The Charge-It Blog

  • Jeff Herman

    Use your cards to rack up back-to-school savings


    Back-to-school clothes, dress shoes, college textbooks and computers can take a big bite out of your family budget, but by smart shopping with your credit cards you can stack your savings.

    Total spending for back-to-school and back-to-college supplies will reach $75.8 billion in 2016, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey. That’s up from last year’s $68 billion.

    Back-to-school shoppers are more upbeat about their financial situation, a Synchrony Financial survey finds. And this is expected to increase back-to-school retail sales this year between 3.2 percent and 3.7 percent.

    You’re going to be making the back-to-school purchases anyway, so why not use your credit cards to get the most value — and rewards — for your dollars?

    Here are three ways to maximize your rewards and ring up back-to-school savings:

    1. Bonus cash-back categories: A handful of cards have 5 percent bonus categories that change every quarter. Check your card issuer’s cash back bonus categories to increase your back-to-school savings.

    For example:

    Discover: “If you have the Discover it Card and Amazon Prime, you might want to check for back-to-school supplies,” says Holly Johnson, a co-founder of, a personal finance and savings site. “From July through September 2016, is one of Discover’s 5 percent cash back bonus categories. If you’re able to get a good deal on supplies, free shipping, and 5 percent back on your purchase, that’s a pretty sweet deal,” she says.

    “If you’re able to get a good deal on supplies, free shipping, and 5 percent back on your purchase, that’s a pretty sweet deal.”
    — Holly Johnson,

    Chase: With the Chase Freedom card, purchases at wholesale clubs, such as Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s, are in the 5 percent category through the end of the year. And if you’re eating out in a college town while moving your child to campus, restaurants also are in this quarter’s 5 percent cash-back category.

    Citi: If you’re renting a vehicle to move a student to college and staying a night or two in that city, Citi’s 5 percent cash back quarterly category (currently Hilton and car rentals) may come in handy.

    U.S. Bank: If users of U.S. Bank’s new Cash+ card were really planning ahead, they could have selected two 5 percent cash back categories for the quarter – retailers, car rentals, whatever might help you save the most on your family’s spending ahead of the school year.

    2. Online shopping portals: Use your card issuer’s shopping portal to earn additional cash back, points or miles on the same school supplies and computers you’d purchase in stores. You may even get free shipping on your order.

    Johnson says: “If you have a Chase credit card that earns Ultimate Rewards, make sure to check in with the Chase shopping portal before you head out to stop for back to school.

    “The deals change all the time,  but you can frequently score an extra 2 to 5 points for every dollar you spend at certain office supply stores,” she says.

    “As of this writing, Staples, the Apple Store, and Office Depot are offering an extra 2x points,” adds the mom of two girls, ages 5 and 7. “Walmart is also offering an extra 2x points for every dollar you spend.”

    Matthew Coan, founder of, also is a fan of playing one’s cards right for added back-to-school and year-round savings. There is also “savings you can ‘add’ to your cards,” he says, citing Amex Offers and BankAmeriDeals, which let cardholders select discounts from stores to add on their cards.

    For instance, American Express cardholders who’ve synced their cards with Twitter can get a one-time Amex Offers $30 statement credit by spending at least $150 at The Container Store through Aug. 31, 2016.

    3. Tax-free holidays: Several states have these holidays. During these “holidays,” you’ll save the cost of state sales tax on select back-to-school purchases. How much you can save varies by state (California has the highest state-level sales tax at 7.5 percent, and Oklahoma is lowest of states with a state sales tax at 4.28 percent, according to the Tax Foundation).

    Check if your state has a tax-free weekend (with dates and what’s covered) on our map, but note, too, that your city, county or district may not be participating. Make a list of your family’s back-to-school needs, and note what’s covered by your state’s program.

    Want to avoid a mob of moms and dads snapping up school uniforms, pens and notebooks at stores? Shop online. Stack your savings via your cash back cards and online shopping portals.

    An added bonus perk for new Discover cardholders: Discover will double cash back earned during the first year for new cardholders. How does this help cut your back-to-school bill?

    “Current card members can get the 5 percent cash back bonus while shopping for back-to-school items, and new cardholders would get 10 percent with the Match program,” says Derek Cuculich, Discover’s manager of public relations.

    Bottom line: Budget-minded moms and frugal fathers can use their cards to save on purchases for back to school and year-round. Making the most of tax-free holidays, online shopping portals, card-linked shopping discounts and cash-back bonus categories can add up the savings – and reduce the size of your back-to-school bill.

    SEE ALSO: How to make the most of your first rewards card

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  • Dawn Papandrea

    Facebook reactions for my credit status

    Looking at your credit card statements or your credit report can bring forth a froth of emotions. Hopefully they’re mostly of the positive variety, but everyone has been down in the dollar dumps at one point or another.

    Take a look at what sort of credit statuses might inspire me to click each of Facebook’s new reaction buttons: Facebook reactions for my credit status

    LIKE — I’m always happy to give a thumbs-up when I learn about a credit product’s cool perks and features. One of my issuers offers a free credit score each month, and another offers a transparent, confusion-free cash back rewards system.

    Other reasons to click “like”:
    — An easy-to-navigate website and app to set alerts, check balances, redeem rewards, and make payments.
    — A credit report without any errors.

    LOVE — After a couple of years of hard work and smarter choices, finally achieving a stellar FICO score was enough to make me swoon. I’ve always had decent credit, but moving into a higher tier gave me a level of satisfaction that my commitment to better financial health was paying off. I “heart” progress!

    Other reasons to click “love”:
    — Seeing a zero balance on all of your credit statements.
    — Cashing in on a free flight or hanging out in a cardholder VIP lounge.

    HAHA — Realizing I spend way too much money on Chinese takeout (and other silly things). If your credit issuer offers a breakdown of your spending, seeing it in pie chart form can be a real eye-opener.

    Other reasons to click “haha”:
    — When I fumble with a chip reader only to find out the merchant doesn’t support my more secure chipped card yet.
    — Randomly signing my maiden name on a credit slip despite being married for 13 years. Some habits die hard.

    WOW — Discovering that you’ve accumulated thousands of reward points. Before I was keen to all this credit card stuff, I didn’t pay much attention to my points balance until one day I noticed it was there. I was able to redeem them for a whole bunch of gift cards that powered my holiday gift shopping that year.

    Other reasons for a “wow” reaction:
    — The totality of a credit report – it’s amazing how big one’s financial footprint can be!
    — Looking at the pile of credit card offers in my “to shred” pile. Yikes!

    SAD — When you look at the box on your statement that tells you how long it will take to pay off your balance. Even a small debt can seem hopeless when looking at it from that perspective.

    Other reasons for a “sad” reaction:
    — Imagining a day in the not-so-far future when my kids ask to be added to my credit account as an authorized user (please stop growing already!).
    — Having no choice but to use plastic to pay for an unexpected expense. It happens to the best of us, despite our best efforts to build an emergency fund.

    ANGRY — Scanning your credit activity and noticing that someone tried charging on your account, and it wasn’t you! I’ve caught potential fraud on my accounts a couple of times, and it is infuriating to realize that it can happen no matter how careful you are.

    Other reasons for an “angry” reaction:
    — When your spouse charges something that’s beyond your agreed-upon spending limit and “forgets” to tell you.
    — Forgetting to take your card back from a cashier or restaurant server. Been there, done that.

    Paying attention to how you react to your own credit standing can alert you if you’re not using credit in the most responsible way. If you have a lot to be sad or angry about, look for strategies to help turn those frowns upside down so you can start “liking” and “loving” your financial status.

    SEE ALSO: Your guide to picking the right credit card

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  • Dawn Papandrea

    These motivational mantras can doom your credit

    Sometimes when people try to rationalize overspending, they do so almost in a defiant way by turning to inspirational quotes and Internet memes for support. For instance, how many times have you contemplated flying first class with the rationale that “you only live once?”

    If you’ve used any of these Instagram-worthy mantras to explain away your shopping habits, learn how to tone down the rhetoric to make better credit decisions:

    Carpe diem: This phrase made popular by English poets translates to “seize the day,” but I’m not sure how they would feel about it being used as a rallying cry to shop those “last chance” sales. Still, the notion that you’ll regret passing up a sale or missing a concert often is enough to get one to whip out the plastic. After all, you may never get such an opportunity again … or so the story goes.Motivational mantras that can doom your credit

    Tone it down: You can live a carpe diem lifestyle if you prepare for it. While that might sound counterintuitive, it’s not. Setting aside a fun budget will allow you to finance those once-in-a-lifetime or last-minute opportunities that come up, and you won’t have to think twice.

    FOMO: In the age of social media, it’s hard not to have anxiety or “fear of missing out” after scrolling through everyone’s amazing-looking social activities. We always want to give the appearance of doing exciting things, and seeing others taking part in events is enough to make us want to head straight to that new trendy restaurant, too.

    Tone it down: You don’t have to miss out, but you need to make modifications if something doesn’t fit your budget. If you can’t afford playoff tickets, get some friends together to watch the game at a local sports bar. Take advantage of happy hour prices, and check Groupon and other local deal sites for discounts at upscale restaurants. Oh, and stop comparing yourself to friends on social media — for all you know, they could be up to their eyeballs in debt on maxed-out credit cards.

    You can’t take it with you: You often hear people say this after an illness or tragedy, and while it is a true statement, blowing off your responsibilities will have both immediate and future consequences. Yes, we all want to enjoy life to the fullest and bad news can put that in perspective, but especially if you have children, think about the situation you’re creating for them if you leave behind piles of card debt.

    Tone it down: You don’t want to be so frugal that you never treat yourself, but be careful that you don’t go too far in the other direction when you decide to go on a rebellious streak. Make memories that matter, but not at the expense of your long-term financial health.

    Shopping is cheaper than therapy: Retail therapy might feel good in the moment, and well-meaning friends will even encourage a trip to the mall after a breakup or bad day at the office. And don’t think that this doesn’t apply to the guys as well, especially when it comes to their love of tech gadgets or cars.

    Tone it down: Shopping while emotional usually results in a whole new reason to feel down in the dumps — a large credit card balance after a spending spree. Instead, look for other less expensive activities when you need a pick-me-up. Maybe it’s going to a kickboxing class to punch out your frustrations, meeting a friend for coffee, or treating yourself to a giant ice cream sundae.

    When it comes to money choices, we can talk ourselves into anything, especially if we’ve got a cool mantra to quote. If you’ve gone into debt because of any of the above reasons, however, here’s a better mantra for you to remember for next time: The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.” Put some work into your finances and you can reap the rewards with no regrets.

    SEE ALSO: Can an app keep you from splurge spending?

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  • Kayla Albert

    Debt collection rules in an age of texts, social media

    As text messages replace phone calls and social media grows as the primary way we stay connected with friends and family, debt collectors are using new ways to reach and keep tabs on debtors.

    That’s forcing regulators to modify long-standing rules, reining in some debt collectors’ use of new technology and new media.

    Rules for debt collection in the age of texts and social media

    The Federal Trade Commission enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and in late March the agency clarified that while it’s OK to use text messages and social media to contact debtors, debt collectors cannot be deceptive in doing so.

    What does this mean? Well, the only debt collection communication explicitly forbidden remains the postcard, because the debt can easily be revealed to a third party. However, using social media and texts to collect on a debt isn’t exactly a free-for-all.

    If you’re being contacted by a debt collector through text or social media, know your rights:

    1. Creditors and collection agencies can’t tell your friends and family about your debt.
    It is illegal for collectors to disclose the existence of debts to anyone other than authorized individuals (such as an attorney representing the debtor, spouses, parents or guardians of minors who may have accounts, executors and administrators) — unless the debtor gives permission to disclose that information. In addition, debt collectors cannot publicly post about your debt on any social media site.

    2. Creditors and debt collection agencies can’t contact you — or your social media connections — under false pretenses.
    If debt collectors are going to attempt to reach you through text or social media, they must do so in a way that makes their intentions clear. Sending a Facebook friend request, for instance, could violate the law if you don’t know who they are or why they are contacting you. In addition, they can’t make up a story in order to get personal information about you from your friends or family.

    3. Texts can’t be designed to deceptively resemble fraud alerts.The FTC cites “YOUR PAYMENT DECLINED WITH CARD xxxx-xxxx-5463 … Call immediately” as an example. The text, similar to ones sent by defendants in the Messaging for Money law enforcement sweep, were “a sneaky – and illegal – way” for collectors to get a response from debtors.

    While harassment and deceptive collection practices aren’t allowed with texts and social media — or any other form of communication for that matter — debt collectors can use these channels in ways that aren’t against the law. 

    For instance, debt collectors may collect public information from your social media accounts as well as from the pages of your connections.

    Just because a debt collector hasn’t “friended” you on Facebook, it doesn’t mean he can’t see enough public posts and pictures to determine basic information, such as where you live, work or what kind of car you drive. All of this information can be compiled to make initial contact or attempt to make a case against you.

    Even if you have stringent privacy settings, your information can be pulled from the pages of your connections, such as messages you’ve written or pictures you’ve been tagged in.

    So as with everything you post on social media, be careful. You never know who is checking you out online. It might even be a debt collector.

    SEE ALSO: Know your rights with debt collectors and 8 tips to deal with debt collectors like a pro

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  • Jeff Herman

    Pink Ribbon card helps Susan G. Komen year-round

    This blog post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, see the bottom of this page.

    Runners and walkers in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure — or anyone who wants to support the organization year-round — can do so with every purchase using the Pink Ribbon Banking MasterCard benefiting Susan G. Komen.

    With each swipe or dip, the cardholder benefits Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the largest breast cancer education and research group in the United States. Komen receives a minimum of $3 for each new Pink Ribbon BankAmericard account opened and 0.08 percent of every purchase (8 cents of every $100) using the MasterCard.Pink Ribbon card benefits Susan G. Komen with every purchase

    “Those micro-donations” add up, says Carrie Hodges, managing director, cause marketing and sponsorship. Since 2009, Susan G. Komen has received more than $7 million from Bank of America through the Pink Ribbon credit card and checking program.

    Bank of America also is the presenting sponsor of the Race for the Cure — held in cities across the U.S. and around the world on various dates through the year.

    The Pink Ribbon credit card, though, benefits both the organization and the cardholder with cash back.

    “Cardholders don’t have to give up cash back,” Hodges says. “Bank of America gives that back to cardholders on top of” the percentage given to Komen with every purchase.

    Cash back on the Pink Ribbon card is 3 percent on gas, 2 percent at grocery stores and now at wholesale clubs, and 1 percent on all other purchases. The fine print: The cash bonus rewards apply to the first $2,500 in combined category purchases each quarter.

    With this card, there’s no annual fee, and the card has a 0 percent introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After 12 billing cycles, the variable APR is 13.24 to 23.24 percent (interest rate depends on your credit score).

    And cardholders get a $100 online cash rewards bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days.

    A couple of things to note about cards affiliated with a cause or charity (often called affinity cards):

    Some affinity cards benefiting nonprofits have high APRs and/or annual fees. If you don’t pay your bill on time and in full, cardholders can easily go into debt trying to do good. And with some affinity cards, the perks (miles, points or cash back) for the cardholder are limited.

    Also with affinity cards, it’s important to note the percentage of purchases that go toward the organization. While it’s easy to donate with each use of an affinity card, it can be more beneficial to the organization — and you — to make a single gift (which you can deduct on your taxes).

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  • Jeff Herman

    Rack up miles and points with gifts for Mom

    You’re likely to buy flowers, chocolate-dipped strawberries or some other gift for mom for Mother’s Day, so why not snap up the bonus offers available through your credit card’s shopping portal, an airline e-shopping mall or airline dining clubs?

    For example, if you use American Airlines AAdvantage e-Shopping portal, you can get 30 miles per $1 spent on ProFlowers orders. You also can earn 250 miles with $150 or more spent on gifts for Mom at select merchants at the portal. And some retailers offer free shipping.Motivational mantras that can doom your credit

    You don’t need an airline credit card to score these extra miles and more. Just open a frequent flier account with your preferred airline or airlines, register your credit cards and order your gifts as you normally would at the airline’s e-shopping mall. If you sign up for emails from the shopping portals, you’ll get advance notice of the sweetest deals.

    And if you’re taking mom to brunch, lunch or dinner for Mother’s Day, you can earn miles while using a card registered in a credit card rewards dining program.

    Check out Susan Johnston Taylor’s story on “How to score airline miles without having an airline card” for details and links to several of the airline shopping portals and dining programs.

    Taylor mentions that the airline dining programs often have sign-up bonuses. The popular travel site notes that signing up for United’s dining program can net you up to 5,000 bonus miles and instant VIP status (5 miles for every dollar spent). Here are the details:

    If you’d rather not use airline e-shopping malls, several card issuers have their own shopping portals with discounts and sometimes free shipping with purchases at everyday retailers.

    For example, Chase’s online shopping portal for cash-back cards offers 15 percent cash back on ProFlowers purchases, and 10 percent cash back on orders and Shari’s Berries orders. Read Dawn Papandrea’s story, “Rewards malls can turbocharge miles, points, cash,” for details.

    And if you’re using a shopping portal that’s not affiliated with an airline or a card issuer, Taylor offers “5 tips to boost savings using cash back shopping portals.”

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  • Dawn Papandrea

    Can an app keep you from splurge spending?

    Ever wish there was a little voice to talk you out of the urge to splurge? That’s the idea behind Ally Financial’s newly launched free app, “Splurge Alert,” which enlists the help of family and friends to steer you away from purchase temptations.

    Using geolocation technology, the app determines when you enter a “splurge zone” based on criteria you specify (for instance, if you’ve indicated that department stores are your weakness), and alerts the people you pre-selected to be your shopping Big Brothers. what-costco-switch-means-2-u_Sm

    While the concept might sound like it’s bordering on creepy, it’s really just using technology to keep you accountable to a personal goal — in this case, a commitment to spend less on frivolous items. It’s not unlike a fitness app in which you can befriend buddies who will motivate you to get in those extra walking steps.

    Whether or not you’re considering trying out this app, here are three low-tech ways to keep yourself on a budget and sidestep splurges:

    1. Avoid going to stores to shop. If you know that walking into certain stores will trigger a much bigger spending spree than you intended, find another place to shop. Or, shop online so that you’re only putting what you need into the shopping card.

    2. Use shopping baskets instead of carts. When you’re carrying around items, you’ll be more mindful, and hopefully more selective, as to how much you are buying. With shopping carts, there’s a tendency to keep filling them mindlessly.

    3. Allow splurges, but only after you’ve saved for them. Being frugal is hard work, but it should come with a few rewards from time to time. There’s nothing wrong with a splurge as long as you’re not draining your checking account or running up a credit card bill you can’t handle.

    SEE ALSO: 6 ways to recover financially after a spending spree

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