Archives for February 2017

How to Minimize Investment Returns – By Warren Buffett

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

brk2015At the bottom of the Berkshire Hathaway 2016 Annual Report, you may not have noticed that Warren Buffett republished a previous article from the 2005 annual report titled “How to Minimize Investment Returns”. A version become the first chapter (find it here) of The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by Jack Bogle. I am jumping on the bandwagon and republishing this 2007 blog post below as well. 🙂

It’s both a highly recommended parable and it comes at the perfect price of free. Read it if you haven’t already.

Original post:

I just watched the Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness this weekend. I found it ironic that he really didn’t change job types when he joined Dean Witter. Mr. Gardner started out a salesman, and ended up a salesman. But by managing to change his product to financial services, he turned his tenacity and people skills into millions of dollars.

Why is financial services such a lucrative field? This reminded of an excerpt that I had saved from Warren Buffett’s 2005 Letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. Although a tad on the long side, I think it provides an excellent “big picture” view of investing the the stock market.

[Read more…]

Fidelity Investments Stock and ETF Trades now $4.95

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

fidelity_logoFidelity Investments has announced their online stock and ETF trades will now cost $4.95, down from $7.95 previously. The press release also points out that they also do not accept payment for order flow (unlike TD Ameritrade, Schwab, and E-Trade), and that their order routing has led to price improvement higher than industry average. I’m not sure of the dollar impact of all these factors taken together, but it could be significant if you trade a lot of shares.

Fidelity continues to offer 91 ETFs from Blackrock and Fidelity on their commission-free ETF list. The list includes many low cost iShares Core ETFs including:

  • iShares Core S&P Total U.S. Stock Market (ITOT)
  • iShares Core MSCI Total International Stock (IXUS)
  • iShares Core S&P 500 (IVV)
  • iShares Core Total USD Bond Market (IUSB)
  • iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond (AGG)

I don’t think it is a coincidence that Schwab recently cut their online trades to $6.95 per trade. (Update: Schwab will also drop to $4.95 starting March 3rd.) It’s interesting to see that the former “full service” brokerages all now offer trades at what used to be “discount” prices. (Scottrade rolled out $7 trades back in the 1990s.) I only hope that Fidelity keeps up its reputation for better customer service. Here’s a comparison chart from their press release:

fidocut1

Free trades? They do exist. Merrill Edge offers $6.95 trades normally, but will give you 30 free trades per month if you keep $50,000 in combined assets across Merrill and Bank of America deposit accounts (Platinum Preferred Rewards tier). With $100,000 in combined assets, you get 100 free trades a month. Moving over existing assets from another broker qualifies. Merrill Edge does not accept payment for order flow.

Robinhood offers $0 trades with no minimum required balance through their smartphone app (and less hand-holding). Robinhood does accept payment for order flow and now offers a set of premium paid features.

Berkshire Hathaway 2016 Annual Letter by Warren Buffett

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

brk2015

Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) released its 2016 Letter to Shareholders [pdf] over the weekend. Although the financial media will create some catchy headlines, I recommend reading it for yourself. It is only roughly 30 pages long and is always written in a straightforward and approachable fashion. Even if you aren’t interested in BRK stock at all, reading the letter can be educational for individual investors of any experience level. Here are my personal notes and comments.

Bullish on America. This is a repeated theme from past shareholder letters.

From a standing start 240 years ago – a span of time less than triple my days on earth – Americans have combined human ingenuity, a market system, a tide of talented and ambitious immigrants, and the rule of law to deliver abundance beyond any dreams of our forefathers.

[…] This economic creation will deliver increasing wealth to our progeny far into the future. Yes, the build-up of wealth will be interrupted for short periods from time to time. It will not, however, be stopped. I’ll repeat what I’ve both said in the past and expect to say in future years: Babies born in America today are the luckiest crop in history.

Berkshire Performance. Another topic that has been touched upon before is that Berkshire is huge and you shouldn’t expect the amazing results from when they were much smaller (19% annualized over the last 50+ years). However, they still plan on beating the S&P 500 over the long-term. If they didn’t, they’d tell their shareholders to move their money elsewhere.

As for Berkshire, our size precludes a brilliant result: Prospective returns fall as assets increase. Nonetheless, Berkshire’s collection of good businesses, along with the company’s impregnable financial strength and owner-oriented culture, should deliver decent results. We won’t be satisfied with less.

According to Morningstar as of 2/24/17, the trailing 10-year total return for BRKA is 9.1% annualized. The trailing 10-year total return for the S&P 500 index is 7.5% annualized. Not bad. (I should also disclose here that I own Berkshire (BRKB) shares in my separate “self-directed” portfolio which is a small percentage of net worth.)

Berkshire Fair Price. Another repeated theme. Buffett is authorized to repurchase large amounts of Berkshire shares at 120% or less of book value. In other words, 1.2x book price is a significant discount to Berkshire’s intrinsic value. If you’re getting close to that number, BRK is probably a “good deal”.

Stock holdings: Not necessarily buy-and-hold forever. This year, Buffett chose to emphasize that he has never promised to hold any particular stocks forever. (It does have no interest in selling its wholly-owned and controlled businesses.) Perhaps it is because he just bought shares of American, Delta, Southwest, and United Continental airlines. The airline industry has quite a rocky performance history. Perhaps it also to explain him selling all of his Wal-Mart shares.

Hedge Fund Bet. You’ve probably heard about this 10-year bet between the S&P 500 and a bunch of hedge funds. Here is my 2016 hedge fund bet update. The short version is that with 9 years down and 1 left to go, the S&P Index fund is up 85%. Of the 5 hedge funds (of funds), the worst hedge fund is up only 3%. The best hedge fund up only 63%. Buffett and the S&P 500 are very likely to win this bet.

I found it noteworthy that Buffett focused on the fact that no other hedge fund manager wanted to take the bet at all. Think about that. Only one guy was brave enough to step up, and how he’s getting bad publicity.

Subsequently, I publicly offered to wager $500,000 that no investment pro could select a set of at least five hedge funds – wildly-popular and high-fee investing vehicles – that would over an extended period match the performance of an unmanaged S&P-500 index fund charging only token fees. I suggested a ten-year bet and named a low-cost Vanguard S&P fund as my contender. I then sat back and waited expectantly for a parade of fund managers – who could include their own fund as one of the five – to come forth and defend their occupation. After all, these managers urged others to bet billions on their abilities. Why should they fear putting a little of their own money on the line?

What followed was the sound of silence. Though there are thousands of professional investment managers who have amassed staggering fortunes by touting their stock-selecting prowess, only one man – Ted Seides – stepped up to my challenge. Ted was a co-manager of Protégé Partners, an asset manager that had raised money from limited partners to form a fund-of-funds – in other words, a fund that invests in multiple hedge funds.

Buffett used to run a partnership where he would take a zero management fee and 25% of profits above a 6% annual return. Hedge fund managers today take 2% of assets annually no matter what and 20% of all positive returns. As usual, in this WSJ article Munger tells it straight:

When Mr. Buffett ran his investment partnerships in the 1960s, he charged no management fees and only took 25% of investment gains after the first 6%. Berkshire Vice Chairman Charles Munger praised that fee model earlier this month at the annual meeting of Daily Journal Corp., where Mr. Munger is chairman.

“I think it is fair and I wish it was more common,” he said of Mr. Buffett’s fee formula. “If it’s a bad stretch, why should you scrape money off the top?”

Rarity of skilled stock pickers. If anyone could identify another good stock picker, it would be Warren Buffett. I don’t recall seeing this claim before:

There are, of course, some skilled individuals who are highly likely to out-perform the S&P over long stretches. In my lifetime, though, I’ve identified – early on – only ten or so professionals that I expected would accomplish this feat.

Best book of 2016. I am currently listening to the Audible version of Shoe Dog by Phil Knight and it’s quite good so far. I’m only at the beginning where he bootstraps his shoe business from his parents’ basement and has the guts to fly all the way to Japan in the 1960s to ask for import rights in person. This book works really well as an audiobook.

The best book I read last year was Shoe Dog, by Nike’s Phil Knight. Phil is a very wise, intelligent and competitive fellow who is also a gifted storyteller.

Shareholder letters from 1977 to 2016 are available free to all on the Berkshire Hathaway website. You can also purchase all of the Shareholder letters from 1965 to 2015 for only $2.99 in Amazon Kindle format. Three bucks is a very reasonable price to have an official copy forever stored in electronic format. (Updated paperback will be re-stocked in mid-April for about $20. Don’t overpay for a stale physical copy.)

The 2015 Annual Letter discussed his optimism in America and his “Big 4” stock holdings. The 2014 Annual Letter discussed the power of owning shares of productive businesses (and not just bonds). The 2013 Annual Letter included Buffett’s Simple Investment Advice to Wife After His Death.

Food Rankings: Most Protein Per Dollar, Caffeine Per Dollar

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

icedteamixA while back I did a post on What Does 200 Calories Cost? The Economics of Obesity, where I found that you can find the cheapest calories in things like flour, pasta, oil, bread, and doughnuts. Meanwhile, the most expensive calories included all the fresh fruits and vegetables.

Michael Kirk of Efficiency Is Everything has put together his own nutritional spreadsheets and come up with other rankings. Below is an excerpt of his list of foods with the most protein per dollar. While lentils and pinto beans aren’t a surprise, I did find it interesting that white bread had more protein per dollar than whole wheat bread. White pasta also ranked higher than whole wheat pasta. Obviously, there will be some variability in the actual prices at your local grocery store.

proteindollar

Below is an excerpt of his list of foods with the most caffeine per dollar. It’s good to know that powdered iced tea can give good caffeine pop for the buck (I’m saving this discovery for summertime), but I’d still rather drink a good cup of coffee than take a pill.

caffdollar

I do like efficiency, although I don’t know if it is “everything”. I probably won’t plan my weekends around the alcohol per dollar list. 🙂

Infographic: It’s Never Too Late To Start

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notlate1There’s a new movie out about Ray Kroc and McDonald’s called The Founder. Did you know that Kroc was selling milkshake machines into his 50s until he stumbled on a pair of brothers buying a ton of milkshake machines for their new hamburger shop?

I don’t know if I would call him a role model, but Ray Kroc’s story does show that it’s never too late to start something. You don’t need to have started at age 18 in your college dorm room. Here’s an infographic from Anna Vital of Funders and Founders that provide other examples of people who took an indirect path to success. Click for original:

notlate2

Here’s another interactive infographic breaks down various successful self-starters with the age at which they started their companies. It turns out that 35 is actually the most common age to start a large, successful company. Perhaps it helps to build up a platform of experience (and failures?) first. Click on the image to reach the interactive version.

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Hopefully that provided a bit of motivation to keep reaching for that idea that always comes up when your mind is quiet.

It’s never too late to start putting money aside. It’s never too late to start working on your business idea. It’s never too late to spend your time differently.

Amazon Promo: $8.62 off $50+ Order (2/22 Only)

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In case you don’t visit every day (which is probably a good thing), Amazon.com is giving $8.62 off $50+ orders with promo code BIGTHANKS. Valid until 11:59pm Pacific 2/22 only. Must be shipped and sold by Amazon.

If you need filler ideas, you can’t buy Amazon gift cards but you can buy gift cards to other retailers like Starbucks or Whole Foods gift cards for any amount over $25. For example, you could buy something for $15 and buy a $35 gift card to get to $50.

Municipal Bonds vs. US Treasury Bond Yield Comparison

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As a follow-up to my post on the risks of investing in bonds, I should share that a slight majority of my personal bond holdings are in short-term and intermediate-term municipal bonds. Why? Well, here are some considerations if you are choosing between holding highly-rated municipal bonds and US Treasury bonds right now.

The Blackrock Blog has an article discussing potential effects of tax reform on muni bonds and also their latest Municipal Market Update [pdf]. Here is my interpretation of their points:

Lower individual tax rates would reduce the value of tax-exempt mutual fund income. However, the tax equivalent yield (TEY) of municipal bonds would likely remain higher than that of Treasuries. The calculation is straightforward. For example, at a 28% marginal tax rate, if a municipal bond earned 2%, that would be a tax-equivialent yield of 2/(1-0.28) = 2.78%. Here’s the chart from Blackrock:

muni1702_br

It is highly unlikely that the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds will be removed. State and local government need low-cost muni bonds to finance improvements in infrastructure. It is possible that the tax-exemption could be capped, but even in that case the market impact would be manageable.

Here’s the ratio of AAA-rated GO Muni bonds to Treasuries over the last 12 months (Source). As you can see, the ratio hovers around 90% to 95% without compensating for taxes.

muni1702_ratio

Here is a chart of the muni and Treasury bond curves as of 1/31/17:

muni1702_br2

Their overall conclusion:

We also expect any market correction required to overcome a drop in the highest tax rate or cap on the tax-exemption would be manageable, and continue to believe munis hold an important place in a diversified portfolio.

Purely my opinion… I don’t bother speculating on future tax reform. I’m not an economist, so I can admit that I don’t know the future. I do know that even in the 25% or 28% marginal tax brackets, right now the tax-equivalent yields of muni bonds are higher than Treasuries by a significant gap. At higher marginal tax brackets, the gap widens further (again, see top chart above).

Municipal bonds are not considered as safe as US Treasuries, and smart people can argue as to how close the risk levels are. I personally think the yield gap is greater than the risk gap, enough that I’d rather be in munis, but others may disagree. Why would this happen in a mostly “efficient” market? My personal view is that the entire world (including entire countries and sovereign funds) relies on US Treasuries as their “safe and liquid” asset, pushing yields downward, while the benefits of muni bonds are only available mostly to US individual taxpayers.

Sometimes I think I should just buy a “total bond” fund (tracks all taxable, nominal US investment grade bonds) and forget about it. But then I look at the yield difference. As of today 2/21/17, Vanguard Total Bond Index has an average duration of 6.1 years and 2.50% yield. Vanguard Intermediate Tax-Exempt has an average duration of 5.2 years and 2.07% yield (tax-exempt). At 28% federal tax rate, that is equivalent to 2.88% taxable. At 43.4%, that is equivalent to 3.65% taxable. (These numbers are for Investor Shares; the gap is even bigger if you have $50,000 and can buy Admiral Shares.) Add in the fact that I have limited space in tax-deferred IRAs and 401(k) accounts, and all this is why I pick munis for my taxable accounts.

Shelter Institute: Learn How to Build Your Own House in 2 Weeks

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

siframeWhile listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast with guest Mr. Money Mustache, I came across this quote from John Taylor Gatto in the comments. Apparently Gatto was not a fan of compulsory schooling and offered this instead:

I want to give you a yardstick, a gold standard, by which to measure good schooling. The Shelter Institute in Bath, Maine will teach you how to build a three thousand square-foot, multi-level Cape Cod home in three weeks’ time, whatever your age. If you stay another week, it will show you how to make your own posts and beams; you’ll actually cut them out and set them up. You’ll learn wiring, plumbing, insulation, the works. Twenty thousand people have learned how to build a house there for about the cost of one month’s tuition in public school.

The idea of building your own home is certainly romantic. I was pleased to learn that the Shelter Institute is still going strong, offering a 2-week Design and Build Class that costs $1,500 for one person ($2,500 for a couple) on their 68-acre campus in Maine. I guess people drive or fly there and stay nearby; they have housing options starting at $100 a week. Classes run from 8am to 5:30pm every day:

Intensive courses that provide you with extensive home building knowledge from site planning to foundations, insulation, engineering, design, wiring, plumbing, tool knowledge and the ability to Design and Build. Whether you have been dreaming of building a home or are already heavily involved in the building industry; the Design Build course or the Contract-It-Yourself course will provide a new understanding of construction and confidence in your ability to complete a project.

I gained some additional insight into the general concept of building your own home in Building a Home of Your Own, an article at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston for some reason:

For those who desire more individual instruction, the Shelter Institute offers intensive one- to three-week classes on all aspects of house construction. In business since 1974, the Shelter Institute has taught 25,000 students who have gone on to build 8,000 homes. “A lot of people come here thinking that there’s some magic thing they have to learn to know how to build a house,” reported Patsy Hennin, the Institute’s co-founder, in a recent interview with Down East magazine, “but there aren’t any secrets. Perseverance is the biggest thing. Gadgets aren’t the answer. It’s not about how to use a hammer; it’s about how to use your head.”

There are many books and “courses” that about building your own home, but I doubt it can replace an interactive environment where you are handling the tools and watching actual houses being built in person. A few similar schools will teach you to build your own log cabin in 5 days or build your own tiny house in a week.

According to 2016 data from the US Census, only about 6% of new single-family homes are “owner-built”, which means built entirely by the landowner or by the landowner acting as his/her own general contractor. A former manager of mine was the general contractor on his own new construction and also did the electrical wiring and other parts himself. I don’t know if I’ll ever build my own home, but I’m happy that there are still DIY folk out there doing such things. These intensive courses sound like a cool vacation idea actually (if someone could watch the kids).

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card 75,000 Point Offer Review

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Citi Hilton HHonorsUpdate – This offer is now EXPIRED

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card, from our partner Citi, is offering a limited-time bonus increase. Here are the highlights:

  • Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after making $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • Earn 6 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent at any participating hotel within the Hilton portfolio.*
  • Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on purchases at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations.*
  • Earn 2 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on all other purchases.*
  • HHonors Silver status as long as you are a cardmember*
  • No annual fee.*

What can I redeem for? Hilton points redemption varies, and they have moved towards dynamic award pricing with more focus on points + cash combinations. Hilton HHonors points are worth the most when redeemed for a hotel stay, as there aren’t really that many great cash-equivalent redemption options.

In order to find the points-only redemption rates, you must log into your Hilton Honors account and check the “Use Points” box when running a search. Here are some sample redemptions that I just ran for mid-March, comparing Hilton points vs. Expedia pricing side-by-side:

  • Honolulu, Hawaii. Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort is $501.33 ($440 + taxes) per night OR 50,000 Hilton points.
  • San Francisco, California. Hilton San Francisco Financial District is $418.16 ($359 + taxes) per night OR 60,000 Hilton points.
  • New York City. Hampton Inn Manhattan/Times Square Central is $358.08 ($309 + taxes) OR 70,000 Hilton points.

Silver Status perks include:

  • 15% bonus on all the HHonors Base Points you earn.
  • 5th night free on Standard Room Reward stays of 5 nights or more.
  • Complimentary in-room and lobby Standard Internet access during stays at Waldorf Astoria™ Hotels & Resorts, Conrad® Hotels & Resorts, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton™, Canopy™ by Hilton, Embassy Suites Hotels™ and Hilton Grand Vacations™
  • Two complimentary bottles of water per stay (at Waldorf Astoria™ Hotels & Resorts, Conrad® Hotels & Resorts, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton™, Embassy Suites Hotels™, Hilton Garden Inn™ and Hilton Grand Vacations™ hotels)

Please note this fine print:

Hilton HHonors Bonus Points offer associated with a new card opening is not available if you have opened or closed any Citi Hilton HHonors cards in the past 24 months.

Bottom line. The redemption ratio varies and while it is still possible to get $500+ of value out of 75,000 Hilton points, I would say a more conservative range is $350 to $500. The standard bonus is 40,000 Hilton points, with 75,000 Hilton points being the highest that I’ve seen. It is relatively rare to get this size of a bonus on a credit card with no annual fee. The complimentary Silver Status is their lowest elite status and offers a few small convenience perks.

There is also another card called the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card which has a $95 annual fee, but has a bigger upfront bonus and better ongoing perks for frequent Hilton customers. Two free weekend nights can be worth over 160,000 Hilton points. I redeemed for nice weekend stay in Hawaii myself, but I know that some people prefer the simplicity of having no annual fee.

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Understanding the Risks and Downsides of Bonds

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

pie_flat_blank_200To get the full return of any asset class, you’ll have to own it through the good times and the bad times. The good times are easy, but getting through the bad times requires deeper understanding and faith. You’ll usually hear this about holding stocks through their inevitable drops and crashes. But recently, many bond funds have dropped in value instead. Here’s a somewhat-reassuring chart from A Wealth of Common Sense comparing historical drawdowns between the S&P 500 stock index and 5-Year US Treasury bonds:

bondsrisks2

Even so, having an investment that is supposed to be “safe” wobble 5% can still be worrisome. If Bank of America or Chase Bank announced tomorrow that their customers with balances above FDIC limits would lose even 1% of their excess deposits, there would be a huge crisis due to the perceived level of safety. A recent post by Longboard Funds makes an interesting claim: “…investors destroy more of their bond returns than their stock returns.”

This statement reminded of my surprise when reading this Bogleheads forum post on 11/14/16:

Bonds have been dropping every day [recently…]
Why? I thought they were a stable fixed investment.

S/he wasn’t alone, and I received a couple of similar e-mails, but I was struck that this person had been a member of the forum for over 2 years, made over 600 posts, and had previously detailed their asset allocation very specifically: “Brokerage account 65/35 | VG total Market 35% | VG total Intl 12% | VG small cap value 12% | VG Reit index 6% | VG Total Bond 35% | TSP Account 75/25 | C Fund 45%, S 15%, I 15%, G 25% | EE Bonds = Emergency Fund” Why did they buy all these things? No doubt from reading a lot of well-meaning advice from well-meaning people.

Bonds can certainly go down. There are also many different types of bonds. Longboard Funds put the two major risks of bonds into a nice graphic:

bondsrisks

This won’t be a bonds primer, but instead I offer up how I try to treat bonds as part of my investment portfolio:

  • I own bonds as a ballast and diversification element in my portfolio. (I also own stocks for inflation-beating growth.) I want relatively low volatility, but there will still be some based on credit and duration risk. I will take a little bit of each type of risk, but not too much.
  • I also own bonds for modest income. I will be satisfied earning only modest interest rates that will roughly match inflation over the long run, and be happy if I earn 1% or 2% more than inflation.
  • In order to take on a small amount of credit risk, I will stick to US Treasury bonds, investment-grade corporate bonds, and investment-grade municipal bonds.
  • In order to take on a small amount of interest rate (duration) risk, I will stick to bond mutual funds with a relatively short duration (less than 5 years). The term “intermediate” could mean anything from 2 years to 10 years, so I’ll have to be careful. As a result, I will be less-exposed to short-term losses if interest rates rise quickly.
  • In order to reduce the risk of any single bond default, I will own a large number of bonds inside a mutual fund or ETF. An exception would be individual US Treasury bonds as they all share the same, highest credit quality available.

Someone else may want to pursue higher bond returns and be willing to take on more risk. You could buy bonds from countries with shakier credit ratings. You could buy bonds from riskier companies. You could buy bonds with longer duration/maturities.

If you look again at that top chart, you can see several drawdowns of around 5% for a 5-Year Treasury. But what about a 20-Year Treasury, or 5-Year Junk Bonds, or international bonds from Argentina or Venezuela? It’s possible for some bond funds to drop 10% or more. If you are buying bonds because you think they are safe, stick to the safer bonds and realize that even they might still drop in price for a while.

Opinions Take Flight: Reset Your Hawaiian Miles Expiration

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

otf0Opinions Take Flight is a consumer survey panel that gives out Hawaiian Airlines Miles instead of cash. Their current promotion is 350 HawaiianMiles for joining and completing your first survey. I usually find these survey panels too tedious to participate in regularly, but I hadn’t produced any activity on my Hawaiian miles recently (they expire after 18 months of inactivity), so I signed up. You’ll need to verify your e-mail, fill out some profile information, and then they will ask you survey qualification questions.

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The good news is that even if you don’t qualify a particular survey, OpinionsTakeFlight.com will still give you 5 miles for trying. Since I really just wanted some quick miles to reset my miles expiration with a few clicks, I was happy with that. I’d rather get 5 miles (and expiration extension) for under 10 minutes of work rather than 350 miles (and expiration extension) for 24 minutes of work anyway. If I can get a survey once every 18 months or as needed for easy Hawaiian miles activity, it will have been worth setting up this account.

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Barclaycard Ring MasterCard Review: No Balance Transfer Fee

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BarclayCard Ring MasterCard

The Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard® has been updated with a 0% Intro APR offer and a low, variable APR on purchases, balance transfers and cash advances after the introductory period. Here are the highlights:

  • Enjoy a 0% intro APR for 15 months on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable 13.99% APR will apply
  • Low 13.99% variable APR on purchases and cash advances
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • International Chip and PIN
  • Free online access to FICO Credit Score

Balance transfer fee details. Balance Transfers that post to the account within 45 days of account opening: Either $5 or 2% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. Balance Transfers that post to the account after 45 days of account opening: $0. Basically, you can’t get the no balance transfer fee on the introductory promotional offer, but you can get it otherwise ongoing.

Balance transfer to checking bank account. This posting on the their Ring Community page suggests that you can even perform a balance transfer directly to your checking account:

Online ACH Transfers. You can use the available credit on your Barclaycard Ring account to complete a Balance Transfer to your checking account online. We carefully monitor fraud and credit risk, therefore this ACH transfer capability may not be available to all cardmembers. Also, you can only complete one ACH transfer within a 30 day period.

Free FICO Score details. The free FICO score is based on your your TransUnion credit report, and updates every 1 to 3 months. Specifically, you will get your FICO Score 8 or FICO 08 model, which is the most widely used version of FICO. You can see how your FICO changes as you pay down your balances. Here’s a screenshot from my Barclaycard account:

b_ring_fico1

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This card does not have any cashback, points, or miles rewards program. It appears to be primarily focused on balance transfers and providing lower interest rates for those carrying a balance.

Bottom line. The Barclaycard Ring MasterCard has been updated with a 0% Intro APR offer and a low, variable APR on purchases, balance transfers and cash advances after the introductory period. The lower rates on this card may be of interest if you are still carrying a balance. Of course, I encourage paying off credit card balances aggressively as that is often the first step towards financial independence.