5% Cash Back Credit Cards: Rotating Categories Update 2016

Updated June 2016. Activation for 3rd quarter now open. Chase Freedom 5% back on Wholesale Clubs (including Costco, Sams Club, and BJs) extended until September 30th. Other notable 5% categories include restaurants, home improvement stores, and Amazon.com.

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.

Side tip: Sometimes I even load up on gift cards so that I can get the 5% back now but spend the gift cards later.

Chase Freedom VisaChase Freedom® – $150 Bonus 

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 Costco, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club)

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

  • Restaurants
  • Wholesale Clubs (includes Costco, 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 April 1st through June 30th, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Restaurants
  • Movies

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

  • Home Improvement Stores
  • Amazon.com

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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 July 1st through September 30th, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories: (calendar):

  • Hilton Portfolio of hotels and resorts
  • Car Rentals

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 Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi Review

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Updated June 2016; Now open to new applicants. Citi and Costco have released the details of their new co-branded credit cards, the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi and the Costco Anywhere Visa® Business Card by Citi. Here’s a quick overview of the details for each card.

Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi highlights: (For Personal Use)

  • 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.

Costco Anywhere Visa® Business Card by Citi 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.
  • Visa SavingsEdge eligibility. Receive automatic savings after enrollment on qualifying purchases at participating merchants.

Had the Costco American Express? You did not need to apply for a new card. You should have already received the new card in the mail to your registered address. After June 20, 2016, you can 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. You should not have closed your Costco American Express on your own, or you wouldn’t have received the benefits of this automatic transfer.

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. Here is an overview 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 exists both a Visa and Mastercard, but reports are you cannot switch to a Visa if you have a Mastercard.
  • 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 (see review; additional requirements apply).
  • The BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card is a Visa and has the potential to earn you at least 2% and up to 3.5% cash back at Costco on up to $2,500 in purchases per quarter (see review; additional requirements apply).
  • Through the end of 2016, the Chase Freedom Card will earn you 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter. You can even stock up on Costco gift cards bought at Costco.com if you want to max out this limited-time promotion.

This card maintains the overall simplicity of the old consumer 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%) is significant, as it means that you finally won’t be as tempted to use a non-Costco-branded card at Costco! I was hoping for 5% back on gas to match the Sam’s Club card, but I suppose we’ll have to settle for 4%. I would also note that both the personal and business cards now have the same rewards percentages.

I Tried Harry’s Free Razor Trial and This Is What Happened…

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…that’s the ad text that they used to target me, apparently someone who may be interested in bright-orange, modern-looking razor blades. I couldn’t find the exact ad again, but a similar one is to the right. (Alternate title: Harry’s Free Trial Review: Bendy Razor Blades, Easy Cancel)

Well, they were right. I decided to try the Harry’s “Free” Trial which includes a razor and some gel for $3 including shipping. If you don’t like it, just remove the subscription plan in your online account and you get to keep everything else.

Okay, so what happened? The primary reason that I will not be buying any more Harry’s Razors doesn’t involve cost at all. I simply don’t like their design. The blades are proprietary and have a unique “bendy” hinge that I describe as like having a tongue lick you. A tongue that makes it impossible to get the firm shave that I prefer.

I created an animated gif to help illustrate:


via GIPHY

After doing this trial, I found that the Wirecutter review site had a similar opinion:

Rather than clipping to a pivoting axis, the way most modern razors do, Harry’s cartridge attaches with a flexy rubber pseudo-hinge that bends when you press it into your skin. Harry’s claims that this design yields an effect that, like “a paintbrush on a wet canvas … flexes to the contours of your face for precise control.” In fact, the opposite is true: The cartridge yields too much, resulting in a sloppy shave.

I don’t consider myself a picky razor user, for a while I’ve been using a basic Gillette Mach 3 bought from Costco for $1 or under each. (I was surprised to see The Wirecutter also chose a Mach3 blade cousin as its winner.) As I can last more than a month with each razor (dry after each use), I am already spending less than a dollar month on razors. I have not tried the Dollar Shave Club. For me, buying a bulk pack of razors once every two years requires less mental bandwidth than having to manage an online subscription.

I’ll keep the rest of this review short and simple:

  • Ordering was easy, site design is nice, and the trial shipped promptly.
  • Canceling the trial was also easy with no hard sell.
  • I did not like the razor design, and for that reason will not be ordering any more Harry’s razors.

Shaving preferences are very subjective. I would still recommend the Harry’s trial itself.

WalletHub Review: Free Daily TransUnion Credit Score and Report

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Here’s a quick review of a new credit service called WalletHub. While the stated mission is to help improve your financial situation, at its core is a service that offers free credit score, free credit reports, and free credit monitoring. In exchange, it will use your personal data to show match you up with advertised offers like car loans, credit cards, and prepaid cards. Highlights:

  • Free non-FICO credit score, updated daily. Credit score model is the VantageScore 3.0, scale 300-850. Credit bureau is TransUnion.
  • Free daily access to full TransUnion credit report. You can take a look at your full TransUnion credit report on any day, but keep in mind that TransUnion only updates the data once a month.
  • Free daily credit monitoring. Since they are already checking your data every day, Wallethub will send you an e-mail alert if there any significant changes to your TransUnion credit report.

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The competition. As noted, this is not a FICO score but something called the VantageScore 3.0. These “FAKO” scores are still useful for tracking changes to your credit report information. However, competitor CreditKarma.com already offers the VantageScore 3.0 for both your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports. CreditKarma updates your score once a week, as opposed to WalletHub’s daily. Both offer daily credit monitoring based on TransUnion data.

Bottom line. For most people, I would say covering two out three credit bureaus by Credit Karma on a weekly frequency is better than the single bureau on a daily frequency. However, I know there are some folks that are meticulously rebuilding their credit and may appreciate daily score updates. The same folks may appreciate full TransUnion report access. I am satisfied with ongoing daily monitoring from Credit Karma and the free annual report mandated by the government. You could always use both if you are okay with providing both services your Social Security number and other personal information.

Free FICO Score from Wells Fargo Credit Cards and Loan Borrowers

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This post provides updated information and instructions regarding the free FICO score that is available to Well Fargo credit card holders and select loan borrowers. Accessing your own FICO Score will not impact your credit score.

Background. Wells Fargo started rolling out free FICO scores to select credit cardholders and certain loan borrowers in early 2016, with a stated plan of increased rollout throughout the rest of 2016.

FICO Score details.

  • FICO Score version: FICO Bankcard Score 2. This is one of the older FICO score models with score range 250-900 amongst the many FICO flavors. Score version is taken from app screenshot.
  • Credit bureau: Experian
  • Update frequency: Monthly (Approximate)
  • Limitations: Available only to affiliated Wells Fargo customers. As of May 2016, customers with credit cards, student loans, direct auto loans, and personal loans are eligible. Home mortgage and Home Equity Line of Credit customers are “coming soon”. As of May 2016, only available in their smartphone and tablet apps. Desktop access to come later in 2016.

How to find the score. As of May 2016, access to the free FICO score is only available via their Wells Fargo smartphone and tablet apps. Desktop access will arrive later. You can find the mobile app download links here. If you already have it, double-check that your app version is the most up-to-date version.

After installation, sign on to your Wells Fargo account. Go to your Account Summary. Select “View Your FICO® Credit Score” and opt in. Here are some screenshots from the app (credit to j615 of myFICO forums, click to enlarge):

wf_cc1   wf_cc2

If you do not see the “View Your FICO® Credit Score” button, either update your app or check your eligibility again. You must be the primary cardholder; authorized users are not eligible.

Bottom line. If you are already a Wells Fargo customer, they already have most of your personal information, so I see little reason not to take advantage of this free FICO score offer based on your Experian database. I would take note that this is not the more common FICO 08 Classic score model with score range of 300 to 850.

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

Finimize Insider Access for Daily Finance Newsletter

finimizelogoIn response to the flood of information constantly coming at us, there are daily e-mail round-ups that curate and summarize. A popular general news newsletter that I enjoy is NextDraft, but there is also one specifically for finance news called Finimize. Basically, it is the day’s financial events edited into roughly two top stories using straightforward language and takes under 5 minutes to read.

Finimize recently approached me about offering some perks for My Money Blog readers. (I don’t get anything if you sign-up.)

  • All readers who sign up using this special link within 1 week will automatically become a Finimize Insider. You would usually have to refer 5 other friends to get this status. The extra perks include early access to new features like a weekly review edition, and possibly some branded swag.
  • In addition, the first 200 people to sign up will receive an email within 24 hour with an invite to their new limited-release app (iOS only right now).

I’ve subscribed for a while, and the content is more economic and business finance news and less personal finance. You can read past editions in their Archives. Unsubscribe easily at any time.

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard: Limited-Time Offer

Citi AAdvantage World Elite MatserCard ArtThe Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®, from our partner Citi, is their premium American Airlines co-branded card and the sign-up bonus has been bumped up for a limited-time. The highlights:

  • Earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • Admirals Club® membership for you with guest privileges*
  • Complimentary Admirals Club® lounge Access for authorized users
  • 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles from American Airlines after $40,000 spent on purchases every year (January through December billing statement)*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to eight companions traveling with you on the same reservation*

The first special feature on this card is the flexible Admirals Club lounge membership. The 60,000 miles are nice and can be converted to several hundred dollars (or more) worth of airfare. $100 for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry is nice. But the annual fee is a hefty $450. The thing that tips the scales is the Admirals Club membership, which usually costs $500 on its own and allows you and your immediate family (or up to two traveling guests that accompany you) to access over 50 Admirals Club locations worldwide.

You don’t even need to be on an American Airlines flight! You can even give your spouse or trusted friend/family an authorized user card and they’ll get lounge access too, even while traveling separately from you.

You can be flying on any airline, and if that airport has an Admirals Club you and your family can go inside. Lounge access might save you money on certain things like food/drinks and WiFi (and sometimes hot showers), but mostly it just makes the overall flying experience more pleasant. I’ve been to Admiral’s Club with special kids rooms; perfect for delays or layovers. You can enjoy this for an entire year before you have to pay the next year’s $450 annual year.

The second special feature on this card is for the American Airlines elite qualifying miles if you know you can generate the required $40,000 in spending in a calendar year. I’ve given up status chasing for the time being, but if you’re an elite on American, you probably already know the value of accumulating these type of miles. 10,000 elite qualifying flight miles is like going from Honolulu to Los Angeles, roundtrip, twice.

This is a niche premium card; If you don’t care about lounge access and aren’t trying to achieve elite status on American, this card is not for you.

Note the bonus fine print if you’ve had this exact card before:

American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles not available if you have had a Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World EliteTM MasterCard® opened or closed in the past 24 months.

If you fly on American but neither of the two bolded reasons above are attractive to you, I would look into the Citi ThankYou Prestige card instead. (This is how I’ve been checking out all the Admiral lounges.) There are no elite qualifying miles and you need to have a American Airlines boarding pass to gain club lounge access, but it also offers a variety of alternative perks.

“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.”

Netspend Card 5% APY Savings Account Review

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(Update: On 5/31, NetSpend effectively issued a 30-day notice that the rate structure will be changed as of July 1st, 2016 such that the 5% APY will apply up to $1,000 and anything above that gets 0.50% APY. The 5% APY will apply to up to $5,000 until June 30, 2016 which is when the next quarterly interest payment will post. Thanks to all who notified me of this change.)

Prepaid debit cards are a growing niche for the “under-banked” or “un-banked” who can’t or don’t want to use traditional checking accounts to hold their cash. In order to promote the adoption of prepaid debit cards as their sole financial hub, many now offer the option of an attached high-interest savings account.

The NetSpend Prepaid Visa offers 5% APY on balances up to $5,000. For balances over $5,000, it pays 0.50% APY. Even with the balance limit, this is an attractive rate and worth a look even if you don’t need a prepaid debit card otherwise. I’ve had this card open since September 2015, but a quirk of this card is that interest is only paid quarterly, so I waited to see if the 5% APY (4.91% APR) would post correctly. As you can see in the screenshot below, the interest for all 3 months was credited as promised at roughly $20.50 per month. (The 0.50% APY on balances above $5,000 is credited on a separate line.)

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For the purposes of this review, I will not focus on most aspects of the prepaid debit card. I am primarily interested in maximizing the savings account feature and the avoidance of any fees.

Account opening process. Visit the Netspend website and enter your personal details to order a card (name, address, e-mail). No credit check. No application fee. You will eventually need to provide your Social Security number as required by law, since you’ll be opening a FDIC-insured bank account. If you are referred by an existing user (links above are mine, thanks if you use it), both get an additional $20 bonus after depositing at least $40. After signing up, you can also refer your own friend and family for more $20 bonuses.

Once the physical card arrives in about a week, follow the included directions and activate your account online. You will be provided your unique account number and a routing number, which will allow you to make electronic ACH transfers from your external bank accounts. You can also use this information to have direct deposit set up with your payroll or government benefits.

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5% APY savings account funding directions. Previously, you had to upgrade to Netspend Premier to get the 5% APY savings account option. This requirement appears to have been removed. You must use an external bank to “push” money over into the Netspend card. I used my Ally Bank savings account as the transfer agent (screenshot below). I used the account and routing numbers provided, which confirmed that the underlying FDIC-insured bank is MetaBank of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Other banks that they say may be used are BofI Federal Bank and The Bancorp Bank.

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Then, all you need to do is move over $5,000 from your external bank to your Card Balance, and then move that $5,000 over to your Savings Balance. Your Card Balance is the part that can be spent via prepaid debit card, but it will not earn any interest, so be sure to move it over to Savings Balance. They are separate buckets! Here are the before and after screenshots (click to enlarge).

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The Savings Account has no monthly minimum balance requirement and no monthly fees. Transfers between Card Balance and Savings Balance are free, but the number of withdrawals from Savings Balance are limited to 6 per calendar month by federal banking laws.

Avoiding Debit Card fees. Now, the Savings Account has no monthly fees, but the Debit Card does have a choice of plans with their own fee schedules. Since I don’t plan on making any actual purchases using this debit card, I chose the Pay As You Go plan with no monthly fee. Now, with this plan there is also an account maintenance fee of $5.95 per month:

Account Maintenance Fee $5.95 per month (fee applies if Card Account has not had any activity, that is, no purchases; no cash withdrawals; no load transactions; or no balance inquiry fee for 90 days). If enrolled in any FeeAdvantage Plan and your Card Account has had no activity as described above, this fee applies instead of the Plan Fee.

The simple solution to avoid this fee is to load a few dollars once every 90 days via your original ACH transfer source. Most banks will even let you set up an automated transfer schedule; I like every month just because it serves as a monthly reminder to check the balance, APY, etc. You could also use their mobile app and make a check deposit.

Withdrawals. The easiest way to make a withdrawal is again via “ACH pull” from your external transfer bank. Remember, you’ll have to move the funds over from “Savings” to “Card”. Another free alternative is to use the BillPay feature and pay down a credit card bill using your funds. If you have a credit card that you use regularly, you can even make an overpayment and simply hold a negative balance until it gets used up by future credit card purchases. Finally, you could just use the Visa feature to buy something or make an ATM withdrawal (subject to daily limits), but you may be subject to transaction fees.

Additional cards. If you have a spouse or partner, you could both get a NetSpend Prepaid card which would bring your 5% APY limit to $10,000. There are also other cards which offer a similar setup, including Brink’s Prepaid (I have this one as well), Ace Elite, and Western Union. If you had one of each of these (which is still allowed to the best of my knowledge), then that would bring your theoretical limit to $20,000 for an individual or $40,000 for a couple.

Recap. Yes, it really works, as long as you set it up properly and maintain an active account. As compared to a 1% APY savings account, each $5,000 balance at 5% APY would earn $200 more in taxable interest income each year. It is up to you to weigh the potential reward vs. effort, also taking into account the size of your cash balances.

Credit Card Churning vs. Sustainable, Efficient Sampling

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In investing, when a market inefficiency is made well-known and also easy to replicate, you can bet that inefficiency will soon disappear. I was catching up on my magazine stack and saw that Bloomberg Businessweek wrote about credit card churning, where people aggressively sign up for 16 credit cards in a year and bend the rules as far as they will go.

As someone who just came back from Costco, this made me think of their free samples. Manufacturers give out these free samples with the hope their upfront expense will be covered by the additional product sales. Most people will pass on by, some will take one sample, and a few will treat it like their personal buffet line. Now, there are no rules posted, but obviously if everyone takes 10 samples then the system falls apart.

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I’m not hatin’, just observin’. I’ve certainly gotten my share of bonuses in the past. I have a dedicated Google Spreadsheet and know that business card organizers are a great way to keep physical cards organized. (I used to use baseball card pages, but this is more compact and nothing falls out.) However, I am actually quite fine with credit card companies adding some limitations on their bonuses. As the saying goes, I’d rather shear the sheep many times rather than skin it once.

You don’t need to apply for 16 credit cards to earn a healthy dose of travel perks. Keep in mind that for many years, a sign-up bonus of $100 was noteworthy. Right now, I probably won’t write about something unless it is worth at least $500 in total bet value (taking into account both upfront and ongoing rewards, minus any annual fee). This is still a relatively good time for rewards, if no longer the absolute best.

At $500 a pop, just four cards per year will still net you $2,000 in annual perks. Consider it your reward for having a high credit score and good money management skills. (If you don’t have both, don’t do this at all.) Be a sustainable, efficient credit card sampler. Focus on the low-hanging, juiciest fruit only. High value, low work. It’s less stress, less risk, and you can still cover a big chunk of your annual vacation budget every year. I only apply for a maximum of roughly 4 cards per year for myself, and 2 cards per year for my spouse. For example, here are four cards that we have gotten recently that adds up to over $2,500 in value for us:

Back to the Costco free sample analogy. In end, if the product is good, it will be successful. If something isn’t good, giving away stuff won’t matter. For a long time, American Express had the “king” of credit cards points with their Membership Rewards points. But they starting chipping away at the value, and Chase introduced their brand-new Ultimate Rewards points and their Chase Sapphire Preferred card. These days, most people will tell you that Ultimate Rewards are a notch better because they are more flexible and have a higher base value per point.

When you apply for a card, your job is to both happily take the free stuff but also give them a chance to earn your business. Use it for purchases. Try their card website and see how easy it is to pay your bill online or set up automatic payments. Try their points website and see how easy it is to redeem your points. Call up their customer service and see how easy it is to dispute an incorrect charge. If it is a co-branded card, try out the hotels or airlines. See if it fits your lifestyle, be it Four Seasons or Motel 6.

Some can surprise you, especially if you learn about their lesser-known perks. For example, the American Express Delta Platinum SkyMiles card does not heavily advertise that it offers a free economy companion ticket each year upon card renewal. As a couple who regularly flies coast-to-coast on Delta, the free companion ticket has easily offset the $195 annual fee of the card and then some every year, while we also get free checked bags, priority boarding, and improved saver award seat availability.

The article focuses on customers getting stuff from credit card companies. Don’t forget there would be NO bonuses if credit card companies weren’t trying to get your money, either indirectly through the transaction fees you generate and your personal spending habit data, or directly through the interest you pay on your balances. Let them try to earn your business. Keep the good ones. Cancel the ones that fall short. There is nothing wrong with that.

Free 1,000 United Miles with Prosper Daily App (Expired)

prosperdaily0Promo expired early. Marketplace lender Prosper acquired the BillGuard app in late 2015, and has re-branded it as Prosper Daily. Right now, you can get 1,000 free United miles if you register here first with your United MileagePlus number, install the iOS or Android app by 6/30/15 using the link they text you, and then register a new account in the app.

Miles will be posted in 6-8 weeks. United MileagePlus miles currently expire after 18 months of inactivity, so this can be a good way to reset the expiration countdown clock. One per person – I always try to get these types of bonuses for both my spouse and myself.

Prosper Daily highlights:

  • View all of your bank and credit accounts. You provide login credentials to each account, and they will track all your balances. Like Mint app.
  • Budget and bill tracking. They analyze your accounts to track due dates and chart your budget and spending.
  • Free credit score. You must provide additional personal information for this service; I chose not to for now. The score is non-FICO and based on your TransUnion report (I already have that from elsewhere).
  • As with similar services, they will make money by showing you advertisements based on your personal information.

Fine print:

To be eligible, you will need a valid United MileagePlus® account and you must be a new Prosper Daily app user. Each eligible and participating person may earn miles one time under this offer.

To earn miles for this offer, you will need to download the Prosper Daily app from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store, then register in the app. You can then begin using the app by enrolling to receive your free credit score and connecting the financial accounts you want to track in the app. Download by June 30, 2016 to qualify for the miles offer. […] Award miles earned by an eligible participant will be posted 6-8 weeks after download and registration.

Free FICO Score For Everyone via CreditScoreCard, No Credit Card Required

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Discover has rolled out a new service called Credit ScoreCard, which provides everyone access to their FICO score for no charge with no trials or credit card relationship required. (Well, free in exchange for right to market things to you based on your personal information.) Checking your own credit does not impact your credit score. This post provides updated information and instructions regarding this service.

FICO Score details.

  • FICO Score version: FICO Score 8, or FICO 08. This is the most widely used of the many FICO flavors. Score version is directly shown on the website.
  • Credit bureau: Experian
  • Update frequency: Either monthly or when you log in, whichever is longer.
  • Limitations: Available to everyone. You do not have to be a Discover cardholder.

Is this legit? The name is a little generic and perhaps even phishy-sounding, but you can view information at discover.com/free-credit-score, which links directly to creditscorecard.com/registration. The domain registry information matches that of Discover Financial Services.

How to get your score. Here’s a preview of the application and approval process:

  1. You must provide personal information, including Social Security Number. Name, address, etc. This is required for any service that checks your credit score. You do not need a Discover credit card.
  2. You must agree to their Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy. Basically, they will give your free access to your credit score and other credit information, and they will also collect personal information to market Discover products and other services to you. Don’t miss this chart:

    creditscorecard2

  3. Identity verification questions. They will ask you some multiple choice questions based on your Experian credit report data in order to verify your identity. If you don’t pass this quiz, I would go over to AnnualCreditReport.com and get a copy of your report to scan for errors.
  4. Set your personal security questions. At this point, you are approved. You just need to set up the standard security questions like “Who was your 2nd grade teacher?”

What kind of information do you get? The score model is FICO Score 8, based on your Experian credit report. This is the same score model and credit bureau offered by American Express, and is within a few points for me (the check dates are slightly off). The other two major bureaus are TransUnion and Equifax. Note that Discover also offers their cardholders access to FICO Score 8 based on their TransUnion credit report. From their terms:

The FICO® Credit Score we provide is the FICO® Score 8. The score range is 300-850. FICO® Credit Scores are based on information on your credit report, and give you a snapshot of your credit report information at a very specific point in time. As the information in your report changes, your score may also change. According to FICO®, 83% of the population experiences changes to their score by up to 20 points month to month. FICO® Credit Scores as well as other credit scores are based on credit bureau information, and may be different from one credit bureau to the next.

You also get access to data points like Total Number of Accounts, Length of Credit (Oldest Account), Revolving Utilization Percentage, and Missed Number of Payments.

How often is it updated? As often as every 30 days, but only if you log in to the website. Many sites operate this way, as it reduces their costs of grabbing your score if you are no longer interested. Also, they want you to log in so that they can show you advertisements. From the terms:

Unless you cancel this authorization, we’ll pull fresh credit report information for you the later of every thirty days or the next time you log into your Credit Scorecard.

Screenshots. Here’s a peek at mine:

creditscorecard3

Bottom line. CreditScoreCard by Discover is one of the first free services I’ve seen that offers a FICO Score without requiring you to be an affiliated credit cardholder. If you already have access to this score model and credit bureau combination through other means, you may not want another entity to have access to your personal data. If you don’t, you may find this a very reasonable way to get free access to your Experian FICO 8 score.

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

Qapital App Review: Rules-Based Automated Savings Account – Free $5 to Start

qapital0Before we let them take over the world, computers must first prove their worth by helping us become better savers and investors. Importantly, we humans have a horrible tendency to put off saving when we have to manually do it each and every time.

Fintech start-up Qapital intends to fix this by automatically setting aside money based on a customized selection of rules. At it’s core is a free, FDIC-insured savings account held at Wells Fargo with no minimum balance or monthly fees. They are also giving out five bucks to start (details below).

qapital1   qapital3

Here are the current rules available:

  • Round-up Rule: Round up your purchases and save the difference every time you buy something. Ex. You can round to the nearest $1, $2, $3, $4, or $5.
  • Spend Less Rule: If you spend less than your target budget amount, then save the difference. Ex. Spend less than $15 at Starbucks during a week, then save the difference towards a goal.
  • Guilty Pleasure Rule: If you buy something you’re trying to resist, Qapital will automatically save some money for you. Ex. Save $10 every time you make a purchase at McDonald’s.
  • Set & Forget Rule: A traditional rule where you save a fixed amount daily, weekly, or once a month. Ex. Save $50 every week.
  • Apple Health Rule: If you hit your fitness target, Qapital will save towards your goal. Ex. Save $50 towards vacation goal every time you take 500 steps.
  • IFTTT Rules: Use the IFTTT service to trigger a money transfer.
  • Freelancer Rule: Every time you receive a large deposit, save 30% of it towards taxes.
  • 52 Week Rule: Save $1 the first week, $2 the second week, and so on for 52 weeks. (This adds up to $1,378 by the way!)

You must be 18 years old and link up an existing US-based checking account as the funding source. Trial deposits are used for verification using account and routing numbers. To prevent a million little transactions, withdrawals from your checking account to your Qapital account are only done twice a week. You can make move money back into your checking account at any time.

You can also add a credit card such as Citi, Chase, or American Express to trigger the rules, although you can’t use it as a funding source.

If Qapital is free, then how do they make money? They don’t charge any fees directly. They make money by keeping any interest that might be earned on your savings balance. Given that the top savings accounts pay roughly 1% APY, that means for every $100 in the account you’re losing out on $1 a year. They promise not to sell your transaction data.

Get $5 free to start. Right now, Qapital has a refer-a-friend promotion where a new user can get $5 if they are referred by a current user and open a new Qapital account with a least one deposit. Here is my special $5 referral link. Thanks if you use it!

Recap. Qapital is another iteration of “let me save for you” concept, previously seen in the “Keep the Change” program from Bank of America and the “round up to the nearest dollar” system from the Acorns app. Qapital differs in that they offer a wider variety of rule-based triggers, they are free while working with any credit card, and your only option is an FDIC-insured savings account (no stock investing). Overall it is a nice execution, although I predict that this idea will become more common across many different financial institutions over time (i.e. other people gonna copy it).

Setup is relatively easy and the user interface is good; I’ve set up a few rules for myself. I like that you can round up purchases into a simple savings account instead of the tax complexity of buying tiny bits of ETFs. There is no phone number, but there is in-app chat and e-mail support. My question was answered within an hour during their business hours. The app has worked fine so far while rounding up my purchases, but I’ll be interested to see if it keeps my attention several months from now.

More screenshots:

qapital2   qapital4

Next up: Digit.