Search Results for: express sync

American Express Sync + Xbox Promotion

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Here is another American Express Sync promotion if you sync your AmEx card with your Xbox LIVE Gamertag on Xbox 360. Visit AmeXbox.com to register. At the very minimum, you’ll get $10 for registering your card at AmeXbox.com, with more lucrative opportunities if you have Halo 4. As with other American Express promotions like Small Business Saturday, I assume you can get $10 for each card you own including authorized user cards, if you have multiple Gamertags. I don’t have an Xbox, but reader Nic helpfully sent me the e-mail text below.

American Express and Xbox are bringing you a new way to save. From now until December 31st, Cardmembers can sync an eligible American Express® Card with their Xbox LIVE Gamertag to unlock exclusive content, offers, and more.
• Spend $10 at AMC Theatres®, get $5 back
• Spend $50 at PacSun®, get $25 back
Get a $10 statement credit from American Express

Cardmembers who sync their Cards with Xbox LIVE and play the newly released “Halo 4” will also be able to unlock additional offers by reaching specified in-game achievements. These include:
• Spend $100 at Best Buy®, get $50 back
• Get a $25 statement credit from American Express

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

TripAdvisor + American Express $5 Promo

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Link your American Express card, write an approved review on TripAdvisor, get $5. Details at sync.americanexpress.com/tripadvisor:

Get a $5 statement credit when you connect your eligible American Express Card with TripAdvisor and leave one posted review (approved by TripAdvisor) before 23.59 (EST) on December 31, 2013.

You must connect your American Express Card to TripAdvisor to be eligible to receive the $5 statement credit. Quantities are limited. Only one $5 statement credit per connected Card. Your Card must remain connected until the statement credit is applied. Statement credit may not be received if a review doesn’t meet TripAdvisor’s qualifications and is not posted by TripAdvisor.

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

$10 off $50 at Lowes with American Express

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Get $10 off any $50+ purchase at Lowes home improvement stores in-store or online. Expires 11/15/2013. Sign up for AmEx Sync first if you haven’t already. Then tweet anything with #AmexLowes. You should get a confirmation reply quickly. Details here.

You may also be able to access these discounts via Facebook, the AmEx smartphone app, or by simply logging into your account online. Twitter has worked reliably for me. I post a lot of smaller and time-sensitive deals like this on my Twitter feed @mymoneyblog, which are echoed on my Facebook page.

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

American Express Twitter #hashtags Promotion

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Update: There is now a $10 off $50 gift card at participating malls, $5 off $25+ at Shell Gas, $25 off $75 at Ticketmaster.com, and $50 off $250 at Travelocity. If you have more than one American Express card, you can link one per unique Twitter account.

American Express is definitely one of the more creative card issuers when it comes to using new social media and technology. This time around they want to you to use Twitter #hashtags to earn discounts at various merchants.

  1. Link your Twitter account at sync.americanexpress.com/twitter.
  2. Register your American Express card.
  3. Tweet specific #hashtags to sign up for specific offers. You’ll get a confirmation almost immediately that you are enrolled via an @reply back.
  4. See what’s available and easily enroll by retweeting the offers on this page.

AmEx also has similar promotions going on with Foursquare and Facebook.

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

American Express & Foursquare Promotion

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Update: Foursquare and American Express are running this promotion again nationwide – even if you did it already previously – this time for $5 off $10 at participating small businesses. I just looked for restaurants nearby that accepted AmEx and found several that are eligible = another cheap date night! Just “check-in” and you can load the discount onto your linked credit card. Thanks EC for the tip.

Foursquare is a location-aware smartphone app where you can “check-in” at specific places and share information. First, connect your foursquare account to any eligible American Express Card at sync.americanexpress.com. Then follow the quoted directions below on your smartphone. I want to say that all this should work with an iPod Touch or iPad as well, but I haven’t tried.

Check in at a merchant with a Special, load the Special to your card, and then pay for your over $10 purchase with your American Express ® Card. No need to show your phone to a cashier or anything – you’ll receive the credit on your Amex statement within 5 business days. You can find dozens of deals in your area just by hitting ‘Specials’ on the ‘Explore’ tab on your foursquare app (there are hundreds of thousands of participating businesses).

p.s. You can still score free points from Hilton Honors and other rewards programs by “checking in” using the Foursquare app when you register with TopGuest. You can get 50 Hilton points every day you check in at a Hilton hotel, for example. You only need to be within 10 miles of the hotel to check in the first time, and in future times you need to be nearby at all. I can check in once a day, every day, for 50 points, although I usually forget to.

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

High-Yield Savings Accounts & Money Market Account Rates

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Opening an online savings account is a great way to earn some extra money on your cash. Most of these accounts are designed to “piggy-back” onto your existing checking accounts through quick and easy online funds transfers. Chances are your current checking account pays next to zero interest. Here are some current top rates, curated to include established FDIC-insured banks with a reliable history of competitive rates.

Capital One Money Market

  • Summary: The Capital One Money Market account pays 2.00% APY on balances of $10,000 or more, with no monthly maintenance fees and just a $1 minimum deposit.  Balances of less than $10,000 will earn 0.85% APY.
  • Capital One bank has the DNA from the very first high-yield online savings account providers.

GS BankMarcus Bank (Goldman Sachs)

  • Summary: Marcus by Goldman Sachs sports a 2.15% APY with no monthly maintenance fees and just a $1 minimum deposit.
  • Marcus is a new initiative by Goldman Sachs to get into debt consolidation and personal loans. Their banking arm serves as a source of funds, so hopefully they’ll keep their rates high and competitive.

Ally Bank LogoAlly Bank

  • Summary: Ally Bank currently yields 2.10% APY with no monthly maintenance fees or deposit minimums.
  • Ally Bank also offers a wide variety of products including a checking account, High-Yield CDs, Raise Your Rate CD, and a No Penalty CD.

Discover Bank Savings

  • Summary: The Discover Online Savings Account pays 2.00% APY with a $500 minimum balance to earn interest. No minimum balance fees.
  • You may know Discover for their line of credit cards, but they opened up a bank as a source of funds to lend out.

AMEX BankAmerican Express Bank

  • Summary: American Express Personal Savings is now at 2.10% APY.  
  • American Express is another card issuer that started up a bank as a source of funds to lend out a those higher credit card rates.

CIT Bank LogoCIT Savings Builder

  • Summary: CIT Bank is offering 2.30% APY on all accounts with a $100 minimum opening deposit and a $100 monthly deposit (can be set automatically).
  • CIT Bank focuses on savings deposit products, including No Penalty CDs, Ramp Up CDs, and Term CDs with competitive rates.

These high-interest savings account rates are current as of August 2019.

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

Best Interest Rates on Cash – August 2018

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to get an idea of how much additional interest you’d earn if you are moving money between accounts. Rates listed are available to everyone nationwide. Rates checked as of 8/4/18.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks like to get away with 0.01% APY, there are a number of online savings accounts offering much higher rates. Keep in mind that with savings accounts, the interest rates can change at any time.

  • CIT Bank Money Market offers 1.85% APY with no minimum balance ($100 to open) and no max balance cap. Several others have similar rates (see interactive tool below). Customers Bank offers 2.25% APY guaranteed until 6/30/19, but with a minimum balance of $25k+. On the flip side, Redneck Bank offers 2.00% APY but on a maximum balance of $50k.
  • My “hub” bank account is the Ally Bank Savings + Checking combo due to their history of competitive savings/CD rates, 1-day external bank transfers, and overall user experience. The free overdraft transfers from savings allows to me to keep my checking balance at a minimum. Ally Savings is currently at 1.80% APY. From here, I open “spoke” accounts and CDs to lock in higher rates.

Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, you should know that money market and short-term Treasury rates have been rising. 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 2.06% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which has an SEC yield of 1.87%. 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 2.44% SEC Yield ($3,000 min) and 2.54% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is ~1 year.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 2.45% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 2.47% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months.

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

  • United Texas Bank has a 1-year CD at 2.80% APY. CIT Bank 1-year CD is at 2.50% APY ($1,000 minimum). Early withdrawal penalty is 3-months of interest. For more flexibility, the Ally Bank 11-month No Penalty CD is at 2.00% APY ($25k minimum) and the CIT Bank 11-Month No-Penalty CD is at 1.85% APY with a lower $1,000 minimum. The lack of early withdrawal penalty means that your interest rate can never go down for 11 months, but you keep full liquidity. You can open multiple CDs in smaller $1,000 increments to get even more flexibility.
  • Several other banks now have 12-month CDs at 2% APY and above. Watch the early withdrawal penalties. For example, Synchrony Bank has a 2.45% APY 12-month CD, but the early withdrawal penalty is 90 days of interest. Meanwhile, Ally Bank has a 12-month CD at 2.40% APY with $25k+ deposit (2.25% APY for $5k+) and early withdrawal penalty of 60 days interest.

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

  • “I Bonds” bought between May 2018 and October 2018 will earn a 2.52% rate for the first six months. The rate of the subsequent 6-month period will be based on inflation again. More info here.
  • In mid-October 2018, 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.

  • The only notable card left in this category is Mango Money at 6% APY on up to $5,000, but there are many hoops to jump through. There is a $3 monthly fee and you need to maintain a minimum $800 net direct deposit each month. This means you can’t direct deposit $800 and also take out $800 via online transfer. Checks and ATM withdrawals have additional fees. The only thing left is to spend the money via the Visa debit feature (and miss out on 2% or similar credit card rewards).

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. That’s just how it goes with these types of accounts.

  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 4.59% APY on up to a $20k balance, although getting 3.09% APY on a $10k balance has a much shorter list of requirements. The 4.59% APY requires you to apply for a credit card through them (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses). Keep your 12 debit purchases small as well, as for every $500 in monthly purchases you may be losing out on 2% cashback (or $10 a month after-tax). Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit (greater than 1 year)
You might have larger balances, either because you are using CDs instead of bonds or you simply want a large cash reserves. 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 such that you have access to part of the ladder each year, but your blended interest rate is higher than a savings account.

  • Ally Bank has a 5-year CD at 3.00% APY ($25k minimum) with a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty. For example, if you closed this CD after 2 years you’d still get a 2.39% effective APY even after accounting for the penalty. (2.61% at 3 years.)
  • Connexus Credit Union is offering a 1-year Share Certificate at 2.50% APY (90-day early withdrawal penalty), a 3-year Share Certificate (180-day early withdrawal penalty) at 2.75% APY, and a 5-year Share Certificate (365-day early withdrawal penalty) at 3.25% APY. All have a $5,000 minimum deposit. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization Connexus Association for a one-time $5 fee.
  • 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 3-year non-callable CD at 3.00% APY and a 5-year non-callable CD at 3.30% APY from a few banks including American Express and Citibank. 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 3.45% 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.

All rates were checked as of 8/4/18.

Interactive rate table. Above, I work to curate only the banks with top nationwide rates. I don’t include every bank. Below is an interactive widget that lets you filter by account type (savings, CD term) and deposit amount. I don’t control the results, but it can be useful for comparison purposes to see other competitive rates. Disclosure: If you end up opening a new account using this widget, I may receive a commission.



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

Best Interest Rates on Cash – July 2018

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to get an idea of how much additional interest you’d earn if you are moving money between accounts. Rates listed are available to everyone nationwide. Rates checked as of 7/4/18.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks like to get away with 0.01% APY, there are a number of online savings accounts offering much higher rates. Keep in mind that with savings accounts, the interest rates can change at any time.

  • CIT Bank Money Market offers 1.85% APY with no minimum balance ($100 to open). Purepoint Financial offers 1.90% APY, but requires a $10k+ balance. Northpointe Bank is at 2.05% APY, but requires a $25k+ balance. On the flip side, Redneck Bank offers 2% APY but on a maximum balance of $50k.
  • My “hub” bank account is the Ally Bank Savings + Checking combo due to their history of competitive savings/CD rates, 1-day external bank transfers, and overall user experience. The free overdraft transfers from savings allows to me to keep my checking balance at a minimum. Ally Savings is currently at 1.75% APY. I then open other “spoke” accounts and CDs to lock in higher rates.

Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, you should know that money market and short-term Treasury rates have been rising. 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 2.04% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which has an SEC yield of 1.83%. 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 2.39% SEC Yield ($3,000 min) and 2.49% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is ~1 year.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 2.44% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 2.47% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months.

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

  • CIT Bank 1-year CD is now at 2.50% APY. Early withdrawal penalty is 3-months of interest. Alternatively, the CIT Bank 11-Month No-Penalty CD at 1.85% APY with a $1,000 minimum deposit and no withdrawal penalty seven days or later after funds have been received. The lack of early withdrawal penalty means that your interest rate can never go down for 11 months, but you keep full liquidity. Full review. You can open multiple CDs in $1,000 increments if you want more flexibility.
  • Several other banks now have 12-month CDs at 2% APY and above. Watch the early withdrawal penalties. For example, Synchrony Bank has a 2.45% APY 14-month CD, but the early withdrawal penalty is 180 days of interest. Meanwhile, Ally Bank has a 12-month CD at 2.30% APY with $25k+ deposit (2.20% APY for $5k+) and early withdrawal penalty of 60 days interest.

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

  • “I Bonds” bought between May 2018 and October 2018 will earn a 2.52% rate for the first six months. The rate of the subsequent 6-month period will be based on inflation again. More info here.
  • In mid-October 2018, 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). The offers also tend to disappear with little notice. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. The Insight Card used to offer 5% APY on up to $5,000, but as of July 2018 is completely shut down.

  • The only notable card left in this category is Mango Money at 6% APY on up to $5,000, but there are many hoops to jump through. There is a $3 monthly fee and you need to maintain a minimum $800 net direct deposit each month. This means you can’t direct deposit $800 and also take out $800 via online transfer. Checks and ATM withdrawals have additional fees. The only thing left is to spend the money via the Visa debit feature (and miss out on 2% or similar credit card rewards).

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. That’s just how it goes with these types of accounts.

  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 4.59% APY on up to a $20k balance, although getting 3.09% APY on a $10k balance has a much shorter list of requirements. The 4.59% APY requires you to apply for a credit card through them (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses). Keep your 12 debit purchases small as well, as for every $500 in monthly purchases you may be losing out on 2% cashback (or $10 a month after-tax). Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit (greater than 1 year)
You might have larger balances, either because you are using CDs instead of bonds or you simply want a large cash reserves. 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 a custom CD ladder of different maturity lengths such that you have access to part of the ladder each year, but your blended interest rate is higher than a savings account.

  • Connexus Credit Union is offering a 1-year Share Certificate at 2.50% APY (90-day early withdrawal penalty), a 3-year Share Certificate (180-day early withdrawal penalty) at 2.75% APY, and a 5-year Share Certificate (365-day early withdrawal penalty) at 3.25% APY. All have a $5,000 minimum deposit. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization Connexus Association for a one-time $5 fee.
  • 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 3-year non-callable CD at 3.00% APY and a 5-year non-callable CD at 3.30% APY from a few banks including American Express and Citibank. 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 3.40% 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.

All rates were checked as of 7/4/18.


CIT Bank No-Penalty CD

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

How To Build A 4-Week Treasury Bill Ladder: A Visual Guide

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

For my magic trick today, I will be resurrecting a post from over 11 years ago! That’s the last time it there was any significant interest for an individual to buy Treasury Bills instead of using a top-yielding bank account. As of 6/18/18, a 4-week T-Bill rose to a 1.83% yield. Since T-Bill interest is exempt from state and local income taxes, your tax-equivalent yield could top 2% today.

This is a short visual guide on creating a Treasury Bill ladder, which maximizes your liquidity. If you use the TreasuryDirect website, it now includes an option for automatic reinvestment upon maturity, which makes things even easier after the initial setup.

Quick Facts

  1. Treasury Bills are purchased at a discount and redeemed at the full par value. So for each $1,000 worth, you’ll pay ~$99x dollars upon issue and receive $1000 upon maturity.
  2. You can either buy them at TreasuryDirect.gov, or from a brokerage firm that offers a bond desk like Fidelity, Vanguard, TD Ameritrade, etc.
  3. Rates are set by auction, so you will not know your exact interest rate before you commit to buy. You can look at historical rates to help get you a ballpark estimate.
  4. 4-week T-Bill auctions are normally held on Tuesdays, and the T-Bills both issue and mature on Thursdays. Here is a list of upcoming auctions.
  5. You must schedule your non-competitive bid before 11am Eastern time on the auction date (Tuesdays), otherwise you are pushed to next week. (TreasuryDirect now allows automatic reinvestment upon maturity for up to 2 years.)
  6. The transfer of money to/from your bank account upon purchase/maturity is well-synchronized. That is, if one Treasury Bill matures (deposits $1,000) and another is issued on the same day (withdraws $995), your bank account should have a net positive $5 balance at the end of that day.

Visual Guide To Setting Up A Treasury Bill Ladder
Laddering is a method of purchasing that increases the liquidity of fixed term investments such as Treasury Bills. Imagine if you bought a T-Bill every week, and each one lasts for 4 weeks. After four weeks, you could simply use the proceeds of your first T-Bill to purchase your fifth T-Bill. The week after that, you could use the proceeds from your second T-Bill to purchase your 6th T-Bill, and so on forever. If you stopped buying T-Bills, you would get $1,000 back each week until all have matured.

TreasuryDirect now has a minimum purchase amount of $100, allowed in increments of $100. This means you would need to commit 4 x $100 = $400 to create a weekly ladder. Other brokerage firms may impose a higher $1,000 minimum per T-Bill. If you don’t have enough, you can simply buy them at less frequent intervals. Below are four visual examples for buying a $1,000 T-Bill every month, every two weeks, and every week:

Monthly Ladder of $1,000 T-Bills ($1,000 committed)
Assuming a discount value of $995:
Week #1: T-Bill #1 will be issued on Thursday (net taken from bank account: -$995)
Week #5: T-Bill #1 will mature (+$1,000) and T-Bill #2 will be issued (-$995) on Thursday (net: -$990)
(and so on…)


In some months, there may be a gap between the T-Bill maturing and the next one issuing, but you should never have more than $1,000 invested “outside” in T-Bills. However, you may have to wait up to 28 days for your money to come back to you.

Bi-Weekly Ladder of $1,000 T-Bills ($2,000 committed)
Week #1: T-Bill #1 issued on Thursday (net: -$995)
Week #3: T-Bill #2 issued on Thursday (-$1990)
Week #5: T-Bill #1 matures, T-Bill #3 issued on Thursday (-$1985)
Week #7: T-Bill #2 matures, T-Bill #4 issued on Thursday (-$1980)
Week #9: T-Bill #3 matures, T-Bill #5 issued on Thursday (-$1975)
(and so on…)

As you can see, you should never need more than $2,000 committed to T-Bills using a bi-weekly ladder. If you have $2,000, this would be a better way to set up your investments since in the worst case you can stop buying new T-Bills and get access to half your investment in 14 days once the ladder is constructed.

Weekly Ladder of $1,000 T-Bills ($4,000 committed)
Week #1: T-Bill #1 issued on Thursday (net: -$995)
Week #2: T-Bill #2 issued on Thursday (-$1990)
Week #3: T-Bill #3 issued on Thursday (-$2985)
Week #4: T-Bill #4 issued on Thursday (-$3980)
Week #5: T-Bill #1 matures, T-Bill #5 issued on Thursday (-$3975)
Week #6: T-Bill #2 matures, T-Bill #6 issued on Thursday (-$3970)
Week #7: T-Bill #3 matures, T-Bill #7 issued on Thursday (-$3965)
(and so on…)

Practical Details
If you don’t already have a preferred brokerage account, you can buy T-Bills online at TreasuryDirect.gov. Check out the TreasuryDirect Guided Tour for a walkthrough; It’s very similar to opening an online bank account. You will need to verify your identity with your Social Security Number, but there is no credit check. You will need a bank account as an initial source of funds.

After logging in, do not use “Purchase Express”, click on the “Buy Direct” tab on top instead, and choose “Bills”. Here is a screenshot of the entire purchase screen, including the option for automatic reinvestment (into another T-Bill of the same type and term):

If you choose your interval correctly, everything pretty much goes on autopilot. For a 4 x $1,000 weekly ladder, you would just set up 4 purchases and have them reinvest automatically for up to 2 years. Note that I chose both the source and destination of funds to be my bank account. If you are using a savings account, remember that they are limited to 6 withdrawals per month. If you want to avoid the extra transactions at the expense of a little bit of interest, you may choose to use the “Certificate of Indebtedness” as your source or destination account. Just think of it as a savings account that pays no interest that serves as a holding place for money. Obviously, you don’t want to keep too much in there.

Bottom line. Individuals can invest in Treasury Bills, which are Treasury Bonds with a maturity of one year or less. T-Bill interest rates are now competitive with top online bank accounts, even exceeding them in some cases due to the interest being exempt from state income taxes. Structuring them as a T-Bill ladder is a way to increase your liquidity. By creating a ladder of 4-week T-Bills maturing every week, you can always have access to 1/4th of your funds in a week, 1/2 of your funds in 2 weeks, and so on.

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

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card Review: 5% Back at Amazon + Whole Foods

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

primecredit

(Updated: Now with 5% back at Whole Foods for Amazon Prime members. Amazon recently announced free 2-hour delivery from Whole Foods in 4 US cities, with nationwide rollout expected later this year…)

Chase and Amazon have rolled out the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, a new credit card (not store card) available only to Amazon Prime members. Highlights:

  • 5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market for Amazon Prime members. If you stop your Prime membership, you’ll be downgraded to 3% back.
  • 2% Back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores.
  • 1% Back on all other purchases.
  • Sign-up bonus of variable amount based on each person’s account. I was offered a $70 Amazon Gift Certificate. Click on the “Apply Now” link to see your personalized offer, you’ll have time to stop the application.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee.
  • Extended warranty protection. Extends the time period for the U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year, on eligible warranties of three years or less.
  • Purchase Protection. Covers your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.

Existing Amazon Rewards Visa Signature cardholder? If you have the original card and are an Amazon Prime subscriber, you should be “upgraded” to this new card automatically. You may see the change online first (your linked purchases will start earning 5% back instead of just 3% back) before you actually receive a new physical card.

Commentary. I recently did a Amazon Store Card review, about a retail card issued by Synchrony Bank that was only valid at Amazon.com. My overall opinion of this credit card is similar, except for the extended warranty protection. If you use gift cards to buy things at Amazon, you will forgo the extended warranty protection and purchase protection that many other credit cards offer. With this card, you will get the extended warranty protection and 5% cash back. How much is an extra year’s warranty worth? Depends on how many big-ticket items you buy at Amazon and how likely you’ll actually remember to use this benefit.

My rough rule of thumb is that a “hard” credit check can reliably net me at least $500 in value, usually from credit card sign-up bonuses but also potentially from bank bonuses and higher interest. It is very rare that I shop at any specific retailer enough to get $500 in savings. For example, it would take $10,000 of Amazon purchases at 5% back to net me $500 in cash back. (2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores only draws a yawn when I can get that much cash back on everything. 1% cash back on everything else… zzzz.)

Now, the addition of the 5% back at Whole Foods adds a wrinkle for those that shop at Whole Foods regularly. If you were only getting 2% back before, now 5% on the combined spending at Amazon and Whole Foods might become more compelling. (Amazon recently announced it will offer free two-hour delivery of Whole Foods groceries in four cities – Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas and Virginia Beach. The plan is to expand delivery nationwide later in 2018.)

For the casual Amazon shopper, 5% rotating category credit cards often have Amazon or a place that sells Amazon gift cards as an eligible category. Other cards like the American Express Blue Cash Preferred offer 6% back at grocery stores (that sell Amazon gift cards) or Chase Ink Business cards offer 5% back at office supply stores (that sell Amazon gift cards). Basically, there are other ways that I can stock up on Amazon gift cards at 5% off without having this card.

Bottom line. If you are a loyal Prime member that spends a lot of money at Amazon and/or Whole Foods and prefer simplicity, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card can add up to serious rewards. Be sure to make it your default card for your Amazon account. You can then track all your Amazon spending on one card, and also get extended warranty protection and purchase protection. As with any rewards credit card, you should always pay off your bill in full as the annual interest rate on balances is significantly higher than 5%.

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

Amazon Store Card Review: 5% Back on Amazon Purchases with Prime

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

amazonstoreA few readers have asked my opinions of the Amazon Store Card, a retail card issued by Synchrony Bank. You can only use it to buy things at Amazon.com – note the lack of a logo from Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or American Express. This is a separate product from the Amazon.com Rewards Visa Card (3% back at Amazon), which is a credit card issued by Chase that you can use anywhere that Visa is accepted. The key benefits of the Amazon Store Card are:

  • 5% Back for Amazon Prime members. Amazon Prime members are automatically upgraded to the Amazon Prime Store Card and can earn 5% back on all Amazon.com purchases.
  • No annual fee.

There are also financing offers, that come with the card, similar to retailer cards from Home Depot or Lowe’s.

  • No interest if paid in full within 6 months on any purchase totaling $149 or more. Interest will be charged to your account from the purchase date if the promotional balance is not paid in full within 6 months. Minimum monthly payments required.
  • No interest if paid in full within 12 months on any purchase totaling $599 or more. Interest will be charged to your account from the purchase date if the promotional balance is not paid in full within 12 months. Minimum monthly payments required.
  • No interest if paid in full within 24 months on select items sold by Amazon.com. Items sold by third parties do not qualify. Interest will be charged to your account from the purchase date if the promotional balance is not paid in full within 24 months. Minimum monthly payments required and may pay off purchase before end of promo period.
  • 12 Month Equal Pay Offer: 0% APR until paid in full. 12 equal monthly payments required.

As with those home improvement offers, you have to watch out for the balloon interest payment at the end. If you don’t pay in full, you will get charged back-dated interest starting back from the purchase date and not the end of the promo period. This credit line charges a variable interest rate based on the Prime Rate. The current Variable purchase APR is 26.24%. Yikes.

Commentary. So why don’t I mention the Amazon Store Card all the time? My rule of thumb is that a “hard” credit check can reliably net me at least $500 in value, usually from “try me! try me!” credit card incentives. It is very rare that I shop at any specific retailer enough to get $500 in savings. For example, it would take $10,000 of Amazon purchases at 5% back to net me $500 in cash back.

At the same time, 5% rotating category credit cards often have Amazon or a place that sells Amazon gift cards as an eligible category. Other cards like the American Express Blue Cash Preferred offer 6% back at grocery stores (that sell Amazon gift cards) or Chase Ink Business cards offer 5% back at office supply stores (that sell Amazon gift cards). Basically, there are other ways that I can stock up on Amazon gift cards at 5% off without having this card.

If you are a loyal Prime member that spends a lot of money at Amazon and prefer simplicity, then this card can make sense. The 5% off is automatic with your bill, and you get to easily track how much your Amazon habit is costing you. You’ll also want to be the type that either pays your bills in full or is great at navigating the fine print on financing opportunities. 26% APR interest is scary.

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

4 Different Rules of Thumb For How Much House You Can Afford

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

housemoneyUpdated. Buying a house is always an exciting yet terrifying time. Deciding on how much we can “afford” is often limited by how much someone will lend us. Mortgage lenders use income size, income stability, credit score, down payment size, and other factors before approving a loan. Let’s explore the idea of a “rule of thumb” to greatly simplify such a complicated matter. The most common way to express affordability is as a multiple of your household or individual annual income.

CNN Money says 2.5 times:

The rule of thumb is to aim for a home that costs about two-and-a-half times your gross annual salary. If you have significant credit card debt or other financial obligations like alimony or even an expensive hobby, then you may need to set your sights lower.

The now-defunct Washington Mutual Bank suggested up to 4-5 times:

As a broad generalization, most people can afford to purchase a house worth about three times their total (gross) annual income, assuming a 20% down payment and a moderate amount of other long-term debts, such as car or student loan payments. With no other debts, you can probably afford a house worth up to four or even five times your annual income.

Investopedia offers up 2 to 2.5 times:

Generally speaking, most prospective homeowners can afford to mortgage a property that costs between 2 and 2.5 times their gross income.

Running Your Own Numbers

Where do these numbers above come from? Most government-backed mortgages utilize the following ratios for their underwriting:

  • Front-end debt-to-income ratio = housing-related costs (PITI) divided by gross income. PITI stands for principal, interest, taxes, and insurance.
  • Back-end debt-to-income ratio = housing-related costs (PITI) plus all recurring monthly debt, all divided by gross income. Recurring monthly debt includes student loans, car loans, credit card debt, and alimony/child-support obligations.

Essentially, they want to be sure that housing costs don’t take over your entire budget and also that you can still handle your total monthly debt load. (Left out are things like food, transportation, other insurance, health care, etc.) Each of the major lending agencies has their own set of DTI limits, but let’s use the standard Federal Housing Administration (FHA) limits of 31% for front-end DTI and 43% for back-end DTI.

You can insert your own numbers here, but let’s use these statistics based on the average US household:

  • Household income. Government statistics have the median US household earning around $52,000 gross a year, or $4,300 a month.
  • Taxes and homeowner’s insurance. Depending on the survey, the national average is somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000 for annual property taxes and roughly $1,000 for annual homeowner’s insurance premiums. Together that’s roughly $300 a month.
  • Credit card debt. The Federal Reserve reports the average household credit card debt to be about $7,500. The underwriting guidelines use minimum payments, so if you assume a 3% minimum payment that’s $225 a month.
  • Car loans. Experian reports that the average monthly loan payments was $450 for new cars and $350 for used cars. Let’s use $400 for this exercise and assume one new car per household.
  • Student loans. For households with student debt, Brookings estimates that the average monthly payment is $240.
  • Current 30-year fixed mortgage rate. Bankrate and HSH report this to be about 4.25%.  You can always refinance your mortgage to lower your rate as well.

20% Down Payment, 31% Front-End Ratio
Using a 31% front-end ratio, that means PITI (principal + interest + taxes + insurance) can be $1,333 a month. Taking out $300 for taxes and homeowner’s insurance, that leaves us $1,033 a month for principal and interest. With a 20% down payment and a 4.25% interest rate, that works out to roughly a $210,000 maximum loan size and $260,000 maximum total home price = 5 times gross income.

20% Down Payment, 43% Back-End Ratio
Using a 43% back-end ratio and the average consumer debt numbers from above, we start with $1,850 and take out $300 for taxes and HO insurance, $225 for credit card payments, $400 for car payments, $240 for student loans. That leaves us with $685 for the mortgage payment at 4.25%. The resulting $140,000 max loan size with 20% down payment gives a $175,000 total home price = 3.4 times gross income.

5% Down Payment, 31% Front-End Ratio
The minimum down payment amount for a FHA loan is actually only 3.5%, but you will be subject to additional Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium (UFMIP) of 1.35% of the loan amount plus an ongoing PMI of 0.80-0.85% of the loan amount annually based on your loan-to-value ratio. Having to pay PMI means less money available to go towards the loan, so our numbers now only give us a $185,000 max loan size. With a 5% down payment, that means a total home price of $195,000 = 3.75 times gross income.

5% Down Payment, 43% Back-End Ratio
Doing the same calculation using the 43% back-end ratio which takes into account other debt payments, you end up with only roughly $110,000 max loan size and loan and total home price of $117,000 = 2.25 times gross income.

By doing this exercise, we see that someone with a car note, credit card debt, and student loans is certainly going to have a much different measure of affordability than someone without such pre-existing obligations. Perhaps there is no easy rule of thumb? If I had to, I would say that a household with “significant” debt could start at 2x income, while someone with very little debt could start with 3x income. But it shouldn’t be too difficult to use this example to get much more accurate numbers.

Most importantly, just because someone is willing to lend you a certain amount, doesn’t mean you have to take it! Here are some posts that may help you get the most value for your housing dollar:

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