Entries Tagged as 'Credit Cards'

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.

Citibank World Dividends Master Card

I got home Friday evening and had an alert from Citibank that a statement was ready on my Citibank World Dividends Master Card account… this is an account they’d converted from their Dividends reward card that had a really nice cash back program to a card that really didn’t have a very good program at all, so I really didn’t use the card much; but I’d done a small charge on it a couple months ago, and then paid it off when the bill was issued.

So, the alert was notifying me that I had a statement ready that would have a zero balance, and would only be showing a posted payment.

The problem was… there wasn’t a PDF of the statement available.  And the same thing had happened to me about eight months previously; so I actually knew exactly what it was.

The bottom line was some programmer at Citi decided (or was instructed to) not produce PDF statements for account with zero balances period… ignoring the fact that federal law requires a credit card company to issue out a statement with a zero balance should there be any transactions in the period the statement covers.

Certainly the supervisor I was transferred understood the requirement that a statement be issued when there was transactions during that period…

But, once again, I was sent over to a on-line technical support agent; who insisted the problem was my browser… Firefox 8; so we tried it in Internet Explorer 9… same thing, no PDF statement… then we tried it in Internet Explorer 8, Internet Explorer 7, and Firefox 5… guess what, still no PDF statement (she of course wouldn’t have it that I’d gone through all of this before — she had to make sure she wasted the maximum amount of my time that she could); then the technical support representative decide that maybe she should actually ask someone about this issue… and –SURPRISE– she was told that there was an issue in the system and in fact PDF statements were not issued out on account that had a zero balance, that they had to be requested to be generated.

While normally I believe in the three strikes you’re out paradigm, for a financial institution as well run as Citibank I made an exception… I decided because they managed to waste 50 minutes of my life today; and another about 90 minutes of my life several months ago on the exact same issue, that they were OUT!

I requested a return to a supervisor and canceled my account.

As always, I wished her the best of luck finding another job when the financial institution she worked for went out of business, and assured her that I would do everything in my power to encourage everyone I knew to dump Citibank.

The only unfortunate thing about cancelling the account was losing the $13.56 in Dividend reward points, but I certainly wasn’t going to keep the card until I had accumulated the $50.00 in reward points necessary to request a check.

I still have a two other Citibank credit cards (one VISA and one Master Card)… and while I may keep those cards for the moment (since Citibank and Bank of America are the only two financial institutions in this country that provide virtual credit card numbers)… but I will guarantee you I’ll make sure as little money as possible is charged through Citibank, and should one of my credit unions add virtual credit cards Citibank will be history for me.


UPDATE:

On Sunday I received an email from Citibank telling me that there was a PDF of my statement available for download.  Guess what — no statement.  I called up the clueless people at Citibank (again) to waste (more) of my time…

I guess maybe they’ll just have to change the spelling of their company to Shittybank.

Originally posted 2011-11-20 02:00:27.

Discover Discover

Last week I called up Discover Financial Services to get an answer to a question I had about my Discover Card.

I’ve long considered Discover as a tertiary provider of card services; their card is not as widely accepted, and (until recently) their rewards program has been weak in comparison to others.

While all that may still be true, one of the most important qualities to appraise any service by is the quality of their customer service.

The only thing I can say is, I was floored.

The woman who assisted me was possibly the best customer service agent I’ve ever spoken with.  Her voice was soft and even toned and crystal clear.  She certainly made me feel like she was concerned that I be satisfied, and her knowledge and understanding of Discover made it a relatively easy task for her to shine.

This call caused me to reflect back on Discover as a whole, and I realized that I’ve never had a bad experience with Discover customer service.  While I won’t try and tell you that every call to Discover has been at this level, none have ever required that I ask for a supervisor.

I also realized that even the way that Discover has you identify your account is designed to make it easy for a customer (consider the credit card companies that have you key in a sixteen digit number, time out if you take too long, and rarely get the number right on the first [or third] time and then ask you for the number again when you finally end up talking to someone).

A Discover Card might not be the right fit for everyone; but take a look at their financial services, and if they look like a good fit, I encourage you to give them a test drive — you might like the experience; and as Discover grows we can only hope that other financial service companies feel the pressure to provide consumers with reasonable customer service.

Discover

http://www.discovercard.com/

NOTE: Discover Cards are issued by Discover Financial Services, GE Consumer Finance (aka GE Money Bank, ie Walmart and Sam’s Club), HSBC, and Green Dot Corporation (pre-paid) — as with VISA and Master Card the issuing financial institution is responsible for servicing the account, so your customer service experience will likely differ with a non Discover Financial Services issued card.

Originally posted 2010-08-08 02:00:20.

Credit Card Payments

For years I’ve used bill payment services to manage my finances; you log on when you get your bills (or once a week or so) and schedule the payment to arrive a few days before it’s due (you don’t want to cut it too close).

The exception to my using bill payment has been vendors that accept credit cards — I’d much rather pay them direct using a virtual credit card number and get the points; and most of them don’t allow you to schedule the payment, you have to do it now (which is why we have calendar alerts).

So in general what happens is I end up only paying my credit cards with bill pay…

Well, a screw up by one of the bill pay services I used forced me to make a CitiCards payment using their on line system.  I was a little more than annoyed, but I discovered something.  CitiBank immediately posted my payment, and of course the money didn’t disappear from my account for three days — the exact reverse of what happens with bill payment!

Chase just sent me a “special offer” of 500 bonus points to enroll my Amazon VISA in their payment program… so I did.  They didn’t require that I use it, just enroll a bank account (and of course, they already have all the bank account information anyway, and large credit card companies are probably okay to trust with a little more financial information).

I haven’t decided if I will use their payment services or not, but I’m thinking that I can keep the money in my account longer, and get an immediate confirmation for credit card payment (never having to deal with any of the unfortunate incidents that can occur when your bill payment service screws up and tell you you’ll have to resolve it).

Anyway, the bottom line is using your credit card company’s payment system may actually make your life easier, and will definitely allow you to keep your money longer.

 

__________

 

I’ve used this for a couple months now with Citibank, and I just started paying my Chase bill this way.  It’s great, when the statement comes in and I reconcile it against my records I just go ahead and schedule the payment for the business day before it’s due (you could push it until the day it’s due).  Then it just happens; you card is paid instantly on the date you specify and the money is removed from your cash account (savings, checking, or money market) several days later.  If it’s like my Chase due date, you actually can get a few extra pennies interest since it pushed the date the money is deducted from my account until after the monthly close (and with many credit cards you can select the closing date, so you can always pay before the end of the month and still get the benefits for it).

Originally posted 2008-05-23 15:45:18.

PayPal

The world’s most-loved way to pay and get paid.

What a crock… everyone I know loathes PayPal… the only reason anyone uses it is critical mass; pretty much the same reason people use eBay — that’s like saying people love the phone and cable company just because they use their services.

It’s laughable that a brand that’s synonymous with poor service and screwing people over every time they have a chance would have a slogan like that…

Of course, I broke into hysterical laughter the first time a Pacific Bell customer (dis)service person answered the phone with:

How may I provide you with excellent service today.

My reply was transfer me to a company that actually cares about it’s customers if you can find one.

Remember, it’s the worst companies that find it necessary to try and convince you that they’re loved…

Originally posted 2011-01-20 02:00:53.

Protecting Your Rewards

Many financial institutions that issue “cash back” or “rewards” debit cards and credit cards are in poor financial shape at the moment.

As a precaution you may want to cash in your points now in order to insure that the institutions don’t make a change to the program that greatly diminishes your value.  In addition you might want to find another financial institution that isn’t in precarious financial condition with a rewards program to use in the interim until your current institution stabilizes.

The two largest banking institutions that have liberal rewards programs that are in financial trouble are Citi Group and Bank of America.

The largest banking institution that has a liberal rewards program that isn’t in financial trouble is Chase.

Originally posted 2009-01-29 01:00:04.

Credit or Debit

When you use your check card bearing a VISA or Master Card logo at a merchant to pay for a transaction you’re given a choice of how the point of sale transaction will be settled — and that’s generally presented to you as “credit” or “debit”.

Should you care which?

HELL YES!

Most merchants would prefer that you choose to settle the point of sale transaction as a debit; and the reason is very simple — money.  Most any merchant will make more from a debit card transaction than a credit transaction (but remember, they’ve built in the credit card charges to their pricing – so you’re not benefiting in the least).  Plus, the funds will be removed from your account almost instantly.  Also, when you choose to do a point of sale transaction as debit, you’ll have to enter your PIN (just like when you use an ATM).  While you might think having to use your PIN is far more secure, in point of fact you’re exposing sensitive information in a public setting — numerous times criminals have compromised merchant networks and obtained both customer debit card account numbers and their PINs.  Keep in mind, even if you can show that your number was used fraudulently, it will take a great deal of effort and time to get your money back — and that might just be the beginning of the nightmare.

But…

When you decide that your transaction will be settled through the VISA or Master Card network (just like a credit card would be) by hitting the “credit” button you will get all the protection that would be afforded to you had you used a credit card.  Federal law protects credit card users; but both VISA and Master Card go beyond the scope of law with their zero liability programs; and if somehow your account is compromised having funds conditionally credited back to you is a simple phone call (and perhaps notarized affidavit) away.  Sure, it might cost the merchant more money for the transaction; but it doesn’t cost you more.  Plus, while the funds to cover the transaction might be placed on hold, they will remain in your account (earning interest perhaps) for several days.  Additionally, if your financial institution has a rewards programs, generally you only earn points in it with credit transactions (that’s because your financial institution makes more money when you choose a credit transaction as well).  Finally, since the transaction settles through the VISA or Master Card network; the fraud prevention systems of VISA or Master Card, in addition to any your financial institution come into play.

Why on Earth would anyone choose to do debit card transaction (using a PIN) when a credit transaction is much, much safer for the individual, and simpler (though you can argue if you have to enter your ZIP code you’ve typed one more digit than your PIN)???

Bottom line — choose wisely; choose credit!

VISA Master Card

NOTE: For debit cards issued by non-US financial institutions; or cards not bearing the VISA or Master Card logos, please contact your issuing financial institution or consult governing laws in your jurisdiction.

Originally posted 2010-07-30 02:00:40.

Chase Freedom Rewards Bonus

From July 1, 2008 until September 30, 2008 Chase is offering 5% cash back on eligible travel and entertainment purchases.

So beyond the 3% cash back on certain categories they always offer; and 1% on all other purchases you can now get 5% cash back for a limited time on airline, hotels, rental cars, and fine dining when you spend more than $300 per month (that should be easy to do with any of those in the mix, particularly if it’s business expenses).

You do need to opt into this program, and if you haven’t gotten a letter from Chase inviting you, I’d say just go ahead and call 800-603-2265.

If you don’t have a Chase Freedom MasterCard or VISA, then maybe you should consider taking advantage of their services and rewards.

NOTES:

  • If you want cash back, you maximize your reward by waiting until you have $200 because you get a check for $250! Other than that some of their travel and give cards are pretty good deals if they would save you money that you would have spent otherwise.
  • Discover is apparently running a promotion as well. I’m not a Discover card holder so I don’t know the specifics of it.
  • My picks for cards are: Citi Rewards Dividend (Citibank); Chase Freedom Rewards (Chase); and Citi Cash Returns (Citibank). There are also a few other cards that give good rewards provided you do a great deal of business with particular vendors.
  • I would stay away from Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Capital One — their cards generally don’t pay bonuses or use some lame bonus programs.  And while you might want a credit card from your credit union, it’s unlikely they will have a decent reward program.
  • Beyond rewards, many credit cards also provide rental car insurance, warranty extensions, lost/damage protection on items you buy, etc.  It’s always advisable to read the benefits that come with your credit card; many financial institutions off great benefits just because very few people ever bother to read the literature that comes with their cards and take advantage of the programs, so it really just makes them look good in all the comparisons and doesn’t end up costing them much at all.

As always, remember you can use credit cards to your advantage as long as you use them wisely.

Originally posted 2008-07-18 21:14:23.

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.