Entries Tagged as 'Credit Cards'

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.

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.