Entries Tagged as 'Credit Cards'

How To Use Credit Cards To Your Advantage

If you’re a savvy shopper you know that you can save a great deal of money watching for sales and taking advantage of lost leaders.

It’s your money, so you might as well save as much of it as you can; not like some ones just handing it out to you without hard work.

One of the easiest ways to make your money go further is to take advantage of special offers from credit card companies that pay you money back to use their cards.  Most of the programs are complicated, and maximizing your benefits takes a little bit of discipline, but you can end up with quite a bit of money back every year.

The cards I recommend (in order) are:

  • Citibank Rewards Dividend Platinum Card (Master Card)
  • Chase Freedom (VISA)
  • Citibank Cash Returns (Master Card)

I recommend you get all three of them, and here’s why.

There are limits on the Citi Rewards and Chase Freedom cards, but if you use them right you can get 3% cash back, and with the Chase card as much as 5%!  But if you use your card a great deal you’ll cap it out before the end of the year.

The Citi Cash Returns Card doesn’t have a cap, but only pays 1% (1.2% for the first year).

I believe all Citi cards also provide you with virtual account numbers, which give you control of who can change what to your card when.  Chase unfortunately does not offer virtual cards numbers.  If you must have a VISA with virtual account numbers, Bank of America has several cards with decent rewards programs (more like the Citi Premier Pass Card utilizing the “Thank-You Network”).

There are of course many other cards that you might be able to save money with.

For instance I have a Chase Amazon (VISA) Card, mainly because they gave me $30 off my first purchase (since then they’ve given me $20 for $100 in charges, and $30 for $100 in charges to encourage me to use the card; but since I don’t purchase from Amazon much, it really isn’t that great a card for me).

The other way to make a credit card work for you is use it any time a merchant accepts it; they’ve built it into their pricing, so you might as well get 1-3% cash back for using your card; of course you do need to make sure you pay your bill in full before the due date every month, or those “savings” will quickly disappear with the interest charges!

On other word of advice, don’t acquire a huge number of credit cards; it will adversely effect your credit rating even if you don’t use them or carry a balance.  The immediate hit of lots of credit inquiries will make it harder to get credit, and having a large number of open accounts trims down your score as well.  And honestly, you don’t really need lots of cards, companies like Citi and Chase will provide you with INSANE credit limits.

Originally posted 2008-05-16 21:28:07.

Check Cards

If you have a bank issued “check card” — that’s an ATM card that bears a VISA of Master Card logo merchants will always try and get you to authorize a PINned transaction, DON’T DO IT.

Why?

There are several reasons not to perform PINned transactions…

  • When you do a transaction with a PIN, you’re allowing the merchant to immediately remove money from your bank account.  They likely use a transaction network to do this, but there aren’t as many safe guards or controls on that network as their are a credit card authorization network.
  • When you do a transaction with a PIN, you’re not protected by VISA or Master Cards ZERO LIABILITY guarantee, you’re subject to the rules imposed by the merchant, processing network, bank, state, and federal laws.  If you’re defrauded you might find it’s a long and tedious process to get your money back, and you might find that your bank freezes assets in your account until the matter is resolved.
  • When you do a transaction with a PIN the money is immediately removed from your account (and sometimes immediate means instantly — but certainly within 24-hours, often even on non-banking days); however, when you go through the credit card processing system you’ll see at least an extra day, and generally those transactions are only posted on banking days.
  • When you do a transaction with a PIN your PIN could be intercepted (either electronically of through surveillance) and put you at risk of fraud (which may be hard to prove it’s fraud).

If your bank doesn’t offer VISA or Master Card logo’d check cards, change banks.

If you have access to a small local bank, or better yet, credit union open an account there (after making sure they have VISA or Master Card logo’d check cards and offer totally free services).

It’s your money, make the most of it… and protect it.  As the economy get’s worse and worse we’re going to see more and more “clever” schemes to try and take your hard earned money; start fighting back now.

And remember, if you are a victim, immediately contact your financial institution and any merchant you believe may be responsible via telephone and follow it up in a letter sent via the United States Postal Service (referring to the phone call) to preserve your rights.  You may also want to send an email (possibly using a DEA — disposable email address) as well; but you must send a letter via USPS!

Check cards are also called ATM Debit Cards or ATM Cards, the important thing is that you can use them as a credit card by signing the transaction form (they will have a VISA or Master Card logo).

It’s fine to use those cards at your bank’s ATM as long as you take reasonable precautions.

While using a check card through the VISA or Master Card network is preferable to a PINned transaction, if you can get a credit card, and can use it responsibly you’re even better off to use a real VISA or Master Card and simply pay the balance off every month (transfer the money from your checking account weekly if you need to, and track the expenses on your credit card as you would transactions from your checking account, your bank can probably provide you with online access to your credit card to help you — if they don’t find another credit card issuer).

NOTE:

I haven’t gotten confirmation yet, but it appears Lowes is responsible for leak of bank card numbers and PINs that are currently being used to defraud consumers.  If you have performed a PINned transaction at Lowes within the last several weeks call your bank and have your bank card terminated and re-issued with a different number (tell them you lost it).

Originally posted 2008-12-12 12:00:04.

GE Money Bank – Promos

I consider GE Money Bank to be a fairly low end credit card company, but they do often have attractive promotions to get you to sign up for a card… and they continue to offer promotions to get you used to using their cards.

Some of the promotions here of late — Sam’s Discover, $40 instantly off your $100 or more purchase; Wal-Mart Discover, $20 statement credit for a $100 or more purchase; eBay MasterCard 10% up to $25 back from your purchases in the first thirty days; and Chevron-Texaco VISA $10 gas credit for four transactions in the first thirty days (not clear if they need to be at a Chevron or Texaco or not).

Plus, what you start seeing around the end of your first thirty days are offers from GE Money Bank for a $10 statement credit for spending $100 or more at business other than the one the card was issued for — I just generally make my automobile insurance payment with the card, something I would do anyway — you might lose the 1% you would have gotten back on another card, but you get $10 plus whatever the GE Money Bank card bonus is for other charges!

From my experience you get two of the $10 off offers, one each of the months following your sign up — at least I have, and the only thing I charge on the cards is basically what I need to get the promo.

The downside is you’ll probably need to contact your credit card issuer and “remind” them about the promo; they’ll credit it pretty quickly after that (give them a statement period — but call after the statement the credit should have appeared on)… I won’t say the system always fails to apply the credit, but it has for me.  And there’s no reason to get testy with them, just be calm and tell them what happened (I save copies of the promos — both the initial electronic ones and the letters they send me just in case) and you might have to be sent to a supervisor — but you’ll get the credit with no problems as long as you fulfilled the terms of the promotion.

It’s easy cash — and you don’t have to use the cards after you have the money in your pocket; though watch out about accumulating too much credit for your asset level — if you’re not going to use the card, request them to lower your credit limit (or you can consider closing the account, but I would suggest you just lower the credit limit).

Originally posted 2010-12-05 02:00:33.

Citi Mobile SM for Cards

Citibank has rolled out a mobile banking application for many phones on most major cellular carriers.

Personally I’m not sure why we’ve gone to a model where vendors seem to believe we need all kinds of applications to do simple things that could be done through a web browser… perhaps that’s an unfortunate side-effect of the iPhone craze (or perhaps better said as crazies).

I think it’s great that banking institutions are thinking about ways to provide services to individuals who have cellular data plans, but I think it’s unfortunate that we can’t just use simple standards — after all, the point is to enable the flow of information, not to make an application that people play with like a game.

To use the Citi Mobile application, you need a supported handset on a supported carrier, and you have to sign up, download, and activate it through the Citi “My Account” web portal.

Originally posted 2009-01-28 01:00:03.

Where Can You Use Credit Cards?

Here’s a quick list:

  • Grocery stores (3% category on Citi & Chase)
  • Gasoline (3% category on Citi & Chase)
  • Pharmacies (3% category on Citi)
  • Fast Food (3% category on Chase; bonuses for Blinx)
  • Electric & Gas Bills (I highly recommend virtual card numbers)
  • Telephone Bills (I highly recommend virtual card numbers)
  • Cellular Bills (I highly recommend virtual card numbers)
  • Cable Bills (I highly recommend virtual card numbers)
  • Traffic Fines (provided there’s no convenience fee,  I highly recommend virtual card numbers)
  • Property Taxes (provided there’s no convenience fee,  I highly recommend virtual card numbers)
  • Retail
  • Dining Out
  • Movies
  • Movie Rentals
  • Online Shopping (I highly recommend virtual card numbers)
  • Colleges and Schools
  • Travel
  • Hotels

There’s virtually no limit to where you can use credit cards; and every place you use cards that pay cash back gives you cash back (up to you limit, and then just switch cards).

Then you can pay your credit card with you bill payment service; or you can have your credit card company issue an ACH directly from you checking, savings, or money market account (this actually keeps the money in your account longer, and instantly credits to your credit card — of course you’re authorizing your credit card company to withdraw from your cash accounts, so you have decide if it’s right for you and you generally have the option of either automatic payment or directed payments).

———-

Blinx is Chase’s name for PayWay / PayPoint / FastPay — the RFID enabled credit card way to pay (Chase embeds RFID chips inside of many of their credit cards); currently they provide incentives to get people to use RFID style payment.

Virtual Credit Card Numbers are available through services offered by a number of credit card companies.  They differ slightly in implementation, but essentially allow you to set charge amount limits, and expiry dates.  Once an authorization is done to a virtual credit card number the card can only be charged against by that merchant.  You can generally extend the expiry date and charge amount at any time you want.  And you can terminate the card at any time you want (you cannot prevent already authorized charges from being committed to the card).  This is an excellent fraud deterrent, and prevents companies from charging any authorized fees to your account (which saves you the trouble of having to file a charge back).  I’ve used virtual card number ever since I had an MBNA VISA card (MBNA was acquired by Bank of America), they were one of the big innovators in this technology.

Originally posted 2008-05-16 21:35:48.

Sam’s Club Discover

I was at Sam’s Club on the first of this month, and they had a promotion going on that you’d get a $40 instant credit on $100 (or more) purchase if you applied for and were accepted for a Sam’s Club Discover Card.

It was a no brainer —  what I was going to buy was $120, and the $40 instant credit would pay the fee for renewing my Sam’s Club card (NOTE: the renewal fee was excluded from the $100 minimum purchase).

GE Money Bank (the issuer of the Sam’s Club and Walmart Discover cards) issued a stated on the second of the month (the day after the charges); and had my statement to me less than a week after I’d opened the account.  However, I just received the actual card today.

Like with most credit cards you needed to call a toll free number and enter just about every piece of personal and confidential information you’d provided when applying for the card — at what seemed like the end of the activation, I got a message to please hold that I was being transferred to customer service.

After almost five minutes on hold, a very cherry woman come on the line, ask me how my day was and immediately launched into a sales pitch — I cut her off and told her whatever it was she was trying to up-sell to me, I wasn’t interest… that their system had kept me on hold for nearly five minutes to just try and sell me something I wasn’t the least bit interested in, and then I told her I wanted to close my account.  She responded that I’d need to look on the back of the card for the number, and I told her I wanted the number from her.

She gave me the number, and I hung up and called.

The automated system answered immediately, forced me to hear all about my account balance and due date — presented a myriad of twisty little turns to finally get to a customer service representative.

I told her I wanted to cancel; I told her why — she started to sputter out some apology and ask me to reconsider and I told her I didn’t care about her time, but I was tired of wasting my time and I just wanted the account canceled now.  The call was disconnected.

I called back; and same thing, a very long hold.  By the time that I actually got to talk to a customer service representative I’d been at this for over half an hour — and I pointed this out to her, and told here that I was in none to good a mood — that she would cancel the account, and I didn’t want to hear anything but it was done.

I wrote an electronic message to Sam’s Club on their web site after all this was done telling them what a poor reflection GE Money Bank was on their reputation.  The reply I receive (almost immediately) was just an apology, and told me what a valuable customer I was.

Right — GE Money Bank had been telling me what a valuable customer I was all the time on their automated system… but the bottom line, they didn’t value me as a customer — they wanted to treat me like a schmuck who’s time was totally worthless.  Clearly a company that didn’t value my time — or value me as anything but a potential source of revenue.

I’ve always considered Sam’s Club as low rent compared to other warehouse clubs such as Costco — and they continue to reinforce that image time and time again.

Costco selects American Express (which I consider to be thieves and liars — but they at least do pretend to respect their customers) for their credit card; Sam’s Club chooses GE Money Bank (how much more low rent can you get).

I don’t do much business at Sam’s Club; and I certainly won’t be increasing the amount of business I do there… but I certainly won’t be doing any business with GE Money Bank — and personally I think they tarnish Discover Card’s exceptional customer service.

Originally posted 2010-09-16 02:00:55.

Amazon Merchants

Once again I’ve been disappointed with the “service” and “products” provided by an Amazon merchant.

I’ve ask Amazon how to inhibit the display of any and all items except those sold by them; I don’t care to deal with the questionable merchants that use Amazon’s sites.  And obviously Amazon doesn’t stand behind them either (look over their A-Z Guarantee, and notice that a person who buys an item every day has the same lifetime limits as one who rarely buys — sounds to me like Amazon is afraid to offer a real guarantee — why should I have more confidence).

Anyway, rather than play the game with Amazon I’ve just opened a charge dispute with my credit card company (which in this case happens to be an Amazon credit card).

If Amazon doesn’t have a way to block the display non-Amazon merchandise I’ll close my account (and credit card).

Originally posted 2009-04-08 12:00:24.

Keep Wall Street Occupied

A friend of mine put this together; and I think it’s very good advice…

I’ll add a couple points:

  • Mail over 13 oz requires you drop it off in person
  • Mail over 5mm thick is charged a higher postage rate (regardless of weight).
  • I’d discourage you from spending a penny on sending anything to a bank (not just because of the cost, but because of the environmental impact to produce and distribute anything); find your non-recyclable items around your house and use those to send a message — just be careful, some items are prohibited from sending via the US Postal Service — A Customer’s Guide to Mailing.
  • You may want to include in your note to remove your name and address from their mailing list (they already have all that information, they got the mail to you right — so you don’t really have to worry).
  • Don’t do business with banks — especially “big banks”.  Choose a credit union or a local bank for your needs.  If you have credit card services from a “big bank” make sure they are paying you back to use their card (they still make money, but at least you get something), never pay a membership fee or yearly fee for credit cards, and never carry a balance on a credit card at a “big bank”.

Originally posted 2011-10-30 02:00:24.

Credit Card Game

So you’re looking to add another credit card to your wallet… here’s a few options and things to consider ad you play the credit card game and get the financial institutions to pay you.

Discover — promo offer, spend $500 and get $50 cash back; but you’ll only get 0.25% cash back in the first tier (but they do have on going special categories, and the cash back percentage goes up as you spend more; but certainly their are better options).

Walmart Discover — promo offer will give you $20 cash back if you spend $100 on it the day you apply at a Walmart store (you get a check with your first statement).  Keep in mind that the Walmart Discover isn’t actually issued by Discover Financial Service, but rather by GE Money Bank (so it has to be managed through the Walmart portal, not Discover; and it doesn’t have many of the features of a regular Discover card).

NOTE: Discover branded card allow you to get cash back at a Walmart or Sam’s Club (which is charged as a purchase, not cash advance).

Citi Diamond Preferred MC (or AMEX) — promo “5% bonus” on gas, drugstores, and supermarkets for the first year; if you spend $300 in the first three months you get a $50 gift card; 1% normally — virtual credit card numbers

Citi Dividend MC — “bonus” categories change; 1% minimum ($300 max rebate per year) — virtual credit card numbers.

Chase Freedom VISA — promo 5% on gas and travel right now, the “bonus” categories change; 1% minimum.

CapitalOne Platinum VISA — 2% on gas and groceries, 1% minimum — low rent bank; but pay your bills and you will be fine.

Costco AMEX — 3% gas and dining; 2% travel, 1% minimum (requires paid Costco membership; $3000 purchase limit on 3% gas, 1% afterwards).

Most all the cash back cards now don’t offer good cash back rates for long (you have to play the promo game)… one way to avoid that is get a “branded” card at a place you do lots of business (like if you bought Shell gas most of the time get the Shell VISA — but it only works if there’s a card from place you do a lot of business and it pays say 5% there and 1% elsewhere; Chase has lots of those types of cards).

My feeling is the right number of credit cards is THREE

  • VISA
  • Master Card
  • Discover

You can argue four if you like AMEX — and that would probably be either the Costco or Citi AMEX for the best deal.

I would say acquire a credit card no more often than every three months until you’re at the level you want… if you find a card you like better than one you have — acquire it and just don’t use the other card (you can close it as well, but that really doesn’t buy you anything). DO NOT apply for more than a single credit card per month; and be careful about opening a bank account AND applying for a credit card in the same thirty day window (do the credit card first).

NOTE: Use credit cards responsibly.  If you can’t afford to pay the balance off every month — don’t make the purchase.  While many people keep revolving balances on credit cards, the interest rate (even a good interest rate for a credit card) makes the cost of what you’re purchasing ridiculous.  If you feel you won’t use a credit card responsibly — look for a financial institution that offers rewards on their debit card.

If I were applying for a new card right now it would probably be the Citi Diamond Preferred; and I’m considering applying for a Citi Diamond once the Chase 5% gas deal is over.

NOTE: I have a Discover, Walmart Discover, Citi Dividend, and Chase Freedom (along with others that I have not included on the this list).  I do not have (nor do I want) any AMEX card; nor do I personally want to do business with CapitolOne.

Originally posted 2010-07-23 02:00:19.

Virtual Credit Card Numbers

Virtual credit card numbers are numbers that you generate (through your credit card issuer) to use for purchases on line.

Most of the companies that support these allow you to set time and amount limits for charges against the cards, and allow you to terminate the card at will (you cannot prevent a charge that has already been authorized, but you can prevent any future charge).

These financial institutions support virtual cards:

  • Bank of America (acquired from MBNA)
  • Citi Bank
  • Discover

These financial institutions do not support virtual cards:

  • Chase
  • Most credit union issued cards

Citi Bank and Bank of America have very similar systems; the each allow you to set limits and the card immediately binds to the merchant who first authorizes a charge against the number (no other merchant can use the number, which can create issues on PayPal, Yahoo Shops, Google Checkout, and Price Grabber to name a few — the solution is create a new card each time you want to buy something on those sites and destroy the old one).

Citi Bank and Discover have an applet you can download to your PC which will create numbers and auto-fill web forms.

Virtual credit cards give you a great deal of control over your finances, you set the limits of who much a vendor can charge and for how long they can access your credit card account.  While your liability is always limited (zero liability with VISA, Mastercard, and Discover) virtual cards help you avoid hassles.

When you say NO MORE, you end it… you can’t be caught by surprise by horrendous shipping and handling charges, you can’t be over-billed… and you don’t have to worry about recurring charges.

I use virtual card numbers to pay my utilities (electric, water, gas, cable, telephone, cellular); tolls (FastTrak); purchases on line; basically any time I give someone a credit card number via phone, mail, or internet… and I encourage you to do the same.

For one time purchases, terminate the card immediately after the charge is authorized, and THAT IS THAT… for recurring charges, re-authorize the new amount a little before the charge, or go ahead and setup for a year at a time (you can always terminate the card before an authorization).

Originally posted 2008-08-07 20:35:05.