FreeCreditReport.com Review: Free Experian Credit Report Every Month, No Credit Card Required

freecreditreport0Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, has bought the domain FreeCreditReport.com and converted it to a place where consumers can view their Experian Credit Report for free. There is no credit card required, no trial membership required. Like most of its competitors, “free” does mean that you’ll see advertisements and offers for paid premium features. Checking your own credit will not hurt your credit scores.

All things equal, why not get your credit reports “straight from the source”? If I get my Experian data directly from Experian, that means one less third-party that may have access to my personal information. (I admit, I do sign up for a lot of such sites anyway, and I signed up for this one as well.) Here’s a screenshot (click to enlarge):

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Sign-up process. You will need to provide your personal information like name, address, birthdate, and Social Security Number. You’ll also need to verify your identity by answering some multiple-choice questions based on your credit report data.

I’m okay with some unobtrusive ads and upsells in exchange for free monthly credit reports. I have not tried any of their paid premium features. I did notice that when you sign up, it is not mandatory to sign up for their special offers. You can still proceed even if you uncheck the box.

How can I refresh my report? You can refresh your Experian credit report as often as every 30 days, but only if you log in to the website. Many sites operate this way, as it reduces their costs of grabbing your score if you are no longer interested. Also, they want you to log in so that they can show you advertisements.

Bottom line. FreeCreditReport.com is legit, owned by Experian, and offers free access to your Experian credit report. Experian already has all your information anyway. No credit card is required. Being able to get an updated report every 30 days is more frequent than other options.

See also: Get a free copy of your TransUnion credit report (another of the three major credit bureaus) through the TransUnion-owned site called TrueIdentity.

Amazon Prime $20 Off Grand Tour Promotion (11/18 Only!)

grandtour0If you’ve been in withdrawal from “proper” Top Gear, the new Amazon series The Grand Tour premiers on Friday, November 18th (press release). The three original stars Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have gotten back together and there are 12 new episodes that will stream weekly.

To try and attract these new gearheads, Amazon is running a one-day Grand Tour Prime promotion on Friday 11/18 from 12:00am ET to 11:59pm PT.

For one-day only, eligible new Prime members can join Amazon Prime for $79 (normally $99) and save $20 on your first year’s membership in celebration of The Grand Tour launch.

The promotion does not apply to existing or gift memberships. I’m not 100% positive on this, but I believe that a “new” membership simply means that your account must not currently have an active Amazon Prime membership, not that you’ve never had one in the past.

Here’s the official trailer on YouTube. If you already have Amazon Prime, here is the Grand Tour streaming link. I’ll definitely be watching. 🙂

IKEA In-Store Discount: $25 off $150 Coupon

ikea0Back again for this holiday season, IKEA has a printable $25 off $150 coupon [pdf] that is valid until December 24th, 2016. The coupon states that you can also show it on your phone at checkout. Valid in-store only.

These are pretty rare. Here is the fine print:

Valid November 14 – December 24, 2016. One coupon per household. Valid in stores only. No cash value. Cannot be combined with other IKEA offers or discounts, except IKEA FAMILY product offers. Not valid on IKEA Kitchen Event offer, IKEA services, Eat for Free or Kids Eat Free IKEA Food Offers, IKEA FAMILY Individual Kitchen Planning Service Offer. Not valid on previous purchases or the purchase of IKEA Gift Cards. See store for details.

Amazon 20% Off Promotion Code With Wedding Registry

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Amazon is offering a Registry Completion Discount for people who open a wedding registry with them. Within a month of your stated event date, you’ll receive a promotion code good for 10% off an entire order of up to $1,000 ($100 max discount). If you have Amazon Prime, the discount is bumped to 20% off an entire order up to $1,000 ($200 max discount).

Selected terms and conditions:

  • Promotional code expires within 90-days from the date in which the promotion was received via email.
  • If you created your registry less than 30 days before your wedding and no purchases were made off your registry, you will not be eligible for the promotion.
  • The Wedding Gift may be used only one time for one order of up to an aggregate of $1,000 USD (a maximum discount of up to $100 USD) for non-prime members. Prime Savings Wedding Gift may be used only one time for one order of up to an aggregate of $2,500 USD (a maximum discount of up to $500 USD).
  • The Prime 20% off Wedding Gift promotion will be limited to Prime customers who are members of Campus, Fresh, Prime Members with Shipping Benefits, Prime members with Mom benefits. This excludes trial, Student and Invitee members.
  • The Wedding Gift applies only to select items sold by Amazon.com. It does not apply to the same items sold by other sellers.
  • The Wedding Gift may only be redeemed through the Amazon account of the primary registrant of the Wedding Registry.
  • You may not qualify for another Wedding Gift for 2-years following the use of the Wedding Gift.
  • Promotional code may not be applied toward the purchase of gift cards, sales tax, gift wrap, or additional shipping costs.

Notably, you do not have to submit any documentation about your event. However, your registry must be active for at least 30 days and someone must have bought something off the registry in order to qualify for this promotion.

AmEx Special Offers: $20 off $100 at Staples.com

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Updated. It looks like the ongoing double points on purchases at small businesses is going to be the only Small Business Saturday promotion this year, but here’s a pretty good Staples.com promo that can easily generate some extra cash on each of your American Express cards. I prefer offers where I can do everything from the computer anyway.

Look for this offer in your online account or link your card to Twitter and tweet #AmexStaples.

Staples.com. Spend $100 or more, get $20 back. Get a one-time $20 statement credit by using your enrolled Card to spend a minimum of $100+ in one or more transactions online at staples.com by 12/31/2016. See terms for exclusions.

Valid online-only. Staples-branded gift cards are excluded, but you can still buy other gift cards like Visa gift cards, Target, Gap/Banana/Old Navy, Home Depot, Whole Foods, and more. For example get a $100 Target gift card with free e-mail delivery for $80 net. Use the offer on every American Express card you have, and the benefit multiplies.

There are also some good targeted offers out there, like 10% off your cable or Satellite TV bill, 10% off your cellular phone bill, and others linked to specific merchants.

Background. American Express cardholders can participate in “AmEx Offers” which offer discounts to various merchants. These promotions often offer the opportunity for easy savings without changing your spending habits. For places that I shop at regularly, I can often buy a gift card to lock in the savings.

Each separate card, including authorized users, may have different offers available to them. In addition, adding an offer to one card may remove the same offer from another card. Although as commenter Oleg notes “If you have multiple cards and you activated for an offer on one of them, this offer may disappear from others. You can open several [web browser] tabs, retrieve each card separately and apply for an offer.”

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 on their Favorites page.

There are many different American Express cards today, but these two are my current favorites:

Hilton Hotels Free Status Match Link

hiltonhonors0Hilton Hotels has a promotion which matches the elite status of any other hotel loyalty program free for 90 days. You can register online at this Hilton Honors Status match link. If you complete four stays in those 90 days, you can keep your Gold status extended through March 31, 2018. If you complete eight stays in those 90 days, you can keep your Diamond status extended through March 31, 2018.

Eligible hotel chains include but are not limited to Choice Hotels, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and Starwood Preferred Guest. As long as you might have even a single Hilton stay in the next 90 days, it may be worth registering in order to get the perks.

True Identity Review: Free Unlimited TransUnion Credit Reports, Free Credit Lock, No Credit Card Required

trueidentity0TrueIdentity by TransUnion is a new identity protection website that is free with no credit card required and no trial memberships. The highlights:

  • Free TransUnion credit reports. Unlimited reports and refreshes.
  • Free Credit Lock feature. Stop access to your TransUnion report with a single swipe or click.
  • Free instant alerts. Includes alerts for new accounts, inquiries or address changes.
  • Free mobile app. Android and iOS.

I decided to sign up and dig around. Here’s a screenshot of the main dashboard (click to enlarge):

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Free TransUnion credit report details. A partial screenshot of my report page is below. As one of the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion already has all your other personal information. I’m glad they let me see it for free. Note that you’ll have to pay to see reports from the other two credit bureaus, Equifax and Experian (see below). The report is free and current, although I can’t seem to find how often you are allowed to refresh your report.

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Free Credit Lock feature details. When you credit report is “locked”, it can’t be accessed by creditors, landlords, or employers. If they ask for it, their request will be denied. Credit Lock appears to be another layer created by TransUnion that is separate from a formal credit freeze (which I believe is regulated by law). A credit freeze is free only if you are already a victim of identity theft, otherwise it costs a fee and you often have to call in to get it lifted. I believe the requests must be submitted during the following times for immediate processing:

Monday-Saturday, 2 a.m.-11 p.m. Central Time
Sunday, 5 a.m.-11 p.m. Central Time

During these times (only a 3 hour gap around midnight during weekdays), the credit lock is pretty much instant (they warn that it may take up to 5 minutes). Therefore, you can theoretically keep your TransUnion report locked at all times, and then lift that lock just minutes before you actually apply for a loan or credit card. That’s my plan. Here’s a screenshot of my post-lock page:

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Free instant alerts details. You can pick from instant e-mail or SMS text alerts. I believe there are alerts via the mobile app as well. They will e-mail you weekly or monthly to confirm that you have no new alerts.

If it’s free, how will TransUnion make money? First, you will see ads for credit products (much like similar credit-related sites). Second, you can upgrade to their TrueIdentity Premium tier, which costs $9.99 a month and adds the following features:

  • TransUnion credit score (VantageScore 3.0).
  • Credit report data from the other two credit bureaus, Equifax and Experian.
  • Phone access to Identity Restoration & Lost Wallet Specialists with up to 1,000,000 in Identity Theft Insurance.
  • Premium alerts which monitor additional databases including black market websites, courtroom records, and payday loan databases.

Bottom line. TrueIdentity by TransUnion offers some handy features for the excellent price of free. No trials, no credit card required. You might be able to get your TransUnion credit report data elsewhere, but the real-time Credit Lock feature is unique. You’ll have to upgrade to $9.99 a month for features like cash insurance or an army of helpers to guide you if you do become a victim of identity theft. But again, there is no need to upgrade, ever. Sign up for TrueIdentity here.

Amazon 2% Balance Reload Rewards Promotion

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Amazon has a targeted promotion for Prime members that offers you a 2% bonus when you reload your Amazon gift card balance using a checking account. For example, if you load $100, you will get $102 in Amazon credit. To see if this promotion is available to you click here to visit the Reload Your Balance page. If you are eligible, you will see the banner below.

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For qualifying transactions, a reward equal to 2% of your qualifying reload amount will be automatically applied to your Amazon Balance after the qualifying transaction has been completed. You must reload your Amazon Balance using the payment method that includes a checking account and linked debit card. The maximum single reload amount to your Amazon Balance may not exceed $2,000.

I’m usually not targeted for these promotions and I saw it, so perhaps it is relatively popular. Note that this promotion isn’t all that valuable if you already purchase things on a 2% cash back credit card, or even better on a 5% back credit card with Amazon as a rotating category. Prime members can also get 5% back with the Amazon Store Card, which is basically a credit line that is only good for Amazon purchases.

However, if you avoid credit cards in general and usually buy things on a debit card, this is an easy way to get a little extra towards your Amazon shopping. Load your balance first via this promotion, get the 2% extra, and then go shopping.

Free 2,000 La Quinta Returns Points Promotions

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Added new 1,500 point offer. You can earn 1,500 free La Quinta Returns points by linking your Visa credit card and your mobile number to your La Quinta Returns account. Valid until December 31st, 2016.

Introducing Redeem Away!™ – a travel industry first from La Quinta Returns™. Now you’re free to redeem your points for lots of everyday purchases, on the go and with a tap of your mobile phone. Benefit exclusively for Visa® credit cardholders. Enroll today and redeem points toward qualified transactions at restaurants, drug stores and more. Get 1,500 points* when you link your Visa credit card and your mobile number to your Returns™ account, now until 12/31/16.

Previously, I shared that you can earn up to 500 free La Quinta Returns points by registering for La Quinta Returns Social Rewards and then using your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter social media accounts:

– Register and Receive 100 points
– Link Your Social Handles to La Quinta and get 100 points per channel
– During Registration, Follow us on Twitter and Instagram to receive 100 additional points for each follow
– Tweet or Instagram with #LQReturns and get 50 points.

These bonus miles aren’t worth a ton, but they can be handy as La Quinta may close your account if it remains inactive for 18 consecutive months.

Free 1,600 Marriott Rewards Points Promotion (500+ Starwood Points)

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You can earn up to 1,600 free Marriott Rewards points by registering at this Chirpify promotional page and then connecting your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter social media accounts for 500 points each (1,500 total points). Afterwards, they will also offer you another 50 points each to follow Marriott Rewards on Instagram and Facebook (100 total points.) Valid until December 7th, 2016.

Due to the ongoing Marriott-Starwood Hotels merger, you can transfer 1,500 Marriott points over to 500 Starwood Preferred Guest points, which will reset the expiration of your Starwood points and have your account considered active for another 12 months.

Best Interest Rates on Cash Reserves – November 2016

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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. In my opinion, having a solid cash cushion is the first step towards financial independence.

I don’t chase rates nearly as much as I used to, but it still pays to shop around. Chase Bank on a 1-year CD? 0.02% APY. Bank of America on a 10-year CD? 0.15% APY. Who buys these things?!? Meanwhile, the rates below vary from 1% up to over 3% annualized.

As of 11/6/2016, below is a roundup of the best rates 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. I prefer the ones with a history of competitive rates, and I’ve been with Ally Bank for over 5 years. Their online savings is currently at 1% APY.
    Short-term guaranteed rates (under 1 year)

  • If you’ve got a big wad of cash that you’re waiting to deploy shortly (just sold your house, just sold your business, inheritance), I say just keep it safe until you’re ready to invest it properly. Palladian Private Bank has a 6-month promotional rate of 1.30% APY guaranteed (maximum initial deposit of $100k) for new accounts. After the first 6 months, the rate reverts back to their normal rate (currently 1.10% APY). Since the initial promo rate is fixed, this makes it the higher 6-month CD rate available.
    Flexible Savings Bonds

  • Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation. “I Bonds” bought right now will earn a 2.76% rate for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. You must hold them for a year, and if you redeem them within 5 years there is a penalty of the last 3 months of interest. While future rates are unknown, at the very minimum it will be competitive with the best 1-year CD rates. More info here.
    Prepaid Cards with Attached Savings Accounts

  • A small subset of prepaid debit cards have an “attached” FDIC-insured savings account with high interest rates. The risks are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). The other catch is that these good features may be killed off without much notice. I pulled my money out of my NetSpend card after the eligible balance dropped to $1,000 (no longer worth the effort for extra $3 a month in interest).
  • Insight Card is one of the best remaining cards with 5% APY on up to $5,000 as of this writing. Fees to avoid include the $1 per purchase fee, $2.50 for each ATM withdrawal, and the $3.95 inactivity fee if there is no activity within 90 days. If you can navigate it carefully (basically only use ACH transfers and keep up your activity regularly) you can still end up with more interest than other options.
    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 4.59% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY on a $10k balance might be easier to achieve unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. Note that the 4.59% APY requires you to apply and get approved for an additional credit card through them (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses). Keep your 12 debit purchases small as well, as for every $500 in monthly purchases you may be losing out on 2% cashback (or $10 a month on after-tax benefit).
    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, UNIFY Financial Credit Union (formerly Western Federal Credit Union) is offering a 5-year Share Certificate paying 2.00% APY ($1,000 minimum balance) with an early withdrawal penalty of only 90 days interest. For example, if you withdraw from this CD after 2 years and pay the penalty, your effective rate earned will still be 1.76%. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization, it appears it might be free or at most a one-time $25 fee.
    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 11/9/2026 that pays 2.10% APY. (Unfortunately, current long-term CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.) 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 0.10% rate). Think of it as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You really, really want to be sure you’ll keep it for 20 years.

All rates were checked as of 11/6/16.

Discount Mags Employee Discount Sale

moneymag2016DiscountMags.com is running their Employee Discount Sale through Monday 11/7 where you pay what they pay. In my experience, these really are the lowest prices you’ll see from them (although they do run the sale more than once a year). Lots of the mainstream magazines are under $5 a year. Right now is good timing for the holiday season as well, as it takes 4-6 weeks to get your first issue of a gift subscription.

Here are some sample magazine prices during the sale. If you visit their home page directly, you won’t see these special prices.

  • Bloomberg Businessweek. 1 year, 55 issues for $14.78 ($0.30/issue).
  • Consumer Reports Magazine. 1 year, 13 issues for $19.75 ($1.52/issue).
  • Money Magazine. 1 year, 12 issues for $9.79 ($0.82/issue).
  • Outside Magazine. 1 year, 12 issues for $4.79 ($0.40/issue).
  • Martha Stewart Living. 1 year 12 issues for $5.57 ($0.56/issue).
  • The Atlantic. 1 year 10 issues for $4.63 ($0.46/issue).
  • Better Homes & Gardens. 1 year 12 issues for $4.56 ($0.38/issue)

Importantly, DiscountMags does NOT require auto-renewal, where they charge your credit card automatically at the end of the subscription period at a higher price. This mean you never have to call in to cancel, and makes it easier to shop for another deal later. No sales tax, no other funny charges.