Citi Prestige Card Review: New 50,000 Point Offer (Worth $800 in American Airlines Airfare)

citiprestigecardfrontOur partner Citi has revamped the Citi Prestige® Card, their premium ThankYou point rewards card. The sign-up bonus has been increased to 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. 50,000 TY points are redeemable for an $800 flight on American Airlines or US Airways, a $665 flight on any other airline, or $500 in gift cards.

There is a hefty $450 annual fee that is not waived the first year, but the card also includes a $250 air travel credit every year that is valid towards any airfare bought from any airline (and also baggage fees). Per the fine print, the $250 annual credit resets every December through the next December. So you could conceivable qualify for a $250 credit on airfare in November and then another $250 in January.

Here’s a summary of the one-time sign-up bonuses and perks:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • $100 Global Entry application fee credit. Citi will cover the $100 application fee on a one-time basis when you charge it to the card. Global Entry allows you to get through international customs faster when entering the US. The $100 application fee credit will reset once every 5 years.

Here’s a summary of ongoing highlights of the card:

  • $250 Statement Credit for Air Travel each year. Unlike other cards, airfare counts as well as baggage fees, lounge access, and other incidental purchases. This renews every calendar year, so it can be used to help offset the annual fee every year. “This statement credit is an annual benefit available for purchases appearing on your billing statements from December through the following December. Pending transactions that do not post in your December billing cycle will count towards the next year’s Air Travel Credit.”
  • Complimentary access to nearly 40 American Airlines Admirals Club® lounges, plus hundreds of VIP lounges through Priority Pass Select. Valid for you and your entire immediate family (spouse, domestic partner and/or children under 18 years of age) or up to two companions. Priority Pass lounges tend to be at international airports.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels.
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment.
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on Purchases.
  • Includes chip technology which increases acceptance overseas.
  • Transfer points to a variety of travel loyalty programs from airlines to hotels.
  • Complimentary 4th Night for any hotel stay. This could be nice, but your stay must be booked through their designated travel agent, so I’m not sure if that means the rates will be the same as say Expedia or Travelocity.
  • Complimentary greens fees at more than 2,400 public and private golf courses around the globe. The terms specify that you get 3 complimentary rounds of golf through the Citi Prestige® Golf Portal (provided by GolfSwitch, Inc.) each calendar year.
  • $450 Annual Fee. Not waived for the first year.

The Citi Prestige is most attractive for people who fly on American Airlines and US Airways (the two are merging). Citi and American are tight these days; the competing American Express Platinum no longer offers American Airlines lounge access at all.

With this card, you can redeem 1 ThankYou point to get 1.6 cents worth of American Airlines and US Airways airfare. You can’t do this with any other ThankYou card, but if you have it then all your ThankYou points earned from any other card can be redeemed this way. That means if you redeem your points towards American Airlines or US Airways airfare, you’ll get 1.6% back standard while the 2X and 3X categories turn into 3.2% back at restaurants and 4.8% back on airfare and hotels. (If you have CitiGold checking account or Citi Private Banker, you’ll get an additional 15% or 25% bonus respectively on ThankYou points earned.) You can also get 1.33 cents per point value by redeeming towards airfare on all other airlines.

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.

Bottom line. If you add up all of the perks including 50,000 TY point sign-up bonus (worth $800 in American Airlines or US Airways airfare), $250 annual airfare credit that resets every December (so you can get it twice under one annual fee), American Airlines first class lounge access, $100 Global Entry application fee credit, 3.2% back on restaurants and 4.8% back on airfare and hotels when redeemed for American Airways airfare), you can see that for the right person the $450 annual fee can be more than worth it. In my mind, that person should fly American or US Airways at least once a year if not more often.

In addition, if you have a big stash of Citi ThankYou points, getting this card could greatly increase the value of your existing point balance due to the special American Airlines conversion rate.

Wealthfront Offers Tax Loss Harvesting With No Minimums

wealthtlh_logoAutomated portfolio managers like Wealthfront will set you up with a diversified mix of index funds and manage it for you for a small fee. I’m an investing geek, so I always lean towards keeping the small fee and manage things myself. But an important variable to this equation is tax-loss harvesting. Tax-loss harvesting tries to improve your returns by minimizing your tax bill, but it is also tedious work that is ideally suited to handing over to a computer.

If the management fee they charge is say 0.25%, as long as the benefit from tax-loss harvesting is at least 0.25%, then you’re already ahead of the game. The problem is that predicting the actual benefit of TLH is difficult. Wealthfront claims that based on past data, their tax-loss harvesting implementation could add 1% annually to your after-tax returns:

wealthtlh_full

Up until recently, you also needed $100k in your portfolio. But Wealthfront has recently announced that as of April 2015, their daily tax-loss harvesting service will be available to all taxable accounts with no minimum balance requirement:

We’re proud to announce that our daily tax-loss harvesting service will be made available to all Wealthfront taxable accounts, starting in April. At Wealthfront, we believe everyone deserves sophisticated financial advice, and this brings us one step closer to that goal.

I would not have predicted this a few years ago: automated tax-loss harvesting for any account size and at such a low cost. A customer with $10,000 would be getting TLH and portfolio management for free. The minimum needed to open a Wealthfront account remains $5,000.

I would say that I am confident the benefit of TLH over the long-run will be greater than zero. However, I would not count on 1%. But even if we split the difference and assume it is 0.5%, then using such a service still has to be considered as it is greater that their management fee of 0.25%. I hate giving up control though, so while I have put a little seed money in various places, I am still 95%+ DIY and keeping a close eye on future developments.

Current sign-up promotions. Wealthfront usually allows your first $10,000 managed for free. With this special invite link, you can get your first $15,000 managed for free, forever (an additional $5k).

(Note: Competitor Betterment also has a similar tax-loss harvesting service. The post structure is similar, but I wanted to make sure any readers that may see only one post get the full context.)

Betterment Offers Tax Loss Harvesting With No Minimums

bettertlh_logoAutomated portfolio managers like Betterment will set you up with a diversified mix of index funds and manage it for you for a small fee. I’m an investing geek, so I always lean towards keeping the small fee and manage things myself. But an important variable to this equation is tax-loss harvesting (TLH). Tax-loss harvesting tries to improve your returns by minimizing your tax bill, but it is also tedious work that is ideally suited to handing over to a computer.

If the management fee they charge is theoretically 0.25%, as long as the benefit from tax-loss harvesting is at least 0.25%, then you’re already ahead of the game. The problem is that predicting the actual benefit of TLH is difficult. Betterment claims that based on past data, their Tax Loss Harvesting+ service could add an estimated +0.77% in after-tax returns, annually:

bettertlh_full

Up until recently, you also needed $50k in your portfolio. But Betterment just sent me an e-mail today (April 2015) that their tax-loss harvesting service will be available to all taxable accounts with no minimum balance requirement:

Using our smarter technology, we’ve now made Tax Loss Harvesting+ available to you and all of our customers—regardless of balance—at no additional cost.

We are the only automated investing service to provide this tax-reduction strategy, once only available to the wealthiest, for all investors. By democratizing tax loss harvesting, we are continuing our mission of making smarter investing accessible to everyone.

I would not have predicted this a few years ago: automated tax-loss harvesting for any account size and at such a low cost. A customer with $10,000 would be getting TLH and portfolio management for $25 a year. Betterment has no minimum investment requirement.

I would say that I am confident the benefit of TLH over the long-run will be greater than zero. However, I would not count on 0.77%. But even if we split the difference and assume it is 0.4%, then using such a service still has to be considered as it is greater that their management fee of 0.15% to 0.35%. I hate giving up control though, so while I have put a little seed money in various places, I am still 95%+ DIY and keeping a close eye on future developments.

Current sign-up promotions. Betterment is currently offering up to 6 months of free portfolio management fees, depending on your initial deposit amount.

(Note: Competitor Wealthfront has a similar tax-loss harvesting service. I know my posts about both are very similar, but I wanted to make sure any readers that may see only one post get the full context.)

Chase IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card Review: What Does 60,000 Points Get You?

ihgcardThe Chase IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card has a promotion where you can get 60,000 bonus IHG points after you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months of account opening.  This card also has the annual fee waived for the first year. So the question is what will 60,000 of these lesser-known IHG points get you? Put another way, how much should I value a single IHG point?

Here are the card highlights plus my notes from the fine print:

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. “After qualifying, please allow 6 to 8 weeks for bonus points to post to your account. 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.”
  • Enjoy a free night of card membership at over 4,900 hotels worldwide. “Anniversary Free Night is valid at hotels in the IHG® Rewards Club Family of Brands and must be redeemed, and stay must be completed, within 12 months from date of issue. Anniversary Free Night is valid for one standard room night rate and applicable taxes only. Rooms are limited, subject to prior sale and availability of allocated resources and may be unavailable during high demand periods.”
  • 10% rebate on all points redemptions, up to 100,000 rebated points per year.
  • Platinum Elite status as long as you remain a cardmember. Platinum elite is their highest elite tier and usually requires staying 50+ nights a year. Perks include priority check-in, free room upgrades based on availability, and bonus earning on top of base points. Everyone gets free WiFi internet as well.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $49.

In terms of rewards on purchases, cardmembers will:

  • Earn 5 points for each $1 spent at IHG hotels
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants
  • Earn 1 point for $1 spent on everything else.

IHG stands for Intercontinental Hotel Group which has over 4,700 hotels including the following brands:

  • Intercontinental® Hotels & Resorts
  • Crowne Plaza®
  • Holiday Inn®, Holiday Inn Express
  • Staybridge Suites®
  • Candlewood Suites®
  • Hotel Indigo®
  • EVEN Hotels

IHG Point Value Comparisons

IHG Rewards Club puts out a new list of PointBreaks hotels every few months where you can redeem a hotel night for only 5,000 points. That means your 60,000 bonus points from this card could technically earn you 12 free nights! If those hotel rooms would otherwise cost $100 a night including taxes, you’d be getting $1,200 value from 60,000 points. Valuing the hotels at $50 a night including taxes, you’d be getting $600 value from 60,000 points. This is where you can see valuations anywhere between 1.5 cents and 2 cents per IHG point.

But that’s not very realistic. There are some nice hotels on the list, but the locations are very specific and few people are sufficiently flexible with their travel to constantly take advantage of these deals.

I recently spent a week at a Staybridge Suites in Austin with my family and it was great. The room felt like an apartment with a living room, full kitchen, and separate bedroom. Every morning there was a buffet breakfast with eggs, bacon, cereal, bagels, fruit, yogurt, juice, and so on that I could grab and bring back into my suite where the kids could run around. I’ll be returning and willing to pay the going rate again, so how much would it cost me in points?

Here’s an actual rate quote for 9/16 to 9/22 for the same Staybridge Suites:

ighcard1

Keep in mind that the quote doesn’t include taxes, which would make the $148 average nightly rate into $170 with taxes. The 25,000 points per night include taxes, so that would work out to roughly 0.7 cents per point in value. At that rate, 60,000 points would be worth $420.

Also note that with the 25,000 point redemption, you can cancel up until the very last minute (6pm local time the day of check-in), while the $170 rate is a non-refundable advance purchase. The true equivalent refundable room rate is $203, or $233 per night including taxes. That is more like 0.9 cents per IHG point, where 60,000 points would be worth $560.

You can perform the same calculations for hotels that fit your needs. I tried a bunch of other various combinations and always got between 0.6 cents and 1.1 cents per point equivalent value.

In terms of luxury hotel room nights, let’s try the same week at the InterContinental New York Times Square:

ihgcard2

You’re looking at $493 a night including taxes for non-refundable advance purchase, or $576 including taxes for refundable. Points would cost 50,000 a night, making it roughly 1 to 1.1 cents per point value. At that rate 60,000 points = $600 to $660.

Recap
While it is certainly possible to get $600+ value out of the 70k point bonus, I would stick with a more conservative estimate of $350 (~0.6 cents a point) and hope to be pleasantly surprised. But it’s an easily achievable $400-$450 value at a wide variety of hotels from budget to luxury (32 IHG hotels in Austin, TX area alone for example) with no blackout dates making it suitable for all types of travelers. The annual fee is waived for the first year, so you can enjoy the other perks of the card like 10% point rebate and complimentary Platinum Elite status. After that, you’ll have to decide based on your travel habits if the $49 annual fee is sufficiently offset by the free hotel night perk.

In terms of putting all your spending on this card, since I think an IHG point is often worth less than a cent per point on average, it is not as good an all-around rewards card as many of its competitors. I might put my IHG paid hotel stays on it, but that’s about it.

IHG Rewards 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.”

Citi Simplicity Card Review: 0% for 21 Months, No Late Fees, No Penalty Rates

citisimplicity175New 21 month offer (1.75 years). I usually focus on rewards-earning credit cards, but I know many folks are still carrying some balances and thus more concerned about their whopping 15% interest rate rather than a relatively puny 2% back on purchases. Our partner Citi has launched the Citi Simplicity® Card, which is uniquely suited for those that want to transfer higher rate balances to a long 0% intro period while also offering some “accident forgiveness insurance”. The highlights:

  • 0% Intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening. Balance transfer fee is 3% of balance transfer amount, $5 minimum. This is one of the longest offers out there for balance transfers.
  • 0% Intro APR on purchases for 21 months. This means you can keep charging your new purchases on this card as well and also enjoy no interest for 21 months. Also one of the longest 0% offers available for purchases.
  • No late fees. If you’re late on a payment, you won’t be dinged with a ~$40 late fee as with many other cards.
  • No penalty APR. Even worse than a late fee, a missed payment can lead to a rate hike into a “penalty” APR rate as high as 25% or more. The Simplicity does not have penalty APRs.
  • No annual fee.
  • Direct to human help. If you call in and say “representative”, you’ll be transferred directly to a human, 24 hours a day.

The Citi Simplicity card does not earn any cash back, points, miles, or free toasters; I’d open a separate card for rewards. It does include additional purchase benefits such as Citi Price Protection (price drop protection on brick and mortar purchases) and free Extended Warranty (extends manufacturer’s warranty for up to 12 months).

Alternatively, the Chase Slate® Card offers 0% APR on balance transfers for 15 months with no balance transfer fee, but does not include some of the more consumer-friendly features of this card that ensure your low rates don’t get hiked.

To summarize, the Citi Simplicity® Card is a solid card with one of the longest 0% introductory periods currently available on both purchases and balance transfers. If you are serious about paying off some credit card debt, this offer will get you no interest for 1.75 years with minimal gotchas.

Slate from Chase: 0% APR For 15 Months + NO Balance Transfer Fee for 60 Days + Free FICO Score

Chase Slate Box Banner

Updated with free FICO score information. Looking to pay down debt in 2015? Transfer your balances to the Chase Slate® Card and get 0% APR For 15 Months and pay NO BALANCE TRANSFER FEE if done within 60 days of account opening. You won’t pay any more interest until 2016, and all your money will go towards paying down the balance principal. You can literally borrow money for free and pay it back in 15 months with no interest (keeping in mind you’ll still need to satisfy the minimum payment each month until then). $0 annual fee.

It is very rare these days to find a no balance transfer fee 0% APR offer that is available to all (as opposed to being targeted only to specific customers). You can verify in the Pricing & Terms section of the application, down in the Fees box:

None on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. All other transfers: Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Make sure you initiate that balance transfer within the first 60 days.

Free Monthly FICO Score
As of March 2015, the Chase Slate card now offers an EMV security chip and a free FICO score every month. The FICO score will be based on your Experian credit bureau report, and they’ll also have a “Credit Dashboard” that tells you reasons behind your score and a summary of your Credit Report information. Here’s a screenshot:

slatefico

According to the WSJ, so far this is only available on the Slate and not other Chase-issued credit cards. This is because the Slate is by far Chase’s most popular card for those transferring existing balances and that means many of those 10 million cardholders care about their interest rates and credit scores.

Lower your interest on balances!
This is a great opportunity for those people with good to excellent credit but are still working hard to lower their debt payments, as now you can have all your money applied directly into cutting down your principal instead of having it go towards interest and/or fees. The 0% APR applies to new purchases as well, so your balance owed will go down that much faster and you won’t have to worry about interest until well into 2016.

Chase Blueprint is a free feature on select cards that lets you break down your balances into things that you want to pay in full each month and bigger purchases that you wish to pay off over time. A gadgety feature, but if at all possible I say nuke those balances completely!

If you wish to get cash from this balance transfer offer without it being classified as a “cash advance”, one option that has worked for me is to ask for the balance transfer as a check or electronically transferred to your bank account. Just call the number on the back of your card after you get it and tell them you’re trying to pay down debt that’s not on another card.

“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.”

Blue Cash Preferred from American Express Review: 6% Back on Groceries + New Bonus

amexbcpUpdate: There is a new link for this card which is offering a $50 statement credit after first purchase within 3 months of card membership, plus another $150 statement credit after $1,000 in purchases within 3 months of card membership. The sign-up bonus is not available to applicants who have or have had this product before.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers:

  • 6% Cash Back at US stand-alone supermarkets up to $6,000 per year in purchases
  • 3% Cash Back on gasoline at at US stand-alone gas stations
  • 3% Cash Back at select major US department stores
  • and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Supermarkets details. “US stand-alone supermarkets” means that superstores, convenience stores and warehouse clubs are NOT considered supermarkets. This means no Super Wal-Mart, no Super Target, no Costco. Examples of merchants that count (and this is not a complete list!!) are Meijer, Vons, Whole Food, Winn-Dixie, and online supermarkets such as FreshDirect.

Gasoline details. “US stand-alone gas stations” means that superstores, supermarkets, and warehouse clubs that sell gasoline are NOT considered gas stations. This means no Target, no Costco, no Sam’s Club. Examples of merchants that count (and this is not a complete list!!) are Exxon, Mobil, Hess, Shell, Gulf, Murphy USA, Murphy Express.

Major US Department stores details. These are the only stores that qualify:

• Bealls
• Belk
• Bloomingdale’s
• Bon Ton Stores
• Boscov’s
• Century 21 Department Stores
• Dillard’s
• J.C. Penney (JCP)
• Kohl’s
• Lord & Taylor
• Macy’s
• Neiman Marcus
• Nordstrom
• Saks Fifth Avenue
• Sears
• Stein Mart

The card has a $75 annual fee, but keep in mind that spending $25 per week at supermarkets, that 6% back can earn over $75 Reward Dollars per year ($78) to pay for the annual fee by itself.

If you spend the max cap of $500 a month at supermarkets, that would net you $360 cash back in a year vs. $60 at 1% cash back or $120 at 2% cash back. You should remember that you can find gift cards to many popular retailers at your local supermarket these days. I would put my non-bonus-category charges on a card earning more than 1%.

The Blue Cash Preferred also has 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. After that, your APR will be a variable rate, currently 12.99% – 21.99%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors. Balance transfer fee is either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

“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.”

1,000 Free Hilton Honors Points For Updating Password

Hilton is offering people 1,000 Hilton HHonors points for creating a “real” password to replace their previous 4-digit PIN. Took me less than a minute. You must do this between March 12th and March 25th, 2015, and points will be posted in 6-8 weeks. From the e-mail I received:

As of April 1, 2015, we will no longer be accepting PINs. All members will instead be required to create a secure password. […] As a thank you, if you proactively update your password before March 25, 2015, you’ll receive 1,000 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points. […] Create your password now by following the steps below:

• Visit the Personal Information section in your account profile by logging in with your current credentials, and then select “Create Username and Password”.
• Your new password must be at least 8 characters, contain at least 1 upper case letter, contain at least 1 number or 1 special character.

If you are not a current Hilton Honors member that joined before 3/12/15, you are not eligible. However, you can sign-up for a new account using this separate 1,000 point bonus.

Participating in this promotion will also extend the expiration date of your points to 12 months out from the date of posting. Per the Hilton website:

Hilton HHonors points do not expire as long as members remain active in the program. To keep an account active, members can stay at one of Hilton Worldwide’s hotels, or earn or redeem HHonors points within 12 months.

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!