Low Interest Credit Cards

Binder Clip WalletWhile I’ve never carried a balance on my credit card before, making sure the card offered a low interest rate was always important to me. While I never intend to carry a credit card balance, I’m also a realist. I recognize that sometimes you can’t control what you can or cannot do. Things get out of your control and during those times it’s important to make sure that you’re prepared. Should you ever need to carry a credit card balance, it’s important to make sure that the cards you choose offer a lower interest rate. When I analyze credit cards, I usually look at the rewards program first, then any special offers, followed by the interest rate.

I separate the list into two camps – those who are currently battling debt and those who are like me, looking with a more preventative eye. I’ve listed those cards that are strongest for credit card debt warriors first. All the cards are suitable for those in debt, but the Citi Platinum Select and PenFed Visa Promise cards are likely best. The Discover® More and Chase Freedom, the third and fourth card listed, are better for those without debt since they offer rewards but slightly less attractive APRs for existing debt.

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PenFed Visa: Best 5% Cash Back Rewards on Gas Credit Card

Pentagon Federal Credit UnionYears ago, when both credit and champagne flowed freely down Wall Street, the fabled 5% cash back reward credit card freely frolicked among elm and oak trees of Central Park. Nowadays, finding a decent 5% cash back reward credit card is rarer than seeing a unicorn… but today I saw one. His name was PenFed.

PenFed is short for The Pentagon Federal Credit Union, a credit union for the branches of the military and government, and has been a popular credit union for personal finance enthusiasts. A few years ago, you could get some pretty high interest rates on their certificates of deposit. Today, the interest rates are more pedestrian but I bet they’ll be more attractive in the future.

However, the real claim to fame, at least today, is their 5% cash back on gasoline credit card.

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Certificates of Deposit Aren’t Worth It

Certificates of Deposit (CDs) no longer offer an attractive enough interest rate for it to be worth it. If you take a look at ING Direct’s Orange CDs, you’re looking at a 6 month commitment earning you a mere 4.15% APY compared to their regular rate of 4.0% APY on their Orange Savings account. So the difference in earned interest is $1.50 more for a CD when you lock it up for 6 months. If you’re willing to lock it up for their longest time period, 5 years, the difference is $7 a year. (Since both rates are taxed as 1099-INT income, the difference in earnings is the same so we can ignore that mathematical step for simplicity’s sake)

If you were to find the rates at PenFed (reddish pink box at the right), probably one of the most generous rates around for CDs, you’ll see that a 6 month rate is 4% APY, no difference. Slide down to the 5-year CDs and the APY of 5.75% means a difference of $17.50 per year when your money is locked up for five years.

Are you willing to be paid an extra $17.50 a year to not really be able to get to your money? I’m not.

 General, Personal Finance 

Laddered CD/MMC Safe Investment Plan

Many people know that Certificates of Deposit (CDs) and Money Market Certificates (MMC) are one of the safest investment vehicles out there, but who wants to tie up their money all those years for the more attractive rates? The answer is no one. That’s why one of the “plans” that many financial advisers advocate is a laddered CD/MMC investment strategy where you purchase multiple certificates are different maturing dates so that you can lock in the best rates for your money. The net effect is after a few years, you own the best possible rates on your CDs that you could get.

You have $5,000 to invest. In the above plan, simply invest in the following:

  • $1,000 in a 1 Year MMC at 3.00% APY
  • $1,000 in a 2 Year MMC at 3.50% APY
  • $1,000 in a 4 Year MMC at 4.25% APY
  • $1,000 in a 5 Year MMC at 5.00% APY
  • $1,000 in a 7 Year MMC at 5.15% APY

(These values are from The Pentagon Federal Credit Union, or PenFed, which are probably the best rates out there, as of 2/17/05)

What happens is in a year, your 1 Year MMC matures, so you want to invest in another 7 Year MMC with that original investment to get the best rates. After another year, your 2 Year MMC matures and you invest in yet another 7 Year MMC. This continues and you keep locking in the best prevailing rate at the time for the safest investment. And these CDs are federally insured up to $100,000 by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which is the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) for credit unions.

Want to try it? PenFed’s minimum purchase requirement is a mere $1,000 per MMC and the eligibility requirements are actually pretty lax. Basically if you or a family member is a member of the armed services (Active, Guard/Reserve, or Retired), then you’re definitely eligible. They list other eligibility methods. If none of those fit, join the National Military Family Association which is a great organization that I am a member of and only costs $20 a year. If you happen to use Geico as an insurer, the NMFA is a member organization so if you mentioned to Geico that you are a member of NMFA, they will knock 7-8% (I forget which) off your bill.

The tradeoff you’ll have to consider is that if you put it in a completely liquid ING Direct account, you’ll get 2.35%. If you go with Emigrant Direct, you’ll be getting 3.0%, and that’s totally liquid which the MMC’s are not. Read this post on where to park short term funds for a discussion of ING Direct and Emigrant Direct.

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