Free Cash: Why We Use Cash Back Credit Cards

We use cash back credit cards for just about every purchase that we possibly can.  Why?  The answer is simple, because we earn free cash and it adds up to a good amount.  Below is how much cash we’ve earned in the last twelve months.

Costco Visa Card

This is our primary spending card.  It has the most rewards that we use.  We get 4% cash back on gas, 3% at restaurants, 2% at Costco, and 1% on everything else.

They issue a certificate once per year that you take into the store to cash.  This year we’ll be getting $281.88.

American Express Blue Everyday Card

When Costco switched from American Express to Visa, we took an offer to open one of these cards.  We primarily use this at grocery stores, as we get 3% cash back.  We do make other purchases on here as well.

Since we opened this last year, we’ve earned $159.32 in cash back.

In addition to this, American Express has the best ‘offers’ of any card I’ve seen.  In addition to the above, we’ve saved money on statement credits just for using American Express to pay our cell phone bill, visit a Mobil station, or even just to sign in to their online app.  Plus we got a big statement credit just for spending a certain amount on the card within 90 days.  Without looking, I’d say we got over $350 in statement credits on top of the cash back.

Citi Dividends Cards

These were the first cash back cards we ever opened, and I don’t think you can even get them as new members anymore.  But, for these (just like everything else) we get 1% cash back on everything, plus 5% on rotating categories that change every quarter.

We pretty much keep these because they’re our oldest cards, and having a card established for that long is good for our credit scores.  We’ll use this for camping reservations or other purchases that don’t give bonus money on any other card.

Between my card and my wife’s card, we have earned $125.41 over the past twelve months since we last cashed out.

Grand Total Earned From Cash Back Credit Cards

Adding all of that up, we have earned $566.81 in cash back just by using our cards.  We pay our cards off in full every month, so we aren’t paying a nickel in interest.  Nor do we pay an annual fee for any of these cards.  That’s basically us buying things or making purchases on things we’re going to anyways, and ending up with over $500.  That is a pretty good deal if you ask me.

In the past, we’ve used our cash back rewards cards to purchase electronics.  All of our flat screen TVs have been purchased with cash back rewards money.  We’ve also applied this toward a vacation in years we haven’t needed anything new.

Readers, do you use cash back reward cards?  Do you make sure to use them to your full advantage?  If so, what tricks or tips do you have?  Please let me know how things work for you in the comments below.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

7 Steps To Improve Your Credit Score

Few things are worse than finding out that you have a bad credit score.  Many people know that they have this hanging over their head, where others are taken completely by surprise when they go to take a loan or just do a check.

If you have a bad credit score, then don’t wait to start fixing it.  Every step you take can count and help improve your score, and the faster you get started, the faster you can see your score move in the right direction.

Check your credit report for accuracy.

The first thing you should do is check your credit report to make sure that everything is accurate.  A bad score can come about with inaccurate information or if you’ve been the victim of identity theft and there are items that you don’t even know are there.

Work through any late payments.

If you’re late on any payments, you need to get this taken care of in order to gain any sort of traction at all.

Reduce your available debt.

If you have a lot of credit lines open, you can often improve your score by selectively closing credit cards or calling credit companies and asking for a lower credit limit.  Less available credit is often seen as less risk of default, which can improve your score.

Reduce the number of open balances.

If you are carrying a lot of different credit cards with balances, you want to start reducing this number as fast as possible. If you owe $5,000, it’s more favorable to have two cards splitting that balance than it is to have six or seven.  You can start by paying off cards that have the lowest balances.  You may also look for an existing card that will offer a good rate on balance transfers and bring some or all of your credit balances together into one spot.

Pay off your loans faster.

If you’re only making the minimum payments, you need to start bumping this number up.  Sell some stuff.  Take on a side gig.  Make lifestyle changes.  Whatever it takes, you want to start lowering your balances, which will improve your score.

Stop applying for credit.

Newer lines of credit are seen as riskier than older ones.  Every ‘new’ credit card you take can potentially damage your score.  As a general rule, don’t apply for any additional credit.

Stop charging.

If you pay off $500 on your balances but then add $400 in the month, you’re not going to get very far at all.  Make your purchases for what you need today via cash, check or a debit card.  This way, any activity on your cards is only serving to lower it.  Knowing that goes a long way.

The bottom line is that bad credit scores are awful, but they don’t last forever.  You may not be able to change it overnight.  However, you can certainly do so with an organized and disciplined approach.

Readers, have you ever actively taken measures to improve your credit score? How did it go?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Have You Ever Had A Financial Freak Out Moment?

Have you ever had a moment where you just flipped out about something money related? That happened to me last week.  The worst part is that my financial freak out ended up being a total false alarm!

Costco Rewards Time Is Almost Near

Around the beginning part of the year, holders of the Costco American Express card receive a paper certificate, on the last page of which contains your certificate for the rewards you’ve earned by making purchases on the card throughout the year.

We use the American Express for a lot, so the 3% rewards on gas is usually a big driver, plus 1% on everyday purchases.  This year, we got a big boost because travel purchases receive 2%, and so we put the entirety of the trip to Disney World on the trip, earning a nice chunk of change.

All told, our reward for the year was over $350!

The Paper Statement Memory

We also have a couple of other cash back reward cards, both through Citi Master Card.  We use these cards as they often have rotating categories of up to 5%.  Both of the cards that my wife and I use had amounts over the $50 threshold for which you can request a redemption.

I decided to submit the claim for the rewards around the same time, so we would have the full amount of all of our rewards available around the same time.

Even though I logged into both of our accounts, my wife still got the e-mail verification about her card, and commented about it.  I told her the plan to get all three rewards piled together, at which point we could decide how to use the funds.

I remembered that a week or two prior, we’d gotten a statement from American Express. Since we do everything electronically, I imprinted a memory that it was probably the statement with the rewards certificate, as that’s the only time they ever send us a paper statement.

I casually mentioned to my wife that she just needed to take the certificate in next time she went to Costco, and get it redeemed for cash, which we could then deposit.

The Worst Two Words I Could Hear

My heart kind of sank when she said “What certificate?”

I mentioned that it was with the statement that we had received a couple of weeks ago.  Still calm, I reminded her that she had even pointed out that we had a statement.  I also pointed out (by this time, my voice probably raising a couple of octaves) that she always takes mail that I need to keep and sticks it in a little organizer that we use.

I went to the organizer and it wasn’t there.  She had no recollection of putting it there.

Financial Freak Out: Not A  Good Five Minutes

After that it was a pretty chaotic few minutes.  I was blaming her for not putting the piece of mail in the right spot where she usually puts all mail.  She claimed that she didn’t remember even seeing the statement.

It wasn’t a very fun conversation (if you could even call it that).

I looked online about what to do if you lose a certificate, and the answer was not good.  I found a few forums that said that they don’t re-issue the certificates if they’re lost.

Basically, you’re S.O.L.

This didn’t help the tone of the conversation.mb-2014-12stressed

Confusion On Multiple Ends

My wife decided to find out for herself if this was correct. By now, we were past the yelling stage and trying to figure out what to do.  I was even debating going out to the recycling bin and seeing if it was in there.  But, she called American Express and asked what would happen if it was lost or we didn’t receive it.

The agent on the end was a bit confused and said that it hadn’t been mailed out yet.  It was scheduled to be mailed out with our February 24th statement.

I got a bit confused.

But at least we calmed down.

Presenting….My Brian Williams Moment

Then, the next day it hit me.  It all came down to the paper statement.  See, I knew we’d received one.   We received a statement because we closed a different card, and apparently they send you a final statement in paper form.

So, I had my Brian Williams moment.   My financial freak out moment.  Luckily for me, my ‘conflation’ didn’t cost me my job or reputation, and it didn’t even cost me any money.

Though I did have to eat a bit of crow as I apologized to my wife…who was right all along!  As they usually are, of course!  A lesson I just need to remember….

🙂

Readers, what financial freak out moments have you had, and have you had one recently where it was all for nothing?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Keeping American Express In Light Of The Costco Switch

One of our favorite credit cards is our Costco American Express card.  We signed up for the card several years ago because it offered a lot of great rewards.  These included:

  • 1% cash back on all purchases.
  • 3% cash back on gas purchases.
  • 2% on restaurant and travel purchases.
  • AmEx is the only credit card accepted for purchase inside a Costco store.

It’s grown into one of our favorite cards, but within a short time, it will soon be history.  Costco has announced that they’ll be partnering with Visa, and while the specifics haven’t been announced, they will only accept Visa cards once the switch takes effect.

Costco American Express Will Soon Become Costco Visa

Presumably, there will be a ‘Costco Visa’ card that will likely offer the same or similar rewards.

mb-201402creditcard400However, this is a big loss for American Express.  I know that the stock price actually took a several percentage drop on the day the loss of Costco was announced last year.  They likely generate a lot of revenue from Costco, and I’m sure they don’t want to lose it.

My wife and I were talking about how much we like having an American Express card, and that we would need to potentially continue to use them in some fashion.  The reasons we wanted to keep an American Express card were:

  • It’s nice to have options.
  • They have special offers in the form of statement credits that pop up from time to time.  We’ve had a credit just for charging our Sprint bill, and shopping at Amazon, just in the last few months.
  • There are often special offers associated with using an AmEx card.  For example, we got the opportunity to buy advance tickets for a concert last year by making the charge on our American Express card.

We did have two American Express cards for a time, as we had opened one last year so that we could get a tremendous deal on Delta on our plane ticket purchase (it didn’t lower the cost of the tickets, but we got a ton of free miles and free luggage check-in), but we just cancelled that because after one year, an annual fee was about to kick in.

American Express Wants To Keep Costco Customers

Someone must have been reading my mind!  For not more than a couple of days after that conversation, an offer popped up right after I logged into our American Express card.

They noted that our current card will soon be ‘deactivated’ and that we’re pre-approved for a Blue Cash Everyday card.  They have a pretty tempting rewards structure:

  • 1% cash back on all purchases.
  • 3% on grocery store purchases.
  • 2% on gas and department store purchases.
  • On top of it, if we make $2,500 in purchases over the first three months after opening the card, we will get a $300 statement credit. Their standard offer, so far as I’ve been able to tell, is a $100 offer after charging $1,000, so while the spending amount goes up, the bonus reward is pretty awesome!

This sounds like a great fit.  Unfortunately, the offer only appeared for a day and by the time I spoke to my wife about it and we agreed it was a good offer, it was gone.  I’m thinking that they’ll be looking to retain current customer, especially as the end date of the agreement moves close, so I’m confident that the same or a better offer will appear.

I assume that the new Costco Visa card would offer an increased bonus on restaurant and travel purchases.  With this,we will have all categories that we do today.  Plus, we’ll have extra rewards for  grocery stores and department store purchases.

That’s not a bad combo!

Readers, have you started looking at your replacement alternatives for the Costco American Express card?  What have you found?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.