NYT Financial Tuneup Day 3: Apply For a Better Credit Card

nyt_ftuDay 3 of my NY Times 7-Day Financial Tuneup is called Find the Best Credit Card for You. (Sign up for your own personalized tune-up for full details.) The key again is to actually apply for a better card, not just think about it and then keep your old card with lukewarm rewards and/or high interest rates.

Scenario 1: Carrying a balance

If you are still working on paying down your credit card balance, the NYT (surprise!) recommends a credit card with a low interest rate and fees. The average credit card interest rate is something like 17% APR, which is simply nuts. Ignore cashback and rewards credit cards, as they have higher interest rates in general that will overwhelm any potential rewards. The NYT specifically mentions the following cards:

  • Simmons Bank Platinum Visa has a lower variable APR (currently 9.5%) with no balance transfer. This might be a better solution if you plan on carrying a balance forever (why?!?).
  • Discover it Secured credit card improves your credit score (and thus perhaps your interest rates) as it will help build a positive credit history with no annual fee. You can have poor credit as a $200 security deposit is required for a $200 credit line.

The Citi Secured Mastercard is a very similar card and will also help build a history of on-time payments to the credit bureaus and has no annual fee.

If you’re going to apply for a new card, I prefer the following cards with 0% introductory APRs with no balance transfer fee. Here, the plan would be to consolidate balances and design a plan to pay it all off within the promotional period. After that, the rates will shoot back up again unless you do another balance transfer.

Scenario 2: No credit card debt

If you do pay off your balances every month, then you can ignore interest rates and focus on getting points, miles, or cash back on your purchases. The NYT specifically mentions the following cards.

  • Citi Double Cash card for simple cash back. It pays “1 percent back when you make the purchase and another 1 percent when you pay the bill. The best part? There’s no need for you to track points or decide when to cash out. The money comes back to you automatically.”
  • Bank of America Travel Rewards Card for simple travel rewards with no annual fee.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred for those that collect airline miles and know how to use them efficiently.

Your goal with your new card should be to get all of the rewards you can just for spending as much as you normally would.

I’m giving the NYT an overall thumbs-up on these recommendations for most people. However, I would only recommend the Bank of America Travel Rewards card if you can participate in their Preferred Rewards program and reach the Platinum (2.25% back towards travel) or Platinum Honors (2.62% back towards travel) tiers. Otherwise, the Citi Double Cash is better than 1.5% back.

The hard part: Actually applying for a new card! The reason why there are so many juicy incentives for credit cards is that most people still don’t like to bother with applying for a new card. Change can be hard. If you’ve been thinking about making a switch, let today be the day!

Financial Tuneup Recap (updated as I complete the rest)

NYT Financial Tuneup Day 2: Trim Your Budget

nyt_ftuDay 2 of my NY Times 7-Day Financial Tuneup is called Trim Your Budget. The key here is to take action, not just do research and then put it off again. (If you just want to daydream, Day 1 was Optimize Your Thinking.) Again, the NYT doesn’t have direct links, but anyone with a (free) NYT account can get their own personalized list of tasks.

Reviewing your monthly budget annually is a simple way to keep your spending in check. Don’t worry, we’re not going to ask you to cut anything you love, just to trim your spending in places you may not even notice. After all, if you benefit from your weekly yoga class or truly enjoy your restaurant night, have at it. Just be honest with yourself about the services that you truly use and enjoy. In comparison, if you have a languishing gym membership you never use, it may be time to cut that $50-a-month membership fee.

Round 1: Find an Easy Item to Cut

  1. Gather your credit card and checking account statements from the last month.
  2. List your spending. “…list any expense from the last month that occurs routinely: daily, weekly, monthly. From the cup of coffee you buy every morning, to your weekly manicure, to your monthly gym membership or magazine subscription.”
  3. Find an easy place to trim. “…most commonly-cut expenses are subscriptions to gyms, credit bureaus, newspapers and audio services.”

Here is rundown of recurring expenses with some commentary.

  • Mortgage – thankfully paid off a few years ago.
  • Property tax – yes, but not really negotiable. I suppose I could contest the assessed value of my house, but it seems pretty reasonable.
  • Car loan – none. My measure of car affordability is whether I can pay for it with cash. I’ve paid cash on every car, from $2,000 on up to 20x that.
  • Student loan – thankfully paid off that $30,000 a while ago.
  • Insurance – feels like we have so much insurance, but they have high deductibles to protect against catastrophic events. Car, homeowners, life, long-term disability, and umbrella insurance.
  • Food/grocery/take-out/restaurants – I’m sure we could trim something, but not in a clear-cut way. No coffee shop habit.
  • TV/internet – yes, this is a target for trimming.
  • Cellular phone – Still at $6 a month with Sprint for two lines.
  • Gym – yes, just barely worth the cost.
  • Gas
  • Medical
  • Clothing, gifts, etc – yes, again I’m sure we could trim something but we are okay with it overall.
  • Charitable giving – yes, but already thoughtfully budgeted for.
  • Credit monitoring, Netflix, magazines, music streaming, etc. – I pay for Amazon Prime and feel it is worth the money. No to Netflix, Spotify, HBO, Lifelock, paid credit monitoring, etc. A few magazines at $5 or less per year.

Round 2: Lower Your Bills

  1. Pick a bill to start with
  2. Find and review your latest bill
  3. Call your service provider
  4. Ask for a reduction in your bill

The hard part: Pick up the phone and call my cable provider. I’ve done it before, but it’s never fun. This tune-up did motivate me to do it, so I suppose that’s something. I called my cable provider and after 26 minutes, I was only able to squeeze about $5 a month in concessions by having them re-arrange my bill around to a “new plan” from my “old plan”. Even that required me to get past the initial lie that my “old plan” was “already a great deal”. ($60 a year in savings is not bad for 30 minutes of time, I suppose.)

I did not go all the way to setting a cancel date, as I wanted to avoid interruption in internet service. If you are ready to cancel, see Tips on Reducing Cable and Phone Bills From Ethically Ambiguous Experts.

In the end, I called up the duopoly DSL provider to get the new customer promotion for TV and internet. I confirmed that their was no credit check required. If it all works out, switching should save me around $50 a month ($600 a year). Switching back and forth isn’t fun, but it does save money!

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