Groupon: Starbucks $15 Gift Card for $10

sbuxlatteIt’s back! Wow, haven’t posted a Groupon deal in a while. I really should have shorted the stock when even I unsubscribed from their daily newsletter, but I didn’t have the guts. Now I’m just mad because they deleted my account after not using it for a while, even though I still had unused credit (and I’ll have to open a new one for this deal).

Anyway! Groupon is selling a $15 Starbucks Gift Card for $10. Limited quantities, ends in a week or so otherwise . Why is free coffee so appealing? Over 100,000 sold already. Limit 1 per person.

Remember that you can save even more on your Groupon with cashback shopping sites:

  • TopCashBack ($10 bonus after $10 earned in cashback rewards, expires 11/16).
  • eBates ($10 new user bonus after any $25+ purchase, $5 mininum cash-out)
  • Mr. Rebates ($5 new user bonus, $10 minimum cash-out)
  • BeFrugal.com ($5 new user bonus)

Visa Checkout $15 Statement Credit with Chase Freedom

Chase Freedom Visa

There was previous promo with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, but now there is a another separate promo with the Chase Freedom. Earn a $15 statement credit after you spend $15 or more with your Chase Freedom® card using Visa Checkout. Valid for new or existing Visa Checkout accountholders. Read on, it’s an easy $15 if you have this card.

More people out there probably have the Chase Freedom card. No annual fee and 5% cash back in rotating categories every quarter.

Visa Checkout is a way to pay for things online without have to give a merchant your credit card number. You use a login and password instead. Think Paypal, but Visa-branded. Participating merchants include Pizzahut.com, Shutterfly, Newegg, Staples, Fandango, Orbitz, Gap, and more.

Since these are all online websites, you can also use a cashback shopping portal for many merchants and get a little bit extra back. Some suggestions for a small online purchase:

  • Order a pizza from PizzaHut.com. You must get it delivered, not carry out. I can usually get 2 pizzas for around $20, so a $15 credit would cover most of dinner that day.
  • Buy some movie tickets from Fandango.
  • Go to NewEgg.com and buy a $15 to $20 gift card to a place you like.
  • Buy a gift card from Staples.com

Selected fine print:

This offer is valid from 11/2/2015 through 12/31/2015. To qualify for this offer, you must make a single purchase of $15 or more using your Chase Freedom Visa credit card with your Visa Checkout account during checkout. Limit (1) $15 statement credit per customer or card account. Allow 1 to 2 billing cycles from Visa Checkout purchase for delivery of the statement credit to the Chase Freedom account added to the Visa Checkout account; your card account must remain open and not be in default to receive the statement credit.

TradeKing $200 Cash Bonus Promotion

tk200Promo extended. To celebrate their 10th anniversary, stock brokerage TradeKing is offering a $200 cash bonus for new accounts opened by 12/31/2015, funded with $3,000 or more within 30 days of account opening, and with at least 3 executed trades within 90 days of account opening. You must keep the $3,000 in account equity (minus any trading losses) for at least 6 months.

This is probably the biggest bonus I’ve seen for this account, the standard offer is $50. TradeKing charges a flat $4.95 for online stock trades; so $200 would cover 40 trades. Option trades are also $4.95 + 65 cents per option contract.

Free Morningstar Analyst Reports Via Public Library Card

mstar_logo2Let’s say you are a DIY investor and doing some research on municipal funds. You decide to learn more about the Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt mutual fund. You pull up the Morningstar quote pages (ticker VWITX and VWIUX) and find some useful numbers, plus an analyst report hidden to the public as a “premium” feature.

mstar_quote

You see a 14-day free trial and after some more clicking around, you discover that a premium membership to Morningstar costs $199 a year or $24 a month.

mstar_premium2

Now, I’d like to read the rest of that analyst report, but I’m not sure if it is worth the fee. Well, you may already have access to those analyst reports through your payment of local and state taxes. Yup, the good ole’ public library!

Many public libraries have a subscription to what is called the Morningstar Investment Research Center database. Most offer instant, online access via your library card number and PIN. You should look under the “Databases” or “Resources” section. Some only have a limited amount of offsite licenses, so you’ll have to either ask for a password or you’ll have to read them in a branch. Here’s a screenshot of my free report accessed from the comfort of my home, with all the good stuff blurred out of course:

mstar_fullreview

You can access their analyst reports for stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs, as well as the premium version of tools like Portfolio X-Ray.

Now, if your local library system doesn’t provide this access, you can also look around for other libraries in the region for which you are eligible. Finally, there are some public libraries that offer library cards to non-residents for an annual fee. For example, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina offers library cards by mail for $45 a year (Seniors 62+, $35 a year).

Non-residents of Mecklenburg County can obtain a Charlotte Mecklenburg Library card for an annual fee of $45.00. This amount is approximately equal to the annual property tax a Mecklenburg County resident pays to support the Library. A non-resident library card entitles you to the full services of the Library at all locations.

They also offer access to the Morningstar database. $45 a year is still significantly less than $199 a year, and you’ll get all the other library benefits like access to Overdrive eBooks. Also check out the Library of Fairfax County, Virginia which offers non-resident library cards for $27 a year.

mstar_charlotte

Healthywage Review: Final Results, Tips, Diet Bet Comparison

hw_logoAfter reading academic studies which found that financial incentives were effective in helping people lose weight, I joined both DietBet* and HealthWage in early 2015. This week, I received my winnings from my individual “Healthy Wager” bet at HealthyWage.com. You tell them your body details, how much you want to bet, how much you want to lose, and they’ll calculate what prize to offer you. This is my final review of the entire process, including some helpful tips and a comparison with similar site DietBet.

(* See my separate DietBet Review.)

My original HealthyWage offer was for $100 a month times 9 months = $900 total, for a potential win of $100 (11.1% payout). This was based on losing 10% of my initial weight (~20 lbs) over 9 months (2/2 to 11/3/15). However, Healthywage issues 1099-MISC forms for your total gross winnings (initial bet + profit) when at or over $600. After learning about this, I asked them to adjust my bet so I would remain under this amount. I had already made my first $100 monthly bet, but all future bets were then set to $50. I had already started the bet, so I appreciated this courtesy. Now my total bets would add up to $100 x 1 month plus $50 x 8 months = $500. Times the same 11.1% payout, my total winnings would be $555.56.

Honestly, risking $500 to win $50 didn’t feel like a very good risk/reward ratio, but I wanted both the extra motivation and the ability to compare the two services. Back in 2011, Healthwage used to have a “double down” bet where participants put $150 on the line and won $300 if they lost 10% of their weight over 6 months. I guess they found that to be too generous, as I no longer see it as available.

Initial weigh-in verification. There are three ways to verify your weight:

  1. Video Verification. Smartphone video using your personal scale. The most popular option, and the one that I chose.
  2. Verification by a Fitness or Health Professional – Bring a form to your “local gym, pharmacies, corporate wellness clinics, walk-in clinics, HR reps, nurses, your personal doctor, your personal trainer or your chiropractor.”
  3. Verification at a Weight Watchers Meeting.

I followed their directions carefully, uploaded my video, and both my initial and final videos were accepted with no issues or additional requests.

Very little ongoing support during the challenge. Every month since February, I would see a $50 charge on my credit card bill from Healthwage. However, that was about it. There were no regular e-mail updates. No interim weigh-ins. No fun tokens or prize giveaways. No smartphone app. No encouraging quotes or success stories. No interaction at all.

Upon initial sign-up, I was given my 2-week window for final weigh-in (October 20th to November 3rd, 2015). HealthyWage’s two-week window is definitely more generous than DietBet’s 48-hour window, with the important difference that I was never sent any reminders by HealthyWage when the time actually came. In comparison, Dietbet sent me multiple reminders beforehand. Now, I had the date marked on my digital calendar with several alerts, so I completed my weigh-in by the second day of the window. It is quite possible that if I waited until closer to the final deadline, I would have gotten a reminder. But I wouldn’t rely on it. I got the feeling that they wouldn’t mind if you forgot about that final weigh-in.

This brings me to the important structural difference between HealthyWage and DietBet. DietBet collects participants into groups and then takes a cut from the pooled bets. The winners of each group then split the money from the losers, so that Dietbet makes the same commission amount, no matter how many people win or lose. HealthyWage, on the other hand, makes one-on-one bets with individuals. So whether you win or lose does affect their bottom line. HealthWage is more strict in its final verification requirements (see below), and in my humble opinion this structural difference is the cause.

Extra final verification hoops. Upon final weight verification, you’ll have to submit the verification video again (see above). But that’s not all. I also had to locate and upload a “before photo” and an “after photo”, which could be any photo from “around the time” of the start and end of the challenge. I also had to upload a scan of my driver’s license. Here’s a screenshot of their page asking for additional information. Note the final line in red letters:

Please note, this is you last chance to avoid scrutiny of your account. If you have cheated, do not proceed.

Not exactly giving off the warm fuzzies, are we?

Finally, despite my desire to avoid receiving a 1099-MISC, I successfully referred a few people to Healthwage and received $240 of extra money added my “pot”. (I had to win the challenge in order to get this money.) Since I did win and my final amount was now above $600, I had to provide them with my Social Security number in order for them to fill out the 1099.

Final payout options. There are two options to receive your winnings. A mailed check takes 3-4 weeks to process, with no fee. The other “fast” option is PayPal, which charges a 3% fee. I picked the PayPal option because I didn’t want to wait around for a check. However, they later clarified that it would still take 3-5 business days for Paypal transfer. The 3% fee is actually taken out by PayPal, so HealthyWage actually sends the full amount (they just choose not to subsidize the fee). In retrospect, maybe I should have just waited for the check. Here’s a screenshot:

hw_finalpay

Summary and recommendations. I committed to a Healthywage bet to lose 10% of my initial weight over 9 months. I completed my initial and final weight verifications without hassle, won the bet, and was paid my winnings. However, the process felt rather sterile and business-like. I put $500 at risk and won $55, for a payout ratio of 11%. I also won a bit extra due to referring others.

In comparison, DietBet had a much more online interaction, regular e-mail communication, and a useful smartphone app. It felt more like a friendly, supportive game. I was only able to bet $150 total, but I won $129. That’s a payout ratio of 93% (variable, not guaranteed). This was for a 10% weight loss bet over a shorter period of 6 months.

Both Healthywage and DietBet paid out and fulfilled all of their promises and obligations. My recommendation is that for more fun and most likely better payout odds, I would join DietBet first. If you want extra motivation and the ability to risk more money and thus possibly win more money, add a concurrent HealthyWage bet as well. If I had kept my initial $100 a month bet commitment, my total winnings from both sites would have been nearly $250.

Consumer Reports Online Discount: 50% Off

crapp

Updated October 2015. I’ll try to keep this post updated with any current discount on Consumer Reports subscriptions. Send me a message if you have a tip.

  • Groupon has Consumer Reports digital edition for $15 a year (50% off). You can also pay $29.50 for 1-year of print + online. Not valid for current online or print members or renewal memberships. Limit 1 per person, may buy 3 additional as gifts. If you see this by 10/27/15 you can try code SCREAM3 for an additional 20% off. Otherwise just look for a banner with any current promo code and try to stack them.
  • Reader Ryan comments that you should also check you local library to see if you can get free online access to Consumer Reports articles.
    •  
      I seem to always go in waves with Consumer Reports. I don’t use them for a year, and then I find myself constantly checking out stroller reviews, appliances, used cars for a friend, etc.

BankAmericard® Credit Card Review

bofa_191Bank of America is the issuer behind many different credit cards, but only a few of them carry the “BankAmericard” co-branding. I have written up reviews of the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card and the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card, but this brief review is specifically to cover the “classic” BankAmericard® Credit Card.

Rewards programs. The BankAmericard® Credit Card does not come with a rewards program. There is no cash back, there is no points system.

There is no annual fee. The card also comes with chip technology for security and ease of use internationally.

  • 0% Introductory APR for 18 billing cycles for balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then 11.24% – 21.24% Variable APR.
  • Balance transfer fee of either 3% of the amount of the transfer or $10 (whichever is greater) applies
  • No annual fee
  • The perfect card for those seeking a simple yet convenient-to-use credit card
  • Zero liability fraud protection, so you’re not responsible for any fraudulent charges made on your account

Be careful with the naming structures when picking amongst cards. The BankAmericard® Credit Card is best if you are looking for the longest 0% APR period. Otherwise, if you are primarily interested in rewards cards then I would look at the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ and the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit cards instead.

“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.”

Overcast Podcast App, Premium Time-Saving Features Now Free

overcastappIf you like to listen to podcasts, or are thinking of starting, the full version of the Overcast app (iOS only) is now completely free while remaining ad-free. (There is a patronage option and much accompanying drama that I’ll ignore here.) All of the premium features that used to cost $5 to unlock are now free. Here are the best bits:

  • Smart Speed – skips the silences, saving time.
  • Variable Speed – can play back podcasts a little faster, also potentially saving time if you don’t find it annoying.
  • Voice Boost – adjust the sound so that you don’t have to keep adjusting your volume, saving annoyance.
  • Cellular Downloads – the free version previously only allowed you to download on WiFi.
  • Fast, timely downloads – this app always seems to download new podcasts right after they are available, unlike the default app. It does this using their own servers to help you use less data and battery life.
  • Sync – the app synchronizes across multiple devices.

The bottom line is that the Overcast app is significantly better than the default Apple Podcasts app, and now it’s free both to try and to keep. All upside. You can then decide whether it is worth supporting via the “tip jar” after considering its time-savings benefits. If you previously downloaded the stripped-down version, you may not have noticed that an update will unlock all the features. I do not consider myself a podcast enthusiast, but this app makes listening to them easy enough that now I do it.

I’m afraid I don’t listen to any financial podcasts at this time and thus have no personal recommendations to make. I’m sure there are plenty of good ones out there. For me, podcasts are for the lighter stuff like food and sports. My mainstay is the sports talk show Pardon The Interruption, and that one thing may allow me to drop ESPN TV completely (although I haven’t).

Related: Successful iPhone App Developer Actual Income Numbers

Kashi “All Natural” Class Action Settlement

kashi_logoHere’s another class action settlement involving a popular food which may affect you. Kashi and Kelloggs settled a lawsuit claiming that they mislabeled products as “all natural” or “nothing artificial”. As usual, they don’t admit wrongdoing but they are removing “all natural” claims from their products that contain GMO ingredients.

  • You qualify if you purchased any one of the Kashi products listed here [pdf] between May 3, 2008 and Sept. 4, 2015 (for personal or household use). Kashi makes a lot of stuff besides cereal (GoLean bars, TLC bars, Kashi pizza, Heart to Heart).
  • You must be a resident of the United States, but you can’t be from California (separate lawsuit).
  • If you DO NOT have receipts proving your purchase, you can still file a claim for 55 cents per item, for up to 50 items ($27.50 max total).
  • If you DO have store receipts, you can get back your purchase price with no limit. If you bought Kashi online, definitely search your e-mails or Amazon/store accounts.
  • You must certify under oath that your claim is truthful.

Here is the online claim form, which you must submit by January 19, 2016.

Free $5 Starbucks Gift Card for AT&T Wireless Customers

sbux_cupTing.com has a limited-time promotion offering AT&T customers a free cup of coffee (in the form of a free $5 Starbuck gift card) if they check their phone compatibility with Ting. You’ll need your AT&T phone’s IMEI and your phone number. Limit of one $5 coffee gift card per email address and per active AT&T device checked. Says you should enter by 10/22 but it could end earlier.

Ting mobile service is a simple idea that is saving people a lot of money on their monthly cell phone bills. Check your AT&T phone to see if it will work on Ting and we’ll give you a $5 Starbucks gift card,
no strings attached.

I’ve reviewed Ting before, so you may know they are an MVNO for both Sprint and T-Mobile that works on a pay-only-for-what-you-use basis. With a referral link (that’s my parents phone), new customers can get free $25 in Ting credit towards your phone bill.

But hey, if you have an AT&T phone, why not pick up that cup of coffee? Smartphone users can usually find their IMEI under phone settings very quickly.

BeFrugal.com: Another Cashback Shopping Portal

BeFrugal.com Members

$10 refer-a-friend bonus is back. BeFrugal.com is yet another cashback shopping portal that gives a percentage back on online shopping purchases made through their links. Right now it’s also offering a $10 sign-up bonus for a limited-time to get you started. You’ll need to accrue $25 total in cash back within 90 days to withdraw your rewards. This is more restrictive than previous promos, but if you have enough purchases coming up (holidays?) it might be worth a shot. Promotion expires 11/30/15.

To qualify for a $10 Refer-a-Friend bonus, a) new referrals must click on your unique Refer-a-Friend link and sign up as a BeFrugal.com member through that click-through; b) new members must also confirm their BeFrugal.com account and earn $25 or more in Cash Back (not including bonuses and earnings from non-purchase activity) within 90 days of account creation.

Other sites that I have successfully cashed out from are eBates ($10 new user bonus after any purchase of $25+), Mr. Rebates ($5 new user bonus – minimum cash-out balance is $10), and Chase Ultimate Rewards (no bonus, but can be good value if you use these points).

BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card Review: $100 Bonus, Preferred Rewards Bonus

bofa_cashrewards191The BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card is the mainstream “cash back rewards” credit card branded by Bank of America. In this review, I’ll cover the basic card features but also focus on a lesser-known opportunity – if you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% – 75%. For such “relationship” customers, the bonus can change this card from good to great. Read on for details.

Here are the highlights of this card:

  • No annual fee
  • $100 online cash rewards bonus after you spend at least $500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and 3% on gas up to the first $1,500 in combined grocery/gas purchases each quarter
  • No changing categories and no expiration on rewards
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases AND for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then, 13.24% – 23.24% Variable APR. 3% fee (min $10) applies to balance transfers.
  • Get a 10% customer bonus every time you redeem your cash back into a Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25%-75%. Click “Apply Now” to learn more about Preferred Rewards.

The Preferred Rewards program is designed to rewards clients with multiple account and higher assets located at Bank of America banking, Merrill Edge® online brokerage, and Merrill Lynch® investment accounts. Here is a partial table taken from their comparison chart (click to enlarge):

bofa_pref1

Let’s consider the options. Bank of America’s interest rates on cash accounts tend to be lower than highest-available outside banks, so moving cash over to qualify may reduce your interest earnings. Merrill Lynch advisory accounts also usually come with management fees. However, if you have brokerage assets like mutual funds and ETFs, moving them over to Merrill Edge may actually reduce your costs because at the Platinum and Platinum Plus levels they will actually give you 30 to 100 free online stock trades every month.

I recently moved a little over $100k of brokerage assets (Vanguard funds) over to Merrill Edge to qualify for Platinum Honors. I realize not everyone will have this level of assets to move around, but if you do then it is worth considering. Also, I later realized that it will take a while for my “3-month average combined balance” to actually reach the $100k level and officially qualify for Platinum Honors. Only after that will the 25% – 75% rewards bonus on credit card rewards kick in.

Cash Back Rewards Tiers for Preferred Rewards

Recall that the basic structure is “1/2/3”; you get 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and 3% on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery/gas purchases each quarter (1/2/3). Here’s how the bonuses work out:

  • Platinum Honors 1.75/3.5/5.25: 1.75% cash back on every purchase, 3.5% at grocery stores, and 5.25% on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery/gas purchases each quarter.
  • Platinum 1.5/3/4.5: 1.5% cash back on every purchase, 3% at grocery stores and 4.5% on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery/gas purchases each quarter.
  • Gold 1.25/2.5/3.75: 1.25% cash back on every purchase, 2.5% at grocery stores and 3.75% on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery/gas purchases each quarter.

Note that the terms state “The Preferred Rewards bonus will replace the customer bonus you may already receive with the card.”, which I interpret to mean that you will lose the 10% bonus for redeeming your cash back into a Bank of America® checking or savings account.

Well, I wish my cable company would offer such nice “bundling” incentives, as now Bank of America has managed to convince me to go from only having a checking account with them to now also having a Merrill Edge brokerage account with 100 free trades per month and a new Bank of America credit card.

(Side note: Stack this offer with the separate Merrill Edge brokerage sign-up bonus.)

Not all Bank of America consumer credit cards qualify for Preferred Rewards. Another card that does qualify is the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card (see review). I actually picked the BankAmericard Travel Rewards credit card myself, but for other folks the grocery and gas bonuses specifically available on this card may produce higher rewards. Also, this cards gives you cash while the Travel Rewards card rewards must be redeemed against travel purchases.

“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.”