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U.S. Bank Cash 365 review

U.S. Bank Cash 365In the heels of Chase, Barclaycard and Wells Fargo, U.S. bank has just launched a 1.5 percent cash-back card – the U.S. Bank Cash 365 card, which is co-branded with American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner).

The 365 is not an exciting or innovative product, but that’s the whole point: it’s designed to give cardholders a low-maintenance way of earning rewards. Our review will help you decide if it’s right for you.

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Wells Fargo Cash Wise review

Wells fargo cash wise cardIn the past year, both Barclaycard and Chase have launched 1.5 percent cash back cards. And now Wells Fargo has followed suit with its Cash Wise Visa.

Cash Wise is a strong offering compared to Wells Fargo’s other products, but there are several things to consider before you apply.

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Costco Credit Card Review

Costco’s partnership with American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) ended June 20, 2016. Going forward, Visa will be the only plastic accepted at Costco, and the new co-branded Costco rewards card is the Costco Anywhere Visa card by Citi. costco citi anywhere

In this review, we’ll compare both cards, guide current TrueEarnings cardholders through the transition and help potential new applicants decide whether the new card is worth getting.

The transition

If you were an AmEx TrueEarnings cardholder, your new Citi card should have already arrived by mail — and you should securely destroy your old card). You can register your account for online access at citi.com/CostcoSetup. The transition should have been automatic, and Citi shouldn’t have done a new credit pull.

As for the rewards you already earned with the TrueEarnings card, those will be automatically transferred, and you’ll receive them on your next regular February cash-back rewards coupon.

If you never had the TrueEarnings card, you can apply for the Costco Anywhere Visa on Citi’s website, according to American Express.

If you have no intention of getting a Costco rewards card, how happy you are about the transition will depend on the cards already in your wallet. If you enjoyed using large Costco purchases to earn American Express Membership Rewards on, say, your American Express Everyday card, you’re likely not thrilled with the change, as AmEx will no longer be accepted at Costco. On the other hand, if your primary rewards-earning card is a Visa, you can start using it to rack up rewards on your bulk purchases.

The rewards

The reward structure for the new Citi product is definitely an improvement over the old card. Oddly, the old TrueEarnings card did not give extra rewards for Costco purchases, but the new Costco Anywhere card does. The new card also bumps up the amount of cash back you’ll earn on gas, dining and travel:

 NEW Costco Anywhere VisaOLD TrueEarnings American Express
U.S. gas purchases (incl. Costco)4%3%
Restaurants3%2%
Travel3%2%
Costco and Costco.com2%N/A
Other purchases1%1%

When it comes to receiving your rewards, you’ll get them annually. This is a big difference from the redeem-whenever-you-want structure of most cash-back cards. Every February, you’ll be mailed a rewards coupon with your billing statement. It’s redeemable at any Costco location for merchandise or cash. If you want cash, you’ll need to request it in person at Costco. The coupon expires in August the same year it was issued.

Fees

The TrueEarnings AmEx didn’t have an annual fee, and neither does the Citi Anywhere card. However, Costco membership is required to hold the card. Costco memberships start at $55 per year.

The American Express TrueEarnings card charged a 2.7 percent foreign transaction fee, while the Citi card charges 3 percent.

Other perks and benefits

Visa and American Express offer their own suites of protections to cardholders. While Visa offers the standard collection of damage and theft protection, purchase protection, travel accident insurance, extended warranty and secondary rental car insurance, American Express extends some unique benefits, including a popular and robust deals program (AmEx Offers) and free ShopRunner membership (which offers free shipping from certain merchants). If you made use of AmEx Offers and ShopRunner, saying goodbye might be hard. However, the boosted cash back on the new Visa card may be some consolation.

Other cards to consider

The new Citi card is a solid product for Costco members, especially now that it’s adding 2 percent back on Costco purchases. If you’re already paying the annual Costco membership fee and frequently shop at Costco, the card is an obvious choice. It offers cash back in everyday categories, in addition to what you buy at Costco. Four percent back on gas and 3 percent back on dining and travel isn’t a combination you’ll find on any other no-annual-fee card.

However, if you don’t often shop at Costco, we suggest you tap the brakes. The redemption structure is designed for avid Costco shoppers. Your rewards come annually in the form of a coupon to be redeemed at Costo. These are not the kind of rewards you can redeem for a statement credit in any amount at any time.

If you’re looking for more flexible cash-back rewards that hit similar categories, here are some ideas:

  • BankAmericard Cash Rewards™: This card hits the gas category (3 percent) and also offers 2 percent back at grocery stores AND wholesale clubs for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter. It’s a Visa Signature card, so you’ll be able to use it at Costco post-transition. Your rewards are much more flexible, though, as you can redeem them whenever you want as a statement credit, check or deposit into a Bank of America account.
  • Capital One Quicksilver: This card keeps it simple, rewarding you with 1.5 percent cash back on everything, which you can redeem in any amount at any time via statement credit or check. It’s now a MaserCard card, however so you can no longer use it at Costco (to get 1.5 percent back), but there’s always Sam’s Club, which loves MasterCard.
  • American Express Blue Cash cards: If you still want an American Express card after your TrueEarnings card is phased out, consider one of the Blue Cash cards. The no-annual-fee version gives you 3 percent back at supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases per year (but not at warehouses like Costco) and 2 percent back at gas stations and department stores. If you’re willing to pay an annual fee of $75, consider the Blue Cash Preferred card, which rewards you 6 percent back at supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in purchases per year) and 3 percent at gas stations and department stores. Just remember that you won’t be able to use either at Costco (although you can at Sam’s Club and BJ’s wholesale clubs)

Updated July 27, 2016

Stash card review: A card for anti-chain travelers

If you’re loyal to a particular hotel chain, you can expect to be rewarded by participating in its rewards program or carrying its co-branded credit card.stash card

But what about those who eschew chains and are loyal to boutique properties? They have a loyalty program, too, called Stash. And, in late-2015, the program released a rewards card issued by Synchrony.

The Stash card may intrigue travelers who like staying at unique, local properties, but it’s important to fully understand the program’s advantages — and limitations.

The rewards are lukewarm

The current sign-up bonus of 10,000 points after you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days does not compete with sign-up offers on other hotel cards with similar annual fees. The Stash card carries an $85 annual fee – and travel rewards cards with comparable (or lower) annual fees provide twice or more that many points in their sign-up bonuses. Even when you take into account the relatively high point value the Stash card offers (we’ll get into the specifics in a moment), 10,000 points does not measure up.

Things get somewhat better when it comes to earning rewards on spending. With the card, you earn:

  • 3 points per dollar at Stash partner hotels
  • 2 points per dollar at all other hotels, and on dining and gas
  • 1 point per dollar on all other eligible spending

Other hotel cards generally don’t allow you to earn points on other unaffiliated hotels, so the Stash card is uniquely nonpartisan in that regard. It also offers the everyday categories of dining and gas, which allows you to accumulate points even when you’re not travelling. The 3 points per dollar you earn on your card are in addition to the 5 points per dollar you can earn at Stash properties for being part of the loyalty program.

The per-point worth is competitive among hotel cards

It can be hard to get a read on the per-point value with the Stash card. Properties don’t have fixed star levels or tiers, and the points don’t have a fixed cash value. Instead, the number of points needed to redeem a room depends on location and time of year.

Based on the properties we spot-checked, though, you can expect to get at least 1 cent per point, and, sometimes more.

Hotel Andra in Seattle: 1.07 cents/point

Stash Hotel Rewards Andra point value example

Moonrise Hotel in St. Louis: 1.06 cents/point

Stash Hotel Rewards moonrise hotel example

Magnolia Hotel in Downtown Dallas: 1.45 cents/point
Stash Hotel Rewards -- magnolia hotel dallas example

The program lacks flexibility and perks

At first glance, a card that lets you redeem rewards at a variety of non-chain hotels and brands may appear more flexible than one limiting you to just one chain. However, the Stash program is likely more restrictive than the programs of major chains because:

  • The Stash partner network is small: There are fewer than 200 hotels worldwide in the Stash program. Most are in the U.S., and there are a handful in the Caribbean and in Panama. For comparison, Starwood, which is one of the smaller major hotel chains, has 1,300 properties and is represented in about 100 countries. So, even if you’re “stuck” redeeming your points at a co-branded chain with a traditional hotel card, you do have more options.
  • Redeeming for hotel stays is your only option: If you have a hotel rewards card, redeeming for free nights is a given. But some programs give other options, including the ability to transfer to travel partners, or redeem with a combination of points and cash. With the Stash card, your only option is fully free hotel nights, which could leave points sitting in your account longer.

For an $85-annual-fee card, it’s also light on the perks. The Stash program doesn’t give any kind of elite status. And the card doesn’t provide a free annual night, which several other hotel cards with comparable annual fees do.

Should you consider the card?

If you are a regular at a particular boutique hotel (for example, you always stay at a Magnolia property in a city you visit on business), this card will earn you 3 points per dollar on those stays. Just make sure you do the math to make sure you’re getting a value of at least $85 a year on your spending to balance out the annual fee.

However, small size of the Stash network and the difficulty of justifying the annual fee with perks (like free nights and elite status) make it difficult for us to recommend the Stash card for most travelers.

If you’re truly anti-chain (and would never get a hotel rewards card from IHG, Marriott and the like, there are other options for off-the-beaten-path travelers. Generic travel rewards cards, for example, let you earn fixed-value points that you can use toward any hotel (even boutique ones):

  • The Capital One Venture ($59 annual fee), for example, lets you earn 2 generic miles per dollar on all spending and then redeem those miles (at 1 cent each) to cover various travel purchases.
  • The Barclaycard Arrival (no annual fee) gives 2X miles on travel and dining, while its $89-annual-fee counterpart (the Arrival+) gives 2X on all spending.
  • The Discover it Miles card offers 1.5 generic reward miles per dollar spent, matches all the miles you earn the first year and even gives some in-flight Wi-Fi perks.
  • The BankAmericard Travel Rewards card® gives 1.5 percent back on all spending and offers redemption bonuses for Bank of America bank account holders.
  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred has an annual fee of $95 and also rewards 2X points on travel and dining. With this card, though, you can transfer your rewards directly into partner frequent flier and hotel programs. Or, you could book a boutique hotel via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and pay with your points. In other words, for $10 more a year than the Stash card, you’re gaining more flexibility.

Discover provides free FICOs for all

Discover has given its cardholders free access to their FICO (TransUnion) FICO scores for a few years now. But it’s taken that several steps further to offer free Experian FICO scores to everyone (not just cardholders).

The new service is called Credit Scorecard, and it’s the first free, widely available credit-tracking service to offer a free FICO score.

What Credit Scorecard offers

Once you sign up (again, you don’t have to be a Discover cardholder), you’ll get access to your Experian FICO score and a personalized credit summary. That summary includes:

  • Total number of accounts reporting to Experian
  • Length of credit history
  • Number of inquiries reported on your Experian report
  • Revolving credit utilization
  • Number of missed payments on your Experian report

Discover scorecard dashboard summary

You also get a more complete version of your Scorecard, which includes a breakdown of the scoring factors in your summary, how your score compares to others your age, and the factors that are helping and hurting your score:

discover scorecard helping and  hurting

Your Credit Scorecard will refresh every 30 days.

How does it compare?

There are lots of free-credit-score sites out there, both from issuers (like Capital One) and from other parties (like Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, etc.). Each has features to consider, and some are more robust than others.

How Credit Scorecard may be better: It’s quite simple – Credit Scorecard offers you a free Experian FICO score, and it’s the first widely available free service to do so.

FICO is the most popular score among lenders, so knowing where you stand before applying for a card or a loan is extremely valuable. Granted, you have two other FICO scores (from TransUnion and Equifax), and you should know all three before applying for a major loan, like a mortgage. After all, each credit bureau may have slightly different information on you and produce a slightly different FICO score. But, when it comes to keeping tabs on your credit health and knowing when you’re ready for a card designed for excellent credit, having access to your Experian FICO score is a powerful asset.

Before Credit Scorecard, you had to buy your FICO scores (for about $20 each) or have a credit card that offers free FICO scores.

How Credit Scorecard may fall behind: As valuable as your FICO score is, Credit Scorecard doesn’t offer some of the features that other free-score services and websites do. For example, you get just a summary of your Experian report data. You don’t get access to an actual credit report, which other services provide (see a list here). Being able to see your report is helpful, as it allows you to spot mistakes or evidence of identity theft (such as accounts opened by a fraudster in your name). Some sites even email you alerts whenever something on your report changes.

Other free-score sites also have score-prediction tools, which allow you to see how your score might fluctuate if you, say, closed an account or applied for a new one.

The bottom line

How exactly Credit Scorecard measures up to other similar services may be beside the point, however. All these sites are free. And all of them employ a soft pull on your credit, meaning you could sign up for all of them at once and not harm your credit.

So, if you want to feel fully advised of your credit health, you may want to utilize several services and stitch them together to get a nearly complete credit picture. We can say, however, that, while it may not give you anything you want, Discover’s Credit Scorecard is a vital piece of your credit-tracking puzzle, as it’s the only free service to offer an Experian FICO score.

Compare other free-score services in the table below:

Comparing sites that offer free credit scores/reports
Free score typesFree credit report?Frequency of score/report updatesExplanation of score factorsFree credit monitoringCredit score prediction/simulator tool?
Credit KarmaVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion and EquifaxYES. From TransUnion and EquifaxEvery 7 daysYESYES, via TransUnionYES
Credit SesameVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion.NO. Can pay per viewing ($9.95 for TransUnion report) or via monthly subscription (starts at $7.95/month for monthly access to TransUnion, Equifax and Experian reports).MonthlyYESYES, via TransUnionNO
QuizzleVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnion.YES. TransUnion report.Every three months (every month for paid accounts)YESNO. Can pay for monitoring plan (starts at $8/month)NO
My.CreditCards.comVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnionYES. TransUnion report.MonthlyYESYES, via TransUnionNO
Credit.comVantage 3.0 from Experian; Experian National Equivalency ScoreNo. Must sign up for access to Experian report with Experian CreditWorks ($1 for 7-day trial, then $21.95/month)MonthlyYESNO. Requires paid plan.NO
Mint.comEquifax Credit Score (proprietary model used by Equifax)NO. Can get Equifax credit report via Mint Credit Monitor ($16.99/month).Quarterly score. Monthly for paid subscribers. Monthly credit report via Mint Credit Monitor (paid)YESNO. Three-bureau monitoring via Mint Credit Monitor.NO
Wise PiggyVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnionNO. Provides “Account Summary”MonthlyYESNONO
Lending TreeVantageScore 3.0 from TransUnionNOMonthlyYESNONO