Hilton Hotels Free Status Match Link

hiltonhonors0Hilton Hotels has a promotion which matches the elite status of any other hotel loyalty program free for 90 days. You can register online at this Hilton Honors Status match link. If you complete four stays in those 90 days, you can keep your Gold status extended through March 31, 2018. If you complete eight stays in those 90 days, you can keep your Diamond status extended through March 31, 2018.

Eligible hotel chains include but are not limited to Choice Hotels, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and Starwood Preferred Guest. As long as you might have even a single Hilton stay in the next 90 days, it may be worth registering in order to get the perks.

TrueIdentity Review: Free Unlimited TransUnion Credit Reports, Free Credit Lock, No Credit Card Required

trueidentity0TrueIdentity by TransUnion is a new identity protection website that is free with no credit card required and no trial memberships. The highlights:

  • Free TransUnion credit reports. Unlimited reports and refreshes.
  • Free Credit Lock feature. Stop access to your TransUnion report with a single swipe or click.
  • Free instant alerts. Includes alerts for new accounts, inquiries or address changes.
  • Free mobile app. Android and iOS.

I decided to sign up and dig around. Here’s a screenshot of the main dashboard (click to enlarge):

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Free TransUnion credit report details. A partial screenshot of my report page is below. As one of the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion already has all your other personal information. I’m glad they let me see it for free. Note that you’ll have to pay to see reports from the other two credit bureaus, Equifax and Experian (see below). The report is free and current, although I can’t seem to find how often you are allowed to refresh your report.

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Free Credit Lock feature details. When you credit report is “locked”, it can’t be accessed by creditors, landlords, or employers. If they ask for it, their request will be denied. Credit Lock appears to be another layer created by TransUnion that is separate from a formal credit freeze (which I believe is regulated by law). A credit freeze is free only if you are already a victim of identity theft, otherwise it costs a fee and you often have to call in to get it lifted. I believe the requests must be submitted during the following times for immediate processing:

Monday-Saturday, 2 a.m.-11 p.m. Central Time
Sunday, 5 a.m.-11 p.m. Central Time

During these times (only a 3 hour gap around midnight during weekdays), the credit lock is pretty much instant (they warn that it may take up to 5 minutes). Therefore, you can theoretically keep your TransUnion report locked at all times, and then lift that lock just minutes before you actually apply for a loan or credit card. That’s my plan. Here’s a screenshot of my post-lock page:

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Free instant alerts details. You can pick from instant e-mail or SMS text alerts. I believe there are alerts via the mobile app as well. They will e-mail you weekly or monthly to confirm that you have no new alerts.

If it’s free, how will TransUnion make money? First, you will see ads for credit products (much like similar credit-related sites). Second, you can upgrade to their TrueIdentity Premium tier, which costs $9.99 a month and adds the following features:

  • TransUnion credit score (VantageScore 3.0).
  • Credit report data from the other two credit bureaus, Equifax and Experian.
  • Phone access to Identity Restoration & Lost Wallet Specialists with up to 1,000,000 in Identity Theft Insurance.
  • Premium alerts which monitor additional databases including black market websites, courtroom records, and payday loan databases.

Bottom line. TrueIdentity by TransUnion offers some handy features for the excellent price of free. No trials, no credit card required. You might be able to get your TransUnion credit report data elsewhere, but the real-time Credit Lock feature is unique. You’ll have to upgrade to $9.99 a month for features like cash insurance or an army of helpers to guide you if you do become a victim of identity theft. But again, there is no need to upgrade, ever. Sign up for TrueIdentity here.

Amazon 2% Balance Reload Rewards Promotion

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Amazon has a targeted promotion for Prime members that offers you a 2% bonus when you reload your Amazon gift card balance using a checking account. For example, if you load $100, you will get $102 in Amazon credit. To see if this promotion is available to you click here to visit the Reload Your Balance page. If you are eligible, you will see the banner below.

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For qualifying transactions, a reward equal to 2% of your qualifying reload amount will be automatically applied to your Amazon Balance after the qualifying transaction has been completed. You must reload your Amazon Balance using the payment method that includes a checking account and linked debit card. The maximum single reload amount to your Amazon Balance may not exceed $2,000.

I’m usually not targeted for these promotions and I saw it, so perhaps it is relatively popular. Note that this promotion isn’t all that valuable if you already purchase things on a 2% cash back credit card, or even better on a 5% back credit card with Amazon as a rotating category. Prime members can also get 5% back with the Amazon Store Card, which is basically a credit line that is only good for Amazon purchases.

However, if you avoid credit cards in general and usually buy things on a debit card, this is an easy way to get a little extra towards your Amazon shopping. Load your balance first via this promotion, get the 2% extra, and then go shopping.

Free 2,000 La Quinta Returns Points Promotions

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Added new 1,500 point offer. You can earn 1,500 free La Quinta Returns points by linking your Visa credit card and your mobile number to your La Quinta Returns account. Valid until December 31st, 2016.

Introducing Redeem Away!™ – a travel industry first from La Quinta Returns™. Now you’re free to redeem your points for lots of everyday purchases, on the go and with a tap of your mobile phone. Benefit exclusively for Visa® credit cardholders. Enroll today and redeem points toward qualified transactions at restaurants, drug stores and more. Get 1,500 points* when you link your Visa credit card and your mobile number to your Returns™ account, now until 12/31/16.

Previously, I shared that you can earn up to 500 free La Quinta Returns points by registering for La Quinta Returns Social Rewards and then using your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter social media accounts:

– Register and Receive 100 points
– Link Your Social Handles to La Quinta and get 100 points per channel
– During Registration, Follow us on Twitter and Instagram to receive 100 additional points for each follow
– Tweet or Instagram with #LQReturns and get 50 points.

These bonus miles aren’t worth a ton, but they can be handy as La Quinta may close your account if it remains inactive for 18 consecutive months.

Free 1,600 Marriott Rewards Points Promotion (500+ Starwood Points)

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You can earn up to 1,600 free Marriott Rewards points by registering at this Chirpify promotional page and then connecting your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter social media accounts for 500 points each (1,500 total points). Afterwards, they will also offer you another 50 points each to follow Marriott Rewards on Instagram and Facebook (100 total points.) Valid until December 7th, 2016.

Due to the ongoing Marriott-Starwood Hotels merger, you can transfer 1,500 Marriott points over to 500 Starwood Preferred Guest points, which will reset the expiration of your Starwood points and have your account considered active for another 12 months.

Best Interest Rates on Cash Reserves – November 2016

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Our family keeps a year’s worth of expenses (not income) put aside in cash reserves; it provides financial insurance with the side benefits of lower stress and less concern about stock market gyrations. In my opinion, emergency funds can have a better return on investment than what you see on your bank statement. In my opinion, having a solid cash cushion is the first step towards financial independence.

I don’t chase rates nearly as much as I used to, but it still pays to shop around. Chase Bank on a 1-year CD? 0.02% APY. Bank of America on a 10-year CD? 0.15% APY. Who buys these things?!? Meanwhile, the rates below vary from 1% up to over 3% annualized.

As of 11/6/2016, below is a roundup of the best rates backed by the full faith and credit of the US government (FDIC-insured, NCUA-insured, US Treasury Bonds, US Savings Bonds). I will try to sort them from the shortest to longest maturities.

    High-yield savings accounts

  • Online savings accounts, everyone’s got one these days. Currently, the ones with a history of competitive rates are around 1% APY. These savings accounts can change their interest rate at any time, so if you’re going to just pick the highest one, be ready to move your money. I prefer the ones with a history of competitive rates, and I’ve been with Ally Bank for over 5 years. Their online savings is currently at 1% APY.
    Short-term guaranteed rates (under 1 year)

  • If you’ve got a big wad of cash that you’re waiting to deploy shortly (just sold your house, just sold your business, inheritance), I say just keep it safe until you’re ready to invest it properly. Palladian Private Bank has a 6-month promotional rate of 1.30% APY guaranteed (maximum initial deposit of $100k) for new accounts. After the first 6 months, the rate reverts back to their normal rate (currently 1.10% APY). Since the initial promo rate is fixed, this makes it the higher 6-month CD rate available.
    Flexible Savings Bonds

  • Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation. “I Bonds” bought right now will earn a 2.76% rate for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. You must hold them for a year, and if you redeem them within 5 years there is a penalty of the last 3 months of interest. While future rates are unknown, at the very minimum it will be competitive with the best 1-year CD rates. More info here.
    Prepaid Cards with Attached Savings Accounts

  • A small subset of prepaid debit cards have an “attached” FDIC-insured savings account with high interest rates. The risks are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). The other catch is that these good features may be killed off without much notice. I pulled my money out of my NetSpend card after the eligible balance dropped to $1,000 (no longer worth the effort for extra $3 a month in interest).
  • Insight Card is one of the best remaining cards with 5% APY on up to $5,000 as of this writing. Fees to avoid include the $1 per purchase fee, $2.50 for each ATM withdrawal, and the $3.95 inactivity fee if there is no activity within 90 days. If you can navigate it carefully (basically only use ACH transfers and keep up your activity regularly) you can still end up with more interest than other options.
    Rewards checking accounts

  • These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with some risk. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. But the rates can be high while they last.
  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 4.59% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY on a $10k balance might be easier to achieve unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. Note that the 4.59% APY requires you to apply and get approved for an additional credit card through them (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses). Keep your 12 debit purchases small as well, as for every $500 in monthly purchases you may be losing out on 2% cashback (or $10 a month on after-tax benefit).
    Certificates of deposit

  • If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. Why not put some money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay an early withdrawal penalty. For example, UNIFY Financial Credit Union (formerly Western Federal Credit Union) is offering a 5-year Share Certificate paying 2.00% APY ($1,000 minimum balance) with an early withdrawal penalty of only 90 days interest. For example, if you withdraw from this CD after 2 years and pay the penalty, your effective rate earned will still be 1.76%. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization, it appears it might be free or at most a one-time $25 fee.
    Longer-term Instruments

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? Did you know that you can buy certificates of deposit via Vanguard’s bond desk? These “brokered CDs” offer the same FDIC-insurance and are often through commercial banks like Goldman Sachs. As of this writing, you can get a 10-year CD maturing 11/9/2026 that pays 2.10% APY. (Unfortunately, current long-term CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.) Prices will vary regularly.
  • How about two decades!? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.10% rate). Think of it as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You really, really want to be sure you’ll keep it for 20 years.

All rates were checked as of 11/6/16.

Discount Mags Employee Discount Sale

moneymag2016DiscountMags.com is running their Employee Discount Sale through Monday 11/7 where you pay what they pay. In my experience, these really are the lowest prices you’ll see from them (although they do run the sale more than once a year). Lots of the mainstream magazines are under $5 a year. Right now is good timing for the holiday season as well, as it takes 4-6 weeks to get your first issue of a gift subscription.

Here are some sample magazine prices during the sale. If you visit their home page directly, you won’t see these special prices.

  • Bloomberg Businessweek. 1 year, 55 issues for $14.78 ($0.30/issue).
  • Consumer Reports Magazine. 1 year, 13 issues for $19.75 ($1.52/issue).
  • Money Magazine. 1 year, 12 issues for $9.79 ($0.82/issue).
  • Outside Magazine. 1 year, 12 issues for $4.79 ($0.40/issue).
  • Martha Stewart Living. 1 year 12 issues for $5.57 ($0.56/issue).
  • The Atlantic. 1 year 10 issues for $4.63 ($0.46/issue).
  • Better Homes & Gardens. 1 year 12 issues for $4.56 ($0.38/issue)

Importantly, DiscountMags does NOT require auto-renewal, where they charge your credit card automatically at the end of the subscription period at a higher price. This mean you never have to call in to cancel, and makes it easier to shop for another deal later. No sales tax, no other funny charges.

LastPass: Sync Passwords Between Devices For Free

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Password manager Lastpass has announced that they are letting their Free users sync their passwords across all devices – desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Mac or PC. Android or iOS. There will still be ads for Free users and other features available only for paid Premium users ($1 a month). Still, anyone can now store all their passwords on the cloud for free. I must use my password manager over 100 times a week as it allows me to have a unique, complex password for every single website. Perhaps this move is partially due to iCloud keychain being free for Apple users?

In case you were wondering, it was Lastpass that was hacked last year, although it doesn’t appear any master passwords were directly exposed. This serves as a reminder that cloud sync is convenient, but with its own set of security concerns. Lastpass also offers multi-factor authentication for additional security, which again you’ll have to weigh against convenience issues.

See also: 10-Minute Digital Privacy Tuneup from Consumer Reports

Instapaper Premium Features Now Free To All Users

instapaper0Instapaper and Pocket are both handy “read it later” services that lets you save and organize articles to read at your convenience (often with better formatting). Instapaper was recently acquired by Pinterest and just announced that they would release all the premium features to all users for free (formerly $30 a year) . These premium features include:

  • An ad-free Instapaper website
  • Full-text search for all articles
  • Unlimited Notes
  • Text-to-speech playlists
  • Unlimited speed reading
  • “Send to Kindle” via bookmarklet and mobile apps
  • Kindle Digests of up to 50 articles

The Kindle Digests are a nice feature if you prefer reading text on your Amazon Kindle. The Text-to-Speech lets you listen to articles aloud while you are driving. Speed reading was a little funky to me, but some people love it. (Try it yourself.) Here are the responses of an Instapaper rep on concerns about the future:

There’s no catch. Our operational overhead is low, and now that we’re owned by Pinterest we can focus on just delivering the best product to our users.

[…] You are not the product. The value that Pinterest gets from Instapaper are improvements to our text parser and aggregate information about links on the web. We have no plans to serve ads.

Competitor Pocket is also completely free, although they do slot in some ads now. They are slightly different, I wouldn’t say one is better than the other for all people.

Free Collection of Investing Books by Meb Faber

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Promotion has ended. Asset manager and author Meb Faber is celebrating his 10th blogiversary by making all of his self-published books free in Kindle format for a limited time (promotion has now ended). Below are direct links to each book. Check first that the Kindle price is $0 (“0.00 to Buy”). Then buy it to own permanently, don’t click “Read for Free”. Grab them now while they are free, and read later. You can read Kindle eBooks on smartphones or on any computer via web browser.

I enjoy reading about these back-tested strategies that worked well in the past. However, before you put your hard-earned money at risk, please realize that even if they continue to work (which is in no way guaranteed), they will still be hard to stick to in real life. At some time, you will underperform other strategies for an extended period of time. You must ride out those low periods in order to achieve any sort of market-beating returns.

His company now offers a software-based portfolio management “robo-advisor” called Cambria Digital Advisor.

LendingClub United Miles Promotion (Both New and Existing Investors)

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LendingClub (LC) is a marketplace lender that offers unsecured personal loans and then sells investment notes backed by those loans. After defaults and fees, they advertise historical returns between 5% and 8%. As an incentive, LC recently started offering up to 100,000 United MileagePlus award miles to investors that bring in at least $2,500 in new money. Here I offer a quick analysis of the investor offer and point out that it is actually available to both new and existing investors, even though that may not be obvious from the website.

Highlights.

  • Offer only valid for taxable Lending Club accounts. (IRAs are not eligible.)
  • Only deposited and invested dollars are eligible for award miles.
  • Lending Club Investor must have UA MileagePlus account activated before investing to qualify. New investors can link online. Existing investors must call or e-mail to manually link your accounts (see below).
  • For existing investors to receive miles, an investor must transfer at least $2,500 of New Funds into an active eligible taxable account and invest the New Funds through the Lending Club platform within 90 days of the commencement of the then-current offer (each, an “Existing Investor Offer Period”).
  • Offer is valid from October 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016 and Mileage Plus miles will only be awarded on new funds transferred and invested through Lending Club during this time period.

Selected quoted text from the landing page:

We’re excited to announce our partnership with United Airlines! Investing on Lending Club just got more rewarding. Right now, receive one United MileagePlus® award mile for every two dollars you invest through Lending Club up to 100,000 miles!

[…] Upon the transfer and investment of the first $2,500 of New Funds, a new investor will qualify to receive 1,250 miles. For every dollar of New Funds transferred and invested in excess of $2,500, a new investor will qualify to receive .5 miles, up to a maximum aggregate bonus of 100,000 miles per calendar year.

The maths. A minimum deposit of $2,500 earns 1,250 United miles. Every dollar above that $2,500 will earn 0.5 miles up to the 100,000 mile limit. If you value United miles at range of 1 cent to 2 cents a mile, 1,250 miles is worth $12.50 to $25. Thus, the bonus value ranges from a 0.5% to 1% bonus on top of the interest you’d already receive.

Existing investors participation details. I confirmed with two different LendingClub representatives that this offer is also available to previous/existing investors. You must first link your United MileagePlus account number with your account. You can contact them via e-mail at EarnMiles@lendingclub.com or phone at 888-596-3159 (7:00am–5:00pm PST, M–F). Provide them with your LC account ID and your UA MileagepPlus Number.

Bottom line. The bonus itself is not big enough to encourage you to invest if you weren’t otherwise interested. However, if you have already decided to invest with LendingClub, definitely don’t miss out on these free miles to boost your overall return. The value is roughly 0.5% to 1% to your investment amount, assuming you bring in at least $2,500 of new money. Link your accounts first before moving over the new money.

As an existing investor myself, I’ve written my share of opinions on LendingClub. I’ll just say two things: Have realistic expectations and diversify. Their advertised historical returns of between 5% and 8% are more realistic than you may have seen elsewhere. As they also note, 99.8% of investors who invest in 100+ Notes of relatively equal size have seen positive returns. It is not coincidence that 100 notes x $25 each = $2,500.

List of Free Movie Streaming Sites Online

streamfree2If you are a cord-cutter but are still looking for some free movie content to stream, here is a collection of (legal) links. Shortly after I had kids, I dropped Netflix as I had no time to “binge” on anything. However, I still like to watch bits of movies now and then to relax and take my mind off of things.

Vudu Movies on Us. This Wal-Mart-owned service just announced that they will allow “thousands” of movies to stream freely online with ads. The catalog isn’t great, but sample titles include Margin Call, Mad Max, True Grit, Abduction, and School Of Rock. Streams at 1080p with Dolby Digital sound.

Yahoo View (formerly Hulu Free). This is where a lot of the free content that used to be on Hulu now resides. TV shows include Blindspot, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Chicago Med, and Empire. Limited movie selection as well.

Crackle.com. This one has been around for a while, and they even have a few original series of their own. Some Seinfeld. I always watch the newest episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Popcornflix. An interesting collection of movies that you might not see elsewhere from independent distributor Screen Media Ventures, LLC. Lots of big stars in their movie flops. Several cheap Disney knock-offs. Also… Inspector Gadget!

Free Documentaries (various). Unfortunately, many of these free documentary sites have lots of sneaky pop-up ads while mostly just embedding YouTube and Vimeo videos. The least annoying ones for me were Documentary Heaven and WatchDocumentary.org.

PBS.org. PBS shows many independent films and documentaries in their Indie Film section. You can also find the classics here like PBS Newshour, Frontline, Masterpiece Theater, This Old House, and Antiques Roadshow.

Most of these are also available via their own smartphone apps (iOS, Android) and streaming box apps (Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Xbox 360). Please let me know if I missed anything good.