Fidelity Rewards Visa Review: 2% Flat Cash Back + $100 Sign-up 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. Fidelity has condensed their rewards credit card line-up to a single card, the Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card issued by Elan Financial Services (subsidiary of US Bank). It earns a flat 2% cash back when directed to an eligible Fidelity Investments account. Right now, there is also a $100 bonus link to get a $100 bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days. (Based on the online reviews, they won’t give you the bonus unless you apply specifically through the right link. Be sure to follow-up.) Here are the highlights:

  • Unlimited 2% cash back, when redeemed into an eligible Fidelity account.
  • No annual fee.
  • Visa Signature benefits, like Concierge service.
  • Chip-enabled and works with Apple, Android, and Samsung Pay.

Note that this card charges a 1% foreign transaction fee, leaving you with a 1% cash back card on foreign purchases.

Eligible Fidelity accounts. The 2% rewards value applies only to points redeemed for a deposit into the following active Fidelity accounts:

  • Fidelity Cash Management Account
  • Fidelity Brokerage account
  • Fidelity-managed 529 account
  • Fidelity Retirement account (IRA, Roth IRA, SEP-IRA, Rollover IRA)
  • Fidelity Go account (robo-advisor)
  • Fidelity Charitable Giving Account (donor-advised fund)
  • Fidelity HSA

Points redemption details. You can either choose automatic or manual redemption. With automatic redemption, once you reach $50 of rewards (5,000 points from net spending of $2,500), your balance will be automatically swept into your designated Fidelity account (or split between up to 5 different Fidelity accounts if you wish). You can also redeem your points “on demand” either by calling in or online after you reach the same 5,000 point minimum balance.

Note that the rewards value will be less than 2% cash back if you choose to redeem your points for other rewards such as travel options, merchandise, gift cards, and/or a statement credit.

Previous FIA Cardservices customers. You should have received your new Elan-issued cards by now. If you are not getting 2% cash back, be sure to contact them as ask. You may need to re-enroll your card.

Bottom line. I think everyone who can handle a cash back credit card (i.e. you carry no high interest credit debt) should have a 2% flat cash back card that applies to all purchases. The Fidelity Rewards Visa can make sense for Fidelity customers because you can set aside your rewards automatically and save money towards a 529 college savings or retirement account. I would try to apply when there is a sign-up bonus. Here are some similar competitor cards:

Blooom Review 2019: Free 401k Analysis + Human CFP Financial Advice For $10 a Month

“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.”

Does the New Year have you motivated to give your retirement account a tune-up? As opposed to many other online advisors, Blooom.com (with three Os) focuses on providing advice for 401k, 403b, 457, and TSP accounts by offering both a free 401k analysis and charging a flat $10/month fee for ongoing portfolio management and CFP advice. They don’t require you to move any money over to them.

Free 401k analysis screenshots. Anyone can sign up for their free 401k analysis with no commitment. They don’t ask for last name or credit card information.

1. They ask you for first name, current age, and retirement age. You don’t need to be super-specific here, they just want some basic information to create your target asset allocation and time horizon.

2. They ask you short risk questionnaire. I’m still not convinced of the validity of finding your risk tolerance via a few multiple choice questions, but I suppose this is the most practical way to at least get you in the ballpark. They had me at 68% stocks and 32% bonds, which is actually really close to my actual stock/bond mix.

3. Provide your login credentials. Blooom will automatically pull in your 401k holdings and other information when you provide them your username and password. This is similar to how I track my own portfolio via Personal Capital. It took them a couple of minutes to crunch everything.

4. Analysis results and screenshots. They first give you an overall report card. Looks like I have a lot to work on:

Next, they told me about the fees that I am paying. It appears that because my fees were “difficult to identify”, they used an average number based on all of their clients. I’m guessing this is because I have a lot of non-mutual-fund holdings in my Solo 401k.

They then analyze asset allocation, identifying the mutual funds and assigning the proper asset class. They they compare with their recommended asset allocation for you:

Free 401k analysis review. My main concern about this analysis is that it only takes into account your 401k. If your 401k is your only retirement savings, then this is fine. However, my 401k is only a portion of my overall portfolio. In addition, I use tax-efficient asset placement, so my 401k mostly holds REITs and TIPs. While their asset allocation breakdown of my actual funds was mostly correct, I was never going to be close to their target mix. This prevented me from getting value out of this service.

Paid management service review. Here’s what the paid service includes:

  • Fee analysis. Each mutual fund you own charges an expense ratio that is quietly taken out of your balances daily. There may also be additional administrative fees charged by your provider.
  • Asset allocation advice. They will come up with a mix of stocks and bonds that are appropriate for your age, and time horizon. Their suggested asset allocation advice is in line with that of other robo-advisors.
  • Rebalancing service. Blooom will rebalance your assets periodically back towards your target values. They’ll help you maintain diversification across asset classes like US stocks, international stocks, safe bonds, etc.
  • Chat with Certified Financial Planners. You can e-mail or Live Chat with a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) about any financial topic, not just 401ks.
  • Fiduciary advice. Blooom is a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) and pledges a fiduciary duty under the law to give advice in your best interest only. This is an important detail!

Blooom has settled on a flat $10 a month fee for ongoing 401k management and advice. This is the same if you have $10,000 or $10 million. Flat fees end up being a high percentage of small accounts though, for example on $10,000 that ends up being 1.2% a year. My personal opinion is that if you have few thousand dollars or less, you should buy the cheapest S&P 500 index fund (or a low-cost Target Date fund) in your 401k and focus on increasing your contribution rate. You don’t need to pay $10 a month for advice right now. Asset allocation isn’t that important yet. Of course, the financial advisor access may be worth more than $10 a month by itself (see below).

While flat fees don’t work out mathematically for small accounts, you will start to save money as your account grows when compared to a percentage-based fee. Once you reach about $50,000 in assets, paying a flat $10 a month becomes cheaper than paying 0.25% of your assets annually.

If you had a solid low-cost, diversified Target Retirement fund from Vanguard, Fidelity Index Series, or Schwab Index Series, you may not need to pay for extra advice either. The asset allocation, rebalancing, and growing more conservative over time is all baked-in. The problem is that there are a lot of bad Target Retirement funds out there that have added layers of fees, stuffed with expensive questionable funds, and chase performance.

The hidden deal? You can get ongoing financial advice from a human CFP for only $10 a month! I think the most overlooked feature of the Blooom paid service is that they include the ability to Live Chat (text) or e-mail with Certified Financial Planners with no minimum balance requirement. A real human CFP, not some AI bot!

DID YOU KNOW blooom clients have access to a CFP? Just ping us on chat, email, Morse code, singing telegram, Pony Express… well, you get the idea, we are accessible.

You are welcome to ask questions about topics outside your 401k:

Ask our advisors any financial questions you have… even beyond 401ks! […] We go beyond retirement advice. Thinking about how a puppy or new car might affect you financially? Give us a whirl! Whether it’s $20 or $20,000, we want all our blooom members to make smart decisions about their finances.

I don’t know of any other place I can get a CFP to chat with me for ten bucks. For example, Betterment won’t let you have CFP access until you have $100,000 held with them (and 401k assets don’t count). You could always pay $10 for the first month and see how you like their CFP advice, as there is no contract on the monthly plan.

Bottom line. Blooom is an online financial advisor that manages 401k/403b/TSP employer retirement accounts. This works out if the majority of your retirement assets are in such a plan. They offer a free 401k/403b analysis to try them out. Above that, they will manage your funds and provide chat/e-mail access to a Certified Financial Planner for a flat $10 a month. This is one of the cheapest ways I know of to chat and email with a human Certified Financial Planner.

Disclosure: I have an affiliate relationship with Blooom. If you try out the free 401k analysis, I get nothing. If you end up being a paid member of Blooom through one of the links above, I will get a commission at no extra cost to you. All content and opinions remain my own.

Healthywage Review: Bet on Yourself, Get Paid To Lose Weight ($50 Prize 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.”

Update: As a New Year’s promotion, HealthyWage is offering a $50 Prize Boost when I calculate my HealthyWage prize (no obligation to get quote). Expires 11:59pm on January 3rd, 2019. This can effectively double your net 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:

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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:

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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.

Hanscom Federal CU Thrive Review: 5.00% APY High Interest Starter Account

“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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(Note: As of 12/10/18, HFCU also has a 19-month special certificate at 3.00% APY.)

Hanscom Federal Credit Union (HFCU) has hiked the rate on their CU Thrive account to 5.00% APY, which is a capped certificate of deposit that rewards consistent saving. The rate is set for 12 months, and during those 12 months you can transfer up to $500 every month from a HFCU checking account. No monthly fees. However, you cannot make any withdrawals during those 12 months, or you will be subject to an early withdrawal penalty of 90 days interest.

This product is not meant for big balances. Instead, it is meant to encourage a modest savings habit. 5.00% APY is more than double what the top high-yield savings accounts offer right now.

How much interest can I earn? At 5% APY, if you maxed out this account and set aside the full $500 a month for 12 months, at the end you’d have put in $6,000 and earned about $150 in interest by the end of the year (~$162 if you made every transfer on the 1st of the each month by my quick calculations). $6,000 also happens to be just about the same amount as a full Roth IRA contribution. Hint, hint.

At the end of the 12 months, all accrued savings plus earned dividends will be transferred into your primary savings account. Each member can only have one CU Thrive account open at one time, but after one 12-month period ends you can open up another one (assuming it is still offered). Full disclosure (PDF).

Eligibility details. To open a CU Thrive account, you must first open an HFCU checking account in addition to the savings account required for all members. HFCU offers a free checking account with no direct deposit and no minimum balance requirement. HFCU membership is open to active duty or retired military, but anyone can also join the Air Force Association, Paul Revere Chapter for a one-time $20 fee and be eligible. On the application, choose the option “I am a member of or will be joining a sponsoring member organization.” You must also keep $25 in the share savings account as long as you are a member.

New refer-a-friend program. HFCU has a referral program which offers an additional $30 cash bonus after your new savings and checking accounts are open and in good standing for 90 days. The referring member gets $30 as well. If you would like a referral from me, please me send your full name, e-mail address, the text “HFCU referral” via my contact form. I will use this information only to fill out their referral form.

Account opening process. I started the online application and said I would join the Nashua River Watershed Association for a one-time $35 fee (the AFA option was not available at the time). I had to provide the usual personal information and then answer questions based on my credit report to verify my identity. Based on my free credit monitoring, they did not perform a hard pull on my credit report. You can fund with an online bank transfer but they also gave me the option to fund with credit card up to $2,000. They didn’t mention if this would be considered a cash advance or not, but it showed up as a purchase for me. Finally, you must print out, sign, and mail in a signature card. You can also open an account in-person. All of their physical branches appear to be located in Massachusetts.

My 1-year experience. I had set the maximum $500 to be transferred every month to my CU Thrive account from my HFCU Checking account. I made 11 transfers but missed one because my checking balance was too low on the date of automatic transfer. My fault. When that happens, the account basically just skips the transfer. There is no penalty, you just don’t get to earn interest on that money. I called them but they said there was no way to replace that transfer, even if I moved more money into the checking account a day later. Other than that, everything went very smoothly and I was paid my interest as promised. At the 1-year maturity date, the funds were automatically transferred to my HFCU savings account and the CU Thrive no longer shows up on my online account page. I can now open up another CU Thrive account, if I wish.

I also discovered that Hanscom Federal has paid a Loyalty Dividend to its Credit Union members for over 15 consecutive years. In 2017, they paid a 2% bonus on dividends earned and consumer finance charges paid over the year. So on top my my $78.46 of interest earned, I earned another $1.57 in bonus loyalty dividends.

In addition to the CU Thrive and free checking options, HFCU also has a Kasasa Cash Checking account that offers up to 2.50% APY on balances up to $15,000 if you make at least 12 debit card or credit card purchases per month, complete at least 1 ACH Credit/Direct deposit per month, and enroll in online statements.

Bottom line. The CU Thrive account is a good option for people looking to build up a savings habit, with 5.00% APY for 12 months, $30 sign-up bonus, and easy membership eligibility. However, the system really works best if you use HFCU’s free checking as your primary checking account. Juggling it as an external savings account is perfectly possible, but you have to keep on top of your transfers to avoid idle cash earning zero interest. I received all of the interest promised, the customer service was nice and polite when contacted, and any errors were my own.

Real Estate Crowdfunding: Realtyshares Foreclosure Process Example 2018

“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.”

Final update. I’ve invested in multiple real estate crowdfunding websites, including $2,000 into a single debt investment at RealtyShares. Unfortunately, this loan backed by a multifamily unit went into foreclosure and I outline what happened. There are risks in every investment, and my loss is your learning opportunity!

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Initial investment details.

  • Property: 6-unit, 6,490 sf multifamily in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
  • Interest rate: 9% APR.
  • Amount invested: $2,000.
  • Term: 12 months with 6-month extension option.
  • Total loan amount $168,000. Purchase price $220,000 (LTC 76%). Estimated after-repair value $260,000. Broker Opinion of Value $238,000.
  • Loan secured by the property in first position. Personal guarantee from borrower.
  • Stated goal to rehab, stabilize, and then either sell or refinance.

Brief recap.

  • January 2016. Funds committed. Loan closed.
  • July 2016 to May 2017. Sporadic payment history for over a year. They would be on-time for a while, then there’d be a late payment, then things would brought back current, etc.
  • May 2017. Borrower stated that the property was under contract for $225,000 with final walk-through completed and expected close within 30 days.
  • June 2017. Borrower stopped paying. I guess the sale fell through (or they lied). Foreclosure process initiated by RealtyShares.
  • September 2017. Judgment granted in Wisconsin court. By law, there will be a 3-month redemption period where the borrower can still keep the house if they pay foreclosure judgment plus interest, taxes, and costs.
  • January 2018. The foreclosure sale was held and property ownership was reverted to RealtyShares. A judge still needs to confirm the sale.
  • February 2018. The judge confirmed the foreclosure sale, and RealtyShares is officially the owner of the property. Property can now be assessed and fixed up before sale.
  • April 2018. Property listed for $134,500 as per new BPO (Broker Opinion of Value).
  • June 2018. Property is under contract for sale. Exact price unknown.
  • July 2018. Property sold. Final disbursement of $1,133.73 received.

Final numbers. I invested $2,000 and got paid $210.84 of interest and $1,133.73 of principal for a total of $1,344.57. This means I only got back 67% of my money after more than 2 years. On the other hand, I have made over 50 different real estate-backed loans now, and it was only a matter of time before I got a full default. This was my first investment that finished foreclosure, but it won’t be my last.

The question is how often that happens and the size of those losses. When it came to Prosper or LendingClub, the interest rates might be higher but when a loan was 60 days late you were pretty much done. As an unsecured loan, you had nothing to fall back on if the borrower broke their promise (besides hurting their credit score). Sending it to collections typically only got you pennies on the dollar. In this case, I got back 57 cents on the dollar when you exclude interest.

Beforehand, RealtyShares told me that the foreclosure process in Wisconsin typically took about 12 months. That turned out to be a good estimate, as it was 12 months between foreclosure initiation and the property being under contract for sale.

Lessons. First, don’t put too much weight on a BPO (broker opinions of value). A broker thought this property was worth $238,000 in January 2016. Another broker thought the same property was worth only $134,500 in April 2018. The final sale price was probably closer to $100,000. That is a big gap.

Second, you should consider the local economic situation. This area is hurting, and if you do some digging you’ll see foreclosures all over the place. I didn’t know this at the time, but the low-income rental market in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was profiled in the NYT Bestselling book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (my review). Many of the properties mentioned in this book were literally down the street from this unit.

Third, you need to diversify. If this was my only investment, I might have an overly negative opinion of the asset class. If my successful Patch of Land loan was my only investment, I might have a overly positive opinion. Instead, this is one of 50+ investments for me (mostly at PeerStreet) and while I maintain a positive return higher than cash across my investments, there is the occasional foreclosure like this. Basically, when you read about my experience or someone else’s, you must take into account sample size.

Finally, I believe that some marketplace/crowdfunding sites may be better at sourcing and underwriting loans than others. As of November 2018, Realtyshares has stopped accepting new investments (they will continue to service existing investments). Even before that, they abruptly stopped doing residential loans to “focus” on commercial properties. I knew their specialty was more commercial real estate, but I didn’t want to commit $25k to a single commercial investment, so I went with this smaller residential loan. Since then, I have shifted my residential debt investing to PeerStreet as they allow me to split my investments into $1,000 minimums and they also have a slightly different model.

Communications quality. I would grade the online updates from RealtyShares as acceptable/good. They are relatively detailed and consistent, providing me a look inside the foreclosure process. Here are some sample updates:

October 9, 2017 We have identified a real estate broker to sell the property. The broker spoke with the previous property manager who was at the property a couple of weeks ago and who may be available for property preservation. The broker is going to take a contractor to the property to try and get an accurate cost estimate to complete the renovation.

September 21, 2017 Judgment was granted at the hearing. We expect the filed judgment from the court in approximately one week and will process it upon receipt. We should be able to schedule the sale in late October and it will be held after the redemption period expires—sometime in December. As soon as we receive the filed judgment order from the court we will have the exact 3 month redemption date. Sale cannot be held until the redemption period has expired.

September 8, 2017 The partner has declined to go forward with the purchase of the property. On the foreclosure front, the judgement hearing is scheduled for September 18th. If the judgement is successful, there is a 6-month right of redemption period during which the property can not be sold. During this period we will identify a property preservation firm and a commercial broker to sell the property.

August 25, 2017 A minority partner has stepped forward and has asked for a week to visit the property with the idea of making a paydown in exchange for an extension. We have agreed to speak next week after his inspection.

August 22, 2017 Service has been completed on the foreclosure. The defendants were personally served with the summons and complaint on August 2, 2017. The statutory answering time will expire on August 22, 2017. The judgment hearing will be scheduled at that time.

June 29, 2017 Due to the borrower’s inability to stay current, we have decided to start the foreclosure process for payment default. The foreclosure will run parallel with the sales process, meaning if the sponsor can sell the property and pay us off before the foreclosure is complete we will stop the process, if not we will take over the property. Typically, foreclosures in Wisconsin take up to 12 months.

Bottom line. Investing in real-estate backed loans means that if the borrower doesn’t pay up, you can foreclose and take over the property. But what is that really like? The purpose of this post is to provide real-world dates and numbers for a completed foreclosure on a marketplace real-estate investment site. I haven’t seen any other similar resources.

My current active investments are at PeerStreet ($1,000 minimums, accredited-only, debt-only) and Fundrise eREIT ($500 minimum, open to everyone, equity and debt).

Citi Simplicity Card Review: 0% for 21 Months (1.75 Years), No Late Fees, No Penalty Rates

“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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Interest rates are rising, and that applies to credit cards as well. Our partner Citi has updated the Citi Simplicity® Card with an extended 0% intro period for balance transfers while also offering some “accident forgiveness insurance”. Do you have a balance that you are finally ready to pay off? The highlights:

  • The ONLY card with No Late Fees, No Penalty Rate, and No Annual Fee… EVER
  • 0% Intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months from date of first transfer. All transfers must be completed in first 4 months. After that, the variable APR will be 15.99% – 25.99%, based on your creditworthiness
  • 0% Intro APR on purchases for 12 months from date of account opening. After that, the variable APR will be 15.99% – 25.99%, based on your creditworthiness
  • If you transfer a balance with this offer, after your 0% Intro purchase APR expires, both new purchases and unpaid purchase balances will automatically accrue interest until all balances, including your transferred balance, are paid in full
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
  • The same great rate for all balances, after the introductory period
  • Save time when you call with fast, personal help, 24 hours a day – just say “representative”
  • Enjoy the convenience of setting up your own bill payment schedule on any available due date throughout the month

No late fees, no penalty rate details. On most other credit cards, if you make a late payment, you’ll first be charged a late payment fee of about $35. On top of that, your super-low interest rate disappears and instead gets jacked up to something called their “default rate” or “penalty rate”. This could be over 30% APR! The Citi Simplicity card adds a bit of flex in that they do not charge penalty rates or late fees.

Note that if you are 30 days late on this or any credit card, Citi will still report this activity to the credit bureaus. This card may be forgiving but you should still keep your credit score as high as possible.

The strongest part of this card is the long 21 month period, so you can spread out payments over 1.75 years and ideally pay it all off by the end. There is a 5% balance transfer fee ($5 min). However, 5% works out to just 3 months of interest at 20% APR. Transferring a balance to this card from a 20% APR card would be the equivalent of paying 3 months interest at 20% APR and then having 18 months with 0% interest. Once the intro period on all 0% cards expire, the rates will go right back up. You’ll either need to pay it off or transfer your balance again if you need more time. With this card, you’ll have a full 21 months to spread your payments out.

Alternatively, if you know you will pay it off within a shorter time period, look for a card with no balance transfer fee. Compare with other low fee 0% APR balance transfer offers.

This card does not earn any cash back, points, or airline miles. I’d open a separate card for rewards after your balances are paid off and you join the “Paid in full every month” club.

Bottom line. The Citi Simplicity® Card is best for folks that are serious about paying off their balances. You get a long 0% introductory period of 21 months on balance transfers, with a one-time 5% balance transfer fee ($5 min). The card includes consumer-friendly features that help ensure your low rates don’t get hiked with a single late payment. If you do the math and can make adequate payments to pay down your balance over a 1.75 year span, this card may help get you debt-free with minimal gotchas. No annual fee.

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.”

CIT Bank Review: 11-Month No Penalty CD 2.05% APY, 18-Month CD 2.50% APY, Savings Builder 2.25% APY

“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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Rates updated 1/3/19. CIT Bank (not to be confused with Citi Bank) is an online-only bank with a multi-year history of competitive rates. They don’t offer a checking account and instead focus on a variety of savings and CD products with high interest rates. Here are the highlights:

  • 11-Month No-Penalty CD at 2.05% APY with $1,000 minimum to open. 11-month CD keeps a fixed rate, but no withdrawal penalty seven days or later after funds have been received. This means that your interest rate will never go down, but you can still move out if interest rates go up. (If you have an existing No Penalty CD that you want to close and open up a new one, please see my instructions below.)
  • Savings Builder Account at 2.45% APY if you maintain at least one single monthly deposit of $100+, OR maintain a balance of $25,000+. Details here.
  • Money Market Account at 1.85% APY, currently available on all tiers ($0+) with no max. $100 minimum to open, but no minimum balance requirement. Up to 6 withdrawals per month.
  • 18-month CD at 2.50% APY, 13-month CD at 2.25% APY. Each CD also has a $1,000 minimum opening deposit. The early withdrawal penalty is 6 months of interest on CD with terms of 1 to 3 years.

Each of these types of account has their pros and cons. The No-Penalty CD has a rate that can’t go down, but also has a $1,000 minimum balance. The 18-month CD has a higher rate, but significant penalties if you make an early withdrawal. The Money Market rate could rise or drop, and also has more flexibility as you can easily make more deposits and also make 6 withdrawals every month.

Check out my rate chaser calculator to see if it makes sense for you to move money over.

New customer? Opening process overview. Here’s my review of the opening process if you are a new customer.

  • The application process was completely online. You provide the usual personal information.
  • You must submit to a credit check, but in my experience it was a “soft” pull which did not harm my credit. None of my various credit monitoring services showed it was a hard pull.
  • You may fund via (1) electronic ACH transfer, (2) wire transfer, (3) mobile check deposit via CIT Bank mobile app (iOS and Android), and (4) mailing in a paper check. There was no option for credit card funding. I picked online ACH funding and you need to provide routing and account numbers, followed by manual verification via micro-deposits after a day or two. There was no instant linking option via login information.

After deposit verification, then your funding will go through.

You have successfully verified your external account. Please allow up to 5 business days for your funds to appear in your CIT Bank account.
No further action is required for this account. Thank you!

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Existing savings or money market customer? Check your rate. If you already have an existing High Yield Savings account, it may remain at a lower interest rate than this money market account. If so, take a minute and upgrade yourself to the better interest rate. Click on “Open an Account” here, then “I have a CIT Bank account”, and then login with your username/password. You can do everything online and even fund your new Money Market account with an instant transfer from your existing Premier High Yield Savings. I wish I didn’t have to do this, but at least it literally only took a minute to complete.

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How to transfer your money from an existing No Penalty CD into an new, higher-rate No Penalty CD (or any other new account). Let’s say you opened up a No Penalty CD at 1.55% APY or 1.85% APY, but then the rate for a new CD has risen to 2.05% APY. You have the option of moving the funds (with no penalty of course) over to a new CD with a new 11-month holding period. I just did this, and here’s the easiest way to do so:

  • Start a new online application for the 11-Month No-Penalty CD. Click on “Get Started” and sign-in as an existing CIT customer.
  • After signing in, go through the opening process but look for “Existing CIT Bank Account” under “Funding Source”. You should see a list of your existing accounts, including any No Penalty CDs. (Screenshot below.)
  • Note that online, your only option will be to have the entire CD balance (including accrued interest) moved over into the new CD. If you want a different amount, you’ll have to call CIT Bank customer service at 855-462-2652, open M-F 8a-9p ET, Sat 9a-5p ET, Sun 11a-4p ET. Press “0” for operator. Tell them you opened up a new No Penalty CD and you wish to fund it by closing out your old No Penalty CD.
  • That’s it. The online option says it will take 2-3 business days to complete. Your new accounts will show up online.

User interface. While the front-facing website is pretty slick, after you login the backend is run by Fidelity National Information Services (subdomain ibanking-services.com). This is a popular backend software system used by many smaller banks who don’t want to create their own software from scratch. As of early 2018, the user interface was upgraded to be look more appealing and be more user-friendly. Two-factor authentication is available using voice or SMS.

There is also an app available (iOS/Android) provided by the same company. It is similarly functional and includes mobile check deposit. Here are some screenshots:

citapp

Bottom line. CIT Bank is a lean bank offering targeted products for folks looking to get higher interest rates on their cash balances. They don’t do physical bank branches, checking accounts, or fancy apps. However, I have been pleasantly satisfied with their customer service on my accounts with them. Their most compelling products are their Money Market accounts, 11-month No Penalty CD, and usually they have a top rate on one of their Term CDs. The No Penalty CD is unique in that you are always able to move out to a higher rate, even within CIT bank itself.

Chase Ink Business Preferred Card Review: 80,000 Point Bonus worth $1,000 Towards Travel

“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.”

inkpreferred2018Updated. Business credit cards can be used by self-employed or side-gig workers with eBay, Amazon, Etsy, Uber/Lyft, Adsense or other 1099 income that make you a sole proprietorship. The Ink Business Preferred Card is now offering a 80,000 point bonus for new cardholders, worth an even $1,000 towards travel when redeemed through Chase. This is their premium travel card with 3X points on travel purchases and the ability to transfer points to airline miles or redeem at a 25% premium through their travel portal. Here are the details:

  • 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. That’s worth $1,000 toward any airfare or hotels booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal (works like Expedia or Travelocity).
  • 3X points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel, shipping purchases, internet/cable/phone services, and advertising purchases with social media sites and search engines.
  • 1X point per $1 on all other purchases with no limit.
  • Ability to transfer points directly to airline mile partners.
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Free additional cards for employees.
  • Primary rental car coverage when renting for business purposes.
  • $95 annual fee.

Ultimate Rewards points. This card offers a 25% bonus on travel bookings made through the Ultimate Rewards travel website. 80,000 Ultimate Rewards = $1,000 in travel. Similar to Expedia or Travelocity, you can book flights on most major airlines, hotel chains, and car rental companies. This makes it much more flexible to spend your points. You can even buy something more expensive and pay the difference.

If you have other Chase cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points like the Ink Business Cash or Ink Business Unlimited, you can transfer points into this card account and take advantage of the 25% premium. However, if you happen to have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you could transfer your points over to that card and grab the better 50% premium.

You could think of this card as the small business version of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

Prefer airline and/or hotel points? This card also allows you to transfer Ultimate Rewards points into hotel and/or airline miles. Transfer to United Airlines, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air, Southwest, Hyatt Hotels, IHG Hotels, and Marriott Hotels at a ratio of 1 Ultimate Rewards point = 1 mile/hotel point. Miles redemption continue to offer great value for savvy travelers, especially for last-minute travel and business class seats.

Many people aren’t aware of the fact that they can apply for business credit cards, even if they are not a corporation or LLC. The business type is called a sole proprietorship, and these days many people are full-time or part-time consultants, freelancers, eBay/Amazon/Etsy sellers, Uber/Lyft drivers, or other one-person business owners. This is the simplest business entity, but it is fully legit and recognized by the IRS. On a business credit card application, you should use your own legal name as the business name, and your Social Security Number as the Tax ID.

Note that Chase has an unofficial rule that they will most likely deny approval on new credit cards if you have 5 or more new credit cards from any issuer on your credit report within the past 2 years (aka the 5/24 rule). This rule is designed to discourage folks that apply for high numbers of sign-up bonuses. This rule applies on a per-person basis, so in our household one applies to Chase while the other applies at other card issuers.

The good news is that small business cards from Chase hardly ever show up on personal credit reports, so getting this card in itself won’t affect your future 5/24 eligibility. This it makes a “free” application if you are already eligible.

Bottom line. The Chase Ink Business Preferred Card has a huge 80,000 point sign-up bonus worth a cool $1,000 towards travel, along with premium travel features included with the $95 annual fee. You can transfer Ultimate Rewards points from other Chase cards to increase your value. If you’d rather have a more simple cash-focused rewards structure and no annual fee, be sure to compare with the Ink Business Unlimited and Ink Business Cash.

“Disclaimer: 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.”

Barclays Arrival Premier World Elite Mastercard Review

“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 Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard® is no longer available.

Northern Bank Direct Money Market Review – 2.26% APY Guaranteed Through June 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.”

Update: As of 6/20/18, the rate is now down to 1.50% APY. I hope everyone who was interested got the 2.26% APY rate, you definitely had time and they did give roughly a 24-hour notice.

Here comes another new “Direct” bank leapfrogging the current competition for some attention. The Northern Bank Direct Money Market account is offering 2.26% APY on average daily balances up to $250,000, and the rate is guaranteed through June 30, 2019. Of course, another bank could take the throne tomorrow, but at least this one comes with a rate guarantee. Other highlights:

  • $5,000 minimum to open.
  • Includes limited checkwriting and ATM debit card access.
  • No minimum balance requirements or monthly service charges.
  • Interest is compounded monthly and credited monthly. If you close your account before the interest is credited, you will not receive the accrued interest.
  • Read full review for notable quirks.

Northern Bank Direct is the online division of Northern Bank, a community bank in the New England area. You must open accounts online, but you can do transactions in their branches and use the NBTC Mobile Banking apps. They also offer various certificates of deposit, including currently a 30-month CD at 3.01% APY ($500 minimum to open, 12-month early withdrawal penalty). Their routing number is 011303097. You can contact them at 844-348-8996 EST Monday-Friday: 9a-6p, or via email to nbdirect@nbtc.com.

Money Market features. This is a money market account, which is similar to a savings account but adds limited checkwriting and an ATM debit card. You are still limited to 6 withdrawals per month, whether via online electronic funds transfer, check, wire, or ATM machine.

ACH limitations. Northern Bank Direct has a somewhat weird rule that if you initiate a electronic transfer from your Northern Bank Direct account, there is a maximum daily limit of $5,000.00 (or the available balance in your account, whichever is less) for Interbank (external) transfers per transaction; $5,000 in aggregate per day; and $25,000 in aggregate per calendar month. If you initiate the electronic transfer from an external financial institution, Northern Bank Direct does not impose a limit on the amount of the transfer.

Notable fees. According to their full Deposit Account Agreement, there are a few other fees that caught my eye:

  • Account closure (by mail): $10
  • Dormant Accounts fee (per month– starting in the 13th month for account balances less than $500.00): $4.00
  • External Transfer Fee (per transfer): $3
  • New account closure within 120 days: $25

It appears that not only do they limit your transactions to $5,000 per day ($25,000 per month), they will also charge you $3 if you initiate the transfer from your Northern Bank Direct account. There are some reports that they are removing the $3 fee, but I still see it on their online fee schedule. Hopefully, you already have a favorite “hub” bank account with free, fast transfers and high dollar limits (mine is Ally Bank).

These fees are notable as other online savings accounts have all of the following: no minimum opening balance, no minimum balance requirement, no early closure fee, and/or no inactivity fee.

Smartphone app. It’s amazing how much I bank from my phone these days, from checking balances to mobile check deposit. Based on the app store screenshots, it looks like Northern Bank also outsourced their back-end software to Fidelity National Information Services (subdomain ibanking-services.com). In my experience, the app is basic but functional. Mobile check deposit and Touch ID are supported.

Bottom line. The Northern Bank Direct Money Market account is offering 2.26% APY on average daily balances up to $250,000, with the rate guaranteed through June 30, 2019 ($5,000 minimum to open). In terms of liquid savings accounts, this is the highest rate currently available (with a few quirks noted above). There are a few short-term CDs with higher rates (and withdrawal penalties), but this is more like a no-penalty CD plus you can also add funds at any time. If you have a large cash balance and you want to preserve your liquidity options, this is something to consider. Act fast though, as previous similar accounts have closed to new applications after a few weeks.

Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to estimate how much additional interest you’d earn if you switched over and make an informed decision.

Personal Capital Review 2018: Automatically Track Net Worth and Portfolio Asset Allocation

“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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Updated 2018. Personal Capital is free financial website and app that links all of your accounts to track your spending via bank and credit cards, investments, and net worth. You provide your login information, and they pull in the information for you automatically so you don’t have to type in your passwords every day on 7 different websites. Personal Capital’s strength is in investments, including portfolio tracking, performance benchmarking, and asset allocation analysis.

Net worth. You can add your home value, mortgage, checking/savings accounts, CDs, credit cards, brokerage, 401(k), and even stock options to build your customized Net Worth chart. You can also add investments manually if you’d prefer. I have a habit of accumulating bank and credit union accounts, so I find account aggregation quite helpful.

Cash flow. The Cash Flow section tracks your income and expenses by pulling in data from your bank accounts and credit cards. This chart compares where you are this month against the same time last month. If you hate budgeting, you may find it easier to view a real-time snapshot of your spending behavior. Their expense categorization tool is pretty accurate, and if it isn’t you can change it manually. However, it isn’t quite as advanced as Mint.com, where you for example you can make a rule to always classify “Time Warner Cable” as “Utilities” and not “Online Services”.

Portfolio. This is where Personal Capital is better than many competing services, by analyzing my overall asset allocation, holdings, and performance relative to benchmarks. If you’re like me, you have investments spread across multiple custodians. I now have investments at Vanguard, Fidelity (401k), Schwab, TransAmerica (401k), and Merrill Edge. It’s nice to be able to see everything together in one picture. They can also analyze your retirement accounts fees to see if you are quietly getting charged too much.

For comparison, Mint did not allow manual input of investments and it did not break down my asset allocation correctly based on my linked accounts. In fact, all it shows is a big orange pie chart with “99.9% Not Sure” and “0.00 Other”.

Personal Capital considers the major asset classes to be US stocks, International stocks, US Bonds, International Bonds, and Cash. The “Alternatives” classification includes Real Estate, Gold, Energy, and Commodities.

If you have one bank account, one credit card, and a 401(k), you may not need this type of account aggregation service. Life tends to get messy though, and this helps me maintain a high-level “big picture” view of things.

Security. As with most similar services, Personal Capital claims bank-level, military-grade security like AES 256-bit encryption. The background account data retrieval is run by Envestnet/Yodlee, which partners with other major financial institutions like Bank of America, Vanguard, and Morgan Stanley. Before you can access your account on any new device, you’ll receive an automated phone call, email, or SMS asking to confirm your identity. Their smartphone apps are compatible with Touch ID/Face ID on Apple and mobile PINs on Android devices.

In terms of the big picture, my opinion is that by making it more convenient, I am able to keep a closer eye on all my account and thus actually make myself less likely to be affected by a security issue.

How is this free? How does Personal Capital make money? Notice the lack of ads. Personal Capital makes money via an optional paid financial advisory service, and they are using this as a way to introduce themselves. (People who sign up for portfolio trackers tend to have money to manage…) They are a hybrid advisor, combining their online tools with real human access. Their management fees are 0.89% annually for the first $1 million, with slightly lowered pricing as you go past $1 million in assets. As an SEC-registered RIA fiduciary that now manages over $7 billion, I think this improves their credibility as a company built to handle sensitive information.

Note that if you give them your phone number, they will call you to offer a free financial consultation. If you answer the phone or e-mail them that you don’t want to be contacted anymore, they will honor that request. Or you could ask them your hardest financial question and see how they respond. However, if you simply ignore the phone calls, they will keep calling. Now, you can keep using the portfolio software for free no matter what happens. But, if you aren’t interested, I would highly recommend simply being upfront with them. A simple “no thank you” and you’re good.

If you’re upfront with them, they’ll be upfront with you. I’m still a DIY guy when it comes to my money, and they have been happy to keep monitoring my accounts for free, without any additional phone calls over the last 5 years.

Bottom line. It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep that counts. The free financial dashboard software by Personal Capital helps you track your net worth, cash flow, and investments. I recommend it for tracking stock and mutual fund investments spread across different accounts. I’d link your accounts on the desktop site, but interact daily through their Android/iPhone/iPad apps for optimal convenience (log in with Touch ID or mobile-only PIN).

Republic Wireless Review: New Phone + 3 Months Service $89 or Free SIM + Free 1st Month

“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.”

rw2018freesimUpdated 2018. Republic Wireless is a T-Mobile MVNO that reduces costs by using WiFi for calls and texts whenever possible. They have settled into the simple pricing structure below, with no contracts.

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The best value plans allow a single user to pay $20/month for unlimited talk/text/1 GB LTE and $25/month for unlimited talk/text/2 GB LTE. The nice thing about these pay-for-what-you-use plans is that you save money on the months where you use very little data, as opposed to always buying the plan where you know you won’t pay for overages.

Buy new phone, get 3 free months of service (phones start at $89). Get 3 free months of service if you buy a new phone and activate a new line. This is with the Unlimited Talk/Text + 1 GB Data plan, so that’s $20 x 3 = $60 value for free. New phones start at only $89 for the Alcatel A30 Android phone. Moto E is $129.

Bring your own phone + Free SIM card + 1 free month of service. Right now, they are offering a Free SIM card + Free Shipping + Free 1st Month of Service. This is with the Unlimited Talk/Text + 1 GB Data plan ($20 value). If you use more data, you pay the difference. Taxes and telecom fees are not included. The idea is that you can swap out the SIM card in your phone and try them out with no obligation. You must activate by 6/30/18.

Phone options. You can either buy a phone from them or bring your GSM unlocked phone and use their SIM card. There are still no Apple phones on the list. Below is a partial list of eligible phones. The best thing to do is use their phone checker.

  • Google Pixel
  • Google Pixel XL
  • Google Pixel 2
  • Google Pixel 2 XL
  • Samsung Galaxy S8
  • Samsung Galaxy S9
  • Samsung Galaxy J7
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
  • Samsung Galaxy S7
  • Samsung Galaxy J3
  • Samsung Galaxy S6
  • Nexus 6P by Huawei
  • Nexus 6 by Motorola
  • Nexus 5X by LG
  • Moto X Pure Edition
  • Moto X4
  • Moto G5S Plus
  • Moto G5 Plus
  • Moto E4
  • Moto E4 Plus
  • Moto G4
  • Moto G4 Plus
  • Moto G4 Play
  • Moto Z
  • Moto Z Play

Bottom line. Republic Wireless now allows you to bring your own unlocked GSM phone for use on WiFi and T-Mobile LTE networks. Right now, they are offering a free SIM + free month of service to try them out for free. Apple phones are not eligible. The cost is straightforward: $15 for unlimited talk/text and $5 per GB of data used, making it best for modest data users.

If you are willing to buy several months of service at once (or have an Apple phone), also check out Mint Mobile (formerly MintSIM).