The Best Credit Card Deals For You

Is there such a thing as a good credit card? It can be good if you benefit financially from being the proud owner of one.

Money Beagle wonders if the Costco American Express True Rewards credit card will be a good fit for him and his wife. This card offers a rewards program that gives a yearly certificate toward an in-store Costco purchase after you earn 3% on gas purchases (4% if it’s the business version of the Costco Card), 2% on other categories (such as restaurants) and 1% on everything else. If you’re a Costco member, there’s no annual fee on the card.

This sounds like a good card for his family, since they are already Costco members and do a bunch of shopping there. Obviously, if you choose to go with a card where most of the perks revolve around a certain store or restaurant, you’d best be a good customer to make the most out of your perks.

I’m a fan of my Chase Sapphire card, which is one of the best credit card dealsI’ve found that benefits me and the way I spend money (you can find the credit card deal that suits you best via comparison sites like http://www.comparethemarket.com/credit-cards/). Since I don’t use my credit cards for the typical gas purchases and restaurant tabs, this card is a one-size-fits-all for me, as I earn 1 point for every dollar spent on purchases. Sometimes, there are bonus points for viewing a Chase promotional video or other customer-driven interaction.

Instead of using my points on gift cards or baubles, I’m able to use them to reduce my credit card balance, which is exactly what I did this week — $60 came right off. My Capital One Rewards credit card points can also be used in the same manner, but only after I meet a certain threshold of 5,000 points. The Chase Sapphire threshold is 2,000, I believe.

But the best credit card deal I’ve got going is definitely my FIA credit card, with a paltry 6.24% interest rate — that’s half of what my other two major credit cards are charging in interest. And I’ve got a stellar, near-800 credit score (or above, depending on the credit reporting bureau). So if I’m going to carry a large balance for more than a month or two (think new furniture or the medical bills from Baby Frugalista’s birth), I’ll put it on the FIA card.

Of course, there’s always something: I just received a notice that Bank of America (gasp!) is taking over my FIA card. I’m not thrilled about this development, but we’ll see how it shakes out. Hopefully, it will still be the best credit card deal in my wallet.

Do you have a go-to credit card? What makes it stand out for you?

Layway Becoming Popular Again for Holiday Purchases

Since it doesn’t look like the economy’s going to rebound in a big way any time soon, stores are bringing back an old standby: the layaway plan. I remember Kmart used to have a layaway department when I was a kid, and many people took advantage of the program.

How do you use layaway? It varies from retailer to retailer, but the store “holds” your intended purchases for an initial deposit (usually 20% of the price) for a set amount of time while you make weekly payments toward the total, until it’s paid off. Then, you finally get to bring it home. It’s generally used for large purchases of grouped items, or perhaps one big item. Layaway programs can last 30, 60 or 90 days.

Some places only offer it during the holiday season — ostensibly to get you to buy more presents — while others have it year-round. Retailers who offer layaway options include Kmart, Sears and Walmart. There’s usually a fee for the privilege of using layaway; the usual seems to be $5 or $10, with higher fees for more expensive items.

Is it just me, or does it seem like just another way to add to your debt? Without these programs, perhaps people would follow a budget for buying Christmas gifts. This is just another line of credit, and can be just as bad — or worse — than using a credit card to make the purchase.

I’ve seen it touted as a way to “hide” presents, but layaway always seemed a little sketchy to me. If you can’t pay for it and bring it home that day, maybe you shouldn’t be making the purchase!

How Many Movies Can One Man Watch?

Photo by H Berends/sxc.hu

My husband is a very laid-back guy — he has an easygoing personality and doesn’t have any hobbies to speak of. His one vice — which, of course, costs $$$ — is smoking (time to quit, honey!).  But the man just LOOOOVEESS his movies. He spends all of his free time watching them through various outlets, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t drive me nuts.

Why can’t he just sit and read a book? It’s just not in his DNA. I’ve even caught him pausing a movie to watch something else on his laptop (which is on the coffee table in front of him — and the TV). For me, it’d be the best day ever if there was no more cable TV, or DVD players, or YouTube.

Even Baby Frugalista is now getting in on the act, courtesy of her father, who occasionally plops her on his lap to watch the Muppets, Fraggle Rock, Scooby-Doo, or his new favorite, Wonder Pets. Naturally, this generally happens when Mommy is taking a nap or running errands.

Here’s a rundown of how Mr. Not-So-Frugal gets his (excessive) movie fix:

— The super-duper cable package. The whole enchilada. This means we have every cable and movie channel known to man. The movie package costs $32/month in addition to our normal cable package. We also get access to the video-on-demand feature for all channels we’re subscribed to, which, thank goodness, is included for “free.”

— Pay-Per-View. Yes, my dear husband also occasionally orders movies (costing anywhere from $1.99 to $4.99) from our cable TV provider. This is usually when he’s impatient to watch a movie before it comes out on DVD/video-on-demand, or it he has an itch to see a film immediately.

— Netflix DVDs. Yes, the old-fashioned DVD-in-the-mail package. He’s on the two-fer plan, which now costs $12/month with new Netflix pricing that goes into effect on September 1.

— Streaming Netflix. Again, thanks to the Netflix price increase, this will now cost us $8/month. The movie selection isn’t as large for the streaming option as it is for the DVDs, but Mr. NSF just loves the cheesy old movies prominently featured online. The movies are streamed through our Roku player, explained in the next point.

— Streaming Roku. We don’t have a gaming system like the Wii, PlayStation or xBox through which we can stream the Netflix movies, so I got Mr. NSF a Roku player for Christmas last year, costing about $70. The Roku also features additional TV and movie “channels” we could subscribe to, but thankfully, this is where Mr. NSF finally draws the line.

Monthly, the costs for my husband’s movie fix is about $50-$60. I have to mention that we don’t ever go to the movies, and spend almost nothing else on entertainment.

AND I’m finally giving in to Mr. NSF’s request that we get smartphones once we’re eligible for new cell phones in April. That will be another $40/month, but I hope to find a deal on the phones (maybe a BOGO?). I hope he doesn’t think he’s going to watch movies on the phone, too.

Should I Pay Extra on the Mortgage Principal?

I’ve been paying extra on the mortgage for a year and a half now — I always pay at least $25 extra a month toward our mortgage principal, with a few months of an extra $50, up until our escrow payment increased $100/month this past August, after which I just rounded up to a nice, even number and paid an extra $23.

Fast-forward to last week, when we received an escrow disclosure statement/notice of new mortgage payment in the mail from our mortgage company. The good news is it indicates that starting in February, our total mortgage payment (which includes an escrow payment for property taxes and homeowners insurance) will decrease by $46 per month.

But with Baby Frugalista scheduled to arrive in early March, I’m wondering if that money would be better spent on, well, things for the baby. She’ll require diapers, wipes, and possibly formula if nursing doesn’t work out the way I hope. These items will alter our budget. Then there’s the savings account(s?) I want to open for her.

Another consideration is that I plan to stay home for 6 months after the baby is born, which means I’ll only be receiving 66% of my pay for 12 weeks or so, then nothing for the next 3 months. So our finances will be squeezed as it is — why make it worse by “spending” $25-$50 on an additional mortgage principal payment?

Paying the December Mortgage Bill Before December 31

Now that we’re snowed in (thanks to a blizzard that no one seems to have nicknamed as of yet), I’ve been cleaning my little heart out. The bathroom is sparkling, the Christmas gifts have been sorted and the tissue paper, boxes and gift bags carefully tucked away for re-use next season, and the back room that was loaded with baby stuff generously given to us by family and friends has been organized into a tolerable mess.

One thing I did remember to do before the end of the year is to pay our December mortgage before the 31. Why does it matter, you ask? By paying it before the end of 2010, we’ll be able to deduct the mortgage interest on our taxes come February. Between the mortgage interest and property tax deductions, we know we’ll be getting a hefty refund, and this will boost it. Yes, it’s an interest-free loan to the government, but this will be the first full year we’ve been paying these things, and I want to see what the numbers are before we readjust our W-4 withholding, if we choose to do it at all.

Currently, we both claim “zero” on our employer W-4s. I did so because I’ve always had freelance gigs. I get a 1099 at the end of the year, and I’m responsible for paying the taxes — and the last thing I want is to pay taxes in April. But now that we own our own home, it’s a whole new ballgame.

Do you remember to pay your December mortgage bill before the 31st? Worst comes to worst, you’ll include that mortgage interest in the follow year’s tax deductions, right?

Online Bill Pay Changover Means… I Have to Write Checks!

Now here’s something I haven’t had to do in ages — write checks to pay our monthly bills.

Don’t get me wrong, I still write out checks once in a while, but usually only for gifts for birthdays, weddings or christenings. Other than that, I can’t remember the last time I filled out a check, put it in an envelope, wrote in my return address (or affixed an address label) and put a stamp on it. And THEN toss it in the mail and hope that it gets to its intended destination on time. How archaic!

I use online bill pay through our bank, which has notified us that it’s changing over the system in October. So there will be a 5-day blackout period from Oct. 8-12 when you can’t schedule payments. The bank claims you can schedule payments up until Oct. 8, but I’m a bit wary of doing that, since almost all of our monthly bills are due by Oct. 12.

Looks like I’ll be writing out the checks for those bills instead. Which means I’ll have to send them out Monday or Tuesday in order to be sure they arrive in time.

I’ll also have to re-input all of the payee information — name, address, account numbers — from scratch. But the upside is that our bank will be depositing $30 in our checking account for the trouble.

The bank also had Customer Appreciation Week this week, which I didn’t know until I went to make a deposit on Wednesday morning. I got a compact flashlight (with batteries!) in ‘appreciation’ for my loyalty. I actually needed one of those!

I figured I’d let a family member know that they’d get the free flashlight if they went to the bank branch through Saturday. And the family member responded, “How are you supposed to know it was Customer Appreciation Week?” Well, at least I relayed the information!

Someone might be making an unnecessary deposit or withdrawal to get their flashlight, methinks.