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The Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Citi ThankYou Premier Card

Citi ThankYou Premier Card

Having a credit card that rewards purchases related to airfare, hotel stays, rental cars, and other transportation can be a method to save a substantial amount of cash each year. Travel rewards points or miles translate quickly into dollars. But not every travel rewards program is equal. Two of the top-rated travel rewards credit cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Citi ThankYou Premier, each offer strong earning potential to card members. However, the credit cards vary in how miles are earned, how they can be redeemed, card member benefits, and cost. Let’s take a closer look at both travel rewards credit card options.

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Rewards Program Breakdown

The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card has one of the strongest rewards programs for travelers. Each dollar spent on dining at restaurants and travel, including airfare, taxis, hotels, and trains, earns card members two rewards points. All other purchases earn a single point for each dollar spent. There are no caps on earnings. New card members can maximize earnings by taking advantage of the promotional offer of 50,000 bonus points earned when $4,000 is spent on the card within the first three months after account opening. Adding authorized users adds an additional 5,000 bonus rewards points when a purchase is made within the same time frame.

The Citi ThankYou Premier credit card also offers a strong rewards program. Cardmembers earn three points for each dollar spent on travel-related expenses. Unlike the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, the Citi ThankYou Premier card offers the enhanced points potential on gas purchases as well. Cardmembers earn two points for each dollar spent on dining and entertainment purchases too. All other purchases made with the Citi card earn one point per dollar spent, with no cap on earnings. Currently, Citi ThankYou Premier card members do not have the chance to earn a one-time rewards bonus as an introductory offer. This makes the Chase Sapphire Preferred card a better choice for those who want an upfront perk.

Redeeming Points

Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card members have the option to redeem points for travel on air, land, or sea directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards site. Cardmembers can receive as much as 20% off travel purchases through the redemption site. There are no blackout dates or restrictions imposed. Citi ThankYou Premier cardmembers can utilize points to redeem gift cards, shopping through select partner retailers, cash, and even charitable donations. ThankYou points may also be used to purchase travel through Citi’s Travel Center. Points are worth 25% more when redeemed for hotel stays, cruises, car rentals, and airfare purchases. The redemption options through Citi are far more robust than through Chase. They are especially attractive to those who want flexibility above and beyond travel-related purchases.

Additional Benefits

Both cards allow cardmembers to transfer accumulated rewards points to partner loyalty programs at a 1:1 ratio. Citi does not specifically list the transfer partners eligible under the ThankYou points program, but Chase includes the following:

  • Ritz-Carlton Rewards
  • Marriott Rewards
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • Hyatt Gold Passport
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • United MileagePlus
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Korean Air SkyPass
  • British Airways Executive Club

In addition to transfer potential, each travel rewards credit card offers supplemental benefits to cardmembers. Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citi ThankYou Premier account holders have access to chip-enabled card technology. This allows for wider acceptance around the world. Chase customers have a variety of travel and purchase protection benefits, including trip interruption, cancellation insurance, and extended warranty protection. Citi customers can access a personal concierge service anytime, day or night. Purchases are covered with damage and theft protection up to certain limits. Both Citi and Chase cardmembers have $0 liability for fraudulent or unauthorized charges.

Card Member Costs

Chase Sapphire Preferred cardmembers and Citi ThankYou Premier account holders won’t have additional fees for transactions made outside the United States. However, both travel credit cards come with an annual fee of $95. Currently, both card providers waive the annual fee for the first year. Neither Chase Sapphire Preferred nor Citi ThankYou Premier applicants are offered a low introductory interest rate on purchases or a promotional rate on balance transfers at this time.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card has a variable interest rate that fluctuates with the broad market. This typically ranges from 16.24% up to 23.24%, depending on the creditworthiness of the applicant. Balance transfer interest rates are the same as purchase rates. A fee of $5 or 5% (whichever is greater), is applied to all balances transferred to the card. The cash advance APR for Chase Sapphire Preferred customers is 25.24%, and a fee of $10 or 5% (whichever is greater) applies.

The Citi ThankYou Premier credit card also has a variable interest rate for purchases, depending on credit history and score. Similar to the Chase option, balance transfer made to the Citi card receive the same APR as purchases, and a $5 or 3% (whichever is greater) applies. Cash advance interest rates are a standard 25.49% with a $10 or 5% fee (whichever is greater).

The Verdict

The Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Citi ThankYou Premier credit cards are great options for individuals who are on the go. For those interested in an upfront bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is a smarter option. Those looking for higher rewards potential on travel purchases should look at the Citi card. Both travel credit cards offer substantial discounts on trips arranged through their travel sites. The absence of foreign transactions fees for either card make them both appropriate for overseas travelers. The other fees are comparable. Neither card is great for someone looking for an introductory 0% offer on purchases or balance transfers. Prospective card members should consider the total cost of each card and the corresponding benefits prior to applying.

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American Express Business Gold Rewards Credit Card Review

American Express has long been a leader as a credit card issuer. They give customers a unique experience with points accumulation and redemption through their Membership Rewards program. They also have great ongoing customer service. While in-the-know card members are privy to these perks on the individual consumer credit card side of the coin, business owners can take advantage as well. With the American Express Business Gold Rewards credit card, business owners have a smart way to fund company spending while still getting in on the benefits offered through the American Express Membership Rewards program.

 

Card Basics

The American Express Business Gold Rewards credit card is a charge card. This means that balances accrued each billing cycle are required to be paid in full each month. A charge card is ideal for businesses with high, consistent cash flow. It’s also good for owners who want the ability to earn rewards on business-related purchases. The Business Gold Rewards card offers a slew of rewards options that are truly unique from other credit card points programs.

Membership Rewards are earned at a rate of 3 points per one dollar spent on purchases made with the Gold Rewards card. But card members have their choice as to which category the additional are earned. Business Gold Rewards card members can choose to earn three times the points on one of the following categories:

  • Airfare purchased directly from an airline
  • Purchases made within the U.S. for advertising in certain media categories
  • Gas station purchases made within the U.S.
  • Shipping expenses within the U.S.
  • Computer software, hardware, or cloud computing service purchases within the U.S. made directly from select providers

Reward Accumulation

While most other cards would reduce the rewards earning potential down to one point per dollar spent on remaining purchases, the American Express Business Gold Rewards credit card goes one step further. Any categories not chosen by the card member for the triple rewards earn two points per dollar spent, making the accumulation of valuable rewards easier than comparable business credit cards. For all other purchases that do not fall within these specific categories, card members earn the standard one point per dollar spent.

Membership Rewards earned in the three times and two times categories are applicable to the first $100,000 spent on the Business Gold Rewards credit card. All other rewards earned on ancillary purchases do not have a cap. New cardmembers have the opportunity to earn even more rewards with a bonus offer of 75,000 rewards points. However, this only applies when a minimum of $10,000 is spent within the first three months after the account is opened.

Redeeming Membership Rewards through American Express is simple. Business owners have the ability to cash in points for gift cards, travel, entertainment or dining experiences, or shopping directly through partner merchants.

American Express Benefits

Cardmembers with American Express have more to look forward to. For business owners, the ability to accurately track and manage spending limits on company cards is an important factor in ongoing expense monitoring. American Express Business Gold Rewards credit card members have the ability to earn additional points by activating employee cards with pre-set limits. Any activated employee credit cards also come with real-time alerts that provide insight into who is spending and in what amount.

American Express also offers cardmembers the ability to establish account managers for the Business Gold Rewards credit card. Trusted individuals, such as an executive level employee or business partners, can easily and quickly manage spending on the card, with either full or limited access. Tasks, like reviewing purchases and monthly statements, disputing charges and adding employee cards, are a breeze with this feature unique to American Express.

ReceiptMatch is also made available to Business Gold Rewards credit card members. This program allows business owners to manage expenses through the desktop or mobile application. Receipts can easily be added, tagged, or noted within this helpful feature. This creates a simple way to streamline monitoring and tracking. American Express provides additional benefits to card members, including:

  • Premium Roadside Assistance
  • Global Assist Hotline
  • Baggage Insurance Plan
  • Purchase Protection
  • Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance
  • Extended Warranty
  • Travel Accident Insurance

The Costs

Although the American Express Business Gold Rewards credit card is a charge card and therefore has no interest rate applied to purchases, there are some costs associated with its use. As a current promotion, new card members are not assessed an annual fee for the first year of membership. After the first year, an annual fee of $175 applies. Cardmembers who shop outside the United States do not have to be concerned with foreign transaction fees.

Cardmembers who are late remitting payment are charged a $38 fee, or 2.99% of the past due “Pay in Full” amount, whichever is higher. Additionally, any returned payments cost the card member a $38 fee. Cardmembers do not have pre-set spending (credit) limits with the American Express Business Gold Rewards credit card, so no over the limit charges apply.

The Verdict

The American Express Business Gold Rewards credit card is an ideal choice for business owners who want customizable options for rewards. The ability to select certain high-spending categories to capitalize on rewards is a feature unique to American Express. Cardmembers who spend heavily in the three times categories can accumulate a substantial rewards balance over time. The ability to earn an additional two times each dollar spent is a nice added bonus. Without a credit or spending limit, a waived first-year annual fee, and no foreign transaction fees, business owners have a smart choice in the Business Gold Rewards credit card.

Business owners who do not spend enough in the three times categories to justify the annual fee may want to look elsewhere for a company credit card. Also, companies with less than consistent cash flow each month, or seasonal dips in revenue, may want to consider a business credit card that allows for repayment over time instead of the pay in full monthly schedule set forth by American Express. Overall, the American Express Business Gold Rewards credit card is a solid choice for business owners who fit the spending and cash flow bill.

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Should I Consolidate Or Refinance My Student Loan?

In 2016, the total student debt burden equaled more than $1.3 trillion, with the average college graduate leaving school with an oppressive $37,172 in student loans. These statistics have been on the rise for some time, and have no end in sight. The combination of rising tuition costs and the implications of borrowing for one’s education has created a nation where over 44 million individuals have student loan debt that must be repaid.

But not everyone is capable of repaying their massive student loan balance, as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports more than 7 million borrowers are currently in default. It isn’t all that surprising when you consider the stark truth about repayment: the average monthly loan repayment of $351 (for borrowers between the ages of 20 and 30) based on a 10-year repayment with an interest rate hovering around 6%. For individuals with a hefty balance left to repay, the monthly payment obligation often impedes on their ability to pay other bills or set money aside for the future. Both loan consolidation and refinancing are options to make your student loan more manageable in theory, either by reducing the interest rate or extending the repayment terms. First, however, it is important to understand how consolidation and refinancing work in practice.

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What is a loan consolidation?

Consolidating your student loans means that multiple loans are combined into a single debt. Student loans are dispersed at different times throughout college or graduate level attendance, which creates numerous loans for a single borrower. Various interest rates are applied to each loan, depending on the type of loan utilized, and each comes with its own monthly minimum payment. Consolidation allows you to combine all loans which create one interest rate (which is the weighted average of all loans being consolidated) and one monthly payment.

Student loan consolidation is available only for federal loans, not private debts, and is not based on credit history or income. Consolidation is helpful in creating a more manageable repayment plan as it can result in a lower monthly payment and a fixed interest rate – an appealing reason to go through with the process.

What is refinancing?

Student loan refinancing is similar to consolidation in that it provides the borrower an opportunity to combine multiple loans into a single debt. However, refinancing is done through a private lender, not the federal government. Through a student loan refinance, you are effectively taking out a new loan to pay off already established loans through a bank or social lending institution. Both private and government loans can be combined into the new loan, but borrowers must qualify based on creditworthiness.

Refinancing student loans offers the same benefits as consolidation in that borrowers have the ability to have a single monthly payment obligation. Additionally, the time to repay can be reduced through student loan refinancing, and monthly payments may be lower if a smaller interest rate is offered.

The caveats to each

A federal loan consolidation is an attractive option for borrowers with student loans issued by the federal government, but it, unfortunately, does nothing for private loans. This means that borrowers who borrowed outside the government may continue to have multiple monthly payments and varied interest rates on each loan. Additionally, consolidation loan interest rates are fixed and may end up being higher than comparable private lender refinance loan options.

Student loan refinancing offers a solution for individual borrowers with a combination of loan types, but it has its drawbacks, too. Private lenders require full underwriting of a new loan (i.e. an individual’s credit score). Repayment history and income are reviewed before approval is granted so not all student borrowers qualify for a private lender refinance. Also, most refinance transactions through private lenders come with a variable interest rate. This means that the total cost of the loan may increase over time as may the monthly minimum payment obligation. On the surface, student loan refinances may look more appealing given the lower initial interest rate, but borrowers must understand that rates can – and will – fluctuate over time.

Another caveat to student loan refinancing is the loss of protection that is inherent to government student loans. In recent years, a number of programs were established to assist student borrowers with their burdensome loan obligations, including income-based repayment, extended repayment, and loan forgiveness. These initiatives are designed to make repayment easier and ultimately more flexible for borrowers over the long run, especially when financial circumstances change.

While federal student loan consolidation allows borrowers to maintain access to these programs, refinancing student loans with a private lender takes these options away. Whatever monthly payment your receive with the initial refinance transaction is the monthly payment you owe moving forward. There is no opportunity to shift that downward should you find yourself in financial need.

Which is my best option for my student loan?

Both student loan consolidation and loan refinancing provide borrowers with the opportunity to reduce the total number of monthly payments and interest rates. However, the two options do not provide the same benefits to every borrower. Student loan consolidation is typically best for individuals with substantial student loan debt and a myriad of interest rates for each loan. Consolidating eliminates the need to make monthly payments to a number of different loans. It also applies a fixed weighted average interest rate to the new loan. Repayment is flexible with student loan consolidation transactions due to federal government programs like income-based payments and forbearance. Student forgiveness through the government also remains an option for borrowers who qualify.

Student loan refinancing is a smart option for individual borrowers with a number of loans. Initially, refinancing may offer a lower interest rate than federal loan consolidation. But borrowers may be subject to changes in the interest rate environment over time. Individuals with a substantial amount of student loan debt may not be best served by private lender refinancing. They may ultimately lose access to helpful programs made available only for federal government loans. Take care to consider your options and fully understand the terms and conditions that apply to each.

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How Much Do Weddings Actually Cost?

For some, dreamy ideals of the perfect wedding swirl around in the mind years before the right person comes along. Weddings are often referred to as the best day of a couple’s life together, and a well-planned event is remembered by guests for years to come. However, the dollars and cents that go into planning a wedding can add up quickly, given the sheer number of details necessary to pull off an event for potentially a few hundred people. Everything from invitations and seating charts to food and alcohol must be budgeted for, regardless of the extravagance of your big day. If you’re on the cusp of planning for a wedding or have already started the tedious process, it is important to know how much weddings actually cost.

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Average Total Cost by State

According to recent survey data, the average cost of a wedding held within the United States is an impressive $31,213. That’s quite a bit of dough! Costs vary widely from state to state with the lowest average coming in at $15,257 in Utah. Overall, the celebration of your nuptials is lower in the Midwest and Southwest. Arkansas closely follows Utah at the lowest average cost. For those planning to get wed in the Northeast, however, the average costs quickly creep up. On average, couples planning their big day in Manhattan pay an average of $76,328 – the highest in the nation. Northern and Central New Jersey, and Chicago, Illinois round out the most expensive wedding areas throughout the country.

What Goes into Wedding Costs?

Keeping a lid on the exorbitant cost of a wedding can be a challenge. This is especially true if you don’t know all of the factors involved in planning the event. Traditional weddings often require planning for a reception space. Additionally, the items that go along with throwing a fabulous party, like entertainment and music, decorations, tables, chairs, and linens can add up easily. A ceremony space is a must for the most conventional couples, which can either be held at the same venue as the reception or in a different location altogether.

Adding to the list is the attire for the couple, which not only includes pricey suits or dresses but also accessories, shoes, hair, and makeup services. Flowers for bouquets, boutonnieres, and ancillary décor may also be needed. Some couples include gifts for the supportive friends and family who are an integral part of the wedding party. Photography, videography, parking, and transportation should also be considered. Invitations, save the date announcements, and wedding rings are other items to consider. If you’d rather not take on the arduous task of planning every detail of your event, plan to spend some of your wedding funds on a planner, too. Last but far from least is the food and beverages that will be provided during the reception.

Given this lengthy list, it is not surprising that the cost of a wedding skyrockets for some. The average cost of each wedding expense is as follows:

  • Attire and accessories: $1,629
  • Beauty treatments (hair, nails, and makeup): $129
  • Entertainment (live music or DJ): $1,389
  • Flowers and décor: $1,563
  • Gifts, including guest favors: $702
  • Invitations: $789
  • Jewelry, including wedding rings: $4,133
  • Photography and videography: $2,835
  • Event planner: $827
  • Venue, including catering and table/chair/linen rentals: $11,944

Budgeting for the Wedding

To steer clear of a massive wedding bill, budgeting ahead of time is key. Establishing a budget for a wedding is not much different than it is for monthly expenses, but there are a few key differences. First, family assistance is often a major help in reducing the out of pocket costs for your big day. If you know parents, grandparents, or other relatives are planning to lend a hand with the wedding expenses, talk with them openly about how much they plan to contribute before you start spending. Not sure if the family is able to help? Simply ask. The worst that could happen is that the wedding cost falls squarely on your shoulders as a couple. It may result in pinching pennies along the way. But knowing what you’re up against prior to starting your planning will help overall.

Another aspect of creating your wedding budget relies heavily on the type of event you want. If you’re planning a formal ceremony and reception, you’re safe to add a substantial amount to your venue and catering budget. Conversely, a celebration that is more casual in terms of location and feel often costs significantly less. It is also important to know your projected guest list size, as this has a direct impact on your total spending. Invitation costs, favors, food, and venue costs all rise as your guest lists grows. Building out your wedding budget should be based on these considerations. You’ll have far more success when you create a system of budgeting – and stick to it.

Tips for Reducing the Expense

The cost of a wedding does not have to overwhelming. There are a number of methods to cut out expenses. First, pay close attention to the contracts you sign, specifically for the venue and the caters. Are there “hidden” fees such as overtime or cleanup that add to the total costs? Will tips be included in the contracted amount? Are you paying for their servers, security staff, and/or parking attendants? Most of the time, wedding vendors provide this information up front in the contract, but it is up to you to know what you’re getting into.

Sizing down your total guest list also helps reduce the total cost, as that number directly affects every aspect of your planning. Taking just 10 guests off the list could put nearly $1,000 back in your pocket. Don’t be afraid to trim the headcount as needed. Additionally, keep things simple as much as you can, leaving out glamourous details that simply don’t fit into the overall budget. Oftentimes, pricey additions are a waste of hard-earned cash, and you nor your guests will notice their absence.

Finally, be prepared to negotiate with wedding vendors before an agreement is signed. It never hurts to ask. Some wedding professionals offer discounts for referrals, while others may cut off a portion of the cost if you leave a solid review of their services online. If they are unwilling to wiggle in terms of price, it may be worth seeking out alternatives. Whatever you do in your wedding planning adventure, keep your bottom line in mind.

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How Do Online Banks Work?

Advances in the realm of technology have not only been beneficial to consumers looking for the best shopping deal or individuals hoping to connect with friends and family – old-school financial products and services have come into their own with the help of technology. Individuals have the ability to find a loan, a credit card, and even a new bank on the World Wide Web, making managing personal finances a breeze.

But some are skeptical of the emergence of so-called online banks, with confusion surrounding how they work in comparison to traditional financial institutions. Here we’ll break down the ins and outs of online banks, how to find one, and special considerations for use.

What is an “online” bank?

Throwing the descriptor “online” in front of anything makes it seem appealing to some and scam-like to others. Fortunately, banks that bear the online name mostly fall into the first category. Some confusion lies in where money is held and how it is distributed, but online banks are virtually no different than your local bank branch. There is one clear difference though: an online bank is simply a financial institution that is housed on the Internet, as opposed to having a brick and mortar branch location.

What can an online bank offer?

The majority of credible online banks offer the same menu of financial products and services as financial institutions with physical locations. They offer savings and checking accounts, money market deposit accounts, certificates of deposit, and both traditional and ROTH individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Online banks may also offer access to credit cards, personal loans, and mortgages, depending on their breadth within the market.

Just like with traditional banks, online providers offer debit cards and checks for corresponding accounts, so access to your money is no different. In most cases, banks housed online have intuitive desktop and mobile applications where customers are able to make transactions, open new accounts, and transfer money to other financial institutions as they see fit.

The benefits of banking online

The disruption of financial technology has proved beneficial to banking customers in the perks afforded by online institutions. Online banks offer a level of convenience not easily matched by conventional financial institutions because of how accessible they are. Because there is no physical branch location to visit to complete common transactions, online banks have no choice but to deliver top of the line access over the Internet.

Lower interest rates

In addition to ease of access, online banks have one clear advantage over traditional banks and credit unions. Without actual locations that customers can walk into, online banks have far less overhead in terms of rent and property expenses. The lack of financial burden allows online banks to offer benefits to customers by way of higher interest rates on deposit accounts. In some instances, online banks that offer lending products may pass the overhead savings down to customers through lower rates on personal loans as well.

For example, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation reported the average interest rate for savings accounts within the United States at a dismal 0.06%, as of April 2016. That equates to an annual interest accumulation of $6 on a $10,000 deposit. Not all that exciting, to say the least. In comparison, the average interest rate for online banks is 1.00%, which equates to an annual accrual of $100 simple interest for the same $10,000 deposit. That $94-dollar difference is enough for some banking customers to make the leap to online banking.

Lower deposit rates

But the benefits don’t stop at convenience or interest rates. The top online banks generally have no or relatively low minimum deposit amounts, specifically for checking and savings accounts. It is also hard to find an online bank that charges fees for transactions like direct deposit, internal or external transfers, or withdrawals. Unlike some brick and mortar financial institutions, online banks are free of the allusive maintenance fee as well. All of these benefits offered by online banks create a way to make your money work harder for you, without costing a pretty penny.

Special considerations with online banks

On the almighty Internet, bad apples lie around every corner. It can be a challenge to determine with full faith which companies found online are legitimate and which are at best, questionable. The threat of finding a bad apple in the online banking world is less concerning given financial regulations in place from government and private authorities, but it is necessary to do a bit of research prior to making the move to an Internet-based financial institution.

Check their website

To ensure you’re getting the most of your banking experience with an institution that is on the up and up, do some snooping on the provider’s website to start. Most legitimate online banks will have a professional “About Us” page, and the details listed in this section should provide the information you need to either move forward to continue your search. For instance, online banks that truly provide the same services as a traditional financial institution will be FDIC insured, and that information should be clearly listed on their site with the terms “Member FDIC” or “FDIC Insured”. Just like well-known banks, deposits held with an online bank have insurance coverage provided by the FDIC in the event the bank becomes insolvent. Your deposits are protected up to certain limits, depending on the type of account held and the number of account owners.

Look for a physical address

In addition to checking for FDIC insurance coverage, your research should quickly lead you to an actual address for the online bank’s headquarters or national offices. Although online banks do not have branch locations, they must still have a physical address from which they do business. If you can’t seem to find that information for a bank you are researching, it may be necessary to find an alternative.

Finally, take care to protect the personal information you share online. The Internet is mostly a safe place to conduct business, but if something feels off – a less than professional web presence, bogus contact information for the bank, or requirements for upfront payments or other bank account information – move on to another choice. Online banking can be a smart move toward managing your personal finances in an efficient way, but it is up to you to ensure you are banking with a real, secure institution online.

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Review of the Best Online Budget Software

Very few actually enjoy the task of budgeting. Understanding and maintaining a cash flow system for income, bills and savings each month takes equal parts effort and time – and when the numbers fail to create a surplus, the big bad “b” word turns into a despised chore. Fortunately, the fusion of technology and innovation in the realm of personal finance has birthed a number of online budget software solutions, meant to reduce the time spent on and pain inflicted by managing your cash flow. While this list is not all inclusive, it represents the top three picks for online budget software based on ease of use, features and cost.

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Mint

By far and large, Mint.com is the queen of online budget software. Established in 2006 and currently serving more than 10 million users, Mint is a no-cost personal financial management tool that leaves conventional budgeting in the distant past. With access both online and via mobile, Mint works to help individual users track where their money is going, for better or worse, by providing account aggregation and real-time updates on spending, saving and bill management. Once the simple set-up process is complete (which consists of signing up with an e-mail address and password), users have the ability to add bank accounts, credit cards and debts from multiple financial institutions in a single place. Why does this matter? Well, customizable budgeting is made substantially less daunting when all of your financial data is in a single location and tracked – without a spreadsheet or checkbook balancing – every minute of every day.

Through Mint, users pick and choose which accounts to add to the dashboard, and the platform syncs transaction data as money is earned and then spent. Mint users can categorize any transaction under the program’s preset list of purchase types or by creating unique categories of their own. The more detailed users are in categorizing money movement, the better the budgeting tool works. Mint allows each user to create unique budgets for an endless number of categories, all which are easily changed as financial habits or obligations shift over time. One of the best parts of Mint is the alerts and advice that come with the software – if you’ve overspent in one category or failed to save toward an established goal, fret not. Mint will let you know.

In addition to intuitive budgeting and categorization, Mint offers a robust set of features to its users. Access to a free credit score every few months helps users stay on top of changes, and investment tracking highlights performance and growth over time. Additionally, Mint offers helpful tips and opportunities to save money as users continue to utilize the software. For instance, if your credit card has recently assessed a finance charge, Mint may offer a suggestion for a lower-interest-rate card or balance transfer offer from one of its partners.

And in case you missed it, Mint.com is free. Users do experience a relatively heavy ad presence throughout the site, but focusing on the tools available make that only a slight annoyance. The combination of these features and the ability to track money movement against designed budgets makes Mint.com one of the strongest online software applications for personal financial management.

YNAB

You Need a Budget (YNAB) comes in as a close second to Mint for online budget software options. Created in 2004, YNAB is an online budget software based on four foundational rules:

  • Give every dollar a job – categorize where money is spent and how much
  • Know your true expenses – incorporate quarterly, semi-annual and annual payments into a monthly budget
  • Be flexible – establish overspending “buckets”
  • Break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle – pay bills as they come in and work toward living off money earned last month

YNAB offers users a different experience than Mint based on its underlying principals, but the software platform works in a similar manner. Users of the online budget software simply sign up through the website and are immediately given access to both the desktop and mobile applications. Thousands of financial institutions can be synced with the YNAB software, from checking accounts to credit cards, making the task of budgeting far easier. YNAB updates regularly, so users have the flexibility to check progress in terms of sticking with a budget anywhere, at any time.

One clear difference between YNAB and Mint is the cost. While enrolled students can utilize the power of YNAB at no cost for one year, all other users are assessed a fee for access. The monthly option is billed at $5 while paying in full for the year equates to a $50 charge. Part of the justification for the cost of YNAB can be linked to its educational resources provided to users. Classes on budgeting and money management are made available, offering expert advice and tips on how to effectively utilize not only the software but create new habits as well. YNAB also maintains a blog which goes into depth on budgeting topics in a lighthearted but educational way. Through the site, users also have access to a number of guides focused on debt management, prioritizing financial goals, and aging your money. Individuals looking for a more hands-on approach as it relates to budgeting may consider YNAB a better choice than Mint.

Level Money

Touted as a financial GPS, Level Money is another online budget software meant to lend a digital hand when it comes to spending. Unlike Mint and YNAB that focus on the basic principals of budgeting – establishing category limits for spending and sticking to it – Level Money replaces a user’s bank account balance with a spendable amount each month. Users sync bank accounts and credit cards like they would in Mint or YNAB, but Level Money focuses more on how much one has to spend based on bills and savings goals input into the software.

Level Money provides users the opportunity to establish simplistic trackers for a wide variety of spending habits, like dining out, ride shares (Uber, Lyft or cab service), travel and gas. These trackers work to inform users of ongoing spending habits on either a month-to-month or annual basis. In addition, Level Money offers intuitive predictions as it relates to bank account balances and upcoming bills to make it easier to maintain control over spending. Like Mint, Level Money is available via desktop and mobile at no cost.

Budgeting is one of the critical components of sound financial management, but without outside help, the task often becomes a chore. Utilizing one of the online budget software options listed here can help take the pain out of budgeting, no matter your goals or spending habits, paving the way for a much better understanding of how your money works for you.

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Is it Expensive to Refinance My Home?

Home ownership is one of the goals most individuals, both young and old, strive to achieve. In healthy market environments, real estate appreciates in value creating a long-term asset that generates the potential for a substantial return over time. Fortunately, becoming a home owner does not have to be a difficult task in terms of financial ability, as a full cash payment is not a necessity thanks to financing through a mortgage. But when a mortgage is taken out on a home during a high interest rate market, or when credit is in less than ideal shape, the total cost of financing can be high.

To remedy an expensive mortgage due to a higher interest rate, home owners have the ability to refinance through a mortgage lender, bank or credit union. Refinancing allows the borrower to essentially create a new loan – preferably with better repayment terms and a lower applied interest rate – and pay off the initial mortgage. Refinancing can extend repayment for up to an additional 30 years, creating a less burdensome monthly payment. In some cases, a shorter repayment period can be elected (such as 15 years), to expedite full repayment of the loan on the home. In the best scenarios, a combination of a lower interest rate and a suitable repayment term helps home owners benefit in the long run from their residential property.

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While refinancing a mortgage is appealing, especially while interest rates remain at historically low levels, the process is not free. Let’s examine what goes into the cost of refinancing a home before discussing if it is a viable solution.

Breaking Down Mortgage Refinancing Costs

The general school of thought that guides mortgage refinancing decisions is this: if you are able to reduce your interest rate by at least 1%, the refinance probably makes sound financial sense. However, there are a number of ancillary factors that have an impact on the overall refinance transaction. The following are costs commonly associated with refinancing a mortgage.

Mortgage application fee: most lenders assess a mortgage application fee for all refinance applications. This fee includes the cost for pulling a borrower’s credit report and other administrative expenses the lender passes down to the individual(s) applying for a new mortgage. On average, the mortgage application fee falls between $200 and $500.

Origination fee: assessed as a percentage of the total new mortgage amount, an origination fee is often one of the highest fees associated with any refinance transaction. Origination fees are typically 1%, and go toward paying the chosen lender directly.

Appraisal fee: All lenders requires homeowners to have an appraisal completed when a refinance application is submitted. An appraisal allows the lender to determine the market value of the home, and if the borrower has accumulated enough equity to justify the refinance or secure a lower interest rate. Appraisal fees range from $200 to $500 for most refinance applications.

Title fees: another factor in the cost of refinancing are title fees associated with generating a new mortgage. Lenders often require a title search to ensure there are no glaring issues with ownership or liens. Title insurance provides protection to both the homeowner and the lender in the case issues arise in the process. Title fees may also include miscellaneous charges, such as courier costs, express mail costs, and recording costs with the county. On average, title fees range from $400 up to $800 for most refinance transactions.

Insurance fees: all lenders require a homeowner to have an insurance policy in place at the time of the loan closing to protect the replacement cost should something happen to the home itself. In addition to typical homeowner’s insurance, lenders may require flood certification or special hazard insurance should the property be located in certain areas of the country. Insurance fees range depending on the property location.

Points: mortgage points fall into two categories – origination fees and discount fees. Lenders offer points to borrowers as a way to buy down the mortgage interest rate offered. Discount fees are prepaid interest that homeowners pay up front, while origination fees simply equate to compensation direct to the lender offering the loan. Regardless of type, one mortgage point is equal to 1% of the total loan amount.

The combination of these various fees add up quickly for homeowners looking to refinance their residential property. All in, refinancing fees total an average of 1.5% of the total amount of the loan, and are due at the time the loan is fully processed. In some instances, lenders allow the homeowner to roll closing costs associated with a refinance in to the new mortgage loan, saving them the out of pocket expense. However, adding a few thousand dollars to the total mortgage balance affects the monthly payment, and ultimately, the total cost paid for the mortgage over time.

Should I Refinance?

Although the rule of thumb relating to interest rate reduction is a great place to start the refinance discussion, the addition of closing costs inherent to the transaction should cause you to pause before pulling the trigger. Every homeowner has a different situation in terms of equity accumulated in the home, time to repay, and total cost of their current mortgage, making the decision to refinance unique to each individual. However, being aware of the out of pocket costs necessary to close on a new mortgage through the process of refinancing should paint a clear picture as to if the transaction is worth it, or not.

To safeguard yourself from making a poor financial decision when it comes to refinancing your home, start with a lender you trust. If you can’t seem to get a clear answer as to what the refinance will ultimately cost, or you have a strong gut feeling that you are paying too much, ask! Lenders are required to provide full disclosure of all fees associated with a refinance transaction, just as they are with a new mortgage. It is also in your best interest to shop around for various lenders when starting down the road toward refinancing. You may be surprised the difference in costs associated with closing on the new loan, as well as the interest rate and repayment terms available. Above all else, plan to crunch the numbers prior to charging ahead with a refinance to ensure it is the best financial decision for your circumstances.

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Amex Business Green Rewards Card Review

For any business owner, having affordable access to funding is a key to ongoing success. The additional of a credit card geared specifically toward operating a business is ideal for making major purchases for the company without having to tap into precious cash on hand. Having the opportunity earn rewards on those credit card purchases for the business is beneficial as well, as it ultimately leads to valuable points that can be used for a variety of business – or personal – redemption.

American Express offers a number of credit cards designed with the business owner in mind. The Business Green Rewards credit card is a simple business card that provides a number of benefits and perks only found under the American Express name. But first, the card basics.

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The Ins and Outs of Business Green

True to the American Express way, the Business Green Rewards credit card is not truly a credit card. Instead, it operates as a charge card for business owners. This means that any purchases made with the Green Rewards card are to be paid in full by the time the due date rolls around, and balances are not carried forward from month to month. This allows American Express to offer the Business Green Rewards credit (charge) card to business owners without the confines of a spending or credit limit, and without any interest charges each billing cycle.

The absence of a spending limit is beneficial to business owners in times where cash flow is tight, but the Membership Rewards offered through American Express provide an additional perk to utilizing the Green Rewards card for the majority of business-related spending. Card members earn one point for each dollar spent on qualifying purchases. The spending categories that qualify for rewards points are generally in the realm of business purchases, making this card a great fit for business owners who buy often, or buy heavily for the company.

In addition, card members earn two points for each dollar spent on travel accommodations booked through the American Express Travel website. For business owners always on the go, the bonus points earned for travel purchases are a valuable added benefit. Regardless of how they are earned, accumulated Membership Rewards points can be used toward over a million reward options through American Express. Shopping and gift cards at partner merchants, restaurants, retailers and travel can all be purchased with Membership Rewards points. Card members also have the newly added option of paying with accumulated points through the American Express travel site when reservations or bookings are made.

Currently, American Express is offering a welcome bonus for new card members who apply for an accept the Green Rewards card. After the first qualifying purchase is made with the card within 365 days of account opening, 5,000 bonus Membership Rewards points are added to the account automatically.

Green Rewards Benefits

Business owners who are Green Rewards card members have access to a wide range of additional perks offered through the American Express program. Both mobile and tablet applications are available that make paying monthly bills, checking an account balance, reviewing benefits and general card management simple on the go. Card members can also establish account alerts that provide real-time information on payment due dates, irregular spending activity or purchases.

To assist business owners in maintaining a solid grip on purchase habits and total spending each bill cycle, American Express Business Green Rewards card members also have access to free features that include the ability to add a trusted partner as account manager. Green card account managers can handle everyday tasks related to the credit card, like making payment and disputing charges. ReceiptMatch is another great tool offered directly to Business Green Rewards card members that allows card members the ability to easily add receipts to an account and tag, note or manage transactions to ensure spending is monitored and controlled.

Additional cards can be authorized for use by card members, giving them the opportunity to earn additional rewards through employee spending. Fret not, however; employee cards can be set-up with specific spending limits and account alerts that let the business owner know who is spending on what each month, and to what extent.

One of the most helpful features of American Express is the OPEN Forum – a repository of articles and educational information focuses on financial management for business owners. Tools and advice are available at no additional cost to card members.

Finally, Business Green Rewards card members have built in purchase protection and extended warranty provisions up to certain limits on qualified purchases. Card members also have travel accident insurance, baggage insurance coverage, rental car loss and damage insurance as well as access to the Global Assist Hotline.

Green Rewards Card Costs

As a chard card, the American Express Business Green Rewards card does not accrue interest on outstanding balances; instead, card members are required to pay any accumulated spending in full each month. The Green Rewards card does carry an annual fee of $95, but the charge is waived for the first year for new card members. For business owners who plan to spend or travel heavily outside the United States, the Green Rewards card may not be the smartest option as it does impose foreign transaction fees of 2.7% on purchases made outside the country.

The American Express Business Green Rewards card does not have a spending or credit limit as a charge card, but card members should be aware that late payment fees apply. A charge of $38 or 2.99% of the outstanding balance, whichever is greater, is due on any payments made past the due date. Additionally, a returned payment fee of $38 applies.

Final Thoughts

The American Express Business Green Rewards charge card is a smart choice for business owners who like simplicity in a card and in their rewards program. The ability to earn two times the points on certain business-related categories allows card members to accumulate valuable points that can be redeemed for a wide range of rewards. Even more value is attached to travel purchases when made through the American Express Travel sit. However, for business owners who have concerns over steady cash flow and do minimal spending on travel, another business-focused credit card may be a better, more suitable choice.

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Comparing the Discover it Miles vs. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus

A number of varied travel credit cards are available to individuals with the wanderlust bug. Utilizing rewards credit cards with extensive travel benefits, from frequent flyer points bonuses or statement credits on travel related purchases, can have a major impact on the total cost of your next big trip. But, it can be a challenge to determine which travel credit card is truly the best in terms of rewards, extra perks, and costs. Let’s take a look at two heavy hitters in the travel rewards card genre: the Discover it Miles credit card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit card.
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It’s all about the Points

The Discover it Miles card is specifically designed for the traveler with a penchant for simplicity. As a flat rate rewards card, the Discover it Miles program allows card members the opportunity to earn 1.5 miles on each dollar spent, regardless of category or amount. There are no bonus categories to track on a quarterly basis, and no reduction in rewards earnings once points reach a certain level, making this card a smart choice. As an additional bonus for new card members, Discover is offering to automatically match all miles earned at the end of the first account year with a limit and without having to make a minimum dollar amount of purchases.

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus is also considered a flat rate rewards card, but offers 2 points for each dollar spent. There are no rotating categories that increase rewards potential, and no limit on how many miles can be earned in any given time period. Compared to the Discover it Miles credit card, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus program offers a bonus for new card members as well. After a minimum of $3,000 are spent in the first 90 days after account opening, card members with Barclaycard Arrival Plus earn 40,000 bonus miles.

The Discover it Miles credit card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit card differ in terms of miles redemption, despite being similar in terms of flat rate rewards. Discover it card members can redeem accumulated miles in any value, at any time, and miles never expire as long as the account remains in good standing. Redemption can be taken as a statement credit for travel related purchases, or as a cash back deposit into a checking or savings account. In addition, Discover it Miles members can receive up to $30 back each year for in-flight Wi-Fi purchases.

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit card requires a minimum of 10,000 miles to accumulate prior to card members having the opportunity to redeem. Barclaycard miles can only be redeemed for qualifying travel purchases made with the card, as a statement credit, which means only purchases of $100 or more that took place within the last 120 days. For new card members who do not end up qualifying for the bonus mile promotion, reaching the required minimum for miles redemption with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit card could present some challenges. However, Barclaycard Arrival Plus card members earn 5% in miles back that can be used for their next redemption, each and every time miles are redeemed.

Added Value through Member Benefits

Both Discover and Barclaycard offer attractive benefits for card members. First, both Discover and Barclaycard provide card members with free access to their individual FICO scores either through the respective mobile app or the desktop log-in. That’s where the benefit similarities end, as the travel credit cards differ in most other value-added aspects.

Discover it Miles card members have a variety of security features inherent to the card that make it appealing for those concerned about ongoing control. The Freeze It feature allows card members to prevent new purchases, cash advances or balance transfers on the card if it is temporarily lost or stolen, simply by selecting the option in the mobile app or online. Additionally, free overnight card replacement is available for all card members when needed. Discover also provides 24/7 monitoring of accounts to ensure no suspicious activity is taking place.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus card members also have access to a number of added benefits, including travel accident and trip cancellation insurance. Baggage delay insurance as well as auto rental collision damage waivers are also available to card members on the go. Barclaycard also provides $0 fraud liability on any unauthorized charges made with the card, providing added peace of mind for card members. Not found with Discover it Miles card members is the direct access to MasterCard World Elite Concierge and Luxury Travel Benefits that Barclaycard Arrival Plus members have automatically. This enhanced benefit is incredibly valuable to those who travel often or are seeking a unique experience while away.

The Dollars and Cents

The main difference between the Discover it Miles card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card is the cost. Barclaycard members are subject to an annual fee of $89, although it is waived for the first year the account is open; Discover it Miles card members do not pay an annual fee at all. Both card options offer no foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the United States – a lifesaver for those who travel abroad often.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit card members are subject to an APR for purchases and balance transfers of either 16.24% or 20.24%, based on creditworthiness. Discover it Miles card members start as low as 11.24% for purchase APRs, and can go as high as 23.24%, again based on credit history and score. The Discover it Miles credit card comes with a 0% introductory rate on purchases for the first 12 months, while the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card comes with a 0% balance transfer offer, also for the first 12 months.

Which is Right for You?

Both the Discover it Miles card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card are top contenders in the world of travel credit cards, but it is important to know what you want out of a card prior to applying. Although the Discover it Miles card comes with a lower rewards earning rate (1.5), the flexibility to redeem for statement credits or cash back is an attractive perk, as is the lack of an annual fee. For those who are strictly seeking out a travel rewards card and spend enough to justify the annual fee and high redemption barrier, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit card may be the better option.