The Charge-It Blog

  • 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 ThePointsGuy.com 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: http://thepointsguy.com/2016/04/5000-miles-vip-status-mileageplus-dining/

    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 FTD.com 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

    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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  • 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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  • Kayla Albert

    What Costco’s card switch means for you

    What does Costco’s split from American Express in favor of Citigroup and Visa mean to cardholders? Three words: More cash back. And just weeks after that news, the biggest U.S. retailer, Wal-Mart, has stepped up the rewards offered with its own cards.

    The new card on the block
    Citi purchased AmEx’s portfolio of Costco-branded credit cards in February, and Costco AmEx cardholders will be able to use the new Costco Anywhere Visa cards starting June 20. No muss. Not much fuss (although some cardholders aren’t happy with the change). No additional application process for the new card and no credit pull.

    The new credit cards don’t have an annual fee, but Costco customers do have to pay the warehouse club’s membership fee of $55.what-costco-switch-means-2-u_Sm

    Already have a Visa? You’ll be able to use any Visa at Costco starting June 20.

    Until then, Costco shoppers paying with plastic will need to hang on to that American Express card. Costco AmEx transactions will cease after June 19.

    Richer rewards
    In addition to greater flexibility at the register (Visa is the largest card network in the U.S.), Citi is giving Costco customers better credit card rewards.

    Costco Visa cardholders will get 4 percent cash back on gas (up to $7,000 annually, then 1 percent after that), 3 percent on restaurants and certain travel purchases, 2 percent on purchases made at Costco and 1 percent on everything else.

    Under AmEx, cardholders received 3 percent on gas (up to $4,000 annually), 2 percent on restaurants and travel and 1 percent on everything else.

    Awards earned by Costco AmEx customers will be transferred to the new Visas after the switch.

    Credit card competition heats up
    Just weeks after news of the impending Costco switch to Visa, Wal-Mart announced increased rewards for its credit cards and prepaid MoneyCards.

    These higher awards include 3 percent cash back on Walmart.com purchases, 2 percent on gas purchased at Wal-Mart or Murphy gas stations, 1 percent on purchases made in-store and everywhere else.

    That’s up from $5 in cash back for $500 spent at Wal-Mart, and 5 cents per gallon on gas at Wal-Mart gas stations.

    Worth noting is that Costco rival Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club has its own cash back program similar to Costco’s new one — 5 percent cash back on gas at Sam’s Club, 3 percent cash back on dining and travel and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. Sam’s Club went through its own card network switch in 2014, shifting from Discover to MasterCard.

    The bottom line
    With increased payment flexibility for Costco customers, better rewards for cardholders and increased credit card competition, it’s a win-win-win for card users.

    What do you think of the card switch and rewards changes? Drop me a line. Let us hear from you.

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  • Tom O'Connell

    Some restaurants switching to plastic only

    Cash once was king, but it’s being dethroned at some plastic-only restaurants.

    A 2014 study by financial services group TSYS found that 74 percent of customers of dine-in restaurants preferred to pay with a credit or debit card. Just 18 percent preferred cash.

    It’s also easier than ever for eateries to accept plastic, even food trucks, thanks to payment systems such as Square. Ninety-two percent of U.S. restaurants now take credit cards, according to 2015 data from Euromonitor.

    For these reasons — and because there’s less chance of robberies with card swipes instead of printed money in the registers — some restaurants are just dumping cash transactions altogether.

    Korean fusion chain Chi’Lantro in Austin, Texas, is going cashless this month. The local chain’s food trucks have been cashless for months for safety plastic-only-table-tent_Smreasons.

    Owner Jae Kim told Eater that though most of the local chain’s customers (85 percent) pay by credit or debit already, the shift to only plastic at all of Chi’Lantro’s rolling and sit-down restaurants is “a big risk for us.”

    Other restaurants accepting only cards and mobile payments include Split Bread in San Francisco and Bozzelli’s Deli & Pizza’s Washington, D.C., location.

    “Cash is archaic,” said Michael Bozzelli, co-owner of Bozzelli’s. “Going cashless allows us to expedite the transaction process.”

    Accepting plastic also increases sales, notes Anita Campbell, founder and publisher of Small Business Trends. Cards also boost tips. “Why? Simple: Consumers are not tied to what is in their wallets at the moment,” she writes.

    “When you pay cash, you can ‘feel’ the money leaving you,” writes money-management guru Dave Ramsey. “This is not true with credit cards. Flipping a credit card up on a counter registers nothing emotionally. A study of credit card use at McDonald’s found that people spent 47 percent more when using credit instead of cash.”

    At Chi’Lantro, signs noting the switch to cashless payments have been posted throughout the restaurants. Not everyone is pleased.

    Kim tells Austin television station KXAN that people have walked out the door when told of the policy, “because they just don’t agree with it.”

    “It may hurt our business in the beginning, but we think in the long term, it will really benefit everyone,” he says.

    For hungry boomers, cashless restaurants harkens back to actor Karl Malden’s advice in American Express commercials of the ’70s and ’80s: “Don’t leave home without it.”

    SEE ALSO: 3 groups slowing any shift to a cashless society in the U.S.

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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

    Do you need credit when you retire?

    When you think about the need to have a good credit score, you probably associate it with buying a home, getting a good rate on an auto loan, and other “young adult” milestones. That’s probably why nearly half of baby boomers aged 51-70 said in a recent survey that they believe one’s credit score matters less after age 70.

    While that may be true in some cases, the survey by TransUnion (one of the three major credit bureaus) revealed some common misconceptions about the impact that credit standing can have on the lives of seniors.credit-important-seniors_Sm

    Among the findings, just 61 percent said that credit score was important for co-signing loans for adult children or grandchildren, and only 32 percent thought their score could affect their ability to move into a nursing home or long-term care facility.

    Despite those findings, as the population ages and life expectancy increases, maintaining a strong credit score throughout your life is becoming more important.

    “Good credit cannot only help them finance medical expenses and long-term care, but also help them support children, grandchildren and other family members as they take on middle-life expenses, like buying a house or paying for school,” Ken Chaplin, senior vice president for TransUnion, said in a news release.

    Keeping your credit in shape as you age is not unlike maintaining your own health. Here are some ways to keep your score young and vibrant:

    • Stay active. Just as you power walk, golf, or do pool aerobics, it’s important to flex your credit muscles regularly, too. The simplest way to do that is to use a credit card or two for small purchases each month, and pay the bill in full. You might designate a card for your gas, your groceries, or your prescriptions, for instance.
    • Get regular check-ups. Checking your three credit reports on a regular basis, at least once per year via annualcreditreport.com, will help ensure that warning signs of fraud or identity theft don’t go unnoticed. A routine exam will confirm that all of the accounts listed are accurate and up to date.
    • Get fit for your golden years. As you get older, you should keep aiming for as close to a debt-free lifestyle as possible. Keep paying all your bills on time, and work on eliminating any lingering credit card balances if you have them.
    • Start a healthy budget diet. As you approach your nonworking years, it’s a good idea to practice living on what your fixed income will be when you retire. Anything extra that you can put into savings and/or retirement accounts to help ensure that you don’t have to borrow will help give your credit status longevity.

    While you might not think that your credit score will come into play later in life, taking good care of it could serve you well should the day come when you need to sign for a loan or qualify for a great interest rate for something. In short, keeping up with your financial fitness regimen is something that can benefit you for a lifetime.

    SEE ALSO: 7 ways to keep your credit strong in your later years

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