Finance

5% Cash Back Cards: PayPal, Amazon, Target, and Automotive – October thru December 2019

MyMoneyBlog.com - Thu, 09/19/2019 - 16:40

Activation time for 4th Quarter! The credit cards below offer up to 5% cash back on specific categories that rotate each quarter. It takes a little extra attention, but it can add up to hundreds of dollars in additional rewards per year without changing your spending habits. You can also buy gift cards with the 5% back now but spend the gift cards later. New cardmembers may also get an upfront sign-up bonus.

Chase Freedom – $150 Bonus

From October 1st through December 31st, 2019 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Department Stores
  • Purchases made with PayPal. Many online stores take PayPal as a checkout option, including eBay. You can also pay your taxes online with PayPal and still make money after the 1.96% fee with PayUSATax.
  • Purchases made with Chase Pay

Enroll each quarter at ChaseBonus.com. As long as you activate by the end of the quarter the rewards are retroactive. All other purchases earn 1% back, with no tiers or expiration of rewards. Technically, you earn Ultimate Rewards points which can also be converted to airline miles or hotel points instead of cash if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Currently, the Chase Freedom card is offering $150 bonus cash back if you sign up and make $500 in purchases in your first three months. No annual fee.

Discover it Card

From October 1st through December 31st, 2019 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Amazon.com
  • Target (both in-store and online)
  • Walmart.com (Walmart.com and via Walmart app if you pick Grocery Pick Up or Instart Pickup.)

Enroll after logging into your online account (look on the right-hand side). 5% rewards won’t apply until after you activate your rewards, so it is best to activate now before you forget. No annual fee.

New cardmember bonus details. If you are a new applicant and sign up via my Discover Card referral link, you will get a $50 Cashback Bonus after your first purchase within 3 months of being approved. You will also get Cashback Match for an entire year – a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. During those 12 months, your $50 Cashback Bonus becomes $100, your 5% cash back rewards becomes 10% cash back, and your 1% cash back rewards become 2% cash back. You can verify this on the application by clicking on “See rates, rewards and other info” and searching for this text:

Cashback MatchTM: : No purchase minimums. After the first 12 consecutive billing periods that your new account is open, we will match all of the cash back rewards you’ve earned and apply them to your account in the following one or two billing periods. If your account is closed or no longer in the cash back reward program at the time we calculate your potential award, your cash back will not be matched. You’ve earned cash back rewards when they have posted to your account by the end of the 12th consecutive billing period. This promotional offer may not be offered in the future. This exclusive offer is available only to new cardmembers.

TERMS OF CASHBACK BONUS OFFER: Get a $50 Cashback Bonus after you make your first purchase within 3 months of being approved. Promotional award will be applied within 8 weeks. The promotional award is in addition to the Cashback Bonus earned on all purchases.

ABOC Platinum Rewards Card – $150 Statement Credit Offer

From July 1st through September 30th, 2019 you can earn 5X rewards on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Automotive, including qualifying qualifying automotive parts, service and repair purchases. The list the eligible MCC codes, including those of Auto dealers, Service shops, Auto parts, and Tire stores.

You must register each quarter at ABOCRewards.com or in your online account. Currently, the ABOC Platinum Rewards Mastercard is offering a $150 statement credit if you sign up and make $1,200 in purchases in your first 90 days. No foreign transaction fees. No annual fee.

U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card. You get to choose the two 5% cash back categories every quarter, out of a preset selection of specific categories:

  • Fast Food
  • Cell Phone Providers
  • Home Utilities
  • Ground Transportation
  • Select Clothing Stores
  • Electronics Stores
  • Car Rentals
  • Gyms/Fitness Centers
  • Sporting Goods Stores
  • Department Stores
  • Furniture Stores
  • Movie Theaters
  • TV, Internet, and Streaming Services

Unfortunately, you can’t pick a broad category like gas stations, restaurants, or grocery stores. Make sure to choose your categories each quarter, even if you want them to stay the same. If you do not choose your categories, all purchases revert to only earning 1% cash back for that quarter.

Currently, the U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa card is offering $150 bonus cash back if you sign up and make $500 in eligible net purchases in your first 90 days. No annual fee.

American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card. This card earns 6% cash back at US supermarkets all year long (on up to $6,000 per year) and. 3% cash back at US gas stations. New: 3% cash back on transit and 6% cash back on Netflix/Spotify/Hulu. I use this card all year long for groceries, and then in December use up the $6k annual limit on gift cards bought in the supermarket aisle. New cardholders are also eligible for a $250 statement credit after $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. $95 annual fee. See details in link.

Amazon Prime Rewards Card. Earn 5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods all year long. Prime membership required. 2% cash back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores (yawn… see below). New cardholder bonus varies by person. No annual fee.

Citi Dividend Card. This card is no longer available to new applicants, but if you still have the grandfathered card you can view and activate your quarterly 5% category here. Limit of $300 cash back for the calendar year.

Don’t settle for the “1% on everything else” that these cards offer. Get 2% cash back or higher. Check out the card-specific reviews for details.


“The editorial content here is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone. This email may contain links through which we are compensated when you click on or are approved for offers.”

5% Cash Back Cards: PayPal, Amazon, Target, and Automotive – October thru December 2019 from My Money Blog.

Copyright © 2019 MyMoneyBlog.com. All Rights Reserved. Do not re-syndicate without permission.

Categories: Finance

Groupon: Costco New Membership Deal

MyMoneyBlog.com - Wed, 09/18/2019 - 15:03

Here’s a Groupon deal for a new Costco Gold Star Membership where for the regular price of $60 you can get the following (up to $148.98 value):

  • 1-year Gold Star membership ($60 normally), which includes a membership card for the primary cardholder as well as one free Household Card
  • $20 Costco Cash card
  • $68.98 value in free coupons – Free Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean HE Laundry Detergent Pacs ($17.99 value), Free Kirkland Signature Create-a-Size® Paper Towels ($15.99 value), $10 off Fresh Meat (beef, chicken, pork, or fish; excludes deli items), $25 off an order of $250+ on Costco.com

Valid only for new members and those whose memberships expired prior to May 1, 2019. If you value the laundry detergent, paper towels and meat coupons together at roughly $40 and add in the $20 gift card, you’re basically looking at a free year of membership.

Save even more on your Groupon with a cashback shopping portal. Many offer new customers bonuses if you make a qualifying purchase, including Rakuten (formerly eBates) ($10 bonus), TopCashBack (varies), and BeFrugal ($10 bonus). I have cashed out of all of these in the last 12 months.


“The editorial content here is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone. This email may contain links through which we are compensated when you click on or are approved for offers.”

Groupon: Costco New Membership Deal from My Money Blog.

Copyright © 2019 MyMoneyBlog.com. All Rights Reserved. Do not re-syndicate without permission.

Categories: Finance

My Money Blog Portfolio Income and Withdrawal Rate – September 2019 (Q3)

MyMoneyBlog.com - Wed, 09/18/2019 - 01:00

One of the biggest problems in retirement planning is making sure a pile of money lasts throughout your retirement. I have read hundreds of articles about this topic, and there is no single solution. My imperfect (!) solution is to first build a portfolio designed for total return using assets that have enough faith in to hold through an extended downturn. I do not look for the highest income – no specialized ETFs, no high-dividend-only stocks, no high-yield bonds.

Then, only after that do I check out how much it distributes in dividends and interest. Dividends are the portion of profits that businesses have decided they don’t need to reinvest into their business. The analogy I fall back on is owning a rental property. If you are reliably getting rent checks that increase with inflation, you can sit back calmly and ignore what the house might sell for on the open market.

I track the “TTM Yield” or “12-Month Yield” from Morningstar, which the sum of a fund’s total trailing 12-month interest and dividend payments divided by the last month’s ending share price (NAV) plus any capital gains distributed over the same period. I prefer this measure because it is based on historical distributions and not a forecast. Below is a very close approximation of my investment portfolio (2/3rd stocks and 1/3rd bonds).

Asset Class / Fund % of Portfolio Trailing 12-Month Yield (Taken 9/17/19) Yield Contribution US Total Stock
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSAX) 25% 1.85% 0.46% US Small Value
Vanguard Small-Cap Value ETF (VBR) 5% 2.35% 0.12% International Total Stock
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VTIAX) 25% 3.05% 0.76% Emerging Markets
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (VWO) 5% 2.71% 0.14% US Real Estate
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSLX) 6% 3.29% 0.20% Intermediate-Term High Quality Bonds
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury ETF (VGIT) 17% 2.20% 0.37% Inflation-Linked Treasury Bonds
Vanguard Short-Term Inflation-Protected Securities ETF (VTIP) 17% 2.12% 0.36% Totals 100% 2.41%

 

Here is a chart showing how this 12-month trailing income rate has varied over the last five years.

One of the things I like about using this number is that when stock prices drop, this percentage metric usually goes up – which makes me feel better in a gloomy market. When stock prices go up, this percentage metric usually goes down, which keeps me from getting too euphoric. I see it as a very conservative, valuation-based withdrawal rate metric due to our very long retirement horizon of 40+ years.

In practical terms, I let all of my dividends and interest accumulate without automatic reinvestment. I treat this money as my “paycheck”. Then, as with my real paycheck, I can choose to either spend it or reinvest in more stocks and bonds. This number does not dictate how much we actually spend every year, but it gives me an idea of how comfortable I am with our withdrawal rate.

I am a proponent of aggressively saving, and then using the potential income that brings to improve your daily lifestyle. Instead of sitting on a beach, we used our nest egg to allow us to work less hours in a more flexible manner as parents of young children. Others may use it to start a new business, travel around the world, do charity or volunteer work, and so on. The income from our portfolio lets us “work less and live more” now as I now fear running out of time more than running out of money.

(If you’re still in the accumulation phase, you don’t really need to worry about this number. I believe a 3% withdrawal rate remains a reasonable target for something retiring young (before age 50) and a 4% withdrawal rate is a reasonable target for one retiring at a more traditional age (closer to 65). If you are young, instead focus on your earning potential via better career moves, investing in your skill set, and/or look for entrepreneurial opportunities where you own equity in a business.)


“The editorial content here is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone. This email may contain links through which we are compensated when you click on or are approved for offers.”

My Money Blog Portfolio Income and Withdrawal Rate – September 2019 (Q3) from My Money Blog.

Copyright © 2019 MyMoneyBlog.com. All Rights Reserved. Do not re-syndicate without permission.

Categories: Finance

My Money Blog Portfolio Asset Allocation Update, September 2019 (Q3)

MyMoneyBlog.com - Tue, 09/17/2019 - 03:05

Here’s my portfolio update for the third quarter of 2019. Most of my dividends arrive on a quarterly basis, and this helps me determine where to reinvest them. These are my real-world holdings, including 401k/403b/IRAs, taxable brokerage accounts, and savings bonds but excluding our house, cash reserves, and a few side investments. The goal of this portfolio is to create sustainable income that keeps up with inflation to cover our household expenses.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings

I use both Personal Capital and a custom Google Spreadsheet to track my investment holdings. The Personal Capital financial tracking app (free, my review) automatically logs into my accounts, adds up my balances, tracks my performance, and calculates my asset allocation. I still use my manual Google Spreadsheet (free, instructions) because it helps me calculate how much I need in each asset class to rebalance back towards my target asset allocation.

Here are my YTD performance and current asset allocation visually, per the “Holdings” and “Allocation” tabs of my Personal Capital account, respectively:

Stock Holdings
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSAX)
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VTIAX)
WisdomTree SmallCap Dividend ETF (DES)
Vanguard Small Value ETF (VBR)
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (VWO)
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSLX)

Bond Holdings
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VMLTX, VMLUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VWITX, VWIUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury Fund (VFITX, VFIUX)
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX, VAIPX)
Fidelity Inflation-Protected Bond Index Fund (FIPDX)
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond ETF (TIP)
Individual TIPS securities
U.S. Savings Bonds (Series I)

Target Asset Allocation. Our overall goal is to include asset classes that will provide long-term returns above inflation, distribute income via dividends and interest, and finally offer some historical tendencies to balance each other out. I make a small bet that US Small Value and Emerging Markets will have higher future long-term returns (along with some higher volatility) than the more large and broad indexes, although I could be wrong.

I don’t hold commodities, gold, or bitcoin. While you could argue for each of these asset classes, I believe that it is important to imagine an asset class doing poorly for a long time, with bad news constantly surrounding it, and only hold the ones where you still think you can maintain faith based on a solid foundation of knowledge and experience. That’s just not the case for me with certain asset classes.

Stocks Breakdown

  • 38% US Total Market
  • 7% US Small-Cap Value
  • 38% International Total Market
  • 7% Emerging Markets
  • 10% US Real Estate (REIT)

Bonds Breakdown

  • 33% US Treasury Bonds, intermediate
  • 33% High-Quality Municipal Bonds (taxable)
  • 33% US Treasury Inflation-Protected Bonds (tax-deferred)

I have settled into a long-term target ratio of 67% stocks and 33% bonds (2:1 ratio) within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and occasionally rebalance. I will use the dividends and interest to rebalance whenever possible in order to avoid taxable gains. (I allow it drift a bit either way.) With a self-managed, simple portfolio of low-cost funds, we minimize management fees, commissions, and taxes.

Holdings commentary. On the stocks side, somehow despite all of the various news stories stock prices have been resilient. I’m like a lot of other people and waiting for the next recession to come, but I also know to stay in the game. US stocks have beaten international stocks for a while, but I remain satisfied with my mix, knowing that I will own whatever successful businesses come out of the US, China, or wherever in the future.

On the bond side, my primary objective is to hold high-quality bonds with a short-to-intermediate duration of under 5 years or so. This means US Treasuries, TIPS, or investment-grade municipal bonds. I don’t want to worry about my bonds. I then tweak the specific breakdown based on my tax-deferred space available, the tax-effective rates of muni bonds, and the real interest rates of TIPS. Right now, it is roughly 1/3rd Treasuries, 1/3 Muni bonds, and 1/3rd TIPS. It looks like I need to redirect my dividends into more bonds.

Performance commentary and benchmarks. According to Personal Capital, my portfolio went up 13% so far in 2019. I see that during the same period the S&P 500 has gone up nearly 20%, Foreign Developed stocks up nearly 13%, and the US Aggregate bond index was up about 7%.

An alternative benchmark for my portfolio is 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund and 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund – one is 60/40 and the other is 80/20 so it also works out to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. That benchmark would have a total return of +14.82% for 2019 YTD.

I’ll share about more about the income in a separate post.


“The editorial content here is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone. This email may contain links through which we are compensated when you click on or are approved for offers.”

My Money Blog Portfolio Asset Allocation Update, September 2019 (Q3) from My Money Blog.

Copyright © 2019 MyMoneyBlog.com. All Rights Reserved. Do not re-syndicate without permission.

Categories: Finance

The Hidden Economics of College Admissions

MyMoneyBlog.com - Mon, 09/16/2019 - 01:30

NY Times Magazine has an interesting longread What College Admissions Offices Really Want by Paul Tough, adapted from his new book The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us. Angel Pérez and Trinity College allowed an inside look at the admissions process of a small liberal arts college. The entire thing is definitely worth a read, but here are my notes and highlights.

  • Both public and private universities stress about making their budget numbers balance. Tuition, endowments, and government funds must cover their expenses. Many colleges lose money year, and some of these are eventually forced to shut down.

    Tuition revenue, which along with room and board provides about two-thirds of Trinity College’s operating budget, had been falling for several years, and Trinity was running a steep deficit, losing $8 million a year.

  • This financial stress makes it hard to be truly need-blind and offer every student the aid package they need to afford college.

    Enrollment managers know there is no shortage of deserving low-income students applying to good colleges. They know this because they regularly reject them — not because they don’t want to admit these students, but because they can’t afford to.

  • The simplest way to balance their budget is to admit more students who can afford to pay full tuition, even if they aren’t the best applicants.
  • “We were taking some students who probably should not have been admitted, but we were taking them because they could pay”

    There is a popular and persistent image of college admissions in which diversity-obsessed universities are using affirmative action to deny spaces to academically talented affluent students while admitting low-income students with lower ability in their place. Boeckenstedt says the opposite is closer to the truth. If you’re an enrollment manager, he explains, the easiest category of students for you to admit are below-average students from high-income families.

  • High-income household have advantages in a few different ways. There are always a certain number of spaces set aside specifically for alumni, big donors, and those who excel at collegiate sports. These all tend to benefit those of high income.

    Most of Trinity’s athletes play sports that are popular in prep schools and rare in low-income public schools: field hockey, lacrosse, rowing and, especially, squash. The result is that at Trinity, as at many other Division III schools in the Northeast, the recruited athletes are actually more likely to be white and wealthy than the rest of the freshman class.

  • SAT and ACT scores also tend to correlate strongly with income.
  • Boeckenstedt’s chart shows an almost perfect correlation between institutional selectivity and students’ average family income, a steady, unwavering diagonal line slicing through the graph. With only a few exceptions, every American college follows the same pattern.

  • Even though many of the most elite colleges now tout their “free tuition” for low-income students, the overall numbers haven’t changed much.

    The most selective colleges in America were the least socioeconomically diverse. […] At “Ivy plus” colleges (Chetty’s term for the Ivy League plus Stanford, M.I.T., Duke and the University of Chicago), more than two-thirds of undergraduates, on average, came from families in the top income quintile, and fewer than 4 percent of students grew up in the bottom income quintile.

  • Hardly anyone pays the full “sticker” price at private universities. In fact, on average, students pay half the sticker price.

    At private, nonprofit four-year colleges — a category that includes most of the nation’s highly selective institutions — 89 percent of students receive some form of financial aid, meaning that almost no one is paying full price.

    In 2018 the average tuition-discount rate for freshmen at private, nonprofit universities hit 50 percent for the first time, meaning that colleges were charging students, on average, less than half of their posted tuition rates.

  • Colleges use variable pricing based on how badly they want you in their class and how much they think you’ll pay. If you get an admission to a private college with zero “merit” aid, sorry but you’re probably on their low end and they want your money to help pay for lower-income students that they want more. “We’ll take you, but only if you pay full price.”

    “Admissions for us is not a matter of turning down students we’d like to admit. It’s a matter of admitting students we’d like to turn down.”

    “Everybody wants to have more selectivity and better academic quality and more socioeconomic diversity, and they want more revenue every single year,” he explained. “Part of my job since arriving at Trinity College has been educating this community about the fact that you can’t have it all at the same time. You’ve got to pick which goals you’re going to pursue.”

  • Capitalism works from the student perspective as well. Parents and students have come to expect such tuition discounts if they are a stronger applicant and have multiple aid offers.

    its wealthy admits were demanding steeper and steeper tuition discounts in order to attend, and overall tuition revenue was falling as a result.

  • Everyone seems to place too much power in “America’s Best Colleges” rankings by U.S. News & World Report.

    The U.S. News list is openly loathed by people who work in admissions; in a 2011 poll, the most recent available, only 3 percent of admissions officials nationwide said they thought the “America’s Best Colleges” list accurately reflected the actual best colleges in America, and 87 percent said the list caused universities to take steps that were “counterproductive” to their educational mission in order to improve their ranking.

Perhaps I am too jaded, but I don’t really mind a private college allowing some extra “full price” students in order to offer more low-income students a full scholarship. I found it more interesting that data analytics now optimize exactly how much tuition they can get out of you. Can you really call it “financial aid” when you have a $70k sticker price and “only” charge someone $60k a year? I always hated calling something a “financial aid package” when it was mostly loans.


“The editorial content here is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone. This email may contain links through which we are compensated when you click on or are approved for offers.”

The Hidden Economics of College Admissions from My Money Blog.

Copyright © 2019 MyMoneyBlog.com. All Rights Reserved. Do not re-syndicate without permission.

Categories: Finance

Wed, 12/31/1969 - 19:00

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