Free State Income Tax E-File Options For All 50 States (Updated 2019)

“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.”

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Links checked and updated for 2019. With DIY tax prep software, it is always wise to note the cost of your state return and e-File as it may actually cost more than your federal return (especially if you wait until April to file). As such, you may wish to do your state return separately. Based on their current, regular published prices at time of writing:

  • TurboTax Online Deluxe and Premier charge $39.99 for a single state return with free state e-File. Simple state tax returns are free (no itemized deductions, no 1099-MISC, no stock sales).
  • H&R Block Online Deluxe and Premium charge $36.99 for a single state return with free state e-File. Simple state tax returns are free (no itemized deductions, no 1099-MISC, no stock sales).
  • TaxACT Online Plus and Premium charges charges $39.95 for a single state return with free state e-File. Basic state tax returns are $19.95.*

Got a simple return? Both TurboTax Free Edition and H&R Block Free Edition will let you file Fed + State + eFile for $0 if you only have the following situations:

  • W-2 income
  • Limited interest and dividend income reported on a 1099-INT or 1099-DIV
  • Claim the standard deduction
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC)
  • Child tax credits

You can’t itemize deductions, have stock sales, or have 1099-MISC income, for example.

Now, the convenience that these programs offer may be worth the extra money to you. But there may be other options available. States that levy individual income taxes fall into three categories:

  1. They offer all taxpayers free electronic filing via official state-supported software.
  2. They offer all taxpayers access to free “fillable forms” which are basically electronic versions of the paper forms where you can type in numbers and any mathematical calculations are done for you. If your state tax returns are relatively simple, this may be all you really need.
  3. They allow commercial vendors via the “FreeFile Alliance” to offer free online filing for certain groups, usually through income limits, age restrictions, and/or active duty military personnel. The vendors in turn make money when some folks end up not qualifying and have to pay at the end.

Below, you’ll find free e-file information for all 50 states.

In alphabetical order (just click on the state):

State Restrictions
Alabama Free electronic filing using through My Alabama Taxes (MAT). No income restrictions.
Alaska (no state income tax)
Arizona File using AZ-specific fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Arkansas Various FreeFile options; Income and/or other restrictions apply.
California Free electronic filing using through CalFile, UDS, and others. No income restrictions.
Colorado Free electronic filing using through Revenue Online. No income restrictions.
Connecticut Free electronic filing using through TaxPayer Service Center (TSC). No income restrictions.
Delaware Free electronic filing through official state website. No income restrictions.
Florida (no state income tax)
Georgia FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Hawaii File for free at Hawaii Tax Online.
Idaho FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Illinois Free electronic filing through MyTax Illinois. No income restrictions.
Indiana FreeFile options available through INfreefile; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Iowa FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Kansas Free electronic filing through KS WebFile. No income restrictions.
Kentucky FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Louisiana Free electronic filing through Louisiana File Online. No income restrictions.
Maine Free electronic filing through Maine FastFile. No income restrictions.
Maryland Free electronic filing through Maryland iFile. No income restrictions.
Massachusetts FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply. WebFile for Income was shut down in 2017.
Michigan FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Minnesota FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Mississippi FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Missouri FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Montana FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply. Looks like they recently get rid of free electronic filing through Taxpayer Access Point (TAP).
Nebraska Free electronic filing through NebFile. No income restrictions.
Nevada (no state income tax)
New Hampshire Free electronic filing through e-File New Hampshire. No income restrictions. (No state personal income tax, but there is tax on investment income.)
New Jersey Free electronic filing through NJ WebFile. No income restrictions.
New Mexico Free electronic filing through New Mexico Taxpayer Access Point. No income restrictions.
New York Free electronic filing of select forms online with New York State Income Tax Web File, but note that New York law prohibits commercial software from charging an additional charge for e-filing.
North Carolina FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
North Dakota FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Ohio Free electronic filing through I-File from Ohio Online Services. No income restrictions.
Oklahoma Free electronic filing through Oklahoma Taxpayer Access Points (OkTAP). No income restrictions.
Oregon File using OR-specific fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Pennsylvania Free electronic filing through PA DirectFile. No income restrictions. Free Fillable PDF Forms also available.
Rhode Island FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
South Carolina File using SC-specific free fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
South Dakota (no state income tax)
Tennessee Free electronic filing through state website of Hall Income Tax. No income restrictions. (No state personal income tax, but there is tax on investment income.)
Texas (no state income tax)
Utah Free electronic filing through Taxpayer Access Point (TAP). No income restrictions.
Vermont FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Virginia File using VA-specific free fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Washington (no state income tax)
Washington DC File using DC-specific free fillable forms; No income restrictions. FreeFile options also available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
West Virginia FreeFile options available; income and/or other restrictions apply.
Wisconsin Free electronic filing through Wisconsin efile. No income restrictions.
Wyoming (no state income tax)

 
Whew, that took a while. Please share this if you think it’ll help others! Also let me know if you find any errors or changed links.

Mint Mobile: Increased Data Tiers, 3 Months of Unlimited Talk, Text, 8 GB Data For $20 Total

“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.”

New promo + more data across all plans. Mint Mobile is how I keep my cell phone costs low. They use the T-Mobile network, which means if you have a compatible phone switching just involves swapping in a new SIM card. As of January 29th, they increased the data on each of their plans for both new and existing customers. The tiers are now 3, 8, and 12 GB of data each month (see graphic above). Alternatively, this additional data may let you go down to a cheaper tier and save another $60 per year ($5 per month).

In addition, they have brought back the old holiday promo for a limited time as a “Super Bowl” promo. New members can get 3 months of Unlimited Talk, Text, and 8 GB LTE Data for $20 Total ($6.67 per month). The details:

  • Unlimited talk, text, and 8 GB LTE data per month. For $20, you get 3 months of prepaid service. After your 8 GB of monthly LTE data is used up, you still get unlimited but slow 2G data for the rest of that month until it resets.
  • Mint Mobile SIM card is included.
  • No coupon code required.
  • Taxes and fees will apply. For reference, when I bought the cheaper 2 GB x 3 month plan for $45 previously, my taxes and fees came to $3 total for those 3 months.

I would treat this as a really cheap 3 month trial. If you don’t like Mint, just transfer out again. Here is my Mint Mobile SIM Activation and Number Port Transfer Review. Be sure to use their phone compatibility checker first to see if you can bring your current phone over and just put in the Mint Mobile SIM card.

In my opinion, the two best cell phone deals right now are this one and the “secret” Sprint Unlimited Free Year offer if you are currently with AT&T or Verizon.

Also see:

Best Interest Rates on Cash – February 2019

“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.”

Here’s my monthly roundup of the best interest rates on cash for February 2019, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to get an idea of how much extra interest you’d earn if you are moving money between accounts. Rates listed are available to everyone nationwide. Rates checked as of 2/3/19.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge megabanks like to get away with 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 prioritize banks with a history of competitive rates. Some banks will bait you 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.

  • Marcus Bank has 13-month No Penalty CD at 2.35% APY with a $500 minimum deposit, Ally Bank has a 11-month No Penalty CD is at 2.30% APY with a $25k+ minimum, and CIT Bank has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 2.05% APY with a $1,000 minimum deposit. 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. You may wish to open multiple CDs in smaller increments for more flexibility.
  • Sallie Mae Bank has a 1-year CD at 2.85% APY ($2,500 minimum) with an early withdrawal penalty of 90 days of interest.

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 money for themselves). The following money market and ultra-short bond funds are not FDIC-insured, but may be a good option if you have idle cash and cheap/free commissions.

  • Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund currently pays an 2.48% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which has an SEC yield of 2.32%. 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 2.73% SEC Yield ($3,000 min) and 2.83% 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 2.97% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 3.07% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months.

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.

  • 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 2/1/19, a 4-week T-Bill had the equivalent of 2.41% annualized interest and a 52-week T-Bill had the equivalent of 2.56% annualized interest.
  • The Goldman Sachs Access Treasury 0-1 Year ETF (GBIL) has a 2.30% SEC yield and the SPDR Bloomberg Barclays 1-3 Month T-Bill ETF (BIL) has a 2.19% SEC yield. GBIL appears to have a slightly longer average maturity than BIL.

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 November 2018 and April 2019 will earn a 2.82% 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-April 2019, 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 or 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. Signature “credit” purchases of $1,500 or more and a minimum balance of $25.00 at the end of the month is needed to qualify for the 6.00%.

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, either.

  • The best one left is Consumers Credit Union, which offers 3.09% to 5.09% APY on up to a $10k balance depending on your qualifying activity. The highest tier requires their credit card in addition to their debit card (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses). Keep your 12 debit purchases just above the $100 requirement, as for every $500 in monthly purchases you may be losing out on cash back rewards elsewhere. Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.
  • If you’re looking for a non-rewards high-yield checking account, MemoryBank has a checking account with no debit card requirements at 1.60% APY.

Certificates of deposit (greater than 1 year)
CDs offer higher rates, but some with a 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.

  • NASA Federal CU has a 15-month certificate at 3.20% APY and a 25-month at 3.25% APY ($10,000 minimum). 182 day early withdrawal penalty. Anyone can join this credit unions with via membership in partner organization (see application). Ally Bank has a 14-month CD at 2.85% APY (no minimum). 60 day early withdrawal penalty.
  • United States Senate Federal Credit Union has a 5-year Share Certificate at 3.53% APY ($60k min), 3.47% APY ($20k min), or 3.41% APY ($1k min). Note that the early withdrawal penalty is a full year of interest. Anyone can join this credit union via American Consumer Council.
  • You can buy certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance, but they don’t come with predictable fixed early withdrawal penalties. As of this writing, Vanguard is showing a 2-year non-callable CD at 2.65% APY and a 5-year non-callable CD at 3.10% APY. Watch out for 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 fixed early withdrawal penalties. As of this writing, Vanguard is showing a 10-year non-callable CD at 3.35% APY. Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs from Fidelity. Matching the overall yield curve, current CD rates do not rise much higher 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). I view this 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. As of 1/9/19, the 20-year Treasury Bond rate was 2.86%.

All rates were checked as of 2/3/19.



Empower Banking App Review: 2%-4% APY, 1%-2% Cashback, and AI Finance Assistant

“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.”

The Empower app is a combination of an online checking/savings account and an “AI” assistant that analyzes your income and spending activity from external bank accounts as well. The savings account currently offers a base 2% APY and the checking offers 1% cash back on the first $1,000 in debit card purchases each month. A newly referred user can get a 30 day boost of double those numbers – 4% APY and 2% cash back. You can get an additional 30-day boost for each friend that you refer. I’ve had this account open for a week now, and here are my thoughts.

Application process (App-only). You must do everything in the iOS or Android app – initial application, funding, transfers, etc. They require all the usual bank things like SSN, but they explicitly state that they will not run a credit check. I don’t believe there is a web browser interface at all. Everyone who opens an account gets both a checking and savings account, plus the digital assistant. Note that when you link an external bank account, the digital assistant will parse through your historical and ongoing transactions and look for ways to save you money. You can easily turn it off, but this may affect the choice of what bank account you wish to link.

(Note: The referral program may only be available to those who use the Apple iOS version of their app. This might have changed already or may change later, but I only have the iOS app running right now.)

Empower Checking has no minimum balance, no monthly fees, no overdraft fees, and free ATM withdrawals from the 25,000 ATMs in the MoneyPass network. In addition, they will reimburse you for one (1) out-of-network ATM transaction each month. I like this last feature as I only take cash out of an ATM about once a month. They give you your debit card number immediately, but will send you a physical Visa debit card as well.

This is a “real” FDIC-insured bank, with deposits insured of up to $250,000 per titled account through Evolve Bank & Trust, FDIC certificate number #1299. The routing number provided in the app is that of Evolve Bank. You can use the routing and account numbers to link your Empower account to other online banks (on their side) without giving Empower access to your transaction history.

The linked debit card offers a base 1% cash back on the first $1,000 in purchases spend each month. Newly referred users get a 30-day boost to 2% cash back, and each time you successfully refer someone to Empower, you will receive another 30-day boost. Debit card purchases have no foreign transaction fees.

Empower Savings has no minimum balance and no monthly fees. The current base interest rate is 2% APY. Newly referred users get a 30-day boost to 4% APY (capped at a $50,000 balance), and each time you successfully refer someone to Empower, you will receive another 30-day boost. You can transfer money between checking and savings instantly, but the savings account is still subject to the federal law limiting withdrawals from savings to six (6) times per month.

Referral program details. There are some important clarifications to their referral program. Here are selected parts:

  • You earn 30 days of boost for each referred friend that opens an Empower bank account and deposits at least $10.
  • Your boost will start the first day the funds clear into your referred friend’s account. If you are already receiving a boost, your boost for any subsequent qualifying referrals will start once any prior boosts conclude. (i.e. invite 3 friends and your can earn three consecutive 30 day boosts).
  • Your referred friends each get a 30 day boost starting the day their deposit of $10 or more clears into their Empower account.
  • During each 30-day boost, each person will earn an additional 1% cashback on the first $1,000 of their debit card transactions during the boost period and an additional 2% per annum Cash Reward on up to $50,000 of savings account balance. The 2% per annum Cash Reward is in addition to the 2.00% APY that is paid on Empower savings accounts.
  • Boost rewards are paid out at the end of each boost period.
  • Invite friends by logging in to your Empower app and sending an invite SMS to your friends.
  • The phone number you text must be the same phone number that your friend signs up for Empower banking with to be eligible.
  • The invited friend cannot be an existing or previous Empower banking customer, nor can they have been invited by someone else in the past.

If you would like a referral, I can give you one if you send me your phone number via my contact form. I will only use your information for this purpose. You can then refer your own friends.

My experience. Empower feels like the future. Everything is done via app, and it’s kind of creepy. (Yup, that’s my view of the future. Apps and kinda creepy.) The user interface is smooth and I actually like that part. Once you link your external bank, it immediately scans your transactions and points out ways to save money (“You need a new insurance quote! Your premium of $1,234 is too high!” or “Cancel this subscription”). You may love this feature, or not. My bet is that the megabank apps from Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo will all do this type of stuff eventually.

In the end, I don’t see anything drastically new that would make me recommend this app on an ongoing basis unless you had a lot of friends that want a new bank. Lots of online checking accounts offer ATM reimbursements now. 2% APY is common across online savings accounts. The 1% cash back on debit card purchases isn’t that special.

Now, if you did have 12 friends to refer (and $50,000), you could get 4% APY on up to $50,000 for a year. That’s an extra $1,000 a year above 2% APY, nothing to sneeze at.

You could treat also the initial 30-day boost as a sign-up incentive if you had enough money to move over. If you did have $50,000 and you got an extra 2% APY for 30 days, that would be about $82 in extra interest (plus $82 from the base 2% APY for a total of $164 of interest). It tells you very clearly how much days of “boost” you have left.

Bottom line. Empower.me is a new fintech banking app that combines a no-minimum checking account, a no-minimum savings account, and AI financial assistant that analyzes your spending and makes suggestions. The savings account currently offers a base 2% APY and the checking offers 1% cash back on the first $1,000 in debit card purchases each month. The feature that makes it noteworthy is that a new user can get a 30 day boost of double those numbers – 4% APY and 2% cash back – plus you can get additional 30-day boosts by referring more people.

Capital One Spark Cash for Business: Unlimited 2% Cash Back + $500 Cash Bonus

“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.”

The Capital One Spark Cash for Business is a rewards business card offering a $500 cash bonus in addition to ongoing 2% cash back rewards. Here are the highlights:

  • Unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases.
  • One-time $500 cash bonus once you spend $4,500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.
  • $0 annual fee for the first year, then $95 annual fee after that.
  • Cash back rewards don’t expire as long as your account is open.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Free additional employee cards.

Consider that if you meet the $4,500 spending requirement within 3 months, you will end up with $500 + $90 from 2% cash back – that’s $590 on $4,500 spending (13.1% cash back).

Note that “Existing or previous Accountholders may not be eligible for this one-time bonus.” For comparison, there is also a Spark Select for Business and Spark Classic that are different cards with lower sign-up bonuses but no annual fee.

The 2% cash back for all purchases is a strong rewards structure, and you get no annual fee during the first year as well. From the second year onward, you’ll have to weigh that against the $95 annual fee after the first year. The math says that you would have to spend more than $19,000 every year ($1,583 a month) to make the 2% back and $95 annual fee (Spark Cash) pay out more rewards than 1.5% cash back and no annual fee (Spark Cash Select).

Here is some info taken from the Terms and Conditions regarding rewards cash back redemptions:

How do I redeem my rewards?
You can get your cash back upon request in the form of a statement credit or a check. You can also set up an automatic redemption preference; options include: (1) at a set time each calendar year or (2) when a specific threshold ($25, $50, $100 or $200) has been reached. Just go online to capitalone.com or contact our Rewards Center. You can also redeem for credits for previous purchases, gift cards, and more. Rates for these redemption options may vary and are subject to change without notice.

Alternatively, the Capital One Spark® Miles for Business has a offer for 50,000 miles once you spend $4,500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. 50,000 miles are redeemable for a $500 statement credit towards travel. The travel can be booked directly through airlines and hotels, and there are no blackout dates or award seat limits to worry about. $0 annual fee for the first year, then $95 annual fee after that. No foreign transaction fees. Similar to the offer above, the Spark Miles offers 2 miles per dollar with the $95 annual fee but there is also a Spark Miles Select for Business that offers 1.5 miles per dollar with no annual fee.

Capital One now allows you to transfer your “miles” into select airline miles programs as well, on a 2:1.5 ratio (ex. 20,000 Capital One miles = 15,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles). Here are the 12 transfer partners:

  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Air France/KLM
  • Alitalia
  • Avianca
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Etihad
  • EVA
  • Finnair
  • Hainan
  • Qantas
  • Qatar

Unless you know how to leverage one of these international airline miles programs, I would prefer earning cash rewards over the “miles”, since these Capital One “miles” only get their maximum value when redeemed against a travel purchase.

If you are looking for a comparison with other strong business cards, check out my updated list of Top 10 Best Small Business Credit Card Bonus Offers.

Pay with American Express Points, Get $30 off $60 at Amazon (Targeted)

“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.”

If you have an American Express card with Membership Rewards (MR) points, you can redeem them to buy eligible items at Amazon.com. The redemption rate is 100 MR points = $0.70 to spend at Amazon, which is less than a cent per point and thus not really the ideal use of MR points. However, here is a promotion where you can get $30 off a $60 Amazon purchase when you redeem just 1 single MR point. The promotion may not work for everyone, but it worked for me and I’ve usually done every other promotion. Via SD:

  • Click here to link your American Express Membership Rewards points balance to your Amazon account
  • Click here to activate the promotion on your Amazon account (eligibility will vary)
  • Add $60+ of eligible products sold and shipped by Amazon.com to your shopping cart
  • Proceed to checkout & select your American Express as your payment method
  • Select the amount of Membership Rewards Points you would like to use for the purchase (must use at least 1 MR point)
  • $30 off $60 discount will be applied to qualifying items at checkout

This is nice perk for existing American Express cardholders, and some of which don’t even have an annual fee.

Here are my favorite AmEx cards with no annual fee, which are great for keeping MR points active if you sometimes have a Gold/Platinum card but not always.

Open to purchase suggestions? I would recommend replacing the AA (and AAA) batteries in your life with Panasonic Eneloop AA (and AAA) NiMH versions. I have been trying out the various other NiMH battery brands, but while AmazonBasics and EBL get decent reviews and are certainly cheaper, they tend to go completely dead on me (won’t recharge anymore) after 10-30 recharge cycles. I have Eneloops that are years older with 100+ recharge cycles and they still work fine. Panasonic Eneloops are simply the best quality (read up on them) and the reliability and longer life is definitely worth the price premium in my opinion.

Pay with Discover Card Points, Get $10 off $30 at Amazon.com (Targeted)

“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.”

Discover it 14 Image

If you have a Discover with cash back rewards, you can redeem them to buy eligible items at Amazon.com. The redemption rate is $1 in Cash Back Bonus = $1 to spend at Amazon, which is the same rate as their statement credit redemptions. Here is a promotion where you can get $10 off a $30 Amazon purchase when you redeem at least $0.01 in Discover cash back. The promotion may not work for everyone, but it worked for me and I’ve usually done every other promotion. Via SD:

  • Click here to link your Discover Cashback points balance to your Amazon account
  • Click here to activate the promotion on your Amazon account (eligibility will vary)
  • Add $30 or more of eligible products sold and shipped by Amazon.com to your shopping cart
  • Proceed to checkout & select your Discover Card as your payment method
  • Select the amount of Discover Cashback Bonus Points you would like to use for the purchase (must use at least 1 point or $.01)
  • $10 off $30 discount will be applied to qualifying items at checkout

This is nice perk for existing Discover cardholders, which is why I never cancel a card with no annual fee. Check out my Discover it credit card review to see how new applicants can get double cash back for the first year, meaning 10% cashback on their quarterly categories like gas, groceries, and Amazon (and 2% cash back on everything else.)

Open to purchase suggestions? I would recommend replacing the AA (and AAA) batteries in your life with Panasonic Eneloop AA (and AAA) NiMH versions. I have been trying out the various other NiMH battery brands, but while AmazonBasics and EBL get decent reviews and are certainly cheaper, they tend to go completely dead on me (won’t recharge anymore) after 10-30 recharge cycles. I have Eneloops that are years older with 100+ recharge cycles and they still work fine. Panasonic Eneloops are simply the best quality (read up on them) and the reliability and longer life is definitely worth the price premium in my opinion.

Webull App: Free Stock Trades + 2 Free Shares of Stock Referral Bonus

“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.”

Updated with new Refer-A-Friend terms, in effect 1/18/19. Webull is a new brokerage app that has unlimited free stock trades with no platform fees, free real-time quotes, and no minimum balance requirement. (Similar to Robinhood.)

Webull also has a referral program where new users can get a free share of stock worth between $3 and $300 for opening an account (no deposit required), and then an additional, second free share of stock worth between $4 and $1,000 for depositing at least $100 within 30 days of account opening. I believe the referring user also gets the exact same shares of stock. It’s like a lottery, and most people will get two shares of stock worth about five bucks each.

Here are the full odds for the opening share bonus ($3 to $300 value) from their Terms and Conditions:

$3 to $5 value, odds are ~1:1.02
$10 to $50 value, odds are ~1:55.6
$50 to $300 value, odds are ~1:500

Here are the full odds for the opening share bonus ($3 to $1,000 value)

$4 to $8 value, odds are ~1:1.02
$8 to $100 value, odds are ~1:74
$100 to $200 value, odds are ~1:166.7
$200 to $1,000 value, odds are ~1:2,000

Here is my Webull referral link. Thanks if you use it! I received a free share of ABEV worth about $4.46. I have also seen SNAP and some lucky ones got AAPL. You will need to sign-up initially either with a phone number or e-mail address, and then open an account after downloading the app (Android or iOS). Webull is a real SIPC-insured broker, and the application is the same (name, address, SSN, work questions, investing experience questions, etc). I did not have to make any deposit, make any trade, or even link a bank account to receive my first free share of stock. My account was approved and I claimed my free share within 12 hours.

(Note: I opened a cash account. Margin accounts will require a minimum balance of $2,000. I believe this requirement is the same for all brokers.)

Robinhood vs. Webull.

  • Robinhood definitely has a sleeker user-interface, which should appeal to younger users and those who want a simple trading experience. Webull has a more “busy” interface with charting, news, technical indicators, and stock screeners. You may like having more information, or you may want a cleaner app.
  • Robinhood offers free options trading. Webull does not offer options at all.
  • Both are primarily apps, but Robinhood has a web trading option now. Webull does not that I know of.
  • Webull has customer service available via Live Chat or phone number. Robinhood only has an e-mail address.

Both will make money from normal users via interest on cash balances and selling order flow. Robinhood’s premium features basically let newbie users access a simple version of margin (flat fee instead of interest rate). Webull has traditional margin accounts that allow shorting, and makes money by selling premium subscriptions to advanced quotes so serious traders can get the absolute best bids and offers across any of 13 different stock exchanges.

Firstrade is a more traditional online brokerage firm that also recently started offering free stock trades and free options trades.

Bottom line. Webull is a new entrant to the world of free stock trading apps. The feel is more of a full-featured traditional brokerage account in app form as compared to competitor Robinhood. The commission-free trades are the real draw, but new users who open an account and deposit $100 can also grab a couple of free shares of stock worth up to $1,000 (but probably about $5 each). It’s like a couple of free lottery ticket, so why not?

Healthywage Review: Bet on Yourself, Get Paid To Lose Weight ($100 Prize Bonus)

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(Update: If you missed it right at New Years, HealthyWage is offering a $35 Prize Boost from now until February 25th. This is on top of your existing winnings!)

hw_logoAfter reading academic studies which found that financial incentives were effective in helping people lose weight, I joined HealthyWage.com. You tell them how much weight you want to lose, your current body details, how much time you want, and and they’ll calculate what prize to offer you based on how much you want to bet on yourself. Since I eventually lost 50 pounds with the help of HealthyWage and other weight-loss betting sites (and have kept it off since), and I wanted to share my experiences including both positive and negative aspects.

My overall HealthyWage bet was to lose 10% of my body weight over 9 months (22 pounds in my case). My offered bet was to put up $50 per month for 9 months for a potential win of $50. You may like the sound of “winning $500”, but know that a lot of it will be your own money:

healthywage500

Honestly, risking $450 to win $50 didn’t feel like a very good risk/reward ratio, but I wanted the extra motivation. Perhaps my goal was too easy and that was why the payout wasn’t as high. You can put up your own numbers and calculate your own HealthyWage offer. Your payout may be much better than mine. The quote is free, you just need to provide any e-mail address.

If I had been willing to bet that I would lose 50 pounds like I actually ended up doing, I could have earned a lot more money:

Initial weigh-in verification. There are four ways to verify your weight:

  1. Smartphone app. There is a HealthyWage app for iOS and Android. You take a clip using the app and your personal scale.
  2. Video Verification. Upload a video to their website using your personal scale.
  3. Verification by a Fitness or Health Professional – Bring a form to your “local gym, pharmacies, corporate wellness clinics, walk-in clinics, HR reps, nurses, your personal doctor, your personal trainer or your chiropractor.”
  4. Verification at a Weight Watchers Meeting.

I followed their directions carefully, uploaded my video, and both my initial and final videos were accepted with no issues or additional requests.

Every month, I would see a $50 charge on my credit card bill from Healthwage. However, that was about it. There were no encouraging e-mails. No fun tokens or prize giveaways.

Upon initial sign-up, I was given my 2-week window for final weigh-in. HealthyWage’s two-week window is definitely more generous than DietBet’s 48-hour window, with the important difference that I was never sent any reminders by HealthyWage when the time actually came. In comparison, Dietbet sent me multiple reminders beforehand. Now, I had the date marked on my digital calendar with several alerts, so I completed my weigh-in by the second day of the window. It is quite possible that if I waited until closer to the final deadline, I would have gotten a reminder. But I wouldn’t rely on it. Remember, if you forget, they keep your money!

I also did a DietBet at the same time, which is similar but different in that it collects participants into groups and then takes a cut from the pooled bets. See my separate DietBet Review.

Extra final verification hoops. Upon final weight verification, you’ll have to submit the verification video again (see above). But that’s not all. I also had to locate and upload a “before photo” and an “after photo”, which could be any photo from “around the time” of the start and end of the challenge. I also had to upload a scan of my driver’s license. Here’s a screenshot of their page asking for additional information.

Finally, I successfully referred a few people to Healthwage and received extra money added my “pot”. This referral program is nice feature to get some social support, but remember that you get the referral money only if you win your own bet.

Final payout options. There are two options to receive your winnings. A mailed check takes 3-4 weeks to process, with no fee. The other “fast” option is PayPal, which charges a 3% fee. I picked the PayPal option because I didn’t want to wait around for a check. However, they later clarified that it would still take 3-5 business days for Paypal transfer. The 3% fee is actually taken out by PayPal, so HealthyWage actually sends the full amount (they just choose not to subsidize the fee). In retrospect, maybe I should have just waited for the check. Here’s a screenshot:

hw_finalpay

Bottom line. I committed to a Healthywage bet to lose 10% of my initial weight over 9 months. I lost the weight, completed my verifications without hassle, won the bet, and was paid my winnings. Although I found the process a bit impersonal, they are a legit company. Calculate your own HealthyWage offer here. No obligation to get a quote. However, the fact that HealthyWage motivated me to finally lose over 50 pounds was worth more to me than the cash winnings.

Merrill Edge + Preferred Rewards = Free Trades and Up to $900 Bonus For Moving Assets

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Merrill Edge is the self-directed brokerage arm formed after Bank of America and Merrill Lynch merged together. They are currently offering an increased cash bonus of up to $900 for moving “new money” or assets over to them from another brokerage firm. This new bonus is linked to the BofA/Merrill Preferred Rewards program, which is another reason to consider using them as it gets you free stock trades and better credit card rewards. Here’s an overview along with my personal experience as I’ve had an account with them for a few years now.

Cash bonus. Brokerage firms love to collect assets. The good news is they don’t require cash that will be earning zero interest, and Edge has no management fees if you stick with DIY. If you are holding shares of stock, ETFs, or mutual funds elsewhere, you can simply perform an “in-kind” ACAT transfer over to Merrill Edge. Your 100 shares of AAPL will remain 100 shares of AAPL, so you don’t even have to worry about price changes, lost dividends, or tax consequences. Any cost basis should transfer over too.

This specific offer is for accounts opened by April 30, 2019 and offers the following:

  • $150 bonus with $20,000 to $49,999 in new assets
  • $225 bonus with $50,000 to $99,999 in new assets
  • $375 bonus with $100,000 to $199,999 in new assets
  • $900 bonus with $200,000 or more in new assets

For comparison, here is an expired offer that was slightly better but probably the highest I’ve seen. Here is the standard offer that has been around for a while.

This offer includes both IRAs and regular taxable (CMA) accounts:

1 Offer valid for new and existing individual Merrill Edge IRAs or Cash Management Accounts (CMAs) opened by April 30, 2019. Offer is limited to one CMA and one IRA, with no more than two enrolled accounts per accountholder. Eligible Merrill Edge IRAs limited to Rollover, Traditional, Roth and owner only SEP IRA. The Merrill Edge IRA or CMA may be a Merrill Edge Self-Directed account, Merrill Edge Advisory Account or Merrill Guided Investing account. You may be eligible for a different or better offer. Please contact us for more information.

Note that last sentence! It’s not just boilerplate. After I did this bonus once with a partial transfer (just enough to satisfy the requirements), a Merrill Edge rep contacted me and offered me a custom bonus to move even more assets over. (The bonus ratios were about the same, but higher limits.) Therefore, if you are considering this and have more than $200,000 to transfer over, you may want to give them a call and see if they can offer even more money.

You can even transfer in Admiral Shares of Vanguard mutual funds that they don’t let you trade there, but you can only hold or sell them. You can’t buy more shares. You can, however, buy more shares of the corresponding Vanguard ETF if you wish.

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

bofa_pref1

At the Platinum and Platinum Plus levels, Merrill Edge will give you 30 and 100 free online stock trades every month, respectively. Bank of America’s interest rates on cash accounts tend to be quite low, so moving cash over to qualify may result in earning less interest on your cash deposits. Merrill Lynch advisory accounts also usually come with management fees. The sweet spot is if you have brokerage assets like stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs.

Credit cards rewards. With the Preferred Rewards boost, you can get up to 2.6% cash back towards travel on all your purchases on the Bank of America Travel Rewards Card. You can also get up to 5.25% cash back (on up to $2,500 per quarter) on your choice of gas, online shopping, dining, or travel with the Bank of America Cash Rewards Card.

Keep in mind that it will take a while for your “3-month average combined balance” to actually reach the required level and officially qualify. (This may be obvious, but if you put in the minimum, it will take 3 months.)

My personal experience. In terms of Merrill Edge, I’ve had an account with them for a few years now and my lightning review is that they have a “okay/good” user interface and solidly “good” customer service. I would add that I am not an active trader and only make about 10 trades a year. I have been quite satisfied with the account. I can also move money instantly between my Merrill Edge and Bank of America checking accounts, making it easy to sweep out idle cash into an external savings account.

The biggest financial benefit to this BofA/Merrill Edge combo has probably been the 75% boost to their credit card rewards, allowing me to get 2.625% cash back on basically all my daily purchases. The second biggest benefit has probably been this cash bonus, but that’s because I don’t make 100 trades over the course of a few years, let alone a single month.

Bottom line. Merrill Edge is currently offering up to $900 if you move over a significant amount of assets to their self-directed brokerage. This can simply be mutual fund or ETFs shares currently being held elsewhere. When you keep enough assets across Bank of America and Merrill Edge, their Preferred Rewards program can offer nice perks like waived bank fees, free stock trades, and boosted credit card rewards.

Discover It Card Review: Double Cashback Match Your First Year

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Discover it 14 ImageThe Discover it® card is a rewards credit card that offers 5% cash back on rotating categories each quarter and no annual fee. Right now, new cardholders get double their cash back during the entire first year (“Cashback Match”). This means that their 5% cash back on specific categories each quarterly will effectively get doubled to 10% cash back. Here are the highlights:

  • We’ll double all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. So if you earned $101 cash back, we’ll double it to $202—Automatically. Only for new cardmembers.
  • 5% cash back in categories that change each quarter like gas, restaurants, home improvement stores and more—up to the quarterly maximum when you sign up. 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Freeze It on/off switch lets you prevent new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers on misplaced cards in seconds by mobile app & online.
  • 100% U.S.-based customer service.
  • Free FICO credit scores updates on your monthly statement.
  • No overlimit fee. No foreign transaction fee. No late fee on first late payment & paying late won’t raise your APR.
  • No annual fee.

From January 1st through March 31st, 2019 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Grocery Stores (Target and Walmart excluded)

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.

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 this text:

Cashback MatchTM: : 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 CASHBACK BONUS OFFER: Get a $50 Cashback Bonus 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.

Bottom line. The Discover it® card is a rewards credit card that offers 5% cash back on rotating categories each quarter and no annual fee. It’s a little extra work to keep track of things, but it allows me to earn hundreds of dollars in extra cash each year without buying extra stuff I don’t need. New cardholders get >double their cash back during the entire first year (i.e. $100 cash back gets doubled to $200). This means that the 5% cash back on specific categories will effectively get doubled to 10% cash back.

Discover Bank Bonus: 2.10% APY + $150/$200 ($15,000/$25,000 Deposit)

“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.”

disc_osaDiscover Bank has a refreshed bonus for their online savings account that equates to a solid effective interest rate. If you open a new account through this promotion link by 2/4/19 and use the offer code NPBE119, you can receive one of the following bonuses:

  • Deposit at least $15,000 by 2/18/19 to earn a $150 bonus, or
  • Deposit at least $25,000 by 2/18/19 to earn a $200 bonus.

Thanks to reader Jared for the tip. If the link above stops working, here is a similar offer expiring 1/31/19 with promo code SAVE119E1.

The Discover Online Savings Account has a current interest rate of 2.10% APY as of 1/21/19, which is a competitive rate although the highest available is currently 2.45% APY. There are no minimum balance requirements and no monthly fees. Interest is compounded daily and paid monthly.

If you deposit the minimum amount of $15k, the $150 bonus is effectively another 1% of your initial deposit. The $200 bonus on $25,000 deposited is a lower percentage, but still pretty good. There is no fixed minimum time period where you have to keep the money there after getting the bonus, so your effective ROI can be quite high. Keep in mind that you must still have an open account for the bonus to post.

Offer not valid for existing or prior Discover savings customers or existing or prior customers with savings accounts that are co-branded or affinity accounts provided by Discover. Account must be open when bonus is credited. Bonus will be credited to the account by 3/4/19. Bonus is considered interest and will be reported on IRS Form 1099-INT. Offer may be modified/withdrawn.

I already have a Discover bank account that I tried out in exchange for a previous bonus. I did not experience a hard credit pull. The rates are decent but given their limited feature set there is usually another similar savings account that is higher, so I only keep it open in case something good comes up in the future. I only keep $5 in there with a $5 transfer once in a while so they don’t close it without notice.

Bottom line. The Discover Savings account is a simple, barebones piggy-back* savings account with no minimum balance and no monthly fees. The rates are historically competitive but rarely the highest. With no monthly fees, this is a relatively low-risk bonus if you have the funds available and have never had a Discover bank account before. Note that the bonus is considered taxable interest.

(* “Piggy-back” means it is a companion account to your existing checking account.)