Fidelity IRA Match: Switch and They’ll Match Your Contributions Up to 10%

Fidelity has released an infographic [pdf] about the power of saving 1% more of your income:

fido1more

To coincide with this, Fidelity started a related promotion to entice folks to move over their IRA assets to them. The Fidelity IRA Match is designed to mimic the 401(k) contribution matching that many employers offer, where Fidelity will match between 1% and 10% of your future contribution for 3 years if you roll over $10,000+ to them. Valid for both new and existing Fidelity customers, but only for IRAs and not other account types. Here’s the breakdown:

Qualifying transfer* Match rate Estimated max benefit* (age 50+)
$10,000 1% $165 ($195)
$50,000 1.5% $247.50 ($292.50)
$100,000 2.5% $412.50 ($487.50)
$250,000 5% $825 ($975)
$500,000 10% $1,650 ($1,950)

 

* Qualifying transfers must be rollovers or transfers from non-Fidelity IRAs (Traditional or Roth). Rollovers from workplace savings plans are not eligible for this offer. Estimated max benefit is based on $5,500 annual contribution for three years ($6,500 for age 50+). Max benefit is set at $1,950.

It’s an interesting proposal. Keep in mind that many IRA custodians will ding you with an outgoing transfer fee if you move your money out. Also, Fidelity has other deposit promotions going on that offer a little less than the max payout here, but they are more straightforward bonuses.

To participate, you must register at www.fidelity.com/IRAmatch. If you do participate, I would like to point out the availability of their Fidelity Spartan Index funds, their Fidelity Freedom Index 20XX target-date funds which you can now purchase in an IRA, and their commission-free iShares ETFs. Fido has some good, low-cost products on their menu, but you may have to look for them.

Selected fine print:

[Read more…]

The Best Credit Cards For Millionaires Who Count Their Miles… and The Rest of Us

millThe sales pitch for American Express has always been that their cardholders are wealthy and thus big spenders, which in turn justifies their above-average transaction fees charged to merchants. The theory is a merchant won’t mind paying more in fees if it is offset by higher average receipts (and thus profits). This is why Tiffany & Co takes AmEx and my favorite Indian food truck does not.

However, this recent Bloomberg article suggests that American Express is losing their millionaires because they are actually doing the math on their credit card rewards and finding the perks are better elsewhere. The title in the Businessweek magazine version is “Even Millionaires Count Their Miles“. To which I say, of course they do!

As less-affluent consumers cut spending during the recession and a 2009 law known as the CARD Act limited lenders’ ability to raise interest rates and charge late fees, banks revved up their pursuit of customers with top credit scores who pay their bills on time.

The article quotes hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, who switched from using American Express for 30 years over to the new Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard (my review). He states:

The difference between getting 1 percent and 2 percent cash back is thousands of dollars and for that amount of money, Barclaycard has a better offer […]

(I should mention that Tilson is well-known as a disciple of the Graham-Dodd-Buffett-Munger school of value investing. You would think value investors would know a good deal. :) Of course, you could also flip that as the largest shareholder of American Express is… Berkshire Hathaway.)

The problem is that the American Express Platinum used to be “the” card for affluent travelers because it got you into any of the airport lounges from all major carriers. But now if you want access to all American lounges, you need the premium Citi co-branded credit card. To get access to United lounges, you need the premium co-branded Chase card. And so on. AmEx even started building their own airport lounges, but so far there are only four of them. Nowadays, unless you redeem Membership Rewards for frequent flier miles and use them wisely, it is hard to get even 1 cent of cash for 1 MR point these days. Even a plain-vanilla rewards card will pay you 1% cash back and more importantly their direct competitor Chase Ultimate Rewards will get you 1 cent back or 1.25 cents towards travel.

Here’s the Bloomberg graphic of credit cards that cater to “affluent consumers”:

amexmil_small

I want to point out that the graphic is misleading because the AmEx gives a $200 travel credit every year while the Barclaycard $400 statement credit is one-time only. I do agree the Barclaycard at 2.2% back towards travel is good if you have travel charges that you redeem against, and the $400 upfront bonus counters the $89 annual fee.

Not mentioned in the article are two cards that I think are solid no-brainer cards for anyone. Both earn double the cash back from ordinary 1% cards and have no annual fee. Unless you are redeeming frequent flier miles for business class tickets or hotel points for luxury stays (which I try to do with part of my credit card rewards), it is unlikely you are getting more than 2 cents a point.

If you charged $100,000 a year, getting 2% instead of 1% would be an extra $1,000 a year back. Even if you charged $10,000 a year, that is an extra 100 bucks. You don’t need to be wealthy to appreciate simple cold, hard cash. Because there is no annual fee, I think everyone, including millionaires, should have one of these in their wallet.

Verizon Wireless Drops Most Data Plan Prices by $10, But Existing Customers Must Opt-In

vzwnewprice2Verizon Wireless positions itself as a premium service. They have the biggest 4G LTE footprint, but they also seem to cost more across the board. For people that depend on reliable phone and data service for their work, the extra price is often worth it. However, Verizon just announced a price drop for many of their data plans.

From their press release, Verizon puts it this way:

Beginning Thursday [2/5/15], Verizon’s MORE Everything plans with data allowances of 1GB to 3GB (or from $40 to $60 per month) will include 1GB of additional data for the same price. A new $70 plan with 6GB will be available. […] Verizon is also adding new 12GB, 14GB, and 16GB options to its MORE Everything plans for customers with greater appetites for data and all that it enables, like streaming video or sharing large files.

But really, this is a $10 price drop if you are happy with your current data limits. This graphic from Recode summarizes it best:

vzwnewprice

However, the real reason I am mentioning all this is that existing Verizon customers must opt in to this “new” plan to get the savings. This a potential $120 a year savings without changing your behavior, but you won’t get it automatically!

To save $10 every month (or get an increased data allowance at your current price), either call customer service or log into your Verizon Wireless account online and pick the option to change your plan. You will be told that your existing plan is “no longer available” and that you must choose a new plan. Verify that your new monthly bill is $10 less than before (excluding taxes and fees).

Side note: If you just want to take advantage of Verizon’s good voice coverage, you can use the Page Plus Prepaid MVNO which uses Verizon towers but may not have the same roaming agreements in certain areas. You can get a Pay-as-you-go plan for as little as $10 every 120 days. They offer 4G LTE now as well, it ends up being big savings for single plans but less so for family plans with multiple lines. If you’re ending a Verizon contract and are still happy with your “old” phone, this may be something worth considering.

Side note 2: Oh, and don’t forget to check if you can get an employee or student discount with just your e-mail address.

DietBet and HealthyWage: Can I Get Paid to Lose Weight?

weightbetA few well-publicized academic studies have shown that financial incentives can be very effective in helping people lose weight. In order to combine the carrot and the stick, there are two websites now where you can bet on your weight loss. If you lose enough, you get paid. If you don’t meet your weight loss goal, you’ll lose the money you committed.

HealthyWage

  • You can place a bet as an individual, or join a team challenge.
  • With the individual bet (Healthy Wager), 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. For me, if I bet $100 a month and lose 10% of my body weight within 9 months, I would get $1,000 ($100 prize plus my $900 back). 11% potential return combined with the risk of losing it all, I’m not sure what I think about that.
  • The $10,000 Team Challenge is a competition between teams of 5 people during preset 12-week intervals, with the top prize being $10,000. The entry fee is $25/month per person for three months ($75 total).
  • The new Jackpot Team Challenge is a competition between teams of 5-9 people to lose 6% of their body weight. Each participant contributes $33 per month for 3 months ($99 total) into the “pot”. Teams that collectively average a 6% weight loss in a given contest will split the total Jackpot with any other winning teams. Healthywage does take a 25% cut of the pot first.
  • No smartphone apps available.

DietBet

  • Everyone has to join a group. Start your own or join a friend’s or stranger’s group.
  • Everyone puts money into the pot for that group. Your goal is either to lose 4% of your body weight in 4 weeks, or 10% in 6 months. All the winners in that group split the jackpot (basically your money back plus splitting the losers’ bets).
  • The average “win” is 50% to 100% of your contribution (i.e. put in $30, win $45 to $60 back). Dietbet does take a cut of the pot before distribution, between 10% to 25%. If everyone “wins”, their cut will be reduced so that nobody will lose money on the bet.
  • Available as both an Android and iOS app.

With both sites, you can verify your weight at home using a scale and a smartphone camera. With HealthyWage, you can also go to visit a fitness or medical professional (health club worker, doctor’s office).

I have signed up for the DietBet group “The Transformer” which runs from February 5th to August 4th, during which I’ll have to lose 10% of my current weight. It is only a $25 bet per month for 6 months (one month free if you pay all the month ahead of time at $125). I’m also thinking about a HealthyWage bet. We’ll see how it goes!

Jet Shopping Club Promo: Free 6 Month Membership ($25 Value)

jetOnline shopping club Jet.com has been hyped as “part Costco, part mall, and all anti-Amazon” by Businessweek. It’s not even live yet, but it will be like Costco in that Jet plans to make their profit only from membership fees and make no money on actually selling the merchandise to you.

The idea sounds hard to implement online, but the founder is the guy that sold Diapers.com to Amazon for oh, just half a billion dollars.

All this supposedly means that Jet prices will be 10% to 15% lower than anywhere else, including Amazon! Given that a membership will be $50 a year, I was interested to learn that Jet is giving out a free 6-month membership to anyone who signed up via a Jet Insider referral link. The more you refer others, the more perks you can get. Given that I only found out about this today, I’m currently ranked #303,977, and there is only 3 days left in this promotion, it is unlikely that I’ll get the coveted free shares of Jet stock given to the top 10. Ah well. Maybe just let me in on the IPO? :)

The Jet Insider program will end on February 6th, 2015, at 11:59 am ET.

Amazon’s (Positive) Free Shipping Policy Change

Amazon has made a subtle change to their free shipping on orders over $35 policy (for users that don’t pay extra for Amazon Prime). Via LA Times and krutis of FW.

There are now more than triple the number of items you can use to meet Amazon’s minimum $35 order for free shipping, making it easier to fill up your shopping cart and qualify for free shipping. Find eligible offers by looking for items with “FREE Shipping” listed on the product detail page.

azfreeship

Previously, in order to get free shipping on orders over $35, they all had to be fulfilled by Amazon (meaning they are shipped out of an Amazon warehouse). Usually these products were also eligible for Amazon Prime subscribers (who could buy it without any minimum purchase size). Now, any product from any merchant that offers “FREE Shipping”, even if they ship it themselves, counts toward the $35 requirement. According to Amazon, adding these third-party folks effectively triples the number of items available.

This isn’t a huge change, as you could probably already buy those non-Amazon-warehoused items with free shipping by themselves, but it is handy to know as now combining certain things together can help you meet the $35 minimum.

Personal Capital Sign-Up Bonus: Free $10 Amazon Gift Certificate

perscapiphone2Update 2/23: $10 limited-time offer has expired.

Personal Capital is a free tool that allows you to connect all your financial accounts to track your spending, investments, and net worth. If you are familiar with Mint.com, it is somewhat similar but with more features that help you track your investment portfolio like performance, benchmarking, and asset allocation.

To encourage you to try them out, Personal Capital is offering special bonus if you sign-up for a new account and link at least one bank or investment account. Credit cards, debit cards, Paypal, and Coinbase account do not count. This is a refer-a-friend promotion, so I will get the same thing if you use my link (thanks!).

I don’t know exactly when this will expire, but I do know it is a limited-time promotion. They had a Black Friday deal that was similar and it was very popular (who doesn’t like free money?). You will receive the gift certificate code via e-mail, so be sure that is valid.

Note that if you provide a phone number, Personal Capital may call you to set up a free financial consultation as they make money by providing add-on paid financial advice. (Their management fees are 0.89% annually for the first $1 million, which is high in my opinion.) In my experience, if you are not interested just tell them so and they will not pressure you any further and they won’t call ever again. Or you could take a advantage of the free consultation to answer any money questions you have, as many of their advisors hold the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation.

In any case, the base financial tracking service remains completely free. When tracking net worth, I think it’s neat that you can set it to update your home value using a Zillow estimate. I definitely use the smartphone app much more often, as it allows a quick update and supports Touch ID for easy authentication if you have a recent iPhone. Selected fine print below:

Giveaway hosted by Personal Capital. A user must link at least one valid financial account. Credit or debit card, PayPal and Coinbase accounts do not count towards the giveaway. An Amazon.com Gift Card valued at $10.00 will be awarded to each new customer who link an account and the customer who refers new customer. All awards will be electronically delivered through Amazon to customer’s email provided in the registration process. The offer will apply only to the first time customer when a unique account is linked and will not be applied if the same account is linked multiple times in the same or additional accounts, or for any previous account, which was closed by the customer.

Free State Income Tax E-File Options For All 50 States (Updated 2015)

50stateefile2

Completely updated for Tax Year 2014 returns. With commercial tax prep software, it is always wise to note the cost of your state return and e-File as it just may cost more than your federal return. Based on their regular published prices:

(* This year, TurboTax has an “Absolute Zero” promotion where you can get Fed + State + Fed eFile + State eFile for $0. However, you must have a simple-enough tax situation so that you can file Form 1040A or 1040EZ, including a taxable income of $100,000 or less and claiming the standard deduction rather than itemizing deductions.)

Now, the convenience that these programs offer may be worth the extra money to you. But there may be other options available. States that levy individual income taxes fall into three categories:

  1. They offer all taxpayers free electronic filing via official state-supported software.
  2. They offer all taxpayers access to free “fillable forms” which are basically electronic versions of the paper forms where you can type in numbers and any mathematical calculations are done for you. If your state tax returns are relatively simple, this is all you really need.
  3. They allow commercial vendors via the “FreeFile Alliance” to offer free online filing for certain groups, usually through income limits, age restrictions, and/or active duty military personnel. The vendors in turn make money when you end up not qualifying and have to pay up at the end.

Below, you’ll find free e-file information for all 50 states. 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 under $20. 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.

In alphabetical order (just click on the state):

State Restrictions
Alabama Free electronic filing using through My Alabama Taxes (MAT). No income restrictions.
Alaska (no state income tax)
Arizona File using AZ-specific fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Arkansas Various FreeFile options; Income and/or other restrictions apply.
California Free electronic filing using through CalFile. No income restrictions. No capital gains/losses or Schedule C income allowed.
Colorado Free electronic filing using through Revenue Online. No income restrictions.
Connecticut Free electronic filing using through TaxPayer Service Center (TSC). No income restrictions.
Delaware Free electronic filing through official state website. No income restrictions.
Florida (no state income tax)
Georgia FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Hawaii Free electronic filing through Electronic Filing (ELF). No income restrictions.
Idaho FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Illinois Free electronic filing through MyTax Illinois. No income restrictions.
Indiana FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Iowa FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Kansas Free electronic filing through KS WebFile. No income restrictions.
Kentucky FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Louisiana Free electronic filing through Louisiana File Online. No income restrictions.
Maine Free electronic filing through Maine FastFile. No income restrictions.
Maryland Free electronic filing through their iFile service. No income restrictions.
Massachusetts Free electronic filing through WebFile for Income. No income restrictions.
Michigan FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Minnesota FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Mississippi FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Missouri FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Montana Free electronic filing through Taxpayer Access Point (TAP). No income restrictions.
Nebraska Free electronic filing through NebFile. No income restrictions.
Nevada (no state income tax)
New Hampshire Free electronic filing through e-File New Hampshire. No income restrictions. (No state personal income tax, but there is tax on investment income.)
New Jersey Free electronic filing through NJ WebFile. No income restrictions.
New Mexico Free electronic filing through New Mexico WebFile. No income restrictions.
New York Free electronic filing of select forms online with New York State Income Tax Web File, but note that New York law prohibits commercial software from charging an additional charge for e-filing.
North Carolina FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
North Dakota FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Ohio Free electronic filing through Ohio Online Services. No income restrictions.
Oklahoma Free electronic filing through Oklahoma Taxpayer Access Points (OkTAP). No income restrictions.
Oregon File using OR-specific fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Pennsylvania Free electronic filing through PA DirectFile. No income restrictions. Free Fillable PDF Forms also available.
Rhode Island FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
South Carolina File using SC-specific fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
South Dakota (no state income tax)
Tennessee Free electronic filing through state website of Hall Income Tax. No income restrictions. (No state personal income tax, but there is tax on investment income.)
Texas (no state income tax)
Utah Free electronic filing through Taxpayer Access Point (TAP). No income restrictions.
Vermont FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Virginia File using VA-specific fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Washington (no state income tax)
Washington DC File using DC-specific fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
West Virginia FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Wisconsin Free electronic filing through Wisconsin efile. No income restrictions.
Wyoming (no state income tax)

Whew, that took a while. Please share this if you think it’ll help others! Also let me know if you find any errors or changed links.

Citi Credit Cards: Free FICO Score from Equifax

After announcing their plans last year, Citibank has starting giving out free FICO credit scores. Available to “Citi-branded consumer credit cardmembers”, visit citi.com/creditscore and log into your account to view your score. You should also find it under Card Benefits. The FICO scores will be updated monthly and are based on your Equifax credit bureau data. According to the press release, you can also request that the score be mailed to you by contacting customer service. You’ll also get:

FICO® Score with two key factors impacting their score
FICO® Score Meter to show cardmembers where they fall within the credit score range
A visual of the score range to help them understand what each range means to lenders
A breakdown of the factors that contribute to FICO® scores

For those curious about the specific score model (range 250-900):

Your FICO® Score is calculated based on data from Equifax using the FICO® Bankcard Score 8 model and may be different from other credit scores.

That means this is a industry-specific FICO score, but not a “classic” FICO. From their FICO Score FAQ:

The classic FICO® Score which is in use today by the vast majority of lenders fall within the 300-850 score range. This score range was introduced to establish an easy-to-understand, common frame of reference for lenders and consumers. Industry-specific FICO® Scores, such as those for auto lending or credit card lending, were developed to accommodate the unique characteristics of their respective industry and range from 250-900. Some lenders also use FICO® Score NG, which ranges from 150-950.

As always, checking your own score will not affect the score itself. Reports are that Citi American Airlines consumer cards are included, in addition to Double Cash, Dividend, ThankYou, Forward, Prestige, Simplicity, etc. You may find yourself having to wait a bit (maybe as my cards are new?) as this is what I got:

No score is available for us to provide to you right now. Please check again later.

Screenshot (click to enlarge):

citificosmall

TurboTax 2014 Feature Change + Free H&R Block Offer + Free TurboTax Upgrade

ttboxIt’s that time of year again, where we await our W-2 and 1099 forms and decide which tax software to use. I’m working on product-specific reviews, but for now I figured I’d summarize the drama surrounding TurboTax 2015 for those that don’t follow these things as closely.

  • Last year, TurboTax Deluxe Online 2013 started requiring you to upgrade to Premier in order get guidance on stock sales (Schedule D) and self-employment expenses (Schedule C). You can see this as either a feature delete, or price increase. However, the TurboTax Deluxe Desktop 2013 version kept this ability. There was a little outrage but really not that much from what I recall.
  • This year, TurboTax Deluxe Desktop 2014 no longer included Schedule D or C. In other words, the 2013 change to the online version was propagated to their desktop download/CD version. This time, break out the pitchforks! There are over a thousand 1-star reviews on the Amazon product page and articles from various media outlets including the NY Times and Time.
  • Why the outrage this year and not last year? TurboTax says 80% of people use the online version and only 20% use the desktop download, so you can see why Intuit thought everything would be cool. My theory is that desktop PC customers always pay for their software upfront (often at a physical store like Staples or Costco) and then don’t expect to be asked for any more money down the road. This has probably been their habit for years. Now in the middle of doing their taxes, you’re hitting them up for another thirty bucks?!
  • In contrast, with TurboTax Online you pay at the very end and the price is always a little different with various coupon codes and promotions.
  • Finally, the price difference between Deluxe and Premier for Online is $20, but for the Desktop version is $30. The software only cost $40 or $45 initially. That $30 upgrade fee is a 66-75% price increase.

Intuit needed to communicate this price change much more upfront and clearly. They don’t hide it, but you can see how repeat customers won’t notice since the Deluxe name doesn’t change.

ttstock

Trying to pick up the fumble, H&R Block is offering any impacted TurboTax customer a free copy of the H&R Block Deluxe + State for 2014, which just so happens to still include Schedule D capital gains guidance.

Those who have already purchased TurboTax Basic or Deluxe and would like to try H&R Block may email H&R Block at SwitchToBlock@hrblock.com and include the following information:

  • Name, address, and phone number
  • Type of operating system in use (Windows/Mac)
  • A photo, scan, or email showing proof of TurboTax Basic or Deluxe purchase

H&R Block will then send a link for one free download of H&R Block Deluxe + State (a $45 value, State E-file is $19.95 extra, does include Schedule D). You can import from a previous TurboTax return. This offer is not on the H&R Block website – it is only available by e-mailing them as directed above.

What if you want to stick with TurboTax? TurboTax may offer you a free upgrade to Premier, *if* you ask correctly. Well, hidden in the Amazon comments and vaguely referenced in various articles is the fact that Intuit will help their customers on a case-by-case basis so they can “demonstrate customer service” and “do what’s necessary” to appease customers. That basically means the squeaky wheels get the grease. You have to e-mail them at their own special e-mail address: TurboTax_Advocate@intuit.com or call them at 800-445-1875 (8am – 8pm EST M-F).

Reports are that if you contact them and cite the unexpected feature change, they will offer you the upgrade to Premier for free (a $30 savings as noted above). You may also mention a TurboTax VP made statements in Amazon reviews and media articles that Intuit would remedy the situation. I don’t know if it will work for the online version, but you could try.

So there you have it. TurboTax committed a foul, H&R Block invites you over to their party instead, and TurboTax wants to take you aside and apologize privately. When comparing tax software prices, be sure to find the right version for your needs and also include the price of state e-File if needed.

Or, you could use the underdog, TaxACT.com. Both the online and desktop versions of their Free Federal edition and cover all the Schedules A/B/C/D/E and even includes a free Federal E-File. For them, the Deluxe option means addition of time-saving import features. Their Ultimate package with everything Federal and State included – all Schedules, free Fed e-File, free State e-File – runs $17.99 for Online or $30.99 for Desktop ($21.99 + $9.99 State e-File).

T-Mobile Free 7-Day Test Drive Review

tmokit

I’m nearing the end of my contract, and I’ve been tempted by T-Mobile’s aggressive promotions like 4 lines for $100 and most recently free rollover data. But I worry about their coverage. Then I learned of the Free T-Mobile Test Drive where you can get an iPhone 5S shipped to you and try out their service with unlimited talk, text, and data for 7 days. All for free. You just have to return the phone to a physical T-Mobile retail store by the end of the 7th day or get charged $375 + tax. If there is damage like a cracked LCD screen or the Find my iPhone feature is left active, you’ll be charged $100.

I signed up online, agreed to the $700 hold on my credit card, and they shipped a phone out to me. 2-day shipping time passed, I started it up, but the phone didn’t work. Well, the phone turned on and apps worked fine on Wi-Fi. The T-Mobile service didn’t work. I saw bars and “T-Mobile” on the screen, but under the phone number setting, it said “Unknown”. All phone calls went to T-Mobile customer service. When trying to access the internet using 4G, it would only pull up a T-Mobile website stating that the phone was not activated on a data plan. Warning: this is a bit of a rant so you may want to just skip down to the bottom line.

Naturally, I called T-Mobile customer service. I was stuck in the usual phone tree hell, as there was no option for the 7-Day Test Drive and I wasn’t a new activation or an existing customer. I had no phone number to type in. Eventually I reached a human. I’ll call her Human #1.

T-Mobile Human #1: Hi, may I help you?

Me: Yes, I just received a phone from your T-Mobile 7-Day Test Drive promotion and I am having trouble getting the service to work.

T-Mobile Human #1: What is your name? (I give it to her)

T-Mobile Human #1: What is your phone number?

Me: I don’t have one.

T-Mobile Human #1: What is your account PIN?

Me: I don’t have one.

T-Mobile Human #1: What is your account number?

Me: I don’t have one. I’m on a test drive. I do have my order number, though.

T-Mobile Human #1: Hmm… let me transfer you. I’ll need to put you on hold for a few minutes.

Me: Okay.

T-Mobile Human #2: Hi, may I help you?

Me: Yes, I just a phone from your T-Mobile 7-Day Test Drive promotion and I am having trouble getting the service to work.

T-Mobile Human #2: What is your name? (I give it to him)

T-Mobile Human #2: What is your phone number?

Me: I don’t have one.

T-Mobile Human #2: What is your account number?

Me: I don’t have one. I do have my order number, though.

T-Mobile Human #2: Okay let me transfer you. I’ll need to put you on hold for a few minutes.

Me: Umm… okay.

I’m not kidding, this actually happens AGAIN with Human #3, and then I get transferred to tech support.

T-Mobile Human #4: (All the same questions again…) Okay, what is the ICCID number under your Settings > General > About?

Me: 8914 2121 2121 1212 555 (not actual number but I did give it to him)

T-Mobile Human #4: Well your SIM is not showing up as activated on our system. I’ll need to transfer you back again.

Me: You know what, I’ve been on the phone for half an hour. I am already running late. I’m going to go.

I wait until the next day and hope the phone activates on its own. Nope. So I call T-Mobile again. This time the person (#5) is in a crowded call center and I can barely hear her amidst the noise. She has no idea what the T-Mobile Test Drive is. She wants to transfer me. I just can’t go through that again so I hang up. I happen to have an errand that runs by a T-Mobile store so I just decide to return the phone.

I walk into the store and tell them I need to return a Test Drive phone. Surprise, they don’t know how to do that. I should mention that this promotion has been running for over 6 months and T-Mobile boasted that over 12,000 people had already done it. The two young men take the phone and ask me what the phone number is. I tell them I don’t have one and the phone doesn’t work. They ask to look at the phone.

T-Mobile Human #6: Your phone isn’t activated.

Me: I know.

T-Mobile Human #7: So they sent you a phone that doesn’t even work?

Me: Yes.

T-Mobile Human #6: We don’t know how to accept this return.

Me: Well, the promo is on your website and it clearly says I can only return it at a T-Mobile store. So here I am.

T-Mobile Human #7: Uhh, we have to call the manager.

Eventually another employee came by that knew the proper return process. I asked if they could just activate the phone in the store, but they couldn’t. I made sure to get a receipt stating that they received my device back and confirm that I’ll be charged $0.00. So after dealing with eight different T-Mobile employees and wasting well over an hour of my time, I still have no idea how good T-Mobile’s coverage is in my local area. It could be great.

For my troubles, I did get to keep the Apple OEM earbuds that came with the phone. Yay. I guess they think it’s icky to share earbuds (and I agree) so they ship brand new ones to every Test Drive customer along with a refurbished iPhone.

Please, T-Mobile, if you’re going to run a a test drive promotion, you need to use it as THE perfect opportunity to show the best side of your company and gain a customer!

Bottom line: I like the idea of letting people test drive the network. I do suspect T-Mobile coverage can be good enough if you stay in major metro areas. I liked being able to order the kit online and have it arrive at my door. Returning at a physical store so they can manually check the phone’s condition was better than having me mail it in and praying it gets there safely with a fair inspection. This way I knew I’d be charged nothing when I returned the phone. But T-Mobile needs to make a special department or hotline for this promo as their customer service folks are uninformed. Hopefully, most other people who do this test drive get a properly activated phone and don’t have to deal with the same issues.

Citi® Double Cash Card Review: 1.99 or 2% Cash Back Credit Card

citidouble200Our partner Citi has an all-new cash back credit card and it is actually quite compelling. With the Citi® Double Cash Card, as the name suggests you earn cash back twice:

  • 1% unlimited cash back on every purchase you make
  • An additional 1% unlimited cash back as you pay for those purchases, whether you pay in full or over time.

This all comes with no caps, no tiers, no category restrictions, no quarterly enrollment hoops, no rotating categories. All with no annual fee. The only way you don’t get your 1% + 1% total is if you default on your bill and don’t even make the minimum payments. You can redeem your cash rewards in full as soon as it totals $25 or more, via check, direct deposit, or statement credit (i.e. if you have $31.44, you can get a check for $31.44).

You say that if pay your bill, then this is either a 1.99% or 2% cash back card. Why? Imagine you put $100 on the charge, 1% is earned so you have $1. Then you redeem that $1 (ignore minimums for this example) for a statement credit (as opposed to paper check) which means Citi actually “paid” for $1 of the $100. So you pay the remaining $99 and get an additional 1% or $0.99 back. Final tally: $1.99 back on $100 in purchases, or 1.99% back.

  • If you ask for your cash rewards in the form of an electronic funds transfer into a linked bank account, you’ll get the full 2% total cash back. The bank account can be a checking account from any bank from which you have paid a Citi Credit Card bill at least two times, or any Citi savings/checking account.
  • If you ask for your cash rewards in the form of a check, you’ll get the full 2% total cash back.
  • If you ask for your cash rewards in the form if a statement credit, you’ll get 1.99% effective cash back.

If you charged $1,000 per month, the difference between 1.99% and 2% per month would be a whopping 10 cents per month, or 1.20 per year.

There have been flat 2% cards in the past (Fidelity Mastercard, Sallie Mae, Priceline) but they are all no longer open to new applicants. However, most existing cardholders were grandfathered in, so based on that precedent you may want to get this card while it is still offered. According to varying reports, certain cardholders can call in and try to convert their existing Citi cards over, but you may or may not be successful. Converted cards are not eligible for the 0% interest for 15 months mentioned below.

Obviously, you’ll want to pay in full every month (unless taking advantage of the 0% APR promo rate on purchases) as to not rack up interest charges which can quickly offset your cashback rewards.

0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers and Purchases for 15 months. After that, the variable APR will be 12.99%, 15.99%, 18.99%, 20.99%, and 22.99%, based on your creditworthiness. There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Bottom line. Given the combination of the ability to get 2% flat cashback on all purchases, no annual fee, and the fact that it is a Mastercard which has the widest acceptance, the Citi Double Cash is a great rewards card to keep in your wallet, both for those who prefer simplicity and just want one card and for those who like optimizing multiple cards and can now establish a 2% minimum on everything. I don’t know of any other card that offers this combination of features.

Citi Double Cash Leaderboard