T-Mobile New Plan: 4 Lines for $100/Month Unlimited Talk, Text, 10 GB of 4G LTE Data

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T-Mobile just announced 7/30 that their Family Plan will offer 4 lines for $100 a month with unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 2.5 GB of 4G LTE data per line. (10 GB total across 4 lines. Unlimited 2.5G data after your LTE data allotment is used up.) That is an increase of 6 GB (1.5 GB per line) from their previous offer. Offer expires 9/30/14. I’m not sure why, but the bump up lasts only until 2016, after which it will revert back to 1GB of high speed data per line. That is 17 months from now, so hopefully 4G data will have become cheaper by then anyway. Add a 5th line for only $10 more a month.

These plans include T-Mobile’s free international 2G data and texting in 120+ countries. Came in handy for my brother-in-law when he was at the World Cup in Brazil.

These plans do not include any subsidy for a new phone. You can bring your AT&T or Verizon iPhone 5 straight over to T-Mobile just by swapping out the SIM card inside, no special unlocking procedure required. Usually the Prepaid SIM card is $10 but from 8/1 to 8/6 use the promo code SIMDEAL to get it for only a penny ($0.01). Get a nano SIM card if you have a compatible iPhone 5 or iPad Mini. Get a micro SIM card if you have a compatible iPhone 4, 4S or iPad. You can also check compatibility here.

I really hope T-Mobile stays independent because their aggressive pricing will help keep everyone’s plan costs in line.

Alternatively, you can get unlimited talk, text, and WiFi/3G data for $25 a month with Republic Wireless (per line, no minimum number of lines). You’ll have to buy one of their phones (Moto G starting at $149).

Credit Karma Offers Free Full Credit Reports, Updated Weekly

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CreditKarma.com just announced that they will now provide members a full copy of their TransUnion credit report, free of charge and updated once a week if you log in that frequently. You should see a pop-up once you log in, otherwise navigate to My Finances > Full Credit Report (Beta).

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Here’s a summary of their offering now:

  • Free TransUnion New Account credit score. Updated once a week. Not a FICO-branded score, but can still be use to track relative changes over time.
  • Free 24/7 credit monitoring of your TransUnion report. Will alert you if there are any changes, in case you’re like me and don’t really need a weekly update of your credit score. This is handy for tracking the location and timing of credit inquiries.
  • Free full credit report of your TransUnion data. Updated once a week. Nice to be able to track any changes down the smallest detail if needed.

Everything is still free with no trials and no credit card required. Either Credit Karma is making some decent money off their website advertising, or the cost of credit reports and scores continues to drop. I think the latter is definitely an overall trend.

Don’t forget the other major bureaus to get your complete credit picture. Get free non-FICO scores and 24/7 credit monitoring from all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) here. I track and compare all of my free credit scores here.

Rue La La Shopping: Free $25 Credit

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Shopping site Rue La La is offering an increased free $25 credit for new members that are referred by existing members until August 6th they changed it to 8/1. Keep in mind the $25 credit will take anywhere from several hours to a day to show up. You’ll know you have it when the credit appears in the top right corner of your screen.

The good news is that the credit also applies towards shipping ($9.95) so that if wanted, you could get anything under $15 for free. Also, once you pay that $9.95, future orders will ship free for the next 30 days. The referrer gets $10 credit as well if you buy something, so thanks ahead of time if you use my referral link.

Now that I have girls that like both pink things and rolling in mud, here’s a dress for $17 that ended up under $2 including shipping. They also have non-clothing items, everything seems rather fashionable. Some examples:

(Update: A lot of things are getting sold out as this promo gets popular. Their inventory changes daily, I recommend to keep checking later and sort by price.)

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Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card: 50,000 Bonus Points + Free Night Certificate

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Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit CardAnother credit card has upped their usual sign-up bonus given all the competition recently – this time it is the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase. Thanks to reader Naveen for the heads up. The offer for new Marriott cardholder includes:

  • Earn 50,000 Points after spending $1,000 in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Receive 1 Free Night Stay after account approval in Category 1-4 locations, that’s up to 7 Free Nights
  • Receive 1 additional free night stay at a Category 1-5 location every year after your account anniversary date!
  • Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, thereafter $85
  • For every $1 spent, earn 5 points at 3,800 Marriott locations, 2 points on airline ticket purchases directly with airlines, at car rental agencies & restaurants and 1 point everywhere else
  • Receive 15 credits guaranteeing Silver Elite Status or better
  • Unlimited Point Accumulation
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees and global Chip and Signature technology

We’ve been getting the itch to travel again as a family, so I looked through Marriott’s redemption offerings. Marriott properties include Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance Hotels, Courtyard, Residence Inn, and Fairfield Inn & Suites. You can view their redemption chart here. Hotels on their PointSavers list have temporarily reduced redemption costs. Redeem 4 nights and get the 5th night free.

70,000 points is enough to get you a night at any Ritz-Carlton in the world. Or, 70,000 points can get you two nights at any Category 6, Category 7, or Ritz-Carlton Tier 1 hotel. The free night award can be used for up to a Category 4 hotel. In the top right corner of the redemption chart link, you can view a comprehensive list of what hotels are in any specific category. Here are the options that caught my eye.

Ritz Carlton Tier 5 (Highest tier, 70,000 points a night)

Category 7 Hotels (35,000 points per night, 30,000 if Pointsaver)

Category 6 Hotels (30,000 points per night, 25,000 if Pointsaver)

Ritz Carlton Tier 1 (30,000 points per night, 20,000 if Pointsaver)

Category 4 Hotels (Eligible with Free Certificate or 20,000 points per night standard, 15,000 if Pointsaver)

  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista at Vista Centre
  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando at SeaWorld®
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando Lake Buena Vista in the Marriott Village
  • Orlando: Courtyard Orlando International Drive/Convention Center
  • Orlando: SpringHill Suites Orlando Airport
  • Orlando: Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando International Drive/Convention Center

Adding up the value of two Cat 7 nights and one Cat 4 night is going to be easily over $500 of value, possibly closer to $700-$800. But as always, hotel points are only good if you can use and enjoy them. I have gotten to stay at some terrific properties thanks to such point promotions, although I tend to value location and convenience over the bling factor.

I was wrong initially as Marriott points are convertible to gift cards, but it takes 60,000 points to redeem for a $200 gift card for Marriott or retailers like Best Buy, Home Depot, or Nordstrom. That ratio isn’t all that great, you’ll definitely get the most value out of your points if you stay at Marriott hotels.

The annual fee is waived for the first year. If you are regular Marriott hotel guest, then the free Category 5 night is probably worth the $85 annual fee at the end of your first year.

“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.”

Horizon Motif Review: Commission-Free, No Advisory Fee, Index ETF Portfolios

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motiflogoMotif Investing is a discount brokerage with a twist: you can buy a basket of up to 30 different stocks or ETFs and the entire basket costs just $9.95 a trade. When I first heard of this company, I thought it would be a cool way to build your own custom ETF. It could be dividend income stocks, your own balanced fund of stocks and bonds, whatever. You can start with as little as $250 and they use fractional shares so all your money is invested.

But you could also make a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds. Motif went one step further and introduced their own Horizon motifs, which come with zero trade commissions as well as no management fees. There are 9 different Horizon Motifs – you pick one of three time horizons (1 year, 5 year, or 15 year) and one of three risk levels (conservative, moderate, or aggressive). Consisting mostly of Vanguard and iShares ETFs, here is the asset allocation for their 15-year, aggressive portfolio:

  • 27% US Stocks (VTI)
  • 17% International Stocks (VXUS)
  • 8% US Real Estate (VNQ)
  • 5% Commodities (GSG)
  • 27% International Total Bond (BNDX)
  • 16% US Total Bond (BND)

Overall, the asset allocation portfolios are pretty similar to those offered by other brokerage firms, mutual fund companies, and “robo-advisor” online portfolio managers. I would note that compared to their competitors’ asset allocation models, Horizon Motifs as a whole have a slightly greater allocation to bonds. Usually an “aggressive” long-term portfolio has 70% to 90% in stocks, while Motif has roughly 60%. Their 15-Yr Conservative is ~50% stocks and their 15-Yr Moderate is ~40% stocks. You can adjust the relative percentages of the ETFs inside the Motif, but that will change it to a custom Motif and thus trades will cost $9.95. (I tried.)

I have an Motif Investing account, and here is confirmation that the trade commission is zero and an illustration of how fractional shares work (click to enlarge):

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Horizon Motifs can be a great way for beginner investors to get started without getting eating alive by fees. The impact of zero commissions is greatest when your portfolio size is small. For example, paying $10 commission on a $250 monthly deposit is an instant 4% drop in your balance. Through this whitepaper, I found that the Motif is rebalanced based on tolerance bands linked to time and percentage variations. Rebalancing would be free as well since it is usually just charged as one trade.

I don’t know anywhere else you can buy a basket of 6 low-cost ETFs for $250 with no commission and have every dollar split into fractional shares so that you are always fully invested and have it rebalanced for you regularly for free. Once you start investing larger amounts down the road, then you can switch to something more customized if desired.

To answer a reader question, Motif is a “real” brokerage firm with the usual $500,000 of SIPC insurance and uses Apex as their clearing firm (same as TradeKing, Betterment, OptionsHouse). They also offer two-factor authentication for security.

Motif Investing does have some new customer promos, but some won’t apply if you only make free trades. You can get a $150 cash bonus if you deposit $2,000 and make 5 trades at $9.95 each. They also have a $150 IRA promotion if you transfer over $5,000 in assets.

Current Amex Special Offers: Whole Foods, JC Penney, Best Buy

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amexoffersUpdated 7/21/04. This post will be updated to include selected recent special offers from American Express that are widely available to their cardholders. These promotions often offer the opportunity for easy savings without changing your spending habits. Sometimes I just buy a gift card if I go the store regularly.

Here are the current widely-available special offers:

  • Whole Food Market $10 off $75. Get a one-time $10 statement credit by using your connected Card to make a single qualifying purchase of $75 or more in-store at Whole Foods Market by 9/30/14. I would just buy a $75 gift card if you don’t usually spend that much at once.
  • JC Penney $10 off $50. Get a one-time $10 statement credit by using your connected card to spend a total of $50 or more on qualifying purchases in-store or online at JCPenney by 9/2/14.
  • Best Buy $25 off $250. Get a one-time $25 statement credit by using your connected Card to spend a total of $250 or more in-store and online at Best Buy by 9/2/14.
  • Delivery.com $5 off $25. Get a one-time $5 statement credit by using your connected card to make a single purchase of $25 or more online at delivery.com by 8/3/14. First-time customers can also get $7 off first order of $20 or more (expires 7/31/14). Various cities.
  • American Express Gift Card $10 off $200. Get a one-time $10 statement credit by using your connected card to spend a total of $200 or more on American Express Gift Cards at www.americanexpress.com/gift-cards by 7/30/14.

Targeted offers include $20 off $20 at Amazon and $20 off $20 at Costco.com. Check your account and you may be pleasantly surprised. (Or not. I wasn’t. :) ) Hat tip reader Tim.

Here are the various ways to access these offers:

  • Log into your AmEx account online and scroll down until you see the “Amex Offers For You” tab.
  • Use the AmEx smartphone app.
  • Access via social media at AmExOffers.com – Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and TripAdvisor.
  • Not everyone can access every offer, but the ones on Twitter tend to be available to everyone. You can track these easily on their Favorites page.

Groupon Deal: Sam’s Club Membership

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samslogoAvailable again. Groupon has a special Sam’s Club Plus membership deal where for $45 you get:

  • One-year Sam’s Club Savings membership ($45 value), which includes a membership card for the primary cardholder and a complimentary membership card for a spouse or other household member.
  • $20 Sam’s Club gift card
  • Four Fresh-food vouchers, redeemable at the time of membership activation through Monday, October 27, 2014 (a $26.23 value), including:
    • Sliced oven-roast turkey (22 oz. – $7.98 value)
    • Ciabatta rolls (8 ct. – $3.99 value)
    • Black bean five-layer dip (28 oz. – $7.98 value)
    • Apple pie (10” – $6.28 value)

Valid at any Sam’s club location. New members only, which is defined as someone who does not have a currently valid membership. Remember that you can save even more on your Groupon with cashback shopping sites like eBates ($5 new customer bonus), Mr. Rebates ($5 bonus), and BigCrumbs.

Kindle Unlimited Review: Personal Finance and Investing Books

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kindleu2Amazon has just announced Amazon Unlimited, an eBook and audiobook subscription service that costs $9.99 a month (30-day free trial) and not included in Amazon Prime. They claim over 600,000 titles in their library, although that number is padded by a lot of little-known self-published eBooks. “Thousands” of those books come with free audiobook versions. You can read unlimited books (max 10 out at once) and on any Kindle app (Windows, Mac, web browser, iPhone/iPad, Android, etc).

It’s a library card with 24/7 instant availability, but how well-stocked is this virtual library?

My personal reading habits include mainly business, personal improvement, and finance books. I compiled a list of notable books that I have read or want to read first, and then checked if Amazon Unlimited had it. I’m also including the findings from my Oyster review (a competing eBook app) for comparison purposes.

Book Oyster.com Amazon Unlimited
William Bernstein’s Recommended Reading List for Young Investors
The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. Yes No
Common Sense on Mutual Funds by Jack Bogle. Yes No
Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation by Edward Chancellor. No No
The Great Depression: A Diary by Benjamin Roth. Yes No
Your Money and Your Brain by Jason Zweig. Yes No
How a Second Grader Beats Wall Street by Allan Roth. Yes No
All About Asset Allocation by Rick Ferri. No No
5 Recent Bestsellers
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis. No Yes
Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry by Helaine Olen. No No
Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. No No
Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. No Yes
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. No No
5 Personal Favorite Financial Books
Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. No No
Work Less, Live More: The Way to Semi-Retirement by Robert Clyatt. Yes No
The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason. No No
The Four Pillars of Investing by William Bernstein. No No
A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton G. Malkiel. No No

 
* Oyster catalog checked June 2014 and Amazon Unlimited checked July 2014.

Recap

In the “major publisher, popular, well-reviewed” category, Oyster wins hands-down. AmazonUnlimited reportedly does not have any of the major “Big 5″ publishers (they are not BFFs right now). In the “recent business bestseller” category, neither is great but Amazon actually has a slightly better showing. Many of Michael Lewis’s other books are also on AmazonUnlimited (The Big Short, Liar’s Poker, The Blind Side). In the “niche DIY early retirement personal finance nerd” category, again neither does great although Oyster technically wins by a nose.

Bottom line: Amazon Unlimited has a relatively limited catalog for personal finance enthusiasts.

Keep in mind that the Amazon Kindle Owner’s Lending Library still exists (at least for now) and boasts 500,000+ titles (again padded by self-published eBooks). The Kindle Lending Library is free if you already have both a Kindle (any model) and an Amazon Prime subscription. You can only read on a Kindle device though, and you only get one title per month.

There are some promising titles available if you dig around, for example I noticed that William Bernstein’s “Investing for Adults” series of books (The Ages of the Investor, Skating Where the Puck Was, Deep Risk, and Rational Expectations so far) are all available with both Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Lending Library.

Personally, I might sign-up for the free trial and read whatever books I can during that window and maybe it’ll spill over for a month (though you can cancel now and still enjoy you free month without worry of auto-bill), but I can’t see myself paying $120 a year for a limited selection of books (that interest me) that I can’t keep forever.

Spirit Airlines Free 8,000 Miles = 80% of One-Way Flight Award or Free Magazines

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hatespiritSpirit Airlines is a budget airline that charges for things like carry-ons and printing a boarding pass at check-in. They have the highest number of complaints per passenger. But they’re cheap – they claim 40% lower on average. They are also known for controversial ad campaigns, including their most recent Hate Thousand Mile Giveaway. Basically, make a complaint about any airline and get 8,000 Spirit miles. If you don’t have one yet, you can sign up for a free account beforehand.

As previously mentioned, you can grab another 1,000 Spirit miles with a new Rewards Dining account and spending $30 (tax and tip count) at a participating restaurant. Get another 750 bonus miles by signing up for MyPoints and making a $25 purchase through their shopping mall. Finally, get 400 miles for joining a survey site and taking your first survey.

What can you do with Spirit miles?

  • Free flight award chart. One-way awards start at 10,000 miles. This is why I mention the partners above, as a possible way to get to 10k without flying.
  • However, if you apply for their branded credit card, one-way awards start at 2,500 for off-peak awards. But since everyone is getting these free miles, I don’t know how easy it will be to grab one of these.
  • Free magazine subscriptions. Via MagsforMiles, 40 issues of Fortune is 2,900 miles, 51 issues of The Economist is 4,800 miles, 12 issues of Money is 1,200 miles, 304 issues of Wall Street Journal is 4,800 miles, 52 issues of Time is 1,800 miles. Other examples are Sports Illustrated, Vogue, People…

So at worst, fill out a 60-second form and get two free magazine subscriptions. I just did it and I’m not really sure where the “hate” goes, I guess they just want to remind us that other airlines stink too. “Miles will be posted to your FREE SPIRIT account within 10 days of submission.” Keep in mind that miles expire after only 90 days of inactivity. So redeem quickly or sign up for the dining miles program to extend expiration.

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

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fanplus1Only six Fridays left! Fandango has brought back their Visa Signature summer promotion from April 25th to August 8th. 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). 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 must be purchased on a Friday and used on a Friday showing. Limit 1 complimentary movie ticket per Visa Signature card purchase, per 30 day period, following the date of a purchase in connection with this offer.

Note that this means if you have more than one Visa Signature card, you can participate more often. Check your credit cards, you may be surprised to have one already, especially if you’ve gone after some of the juicy $500+ 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.

Rewards Dining Programs and Avoiding Airline Miles Expiration Policies

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stopwatch2As I am now a father of two in diapers and no longer an active traveler, I am again faced with the possible expiration of my frequent flier miles due to inactivity.

The easiest and cheapest way for me to keep my miles alive has been to using dining rewards programs that give me miles for eating at participating restaurants. You just link your existing credit card and pay with that credit card and it figures everything out for you – no embarrassing coupons, apps, or membership cards. Not all the food joints are great (this is basically paid advertising and the best places don’t need to advertise) but thankfully there is consistently a small overlap between participating merchants and places I usually eat at anyway. My $10 lunch fills the stomach and resets the clock on my 5 or 6-figure mileage balance (although you could buy something as little as a $1 bottle of water). Miles usually post within a few weeks; often faster.

Each separately branded program can have multiple credit cards linked to it, but any single credit card can only be linked with one program. (Hope that made sense. You can’t earn miles on two airlines on the same purchase.) However, you can change the linked cards as often as you like via website.

Be on the lookout for also various limited-time promotions for both new and existing members that may offer you more free points and miles. For example, below is a limited-time promotion offering new American Airlines Dining members 2,000 miles for spending $30+ at a participating restaurant and completing a short survey. At 1 to 2 cents value each, that 2,000 mile bonus is worth $20-$40 by itself. You can join each program and grab every bonus (one by one or simultaneously, if you have enough credit card numbers).

Here are all the airline mileage and hotel programs that are affiliated with Rewards Network (formerly iDine), along with their expiration policies:

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

American Airlines AAdvantage

Delta SkyMiles

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

Spirit Airlines

United Airlines MileagePlus

US Airways Dividend Miles

Hilton HHonors

International Hotel Group (IHG)

Capital One 360 Financial Independence Day Promo 2014

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13045000Capital One 360 is running their annual Financial Independence Day promotion, with what is traditionally the best bonus of the year for their 360 Savings and 360 Checking accounts. (Formerly known as ING Direct.) These online bank accounts offer no monthly fees and no minimum balance requirements, all with a decent interest rate. As a result, the savings account makes a great “online piggy bank” where you can make free transfers from your existing checking accounts from any bank into the 360 Savings account on a regular basis. Promo details:

360 Savings $76 Bonus

  • Grab $76 when you open a 360 Savings® account.
  • This has to be the primary account holder’s first 360 Savings account and it needs a $500 minimum deposit.
  • The bonus starts earning interest on day 1, but you can’t take it out for at least 30 days.

360 Checking $100 Bonus

  • Earn $100 when you open a 360 Checking® account. Sign up for fee-free 360 Checking®, make 5 Debit Card purchases or 5 mobile deposits with CheckMateSM within 45 days and snag a cool $100 on day 50.
  • This has to be your and your joint account holder’s (if you have one) first 360 Checking account.
  • Open 360 Checking from June 30th – July 3rd and make a total of 5 Debit Card purchases or 5 CheckMateSM deposits or any combination of the two within 45 days.
  • Your $100 bonus will be automatically deposited into your account on day 50.