5% Cash Back Cards: Amazon, Whole Foods, PayPal, Restaurants – July thru September 2020

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

5percentbackActivation open for 3rd Quarter 2020. The credit cards below offer up to 5% cash back on specific categories that rotate each quarter. It takes a little extra attention, but it can add up to hundreds of dollars in additional rewards per year without changing your spending habits. You can also buy gift cards with the 5% back now but spend the gift cards later. New cardmembers may also get an upfront sign-up bonus.

Chase Freedom VisaChase Freedom Card

From July 1st through September 30th, 2020 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Amazon.com
  • Whole Foods Market

Enroll each quarter at ChaseBonus.com. As long as you activate by the end of the quarter the rewards are retroactive. All other purchases earn 1% back, with no tiers or expiration of rewards. Technically, you earn Ultimate Rewards points which can also be converted to airline miles or hotel points instead of cash if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Currently, the Chase Freedom card is offering new applicants $200 if you sign up and make $500 in purchases in your first three months. No annual fee.

Discover it 14 ImageDiscover it Card

From July 1st through September 30th, 2020 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • PayPal
  • Restaurants

Enroll after logging into your online account (look on the right-hand side). 5% rewards won’t apply until after you activate your rewards, so it is best to activate now before you forget. No annual fee.

New cardmember bonus details. If you are a new applicant and sign up via my Discover Card referral link, you will get a $50 Cashback Bonus after your first purchase within 3 months of being approved. You will also get Cashback Match for an entire year – a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. During those 12 months, your $50 Cashback Bonus becomes $100, your 5% cash back rewards becomes 10% cash back, and your 1% cash back rewards become 2% cash back. You can verify this on the application by clicking on “See rates, rewards and other info” and searching for “cashback match” and “statement credit offer”:

Cashback Match: No purchase minimums. After the first 12 consecutive billing periods that your new account is open, we will match all of the cash back rewards you’ve earned and apply them to your account in the following one or two billing periods. If your account is closed or no longer in the cash back reward program at the time we calculate your potential award, your cash back will not be matched. You’ve earned cash back rewards when they have posted to your account by the end of the 12th consecutive billing period. This promotional offer may not be offered in the future. This exclusive offer is available only to new cardmembers.

TERMS OF STATEMENT CREDIT OFFER: Get a $50 Statement Credit after you make your first purchase within 3 months of being approved. Promotional award will be applied within 8 weeks. The promotional award is in addition to the Cashback Bonus earned on all purchases.

ABOC Platinum Rewards Card – $150 Statement Credit Offer

From April 1st through June 30th, 2020 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Travel, including gas. Eligible MCC code categories include qualifying airline, cruise, car rental, hotel, travel agency purchases, gas, tolls, and ride share.

You must register each quarter at ABOCRewards.com or in your online account. Currently, the ABOC Platinum Rewards Mastercard is offering a $150 statement credit if you sign up and make $1,200 in purchases in your first 90 days. No foreign transaction fees. No annual fee.

U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card. You get to choose the two 5% cash back categories every quarter, out of a preset selection of specific categories:

  • Fast Food
  • Cell Phone Providers
  • Home Utilities
  • Ground Transportation
  • Select Clothing Stores
  • Electronics Stores
  • Car Rentals
  • Gyms/Fitness Centers
  • Sporting Goods Stores
  • Department Stores
  • Furniture Stores
  • Movie Theaters
  • TV, Internet, and Streaming Services

Unfortunately, you can’t pick a broad category like gas stations, restaurants, or grocery stores. Make sure to choose your categories each quarter, even if you want them to stay the same. If you do not choose your categories, all purchases revert to only earning 1% cash back for that quarter. No annual fee.

American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card. This card earns 6% cash back at US supermarkets all year long (on up to $6,000 per year) and. 3% cash back at US gas stations. New: 3% cash back on transit and 6% cash back on Netflix/Spotify/Hulu. I use this card all year long for groceries, and then in December use up the $6k annual limit on gift cards bought in the supermarket aisle. New cardholders are also eligible for a $250 statement credit after $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. $95 annual fee. See details in link.

Amazon Prime Rewards Card. Earn 5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods all year long. Prime membership required. New cardholder bonus varies by person. No annual fee.

Citi Dividend Card. This card is no longer available to new applicants, but if you still have the grandfathered card you can view and activate your quarterly 5% category here. Limit of $300 cash back for the calendar year.

Don’t settle for the “1% on everything else” that these cards offer. Get 2% cash back or higher. Check out the card-specific reviews for details.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Amazon: $20 Promo Credit after $50+ Purchase Using American Express

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

Here is a new Amazon/AmEx promotion that promises “$20 off at Amazon after you make a single purchase of $50 or more using your American Express card”. However, the promotion has a lot of fine print to note:

  • You must purchase products “sold by Amazon.com” or “sold by Amazon Digital Services LLC” by 7/22/20. Amazon e-gift cards do not qualify.
  • You must spend $50+ on a single purchase using “any eligible American Express Consumer Card”.
  • I don’t see any notice that you qualify for the promotion at Checkout. Update: I tried again and when I do the proper things, I see a tiny “Qualifying offers: Promotion applied” message under my Order Total at Checkout. After the order actually ships, you will receive a confirmation e-mail with the promo credit.
  • The $20 promotional credit can only be used at the Amazon Moments store, which are “curated 4-Star & Above items”.
  • Promotional credit must be redeemed by August 22, 2020.
  • Offer limited to one per customer and account only.

This is one of those promotions where if I need to buy $50 of stuff, I’ll definitely try to qualify by using my consumer American Express card and checking out by the deadline, but I won’t go out of my way. (They should more clearly define what is an “eligible” American Express Consumer card.) I’m not quite sure of the point of this “curation” when it consists of a long list of 1,000+ items in every category. Who is going to shop Amazon this way?

My two “keeper” consumer American Express cards are the Blue Cash Preferred from AmEx (6% cash back on US supermarkets, up to $6,000 annually) and the Amex EveryDay Card (keeps my Membership Rewards points active with no annual fee, helps qualify for various Amazon promotions).

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card Review: Up to 2.62% Back with Preferred Rewards

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

Update June 2020: In response to COVID-19, the Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card has expanded the eligible categories of spending against which you can get their 1.5% to 2.62% back from only Travel purchases to include Grocery Stores, Dining, and Takeout. This applies through December 31st, 2020 and applies retroactively to qualifying purchases made within the last 12 months. This should make it much easier to redeem your points for optimal value. Here is the fine print:

Travel Statement Credit Expanded Category Offer. Now through 12/31/2020, you can also redeem Points for a statement credit in U.S. dollars to offset qualifying grocery store and dining purchases. This will apply to all qualifying purchases that posted to your account in the last 12 months, but is limited to the most recent 2,500. Eligible purchases for this statement credit offer include those made in the following merchant category codes (MCC): Grocery Stores/Supermarkets (MCC 5411), Freezer/Meat Lockers (MCC 5422), Candy/Nut/Confection Stores (MCC 5441), Dairy Product Stores (MCC 5451) Bakeries (MCC 5462), Misc. Food Stores (MCC 5499), Eating Places and Restaurants (MCC 5812), Drinking Places (Alcoholic Beverages), Bars, Taverns, Cocktail lounges, Nightclubs and Discotheques (MCC 5813), and Fast Food Restaurants (MCC 5814). Excluded from this offer are wholesale clubs, superstores and smaller stores (like drug stores and convenience stores) that sell groceries and other products. We do not determine which MCC a merchant is assigned.

Full card review:

bofa_travelrewards191The Bank of America 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, making it my current base rewards card (after any bonus 5% cash back categories, sign-up bonus cards, etc). 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.
  • 25,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days –  that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases.
  • 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% – 75%.

The Preferred Rewards program is designed to rewards clients with multiple accounts 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 won’t incur any additional fees and they charge the same $0 per commission as the other major brokers.

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.)

Not all Bank of America consumer credit cards qualify for Preferred Rewards. Another card that does qualify is the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card which has a different rewards structure using bonus categories.

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.

For more details, here are my redemption tips and experiences on qualifying for and receiving 2.625% back towards travel.

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.

Bottom line. If you are able and willing to keep enough brokerage assets ($50k/$100k) at Merrill Edge, it will qualify you for their Preferred Rewards program. By using investment assets and not cash balances, it won’t cost you any potential interest from elsewhere. This allows the Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card to earn up to 2.6% back on ALL purchases in the form of statement credit offsetting any travel purchases within the last 12 months.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Panera Bread: Free Unlimited Hot or Iced Coffee All Summer!

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

New “free coffee all summer” promo. Panera is offering their unlimited coffee subscription program for free this summer. New customers that sign up for a MyPanera+ Coffee Subscription by July 4th, 2020 will have it free through September 7th, 2020. Must be 18+ and provide a credit card with the agreement that if you do not cancel, it will eventually revert to the normal fee of $8.99 + tax each month. You could view it as a 2-month free trial; I would set a calendar reminder to cancel online on your renewal date after 9/7. Until then, free coffee! You can even order via app and use their contactless curbside service (or drive-thru where available).

How to cancel your MyPanera+ Coffee subscription:

To cancel your subscription online, visit the Subscription section at http:/www.panerabread.com/MyPaneraCoffee or on the Panera Bread app. You can also call Panera Customer Service at 1-855-372-6372 to cancel your subscription.

Existing subscribers will also not be charged their normal fee between 6/22–9/7/2020. Nice that they are including existing customers on this promotion. This is a bold move to leverage the power of “free” and change people’s coffee-buying habits during a time of disruption. The details of the program are otherwise the same as before (see below).

Original post:

Panera Bread has rolled out their MyPanera Coffee subscription nationwide, which includes unlimited coffee for $8.99 per month. Here are the details:

  • Valid for any size cup of light roast, dark roast, hazelnut, decaf, iced coffee, or hot tea.
  • Get one cup up to every two hours, with free unlimited refills of the same beverage in-store.
  • Excludes cold brew, espresso drinks, and iced tea.
  • One subscription per person.

This works out to about 30 cents per cup if you got one per day. Panera has admitted that this is a loss leader and they hope you also buy a breakfast sandwich, muffin, etc. while you are there. If I had a Panera that was conveniently located to work or home, I would be all over this deal. (If only they had this when I was in college…) What do you think?

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Sprint Unlimited Line On Us: Add Line For Free + T-Mobile Tuesdays

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

If you are a current Sprint customer, they are running a promotion called Unlimited Line on Us where you can add a extra line with no monthly charge, although you are still subject to the monthly taxes and fees (approximately $5 to $10 a month depending on your local taxes). Full terms after you log in, but here are some eligibility details:

Who is eligible for the Unlimited Line On Us promotion?
Existing Sprint customers who:
– Joined Sprint prior to 6/17/2020.
– Have an eligible plan.
– Have at least one active voice line.
– Are eligible to add a line of service on their account.

You can bring your own device or even just reserve a line for future use (although they’ll start charging taxes). The monthly service plan charge for the line remains $0/mo. for the life of the line and requires you to keep all current phone lines on your account active through June 30, 2021. It is unclear if people who are on the $35 Sprint Unlimited Kickstart plan are eligible for this promotion.

In addition, Sprint customers can soon participate in the T-Mobile Tuesday perks program:

Sprint customers simply need to download the T-Mobile Tuesdays app from the iOS App Store or Google Play Store and register their number beginning on Tuesday, June 23.

I view these both as preemptive moves to keep Sprint customers from jumping ship before they are fully merged with T-Mobile.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Pay with Citi ThankYou Points, Get 20% Off at Amazon.com (Targeted)

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

If you have a Citi credit card that earns ThankYou points, you can redeem them to buy eligible items at Amazon.com. The redemption rate is 1 ThankYou points = 0.8 cents to spend at Amazon, which may not be the best value available. You can also redeem ThankYou points for gift cards (varies, but you can usually get at least 1 cent per point) or redeem towards a check made out to your mortgage payment or student loan (1 point = 1 cent ratio). If you have certain cards (see below), you can transfer to selected airline miles.

Here is a targeted promotion where you can get 20% off Amazon.com purchases (max $30 discount) when you redeem at least 1 ThankYou point. As with many other similar promotions from other credit card points, it may not work for everyone, but it is worth checking if you have an eligible card like the no-annual-fee Citi Rewards+ or Citi Premier.

  • Click here to link your Citi ThankYou points balance to your Amazon account
  • Click here to activate the promotion on your Amazon account (eligibility will vary)
  • Add one or more of eligible products sold and shipped by Amazon.com to your shopping cart. Note the maximum discount available is $30.
  • Proceed to checkout & select your eligible Citi Card as your payment method
  • Select the amount of Citi ThankYou Points you would like to use for the purchase (must use at least 1 point or $.01). I’d personally just use one point given the unimpressive redemption rate.
  • Savings will be reflected on the final order checkout page if the items in your order are eligible for the promotion credit.

Note: If you have the Citi Double Cash card that earns 2% cash back, that card technically does not earn ThankYou points. However, you can convert your cash back into ThankYou points (1 cent = 1 ThankYou) if you have an eligible card, although it would be counterproductive to do that for a lower redemption rate at Amazon. However, this feature is handy if you want to turn your points into airline miles with the Citi Premier, Citi Prestige, or Citi Chairman cards.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Money in Excel: Automated Budgeting and Personal Finance Template (Free for Microsoft 365 Subscribers)

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

It’s not the classic Microsoft Money application (which I’m still asked about periodically), but Microsoft 365 Personal or Family subscribers can now download “Money in Excel” (free) which promises to help you manage your personal finances using Excel tools and the automated import of your transactions. Thanks to reader Motti for the tip. From their official blog:

Money in Excel is a dynamic, smart template and add-in for Excel that allows you to securely connect your bank, credit card, investment, and loan accounts to Excel and automatically import your transaction and account information into an Excel spreadsheet.

The service uses Plaid, a third-party company (recently acquired by Visa) to synchronize with all of your various financial accounts. You will have to provide the username and passwords for those accounts. (If you haven’t already, use a password manager so that you can maintain unique, strong passwords for each of your bank or brokerage accounts.)

You can do things like track your monthly spending by category, add up your net worth instantly, or get notified of selected transactions like big purchases or bank fees. Here is a screenshot:

Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a way to access this premium template if you do not have a Microsoft 365 Personal or Family subscription ($70 to $100 annually). I am not a 365 subscriber myself, so I am unable to test this out further. I’d be interested to see if you are completely free to customize the Excel using all the imported data. That might work like the combination of Personal Capital and Google Sheets (also free) that I currently use to track my portfolio. If you try it, please let me know what you think in the comments or via Twitter @mymoneyblog.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Hertz Used Rental Cars: Good or Bad Idea? Big List of Pros and Cons

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

In better times, Hertz took out a big loan and put up their vast inventory of cars as collateral. COVID-19 caused the lender to worry about getting their money back, so they called in the loan. Hertz doesn’t exactly have much cashflow right now, so they are forced to sell off the cars in the hopes of surviving bankruptcy.

So, I found myself browsing HertzCarSales.com for the first time. I’ve never seriously considered buying a car from a rental agency, mostly due to the fact that I didn’t want a Dodge Caravan last redesigned in 1996. However, I did buy a cheap off-lease corporate fleet car from my employer, and it worked out great. Is buying a used rental car from Hertz a great idea, or a stupid idea? Here are some arguments from both sides.

Reasons why a used Hertz rental car may be BETTER than you think:

  • Check the in-service date and determine how much of the factory warranty is remaining; it could be a significant amount.
  • Hertz will let you bring it to a mechanic and do your own inspection.
  • No-haggle pricing will be appreciated by some, similar to CarMax.
  • All Hertz Certified vehicles include a 12-month/12,000-mile (whichever comes first) limited powertrain warranty.
  • Hertz has a better reputation of doing regular maintenance on their cars than lesser-known car rental companies. According to the Hertz website, while they do not provide copies of maintenance records, you can view the maintenance records in person.
  • Hertz is usually the most expensive option for a casual traveler. Most of their business is corporate and government workers. Business travelers tend to simply use the car as a tool to get from the airport to/from office/hotel, so the car will likely be in better shape than perhaps with other companies.
  • You can return your vehicle within 7 days or 250 miles after your purchase, whichever comes first. A cleaning and recertification fee of $200 will be deducted (unless prohibited by law), as well as any excess wear or damage to the vehicle.
  • Normally, used cars are subject to the “lemon” theory: people tend to sell the cars with problems. However, a rental agency does things robotically – all cars at a certain age are sold. They already bought the car at a highly-discounted bulk rate from the manufacturer, and they just need to get the car off their books in an expedient manner.
  • Some reports claim that the more “beat up” cars, especially cosmetically with dings and stains, never make it to the sale lot and are instead sold more cheaply via wholesale auctions.
  • Healthcare worker and first responders currently get $350 off with promo code HCS-HERO.

Reasons why a used Hertz rental car may be WORSE than you think:

  • Rental cars have a “fleet” or “rental” designation on the title, which stays with the car and can affect future resale value.
  • The reputation is that these cars are more “beaten up” given their mileage. I used to accelerate a little harder on freeway onramps in a rental car (it was usually the econobox version so not much excitement anyway), and was probably a bit more liberal with the air conditioning in those humid summers. However, I was still careful as I often skipped the insurance waiver on personal rentals.
  • You won’t get the “1 owner who drove it only on the freeway and was a neat freak with perfect maintenance records” car.
  • Anecdotally, cars that are made for “fleets” are of lower quality because the factory workers know these are fleet cars when they build them, and thus care less about quality control and more about pumping out 100 of the exact same car.
  • Some rental car agencies self-insure their cars and do repairs in-house, which means accidents are not necessarily reported on CarFax or other vehicle history reports.
  • Never buy “sports cars” as these are rented specifically so you can have fun going fast in them and do things you wouldn’t do in your normal car. Same deal with pickups, they are likely used heavily nearly every rental.
  • They will still add some sort of $200 to $400 documentation fee and attempt to upsell you various extended warranties, just as any other used car dealer.

Used car marketplace iSeeCars.com compared Hertz prices with their estimate of market value to find which models had the steepest discounts. I didn’t really find the results to be very useful though, as most models are rather rare with very limited availability (BMW 7-Series, MB A-Class, Buick Cascada?). The only Honda/Toyota/Mazda on the list was the Toyota Tundra, and I couldn’t find a single one within 200 miles of my location.

I tried to run some comparisons myself for a popular model with decent inventory like the Toyota RAV-4. This black 2019 Toyota RAV-4 XLE AWD (Hertz) with 22,000 miles was $23,587. This black 2019 Toyota RAV-4 XLE AWD (AutoTrader) with 22,000 miles was $21,689. I didn’t drill down into the options, but this shows that you should definitely do some comparison shopping first.

In the end, the process is similar to buying any used car and comes down to price. You need consider the reliability of the make/model, do your own personal pre-purchase inspection with an expert, and comparison shop across the same model, same options list, and similar mileage. Read the factors above and then add your own “Hertz adjustment”. Is the Hertz no-haggle price still the best deal?

Also see: How Much Car Can I Afford?

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Coursera: Free Guided Project (All), Free Courses/Certificates (College Students), Selected Free Courses (All)

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

Update: Coursera has another promotion for a free guided project open to all. Retail value about $10. Topics include data science, business, computer science, and IT. One-time use only. Offer valid until 6/12/2020. Your discount will be applied at checkout.

Learn a job-relevant skill in under two hours through a hands-on learning experience with step-by-step expert guidance

Original post:

Online education site Coursera recently announced free courses and certificates for college and university students. This is meant to help students not able to study during the summer. Fill out the sign-up form until 7/31.

Starting today, college and university students around the world can learn and earn certificates on Coursera for free. Current undergraduate, graduate, or recently graduated students with a verified school email can sign up to get free access to over 3,800 courses, 150 Guided Projects, 400 Specializations, and 11 Professional Certificates. They can enroll in programs for free until July 31 — no credit card required. Once enrolled, they will have until Sept. 30, 2020, to complete the programs.

Here is a list of their professional certificates.

During this period, students will be able to learn from some of the best instructors in the world and earn credentials from the world’s top universities, including the University of Michigan, Yale University, and Duke University. Professional Certificates from leading industry educators like Google and SAS will help students become job-ready with in-demand skills.

Previously, they also made 100+ courses free to everyone until 7/31 in response to COVID-19. This includes a course on Personal & Family Financial Planning (previously $49).

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Amazon Prime: $8.98 Echo Dot (3rd Gen) + Music Unlimited Trial

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

Update: Offer is back again, but sold out quickly last time!

Amazon has brought back a good deal for Prime members interested in a cheap Echo Dot (newest 3rd generation). Sign up for a 1-month Amazon Music Unlimited membership for $7.99, and you get can get an Echo Dot (3rd gen) for only $0.99 (total cost $8.98). Here’s how:

  1. Click here for the combined Echo Dot + 1-month trial. You must pay with a credit card (no gift card), which will be used to enroll in Amazon Music Unlimited at $7.99 per month. The shipping is free at checkout.
  2. The membership will auto-renew, but you can cancel your Amazon Music Unlimited trial at any time, anytime before the month is up.

This limited time offer of 1 month of Amazon Music Unlimited Individual Plan and an Echo Dot for $8.98 is available only to customers who subscribe to Amazon Music Unlimited Individual Plan and who purchase an eligible Echo device. Current subscribers are not eligible. After the 1-month promotional term, your Amazon Music subscription will automatically continue at the monthly price of $7.99 plus applicable taxes until you cancel.

Amazon Music unlimited lets you listen to all 60 million songs ad-free and on-demand, you can call up songs with Alexa, and you can listen offline with unlimited skips.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Best Interest Rates on Cash – June 2020

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

Another month of slight rate drops, although bank accounts can still beat out Treasury bonds and/or brokerage cash sweep options by a significant margin.

Here’s my monthly roundup of the best interest rates on cash for June 2020, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. I track these rates because I keep 12 months of expenses as a cash cushion and also invest in longer-term CDs (often at lesser-known credit unions) when they yield more than bonds. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to see how much extra interest you’d earn by moving money between accounts. Rates listed are available to everyone nationwide. Rates checked as of 6/2/2020.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge megabanks make huge profits while paying you 0.01% APY, it’s easy to open a new “piggy-back” savings account and simply move some funds over from your existing checking account. The interest rates on savings accounts can drop at any time, so I list the top rates as well as competitive rates from banks with a history of competitive rates. Some banks will bait you with a temporary top rate and then lower the rates in the hopes that you are too lazy to leave.

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

  • No Penalty CDs offer a fixed interest rate that can never go down, but you can still take out your money (once) without any fees if you want to use it elsewhere. Marcus has a 7-month No Penalty CD at 1.20% APY with a $500 minimum deposit. Ally Bank has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 1.20% APY for all balance tiers. CIT Bank has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 1.15% APY with a $1,000 minimum deposit. You may wish to open multiple CDs in smaller increments for more flexibility.
  • Lafayette Federal Credit Union has a 12-month CD at 1.61% APY ($500 min). Early withdrawal penalty is 180 days of interest. Anyone can join via partner organization for one-time $10 fee. Note that you will have to park $50 in a share savings account while a member.

Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, beware that many brokers pay out very little interest on their default cash sweep funds (and keep the difference for themselves). The following money market and ultra-short bond funds are NOT FDIC-insured and thus come with a possibility of principal loss, but may be a good option if you have idle cash and cheap/free commissions.

  • Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund currently pays an 0.32% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund which has an SEC yield of 0.20%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • Vanguard Ultra-Short-Term Bond Fund currently pays 1.61% SEC yield ($3,000 min) and 1.71% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is ~1 year, so there is more interest rate risk.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 1.87% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 1.83% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months. Note that there was a slight drop in net asset value during the recent market stress.

Treasury Bills and Ultra-short Treasury ETFs
Another option is to buy individual Treasury bills which come in a variety of maturities from 4-weeks to 52-weeks. You can also invest in ETFs that hold a rotating basket of short-term Treasury Bills for you, while charging a small management fee for doing so. T-bill interest is exempt from state and local income taxes. Right now, this section probably isn’t very interesting as T-Bills are yielding close to zero!

  • You can build your own T-Bill ladder at TreasuryDirect.gov or via a brokerage account with a bond desk like Vanguard and Fidelity. Here are the current Treasury Bill rates. As of 6/2/2020, a new 4-week T-Bill had the equivalent of 0.12% annualized interest and a 52-week T-Bill had the equivalent of 0.17% annualized interest.
  • The Goldman Sachs Access Treasury 0-1 Year ETF (GBIL) has a 0.57% SEC yield and the SPDR Bloomberg Barclays 1-3 Month T-Bill ETF (BIL) has a -.04% (!) SEC yield. GBIL appears to have a slightly longer average maturity than BIL. Expect that GBIL yield to drop significantly as it is updated.

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 2020 and October 2020 will earn a 1.06% rate for the first six months. The rate of the subsequent 6-month period will be based on inflation again. More info here.
  • In mid-October 2020, 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 exceptionally 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). Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. There is a long list of previous offers that have already disappeared with little notice. I don’t personally recommend nor use any of these anymore.

  • The only notable card left in this category is Mango Money at 6% APY on up to $2,500, but there are many hoops to jump through. Requirements include $1,500+ in “signature” purchases and a minimum balance of $25.00 at the end of the month.

Rewards checking accounts
These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with unique risks. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. Rates can also drop to near-zero quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. I don’t use any of these anymore.

  • Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking (my review) still offers up to 4.09% APY on balances up to $10,000 if you make $500+ in ACH deposits, 12 debit card “signature” purchases, and spend $1,000 on their credit card each month. The Bank of Denver has a Free Kasasa Cash Checking offering 3% APY on balances up to $25,000 if you make 12 (temporarily 6) debit card purchases and at least 1 ACH credit or debit transaction per statement cycle. If you meet those qualifications, you can also link a savings account that pays 2% APY on up to $50k. Thanks to reader Bill for the tip. Find a locally-restricted rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit (greater than 1 year)
CDs offer higher rates, but come with an early withdrawal penalty. By finding a bank CD with a reasonable early withdrawal penalty, you can enjoy higher rates but maintain access in a true emergency. Alternatively, consider building a CD ladder of different maturity lengths (ex. 1/2/3/4/5-years) such that you have access to part of the ladder each year, but your blended interest rate is higher than a savings account. When one CD matures, use that money to buy another 5-year CD to keep the ladder going. Some CDs also offer “add-ons” where you can deposit more funds if rates drop.

  • Lafayette Federal Credit Union has a 5-year certificate at 2.02% APY ($500 min). Beware that the early withdrawal penalty is 600 days of interest! Anyone can join via partner organization for one-time $10 fee. Note that you will have to park $50 in a share savings account while a member.
  • Pen Air Federal Credit Union has a 5-year certificate now at 1.85% APY ($500 minimum). Early withdrawal penalty is 180 days of interest. Their other terms are competitive (relatively), if you want build a CD ladder. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization ($3 one-time fee).
  • You can buy certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. You may need an account to see the rates. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance and easy laddering, but they don’t come with predictable early withdrawal penalties. Vanguard has a 5-year at 1.05% APY right now. Be wary of higher rates from callable CDs listed by Fidelity.

Longer-term Instruments
I’d use these with caution due to increased interest rate risk, 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 long-term certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance, but they don’t come with predictable early withdrawal penalties. Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs from Fidelity.
  • How about two decades? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a unique 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). I view this as a huge early withdrawal penalty. But if holding for 20 years isn’t an issue, it can also serve as a hedge against prolonged deflation during that time. As of 6/2/2020, the 20-year Treasury Bond rate was 1.24%.

All rates were checked as of 6/2/2020.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Citibank $200/$400/$700 Checking Account Bonus 2020

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

Citibank has tiered $200, $400, and $700 bonus offers when you open a new eligible Citi checking account by 6/30/20 and deposit and maintain a certain balance for 60 to 150 days. There is also a $1,500 bonus if you have $200,000 to move over. This offer is restricted to those who have not had a Citibank checking account within the last 180 calendar days. Here are the highlights followed by a few tips on how to optimize the bonus.

$200 bonus details:

  • Open a new eligible checking account in the Basic Banking Package during the offer period 4/01/2020 to 6/30/2020.
  • Within 30 days of opening your account, deposit $5,000 in New-to-Citibank funds into the new checking account.
  • Maintain a minimum balance of $5,000 for 60 consecutive calendar days.
  • You will receive your cash bonus within 90 days after you complete the required activities.
  • For the Basic Banking Package, to waive the $12 monthly service fee, make one qualifying direct deposit per statement period and one qualifying bill payment per statement period, or maintain a $1,500 or more combined average monthly balance in eligible linked accounts.

$400 bonus details:

  • Open new eligible checking and savings accounts in the Citibank® Account Package during the offer period 4/01/2020 to 6/30/2020.
  • Within 30 days of opening your account, deposit $15,000 in New-to-Citibank funds between the new checking and savings accounts.
  • Maintain a minimum balance of $15,000 between the checking and savings accounts for 60 consecutive calendar days.
  • You will receive your cash bonus within 90 days after you complete the required activities.
  • A monthly service fee of $25 and a $2.50 non-Citibank ATM fee apply to the checking account in the Citibank Account Package if a combined average monthly balance of $10,000 or more is not maintained.

$700 bonus details:

  • Open new eligible checking and savings accounts in the Citi Priority Account Package during the offer period 4/01/2020 to 6/30/2020.
  • Within 30 days of opening your account, deposit $50,000 in New-to-Citibank funds between the new checking and savings accounts.
  • Maintain a minimum balance of $50,000 between the checking and savings accounts for 60 consecutive calendar days.
  • You will receive your cash bonus within 90 days after you complete the required activities.
  • A monthly service fee of $30 applies to the checking account in the Citi Priority Account Package if a combined average monthly balance of $50,000 or more is not maintained. There is no monthly service fee for a checking account in the Citigold Account Package.

$1,500 bonus details:

  • Open new eligible checking and savings accounts in the Citigold Account Package during the offer period 4/01/2020 to 6/30/2020.
  • Within 30 days of opening your account, deposit $200,000 in New-to-Citibank funds between the new checking and savings accounts.
  • Maintain a minimum balance of $200,000 between the checking and savings accounts for 60 consecutive calendar days.
  • You will receive your cash bonus within 90 days after you complete the required activities.
  • If you do not maintain a minimum combined average monthly balance of $200,000 in eligible linked deposit, retirement and investment accounts, your Citigold Account Package will be converted to the Citi Priority Account Package and your accounts will be subject to the terms and conditions then in effect for that package.

Fine print analysis and value calculations. A tricky part of this bonus is the following fine print:

At the time the Cash Bonus is paid, it will be credited to the new Eligible Checking Account. If the Eligible Checking Account is closed, then the Cash Bonus will be credited to the new Eligible Savings Account. Open accounts must be in good standing.

You explicitly cannot “downgrade” your account to one with lower monthly fees during the 60 day maintenance period, but this seems to also suggest that you need to maintain the package that you opened until the bonus arrives. (It’s not 100% clear, but that is the conservative interpretation.) That means that in order to avoid the possibly hefty monthly fees, you would have to leave a certain amount of money in the account not for 60 days, but up to 150 days until the bonus is deposited.

After the 60 day maintenance period, you would want to withdraw everything not need to avoid the monthly fees, as both the checking and savings account pay negligible interest. Here’s how that would work for each tier:

  • $200 bonus tier. Deposit and maintain $5,000 for 60 days, then lower to $1,500 for 90 days.
  • $400 bonus tier. Deposit and maintain $15,000 for 60 days, then lower to $10,000 for 90 days.
  • $700 bonus tier. Deposit and maintain $50,000 for 150 days.
  • $1,500 bonus tier. Deposit and maintain $200,000 for 150 days. (There may be some alternatives like moving over some investments to satisfy the Citigold requirements.)

Bonus will be reported on 1099-INT (as should be expected). Here is the rough equivalent annualized APY earned from each bonus if you followed the schedule above exactly, got the promised bonus at the 150 day mark, and then downgraded/closed/moved your money out:

  • $200 bonus works out to ~16.5% annualized interest.
  • $400 bonus works out to ~8.0% annualized interest.
  • $700 bonus works out to ~3.4% annualized interest.
  • $1,500 bonus works out to ~1.8% annualized interest.

I have done Citibank bonuses in the past and haven’t had any issues, although they did wait until the last possible moment to post the bonus. I did not experience a hard credit check upon opening. However, others have reported having to call them up and ask for the bonus, and some have reported that they were denied the bonus improperly. Their above-average complaints of unreliability is a big reason why I would not downgrade the accounts, in order to help maintain proper bonus tracking. For all bank bonuses, be sure to keep track of your promotion details and transaction dates in a Google Doc or other spreadsheet.

Bottom line. Citibank has a set of tiered bonuses for opening a new checking and savings accounts with them, which I have broken down how to optimize based on the fine print. If you were planning on opening an account anyway, this can be a good offer. Be sure you understand the terms and conditions first.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.