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Applying for a Credit Card with Bad or No Credit

Bad credit or no credit — either way, it can be tough to get a credit card. But it is important to do so. Even if you don’t feel like you need a credit card, it remains the best way to build credit and improve your score. A sketchy credit score can keep you from getting favorable rates on loans in the future, or might prevent you from getting a loan at all.

Don’t despair. These easy steps will get a shiny new card in your hands in no time.

 

1. Reflect

If you are in the “bad credit” camp, take a moment to reflect upon why you are trying to get a credit card. If it’s because you are ready to turn your life around and build your credibility, then good for you! Skip to the next section.

But if it’s because you’ve got your eyes on some nice big purchases that you’re “just sure” you can pay off later in the year when that cash cow hits — beware. You’re playing a dangerous mind game with yourself. You are scamming yourself. Thinking like that will only get you deeper into debt and make your credit score worse. And no, it’s not “different this time.”

Realize that once you get this card, you will need to treat it like a debit card. That means only charging things that you actually currently have the money in hand to pay for. Be prepared to pay off your balance every month, in full. At the very least, pay more than the minimum payment, and never less, unless you want your credit score to sink even further. When this gets difficult, motivate yourself. Look up the sweet low rates you could get on auto loans or mortgages if only you had a good credit score. Imagine the feeling of saving all that money, of not handing over extra cash in the form of interest to the banks for literally no reason. Picture the respect you will command and how good it will feel.

Got it? Good.

 

2. Prepare

First, find out what your credit score is. Your credit score is 99% of why you will be approved or denied for any given card. Federal law let you get three free credit reports per year, one from each major credit bureau — just head to AnnualCreditReport.com to download your free report. But a credit report doesn’t include your credit score. Unfortunately, for that you will have to cough up some cash. MyFICO will give you a credit score for $16. Or you can sign up for a trial membership and cancel within 10 days. There are places on the internet that will offer you a free credit score, but that is only an estimate. For you, it’s probably worth the money/effort to obtain the real deal, because the more you know, the more efficient your application process will be. Knowledge is power.

With your credit score in hand, you’re ready to start looking at cards, keeping in mind these tips:

  • Always read the “Schumer box” carefully. It’s found under Terms & Conditions and displays vital info such as APR, fees, and more.
  • Be on your toes — scam artists prey on people who are desperate. Make sure you’re applying to a real credit card, especially if it looks too good to be true.
  • Read credit card reviews — unlike the issuer they are not invested in making the card look good.
  • Look for a card with a grace period. Some cards, specifically secured ones, have no grace period. That means you start accumulating interest charges on your purchases right away, instead of having a couple weeks to pay it off. Talk about a rip-off.
  • Make sure the card reports to the three major credit bureaus. If it doesn’t, you will not build your credit by having it. Most major banks do. If you are unsure, call and ask.
  • Look for a card with a conversion option. This means that the card will give you the option to convert to a higher credit limit after you’ve shown consistent good payments for a period of time, usually several months to a year.

 

3. Shop Around

You might think that you don’t have many options. Think again! They make credit cards specifically for people like you. In fact, in a way, it’s too easy. You’re a target. They know you’re desperate. Credit cards for bad credit often come with high fees and high interest rates — some even charge monthly fees. It pays to do a bit of research, because every percentage point you will save in fees and interest will count. Here are some places to start looking:

  • Do not apply for prepaid cards. These are not a credit product and thus do not report to the credit bureaus.
  • If you are a student, know that there are a bunch of cards made specifically for students that don’t expect you to have much of a credit history and are usually more forgiving. You can check out our top pick here.
  • Some retail stores issue limited purpose credit cards specifically for their store. These can be easier to get for someone with bad credit. Beware though — such ‘catalog’ cards often don’t report to the credit bureaus.
  • Along the same lines, gasoline companies issue easier-to-get cards.
  • Try applying with a company that you already have a good business relationship with. Think phone, insurance, bank, etc. A good payment history might sway them to give you a card despite your score.
  • Credit unions are a good option. If you have any special affiliation, such as being a student, in the military, or in a specific trade, there is likely a local credit union for you. Google it.
  • A last resort would be a subprime or “fee harvester” card. They charge super high upfront fees that eat up your credit limit. Federal law limits the fees to 25% of the credit limit, but some work around that by charging fees before the card is even issued! Stay away if you can.
  • If your credit score is below 580, it will be very tough for you to find an unsecured card. (See next section)

 

3. Consider a Secured Credit Card

A secured credit card is one that requires a security deposit upfront. The deposit is usually a couple hundred dollars and totally refundable once you close the account. It serves as collateral, decreasing the risk for the card issuer in case you don’t make your payments. In fact, most secured credit cards only let you borrow as much as you put in. This might seem like being your own lender, but unlike a prepaid card, secured cards help build your credit score. That is, provided you keep up with payments, which you still have to do.

Unfortunately, most secured credit cards also come with annual fees, application fees, and processing fees. On top of that, the interest rate is high — often between 20% and 30%. But that shouldn’t matter to you because you will pay off your balance in full every month. (See step 1.) Despite the large upfront costs, it is still worth it to get a secured credit card if that’s what it’s come to. Start setting aside some money each month until you have $300 to put towards getting one.

And be sure to check out our top pick for a secured credit card.

 

4. Apply

Here are some guidelines to help your application process:

  • You have the best chance of approval if you have been employed for a while, lived at the same address for a year, have a checking and savings account in the bank, pay your bills on time, and don’t have a lot of recent inquiries, which look a little sketchy.
  • If you can, get a friend or family member to cosign. Issuers will grant a card to someone with bad credit if they have someone with good credit cosigning. Just make sure the company will report payment information for your report as well as your cosigner.
  • If your bad credit was caused by an honest struggle, such as job loss, divorce, or taking care of a sick family member, by all means say so! You can attach a statement of explanation to your credit report. Be sure to do so for each of the 3 major bureaus.
  • Ask to get the annual fee waived. Real warm-blooded people look through these, and sometimes take pity.

 

5. Enjoy

Once you have your shiny new credit card, enjoy it — responsibly, that is. Again, only charge purchases you are making anyway, and then pay them. Regular payments will raise your credit score and avoid interest charges, which can really pile up. Hopefully you got a card with a conversion option that will reward you for your good behavior. If not, start applying for normal cards once your score reaches 600 or so. Good luck!

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Get the Whole Story on Your Credit Card APR

Many people believe that to calculate how much interest they pay per month, they simply have to divide the APR by 12. Not so. APR, or annual percentage rate, is the quoted rate of interest that you pay over a year. But the quoted interest rate doesn’t precisely match up to what you actually pay over the course of the year. That’s because credit cards bill you 12 times in a year. Therefore, the interest is compounded 12 times, as well, leading to a slightly larger sum.

The actual amount of interest paid over the year is called the EAR, or effective annual rate. Calculating the EAR is easy, but first, let’s examine why this happens.

An Example

Imagine that you lend someone $100 with an APR of 10%. You only want to collect once a year. Come December, your borrower pays you back the $100, plus 10% — that is, $10. So you get $110 total. A simple way to compute this would be multiplying your owed amount by 1.10.

 End of one year: $100 x 1.10 = $110 

Now imagine that instead of once a year, you want to collect every six months, or twice a year. Since you are billing twice a year, you would charge half the yearly interest rate each time. After the first six months, the amount owed to you would be the principal (original amount borrowed) plus half of the APR (half of 10% is 5%).

 After first 6 months: $100 x 1.05 = $105

 Cool. Now fast forward to the end of the year. You are owed $105, and it is time to calculate the rest of the interest — the other 5%. This time the calculation looks like this:

After second 6 months: $105 x 1.05 = $110.25

 That’s $.25 more than if you had only billed once, at the end of the year. So the effective annual rate is actually 10.25%, rather than 10%.

What might this look like with realistic credit card numbers? Let’s say you owe $4500 on a credit card with an APR of 15%. Without calculating EAR, you might think that the yearly amount of interest you accrue is: $4500 x 1.15 = $675. But if you knew how to calculate EAR, you would know that what you are actually paying in interest over the course of the year is: $4500 x 1.16075 = $723.37.

Calculating Effective Annual Rate

Calculating EAR is simple and can save you money. Just follow these steps:

1. Convert your APR into decimal form.

15% = .15

2. Divide that number by the number of billing cycles in a year. (For credit cards, that’s 12, because it bills every month.)

.15/12 = .0125

3. Add this number to 1.

.0125 + 1 = 1.0125

4. Take this number and raise it to the power of the number of billing cycles in a year. (Again, that would be 12 for credit cards.)

1.0125 ^ 12 = 1.16075

5. Now subtract 1 and you’ve got your EAR.

1.16075 − 1 = .16075 or 16.075%

 

Here’s the formula for a credit card or other loan that bills monthly:

[ 1 + (APR/12) ]¹²  −  1  =  EAR

 

Of course, the way to avoid compounding interest is not letting it stretch out month after month. In fact, we recommend always paying every statement bill in full every month. Bam, no interest at all — you don’t even need to care what your APR or EAR is if you always pay in full every month.

Happy budgeting!

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United MileagePlus Explorer: globe-trot with style

Got wanderlust? Scratch the itch on a dime when you take advantage of a miles-based rewards program. The United MileagePlus Explorer credit card understands what frequent travelers need out of an airline card. Yes, it does come with a relatively high annual fee at $95 (waived for the first year), but also with a relatively low variable APR of 15.24%. And the perks alone justify paying the annual fee to keep this card in your wallet. Plus, they recently eliminated the foreign transaction fee, which means that you can use this card anywhere on the globe without penalty.

 

Earning miles

The gig is simple: get 2 miles per $1 spent on any United ticket, and 1 mile per $1 on any other purchase. Beware: some United purchases off discount travel sites don’t qualify for the double point bonus. These miles don’t expire and have no limit, so cash out when you’re ready. They can be redeemed through the MileagePlus Program for United tickets/upgrades, partner flights, merchandise, hotel stays, or car rentals.

The United MileagePlus Explorer card has some sweet bonus mile packages, as well. Get 30,000 bonus miles after spending $1000 in the first 3 months — that’s more than enough for a round-trip domestic flight or one-way ticket to Europe! (And no, balance transfers do not count towards this minimum spend.) Nab another 5,000 bonus miles once you both make a purchase and add an authorized user in the first 3 months. And those big spenders will enjoy 10,000 bonus miles after spending $25,000 in a calendar year. Altogether, that makes a potential 45,000 bonus miles!

 

Perks

Here’s where this card really shines. The United MileagePlus Explorer card’s perks blow the competitors out of the water. When you sign up, and every year thereafter, you get 2 one-time-use passes to the United Club. That’s right, skip the typical airport misery and wait for your plane in style — for free! The United Club boasts free wifi, private meeting rooms, and complimentary snacks and beverages, and more. Plus, you and a companion on the same reservation will enjoy getting on your flight before general boarding and, as long as the tickets were purchased with the Explorer card, checking one bag each for free.

Not to mention that since this credit card bears the Visa Signature name, it comes with the accompanying benefits including concierge service, purchase protections, some hotel/rental car discounts, and automatic insurance for lost baggage, travel accidents, and rental cars.

 

Final Verdict

If you are looking around for a solid airline card, this is it. United flights can take you all over the world and now their credit card can be used internationally with no foreign transaction fee. Share the wealth — let your travel buddies share in your perks. Just because you want to travel inexpensively doesn’t mean it has to be without style.

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Retirement Steps You Should Take by Your 40s

Retirement shouldn’t be an un-reachable dream for Americans. But it’s true that the sooner you start, the better. By the time you’re in your 40s, there are some steps you should make toward your retirement. But don’t fret – you can begin your retirement planning today, and you do not have to start earning a six-figure income to accomplish it. With focus, discipline, and structure – your dreams of traveling the world, or just living comfortably at home, aren’t as far away as you think.

The Planning Process

  1. First, figure out where you stand. It’s recommended that by the time you’re 40 years old, you have accumulated twice your annual salary.  Check your savings accounts and investments. Write these numbers down and move onto the next step.
  2. The next step is to start planning how you’re going to pay off your debt.  This task always seems daunting depending how much you have left to reduce, but it is absolutely an investment with returns. Doing this allows you to get the most out of your retirement savings. If you have any balances on a credit card with a high interest rate, your best move is going to transfer the balance to another credit card with a 0% introductory APR. The intro offer lasts a few months most of the time, so determine how much you need to pay off every month until the offer runs out.

There isn’t a magic potion to paying off debt and it works the same for everyone, despite their financial status: Budget a plan with your current finances that allows you to pay your current necessities/investments, debt, and savings.

Now What?

You’ve reduced your debt, you know where you stand – what’s next?

  1. This is a perfect time to start increasing your contributions to your retirement plan.  This is your true retirement savings…the 401(k), 403(b), and 457s. By increasing your contributions, you don’t need to go crazy right before retirement trying to save every penny.  Really push the limits on how much you can “pay yourself” to get your contributions matched by your employer.
  2. Making sure you’re insured is another very simple way to ensure there’s a much less dent in the future when “emergencies” arrive. Health, car, and house emergencies are always the biggest reasons people have for not moving forward in their retirement planning.
  3. Investing in real estate (or even just investing in your own home) is an opportunity that comes, especially in recessions. You want to be an “opportunist buyer” and take advantage of these economic times. If you don’t think the opportunity is there, look at what has been happening in Detroit.
  4. Earning extra money at this point is an obvious, but wise move as well.  We aren’t talking about getting a part-time job somewhere – we’re saying if you’re not looking at your investment options now, you are really pushing it. Meet with a financial planner to discuss new investments. Whether it’s real estate or stock, you’re at a prime age to begin investing and allowing those investments to grow. Putting it off reduces the time for growth and increases your risk.

While getting covered and investing into retirement planning doesn’t provide instant, tangible profits – it’s a message you’ll one day pass onto your children.

Bottom Line

If you’re in your 20s and 30s, now is the absolute perfect time to launch your retirement plans.  If you’re in your 40s, go full force with these simple steps. If you want a comfortable retirement (meaning – you’re not wondering what your life will look like in 10 years when you’re 60), then now is the time.

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Barclay Rewards MasterCard for Average Credit: inexpensive and rewarding

Barclays offers rewards credit cards for your specific credit situation, and we are loving their Barclaycard® Rewards MasterCard® – Average Credit. If you’ve climbed up to average credit from a debt pitfall, you’ll delight in the ability to transfer a balance without incurring interest.

 

Rewards

We like rewards systems that are simple and don’t entrap you with weird fees or limits. That’s precisely what the Barclaycard offers. There are no fees associated with the rewards program whatsoever, and no limits on how much you can accumulate or when you have to redeem. The schedule gives you 1 point per dollar spent, with double points on gas, groceries, and interestingly enough, utilities. Paying bills never felt so good. However, discount stores, superstores like Wal-Mart, and warehouse clubs like Costco don’t get counted for double points.

The system is flexible, too. You can redeem for gift cards, merchandise, or even flights (with no blackout dates!). The rewards can also pay for any purchase you made in the last 30 days that cost at least $25. Or simply put the points towards a statement credit — though they can’t count towards your minimum payment. Speaking of which, if you don’t pay the minimum or pay it late, you can’t redeem any rewards that billing cycle. And if you don’t use the card for 3 months, your account could be labeled as inactive and you lose all of the rewards accumulated thus far. They’re not messing around.

 

The Basics

Barclays charges $35 for late payments and returned payments. This card also has a 3% fee on foreign transactions. Not the best for traveling. Barclays also isn’t known for giving out credit line increases very often, so this card is nothing to get ambitious about. But with no annual fee, it’s a safe bet.

 

Final Verdict

The Barclaycard for Average Credit is somewhat, well… average. But hey, that’s a good thing! This card is fair, simple, and flexible. If you’ve got solid credit, you understand the value of a sure thing. Plus, with a $0 annual fee, you could always use the card for its bonus categories and leave it at that. The utilities bonus is particularly unique.

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20 Ways to Make Extra Cash Now

If you’re looking for ways to get extra money, you’re probably tired of hearing “get a second job” or “get a better job.” There are definitely other creative ways you can have extra money in your bank account every month without having to give away your dog (or your children).  Just remember, if you raise money online, or use websites like AirBnb, you will need to set aside money for taxes. You don’t want to be hit with that at the end of the year.

 

  1. Pay off your debt

    This seems obvious, or it may seem like it’s in the wrong place since you’re looking for ways to earn extra money, not spend it. Well, by paying off your debt and taking care of your credit score, you’re actually giving yourself a much better chance of investing and refinancing, not to mention dodging those interest payments in the future. Paying off your debt is probably the most important investment you can make right now.

  2. Ask for a raise

    If you think this seems scary, try exhausting all of your time trying to get a new, better job. The worst that can happen is your boss says no. Managers are no strangers to employees asking for higher pay. Start making movements at work, make sure your A-game is on, and ask for a raise.

  3. Sell your stuff

    You can rake in a ton of extra cash off stuff that, let’s face it… you don’t need. If you have children, make it fun for them. For every toy they sell, they will get a percentage from it. Or, create a fun “point system” that allows them certain privileges. Get creative and include the whole family in on this. You can have a garage sale, or you can sell online, at places like Craigslist, Ebay, or Etsy (if it’s crafty or vintage, especially). Be careful about selling online. Most places, besides Craigslist, charge per listing. Go online for rare items and collectibles. Everything else can be in a garage sale. Best sellers include workout equipment, some furniture (especially in college towns), movies, etc. Don’t pressure yourself, or anyone, to sell things. There are still other ways to earn some extra cash!

  4. Rent out your space

    Sites like AirBnb make it so easy for you to rent out a room, or even your entire home. If you do rent out your space, stick with a legitimate site like AirBnb and stay away from sites like Craigslist or other “free” sites. While tempting, it won’t be worth it if you fall prey to theft or vandalism.

  5. Sell your skills

    Whether you have a green thumb or are a whiz in the kitchen – you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to sell your skills. With a “side job” like this, you are your own boss, the job works with your schedule, and you don’t even need any training. You just have to do it.

  6. Sit.

    Not on your ass, but house/dog/babysit. This is pretty much all profit for you, and as easy as these things are – they’re always needed! Brush up on your skills to ensure you’re called back. Make sure everything is done for the owners at higher standards than your own, and try not to ruin their kids.

  7. Refinancing your mortgage

    There isn’t a better time than now to start looking ahead and checking whether or not refinancing would help you save money in the long run. By doing this now, you’re taking advantage of incredibly low interest rates, which means smaller monthly payments. That’s what we call “profit!”

  8. Be a mover

    This is some major manual labor but if you can lift somewhat-heavy things, then it could be perfect for you and some friends to get in on. Get about 2-3 other physically-capable buddies and a truck, and you’re set.  The hardest part is splitting the cost between your friends, so this is something you want to have a full day/weekend of to make it really worth it. This would require marketing yourself online, in places like Craigslist.

  9. Extreme couponing/re-evaluate your shopping

    Couponing isn’t just for crazy grocery ladies. Get in on the craze, and you could possibly save hundreds. This does require a lot of time and effort, but if your household’s grocery bill is quite high, it’s probably worth it. If you’re single, probably not. Whether you go for extreme couponing or not, taking time out to re-evaluate your shopping habits can save you a ton of money. Go for generic brands, wait for sales, attempt recipes requiring less ingredients, etc.

  10. Get in on rewards credit cards

    Rewards, especially cash rewards, are basically free money. If you have a card that gives cash back, and you’re not taking advantage of that, please do so. If you don’t, now is the time to start. Get a cash back card that would earn on something you purchase regularly anyway – like groceries and gas. If you have trips coming up, take advantage of rewards cards that offer great sign-up bonuses that could pay for your upcoming travel.

  11. Cancel your auto-payments

    More than likely, you’re getting money automatically drafted from your account that you’re not aware of and that you don’t really need.

  12. Cancel your cable

    So, they sold you a “bundle” package but it came with a pointless landline, right? Cutting your cable out of your expenses can mean “huge savings” every month. Also remember that by canceling your cable, it doesn’t mean you must forever go without your favorite shows. Feel free to replace with less expensive streaming services like Netflix or Hulu, so you can get your fix.

  13. Pawn your electronics

    Do you still use a GPS navigator? There isn’t really a need anymore, with the abundance of smart phones. Got more than one TV? Sell or pawn the others. Honestly, what are you going to do with two copies of Die Hard? Pawn shops usually offer $1 for DVDs, so get rid of the old DVDs that you are never going to watch, and especially the duplicates.

  14. Consign your clothes

    Your city has consignment places, like Plato’s Closet, that will offer you money for the clothes you no longer wear. They usually don’t pay for old raggedy clothes and Hawaiian button-ups, so pick out clothes that are current but that you can go without. Of course, don’t expect to get retail price.

  15. Get your projects funded

    If you’re a creative type looking to raise money for a certain project, sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo allow you to “present” your endeavor to the Internet world and people can pledge to provide the funds needed. If you don’t raise enough funds to meet your goal, then no one is committed to paying.

  16. Advertise your children

    If your children are old enough to babysit or cut grass, put those kids to work! This would be a great time to teach them about budgeting, and having your kids making extra money means they learn about “buying their stuff for a while.” We’re not talking making your children support themselves, but if you’re at the mall and they demand a milkshake, they can pay for it. Print out some business cards/flyers and have them pass along their “resumes” to your neighbors.  Ask any adult who was brought up making their own money – they’ll all agree they are appreciative of their upbringing.

  17. Become a dog-walker

    Yes, this is needed and is separate from “dog-sitting” which takes usually a full day or more. Dog-walkers are paid per walk or time/length of walk and it’s incredibly easy and fast money. This is especially great if you live in a big city.

  18. Teach and tutor

    Tutoring for exams and subjects is an often overlooked opportunity. If you’re good at planning and teaching, then this is a great way to earn extra money. If you have a skill such as piano or even singing, share with others!

  19. Donate your… self

    Sperm, blood, plasma… all these things pay cash. Go to a legit clinic, obviously. Also, participating in clinical research provides extra money, sometimes thousands of dollars (depending on the study).  Do this at your own risk!

  20. Get a seasonal, part-time job

    Get something flexible and seasonal. This is preferred, but not required of course. Start asking your friends and family if they know of any openings for a few months. Tip jobs are easy money and almost always flexible, but also not guaranteed so it makes it harder to budget.

 

Just remember that whatever you do to earn extra cash, if you aren’t planning beforehand, you won’t know how much you need to earn. Staying on top of your books daily (not monthly or quarterly) is quite possibly the most profitable thing you can do in your personal and professional life.

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Chase Sapphire Preferred: a true-blue winner 2014

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is hands down the best personal rewards credit card! Hands down. The Sapphire Preferred has a sign-up bonus that’s worth up to $450 in cash, or even more in travel rewards! Solid. Here’s my review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred rewards credit card.

And you’re sure to turn heads with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card because it actually sports actual metal inside, so it’s heavy. Combine that with a perfect sapphire face (the numbers are on the back), and you’re sure to turn heads. But beauty is only skin deep.

The real benefits of the Sapphire Preferred include a generous rewards schedule, tons of perks, and incredible flexibility, not to mention the whopper of a sign-up offer: get 40,000 bonus points when you spend $3000 in purchases the first 3 months. That’s at the very least $400 worth of credit – or possibly $500. That’s because this card also allows you 20% off all travel booked through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards website, but the real value is when transfer your Ultimate Rewards points out to one of the 11 transfer partners like United, Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott, and more.

And if that isn’t enough, Chase now offers an additional 5,000 points when you add an authorized user and they make a purchase within the same 3 months. Nice! Other features like chip and signature technology and no foreign transaction fees make this a winner for traveling abroad. Let’s take a look at the other benefits that make the Sapphire shine.

Link: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

 

Points Perks

The rewards program gives you one point per one dollar spent on the card. But wait: this pretty blue card also gives you double points on all travel and dining purchases. Yes, that includes all travel expenses such as rental cars, trains, cruises, and everything from fine restaurants to fast food. And on airfare and hotels, you can nab a third point per dollar when you book through Ultimate Rewards. In fact, Ultimate Rewards pays off in other ways too: purchases made through the shopping portal with your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card often earn extra promotion points, up to 10 per dollar!

With how convenient online shopping has become, this alone makes Sapphire Preferred one of the best rewards cards out there. Even more rewards: interestingly, this card offers an annual “dividend” on your points.

Transfer Partners

When it comes time to spend those points, you will enjoy no foreign transaction fees and no blackout dates — book travel that suits your needs. Chase also offers amazing flexibility, as the points can be transferred to any of the following participating frequent traveler programs with no accompanying fees:

 

Ultimate-Rewards-Transfer-Partners
Ultimate-Rewards-Transfer-Partners

 

All transfers are final, so be make sure you have a booking in mind before transferring. When you transfer to another program, you are missing out on that sweet 20% off discount available through Ultimate Rewards. On the other hand, with a little bit of research, you might find an even better deal among all the choices of transfer partners. So sniff around!

 

Customer Service

Even during your trips, this card continues to serve you. Any tickets purchased through the card come with free travel insurance in case of cancellation. Similarly, auto rentals also come with collision insurance. They cover travel accidents and lost or stolen luggage, and will reimburse you for expenses resulting from trip delays, including accommodations, meals, or having to buy items if your baggage gets delayed. In addition, Sapphire Preferred customers can dial a phone number and reach a real live person 24/7 without having to dial through any menus! These customer service agents offer a wide range of services, including emergency service coordination and concierge-like services including booking, directories, and advising you on everything from entertainment to gifts. On that note, customers also gain access to exclusive entertainment deals and events. Fancy!

If you would rather redeem your points on other things besides travel, the card offers many choices, including gift cards, merchandise, or just simple old cash back. The Sapphire Preferred card also comes with non-travel benefits. Enjoy the peace of mind that comes with: zero liability for unauthorized purchases, automatic extended warranties, refunds if the price on your purchase drops in the first 90 days, and refunds if the seller refuses you one.

 

Final Verdict

All in all, we think the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card card is a sure bet. It does come with a $95 annual fee which is waived the first year, but with all these benefits, it pays for itself — totally worth keeping. Conveniently, the annual fee is waived the first year, so you won’t lose out by just giving it a try. If you think the Chase Sapphire Preferred is right for you – you can click the link below to apply or see more details.

Apply Now:  Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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5 Ways to Earn More Rewards Without Extra Spending

Rewards cards are the best, right?  We’d like to give whoever came up with the idea a big kiss on the lips. Ok, maybe just a hug. 

Our delight in rewards cards is for one big obvious reason: spending that we would do anyway now reaps rewards. We get rewarded for spending money! What an amazing concept.

But what we have to be careful of in all of this excitement is…dun, dun, dun…overspending to reap rewards. None of us are immune to it. The thought goes something like this: “I don’t really need this, but at least I’m earning points.” Or, “It costs a little more than I would normally spend, but I’ll get it back anyway with the extra points I earn.” Wrong.

You will get something back, but if you’re spending more than you can pay off, you’ll get debt with interest and fees on top of it, too.

But the thing is, you don’t have to spend more to reap the awesome rewards. If you can train your mind to resist the extra spending impulse, you can enjoy this beautiful thing called rewards cards and stay debt-free.

Here are some tips on reaping rewards without extra spending.

1. Use The Right Card

Obviously, you need to have and use the right cards. Rewards cards come in all different shapes and sizes, so first make sure you have the one that makes the most sense for your spending. Is your spending pretty evenly distributed, or do you tend to spend quite a bit on certain categories? Maybe you have a business card and spend a lot on office supplies. In this case, it would make a lot of sense to get a credit card that offers extra points for purchases made at office supply stores, like the 5x points you get with the Chase Ink Business Cards. Maybe you have 7 kids and your trips to the grocery store are as frequent as that awful Kesha song on the radio. In that case, you’d benefit from a card with a groceries category bonus, like the American Express Blu Card. This idea is pretty straightforward. And if you have multiple cards with different bonus categories, make sure you know what they are and that you’re using the right one. For instance, that Sapphire Preferred won’t do you much good at the grocery store (earning just 1 point), but it will on eating out (earning 2x points). Got it?

2. Make Large Purchases on Your Card

If you’re still writing checks or using bill pay through your online banking, there are many more rewards to be earned for you. Start running your larger purchases through your credit card instead of your checking account. While services like paypal charge you a fee, you can use Amazon Payments for payments of up to $1,000 for no fee! Want to earn points on your mortgage but don’t want to pay a fee? Bluebird by American Express is a good option. You can buy Vanilla reload cards to fund your Bluebird account and then pay your mortgage from there. You’ll earn points on the Vanilla cards that you purchase to fund the account. Pretty nifty. Other large payments you could make: car payments, school loan payments, insurance, medical bills, and some utilities.

3. Use Rewards Program Shopping Portals

If you’re a member of a rewards program, chances are they have an online shopping portal that offers you extra points for shopping through them. Sometimes these portals offer nice bonuses at certain stores for a limited time, so taking advantage of these offers can mean way more points than you would earn by shopping at the store directly. For example, if the Ultimate Rewards shopping mall is offering 10x points at Kohl’s, and you would shop there anyway, why not take advantage of the extra points? Plus, if you use your rewards card to pay, that’s even more points earned (especially if that card has a category bonus that includes the store you’re buying from). That’s what they call “double dipping” and we like it.

4. Pay For Your Friends

If you take trips with friends or family, this is the perfect chance to boost your points and still get your cash back. Pay for your friend’s hotel, airfare and other expenses using your credit card and have them reimburse you in cash. No extra expense to them and none to you. Or offer to pay for smaller purchases, like meals or movie tickets, and reap the rewards. This is a total win in our book, assuming your friends are trustworthy and will pay you back.

5. Pay Off Your Cards

Bottom Line: Any rewards you earn will be negated by debt, so don’t even mess with this rewards reaping lifestyle if you aren’t able to pay off your credit card bills in full at the end of each month. If you have a 0% introductory APR card that earns you rewards like the Discover it card, then you’ll be ok until that introductory period is up. But we suggest forming the habit of paying off your bills in full, and keeping it. If you tend to carry a balance, rewards cards aren’t for you.

 

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Discover it Card Review: over a year without interest stress

Discover what? Why, over a year with no interest, that’s what. Here’s our review of the Discover it rewards credit card.

 

Apply Now: Discover it®

 

The Discover it® credit card is brand new for 2014 and better than ever. If you are either a) trying to get out runaway credit card debt or b) looking to make a big purchase, then listen up because you’re going to love this. The Discover it card offers a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 14 months. That’s over a year of not having to worry about interest! Sure, the balance transfers still charge a 3% fee, but that is most likely way better than the high interest you would be paying on that otherwise. (If not, give us a call — we want to hop on that train!)

Also note that this card comes in an alternate version wherein you can get the introductory 0% APR on balance transfers for a whopping 18 months in exchange for dropping the time it’s applied to purchases down to 6 months.

The Skinny

After the lengthy 14 months is up, a variable APR kicks in that’s dependent on your credit score. This can dip as low 10.99%, quite a competitive rate. Not everybody likes the sound of a variable APR, but at least Discover won’t increase your rate when you pay late. The first late payment doesn’t even bring a fee. The Discover it card is very light on fees in general — you can expect no over-limit fee, no phone payment fee, no annual fee, and no foreign transaction fee.

Perks

Discover the warm embrace of security. This credit card automatically covers you for up to $500,000 in flight accident insurance. It also sports car rental insurance and many fraud protection services, including a guarantee that you won’t pay a single cent for unauthorized charges. On the retail side, you get a $500 protection for 90 days on qualifying purchases that covers theft, damage, price drops, or refused refunds. They will also top off the manufacturer’s warranty with an extra year. All this for free.

Plus, enjoy flexibility. You can pay either by phone or online right up until midnight on your due date, which you select. Confused? There is US-based customer service available 24/7. Desperate? They will even work with you if you experience job loss or other financial difficulty, lowering your rate or payments. Not to mention that this card prints the info on the back, leaving a pretty and sleek face.

While it is true that Discover isn’t as widely accepted as MasterCard or Visa, it’s been catching up. The brand is now accepted at over 8 million merchants nationwide, as well as 94% of the top 1,000 online retailers.

Rewards

What, you thought that with such a generous introductory APR, there surely wasn’t a rewards program to boot? Think again. That’s right, with the Discover it credit card you can recover from debt or pay off your big purchases and earn cash for it at the same time! Get 5% cash back on categories that revolve every quarter. There is a maximum on the 5% rate for each category (typically up to $1,500) and you do have to log in and sign up for each one, each quarter. Up for the rest of 2013 is gas stations and then “holiday shopping.” All other purchases, including the category purchases in excess of the max, earn a flat 1% cash back.

Get even more rewards — to the tune of 5% to 20% cash back — at Discover’s online shopping site, ShopDiscover. This portal covers basically all the major online retailers, but if you want to see for yourself, check out the exhaustive list here. You can redeem your rewards for merchandise, Amazon credit, or cash in the form of direct deposit or credits to your account in $50 increments. Another tantalizing option is gift cards, with many merchants offering double cash back value! Sweet.

Unfortunately, there is no sign up bonus — boo. If at any point you feel confused by all this, the card also comes with free access to Cashback Concierge, who will give you a 1-on-1 online tour to show you how to maximize your rewards for your spending.

Final Verdict

That 14 month introductory 0% APR is pretty tough to beat. This may just be the credit card you’ve been looking for. Enjoy a year without interest stress and get cash for it too. Discover shopping guilt-free again.

 

Apply Now: Discover it®

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5 Common Financial Mistakes You Might Be Making

Things are not always as they appear. In the often-confusing world of finance, this means a lot of well-meaning advice is followed because it seems logical enough. A lot of these pieces of wisdom, however, deserve a second look.

 

1. “Don’t use credit cards – you’ll be paying off that interest long after you’re tired of what you bought!”

If not under control, credit card debt can be quick to accumulate and slow to trim down. The easiest temptation to resist is the one that simply isn’t there. If you have trouble with the “pay it later” impulse, it might be best to stay away from the too-convenient cards, or at least make them a “sometimes treat.”

However, if you are careful with your money – and we suspect most of our readers are – using a credit card can bring benefits. Only charging what you can afford, you can easily build up your credit score. Not having to carry cash can also be very convenient. And since many cards now offer rewards programs that allow you to accumulate cash or other goodies for each qualifying purchase, you could actually get some return on your dollar by using credit cards. Putting your expenses on an airline rewards card, for example, could mean you rack up enough miles by the end of each year to take a free vacation! Just be careful not to fall into the trap of spending more than you can pay off just to accumulate rewards.

The keen budgeter would also enjoy those cards that offer end-of-year summaries, which allow you to track your spending through different categories. Again, you can enjoy the convenience of a credit card while getting rewards and building your credit score as long as the debt is kept in check.

 

2. “It’s more important to pay off debt than to save for retirement.”

At first blush, this seems like good advice even to the dedicated number-cruncher. If your credit card debt is accumulating interest at, say, 16%, while the market offers an average return of 8%, it seems wise to make paying off the card a higher priority. But when it comes to personal finance, it’s important to consider all the numbers.

401(k)’s and other tax-advantaged retirement plans come with tax breaks. These deductions usually equal the saver’s federal tax bracket. On top of that, if you happen to be either a) single with an adjusted gross income of up to $27,750, or b) married with adjusted gross incomes of up to $55,500, then you qualify for an additional tax break called the Savers Credit, worth 10% to 50% of your contribution. If your employer offers a match (typically something like 50% on the first 6% of your salary), then that represents an immediate 50% return for you.

But the greatest value here is in the years of tax-deferred growth. Einstein once called compound interest the greatest invention of all time. With compounded returns, your returns themselves earn returns, snowballing your wealth. However, this relies above all on time, and if your contributions are not there to begin with, nothing is going to get compounded. In other words, earlier is better. The longer you wait to contribute, the more you’ll have to contribute later. If you wait until 35 to begin saving, you might have to set aside 20% or more of your income just to retire at 65.

Prioritize your retirement, even if it means paying down debt more slowly, and definitely try to avoid taking money out of your retirement account to pay off debt, as in a 401(k) loan. You’ll be thankful you did.

 

3. “You should set aside 10% for retirement.”

The “10% rule” is often-quoted because it fits most people. But when it comes to personal finance, figuring out what is best for your particular situation is all-important. Here are some things to consider when figuring out how much to set aside:

  • What will my actual needs during retirement be? (If you expect circumstances to bring extra expenses, or if you simply have high expectations, you will likely need more than 10%.)
  • How much pension income am I expecting?
  • How large are my expected benefits from Social Security?

Use these answers to determine the right number for you.

 

4. “Buy a home and pay off the mortgage as quick as possible – it’s a great investment!”

Most people consider owning property to be a foolproof investment. The truth is that normally home prices increase at a rate barely above inflation. In addition, owning a home comes with a myriad of expenses, such as remodeling, inspections, insurance, (often not foreseen) repairs, and of course, property taxes. There are areas where people have seen considerable return on their homes, but there are also areas where people have lost money due to plummeting home prices. Buying a house is nowhere close to a sure thing in terms of investment, so make sure it’s a choice that is right for your family and circumstances.

If you have taken that plunge, paying off your mortgage as quickly as possible can seem like a no-brainer on paper. For a typical example, one extra payment a year on a $200,000 loan can save 6 years of payment and $56,000 in interest (based on a 30 year term at 6.5% interest)! However, you should also consider alternative ways that money could be spent:

  • Investing can bring a better return than the savings in interest payments
  • Growing your nest egg
  • Paying off other debt, which usually carries higher interest and unlike mortgages, is not tax-deductible
  • Insuring yourself by taking out better policies or simply building an emergency fund

 

5. “If you have a pulse, you need life insurance!”

Actually, the only people who need life insurance are those who are providing an income stream that is vital to someone else. In other words, if you don’t have anybody depending on you for support, then you don’t need it. Sometimes life insurance policies are marketed as investment products, but the truth is that there are better ways to invest. That is not the purpose of life insurance, rather it is to make sure your children or other dependents are covered in case the worst happens.

 

Bottom Line: If you want to maximize the power of your personal finance, it always pays to keep these two values in mind. First, opportunity cost: always consider all the alternatives when deciding where to spend your money. Second, tailoring: take into account your unique circumstances, and you will find the choice that is right for you.