BeFrugal.com: Another Cashback Shopping Portal

BeFrugal.com Members

$10 refer-a-friend bonus is back. BeFrugal.com is yet another cashback shopping portal that gives a percentage back on online shopping purchases made through their links. Right now it’s also offering a $10 sign-up bonus for a limited-time to get you started. You’ll need to accrue $25 total in cash back within 90 days to withdraw your rewards. This is more restrictive than previous promos, but if you have enough purchases coming up (holidays?) it might be worth a shot. Promotion expires 11/30/15.

To qualify for a $10 Refer-a-Friend bonus, a) new referrals must click on your unique Refer-a-Friend link and sign up as a BeFrugal.com member through that click-through; b) new members must also confirm their BeFrugal.com account and earn $25 or more in Cash Back (not including bonuses and earnings from non-purchase activity) within 90 days of account creation.

Other sites that I have successfully cashed out from are eBates ($10 new user bonus after any purchase of $25+), Mr. Rebates ($5 new user bonus – minimum cash-out balance is $10), and Chase Ultimate Rewards (no bonus, but can be good value if you use these points).

BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card Review: $100 Bonus, Preferred Rewards Bonus

bofa_cashrewards191The BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card is the mainstream “cash back rewards” credit card branded by Bank of America. In this review, I’ll cover the basic card features but also focus on a lesser-known opportunity – if you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% – 75%. For such “relationship” customers, the bonus can change this card from good to great. Read on for details.

Here are the highlights of this card:

  • No annual fee
  • $100 online cash rewards bonus after you spend at least $500 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and 3% on gas up to the first $1,500 in combined grocery/gas purchases each quarter
  • No changing categories and no expiration on rewards
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases AND for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then, 13.24% – 23.24% Variable APR. 3% fee (min $10) applies to balance transfers.
  • Get a 10% customer bonus every time you redeem your cash back into a Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25%-75%. Click “Apply Now” to learn more about Preferred Rewards.

The Preferred Rewards program is designed to rewards clients with multiple account and higher assets located at Bank of America banking, Merrill Edge® online brokerage, and Merrill Lynch® investment accounts. Here is a partial table taken from their comparison chart (click to enlarge):

bofa_pref1

Let’s consider the options. Bank of America’s interest rates on cash accounts tend to be lower than highest-available outside banks, so moving cash over to qualify may reduce your interest earnings. Merrill Lynch advisory accounts also usually come with management fees. However, if you have brokerage assets like mutual funds and ETFs, moving them over to Merrill Edge may actually reduce your costs because at the Platinum and Platinum Plus levels they will actually give you 30 to 100 free online stock trades every month.

I recently moved a little over $100k of brokerage assets (Vanguard funds) over to Merrill Edge to qualify for Platinum Honors. I realize not everyone will have this level of assets to move around, but if you do then it is worth considering. Also, I later realized that it will take a while for my “3-month average combined balance” to actually reach the $100k level and officially qualify for Platinum Honors. Only after that will the 25% – 75% rewards bonus on credit card rewards kick in.

Cash Back Rewards Tiers for Preferred Rewards

Recall that the basic structure is “1/2/3”; you get 1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and 3% on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery/gas purchases each quarter (1/2/3). Here’s how the bonuses work out:

  • Platinum Honors 1.75/3.5/5.25: 1.75% cash back on every purchase, 3.5% at grocery stores, and 5.25% on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery/gas purchases each quarter.
  • Platinum 1.5/3/4.5: 1.5% cash back on every purchase, 3% at grocery stores and 4.5% on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery/gas purchases each quarter.
  • Gold 1.25/2.5/3.75: 1.25% cash back on every purchase, 2.5% at grocery stores and 3.75% on gas for the first $1,500 in combined grocery/gas purchases each quarter.

Note that the terms state “The Preferred Rewards bonus will replace the customer bonus you may already receive with the card.”, which I interpret to mean that you will lose the 10% bonus for redeeming your cash back into a Bank of America® checking or savings account.

Well, I wish my cable company would offer such nice “bundling” incentives, as now Bank of America has managed to convince me to go from only having a checking account with them to now also having a Merrill Edge brokerage account with 100 free trades per month and a new Bank of America credit card.

(Side note: Stack this offer with the separate Merrill Edge brokerage sign-up bonus.)

Not all Bank of America consumer credit cards qualify for Preferred Rewards. Another card that does qualify is the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card (see review). I actually picked the BankAmericard Travel Rewards credit card myself, but for other folks the grocery and gas bonuses specifically available on this card may produce higher rewards. Also, this cards gives you cash while the Travel Rewards card rewards must be redeemed against travel purchases.

“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.”

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card Review: Great with Preferred Rewards Bonus

bofa_travelrewards191The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card is the main “travel rewards” credit card branded by Bank of America. In this review, I’ll cover the card features but also focus on a lesser-known opportunity – if you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% – 75%. For such “relationship” customers, the bonus can change this card from good to great. Read on for details.

Here are the highlights of this card:

  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don’t expire
  • 20,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days –  that can be a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want – you’re not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees
  • Now with chip technology for enhanced security and protection at chip-enabled terminals
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases, then 15.24% – 23.24% Variable APR
  • Get an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% or more.  Click “Apply Now” to learn more about Preferred Rewards

The Preferred Rewards program is designed to rewards clients with multiple account and higher assets located at Bank of America banking, Merrill Edge® online brokerage, and Merrill Lynch® investment accounts. Here is a partial table taken from their comparison chart:

bofa_pref1

Let’s consider the options. Bank of America’s interest rates on cash accounts tend to be lower than highest-available outside banks, so moving cash over to qualify may reduce your interest earnings. Merrill Lynch advisory accounts also usually come with management fees. However, if you have brokerage assets like mutual funds and ETFs, moving them over to Merrill Edge may actually reduce your costs because at the Platinum and Platinum Plus levels they will actually give you 30 to 100 free online stock trades every month.

I recently did a partial transfer of a little over $100k of brokerage assets (Vanguard funds) over to Merrill Edge to qualify for Platinum Honors. I should mention it may take a while for your “3-month average combined balance” to actually reach the $100k level and officially qualify for Platinum Honors. Only after that will the 75% rewards bonus on credit card rewards kick in.

(Side note: Stack this offer with their Merrill Edge brokerage sign-up bonus. Moving over $100k will get you $500 if you respond by 12/15/15.)

Cash Back Rewards Tiers for Preferred Rewards

This card has a relatively simple rewards structure; you earn 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases. 1 point = 1 cent statement credit against any travel purchase made on the card (flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees). As long you as you travel at least occasionally, I feel it is okay to value them at 1 cent per point, which means you could call this a “1.5% back on all purchases, if applied towards travel purchases” rewards card. Here’s how the bonuses then work out:

  • Platinum Honors: 2.625% back, if applied towards travel, or 2.625 points per dollar spent on any purchase (75% bonus).
  • Platinum: 2.25% back, if applied towards travel, or 2.25 points per dollar spent on any purchase (50% bonus).
  • Gold: 1.875% back, if applied towards travel, or 1.875 points per dollar spent on any purchase (25% bonus).

Note that the terms state “The Preferred Rewards bonus will replace the customer bonus you may already receive with the card.”, which I interpret to mean that you will lose the 10% bonus for redeeming your cash back into a Bank of America® checking or savings account.

Well, I think their plan is working because Bank of America has managed to convince me to go from only having a checking account with them to now also having a Merrill Edge brokerage account and a Bank of America credit card. I definitely realize not everyone will have this level of assets to move around, and so this is somewhat a restricted offer. But if you do then it is worth considering. Both Platinum and Platinum Honors levels allow you to reach tiers that effectively give you over 2% back on all purchases, with the important caveat that your rewards must offset previous travel purchases on the card.

Not all Bank of America consumer credit cards qualify for Preferred Rewards. Another card that does qualify is the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card. I picked this BankAmericard Travel Rewards credit card myself, but for other folks the grocery and gas bonuses specifically available on the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card might give you higher rewards.

“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.”

List of Free Starwood Preferred Guest Points + Avoid Expiration

spg-logoUpdated. Here are some quick deals for some free Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points. I’ll try to update this post instead of making new ones in the future. These are handy for extending the expiration of all your points, which otherwise may be lost after 12 months of inactivity. Also, they’ll get me a tiny bit closer to a Heavenly Bed in some foreign country. 😉

  • 150 SPG Points for Security Questions. Starwood wants to improve their security with a set of questions. The questions try to be clever and I had trouble answering them, but I’ll do it for the free points (and then copy the answers in my password manager). Visit this link, answer the four questions before 10/31/15, and you’ll get 150 points. Don’t use Chrome browser for iOS.
     
    There is no indication of promo on the page. See this FT thread by an official Starwood representative for proof this is legit. Selected fine print:

    *Bonus offer: Member can earn a onetime bonus of 150 Starpoints after selecting and answering four (4) security questions on spg.com from October 8, 2015, through October 31, 2015 (the “promotion period”). This promotion is not transferable. Offer available to existing SPG members only (as of 10/8/15). Bonus Starpoints will be credited to the member’s account within 2–4 weeks of the close of the promotion on October 31, 2015.

  • 200 SPG Points for E-Statements. First, make sure you are not signed up for Starwood Preferred Guest E-statements. Log into your online account and go to Manage My Account > My Profile > Communications Preferences and make sure the box is unchecked. You should get an e-mail confirmation of any saved changes.

    spg200_1

    Next, either make sure you are logged out of your account or open a new Incognito window. Now visit this SPG Dashboard link and look for this offer at the bottom of the page. Click both checkboxes and Update Your Account. You should probably also register for the promo on the right as well.

    spg200_2

    Don’t unsubscribe from these e-mail newsletters until your points post in 2-4 weeks. See selected fine print:

    An eligible member can earn 200 bonus Starpoints for opting in to the email subscription(s) in the form field on the SPG Dashboard and clicking “Update Your Account.” A member can only earn the bonus once during the offer earn window, which ends Nov-24-2015. A member must subscribe to all of the displayed email subscription(s) using the form field on the SPG Dashboard for the Starpoints to be earned.  Bonus Starpoints can take up to 2 to 4 weeks to post to your account after confirmation that you have successfully subscribed.

I always make sure my wife’s SPG account also does these deals, as it extends her account activity and you can transfer points over within the same household (with same physical address).

Jet.com: Dropping Membership Fee, Will Volume Pricing Be Low Enough?

jet

Update October 2015. CEO Marc Lore just announced that Jet is dropping its membership fee for everyone. They’ve only been live for a few months, so most customers are still on a free trial anyway.

This was surprising for many because Jet was supposed to be following the “Costco model” – sell you things at thin profit margins and make their money on the $50 annual membership fee. However, recall that Costco also makes a lot of money on Executive members who earn 2% back on all purchases. If you spend over $5,500 a year at Costco, you effectively don’t pay any membership fee. The margins are thin, but the numbers still work for Costco if you spend enough.

Jet has a “Smart Cart” feature that lowers your unit pricing based on volume and shipping efficiency, so the goal appears to be to encourage high-volume shopping. I’ve read reports that the average Amazon Prime customer spends about $1,000 a year at Amazon. Is that enough? Shrug, I’ll leave the profitability issue to their management and investors.

Jet does have good prices on some things, so depending on what you like to buy they may save you some money. Get $10 off your first order of $35+ with code TENBUCKSNOW. Even better, the competition is forcing Amazon to lower their prices, so you can benefit without ever shopping at Jet. Let some of that venture capital flow into your wallet. :)

Original post from July 2015:

Jet.com has officially launched its attempt to bring the Costco model to online shopping. That is, they plan on selling you things at near-zero profit margins and make their money on the annual $49.99 membership fee. The more stuff you add your cart, the lower the total cost. The more you buy from the same warehouse, the lower your total cost. Free shipping on orders of $35 or more.

This supposedly means prices that are 10% to 15% lower than Amazon on average, even listing the Amazon price right on their page for instant comparisons. How they show savings is a little confusing… things make more sense after adding it to your cart.

For example, this pack of toilet paper shows $21.05, the same price as Amazon. But I can save $9.06 by actually adding it to my cart, which brings the actual price to $11.99, much cheaper than Amazon. If I buy *two* packs, then my sub total is $42.10 which breaks the $35 barrier and gets me free shipping. But my actual total due is only $22.74, less than $35. Confusing, but hey it works out in my favor so I’m cool with it.

jet_tp

jet_tp3

However, this model only works at a certain scale, and this WSJ article points out that they are often buying stuff from other competitors when they don’t have the item in their own inventory:

The Hoboken, N.J., company is absorbing steep losses on many orders filled as part of a trial run that began in March, largely because Jet hasn’t signed up enough partner merchants or opened enough warehouses to directly sell much of the merchandise shown on its website.

When a Jet customer buys items that aren’t in its inventory or available from partner merchants, a Jet employee buys the items from another website and has them shipped directly to the customer. That is expensive for Jet because the company often pays high shipping costs plus any difference between its advertised price and the amount charged by the outside website.

For example, The Wall Street Journal recently bought 22 items from Jet. Twelve were shipped to the Journal by retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., J.C. Penney Co. and Nordstrom Inc., according to sales receipts.

Jet’s prices for the same 12 items added up to $275.55, an average discount of about 11% from the prices Jet paid for those items on other retailers’ websites. Jet’s total cost, which also includes estimated shipping and taxes, was $518.46.

So in other words, the 11% pricing discount above is not due to an awesome business model yet. They are being artificially suppressed with investor money. Now, spending venture capital funds in the search for rapid growth is common for internet start-ups, but I don’t remember any of my early Amazon orders coming in a Barnes & Noble box.

As a consumer, I suppose the best thing to do is simply enjoy the loss-leader savings during your free trial and then decide if it’s worth $50 a year. Costco is highly profitable but even they offer their $4.99 rotisserie chickens as a loss-leader, missing out on $40 million a year in order to keep people coming in the door.

Best Interest Rates for Savings Accounts and CDs – Updated October 2015

percentage2Rates checked as of October 3rd, 2015. Our family keeps a year’s worth of expenses (not income) put aside in cash reserves; it provides financial insurance with the side benefits of lower stress and less concern about stock market gyrations. In my opinion, emergency funds can have a better return on investment than what you see on your bank statement.

I don’t chase rates nearly as much as I used to, but it still pays to shop around. Too many places are paying ZERO or close to it – most mega banks, short-term US Treasuries, and money market sweep funds. Chase offers on a 1-year CD? 0.02% APY. Bank of America on their 10-year CD? 0.15% APY. Meanwhile, the rates below vary from 1% up to over 3% annualized.

Best Currently Available Interest Rates
Here is a brief roundup of the best interest rates available on deposits backed by the full faith and credit of the US government (FDIC-insured, NCUA-insured, US Treasury Bonds, US Savings Bonds). I will try to sort them from the shortest to longest maturities.

    High-yield savings accounts

  • Online savings accounts, everyone’s got one these days. Currently, the ones with a history of competitive rates are around 1% APY. These savings accounts can change their interest rate at any time, so if you’re going to just pick the highest one, be ready to move your money.
    Short-term guaranteed rates (under 1 year)

  • Everbank Yield Pledge Money Market and Interest Checking account both offer 1.60% APY guaranteed (balances up to $150k on the Money Market) for the first 6 months for new accounts. Since it is fixed, this is essentially a 6-month CD with a higher rate than any other 6-month CD rate out there and with no early withdrawal penalty to worry about.
    Flexible Savings Bonds

  • Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation. Unfortunately, “I Bonds” bought right now will earn nothing for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. For new money, I would wait until mid-October when the next rate adjustment is announced. More info here.
    Prepaid Cards with Attached Savings Accounts

  • There is a special subset of prepaid debit cards that have the option of an “attached” FDIC-insured savings account with high interest rates. Balances are usually capped. Some of these have monthly fees and other fees for things like ATM withdrawals, so you should read the terms carefully.
  • I am currently experimenting with the NetSpend Prepaid Visa and the Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard, both of which offer 5% APY on up to $5,000 each. (Having both means I have $10k at 5% interest.) If you are referred by an existing user (links above are mine), we can both get an additional $20 bonus after depositing at least $40. (You can only get one $20 bonus even if you open both, as they are from the same company.) Detailed review upcoming.
    Rewards checking accounts

  • These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with some risk. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. But the rates can be high while they last.
  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 5.09% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY is easier to achieve unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. The rate is guaranteed until December 31, 2015, although that’s only 3 months away
    Certificates of deposit

  • If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. Why not put some money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay an early withdrawal penalty. For example, Synchrony Bank (formerly GE Capital Retail Bank) is offering a 5-year CD paying 2.25% APY $25k+ balances (2.20% APY for $2k+) with an early withdrawal penalty of 180 days interest. For example, if you withdraw from this CD after 2 years and pay the penalty, your effective rate earned will still be 1.69%.
  • Northwest Federal Credit Union has a limited-time CD offering 3.04% APY for 3-year term. $10,000 minimum and $100,000 maximum. Limited to new deposits only and limit 1 certificate per member. Early withdrawal penalty is 366 days of interest. Check if you qualify for free membership, but anyone can pay $10 to join a partner association and obtain membership that way. More details from Ken at DepositAccounts.
    Longer-term Instruments

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? Did you know that you can buy certificates of deposit via Vanguard’s bond desk? These “brokered CDs” offer the same FDIC-insurance and are often through commercial banks like Goldman Sachs. As of this writing, you can get a 10-year CD maturing 10/2/2025 that pays 2.85% APY. Prices will vary regularly.
  • How about two decades!? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.50% APY). Think of it as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You really want to be sure you’ll keep it for 20 years.

All rates were checked as of 10/3/15.

RingPlus: Basic, Free Cellular Phone Service – 1000/1000/1000 Talk/Text/Data

rplus_logoUpdated with new limited-time generous plans. RingPlus is a Sprint MVNO that offers cheap cellular phone plans, starting at… $0. You can bring over an off-contract Sprint phone (check eligibility) or you can buy one from them (slightly more expensive that on secondary market). They make money partially from ads – ads play whenever you call someone instead of the normal ringing. When your friend picks up, the ad stops immediately. You also pay for any overages past your free allotment. There are no contracts and no activation fees.

Recently, Ringplus has been aggressively courting new customers with limited-time plans. RingPlus free plans are usually only open a for a limited window, and then it closes for a while. But recently, their plans have been getting more generous, with special super-generous plans available for a few hours only. These have very little notice, but it’s worth checking their site daily if you are very interested. For example, I was able to jump on a plan with 1000 min, 1000 text, and 1000 mb every month for free. The fine print states that I must keep a non-zero balance, otherwise I will be charged a $10 top-up that will apply to any future overages.

The most recent offer is here and I can write about since it actually lasts more a few hours! Here is the best link for current offers. You can again get 1000 minutes, 1000 text, 1000 mb data until Monday 10/5/15 at 10 pm Pacific. Eligibility includes new Member and existing member sign ups with any eligible Sprint Bring Your Own Device which has not been previously activated on RingPlus for at least 30 days. They also require you to share on social media. If you miss this one, be on the lookout for future phases.

You may also find a “Jasmine” Plan with 500 minutes, 500 texts, and 500 MB of data for $0 a month with fewer restrictions.

The most important thing is to find an eligible phone and activate it during the window. It can be an ancient flip phone from Virgin Mobile (Sprint MVNO). Later, you can swap the phone out for 99 cents and keep the free plan.

You will need a credit card on file, although some of their plans don’t even require a credit card (but come with much fewer free minutes). No additional activation fee. Not even additional taxes are due on the zero plans (taxes are due on top-ups). Here’s a screenshot of their current plans, but again they change daily.

rplus_20151003

Here’s a screenshot of my dashboard that tracks your usage:

rplus_dash2

Are there any catches?

  • You have to sign up for their free plans during certain availability windows. That means you’ll need the ESN of an eligible off-contract Sprint phone waiting around, ready to go. If you’re like me, you have to resort to asking all your friends if they have any old Sprint phones you can have.
  • In the past, RingPlus has discontinued their free plans without much notice if they can’t line up enough advertisers in your calling area. That would be annoying, especially if you invested good money into a Sprint phone. Have a backup plan.
  • Honestly, I don’t know if giving away this much free talk and data is a viable business model. They are definitely trying to grow customer base and sacrifice short-term profitability. Again, know that they may cease operations with little or no notice. Plan ahead as to how you would quickly port your number to another cheap service.
  • If your phone is not eligible, then they may de-activate your plan in the future, even if you manage to activate it initially.
  • You must maintain activity on your plan. If you don’t make a call every 60 days (may differ by plan), they will de-activate your account and you’ll have to pay a fee to re-activate.
  • If you do sign up and decide to link your credit card, know that overages cost 2 cents per text, minute, or MB. MMS picture messages are at an additional cost (4 cents each). Roaming is available, but those overages are much more expensive. I would disable roaming completely on your phone to avoid such surcharges.

In case you were wondering, this is not a VoIP-only service like FreedomPop as normal calls use the Sprint voice network. However, free WiFi calling is an option so you can save your minutes. I know there are some RingPlus users out there as readers, so please share and discuss in the comments!

Finametrica Risk Tolerance Assessment Review + Discounts

riskprofile0Spend any time researching investments, you’ll eventually run across the concept of “risk tolerance”. If you don’t hold an investment through both the ups and downs, then you won’t enjoy its average returns, either. So how can you predict your behavior ahead of time?

What the financial industry uses is a risk tolerance survey, or risk questionnaire. You are asked a series of multiple choice questions based on theoretical scenarios to find your risk tolerance. You or a hired professional can then use that information – along with other factors like risk required and risk capacity – to determine your portfolio. I’ve taken several of these online assessments, but can someone really know how they would react to a 50% drop in their net worth in an environment of mass panic, without actually experiencing it? It is the real-world behavior that matters.

If a risk survey is the best tool available, what is the best risk survey? Which one is most carefully-written, backed by academic research, and historically vetted? From what I can tell, that is the Finametrica Risk Profiling Survey. Normally the cost is $40 for an individual to take the test, but I ran across a discount in this CNN Money article:

You can get a more accurate gauge of your appetite for risk by completing a risk tolerance questionnaire. Vanguard has a good asset allocation tool that’s free, while FinaMetrica offers a more comprehensive version for $40 (although given recent market turbulence FinaMetrica is offering the test and the nine-page report that comes with it for $4 until the end of September). Both tests recommend an investment portfolio based on your answers.

Okay, four bucks, I can handle that. (The promo has been extended to October 31st, as well.) I paid, answered 25 multiple choice questions, and I was done in under 10 minutes. Of course, a few more minutes of poking around and I discovered the same test for free by clicking here. Pfft. What’s up with that?

(Update: Reader Jason points out that the free version doesn’t accept free e-mails like “gmail.com”. I would suggest trying various free e-mail forwarding services if you want a workaround. Just google “disposable e-mail”.)

Questions. I took screenshots of the entire survey but I won’t post the specific questions here. They do share these sample questions, which I can confirm are actual questions from the paid test.

1. Compared to others, how do you rate your willingness to take financial risks?
Extremely low risk taker.
Very low risk taker.
Low risk taker.
Average risk taker.
High risk taker.
Very high risk taker.
Extremely high risk taker.

2. How easily do you adapt when things go wrong financially?
Very uneasily.
Somewhat uneasily.
Somewhat easily.
Very easily.

3. When you think of the word “risk” in a financial context, which of the following words comes to mind first?
Danger.
Uncertainty.
Opportunity.
Thrill.

The general idea is that the questions poke and prod you from various directions, trying to avoid having one misunderstood question alter your overall results. The questions were all brief and multiple choice, except for the last one which asked you to predict your own risk tolerance score relative to the overall population.

Results. Well, I guessed that my score would be 50 out of 100. My actual score was 54 out of 100, which they say is “slightly-higher-than-average” and actually in the 64th percentile. (So the score isn’t a percentile even though they are on a bell curve? I’m not good at statistics.)

riskprofile1

According to your risk, you are assigned one of 7 Risk Groups. You are then told the “typical attitudes and values” for people of your Risk Group, as well as if you differed significantly in any specific areas. Here’s how people in my Risk Group 4 would have picked their overall portfolio:

riskprofile3

So my risk tolerance peers would pick Portfolio 4, but in reality I am between a Portfolio 5 and 6.

Finally, you are provided a summary chart. Here’s mine:

riskprofile2

Final impressions.

  • Relatively good risk tolerance survey. I’ve already expressed my view that these surveys are only one limited piece of the puzzle. But as far as risk surveys go, this one did feel like it went more in-depth than others that I have tried. However, I would have enjoyed more interactivity and/or questions using charts and/or graphs.
  • Best as a tool to help communicate your personality to others, like spouse or financial advisor. I didn’t feel the report was very useful to me. I already know that I am a relatively conservative investor who also knows that I have to take some risks to beat inflation. The real value of this survey is that it would help describe my investment personality to my spouse, partner, kids, or financial planner. So if it’s just you, I don’t know if I can recommend it. If you want to educate a family member, then it may be worth the time and money. If you have an advisor, get them to pay for it. :)
  • $40 price point is high for individuals. As a DIY investor, I would not have paid $40 to answer 25 multiple choice questions about myself. I can definitely see an advisor paying that much on behalf of their client as part of their service (and many do). At the discounted $4 rate, I thought it was worth it. Of course, free would have been even better…
  • Don’t expect any specific portfolio recommendations. The CNN article promised a “recommended investment portfolio based on your answers”. I don’t think that is an accurate statement (see table above). I would say you just get a very high-level breakdown of what other people of a similar risk level “would prefer”. They don’t even use the words “stocks”, “bonds”, or “cash”.

Chase Ink Plus Business Card Review: 60,000 Rewards Points Bonus

Chase Ink Plus Card Art

One of Chase’s small biz credit cards is called the Ink Plus® Business Card. It turns out to be very similar to the Chase Ink Bold Business card, but with the important difference that the Ink Plus is a credit card where you can carry a balance and the Bold is a charge card that you must pay in full each month. See terms for pricing details.

This means that the Ink Plus is a separate card with its own sign-up bonus, currently a 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after your after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months your account is open. You can read about my Ink Bold bonus experience here.

Ultimate Rewards points are very flexible:

  • Cash. 1 point = 1 cent in cash, so 60,000 points = $600 cash.
  • Travel. 1 point = 1.25 cents towards travel, so 60,000 points = $750 towards travel at the same prices at Expedia or Travelocity (no % markups), split up however you like into multiple tickets, down to the penny. Good for people who don’t like to bother with miles.
  • Frequent flier miles and hotel rewards points. Transfers directly to United miles, British Airways miles, Hyatt hotel points, and Marriott hotel points. Best for folks that are willing to research and maximize their miles. Top up your account to reach an award, an transfer over only what you need..

Here are the important features of this card:

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 5X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 2X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Chip-enabled for enhanced security at home and abroad when used at a chip card reader
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • $95 Annual Fee

Based on past experiences, you should be able to get this card and bonus in addition to the Ink Cash card as they are different cards. I already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred personal card, so I’ll probably wait for a bit and then try out this new card as well for my business. Gift cards purchases are also useful for satisfying the spending requirement for the bonus.

Many people aren’t aware of the fact that they can apply for business credit cards, even if they are not a corporation or LLC. The business type is called a sole proprietorship, and these days many people are full-time or part-time consultants, freelancers, or other one-person business. This is the simplest business entity, but it is fully legit and recognized by the IRS. On a business credit card application, you should use your own legal name as the business name, and your Social Security Number as the Tax ID. This is how I got all my cards before incorporating, and how my wife gets her business cards for her small side business.

“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.”

British Airways Credit Card Review – Total of 100,000 Bonus Avios!

British Airways Visa Signature Card

Updated: Version of 100k offer is back. Here’s an offer that we took advantage of previously for multiple free flights both within the US or internationally. The British Airways Visa Signature® Card is offering 50,000 bonus Avios after you make $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.  An additional 50,000 bonus Avios can be hitting the following purchase plateaus in the first 12 months:

  • 25,000 bonus Avios after spending an additional $10,000 in your first year (total of 75k miles)
  • Another 25,000 bonus Avios after spending an additional $10,000 in your first year (total of 100k total bonus Avios after $20,000 spent in year 1)
  • This bonus offer is available to you as long as you have not received a new cardmember bonus for this product in the past 24 months.
  • $95 annual fee.

In addition to the bonus Avios, you will also get 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases. Another perk is no foreign transaction fees, handy when traveling and saving you up to 3% off everything compared to cards that have the fee. Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa Card, you’ll earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years. Smart Chip Technology allows you to use your card for chip based purchases in Europe and beyond.

The Avios reward chart is now based on how far you want to travel in terms of miles. So what can you do with all those points?

Redeem awards domestically on partner American Airlines. Within the US, it’s usually easiest to find flights on partner American Airlines. There are no fuel surcharges when booking with American. Seating availability will be limited, but if you are flexible there is decent inventory.

  • Los Angeles to Honolulu, Hawaii using only 25,000 Avios points roundtrip. I ran a quote in Fall and it cost $659 broken down to $621 fare and only $38 in taxes. So in this case you could save $621 in exchange for 25,000 points, which is 2.5 cents per point. You can also do JFK to LAX for 25k points roundtrip.
  • Shorter-distance flights can be a good deal as well. Round Trip from Chicago to New York City is only 15,000 Avios points + about $30 in taxes. Charlotte, NC to New York City is only 9,000 Avios roundtrip. Los Angeles to Las Vegas is also 9,000 Avios roundtrip. Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon is 15,000 Avios roundtrip.

More details below:

Finding partner awards on BA.com is better than is was in the past, so try it first. Type in your to/from cities within the US, choose to book flights with Avios points, and then click to include partners:

If you have the flexibility, you can also search for additional dates for more available seats. Here’s a trip I found for a short flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Los Angeles (LAX) for just 9,000 miles + $5. So with 50,000 bonus miles, you could take 5 of these flights and have points left over!

You may find more space going business class in the US. If you’re travelling on set dates, you may want to look for business class tickets instead. Why use 50,000 miles on some “anytime” Economy ticket when you could flight in business class comfort? Here’s a cross-country business class trip I found from San Francisco (SFO) to New York (JFK) for 50,000 miles + $5.

Use the American Airlines AA.com website and look for “MileSAAver” awards. Record the exact flight dates and numbers, and then call at British Airways at 1-800-452-1201 to book them. If you can’t find the same flight on BA.com, they should waive the phone book fee (they did for me). Don’t be discouraged if you have to use this method, especially if you aren’t flying nonstop. Also, call back and talk with a different agent if they aren’t helpful initially.

Redeem Avios points for business class to South America. There are also no fuel surcharges with booking on LAN Airlines. You can get New York to Buenos Aires, Argentina for 50k Avios roundtrip.

Redeem Avios points for business class to Europe. Since business class is so expensive, but the flight across the Atlantic is so long, redeeming points for business class tickets can be a good value as well, but there are big fuel surcharges. But if you really want to go this route as we did, they are a much smaller proportion and your trip will be so much more comfortable and truly an experience.

A roundtrip business class flight quote from New York City to London was $3,640, with $2,540 in fare and $1,100 in taxes. I could book the same award ticket for 80,000 Avios points plus $1,100 in taxes. Now we’re talking 3.2 cents per point.

Therefore I figured, why not use this card as an excuse to go to Europe in style, because I would never have done so otherwise. When booking my trip, I ended up calling in and getting a really nice customer service rep that used her tricks to nab me a combination of American and British Airways flights from my city to both London and Rome and back, all for under 100,000 miles. The flight was a first-time experience for me… priority check-in and boarding, first class lounges with showers and buffets, multi-course inflight meals, actually sleeping on seats that were fully flat, etc.

How not to use your miles. Don’t use Avios for a economy class transatlantic flight from USA to Europe, because you’ll still be subject to taxes and fees on award redemptions, which are often half the entire cost of the ticket. I ran a quick search for a random New York City (JFK) to London (LHR) flight that cost $1,050, the taxes and fees alone were $650. You can get the $400 “fare” for 40,000 Avios points, but that’s only 1 cent a point value.

Finally, you can also use partner airlines such as LAN Airlines or Cathay Pacific to get from the US to both Asia and South America on business class for 100,000 Avios or less.

Finally, if you can manage to spend $30,000 a year on the card, you can even earn a 2-for-1 Travel Together Ticket good for two years when you redeem for a flight on British Airways. With the Travel Together Ticket, you can bring a companion on your next reward flight without using any additional Avios points. Fees and taxes do still apply, but the voucher is valid to any destination and includes first/business class. Another family tip is that you are allowed to pool miles between multiple people in a “household account” to make redemptions easier. So you, your spouse/partner, and other relatives can share points.

To get the max bonus requires a decent amount of spending, but the value is so high that it may be worth the effort. This was actually done x2 for Mrs. MMB and we traveled together. We householded accounts and that way I could redeem flights for both of us. It worked well because we could all book tickets together on the same flight all at once.

“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.”

TopCashBack: Shopping Portal With 100% Commission Payout – Updated Promos For New and Existing Members

Flat $10 New Member Bonus is back. New members must sign up through a referral link and then earn $10 in cash back through shopping. When that happens, your $10 bonus will be “released” and available for withdrawal. Promotion ends 3:00am PT on Monday, November 16, 2015

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For some reason, the $10 bonus isn’t indicated on the referral link landing page, but I tested it and it does work. After you sign up with e-mail and password, you should immediately see the $10 in your account before making any purchases. Please verify yourself as well:

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If you aren’t already a member, some other portals also offer sign-up bonuses:

  • eBates ($10 new user bonus after any $25+ purchase, $5 mininum cash-out)
  • Mr. Rebates ($5 new user bonus, $10 minimum cash-out)
  • BeFrugal.com ($5 new user bonus)

Original post:

topcashnewWhen you shop online these days, it’s become habit to search out a coupon or go through a shopping portal that gives a percentage back on purchases made through their links. Well, talk about a race to the bottom. Instead of rebating you part of their merchant commission, TopCashBack.com promises to rebate you all of it (and make money via ads on their website). You wouldn’t think that would be a viable business model, but the company is already the #1 cashback site in the UK so apparently it works for them.

TopCashBack also lets you get your payouts with direct ACH deposit, PayPal, and also Amazon gift certificates with a 2.5% increase in value. I usually pick the Amazon option and have cashed out multiple times without issue.

Sometimes one of these sites may privately negotiate a higher payout temporarily, so TopCashBack may not always be the highest. For example, I usually get 1% back on eBay purchases from TopCashBack, but I can currently get 3 American Airlines miles per $1 spent as well from another portal if I wanted.

Also, if you use miles or points, you may prefer getting 2 points/miles per dollar back as opposed to 2 cents per dollar back. For example, I’ve been warming up to the UltimateRewards Mall (must first have a Chase Sapphire, Chase Freedom, or Chase Ink Plus card) as 1 Ultimate Reward point is worth 1.25 cents towards travel or converts to 1 United or British Airways mile.

Citi Thank You Points Now Transfer to Virgin America + Limited-Time 25% Bonus

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Citi has gradually been improving the flexibility of their ThankYou (TY) Points rewards program. In the last couple years, they have added several internationally-based airline partners on a 1:1 basis including Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Etihad, Flying Blue by Air France and KLM, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways. Today, Citi announced that eligible cardholders can now transfer their ThankYou Points to US-based Virgin America Elevate® points. The list is currently restricted to “premium” cards including the Citi ThankYou Premier® Card and Citi Prestige® Card. (As long as you have one of these cards, you can transfer in ThankYou points earned from other cards.)

What are Virgin American Elevate points worth? To keep things simple, the overall best redemption option is for US flights on Virgin America. (There are other partner airlines available, but that gets more complicated.) Here is Virgin America’s US route map [pdf], which includes New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cancun, and soon Hawaii.

Assuming you are interested in one of their routes, Elevate points are pretty easy to use. There are no blackout dates or capacity restrictions, so you can redeem points for any domestic Virgin America flight. The amounts of points for a reward flight is vary with the cash cost of the ticket (before taxes and fees). As long as you have an Elevate account, you can poke around and get an idea of the ratio. For the flights I looked at, it varied from 1.6 to 2.6 cents per Elevate point.

Here’s an example San Francisco to Honolulu flight at 2 cents per point for Main Cabin:

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Here’s an example Austin to Los Angeles flight at 2.6 cents per point for Main Cabin:

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Transfer ratio and value details. ThankYou points will transfer to Virgin America Elevate® points at a 2:1 ratio, with a 1,000 points minimum. In other words, the minimum transfer would be from 1,000 ThankYou points to 500 Virgin America Elevate points. At this standard redemption ratio of 2:1, that gives you a value of 0.8 to 1.3 cents per Citi ThankYou point using this transfer option.

Limited-time 25% transfer bonus. If you make such a transfer by 10/21/15 (11:59 p.m. ET), you will get a 25% bonus on your Elevate points. During this promo, every 1,000 Thank You points = 625 Virgin America Elevate points. At this promotional redemption ratio of 2:1.25, that gives you a value of 1 to 1.6 cents per Citi ThankYou point using this transfer option.

Better to book through ThankYou Travel Center? The problem is that the transfer are only limited to the premium cards, which already have a pretty good redemption option via the Travel Center, which is a aggregation site like Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz that sells flights, hotel stays, car rentals, and cruises at similar prices.

  • The Citi ThankYou Premier® Card offers 1 ThankYou point = 1.25 cents toward any travel booked through Citi ThankYou Travel Center. You also still get to earn elite qualifying miles on your redeemed flights.
  • The Citi Prestige® Card offers 1 ThankYou point = 1.33 cents toward any travel booked through Citi ThankYou Travel Center. You still get to earn elite qualifying miles on your redeemed flights. In addition, you get 1.6 cents per points when redeemed towards American Airlines or US Airways flights. You also still get to earn elite qualifying miles on your redeemed flights.

I am interested in this development because I am currently in my first year of owning the Citi Prestige card and have already earned a 50,000 Thank You point bonus and want to spend them. For me, the two best redemption options value-wise are now on specific Virgin America flights depending on the point/price ratio and all American Airlines flights where I can get close to 1.6 cents per point value. The added flight choices make it easier to find a redemption overall.

I’ve never flown on Virgin America myself, but I wouldn’t mind trying them out as they seem to be at the top of many “best US airlines” lists for customer service and flying experience. (Not that the competition is all that great.)