Credit 
9
comments

5% Cash Back at Supermarkets & Gas Stations

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Rewards CardThis offer has expired.

Well well, it looks like we finally have the return of a long lost cash back favorite from a year or two ago… the coveted 5% cashback on supermarkets, drug stores and gas stations credit card in the form of the Citi Diamond Preferred Rewards card. (if that’s not your thing, here’s my list of the best cash back credit cards)

A few years ago, there were a dozen of these types of cards. In the last year, that number dropped to zero. Those that did exist only offered it on gasoline and imposed ridiculously low limits such as the Discover Open Road card (gives 5% on gasoline but only up to $5 a month!). Back in the heyday, each were vying for “share of wallet,” the industry term for how much of your spending gets put on their card. They often earn a couple percentage points per transaction so the hope is that you use the card for more than the 5% categories, which is a loss leader for them (this ignores the finance charges, fees, and other charges they impose for a variety of reasons).

Looks like they’re making a come back with the Citi Diamond Preferred Rewards card is leading the way.

Any catches? Yes, there are a few. Like all Citi cards, the cashback now comes in the form of ThankYou Network points rather than straight up cash. Those with student loans can convert the points into “cash,” making it a truly 5% cashback card. If you don’t have student loans, you’ll have to take it in the form of gift cards to get a full percentage value. You can always sell the gift cards and still get close to 5% cashback in the worst case.

Another catch is that the 5% promotion is for the first 12 months. I normally don’t like promotional offers (with the exception of when the Citi CashReturns had 5% cashback on everything) but right now this is the only card that offers 5% on the “everyday shopping” category (which includes supermarket, drug stores and gas stations). There are a couple alternatives if you’re looking for a gas cashback credit card, but none exist (to my knowledge) for supermarkets.

Finally, the only limit on cashback is an annual limit of 75,000 ThankYou points – it’s unlikely you will reach that limit ($15,000 in spending in the 5% categories!).

Some other features that may be of interest: 12 month 0% APY balance transfer, no annual fee, 1% cash back on everything else. The 12 month 0% APY balance transfer is nice but it has a balance transfer fee of 5%, I’d pass on that. The no annual fee is standard and the 1% cashback on everything else is also pretty standard.

Overall, I think this card is a good option if you’re looking for a way to shave 5% off your supermarket and gas bills.

Blue Cash from American Express. The Blue Cash from American Express offers 5% cashback at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations with no limit whatsoever. The card also offers a 0% balance transfer for 12 months with a 3% transfer fee capped at $99.


 Credit 
6
comments

Consolidating Citi Credit Card Accounts

This morning I did a little credit card cleanup, reducing the number of Citi credit cards I had from four down to two. I had these open credit card accounts as a result of my balance transfer arbitrage days but they’ve since lay dormant. (In fact, Citi Professional, one of the cards I closed, even has a $100 gift card with first purchase promotion that made the balance transfer arbitrage deal even sweeter)

Why Consolidate?

Having open credit card accounts that you have no prospect of using them is really dangerous for a variety of reasons. First, if you aren’t using it then you probably aren’t carrying it. If you still are carrying it but never use it and you lose your wallet or purse, that’s one more headache you have to deal with. If you leave it at home, you’re likely to lose track of it (I hid all my unused credit cards, now I can’t find them!) so the best option is to get rid of that line of credit. The bottom line is that you don’t want to keep any credit cards you aren’t actively using, so now the decision is how to get rid of them.

To get rid of it you have two options, cancel the card or consolidate that line of credit into another card (thereby canceling it). Canceling a card may damage your credit score because it reduces your amount of total credit and increases your credit utilization. Credit utilization is a calculation of how much of your credit you are currently actively using. If you have $10,000 and you’re using $5,000 of it, your utilization is an even 50%. The lower the utilization, the better. Consolidating retains your total credit utilization, reduces your number of open lines, and is overall a better decision.

Consolidation with Citi

Citi was great to work with. Since I didn’t have the cards (yep, I “lost” them somewhere in our house), I called up their number (1-800-347-4934), told them what I wanted to do, answered some security questions and just rattled off some four digit numbers. They can track all your lines of credit by your social security number alone so the four digits easily identified which cards were being consolidated and to where. The whole transaction took less then ten minutes and now I’m two cards lighter.

Why Not Down To One?

In theory I could’ve but the two cards left at the Citi mtvU card, which is a card I actively use, and a Citi MasterCard that is carrying a 0% balance transfer that is set to expire in a few months.

Remove Cards From Your Account Online

Once the card the removed it should say “Account Alert: This account has been converted to a new number or was closed at your request. If you have any questions regarding your account, please contact our Customer Care Center.”

  • If you are signed up for All-Electronic, cancel that first (if not, skip to the next step). Switch to your card, then to to Manage My Account, Paperless Statements, then Cancel. You will have to Cancel your All-Electronic before you can remove the card from your account.
  • Next, go back to Manage My Account in the navigation bar, drill down into Update Personal Profile, and select Remove an Account. Select the card from the list and click submit. Confirm that you wish to remove the account and you’re done.

Winter credit cleaning at its best!


 Credit 
35
comments

7 Unwritten & Often Forgotten Credit Card Secrets

Credit card companies are just like every other business. There are essentially three concepts to understand when dealing with a business, especially credit cards:

  • They exist to make as much money as possible,
  • They have relatively well documented rules and operating procedures,
  • They’re willing to break #2 in pursuit of #1.

So, to that end, here are 7 unwritten and often forgotten credit card tricks or “secrets” (I hate the term “secrets” because how much of a secret can they be if I know it?) that may save you a few bucks someday. If you don’t learn a single secret or you have a secret of your own, please let me know! Secrets are better when you tell everyone!

(Click to continue reading…)


 Credit 
13
comments

Capital One Just Doesn’t Get It – Give More Rewards!

Do you have a Capital One credit card in your wallet? If you said yes, you’re probably in the minority (at least of the people that I know personally). I don’t have a Capital One credit card and those commercials with the barbarians aren’t really convincing me that I really want one of those credit cards in my pocket. Their flagship card, the Capital One No Hassle Rewards, really isn’t much to write home about!

What you get with that card is 1% cashback followed by a 25% annual cashback bonus. Don’t let the 25% number fool you, 25% added onto 1% is exactly a whopping 0.25%. There are no earn caps, the rewards don’t expire, and there is no-hassle. Whooopeee!

That’s awesome, except my current credit card system leaves Capital One in the dust. When I eat out or go to the movies, the Citi mtvU card gets me 5% cashback. When I buy gas, Discover Open Road gives me 5% cashback. When I make travel purchases, my Costco American Express TrueEarnings card gets me 3% and 1% on everything – no caps. Where does that leave a 1.25% cashback card? No where, I’m not slipping a fourth card into my wallet so I can get an extra 0.25% – even if it never expires.

The only advantage that I see with a Capital One card is the fact that Capital One does not charge foreign exchange fees (for when you use your card overseas) and they actually eat the 2% fee that Visa/MasterCard charges them, which is a nice gesture.

Capital One – Give better rewards if you want to be what’s in my wallet.


 Personal Finance 
28
comments

Five Accounts You Absolutely Must Have (And Four You Don’t)

There are five finance related accounts in the personal finance world that I think every single person must have and they should get it as soon as possible. They run the gamut of the obvious, an accessible checking account, to the not so obvious, a high yield savings account (as surprising as it sounds, this is not obvious to most people because they are amazed when I tell them you can get 5% from a regular savings account). So, please enjoy this list of five accounts you absolutely must have and three that you absolutely must avoid.

These Five Accounts You Absolutely Must Have

1. High Yield Online Savings Account

Number one definite must have account is a high yield savings account getting you at least 4%, at the very very least. If you assume inflation at around 3%, anything less and you’re losing money. Take your pick of ING Direct, FNBO Direct, Emigrant Direct, Citi, and you’ll get over 4%. My recommendation is that if you have a Citi or an HSBC bank account, go with one of them because your transfers will be instant between accounts. If you don’t, I use FNBO Direct but both they and HSBC offer 5.05% APY.

(Click to continue reading…)


 Credit 
4
comments

Reward Credit Cards – What’s in My Wallet?

Every year around this time, I don’t re-evaluate my reward credit cards but since a whole bunch of other bloggers do, I figured I might as well do the same. My basic strategy is that I don’t really want to use more than three or four credit cards and each one of the cards has to serve a distinct purpose in order to make it into my wallet. Here are the three that currently make the cut and why:

1. Citi mtvU Platinum Select – For Movies & Restaurants

Usually a points credit card is a deal breaker for me, I prefer cash all the way, but I can convert Thank You Reward Points into payments towards my student loan debt so for the benefits I let this one slide. I chose the Citi mtvU card because it offered 5% cash back on bookstores (Amazon.com included), restaurants, and movies. The mtvU card also has the added benefit of giving me points for good grades and paying my bill on time.

3. Citi Platinum Select MasterCard – For Supermarkets

Speaking of the Platinum Select card, I keep this in my wallet because it still offers 2% on supermarkets and drugstores (better than nothing I suppose) and because there really is no reason to cancel the card.

4. American Express TrueEarnings Costco Card – For Everything Else

I shop at Costco when I can and the only cards they accept are debit cards and their own American Express. This card doesn’t have an annual fee if you’re a Costco member (I don’t see a reason why you’d get it if you weren’t) and it gives you 1% on everything payable annually. It’s really just my catch-all card when I don’t get bonuses on anything else.


 Credit, Education, Personal Finance 
22
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Citi mtvU Grade Points Redemption Form

One of the great things about the Citi mtvU card is that you get Thank You points for good grades. One of the bad things is that in order to get the form, you need to scour the web to find someone who has scanned it or you call them up and they fax it to you. This post is as much for me as it is for anyone else, I’m tired of looking for the form so after I found it on Fatwallet, I’m posting it here.

mtvU Card’s Grade Points Redemption Form (PDF)

Here’s what you get for what grade:
Earn up to 2,000 ThankYou Points twice a year for having a good GPA
GPA = ThankYou Points
2.50 – 2.99 = 250
3.00 – 3.49 = 500
3.50 – 3.99 = 750
4.0 = 2,000


 Credit, Personal Finance 
11
comments

I Don’t Know If I Like The Citi mtvU Card

The Citi mtvU Platinum Select Visa Card I applied for about a week ago came in today and along with it a directory of services. The card itself is part of the ThankYou Network program that Citi runs where you get points, instead of straight cash back, and it comes with a few perks you don’t usually see with a student card but I don’t know if I really like it…

PS. While this was a student card, I had to provide no verification that I actually was a student at Johns Hopkins though I don’t know if they called the registrar (I highly doubt it).

I mentioned last week that you get points for doing well in school, the official breakdown is:
GPA 2.5 – 2.99 = 250 points/semester
GPA 3.0 – 3.49 = 500 points/semester
GPA 3.5 – 3.99 = 750 points/semester
GPA 4.0 = 1,000 points/semester

Let’s say you’re a consistent 3.5 student, you would earn 1,500 points plus 300 on-time payment points automatically each year. That’s worth a $10 gift card each year to almost anywhere in the ThankYou Network just for using that card.

Now, you can get 5% points at a lot of various places (notably, movie theaters and bookstores) but you have to trade them in on a rate of 1,500 points to basically a $10 gift card. That means you conversion from dollars spent to actual gift card dollars is $150 to $1, or 0.66% “cashback.” So it’s a terrible card for anything you can get 1% back on a regular cashback card. At 5% cashback, you’re looking at a 3.3% rebate rate in the form of a gift card which is only 0.3% better than my American Express True Earnings Costco card.

Did you sign up because you’d get 5% back from Amazon? Go with an an Amazon card instead if you don’t mind getting Amazon gift certificates because you get a $30 coupon and 3% from purchases on Amazon anyway.

I suppose I can always just keep the card and get a $10 gift card each year… almost not worth the hassle of keeping it around.

Update: I take it back, I didn’t realize or know that you could get $25 towards your student loans for 2,500 points and since I have a lot of student loans, this puts the card back on track for 5% cashback. Thank you Miller and Brian.


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