Thursday, December 20, 2012

I just won the 150K Checkpoints jackpot!


I’ve discussed the Checkpoints app in the past.  It’s an app that lets users earn “checkpoints” to redeem for prizes. 

You can download this app for iOS or android at http://www.checkpoints.com.

Every time you go shopping, you can scan products with the app to earn “checkpoints” and “coins.”

In the past, I have been using Checkpoints to earn free airline miles.  In fact, I have earned thousands (4,000) of American Airlines AAdvantage miles just by using the Checkpoints app to scan random products whenever I’m at the grocery store.  Every time you scan an eligible item at the grocery store, you are awarded 10-12 Checkpoints and 1 bonus coin.

Friday, December 7, 2012

American Airlines 2 browser trick for 100,000 AAdvantage miles - my turn!


EDIT: As of 2/2013, looks like Citibank is putting a stop to the 2 browser trick for 2 American Airlines credit cards.
I previously discussed the American Airlines 2 browser trick to earn 100,000 AAdvantage frequent flyer miles.  (Previously posted application links no longer work) 
Earlier this year, my fiancée did the two browser trick and earned us a free round trip to the Bahamas!  We redeemed our flight for 70,000 miles (17,500 miles for each one way flight for each of us x 4 = 70,000 miles) with plenty of miles to spare.  We also got 4 admirals club passes for any American Airlines airport lounge as well as free luggage check-in and priority boarding with that deal.

Since we have some big purchases coming up for our wedding (in less than 2 weeks!) I decided it was my turn to take advantage of the American Airlines 2 browser trick.  It’s the fastest and easiest way to earn 100,000 AAdvantage miles. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I hate 0% financing from retailers


I hate financing.

Don’t get me wrong; there are certain things that may need to be financed, such as a mortgage, a new vehicle, or starting a new business.  I’m fine with that.  These are things that are very difficult to save up for and pay completely at once.

For everything else, I hate financing.

This holiday season, there will be plenty of 0% financing deals out there.  Retailers want to boost sales and interest rates are low.  If you’re out shopping for something big like a new television, you’ve probably already been offered a deferred-interest or 0% APR offer.

“Buy now, pay later!”

“Own this $1800 LED 60” television for only $150 a month!”

How great does that sound?  Financing lets you own much more than you can afford at once.  Retailers sell you on the monthly payment, and not the total cost of ownership. What you don't realize with a 0% finance offer is that you are likely getting a store credit card.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday online shopping


It’s that time of the year again; the time where you’ll be spending too much money on yourself and on others.  It’s the season for getting a Christmas bonus, extra gift money from the grandparents or maybe getting paid extra for working holiday hours.

It’s that time for big sales, long lines, crowded parking lots, and frustrated people. 

It’s also the best time to consider doing all of your shopping online.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Chase and Disney Visa Debit Card


I made a special trip to the Chase bank branch today and noticed that they were promoting a new Disney debit card.  Turns out, Chase and Disney have teamed up to introduce this new Disney Visa debit card, a special version of the Chase checking debit card that provides perks at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney stores, and Disney Cruises.

This card was introduced in July 2012 and carries no annual fee.  No credit check is required to convert your Chase debit card into this Disney debit card.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

American Express Small Business Saturday


Saturday, November 24th, 2012 is American Express Small Business Saturday, a day where you can get a $25 statement credit from American Express for making a local small business purchase of $25 or more.  This only happens once a year, and is an incredible deal.

This is essentially free $25.  You must register for this promotion to be eligible for the $25 statement credit.  Enrollment is limited so you must go register all of your eligible American Express cards before enrollments run out.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Roth IRA and 401K contribution limit changes for 2013


If you're young and retirement is years away, now is a great time to invest.

If you follow the stock market daily like I do, you can see that it is in poor shape right now: unemployment, housing data, Europe's recession, the fiscal cliff, earnings disappointments, US debt levels, etc etc etc.

This has caused many bear investors to run and pull their money out of the stock market due to economic uncertainty.  Should you follow the herd?

No. 

This is actually the time to consider buying more investments. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Downgrade your credit card to avoid the annual fee


Many credit cards that offer large sign up bonuses may charge an annual fee for the second year of card ownership.  One example is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
The card currently offers a 40,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus when you apply and get approved for the offer.  Go to www.chase.com for more information or to apply.  One year ago, I got this card with a 50,000 point bonus after first purchase.  This card also has a $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year.

I’ve applied for several credit cards this year, as the bonus rewards were too good to resist.  This hasn’t affected my credit in a permanently adverse way at all.  The hard inquiries to your credit lower your score temporarily, and then your credit score improves again (due to increased credit limits and decreased credit utilization).  I just checked Credit Sesame and my simulated Experian credit score has never been higher!
Now that I’ve owned the Chase Sapphire Preferred card for more than 1 year, I wasn’t surprised when this new $95 charge turned up on my bill:  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Negotiate your fee increases


I’m all about negotiating fee removals.  Let me share my most recent example of a fee removal.  When I checked my most recent Time Warner Cable Internet bill, I saw a small surprise.
My bill is always set to auto pay by an amount of $44.99.  Suddenly this month’s bill came out to be $48.94, a $3.95 rate increase.  I had to dig through the confusing bill to find out that this $3.95 fee was due to a new “modem lease fee” that I never was charged before.
I knew I had to take action. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

How to use your Citibank ThankYou points for a mortgage payment


Citibank ThankYou Points (TYPs) are a type of rewards point that Citibank offers on their ThankYou rewards credit cards and checking accounts.

I personally don’t value TYPs as high as the Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points, but they are still a form of currency and can be valuable when redeemed.  

I’ve earned quite a bit of TYPs over the last 6 months, since I was under a promotion through Citibank that gave me 5 TYP per $1 spent.
Citibank TYPs never expire, and can be used to redeem anything from gift cards, to statement credits, to cash back, to mortgage payments, student loans, electronics, toys, books, discounts off airplane tickets and much more.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Habits of people with the highest credit score


MyFico has a great article on the key habits and behaviors of individuals with FICO scores greater than 785, some of the highest scores in the nation.

Here’s a great infographic the site has posted:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Free credit score from Wells Fargo (Experian)


I’m always looking for ways to check my credit report and credit score for free.  Wells Fargo is currently offering their customers a free credit score and report from Experian.  See here for more details. 

From now until midnight November 15th, 2012, you can walk into any Wells Fargo bank to pick up a personal access code.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mental accounting



Mental accounting causes us to be poor savers, extreme spenders, and poor investors.  Mental accounting is a common habit that sneaks up on us and influences our attitudes toward money.

Think of these situations:

- Grandma gives you $200 spending money for your birthday.  Do you convince yourself that your gift is a "free $200 off coupon" that you use to buy a new iPad for $600?

- You get your income tax refund.  Do you think of it as a nice windfall of free money you deserve to reward yourself with by buying something nice?

- Do you continue to carry a credit card balance that is charging you interest, yet at the same time continue to put most of your money into a savings account?

- Do you spend more money when you pay by credit card than you would if you paid by cash?

We are irrational beings and we do not treat all money the same.  Money is money.  It doesn't matter where the money comes from.  Its origin does not dictate it’s value.

Make yourself aware of the symptoms of mental accounting.  Treat any money that comes your way, regardless of its source, as money that you worked hard to earn.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Get fees waived simply by asking


I purchased an iPhone 5 recently and upgraded my cell phone plan to another 2-year contract.  Now when you upgrade any phone on AT&T (and any other carrier), the carrier likes to tack on what they call an “upgrade fee.” The fee AT&T charges is $36. 

When I received my bill, I saw this buried in the statement:
According to AT&T:
The upgrade fee is to allow us to assist customers with recommending new equipment, offering special offers and discounts, providing assistance with the upgrade process if needed, and supporting the returns process within 30 days. These specialized processes help us to ensure you are satisfied with your new equipment, and are ready to use it the day you receive it. The upgrade fee allows us to defray some of these additional service costs.

To get this fee waived, simply call 611 on your phone, or click on AT&T Live Chat (billing and payment support) and kindly ask to have your upgrade fee waived.  It may help by telling the customer service rep how happy you are with the service to butter them up a bit. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Points and miles versus cash back


I had an interesting discussion this weekend with some of my friends on how they go about optimizing spending on their rewards earning credit cards to earn cash back, points, and miles on all their credit card purchases.

My friend, let's call him Cashback Carl, is all about the cash back.  Whenever he reaches certain thresholds of cash back, he requests a statement credit or a check mailed to him.  
"It's like getting free money every few weeks for doing nothing!" he says.  You can't really argue with that logic.  Cash back on normal purchases is great, and one of the biggest reasons I always advocate making your purchases with your credit card (and NOT with debit cards or cash).  His favorite card right now is the The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which earns 6% cash back on grocery store purchases, 3% cash back on gas and department stores, and 1% cash back on everything else.  He will frequently purchase $500 Visa or Mastercard gift cards at the grocery store, then use those cards to effectively get 6% on ALL of his credit card purchases.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sign up for AT&T Autopay and get a $25 reward



Sign up for AT&T Autopay here, maintain your auto payment status for at least 90 days, and then you will receive a $25 AT&T reward card.  Your gift card should arrive in 4-6 weeks.

This deal is a no brainer. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Keep your oldest credit card open


Your old unused credit card might be taking up space in your sock drawer, or even your wallet, but closing that account is usually not a good idea
People close credit cards for many reasons:
  • They have trouble controlling their credit card spending
  • They aren’t using the credit card often
  • They don’t want to pay an annual fee
  • They don't find the rewards beneficial
  • They think that it gets rid of the debt (it doesn't)
  • They had a bad experience with the company they took personally
You should always try to keep your oldest credit card account open if possible.  It shows credit issuers that you are able to handle credit responsibly and will only help to improve your credit score.  Having a good credit score will provide you with the best interest rates on mortgages, auto loans, and give you access to the best new credit cards.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Audience Rewards: Broadway trivia for miles


I like to periodically discuss different ways to earn free airline miles.  These free miles are equal to free money, and will add up to help you on your way to earn free travel.

Audience Rewards offers an easy way to earn free miles every few weeks.  It is the first national rewards program for the arts and the Official Rewards Program of Broadway.  With Audience Rewards you earn 2 types of rewards: ShowPoints and partner points with partner programs including: Delta, United, US Airways, Starwood Preferred Guest, and more.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

e-Miles: earn miles for free


I love accumulating airline miles. 
e-Miles offers one of the easiest methods to earn free airline miles.  You earn miles simply by viewing short marketing messages and answering a few questions afterwards.

Every few days you can login to your account, click on a few 
advertisements, and you will quickly start to earn e-Miles miles which can be deposited into various frequent flyer programs, hotel programs and more. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Making mobile investments with Vanguard


I’ve talked about investing with Vanguard before.  I prefer Vanguard for their low expense ratios, no account maintenance fees, and no load fees when it comes to setting up an IRA. 

Today I will talk about making mobile investments.  Vanguard offers several ways of making mobile investments that you can see here including: iPhone, iPad, and android devices. 
If you regularly follow any news, check out yahoo finance, or listen to NPR from time to time, you will always hear status updates on the stock market, including updates on how the DOW, S&P 500, and NASDAQ indices are doing.  These indices are a simple way to measure the performance of big companies trading in the US stock market. 

It’s fun to watch the market values go up and down in response to economic news in the financial world.  Market value fluctuations will have a direct effect on any investments you have, whether it's for your retirement or for any short term savings goals.  When you make an investment, you can either: invest in one lump sum, or dollar cost average.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card review


Yesterday my mom asked me: “What is the best credit card for me right now?”

She travels internationally on a regular basis, likes to stay in classy hotels and dine at nice restaurants.  Without hesitation, I told her that the card for her was the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  I’ve talked briefly about my love for Chase and this card in the past. 
Chase makes this card looks so shiny and blue - the real card is actually a dark blue
First thing I did was log in to her Credit Karma account to make sure her credit score was fine.  With a score of 800+, I knew she would have no problem getting approved for this card.  She was happy to see this message pop up after I helped her apply for the card:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cash Call Mortgage refinance


As you’ve heard on the news, mortgage and interest rates have fallen to record lows over the last few weeks.  The ongoing debt crisis in Europe, coupled with the slowing U.S. economy, has contributed to these extremely low mortgage rates.

I purchased a home 2 years ago, at a fixed rate of 4.375% for 30 years.  This was a great rate at the time.  However, times have changed, and rates are currently at the lowest they have ever been since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.

A colleague of mine recently refinanced his mortgage through Cash Call Mortgage division and shared with me how quick and easy his process was.  He referred me to the loan officer who handled his case.
Cash Call.  I know what you’re thinking.  This is the company that used to use Gary Coleman has it’s spokesperson.  That was for the personal loans division of the company, which if you search, has terrible reviews.  I have no experience with Cash Call personal loans.  Today I will share my experience with the Cash Call Mortgage division, which has very positive reviews online.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rewards Network Dining Summary


I’ve previously described double dipping as a way to earn extra rewards on top of the regular credit card rewards you’d normally earn with each credit card purchase.

Signing up for Rewards Network (RN) Dining programs is another way to double dip.

If you eat at a RN participating restaurant and pay for the meal with your linked credit card, you will earn:
  1. Points from your rewards credit card of choice that you used to pay for the meal
  2. Extra airline miles, hotel points, or other rewards from the Rewards network

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Card from American Express (expired now)

Edit: this deal is now expired!  The current promotion is 25,000 Starpoints (10,000 points after first purchase and another 15,000 after you spend $5,000 within the first 6 months of Cardmembership).  This is still an excellent promotion that I would not hesitate to recommend!

One of the best travel credit cards out there is undoubtedly the Starwood Preferred Guest® Card from American Express.  I’ve had my eyes on this credit card for some time, and I’ve been patiently waiting for a good sign up bonus offer to appear.  Well, now is that time.  

From now until September 3, 2013, American Express will offer the SPG card with a 30,000 Starpoint sign up bonus.

The points will be awarded as:
  • 10,000 bonus Starpoints after your first purchase
  • 20,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5,000 in 6 months

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Double dipping for points, miles, and cash back


As you know, I love getting rewarded cash back, points, and miles for all my regular spending.  Whenever I make a purchase, I always make sure to use the appropriate credit card which earns the highest amount of cash back, points, or miles on the particular purchase. 

Today I will talk about double dipping.  And no, I’m not referring to dipping your chicken nuggets more than one time into that delicious sweet and sour sauce!

Double dipping is when you earn extra rewards on top of your normal rewards with each purchase you make.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Checkpoints review: earning points for airline miles (and more)


For the last month, I’ve been experimenting and playing with an app called Checkpoints.  Checkpoints is a very easy to use app where users can earn “checkpoints” to redeem for real prizes.  

I've been earning checkpoints everyday and I am currently using them to redeem for American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flyer miles, which I earn in increments of 500 miles for 3,750 checkpoints.  In one month's time, I have been able to earn 1,000 AAdvantage miles.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bumpage: bumping off hard inquiries from your credit report

EDIT:  BUMPAGE NO LONGER WORKS FOR EQUIFAX OR TRANSUNION.


I recently "bumped" my Equifax credit score up into the 800+ range. Did you know that you can bump off hard inquiries from your credit report to raise your credit score?  It's a little known, very mysterious process called bumpage, also known as B*.  I will try to explain it in detail in this article.

To understand how bumpage works, first we need to talk about the difference between a hard inquiry and a soft inquiry.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

1% at a time



I have previously written about the importance of making regular contributions into your retirement account(s), such as your 401K.

I have also written about the importance of keeping your intentions realistic in order to achieve real change and steady improvement.
  
How many people do you know who go on drastic diets... then end up gaining more weight?  The same applies to your finances.  

Cutting everything out of your budget by depriving yourself will almost always cause you to revert back to your old spending habits.

Real permanent change: whether it's in your health or in your finances, takes time.  


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Get rewarded for purchasing gas


If you have a car, getting fuel will likely be a part of your regular spending.  One of the easiest ways to optimize the accumulation of points, cash back or miles is with fuel purchases.

Earning points for filling up your vehicle can be done in 2 ways:
1.  Purchase gas station gift cards at higher credit card reward rates
2.  Use a credit card that earns more rewards at the pump

Purchasing gas gift cards:
You can purchase gas gift cards wherever most gift cards are sold.  The trick is to use the right credit card to get the most rewards.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest Rapid Rewards


Today I will talk about how fast and easy it is to transfer UR points to the Southwest Rapid Rewards program.

Me and the fiancée are going to visit family in Portland next year.  When I logged on to Southwest.com, I saw that I only had 5,490 Rapid Rewards points.  
When checking for award bookings, I saw that the flights we wanted cost 5940 x 2 = 11,880 points.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How to redeem free American Airlines award flights


Today I will talk about how to redeem American Airlines AAdvantage miles for free award flights.  

1.  Sign up for an AAdvantage frequent flyer number at www.AA.com

2.  Earn AAdvantage miles by:
 3.  Go here to book an award flight

That's it.  Free flights start at 12,500 miles:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Opinion Place: Surveys for cash, gift cards, or miles


Opinion Place is an online survey site that is free and available to anyone wanting to provide their opinions and in return receive rewards.
I’ve been using Opinion Place for a few months and I can happily report that it offers a painless way to get free money, gift cards, or American Airlines AAdvantage miles
Once a week, you can qualify for a survey.  If you aren’t qualified, you can try again in 1 day.  Each survey runs about 10 to 15 minutes, some are shorter and some can be longer.  Longer surveys can earn higher rewards.

Monday, May 28, 2012

OpenTable: Make online reservations and get rewarded


When it comes to making reservations to go eat out, I like to keep it as simple as possible, and also earn as many points as possible.  I like to be able to make a reservation online, without having to call the restaurant.  Did you know that you could get rewarded for making an online reservation at many restaurants?

OpenTable is a service that provides fast, efficient, and free online restaurant reservations.  The service has over 25,000 affiliated restaurants.  You can make, modify, or cancel a restaurant reservation online at www.opentable.com or on your iphone with the OpenTable app.

OpenTable has been around since 1998, and I always do a quick search with OpenTable before making dining reservations.  When you make an online reservation, you can add requests such as seat location preferences. There is no need to call in to speak with anyone.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

How to avoid getting overwhelmed with credit card debt


It’s easy to get overwhelmed with credit card debt  

It starts with spending more than normal to try earning extra rewards or points.  It continues with treating everyone to drinks at the bar or food at the fancy restaurant.  It continues with buying the newest iGadget update.  

Then it can end up with overwhelming debt.  Full statement balance payments get reduced to minimum credit card payments.  This can lead to barely making the minimum payments.  It can lead to late or missing payments, then a ruined credit score.  
Next thing you know, you can get denied for an auto loan, a mortgage loan, an apartment, or even employment – due to your ruined credit. 

Credit cards can empower you and make you feel wealthier than you really are. They can also destroy you.  

Credit cards can also provide tons of rewards if used wisely.  I'm a big advocate of making all purchases possible on a credit card for the protection, benefits, rewards, and tracking of purchases.  The key with credit card use is responsibly maximizing cash/points/miles back on normal purchases and conscious spending.

How do you use credit responsibly?

1. Always track your spending
If you don't know how much you spend each day, week, or month, how will you know where your money is going?  How will you know how much money you have left in your checking account to pay off your credit card statement in full?  Don't wait for your statement to find out how much debt you're in.  

Here are the tools that I use track my spending:
     - Mint.com
     - Clearcheckbook.com 
    
I frequently make payments to the account to bring down the total balance

2.  Pay off your credit card balance frequently and in full
Did you know, you don't have to wait to pay off your total statement balance when you receive your bill?  Most credit card companies allow you to make multiple online payments per statement period.  As soon as a few credit card charges clear and get posted, you can pay off that amount.  Online payment is fast and easy.  I'm not saying to pay off every single charge immediately, because some banks do limit the amount of payments you can make to your credit card per statement period.  However, paying off your credit card several times a month is a good way to keep your credit card balance in check.  Regardless of whether you make one credit card payment or several payments, make sure you always pay off your statement balance in full.  

I've called a few major banks and found out the following information on making multiple online payments to your credit card within each statement period:

Chase has no limit for the number of payments which can be made towards your monthly statement, however you can only make one online payment within a period of three days (the time it takes a payment to clear).

Citibank allows 4 online payments per statement period.

American Express and Bank of America both have no limit to the number of online payments per statement, although you need to allow at least 24 hours to pass prior to making another payment.

Disclaimer: these are the details for the credit cards that I use.  You should call the number on the back of your card to make sure which payment policy applies to your credit card. 

3. Don’t charge with a credit card what you can’t pay in cash  
Having credit cards don’t hurt you, but maxing them out does.  Don't spend more on your credit card than you normally would just to try to earn some extra rewards or points.  It's hard to get rich from cash back.  Credit card interest rates average around 12% and can be over 29% APR.  Any balance you carry on your credit card negates any rewards earned. 61% of Americans carry a credit card balance every month; don't be one of them.

By following these simple rules, you'll get rewarded for your wise credit card spending habits.  Rewards can include: extra cash back, free gift cards, free flights, free hotel stays, and more.  

In our case, we will have enough rewards for a free honeymoon (flight, hotel, and entertainment)!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Credit.com Review


I have a never-ending fascination with getting my credit score as high as possible.  It’s important to carefully monitor your credit from time to time to check for errors and fraudulent activity.  I’ve previously written about different free ways to access your credit reports and scores here and here.
Credit.com is another website that will provide truly free access to your simulated Experian credit score. This score will give you an idea how creditors view your credit risk level.  
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