There was some sort of major sporting event last night that a lot of people were watching on TV. Since my husband and I were uninterested in the game, we decided to cook up a bunch of football food (my best chicken wings ever!) and settle in front of the TV to watch something we are very interested in: documentaries about a music festival.
Both Netflix and Hulu are currently running documentaries about the Fyre Festival. This April 2017 festival was advertised as the ultimate in luxury. An island getaway for beautiful Millennials. Live music, fancy accommodations and food, excursions, and famous people. The ultimate place to see and be seen. It sounded too good to be true. Because it was too good to be true. It was actually a Ponzi scheme that somehow came to an ugly fruition. The more money the festival collected from the unsuspecting ticket holders, the more impossible it became to cancel the festival. Ultimately the festival ended up being canceled after the guests arrived at the island to find FEMA tents with rain-soaked mattresses rather than the promised luxury villas. There was no real food. No real infrastructure. The festival creator Billy McFarland had been spending the next month’s money before it came in to cover last month’s expenses. When he paid the bills at all.
When I watched last night how McFarland had been spending money before he had it, I couldn’t help but think about how people often live on credit card float. It’s a simple enough trap to fall into. You use your credit card to pay for everything (reaping the credit card rewards), and then pay the bill in full at the end of the month. It seems like you are doing everything right. But what you’re really doing is falling behind. You are spending next month’s money on this month’s bills. And once you fall into it, it’s a difficult cycle to break. The easiest way to avoid it is never to fall into it. If you are a credit card reward junkie (like I am) you should make sure you aren’t falling into the float trap by having at least one month’s income in your savings account. If you aren’t able to restrain yourself in that way, it’s best not to go down the float path at all. Limit yourself to cash and debit card—forget about the rewards.
People tend to make some really bad decisions about their money. In the case of the Fyre Festival, Billy McFarland made some really bad decisions about other people’s money (and is now serving six years in federal prison because of it). Don’t be a Billy McFarland. It’s best not to float.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of chasing credit card rewards. But there are other ways to get extra bang for your buck by using your credit card. In addition to rewards, your card might also offer extra benefits. It’s not cash back or travel points, but other little perks that your card offers as incentive to use their card. Common benefits include rental car insurance, travel insurance, or extended warranties on purchases made with the card. I’ve made good use of a benefit offered by both my Citibank MasterCard and my American Express Card: pre-sale concert tickets. (It’s always helpful to have one of each of these cards if you are an avid music fan!). And another benefit that I had never even heard of until recently just made me change which card my cell phone is billed to. There are a couple of credit cards (including the Wells Fargo Visa I already happened to have) that offer cell phone insurance if you auto-pay your cell phone bill with that card.
I’ve never purchased cell phone insurance. I’m careful with my phone and keep it in a case, so I’ve never seen the need to protect it with insurance that will cost me a monthly fee to my cell phone provider each month. But if the insurance is free? I see no reason not to take advantage of that. Simply by switching the card I auto-bill to, I was able to pick up $600 worth of protection against damage or theft (but not loss), subject to a $25 deductible. Do I think I’ll ever need to take advantage of that? Probably not. But it doesn’t cost me anything and it does offer me a layer of protection I didn’t have before.
I’m not saying that you should go out and apply for a bunch of different credit cards in order to get these benefits (as a matter of fact…please don’t!). But if you already have some credit cards (and most people do), it’s a good idea to do a little research into what benefits those cards may offer. You may find that you have options you didn’t even know about.
This weekend I had the good fortune to meet the creator of an iPhone app that I am completely enamored with. Swipe is kind of a curator for your rewards credit cards. It tracks all of your cards and pairs them with the purchase you are making to assure that you are receiving the best rewards deal for that particular purchase.
I’m a big fan of leveraging credit card rewards. Last year I received several hundred dollars in cash back from my credit cards by chasing the right rewards for the right purchases. This app takes the guesswork out of that process (which is very helpful since one of my cards has higher rewards for categories that rotate from quarter to quarter).
I was lucky enough to have an in-person demonstration with the developer this weekend, but you can see a great demo of the app on the Swipe website. I’m more than a little disappointed that this awesome app is not yet available for Android (I’m assured it’s coming in the future). But for the iFolks out there…I think it’s awesome!
Credit cards (and the way we use them) are undergoing a transformation. By now, any cards you have should have been replaced by a new card with “chip and PIN” technology. You’ll notice a little square chip on the front side of the card:
In the future, that chip will always be used instead of the magnetic strip on the back to transfer your card information to the merchant. You insert the card into the bottom of the card reader and hold it there, and the card reader takes your info from the chip. This is significantly more secure than the old swipe the magnetic strip method. And eventually, the old procedure of signing for purchase will be replaced by the entering of a PIN number.
And while the card providers have done a good job of issuing the new cards to move toward this technology, the merchants are slow to catch up. Most places I shop are still using the old swipe and sign method. And those merchants who do have the new “dip the chip” technology in place (so far I’ve only found it at Wal-Mart and Target) are still using signature rather than PIN….and that isn’t expected to change any time soon. If you happen to travel to Europe, however, make sure you know the PIN for your credit card. They’ve been using chip and PIN for years.
The U.S. is a bit slow to catch on to this technology, but in the future it should be helpful in reducing fraudulent card use. And this ultimately protects you. Change is hard. But most times it is worth it.
One of my new years’ resolutions this year was to maximize my credit card rewards. Not by buying more stuff. But by being careful about what card I use for what purpose. For a long time I’ve been using one card that offers me 5% rewards on certain categories that revolve each quarter, and 1% rewards on all other purchases. But I also have another card that offers me 2% rewards on all purchases, regardless of the category. And I have an Amazon Visa card that gives me 3% rewards on all of my Amazon purchases, 2% on certain categories, and 1% on everything else. Plus every time I fill my gas tank at Sheetz I toy with the idea of getting their credit card that would give me an extra 5 cents off every gallon of gas I buy and 5% rewards on the things I buy in their store. Who knew that the world of credit card rewards–just the cards hanging out in my wallet–could be so complicated?!?
My biggest rewards on my existing cards come from the 5% categories on my old tried and true card. This quarter those categories include groceries (which I buy all the time), movie theaters (which I do rarely) and Starbucks (which I do almost never). So I’m using that card for groceries exclusively (next quarter when it flips over from groceries to restaurants, I’ll readjust). My next biggest reward comes from the Amazon card used at Amazon.com. I admit that I buy a lot of stuff from Amazon. So I have that card set up as my go-to card on that web site. And I don’t use it for anything else. For absolutely everything else I’ve been using the card that gives me 2% back on every purchase.
It is kind of a lot to keep track of. Where am I? What card do I need to use? But I’m hoping it will pay off for me. Last year I earned about $600 in cash back rewards…just by buying things I would normally buy and using a rewards credit card to do so. I’m hoping to exceed that this year…and to spend less money doing so. We’ll see how well I do with that.
Of course this whole thing would be a moot point if I were not paying my bill in full every month. Accruing interest would wipe out any savings I would get from rewards. But I use my credit cards not for credit, but for convenience.
Do you use credit cards for regular expenses but pay them off in full every month? If so, is your credit card giving you rewards? If not, you should possibly consider getting a card that does. If your card is giving you rewards, are they as much as you could be getting?
It seems like just yesterday that I had to have a new credit card issued because of the Home Depot data breach. And now my new replacement card has been compromised as well. Only a month after I finished changing all of my auto-billed payments to the new card, I have to do it all over again. In the greater scheme of things, I really can’t complain. I’m still a little stunned by the number of things that went right in my recent credit card fiasco.
The first thing that went right is that I was using a credit card rather than a debit card. Credit cards offer greater protection against fraud than debit cards. If this had been a debit card, the money in my checking account could have been tied up while the issue is being resolved. Because it was a credit card, I can’t be held liable for more than $50 in fraudulent charges. And I’m extra fortunate because my credit card provider is refunding all of the fraudulent charges.
The second thing that went right is that my credit card provider recognized that an unusual charge had been made and contacted me right away. Wednesday night I received a text message from Chase asking if I had made a charge for $50 at a grocery store in New Jersey. I had not. I called Chase and we went through all of the recent charges, and found (thankfully) a total of only two charges, $108 combined, that were fraudulent. Chase then shut down that card immediately so no further charges could be made on that account.
The third thing that went right is that I’m very aware of my credit card activity and I monitor it online almost daily. I had looked through my charges the morning before the fraud occurred, which saved a lot of time on the phone with Chase. I was able to just say, “Everything through yesterday was my activity,” and we only had to review one day’s charges.
The fourth thing that went right is that I have other credit cards. I use my Chase card instead of cash most of the time in favor of reaping the reward points. I like the convenience of using plastic instead of cash. And when my card was shut down, that could have left me at a loss for a couple of days until my new card arrived. Luckily, I have another rewards card that I generally only use at stores that don’t accept Visa. I was able to just use that until my new Chase Visa was delivered. A backup plan is a very good thing. I also have another card that I do not keep in my wallet…just in case my wallet is ever stolen. I always want to be prepared.
I don’t know exactly how my card info was stolen. My card itself is still in my possession. I figure it must have been either a skimmer that I didn’t notice when I swiped my card (though I always try to look for those), or it may have been a less than honest employee at a restaurant or convenience store who skimmed the card when it was out of my sight. Regardless, the result is the same. I feel somewhat violated because someone stole my credit card information. But I have experienced no financial loss…only a minor inconvenience. A lot of things went right for me in a situation that could have been much, much worse.
I received two different notifications from my credit card providers this week. One made me happy. The other made me a bit frustrated.
The one that made me happy indicated that my Visa card provider was sending me a new card because my existing card was a part of the Home Depot data breach. So why does this make me happy? Because I knew I had used my Visa at Home Depot during the affected time period. I wasn’t exactly sure what my next step should be. And lo and behold….my card provider was proactive and took care of it for me. That’s a sign that my credit card company is a good one. And that makes me happy.
The notification that frustrated me was in regard to my Subaru Rewards Mastercard. I rarely use this card. I have it for exactly one reason: Sam’s Club doesn’t accept Visa. So most of the time I use the Visa card I talked about earlier. But at Sam’s Club I needed to have either a Discover or a Mastercard. I did a little research about what card would give me the best rewards deal, and decided on the Subaru Mastercard. 3% of all of my purchases goes into a rewards account, and when that account reaches $100, I get a $100 gift certificate good for sales or service at any Subaru dealership. Since I own an aging Subaru Forester, this seemed like a good choice. But the frustrating communication I received recently said that my card provider is ending their partnership with Subaru and I should expect this card to be replaced by a cash back rewards Visa. The exact same Visa that I use already. And that won’t be accepted by the one store where I use the Mastercard. Frustrating. And to top it off, I was at $82 on my rewards total, leaving me a small window of time in which to either charge $600 worth of stuff or just give up and lose the rewards I’ve been accumulating. Frustrating!
As fate would have it, I needed to buy new tires for my car, which turned out to be a $500 expense at Sam’s Club. So I think I’ll use the Mastercard for groceries this week and meet my required spending to actually receive my gift certificate. But I still needed to address the issue of future shopping. I need a new Mastercard.
I use credit cards for convenience, not for credit. I pay these cards off in full at the end of every month. But to get the most “bang” for my card usage, I like to make sure I’m earning some kind of rewards with my credit cards. Luckily there are websites designed exactly for the purpose of finding your best rewards fit. NerdWallet, CreditCards.com, and CardHub are all decent sites to help you find the best card for you, and they helped me find the new card that I needed.
Now I’m not saying that everyone should go out and apply for a credit card. But it is nice knowing that there are resources available to help you find the one that’s the best fit for you.
Lately I’ve been seeing TV commercials for the Discover card, boasting that they now provide the card-holder’s credit score right on the monthly statement. What a great idea!!! And apparently Richard Cordray, Director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, agrees.
Most people don’t seem to worry about their credit report/credit score until they are trying to borrow money…when it may be too late to do anything about it. But it’s something that can affect you all the time. Did you know that car insurance companies may factor in your credit history when determining the rate you pay? Seems they’ve made the connection that risky behavior in your finances may be indicative of risky behavior on the roads. Not to mention all the bad things you could be missing on your credit in the case of identity theft. You just really need to keep an eye on things.
Several years ago it became a lot easier for Americans to check in on their credit. A free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) is available to you each year through the website http://www.annualcreditreport.com. But these reports do not include the elusive credit score. That will cost you a fee of about $8 per bureau.
The credit score is a method of translating a whole credit report, which includes listings of every credit account you have and what your payment history is like on those accounts, into one easy number that is indicative of your financial behavior. It’s kind of like translating your whole college transcript into a simple grade point average number. It gives a quick and dirty picture of what is typical financial behavior for you.
So if it’s the best quick measure of your financial performance, why can’t you get the credit score for free? I wish I knew. But Discover has taken a step toward rectifying that situation, and I’m hopeful that other credit card providers will follow suit in the near future. In the meantime, you can get a reasonable credit score estimate (as well as a lot of really good information) through http://www.creditkarma.com. It’s worth checking out.