Verizon Wireless 8% Customer Loyalty Discount

vzIf you have Verizon Wireless but don’t already have a good employee or education discount on your plan, you may want to try this Customer Loyalty Discount at vzw.com/appreciation. You may qualify for up to 8% off of your monthly access fee. Note the following fine print:

*Discounts apply to plan monthly access fees of $34.99+ and data features of $24.99+ when added to a plan of $34.99+. On Share Everything and More Everything plans, discounts apply only to the Account Access fees. Prepaid, already discounted and promotional plans are not eligible for discounts through this program.

In addition, after reading through the Fatwallet and Slickdeals forum threads, please note the following:

  • Already discounted plans are not eligible (as noted in highlighted text above).
  • Submitting the form will attempt to apply the discount. Even though the page suggests that you are only checking your eligibility (“complete the form below to see if you qualify”), it will in fact attempt to apply the discount to your line immediately.
  • Your employee discount may be removed. Basically, be careful before submitting the form. If you have for example a 15% employee discount and sign up for this plan, the new 8% discount will actually replace your existing 15% discount. You will have to re-validate your employee discount if it is removed, requiring additional time and effort. A previously grandfathered employee discount may also be lowered upon re-validation.

Despite these warnings, I bet there are plenty of Verizon customers out there without a corporate discount that wouldn’t mind shaving a few bucks off their monthly bill.

Hanscom Federal CU Thrive Review: 3% APY High Interest Starter Account

savebuttonbank(Update: It has been almost exactly a year since I posted about this unique savings account, and I just cashed out my CU Thrive funds with interest. I initially wrote about this account during a limited-time 6% APY promotion, but the rate is now 3% APY and has been steady for the last year. I have updated this review to reflect current conditions and my own experience holding this CD until maturity.)

Hanscom Federal Credit Union (HFCU) has a CU Thrive account, which works like a certificate of deposit that rewards consistent saving. The rate is set for 12 months, and during those 12 months you can transfer up to $500 every month from a HFCU checking account. No monthly fees. However, you cannot make any withdrawals during those 12 months, or you will be subject to an early withdrawal penalty of 90 days interest.

This product is not meant for big balances, it is meant to encourage a modest savings habit. The interest rate of 3% APY is triple what the top high-yield savings accounts offer right now, and more than double what the top 1-year bank CDs are offering. NCUA-insured!

A bit o’ math… At 3% APY, if you maxed out this account and set aside $500 a month for 12 months, at the end you’d have put in $6,000 and earned about $90 in interest (~$97 if you made every transfer on the 1st of the each month by my quick calculations). Not life-changing, but again federally-insured and triple what you could get at another bank. $6,000 also happens to be just about the same amount as a full Roth IRA contribution. Hint, hint.

At the end of the 12 months, all accrued savings plus earned dividends will be transferred into your primary savings account. Each member can only have one CU Thrive account open at one time, but after one 12-month period ends you can open up another one (assuming it is still offered). Full disclosure (PDF).

Eligibility details. To open a CU Thrive account, you must first open an HFCU checking account. HFCU offers a free checking account with no direct deposit and no minimum balance requirement. To open a checking account, just must be a member. Like most credit unions, membership is open by family, employer, or by membership in a partner organization (which makes it open to nearly everyone). You must also keep $25 in a share account as long as you are a member.

However, if you are referred by an existing member, you can also join without any other affiliation and you can currently get an additional $30 bonus after being an active member for 90 days, and the referring member gets $30 as well. If you’d like, here is my referral link.

Account opening process. I started the online application and said I would join the Nashua River Watershed Association for a one-time $35 fee (I didn’t know about the refer-a-friend option at the time). I had to provide the usual personal information and then answer questions based on my credit report to verify my identity. Based on my free credit monitoring, they did not perform a hard pull on my credit report. You can fund with an online bank transfer but they also gave me the option to fund with credit card up to $2,000. They didn’t mention if this would be considered a cash advance or not, but it showed up as a purchase on my American Express card. Finally, you must print out, sign, and mail in a signature card. You can also open an account in-person. All of their physical branches appear to be located in Massachusetts.

One-year update. Over the past year, I had set the maximum $500 to be transferred every month to my CU Thrive account from my HFCU Checking account. I made 11 transfers but missed one because my checking balance was too low on the date of automatic transfer. When that happens, the account basically just skips the transfer. There is no penalty, you just don’t get to earn interest on that money. I called them but they said there was no way to replace that transfer, even if I moved more money into the checking account a day later. Other than that, everything went very smoothly and I was paid my interest as promised. At the 1-year maturity date, the funds were automatically transferred to my HFCU savings account and the CU Thrive no longer shows up on my online account page. I guess now I can open up another one if I wanted to.

(Side note: I discovered that Hanscom Federal has paid a “Loyalty Dividend” to its Credit Union members for over 15 consecutive years. For 2014, they paid a 2% bonus on dividents earned and consumer finance charges paid over the year. So on top my my $78.46 of interest earned in 2014, I earned another $1.57 in bonus loyalty dividends.)

I think this account is nice for people looking to build up a savings habit, but it really works best if you use HFCU as your primary checking account. Juggling it as an additional piggy-back account is do-able but you have to keep on top of your transfers to avoid idle cash earning zero interest.

When it comes to paying a one-time fee to join a credit union, I like to see that the credit union has a history of offering member-friendly products. In addition to the CU Thrive and free checking options, HFCU also has a competitive Home Equity Line of Credit (HELoC) with no application fee, no annual fee, and no closing costs if you keep it open for 24 months. I’m thinking of opening one just to have around, does anyone have experience with this HELoC?

Fandango Movie Ticket Discounts: 2-for-1 Fridays + 20% Off Gift Cards

fanplus1Back for Summer 2015. Fandango has brought back their Visa Signature summer promotion from April 24th to August 21st. 2-for-1 movie tickets on Fridays! You can also get 20% off Fandango gift cards which can be used any day of the week and can be instantly redeemable online.

2-For-1 Movie Fridays. If you buy two or more tickets via Fandango.com/visasignature on a Friday, one of those tickets will be free at checkout (up to $19.50 value, including Fandango convenience fee). Works with IMAX and other premium theaters. This should also work with the Fandango Mobile App “TIXPRESS” feature if you have a Visa Signature as the stored payment. No promo code required.

Tickets can be purchased on Friday for all Visa Signatures and Wednesday-Friday for Chase Visa Signatures, but it must be a Friday showing. Limit 1 complimentary movie ticket per Visa Signature card, per period of 30 days following the date of offer purchase. Maximum one (1) registered email address per seven (7) day period regardless of number of Visa Signature card or a valid U.S. issued Visa Infinite card.

Note that this means if you have more than one Visa Signature card, you can participate more often (especially if you use multiple e-mails). Check your credit cards, you may be surprised to have one already as many had big sign-up bonuses recently. The following are all Visa Signature cards:

20% off Fandango Gift Cards. You also get 20% off gift cards bought in $25 increments, which is basically $5 off $25 and valid any day of the week.

Limit four (4) discounted Fandango Gift Card purchases per Visa Signature card per month (maximum of $100 in Fandango Gift Cards).

Again, this is per Visa Signature card. The service fee can be annoying, but these promotions still make it a net discount. If you are a member of AMC Stubs, you can get the Fandango service fee waived at those theaters (membership costs $12 a year). I must say that being able to buy tickets from my phone is quite nice.

I’m not sure if these stack with other promotional codes, but their fine print says that they can’t be combined with other offers.

American Airlines Learn and Earn: Free 1,000 Miles

aa1000American Airlines has a another easy trivia game where you can earn 1,000 free AAdvantage miles. You’ll also be entered to win two First Class round-trip tickets to anywhere they fly.

Just watch some videos and answer some questions about their program… and you can skip to the last 5 seconds of each YouTube video if you wish. (I had some problems skipping past the videos on Safari, but Chrome worked fine.) The questions are pretty easy to figure out, although they seem to vary. Here are the ones I got with answer hints:

  • Exploring your account, you can do… all of the above.
  • Not an Elite level… iron.
  • Most people redeem miles for… flights.
  • Dining rewards are from…. dining.
  • Earn miles from Citi credit cards on… all of the above.
  • American flights daily… 6,700.

A one-time maximum of 1,000 AAdvantage bonus miles can be earned per AAdvantage member. Additional bonus miles cannot be earned by watching the videos more than once. Your bonus miles earned will be saved upon completion of registration. If you leave before registering, you will have to start over when you return.

Miles will post within 8 weeks after promotion ends. AA miles currently expire after 18 months of inactivity. I just earned 1,000 miles each for my wife and I, for a total of at least $20 of value in 6 minutes. Not too shabby.

Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card Review

United Mileage Plus Explorer Card The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is now offering 30,000 United miles after spending $1,000 in 3 months.  A card specifically designed for those who fly United, and fly them often.

Here are the highlights for the United Mileage Plus Explorer Card:

  • Start with 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • Check your first bag for free – save up to $100 per roundtrip
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club with two one-time-use passes every year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn double miles on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Your miles don’t expire as long as you’re a Cardmember, with no limit to the number of miles you can earn
  • Use your miles for any seat, any time, on any United flight
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95

All in all, a good card for regular United fliers with the free bags and priority boarding. Every year you spend $25,000 in purchases using your United MileagePlus Explorer Card, you’ll earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles. That means at 25k of spending, you’ll be getting 1.4 miles per dollar on all purchases.

Keep in mind the following terms and conditions:

This new cardmember bonus offer is not available to either (i) current cardmembers of this consumer credit card, or (ii) previous cardmembers of this consumer credit card who received a new cardmember bonus for this consumer credit card within the last 24 months.

United Mileage Plus Banner

“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.”

AT&T Access More MasterCard from Citi Review – GSM Phone Offer (Up to $650)

accessmore180Our partner Citi has launched yet another new card, AT&T Access More MasterCard® from Citi. This AT&T co-branded card obviously targets a niche, but read on if you will be in the market for a new GSM phone in the next year ($650 is the full price of a new iPhone 6). As such, this card took a little extra research and analysis. Be sure to read all the details before applying, so you understand how to get everything possible out of this offer.

“Exclusive New Phone Offer” details. Yes, the offer screams “new phone”! But lots of ads say that. What kind of new phone? Does it include iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S6? What strings are attached? Do I need to sign a contract?

  • You must spend $2,000 in purchases with your AT&T Access More Card within 3 months of account opening. As with other sign-up bonuses, this is the spending hurdle. The application page also says “If you buy a new phone now it will count toward the $2,000 in qualifying purchases!”. At first, I read this to mean “buy a phone and you don’t need to spend $2,000 anymore”. Nope. It’s just reminding you that if, for example, you buy a $650 phone on this card, then you’ll only need to spend another $1,350 on the card to meet the $2,000 threshold.
  • You can get any new phone on the AT&T website. Apple iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung S6, Samsung S6 Edge, flip phone, whatever.
  • They’ll give you up to $650 back towards a new phone bought full price with no annual contract… At first this may seem like a negative, man I have to buy it at full price? But that’s actually a good thing when the credit is for up to $650! For example, an iPhone 6 starts at $649.99 and Samsung S6 starts at $684.99. (Taxes, shipping, fees, and wireless service not included.)
  • … which also means lower monthly bills! When you essentially bring your own device (BYOD) buy buying the phone outright, AT&T will give you lower bills in the form of $15 to $25 off each month on their Mobile Share Value plans. Also, the $40 per-line activation fee is waived when you buy the phone at full price (and is not waived for 2-year contracts). More details on this below.
  • Since you own the phone and are not on a contract, you can also unlock it for use on any carrier. You can find unlock instructions at att.com/deviceunlock. are the AT&T unlock instructions [pdf]. Postpaid customers have an active account for at least 60 days, with no past due or unpaid balance. Non-AT&T customers can request a phone unlock before activating the phone on an AT&T plan. After submitting your request, the unlock should be done within 48 hours.
  • You must buy the phone using their special link. After you buy the phone, then activate it on an AT&T monthly plans of you choice for at least 15 days. Remember, you’re not bound to a contract after that. It’s easier just to quote from their Terms and Conditions:

    You must purchase an eligible phone from AT&T with your AT&T Access More Credit Card from Citi (the “Card”) using the Phone Offer Link created individually for you. This link may be accessible to you in several locations including, but not limited to, your approval screen at the time you apply, an email welcoming you to Access More Card membership (if you provide a valid email address) and through your Online Account at citi.com/att. You may redeem the Phone Offer using the link at any time after your Card account opening. Once you have made $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your Card account opening, and purchased and activated your eligible phone, Citi will credit your account for the cost of the eligible phone you purchased up to $650 (exclusive of taxes, fees, shipping and wireless service) within 1 to 2 billing cycles. If you choose to purchase an eligible phone which costs more or less than $650, your credit will equal the cost of the phone or $650, whichever is less.

Side question: How does paying full price for a phone compare with the subsidized 2-year contract or the AT&T Next plan? Most people don’t pay full price for a phone. It’s a lot of money. AT&T Next is basically like agreeing to pay full price for a phone but they let you pay in monthly installments instead. So the $650 iPhone 6 would $21.67 for 30 months (multiply that out and you get $650.10.) Nothing really special there. The traditional alternative is that you get a subsidized phone but you enter a 2-year contract at a higher monthly bill. Here’s how the two options compare:

  • The phone subsidy with a 2-year contract is $450, but you have a $40 activation fee. So the $650 iPhone 6 would only cost $200, plus a $40 per-line activation fee.
  • The monthly bill subsidy with a full price phone adds up to either $360 or $640 over 2 years. With the full price phone, there is no activation fee. If your Mobile Share Value plan comes with 6GB of data or less, you get a $15 discount per month per line. $15 times 24 months = $360. If your Mobile Share Value plan comes with 10GB or more, you get a $25 discount per month per line. $25 times 24 months = $600.

So if you compare the savings between the full price plan as 2-year contract, you’re either behind by $50 over two years, or ahead by $190 over two years. So worst case you’re behind by $50 at the 2-year mark, but if you kept your full price phone and cheaper-by-$15 plan for just an extra 4 months past the contract end date, you’d be ahead again.

Ongoing card rewards program highlights. This card also has a unique rewards program using Citi ThankYou points:

  • 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 you spend on purchases made online at retail and travel websites*
  • 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 you spend on products and services purchased directly from AT&T*
  • 1 point earned for every $1 you spend on other purchases*
  • 10,000 Anniversary bonus points after you spend $10,000 in prior cardmembership year*
  • $95 annual fee.

Here are snippets from the fine print that I think are helpful:

Retail websites are websites that sell goods directly to the consumer through an online website and include department store websites, specialty store websites, warehouse store websites and boutique websites. Travel websites are websites that allow you to book travel and include online travel agencies, hotel websites and airline websites.

AT&T purchases are AT&T consumer products and/or services purchased directly from AT&T. AT&T consumer products and services must be purchased from www.att.com, www.telephones.att.com, AT&T owned stores or AT&T customer service centers. Purchases from independent wireless dealers or AT&T resellers are not eligible, unless they are for payment of AT&T service.

That means you can get 3 ThankYou points per $1 of purchases at Amazon.com, Costco.com, Apple.com, Walmart.com, Target.com, Expedia.com, and so on as well at your AT&T monthly service bill. Please see my Citi ThankYou Premier card review for details on redeeming your ThankYou points for at least $100 value per 10,000 points, but note that the special 25% bonus on travel redemption only apply if you also hold the ThankYou Premier card (you can redeem points earned from this card). Throw in the even-more special American Airlines flight awards from the Citi Prestige card and those 3X ThankYou categories start looking even better.

Bottom line. This is a niche card for folks that will soon be in the market for a new GSM phone, especially AT&T customers. (Non-AT&T customers can request a phone unlock before activating the phone on an AT&T plan, after which you’ll have an unlocked GSM phone that can be used on another GSM carrier. Afterward, you’ll still need to activate an AT&T plan for 15 days to get the credit.) If that’s you, then the sign-up bonus is very generous – up to $650 towards a full-price, no-contract AT&T GSM phone. Looking at all the scenarios above, even in the worst case you’d be behind $50 after two years vs. buying new AT&T phone via 2-year contract. There is also the $95 annual fee. That’s still a net benefit of over $500 and thus one of the top credit card sign-up bonuses currently available. The card then offers you ongoing bonus rewards on AT&T service as well as an interestingly broad category of “retail websites”. However, that $95 annual fee is rather high unless you spend $10,000 annually on the card and get the 10,000 ThankYou point anniversary bonus to offset it.

Chase Total Checking $150 + Chase Savings $100 Bonus

chase250

Here’s a Chase Bank Total Checking + Savings account promotion offering up to $250 total for new customers, broken up into the following two bonuses:

Chase Total Checking $150 Bonus details. Checking offer is not available to existing Chase checking customers, those with fiduciary accounts, or those whose accounts have been closed within 90 days or closed with a negative balance. To receive the $150 checking bonus (taken directly from their offer page):

  1. Open a new Chase Total Checking account, which is subject to approval;
  2. Deposit $25 or more at account opening;
  3. Have your direct deposit made to this account within 60 days of account opening. Your direct deposit needs to be an electronic deposit of your paycheck, pension or government benefits (such as Social Security) from your employer or the government.
  4. After you have completed all the above checking requirements, [Chase will] deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days.

Chase Total Checking® has no Monthly Service Fee when you do at least one of the following each statement period. Otherwise a $12 Monthly Service Fee will apply.

  • Have monthly direct deposits totaling $500 or more made to this account; OR
  • Keep a minimum daily balance of $1,500 or more in your checking account; OR,
  • Keep an average daily balance of $5,000 or more in any combination of qualifying Chase checking, savings and other balances.

Chase Savings $100 Bonus details. To receive the $100 savings bonus (taken directly from their offer page):

  1. Open a new Chase SavingsSM account, which is subject to approval.
  2. Deposit a total of $10,000 or more in new money into the new savings account within 10 business days of account opening;
  3. Maintain at least a $10,000 balance for 90 days from the date of deposit. The new money cannot be funds held by Chase or its affiliates.
  4. After you have completed all the above savings requirements, we’ll deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days.
  5. The Annual Percentage Yield (APY), for Chase SavingsSM effective as of 4/14/15, is 0.01% for all balances in all states.

Chase SavingsSM has no Monthly Service Fee when you do at least one of the following each statement period. Otherwise a $5 Monthly Service Fee will apply.

  • Keep a minimum daily balance of $300 or more in your savings account; OR,
  • Have at least one repeating automatic transfer from your Chase checking account of $25 or more. One-time transfers do not qualify; OR,
  • Have a linked Chase Premier Plus CheckingSM, Chase Premier Platinum CheckingSM, or Chase Private Client CheckingSM account.

Earning $100 on $10,000 for 90 days is the equivalent of 4% annualized return. The bonuses are considered interest and will be reported on IRS Form 1099-INT. You will need to provide your e-mail address and bring the unique coupon code they send you into a physical branch.

“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 Citi ThankYou Premier Card Review

Citi ThankYou Premier Card ArtThe Citi ThankYou® Premier Card has re-launched from our partner Citi, with a new sign-up bonus and purchase rewards structure. Get 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points as follows:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • First year annual fee waived, $95 after that.
  • No foreign transaction fee on purchases.
  • Chip Technology included for improved acceptance while traveling.
  • No limits on earning points or expiration dates.

What can you do with 50,000 ThankYou Points? Citi has been trying to improve the value and flexibility of ThankYou points, so here is a rundown of what you can do with 50,000 of them. Bonus ThankYou Points not available if you have had a Citi ThankYou Premier card opened or closed in the past 18 months.

$625 in Airfare (ThankYou Travel Center)

With the new Citi Premier card, you get a 20% discount on the standard travel redemption that a “regular” Citi card offers. The reverse math means 1 TY point = 1.25 cents towards travel. Note that this 25% bonus applies all of your points from all Citi cards linked to the same ThankYou account, thus boosting the value of all your other points. (Compare with the Citi Prestige card, which has 33% bonus amongst and other additional features, but also a higher annual fee.)

For example, with my non-Premier card, I found that a flight that cost $360 including taxes and fees on Expedia would cost 36,000 TY points from Citi Travel. But with the Citi Premier, it would only cost 28,800 TY points. ThankYou Travel Center screenshot:

ThankYou Travel Center screenshot:

ty1

Expedia.com screenshot:

ty2

So 50,000 TY points will indeed get you $625 in airfare, with the Citi Travel Center having the same price as compared to Expedia, Orbitz, etc. Since you can book any flight that can be found on Expedia, there are “no blackout dates”.

Don’t have enough points to cover an entire airfare? That’s okay. Let’s say you found a ticket that want for $200 = 16,000 points, but only have 10,000 points available. Citi now lets you pay the difference, so in this case you can get your $200 ticket for 10,000 points and $75. This makes it much easier to use up all of your points at a 25% premium.

$500 in Gift Cards, $500 Check Towards Student Loan / Mortgage

You can view your redemption options at ThankYou.com. I took a quick look and it takes 10,000 ThankYou (TY) points to redeem for a $100 gift card to retailers like Gap, Banana Republic, Barnes & Noble, Bath and Body Works, Bed Bath & Beyond, Cabelas, CVS Pharmacy, Kohl’s, Land’s End, LL Bean, Sears, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Staples, and Walmart. So with 50,000 TY points, you could get five $100 gift cards from different stores.

Want something closer to cash? For a check mailed to you, it is 8,000 points for $50 (1 points = 0.625 cent). The best deal is a check mailed towards your mortgage payment or student loan (made out to your lender), which is 7,500 points for $75 (1 points = 1 cent).

New Airline Transfer Options

Citi ThankYou points are also now available to transfer to certain airline mileage programs on a 1:1 basis including Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Etihad, Flying Blue by Air France and KLM, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways. For example, 50,000 TY points can get you 50,000 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles.

New Rewards Structure

The Citi ThankYou Premier now earns:

  • 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent travel including gas, airfare, and hotels.
  • 2 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent dining out and entertainment.
  • 1 ThankYou Point per $1 spent on other purchases.

Triple (3X) points on airfare and hotels, when combined with the 25% travel premium, makes that equivalent to a 3.75% reward towards travel booked through Citi Travel Center. Double (2X) on restaurants (includes bars and fast food) and entertainment makes that 2.5% towards travel booked through Citi Travel Center.

With the improvements in ThankYou point redemption, increased sign-up bonus, and new rewards structure, everything looks to be a little bit better than before. The current sign-up 50k sign-up bonus with no annual fee the first year is attractive. However, a cardholder would need a fair amount of spending in the bonus categories (gas, airfare, hotels, dining out) in order to offset the $95 annual after the first year where they waive it.

TradeKing $200 Cash Bonus Promotion

tk200To celebrate their 10th anniversary, stock brokerage TradeKing is offering a $200 cash bonus for new customers who open with $3,000 and make 3 trades with 90 days of account opening. Promotion ends 4/30/15. 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 and I can only recall seeing it go as high as $150.. TradeKing charges a flat $4.95 for online stock trades; option trades are also $4.95 + 65 cents per option contract.

Navy Federal Credit Union Youth Week $100 Bonus

navyfedlogoNavy Federal Credit Union has solid bank and loan products, including checking accounts with ATM rebates, competitive mortgage rates, and limited-time 0% balance transfer promotions. Membership eligibility for NavyFed is primarily restricted to Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard regular Active Duty and reservists, and Army and Air National Guard personnel, but also includes family and household members of existing NavyFed members and some civilian employees in the Department of Defense.

If you’re a member, the exclusive perks mean that you should sign up your kids sometime… and right now you can get $100 for doing so! As part of their Youth Week 2015 promotions, you can get:

  • $25 for signing up your child (under 18) for membership.
  • $25 for opening a Campus Checking Account for your child (age 14-17), which has no minimum balance requirements and up to $10 in ATM fee rebates per statement period.
  • $25 for opening a SaveFirst Account for your child (under 18) with as little as $5.
  • $25 for opening a reloadable prepaid Visa® Buxx Card for your child (age 10-17).

Expires soon on April 18th, 2015. Thanks to reader Charles for the tip.

Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card: Two Free Weekend Nights (Which I Redeemed for $1,109 Value)

hiltonreserveThe premium co-branded Citi Hilton Hotels card, from our partner Citi, is the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card. The sign-up bonus includes certificates good for 2 Free Weekend Nights, with “weekend night” meaning a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night after spending $2,500 in purchases within 4 months of account opening*. If you like staying at posh hotels, you can get $500+ value out of each certificate and easily $500 of value out of them together. Card feature summary:

  • Earn 2 weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton Portfolio after you make $2,500 in purchases within 4 months of account opening*
  • Earn 10 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on hotel stays within the Hilton Portfolio*
  • Earn 5 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on airline and car rental purchases*
  • Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases*
  • Enjoy the benefits of HHonors Gold status as long as you are a cardmember*
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases*
  • Travel with ease and enjoy global acceptance with your Citi chip credit card

The two free weekend night certificates have no category restrictions, but do have the following exclusions (often these are condo-hotels). Certificates are valid for 12 months after issuance. Must be used on “standard” rooms (no upgraded suites, etc). Room taxes are included with the certificates. Booking the same rooms using rewards points would cost 50,000-70,000 HHonors points per night. Possible choices include:

grandmaui

Update: I applied myself, satisfied the requirement, received my two rewards certificates, and redeemed for $1,000+ worth of rooms in Hawaii. I applied for this card (Day 0) and made my first purchase Day 7, first statement about a month later, was charged the $95 annual fee, satisfied the spending hurdle, second statement closed, and I was issued the two weekend night certificates via e-mail after that (Day 67). Here is a screenshot:

citihiltoncert

According to commenter TJ below who satisfied the spending requirements in the first billing cycle, s/he got the certificates two weeks after the close of the 1st statement. My guess is that they just want to make sure you pay the annual fee. Also, good tip to check your spam folder for the e-mailed certificates!

I called in to book the nights I wanted at my resort of choice – the Grand Wailea (Waldorf Astoria) in Maui. (I’ve never stayed there before, but it looks pretty awesome.) Keep in mind that although there are no category restrictions (it doesn’t matter how expensive the hotel is on average), you can only book a “standard room” which I believe is their cheapest tier of rooms. So if you want a busy weekend that is coming up soon and those cheaper rooms are sold out, you may not get it. However, I was able to get two consecutive weekend nights. I am also able to cancel without any penalty or fees up until 14 days before the booking.

If I was booking with cash on the exact same dates and exact same room, it would have cost me $1,109.25. Here’s proof via screenshot from the booking website:

citihiltoncert2

If I was to have used points, it would have taken 70,000 per night for a total of 140,000 Hilton Honor points. Note that I took out the resort fees, which are reportedly not waived when booking with certificate or points redemptions (any taxes on the room rate are covered). Resort fees are $25 per night ($28.35 with taxes). You actually get the following stuff too: “Guest internet access; beach umbrellas for use on Wailea Beach; admission to twice daily SCUBA clinics; free bike rental”.

Recap

In the end, this is a great way for casual travelers to stay two nights at a really fancy hotel where you can’t imagine paying over $300 a night. We applied and got ourselves two nights at the Grand Wailea in Maui. However, you should keep in mind that the reward certificates are only for Fri/Sat/Sun nights and are based on room availability so some flexibility in either hotel choice or dates is recommended. On an ongoing basis, the card is ideal for Hilton hotel regulars – You get 10x points on Hilton purchases and free Gold elite status (perks include late checkout, free Wi-Fi, and a free breakfast at many hotels). If you spend $10,000 in a year, you get another free weekend night certificate, which you can weigh against the $95 annual fee.

Best Interest Rates for Cash Reserves – Updated April 2015

percentage2Our 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 actually have a better return on investment than what you see on your bank statement.

I don’t rate-chase nearly as much as I used to, but it still pays to shop around. Too many places are basically paying ZERO – the Megabanks, short-term US Treasuries, and money market sweep funds. Do you know what Chase offers on a 1-year CD? 0.02% APY. Bank of America on their 5-year CD? 0.15% APY. The highest money market mutual fund in the country yields 0.06%. My Vanguard Prime is at 0.01%.

Best Currently Available Interest Rates
Here is a brief summary of the best interest rates available on deposits backed by the full faith and credit of the US government. I will try to sort them from the shortest to longest maturities.

  • High-yield savings accounts. There are a variety of online savings accounts out there nowadays, with the highest ones earning around 1% APY. GE Capital Bank has an FDIC-insured Online Savings account paying 1.05% APY with no maintenance fees, no minimum balance, and no minimum to open.
  • Short-term guaranteed rates. Everbank Yield Pledge Money Market and Interest Checking account both offer 1.40% APY guaranteed (up to $50k each) for the first 6 months for new accounts. Since it is fixed, this is essentially a 6-month CD with a higher rate than any other 6-month CD rate out there and with no early withdrawal penalty to worry about. Salem Five Direct has an eSavings account that pays 1.10% guaranteed until 1/1/16 (~8.5 months left) but the rate is only available to new customers.
  • “Series I” US Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation. “I Bonds” bought right now will earn 1.48% total 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 you lose the last 3 months of interest. While future rates are unknown, the net rate after a year is likely to be competitive with top 1-year CD rates at a minimum, while offering upside if inflation spikes. More info here.
  • Rewards 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 all 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 5.09% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY is easier to achieve unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. I list this one because the rate is guaranteed until December 31, 2015.
  • 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. Synchrony Bank (formerly GE Capital Retail Bank) is offering a 5-year CD paying 2.25% APY for $25k+ balances (2.20% APY for $2k+) with an early withdrawal penalty of 180 days interest. For example, if you withdraw from this CD after 2 years and pay the penalty, your effective rate earned will still be 1.69%.
  • 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 4/22/2025 that pays 2.95% APY. Prices will vary regularly.
  • How about two decades!? “Series EE” US 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 0.50% APY). Think of it as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You really want to be sure you’ll keep it for 20 years.
  • Finally, how about something out-of-the-box? You can earn up to 2.25% APY within a 529 college savings plan (which can be opened with you as the beneficiary for now). FDIC-insured, and the rate is still pretty good even after a 10% penalty for non-qualified withdrawals.

How about my money? In terms of the opportunities above, I have opened an account at Everbank in the past for the promo rate and I have usually try to buy the max in US Savings I Bonds each year (no EE bonds, too long of a commitment). I don’t currently juggle any rewards checking accounts nor do I have any deposits with any other banks mentioned above. It’s just not worth it me to switch right now.

Besides some older CDs at higher rates, I keep a good chunk of my money at Ally Bank because right now they are the all-around “good enough” bank for me. Sure I could eek out 1.05% in a savings account somewhere, but Ally Online Savings is paying a 0.99% APY (as of 4/12/15) which serves as a no-fee overdraft companion to my Ally Interest Checking with unlimited ATM fee rebates. Along the same lines, I could get 2.25% in an outside bank’s 5-year CD, but Ally has 2.00% APY on their 5-year CDs and a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty. A rate difference of 0.25% on $10,000 over a year is $25, and I’m not sure that’s enough to open a CD at another bank when my current Ally CDs mature.

All rates were checked as of 4/12/15.