of your order with CashBack Bonus
  • Up to $15 of savings will be reflected on the final checkout page.

Here is a screenshot of my successful application of this offer, using only $1 of Discover Cash Back (click to enlarge):

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(No, I didn’t actually buy the $500 Eero Mesh Router system, but I was just researching it as I’ve been having some WiFi coverage issues in my house. Sounds cool, but pricey.)