Archive for the 'Deals & Offers' Category
Saturday, February 9th, 2013
Completely updated in 2013 for Tax Year 2012 returns. Whew, that took a while!
When shopping for tax prep software, always look at the total price including state return software and any additional charges for state e-file. For example, even the free version of TurboTax Online charges $27.99 for state returns with e-File, while other versions charge $36.99. If you buy the TurboTax Desktop version on Amazon with state software labeled “TurboTax Deluxe Federal + E-File + State 2012″, the state e-File is still an additional $20.
More and more states are offering their own in-house online income tax filing. This makes sense, as it reduces errors and saves the state from having to go through all those paper returns. Many other states have partnered with the “Free File Alliance” to offer free online filing for certain groups, usually limited-income households, senior citizens, young adults, and/or active duty military personnel. But again, read through the restrictions carefully and calculate the total price including Federal before committing.
As a baseline, remember that you can get both Federal and State tax prep including both free Federal and free State e-File from TaxACT.com for $14.95. 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.
Below, you’ll find free e-file information for all 50 states. I found it interesting how some states have sleek websites and some still seem stuck in 1997. Be sure to read all the details, as you might have to click through a specific link to qualify.
In alphabetical order (just click on the state):
||Free through My Alabama Taxes (MAT). No major restrictions.
||(no state income tax)
||Various FreeFile options. Income and/or other restrictions apply, but free fillable free PDF forms for all.
||Various FreeFile options. Income and/or other restrictions apply.
||Free through CalFile. No capital gains/losses or Schedule C income allowed.
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Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
I’ve been getting some questions related to credit reports – perhaps it’s the New Year and people are trying to get back on track? Sounds like a good idea no matter what, so here’s a braindump, er… ongoing compilation of all the ways I can think of to get free credit reports, free credit scores, and free credit monitoring services.
Remember that there are three major consumer credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – all with possibly different data. A few of these offers require a free trial and noted as such, which is not preferred but I am not completely opposed to as you’re getting something of value for free. My personal rule is that I always cancel them the SAME DAY, preferably within an hour after saving what I need, that way there is nothing to forget. I’m only human as well!
Free Credit Reports
Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228 to request your federally-mandated free credit report from one or all of the 3 major bureaus. You can get one from each every rolling 12 months, so either get them all once a year or space them out. No trials, no credit card required, although the bureaus may try to sell you a credit score.
Special Situations – Denied Credit, Unemployed, Welfare, Identity Theft. As outlined by the Federal Trade Commission, here are a few other scenarios where you also get a free credit report:
- You were denied credit, insurance, or a job due to information on your credit report. A notice stating which credit bureau supplied the report should be included in your letter of denial. You then have 60 days to request a free copy of your report from them.
- You are unemployed. You’re also entitled to one free report a year if unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days.
- You are on welfare.
- You are a victim of fraud, including identity theft. Place a fraud alert on your file, and then ask for a free copy of your credit report.
Here are the numbers you’ll need (remember to mention FTC if needed):
* Equifax: 800-685-1111; Fraud Dept. 800-525-6285
* Experian: 888-397-3742 (same for Fraud Dept.)
* Trans Union: 800-916-8800; Fraud Dept. 800-680-7289
MyFICO Score Watch Trial. If you sign up for a free 10-day trial at MyFICO.com, you’ll get a free Equifax credit report and Equifax FICO credit score. You’ll need a credit card. You must call 1.888.577.5978 to cancel. My recommendation is to get your credit report and credit score, print or save to PDF, and then cancel immediately afterward on the same day so that you won’t forget later. Hours (PDT) M-F 6am-6pm, Sat 7am-4pm, Sun Closed.
Free Credit Scores
Your credit score. Did you know that you have probably 50 flavors of your credit score. Even the “real” FICO score comes in several different versions, and there’s one per bureau. Personally, I would never pay $10-$20 a pop for a score. Many of the free providers below will also provide selected information directly from your credit reports, like overall credit limit utilization or total balances.
Credit Sesame / Experian. You can get a free credit score based on your Experian credit report from Credit Sesame, updated every month. They make money by sending you offers like lowering your mortgage rate. Screenshot:
CreditKarma / TransUnion. Similarly, get a free credit score based on your TransUnion credit report from CreditKarma.com, updated daily as long as you login each time. Also ad-supported. Screenshot:
MyFICO Trial / Equifax. Same as above… If you sign up for a free 10-day trial at MyFICO.com, you’ll get a free Equifax credit report and Equifax FICO credit score. You’ll need a credit card. You can try to cancel online, but it told me that you must call 1.888.577.5978 to cancel. My recommendation is to get your credit report and credit score, print or save to PDF, and then cancel immediately afterward on the same day so that you won’t forget later. Hours (PDT) M-F 6am-6pm, Sat 7am-4pm, Sun Closed.
Citi Idenitity Monitor Trial. Finally, if you’re willing to spend $1 and endure a trial, you can sign up with Citi Identity Monitor get a free credit score and free credit reports from each of the three major bureaus. After you submit your personal info, enter your credit card info, and choose your username/password, be sure to opt for the “free upgrade” which will give you the 3-in-1 report. You’ll have to call 866-279-9637 to cancel within 30 days. Again, cancel the same day if possible. Hours (ET) M-F 8am-11pm, Sat 9am-6pm, Sun Closed.
Free Credit Monitoring
Credit monitoring checks your credit report data daily and sends you an email or text alert if any activities have occurred – for example, if there was a credit pull by a lender or a new address added. This can provide early warning of attempted identity theft, reporting errors, or simply am overzealous lender checking your credit without permission. Many providers charge $10-$20 a month for similar monitoring, and while it’s potentially useful I’ve never warmed to the idea of paying a hundred bucks a year for it.
Credit Sesame. You can get free daily credit monitoring based on your Experian credit report from Credit Sesame. If you’ve already signed up for the free Experian-based credit score, it’s a very simple opt-in. This service worked like a champ when tracking inquiries for credit card bonuses like my multiple American Express applications in one day. Screenshot:
Selected AAA Members. If you’re an AAA auto club member, you may be eligible for free Experian credit monitoring as well. To see if your local club offers this, visit aaa.com/identitymonitoring.
CreditKarma. Get free daily credit monitoring of your TransUnion credit report from CreditKarma.com, also easy to add if you already subscribe to their free TransUnion-based credit score.
Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013
Here’s some potentially useful information for folks like me that like trying out new credit cards and using the promotional bonuses to boost their income (or reduce spending, however you like to look at it).
As there is a limited-time promo and I want the American Express extended warranty for some upcoming appliance purchases (don’t buy Frigidaire washers/dryers!), I just applied and got instantly approved for three different American Express cards on the same day:
You can see the date and approved status on this screenshot from the American Express application status page:
Now, this isn’t for everyone, and I’m not saying that because it worked for me that it will work for you. If you apply for multiple American Express cards in the same timeframe, the goal is that you’ll only get one credit check “hard pull” on your credit report. (Usually, only one of the three major bureaus, that’s what happened last time.) This makes the temporary ding on your credit score even less than doing them separately, giving you both more cards now and leaving you the opportunity to apply for future offers later. Your chances of getting approved for multiple cards also improves as compared to doing them spaced out, as you don’t have other existing cards in your history.
It’s always good to start each card application with a fresh web browser and cleared cookies as that makes everything standardized. I just open them in a new Chrome Incognito window each time, as it automatically cleans everything up. I apply for each card during a weekday during business hours, although that’s probably just a superstition of mine. I just sit down and apply one-by-one in an orderly fashion, although some people like to hit “submit” simultaneously as they think it helps (again, possibly just superstition).
In any case, I am going for a total of 100,000 American Express Membership Rewards points on a personal and a business Gold card, as well as the Blue Cash Preferred that has a $150 cash bonus plus gives me 6% back on supermarkets all year long (up to $6,000 per year). As always, read the terms and save a PDF copy of each application page; the Gold cards have annual fees with first-year waived, and the Blue Cash Preferred has a $75 annual fee. Please use any credit responsibly, I never carry a balance and never pay interest as it is hazardous to my financial health.
“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.”
Monday, January 21st, 2013
(Short version: Best Buy makes attempt to alienate the last few customers that they have left, and succeeds.)
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Monday, January 21st, 2013
Visit PapaJohnsCoinToss.com and if you guess the Super Bowl coin toss correctly, you’ll get a unique coupon code for a free large 1-topping pizza redeemable at papajohns.com. The thing is, the terms and conditions clearly allow up to 4 four members (age 13+) in a single household to vote. I voted heads + Mrs. MMB voted tails = guaranteed free pizza dinner, retail value $11. If you have 4 people, that’s 2 free pizzas guaranteed.
You must vote by February 2nd; code will be e-mailed out February 4th and will be valid until March 10th. No account needed, no credit card needed, no newsletter sign-up needed. This offer actually worked last year even though I was skeptical… That’s a lot of pizzas to give away, even though it’s good advertising!
Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
Have some unused or unwanted gift cards left over? Gift card exchange site PlasticJungle.com is having a promotion where if you sell them $200 in gift cards by midnight Friday, you’ll get $20 credit towards a future gift card purchase. When you go to the Sell gift card section, you should see this message:
The offer text:
Sell us $200 and get $20 off your next Purchase!
Sell us $200 or more worth of Gift Cards in a single transaction this week and we will give you a $20 credit off of your next Gift Card Purchase from Plastic Jungle! This promotion will run from now until 12:00am PST Saturday morning (1/19/13).
Remember, you can sell multiple different cards, but it has to be in one single transaction. A 10% rebate may get you back close to face value, given that you generally lose about 5-20% when selling your gift cards to these types of places. You can get paid via Amazon.com gift card, check, or deposit into a PayPal account. Many cards can be sold electronically with their unique numbers, while some of them you have to mail in.
You shouldn’t have too much of a problem finding a gift card to buy with your $20 credit, assuming you shop at any chain store (Wal-mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s, CVS, Walgreens). I’ve mentioned before that I often buy Home Depot gift cards from PlasticJungle, at times via smartphone while still standing in the store. I just buy the “eCode” electronic gift card, have the cashier type it in, and I save another 7% on top of my other coupons or discounts.
Monday, January 14th, 2013
LivingSocial is currently offering a $50 Gradsave gift card for $24 (expired). The GradSave College Savings Gift Card can be redeemed for a $50 deposit into any national 529 college savings plan. So if you’re already meaning to contribute some money towards a 529 plan, it’s basically $26 in free money. I bought one and requested it to be transferred it to my daughter’s existing Ohio CollegeAdvantage 529 plan. Limit 1 voucher per customer, beneficiary, account, savings plan, or 529 plan.
(Reminder, you can save a little extra on your LivingSocial deals with cashback shopping portals like eBates ($10 new customer bonus), Mr. Rebates ($5 bonus), and BigCrumbs.)
Additionally, GradSave.com is currently waiving all credit card processing fees on their gift cards as another start-up promotion. So, if you wanted to contribute say $1,000 towards your 529 plan, now you could earn cashback, points, or miles on your credit card for that amount (with no fees) instead of via check or bank account transfer. Also potentially handy towards spending hurdles on $500+ credit card bonuses.
A day later, credit card fees are no longer waived. The fees are rather high as well, even for bank transfers.
529 contributions can be taken out without penalty. If you withdraw any earnings for unqualified expenses, then you will be subject to income taxes as well as a 10% penalty. Still, it may be a lot of paperwork and/or headache unless you keep your records very clean and simple.
Sunday, January 6th, 2013
For 2013, scrappy little Discover is trying something bold. They’ve chucked everything and started fresh with only one card – the new Discover it® Card. (Yes, lowercase, don’t ask me why.) No longer promoted are the Discover More, Motiva, Open Road, Escape, and Miles cards. You may have noticed a lot of commercials about it recently, claiming it to be a “Game Changer”.
After a closer look, the new card is a definite improvement over the old products, with many positive changes in direct response to the competition. Here are the highlights:
- 5% cash back on rotating categories. My favorite feature. As with the Discover More card, you’ll get 5% cash back from select categories each quarter. From April to June 2013, you’ll get 5% cashback at all Home Improvement Stores on up to $1,500 in purchases.
- 1% flat cashback on all other purchases. Previous cash back cards had an initial tier that only gave you 0.25% cash back on the first $3,000 in purchases, and then 1% after that. They’ve finally matched competitors and went for 1% flat.
- Late payment forgiveness. There is no late fee for your first late payment, and your APR won’t automatically increase either. You can also pay-by-phone for free, up to midnight Eastern on your due date. We all make mistakes, so this is a nice addition.
- Direct-to-human, 100% US-based Cashback Concierge who guides a free, personalized online tour to help you get the most rewards for how you use your card. Instead of an intentionally-complicated robot phone tree, you can now select at any time to go straight to a human. I’m a little bummed that this has to be touted as a feature, but sadly it is…
- No annual fee, no fee for going over your limit.
- 0% Intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers for 14 months. 14 months is pretty long for purchases. Intro offer has a 3% balance transfer fee with no minimum.
- No foreign transaction fee. Okay, but I wouldn’t take a Discover internationally anyway. Discover acceptance is good inside the US, but much worse outside.
- Silly things. Things that shouldn’t matter, but still might. The card arrives via UPS/FedEx mail in a sleek-looking box. The card front is made to look like brushed stainless steel with no raised embossing – your name and card number are only on the back. I wonder where they got that idea?
Is it really a game-changer? Well, no. It’s not quite “one card to rule them all”, but it does combine the good bits from several other popular cards (Chase Sapphire, Chase Freedom, Citi Simplicity) to create a competitive offering. I like the 5% categories that are usually different from my Citi Dividend and Chase Freedom.
Discover is still the underdog to American Express/Visa/Mastercard, but it has its own perks. There are bonuses above cash back value for gift card redemptions. For example, you can regularly redeem $40 in cashback rewards for a $50 gift card to Wal-mart or Sam’s Club, that’s 25% extra that you can use even on the 5% back earnings. (Hint: If only Sam’s Club is available, you can use a Sam’s Club gift card at Wal-mart.) Their ShopDiscover cashback portal also often has the highest percentages for online shopping merchants, like 10% at Sears, better than eBates and such. Finally, Discover card has a lot of consumer features like return protection and an extended warranty that extends the manufacturer’s warranty for up to an extra year.
Basically, this Discover card is certainly a worthwhile addition to your wallet, just don’t make it the only card in your wallet.
Existing cardholders. I have not gotten any communication from Discover that my existing cards will be converted to an “it” card in the near future, let me know in the comments if you have. I’m assuming that we’ll eventually get switched over at some point, hopefully soon because it (pun intended) seems to be better.
Update: Readers report that if you call them up, they will convert you to the new card manually (it will not happen automatically). You get to keep your same card number and thus credit history. Certain people with annual fee miles-type cards may prefer to stay, but again I think this card is definitely better than the plain Discover and Discover More cards.
Thursday, January 3rd, 2013
State Farm is again offering their bank customers TurboTax tax-prep software at a great discount. TurboTax Deluxe Online is free, Premier is $20, Home & Business is $30, and State is also included free with e-File for all versions. You can see the offer mentioned here, but with very limited details. Keep reading for how it only takes a one-time $25 deposit and a week’s time for anyone to open an eligible checking account and get this valuable perk.
According to my blog archives, from 2006-2009 State Farm offered TurboTax Deluxe for free to all customers including insurance policyholders. Starting in 2010 or 2011, they started offering it only to bank customers. However, it has been relative easy to maintain a checking account there with a small balance of $100 with no monthly fees. Even at 5% interest, that’s just $5 a year in exchange for what is worth over $40. Plus, it looks like now you only need to commit $25.
My experiment this year was to test if you could simply open up a new account and immediately get free access to TurboTax. I thought that perhaps you had to be a deposit customer for a certain period or there was a cut-off date. Well, it appears that from application to free access takes about a week. Here are my findings.
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Thursday, January 3rd, 2013
Updated. Here’s another $2 in free Amazon MP3 credit up for grabs. Visit this link for the details – you’ll need a Facebook account for this one (real or spam account, you decide).
It should increase your gift card balance for music purchases only. Limit one promotional credit per customer, so my wife and I both jump on these to fill up the iPod. We download the files manually and combine them onto a shared iTunes library. Must be redeemed by 11:59 p.m. PST on January 10, 2013.
Wednesday, December 26th, 2012
Google has finally confirmed on their Official Gmail Blog that Google Voice and Gmail will continue to offer free calls to anywhere within the U.S. and to Canada through the end of 2013. Google continued its tradition of making their announcements very late in the year, although many people expect an advanced notice if they do decide to end this free service in the future (or risk some surprised and angry users). This handy service has been free since late 2010.
This should make the owners of the Obi100 (~$40) and Obi110 VoIP Telephone Adapters (~$50) very happy, as it allows you plug in any standard landline telephone and use Google Voice to make free phone calls. The more expensive model allows you to bridge a traditional POTS landline with your new VoIP gadgetry. The Obihai box has been around since January 2011.
If you don’t have one yet, this means that for under $40 you can get at the very least one full year of free phone service including long distance, with no computer required (broadband internet access is required). There is a one-time $20 fee to port your existing number over to Google Voice. Reader experiences have been overall very positive, with easy installation and the monthly savings can be very significant.
Free Google Voice calls also makes it possible to use your cell phone data plan to make voice calls, including the T-Mobile $30 a month Unlimited Plan.
Thursday, December 20th, 2012
Google has just announced on their Google Play page that you can now upload your music library to Google Play, and they will scan them and keep a copy in the cloud for free and let you stream to your devices as needed. This “digital music locker” is currently limited to 20,000 songs and US users. Microsoft and Apple offer similar services, but charge $25 every year. Tech site AllThingsD suggests that the other companies charge money as this effectively “launders” pirated music into officially paid-for music, and Google probably just paid a big flat fee to make this happen for everyone.
Our new music matching feature gets your songs into your online music library on Google Play much faster. We’ll scan your collection and quickly rebuild it in the cloud – all for free. And we’ll stream your music back to you at up to 320 kbps.
I simply interpret this as a free way to back up all my music files online and not have to worry about a hard drive crash. I was able to upload all my songs overnight – sucked straight from iTUnes – and I can now see and stream them to my phone or computer (or download them). Pretty neat.