What Cards Are In My Wallet? 2006 vs. 2016 Flashback Edition

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What’s in my wallet? Besides trying to land at least $500 on new sign-ups, which cards do I end up using on a regular basis? Apparently, the last time I answered this question was in 2006, more than a decade ago?! Let’s see if I have made any improvements since then. These are the cards that work best for my spending patterns and redemption preferences.

All-around cash back rewards card.

  • 2006: MBNA/Fidelity Investments 529 College Rewards Card. I still have this card, although it is in sock drawer mode now. This Fidelity-branded card went from being issued by MBNA, to FIA Cardservices (subsidiary of Bank of America), now to Elan Financial services. The 2% rewards did help me rack up over $8,000 in tax-deferred college savings (including appreciation from investments).
  • 2016: BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card. After moving over $100,000 of existing index funds from Vanguard and qualifying for their Platinum Honors tier, this enabled me to earn 2.625% cash back on all my purchases – redeemed as a statement credit offsetting any travel purchase. That’s a 31% improvement on 2% rewards. If you don’t have $100k in assets to move over, 2% is still double the 1% many cards give on all purchases – I have the Citi Double Cash card as backup.

Category-specific rewards credit card.

  • 2006: Citi Dividend Platinum Select Mastercard. This card is no longer available to new applicants, which is probably why the 5% categories got rather stale. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I stopped using it so long that Citi closed it due to inactivity. Whoops! It was one of my older cards, but not a big loss as I have so many other cards to contribute to my “average age of accounts” stat.
  • 2016: Chase Freedom Visa and Discover It Card. This quarter, the Chase Freedom is giving 5% cash back at Costco, Sam’s Club, Walgreens, and CVS ($1,500 total). The Discover It card is giving me 5% cash back at Amazon.com. Overall, I think recent competition has made the 5% categories more useful. Note that Chase Freedem technically earns Ultimate Rewards points, which can provide even higher value when redeemed for points/miles (see below).

Points or miles rewards card.

  • 2006: Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card. Still a good card overall (we’ll see how the merger changes things). If you redeem in 20,000 point increments, it will provide 1.25 miles per dollar spent for a variety of airline programs. However, I don’t travel as much as I used to, and even at a 2 cents per mile valuation, that’s only 2.5% back on value (more than 2%, but less than the 2.625% above). SPG does not transfer 1:1 to United. I don’t travel for business much these days so I can’t rack up SPG points for hotel stays as quickly anymore, and I also don’t need this card to keep my stash of SPG points active and useful.
  • 2016: Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This card gives 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining out. Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to both United and Hyatt, for some solid redemption value. If you value at 2 cents per UR points, that’s 4% back value. I also need this card to keep all of my Ultimate Rewards stash active and available to transfer to the various airline and hotel partners. (I also earn UR points elsewhere from Chase Freedom, Ink business card, and their shopping portal.) If you haven’t had 5 new credit cards in the last 24 months, you should check out the Chase Sapphire Reserve card as well.

ATM Debit card.

  • 2006: Bank of America ATM card. I still have this account, but got tired of how BofA pays no interest and charges you money to initiate a transfer out. If I have to use a online bank as a transfer hub all the time, I’m just going to make that hub my primary account.
  • 2016: Ally Bank ATM card. These days, it’s a lot easier to do all of your banking at an online bank with no branches. Mobile deposit with smartphone camera is much easier than scanner. ATM rebates allow me to use any ATM, and up to $10 per statement cycle in rebates is enough for me (Allpoint ATM network is free and doesn’t count towards limit). 1% APY on savings account, which serves as free overdraft source for checking. Their app is solid, I can easily imitate interbank funds transfers (and I can login with just my thumbprint).

So the overall theme of what goes in my wallet has stayed the same, but the players have around changed a bit.

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  1. Rudi Pittman says

    You are missing the US Bank Cash+ Visa card. It offers 5% in 2 categories of YOUR choice per quarter as well as letting you pick a 2% category (groceries, gas)….previously I used Bookstores (it does cover ALL amazon purchases) and Electronics (covers Newegg, Fry’s, Best Buy etc…….this quarter I have “fast food” which is separate from sit down restaurants…ie applebees is a restaurant while mcdonalds, hardee’s etc are “fast food” and electronics.

    A perfect compliment to the chase freedom, discover and citi dividend cards. *Note don’t even both with the US Bank regular cash visa…if they won’t offer you the plus call them and say you didn’t authorize the issuing of the regular cash card (I stopped the application after I was declined for the Cash+ (2nd time in my lifetime…amex being the 1st….in any case a person doing a review quickly got my product switched. My credit score was above 800 so the decline was especially surprising/insulting?) but they sent me the regular cash visa ANYWAY even though I didn’t finish the questionaire. Since I received the card service has been flawless however with expected cashback matching perfectly. If you download your transactions to a csv file in the comments you can find the merchant category a transaction was processed under which is how I verified all amazon purchases were being covered.

  2. I’m planning on opening up the BOA cash rewards card (https://www.bankofamerica.com/credit-cards/products/cash-back-credit-card/) w/ 75% bonus through 100k Merrill Edge account. 5.5% on gas (which I don’t buy a lot of), but 3.5% at Costco & Groceries, 1.75% on everything else. My plan is 100% of gas, Costco, & Groceries on the BOA card and everything else on the Fidelity 2% card.

    The above would work great as well if I could find a good place (i.e. gas station) of buying Amazon gift cards. Otherwise, perhaps the Amazon store card (5% there: https://www.amazon.com/iss/credit/storecardmember/).

  3. I am 99.9% ready to use an online-only bank, but the hurdle I can’t overcome is the lack of medallion signature guarantees. How do you get around that? That’s why I keep my Wells Fargo account. Haven’t found a small bank that offers MSG’s because of the cost and liability to them.

    • I would just try to keep your account with Medallion Signature Guarantees open if not too much hassle. Does Wells Fargo have any account options that require no direct deposit and a low minimum balance? Many banks also quietly accept an online ACH transfer from Ally or other online bank as a direct deposit as well. Then just do your actual activity with the online bank.

      • Yes, I have a WF account that has a low hurdle (DD) to avoid fees. I primarily use Ally as well, but the Medallion stamps has been the only thing I can’t go without. Was just curious if anybody else had solved that particular issue, and thus I could be online-only. Little off-topic, but with the talk about going online-only in the post, I thought it was somewhat pertinent. I do have a brokerage account with Scottrade, but not sure if they offer that service.

        • I view it as an insurance policy of sorts to have at least one local bank or credit union account. When a bank does a medallion signature guarantee, they are vouching for your identity. I don’t think they want to bother with that liability if you are not even a customer with them. (If you are customer, they can also be more assured of your identity.) Otherwise anyone could glance at your driver’s license and sign something.

          You may be able to find a bank that simply does it for a flat fee like a notary, but then you’d be paying $25 a pop. Alternatively, I found a local, small credit union that offers both free notary and free medallion signature guarantees. I just have to keep $100 in a share account with them at all times and move a penny back and forth online once per year between the share and checking to create activity, that is the only thing ever required (no direct deposit required). Considering my lost interest is $1 a year, you may want to consider a similar setup. 🙂

    • B of A stopped giving the guarantee at local branches. I found this out a couple of years ago when I was going to move company stock into my joint Merrill Edge account. They said they needed a medallion signature guarantee, because I was moving the stock from an individual account to a joint account. To avoid the guarantee, B of A said to open an individual account and then transferred to my joint account. I opened the individual account collected a bonus for opening the account, and after 90 days did the transfer and closed the individual account. I told B of A this was stupid at that time. I got a call from a new guy they assigned to my Merrill Edge account the other day, so I complained again. He said that B of A is piloting giving the medallion signature guarantee in certain markets and is hopeful that B of A will reinstate the medallion signature guarantee at local offices. You might want to watch to see if this happens.

      Last year I just did my stock transfer to Fidelity and they either did not require or added the guarantee when the paperwork was received. Recently, I was investigating gifting securities to children, and spoke to a guy at the local Fidelity office. He said that I could get a medallion signature guarantee at the Fidelity local office. This could also be an alternative to check out.

      I move securities around to collect the bonuses and the only times I have been required to get the medallion signature guarantee is when the receiving account is not titled the same as the sending account. I am curious under what conditions you have needed the medallion signature guarantee.

      • I’ve had a few instances when moving and/or redeeming large enough amounts (50k +) from various smaller mutual fund companies. They may be a bit more traditional than many self-directed brokerages, or lack some of the safeguards, but that was my experience. I recently transferred a Roth to Fidelity and the paperwork I printed after submitting the request online said to check with the company/brokerage where the money was coming from to see if they needed a sig guarantee. So, there doesn’t seem to be a universal rule.

  4. What about the new Costco Visa for cash rewards?
    For gasoline it is fantastic at 4%. 3% back on dining and travel is also very generous.

  5. Seems to me that to make the most of it everybody has to analyze what niche of cards best fits your lifestyle. I thank you Jonathan for your reviews as they have helped me greatly over the years. For me, the Am Express Blue is my best card. My wife buys weekly groceries on it (6%), I buy gas(3%), and use at restaurants(2). Next I have the Citi Double(2%) for most other purchases. I have a business Chase Ink that I put my cable and cell phone bills on for easy $15+ dollars a month. MY B of A Better Balance Rewards card pays $30 a quarter for using once a month a little bit of a hassle but easy money. I also still have my Chase Freedom and Discover cards and did really well last year for converting my Discover to a Discover It and doubling my rewards. It seems to me that Discover and Freedom have started having the same bonus areas in some quarters but still try to use to my advantage. I also have the US Bank Cash+ and you are right their 5% choices are pretty niche. It stays in the drawer most of the time but I choose sporting goods and electronics in case I decide to make a large purchase in these areas. I used to use it exclusively for eating out when they had restaurants as one of the 5% choices and I almost closed the account when they took it away. I also had a Citi Forward card but closed it when they revamped their rewards program which made it essentially like other cards I had. Most of the above cards I have had a long time but recently got a Marriott card with 80,000 point bonus and 1 free night a year and an airline card with 60,000 point bonus both have yearly fees. The airline card will allow my wife or me to fly free on next year’s vacation not sure if I will keep this card long term as I do not fly much. Marriott has good variety of levels of hotels so will probably keep it as the one free night a year will make up the fee. Also, I was going to mention that over the summer Chase sent me several offers on my Freedom card for cash advances with no transaction fees and no interest till May 2017. I noticed on the last one I got it went back to 2-3% fee. Also, use the Citi Double and go thru Ebates when buying online and get an extra little kick. On the cards that change rewards each quarter since my memory isn’t what it used to be I tape a small piece of paper with that quarter’s spots on the front of my Freedom and Discover card. State Farm allows you to pay online with a card so this is also a source of easy 2% with the Double card. Some of these things are a little bit of a hassle but over the course of a year I accumulate a nice little pot of “free money” and again I thank Jonathan for his tips over the years. PS if you are not up for “the hassle” just get the 2% Citi Double and use for everything.

  6. I should thin the herd, but I carry 8 cards in my wallet:

    — Costco Visa: used mostly for gas right now as the other Visa guys have better cash back offers at club stores; also used for restaurants
    — Chase Freedom: use it for the rotating categories
    — BofA Cash Rewards: generally my grocery store card
    — DiscoverIt: use it for rotating categories (was really great last year with the double rewards!)
    — Target Red: instant 5% discount at Target
    — Sam’s Club MasterCard: mostly for restaurants
    — Chase ATM/Debit: my traditional brick and mortar bank
    — Schwab Bank ATM/Debit: rebated ATM fees!

  7. Paularooney says

    When considering the 2% cash back cards…the Citi Double looks like a good one. But I wonder is there an advantage to using a more local (i.e., presumably non-Citi, non-Chase) card? I note that First National Bank (of Omaha, I guess is where they’re branded, but are in several western states) has a new Cashback Visa with unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases, no annual fee. Is there some reason to apply for that rather than the Citi Double? Maybe there’s some difference in other perks (haven’t checked too closely), like travel insurance or foreign transaction fees. But in principle is there a reason to go national (Chase, Citi etc) vs local?

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