Free 100 Air Canada Aeroplan Bonus Miles

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New offer. Even small amounts of bonus miles can be handy as Air Canada requires activity every 12 months to prevent Aeroplan miles expiration. Give some feedback on a short video at get 100 bonus Aeroplan miles.

100 bonus miles will be credited to your account in the next 6–8 weeks.

Amazon Prints Promotional Code: 50 Free 4×6 Photo Prints + Free Shipping

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New code for 50 free prints. Amazon Prints is offering another round of 50 free 4×6 photo prints, with free shipping for Prime members. Use promotional code FREE50PRINTS by September 17, 2017 11:59pm PT. This current code should work again even if you already got 50 free prints using a previous code. Supposedly the actual printing is done by Snapfish.

Amazon Prime Photos includes unlimited online photo storage, plus 5 GB for videos and files. These free prints are a little push to get you to upload your photos with Amazon instead of Google, Apple, Facebook, Shutterfly, etc.

Big List of Ways To Protect Your Credit: Free Credit Monitoring, Credit Locks, Fraud Alerts, and Credit Freezes

eq_hackAs you probably know, Equifax was hacked and literally half of all Americans could be affected. It seems like every media outlet has a “what you should do now” article, but I’ve also gotten some e-mails asking for my personal take (for which I’m flattered). Here goes…

Free credit reports. Everyone should take advantage of the free copy of their credit reports (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) and their bank report (ChexSystems, TeleCheck) available every 12 months. I would also add LexisNexis to the ones I personally check. This free access is mandated by the government. Here again is my Big List of Free Consumer Reports.

Free credit monitoring. There are many offers nowadays for free credit scores and partial snapshots of your credit report. These are provided by private services, either in partnership with or as a subsidiary of the major credit bureaus. In addition, some offer credit monitoring, where they will e-mail or text you when a significant change occurs (new accounts, etc). I choose to take advantage of this, knowing it is in exchange for some ads. Here’s a recipe for credit monitoring coverage across all three major bureaus:

Free credit locks. The credit bureaus now have a feature that allows you to instantly “lock” and “unlock” the credit report of a specific credit bureau and thus prevent access. These are nice because you can unlock it for a day or so when you need, but otherwise keep it locked. Again, if they are free, they are probably supported by ads and/or upsells (which is fine by me, I will stick with free).

Free 90-Day Fraud Alerts. If you are concerned that your personal information is compromised (you should be!), you can contact any one of the three major credit bureaus and ask for a “Fraud Alert” to be placed on your credit report. This lets all potential creditors know that you are at high risk and that they need to do extra identity verification. Be sure that they have your current contact information as they will call you every time someone tries to check your credit report.

This is free of charge. It will expire automatically after 90 days, but you can call in and renew by submitting a new request within 30 days of your current alert expiring. (If you are a documented victim of identity theft, you can ask for an Extended Fraud Alert of up to 7 years.) By law, you should only need to contact one of them, and they are supposed to contact the other two companies and thus have the Fraud Alert active on all three accounts. Taken from FTC.gov:

Credit Freezes (Fees may apply). This is the most comprehensive but also tedious and potentially-costly measure to take. Once you initiate a credit freeze, it will stay on there permanently in most states (or at least 7 years in others). In order for a business to check your credit report, you must manually “unfreeze” your credit temporarily. To initiate, this may cost around $10, but Equifax is waiving this fee for the next 30 days. Temporary unfreezing may cost another $5 to $10 each time, depending on your state. Finally, it may cost another ~$10 to lift the freeze permanently. Now possibly triple those fees, because you have to pay separately for each bureau. Here is the Equifax fee schedule by state [pdf]. If you are a documented ID theft victim with police report, fees may be waived. You can do this online, snail mail, or by phone. You must contact each credit bureau separately.

My take. That’s the menu; I would start at the top and pick what works for you. I tend to open a relatively high number of credit and bank accounts throughout the year, often for a time-senstive promotion, so I choose to decline the extra hassle and cost that comes with a credit freeze. If you rarely get new accounts or simply feel otherwise, go more extreme. I initiated a free 90-Day Fraud Alert this week to try it out (through Equifax since they should do the extra work).

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I already access my credit reports/ChexSystems/LexisNexis every 12 months, and I continuously monitor my own credit using the services listed above. Here’s a sample free alert I got from CreditKarma just the other day.

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I then cross-referenced with a similar free credit monitoring alert from CreditSesame (TransUnion) that included more info like date and card issuer:

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By the way, yes I decided to set up the free TrustID Premier service for the free Equifax locks. I know there was a lot of concern about the forced arbitration clause as part of TrustedID, but Equifax has since removed that clause. Also, I didn’t like how they made me come back to activate (without any reminder). Of course, even after being patient and coming back on my assigned date, they are making me wait some more…

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Amazon Prime + American Express Promotion: Fire Tablets $15

fire7Here’s another quick deal for Amazon Prime members that also have American Express Membership Rewards points. First, all Amazon Prime members can get the following prices this week:

However, if you have an American Express Rewards account, click here and check eligibility for up to a $30 discount when you pay with at least one AmEx point. Even if the link says you’re not eligible, it should still work as long as you follow all the directions below. Found via SD. You may need to first link your American Express card.

Be sure to select your linked American Express card as payment method, select the option to Pay with Points (you can use just 1 point), and apply the promo code to trigger the discount. So much fighting to be the credit card used at Amazon…

Discover Card + Amazon 1-Click $10 Promotion

Discover it ImageAmazon has a targeted offer for $10 Amazon credit when you switch your 1-Click default payment method to an eligible Discover credit card. They’ve run similar offers for Citi and Chase in the past, I guess now Discover gets a turn to give me an easy ten bucks.

The link should show your eligibility (for the account that is currently signed-in). It probably won’t work if your 1-click default method is already Discover. You could try and remove it first. I had a Discover card already in my account, but not set as 1-click, and it worked for me. $10 credit valid on items both sold and shipped by Amazon.

If you have a Discover card, you may also want to sign up for their free Social Security Number Monitoring and New Account Alerts. I keep my Discover it card open for its rotating 5% cash back rewards.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard Review: 40,000 Points = $400 Limited-Time Bonus

AFB_ARF_card_rRGB_ArrivalPlus_Fee_WE (1)The Barclaycard Arrival Plus(TM) World Elite MasterCard® is a travel rewards card with a limited-time offer worth at least $400 and the annual fee is waived the first year. Here are the card highlights:

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days – that’s enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Redeem for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise.  Redemption values vary.
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Chip technology, so paying for your purchases is more secure at chip-card terminals in the U.S. and abroad
  • Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on Balance Transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, 16.99%, 20.99% or 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness. Please note, there is a fee for balance transfers
  • Complimentary online FICO® Credit Score
  • $89 annual fee waived for the first year

Rewards program details. With this card, you earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all purchases. There are no special categories. These miles (easier to think of them as points, really) are then redeemable towards travel booked from any merchant or retailer classified as Airlines, Travel Agencies & Tour Operators, Hotels, Motels & Resorts, Cruise Lines, Passenger Railways and Car Rental Agencies. You can redeem towards any airline on any date.

First, visit any booking site (Delta.com, Expedia.com, Hilton.com, Hotels.com, etc) and buy a ticket with this credit card. You don’t need to use any specific portal. Let’s say you buy an airplane ticket for $250. Then, you visit your Barclaycard account website and you’ll offset your purchase. You’ll redeem 25,000 “miles” and see a $250 statement credit on your statement. (Accruing those 25,000 miles would have taken $12,500 in accumulated purchases, if not part of sign-up bonus or other incentive.) I’ve done this multiple times, and it always went smoothly with no issues.

Travel statement credit redemptions start at 10,000 miles for $100 toward a qualifying travel purchase of $100 or more made within the last 120 days. For example, you could use 10,000 points for a $100 credit towards a $200 plane ticket, if you wished.

On top of that, the card gives you a 5% miles rebate when you redeem for any travel. So if you redeemed 50,000 miles, you would get 2,500 back in your account after about a week. Although this adds a layer of complexity, you can calculate that technically getting $500 of value out of 47,500 miles at 2X miles/$ spent works out to 2.11% cash back towards any travel. Everything else (gift cards, merchandise) offers a worse redemption ratio, so don’t bother.

Comparison with alternatives. 2X miles is nice and the rebate adds a bit extra. However, this card also has an $89 annual fee that is waived for the first year. So for the first year you’re good, but the competition offers multiple cards earning close to 2% cash back with no annual fee at all. A few examples:

Again, the math says that you would have to put over $80,000 in purchases on this card annually in order to get the 0.11% advantage to offset the $89 annual fee (after the 1st-year waiver). That’s a big number. Now, Barclaycard did offer me a second fee-free year when I called in to cancel the card a couple years back (your results may vary). This bought me enough time to spend all my miles. I could have also used 8,900 miles to offset the second year $89 annual fee. A final option is to downgrade the card to the no annual fee version after a year.

Bottom line. $400 value sign-up bonus towards travel. 2.11% effective rewards card towards travel. Long-time readers know that I want to see a $500 net value over the first year before I try out a new credit card, and this card satisfies that hurdle and paid for a chunk of my summer travel. However, past the first year of ownership, I do not like the idea of eventually paying an $89 annual fee with a theoretical max of 2.11% back when I can get 2% back with no annual fee from other cards.

Equifax Hack Check Tool, Free Year of Identity Theft Protection and Credit Monitoring

equifaxlogoEquifax announced that they were hacked between May-July 2017, exposing the personal information of potentially over 143 million people. As one of the three major credit bureaus, they have a lot of data: credit card numbers, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers. Essentially, everything you need for identity fraud.

Equifax has a Potential Impact Tool that lets you check if they believe your information has been exposed. You must provide your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. It seems that unless they say “you’re not affected”, then you should assume you were affected. No matter what, they are offering everyone a free year of Equifax TrustedID Premier service, which includes:

  • 3-Bureau credit monitoring of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports
  • copies of your Equifax credit report
  • the ability to lock and unlock your Equifax credit report
  • identity theft insurance
  • Internet scanning for Social Security numbers

They’ll give you a date and you’ll need to come back to activate. I suppose they need to make a queue with that many new “customers”. Equifax also set up a dedicated call center at 866-447-7559, open 7 days a week, 7am–1am Eastern time.

So the business that gets to collect all my personal data (and then charge me for a credit score based on that data) lost my data, and as an apology gives me a temporary subscription to their own identity protection service (which people pay for because… their data gets hacked). Does anyone else feel like there needs to be more of an incentive not to get hacked? This benefit only lasts for a year, so you may want to sign up for other free credit monitoring services. Also see the Big List of Free Consumer Reports on how to get a free full copy of your credit and other consumer reports.

Plastiq Promotion: Pay Mortgage With Mastercard for 1.5% Fee

plastiq_logoPlastiq has a new 1.5% promo rate (standard fee is 2.5%) if you schedule 3 or more mortgage payments with your Mastercard by end of this 2017. You must pay the standard 2.5% first, and then discount will come in the form of a rebate check sent by January 5, 2018. The check will be sent to the name and billing address associated with your Mastercard used for the promotion. Max rebate is $200. Their instructions:

  • Schedule 3 or more monthly mortgage payments by checking the box next to recurring.
  • Use a Mastercard.
  • Set up the first 3 payments so they are set to process between September 5, 2017 and December 31, 2017 11:59 p.m. EDT.
  • Look for a notification of eligibility on the payment review screen.

Here are some ways that this promo may be useful…

Sign-up bonus spending requirements. Sign-up bonuses on credit cards usually have spending requirements. For example, you might get a $500 value bonus but need to spend $3,000. Well, that’s effectively 16.7% back so if you need a little help to get over that hurdle, it’s okay to pay a 1.5% fee.

2% cash back credit cards, or similar. If you have a rewards credit card that offers 2% cash back (or equivalent value in points), then you can still make a slight profit by putting them on your credit card. A current example is the Citi Double Cash Card. For example, if you have a mortgage bill of $5,000 and you earned 2% cash back while paying a 1.5% fee, your net 0.5% is $25. You could also get another month or so of “float” before the your credit card bill is due.

Combine a rewards card + 0% APR on purchases. Many credit cards offer 0% APR on purchases for an introductory period of 12 months or longer. If the card also has a half-decent rewards program on purchases, the combination of purchase rewards and spreading out the payments over a year at no interest could be attractive.

Referral program. Plastiq has a somewhat confusing referral program. If a new user signs up via a referral link and pays $500 worth of bills, they will then get $500 “fee-free dollars”. So first you’d have to pay the fee on a bill, and then on your next bill, $500 of it will be “fee-free” (at 2.5% that’s a $12.50 savings). The referrer will get $1,000 in fee-free dollars. If you take advantage of the promo above, that should trigger the bonus. Here’s my referral link. Thanks if you use it.

Best Interest Rates on Cash Savings – September 2017

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Interest rates are slowly waking up from their multi-year slumber, so I’m paying closer attention to the various changes each month. Don’t let a megabank pay you 0.01% APY or less for your idle cash. Here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Rates checked as of 9/4/17.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks rarely offer good yields, there are many online savings accounts offering competitive rates clustered around 1.0%-1.2% APY. Remember that with savings accounts, the interest rates can change at any time.

  • The Mega Money Market accounts of both Redneck Bank and All America Bank (they are affiliated) are paying 1.50% APY on balances up to $35,000. Note that amounts over $35,000 earn only 0.50% APY.
  • Other sample top rates without a balance cap: DollarSavingsDirect at 1.40% APY, Synchrony Bank and Goldman Sachs Bank are at 1.20% APY. Notice that BankDirect was 1.35% APY last month, but today is now only 0.15% APY! Boo.
  • As I’ve been “bait-and-switched” a few times myself, I’m still sticking with my Ally Bank Savings + Checking combo due to their history of competitive rates (including CDs), 1-day interbank transfers, and a overall user experience. I also like the free overdraft transfers from savings that let’s me keep my checking balance at a minimum. Ally Savings is at 1.20% APY.

Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, you should know that money market and short-term Treasury rates have inched upwards. It may be worth the effort to move your money into a higher-yielding money market fund or ultrashort-term bond ETF.

  • The Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund has increased their SEC yield now to 1.10%. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which only has an SEC yield of 0.97%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • The following bond ETFs are not FDIC-insured, but if you want to keep “standby money” in your brokerage account and have cheap/free trades, it may be worth a look. The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 1.55% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 1.57% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months. More info here.

Short-term guaranteed rates (1 year and under)
I am often asked what to do with a big wad of cash that you’re waiting to deploy shortly (just sold your house, just sold your business, legal settlement, inheritance). My standard advice is to keep things simple. If not a savings account, then put it in a short-term CD under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • Ally Bank No-Penalty 11-Month CD is paying 1.50% APY for $25,000+ balances and 1.25% APY for $5,000+ balances. The lack of early withdrawal penalty means that your interest rate can never go down for 11 months, but you can always jump ship if rates rise.
  • Advancial Federal Credit Union has a 6-month CD at 1.63% APY ($50k min) and a 12-month CD at 1.78% APY ($50k min). If you don’t otherwise qualify, you can join this credit union with a $5 fee to Connex Professional Network and maintaining $5 in a Share savings account. Via DepositAccounts.

US Savings Bonds
Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation and backed by the US government. You must hold them for at least a year. There are annual purchase limits. If you redeem them within 5 years there is a penalty of the last 3 months of interest.

  • “I Bonds” bought between May and October 2017 will earn a 1.96% rate for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. While that next 6-month rate is currently unknown, at the very minimum the total yield after 12 months will around 1% with additional upside potential. More info here.
  • In mid-October, the CPI will be announced and you will have a short period where you will have a very close estimate of the rate for the next 12 months. I will have another post up at that time.

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 negatives 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. My NetSpend card now only has an eligible balance up to $1,000.

  • 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. Earning 4% extra interest on $5,000 is $200 a year.

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.

  • Northpointe Bank has Rewards Checking at 5% APY on up to $10k. The requirements are (1) 15 debit card purchases per month (in-person or online), (2) enrolling in e-statements, and (3) a monthly direct deposit or automatic withdrawal of $100 or more. ATM fees are rebated up to $10 per month.

Certificates of deposit (greater than 1 year)
You might have larger balances, either because you are using CDs instead of bonds or you simply want a large cash cushion. Buying finding a bank CD with a reasonable early withdrawal penalty, you can enjoy higher rates but maintain access in a true emergency. Alternatively, consider a custom CD ladder of different maturity lengths such that you have access to part of the ladder each year, but your blended interest rate is higher than a savings account.

  • Advancial Federal Credit Union (see above) has an 18-month CD at 1.89% APY ($50k min) and a 24-month CD at 2.00% APY ($50k min). The early withdrawal penalty is 180 days of interest.
  • Ally Bank also has a 5-year CD at 2.25% APY (no minimum) with a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty and no credit union membership hoops. For example, if you closed this CD after 18-months you’d still get an 1.64% effective APY even after accounting for the penalty.
  • Hanscom Federal Credit Union is offering a 4-year Share Certificate at 2.50% APY (180-day early withdrawal penalty) if you also have Premier Checking (no monthly fee if you keep $6,000 in total balances or $2,000 in checking). HFCU also offers a 3% APY CU Thrive “starter” savings account with balance caps. HFCU membership is open to active/retired military or anyone who makes a one-time $35 donation to the Nashua River Watershed Association.
  • Mountain America Credit Union is offering a 5-year Share Certificate at 2.60% APY ($5 minimum) with a 365-day early withdrawal penalty. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization American Consumer Council for a one-time $5 fee.

Longer-term Instruments
I’d use these with caution, but I still track them to see the rest of the current yield curve.

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? You can buy certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer the same FDIC-insurance. As of this writing, Vanguard is showing a 10-year non-callable CD at 2.65% APY (Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs.) Unfortunately, current long-term CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.
  • 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). You could view as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You could also view it as long-term bond and thus a hedge against deflation, but only if you can hold on for 20 years. Too long for me.

All rates were checked as of 9/4/17.

Discover Card: Free Social Security Number Monitoring and New Account Alerts

disc_ssnDiscover has a new free alert service available to Discover cardholders on an opt-in basis. I must have missed the initial announcement. This is not complete identity protection (which usually costs a monthly fee of $10 or more) but the following subset:

  • Social Security Number Monitoring. Discover scans the internet including the “dark web” where stolen SSNs are often traded and sold for the purposes of identity theft and fraud. If your SSN is found, you will receive an alert.
  • New Account Alerts. Whenever a new account (credit cards, mortgages, car loans or other credit accounts) is reported on your Experian credit report, you will receive a notification. If you don’t recognize the new account, that can be an indication of identity theft.

You must authorize Discover to access your credit report, but since they are doing so on your behalf, this will not affect your credit score in any way. Opt-in and activate these alerts here. You can choose e-mail and/or text alerts. Deactivate here.

Bottom line. If you are a Discover cardholder, this is a free service that alerts you to new accounts and thus potential identity theft. I keep my Discover it card open for its rotating 5% cash back rewards.

Free 3-Month Tidal Premium Subscription Voucher Code

tidalReady for more music? Groupon is offering a free 3-month subscription of Tidal Premium music streaming service, which usually costs $9.99 per month. The standard free trial offer is only for 30 days.

Promotional value expires 30 days after purchase. Amount paid never expires. New subscribers only. Limit 1 per person. Claim codes cannot be resold, transferred for value or redeemed for cash. This promotion may not be combined with other offers. Limit one per customer and account. To redeem, must register credit card with merchant. After the 3-month promotional period, plans will automatically renew to $9.99 a month, unless canceled with merchant.

After purchase, you must view the Groupon PDF which will contain a unique voucher code needed to activate your free 3-month subscription. I’m not sure if you can cancel early to prevent auto-renewal after the 3-month period. I plan on waiting on redeeming this code until my other free music trials end, as my main concern is maximizing my listening time without ads.

World’s Most Popular Online Course: Learning How to Learn (Free)

courseraThe NY Times highlighted what is “arguably the world’s most successful online course”, Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects by Drs. Oakley and Sejnowski and sponsored by the University of California, San Diego. The course has been taken by 1.8 million people and it is free to access all the instructional materials ($49 to receive a certificate of completion).

The course provides practical advice on tackling daunting subjects and on beating procrastination, and the lessons engagingly blend neuroscience and common sense.

The course lasts 4 weeks and the time commitment required is estimated at 2-3 hours per week (depending on if you just watch the videos or complete all the exercises and additional reading). Also available in Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese. While the production quality is “home-brew, not Harvard”, people seem to like it. (This is not meant to be offensive, but it sometimes reminds me of “Fun with Flags” from the Big Bang Theory TV show.) Here’s an intro video from YouTube:

The next session starts August 28th, and I’ve signed up and watched a few videos already. So far, I prefer using the Coursera app on my smartphone. I don’t know if I’ll be able to complete everything, but you can always extend into the next session. I hope to learn something for myself and also some tips to pass on to my children.