With Discover, March Brings Some Generous Cash Back

Starting tomorrow and until March 31, 2010, Discover More cardholders can earn 5% cash back on purchases made at grocery and drug stores.  This bonus applies to up to $200 in purchases – effectively $10 in cash back, – and, to be eligible, users must sign up when logged into their Discover account.

This promotion is also in addition to this quarter’s 5% bonus on travel purchases.  That is, if you haven’t maxed out the $800 on airlines, hotels, car rental, and cruise charges that are eligible for a 5% cash back ($40) from January-March, you still have another month to go.  And with the new March deal that kicks in tomorrow, your more mundane purchases at grocery and drug stores will get that same great cash back rate.

Three Tips for Filing Taxes

No one likes to file their taxes and April 15, 2010 seems far away, but the deadline will be here before you know it.  Here are three tips to make it somewhat less onerous:

  1. File your taxes electronically – You can (1) e-file through the IRS website (this is the only option without any tax preparation help) , (2)  free file, which provides free income tax preparation and electronic filing for eligible taxpayers, or (3) pay for a tax preparation software or company if you do not meet the income requirements for free file.  Either way, filing electronically ensures faster refunds, greater accuracy, and less paperwork. Continue reading

Three Tips for Filing FAFSA

If you are returning to school this year as a graduate student, filing the FAFSA this time around might be slightly different from when you did it for college.  Here are a few tips to maximize your financial aid.

  1. File as soon as possible – While FAFSA requires information from your 2009 tax return and schools will request a copy of your tax return for verification, you DO NOT need to have filed your taxes to submit your FAFSA application.  Simply check the box that says “will file” on the application and correct your FAFSA later once you have filed your 2009 return.  Continue reading

Credit CARD Act of 2009 Kicks Off Today

Most of the much discussed and highly awaited Credit Card Accountability and Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 goes in effect today, 9 months since it was enacted.

80% of households in the US have credit cards, with only around half of them paying their balances in full every month.  Although the CARD Act mainly affects those who carry balances from month to month, credit card holders who pay their balances in full as well as prospective credit card holders may also notice some changes.  You will likely learn of some of them as you receive more information from your credit card company (as they are now required to provide), but to get you prepared for the upcoming changes and tell you what your credit card won’t, here are some highlights of what the Credit CARD Act will bring today: Continue reading

Paying Dearly for Travel Mistakes – and Avoiding Some of the Costs

I just came across today’s entry on the NY Times’ blog “You’re the Boss”, which tells a story that I believe resonates with many of us.  Jay Goltz, a small business owner in Chiago, explains how he lost $1,400 in airfare – and possibly some more in hotel fees – by accidentally booking the wrong dates for his trip.

We all make mistakes, and frequently there’s a cost involved in that.  In his case, he ended up at the mercy of Air France and its rules, as it had been almost two weeks since he had booked his original flight: Continue reading

Get More Out of The Occasional Hotel Stay

Next time you check into a hotel, consider signing up for its loyalty program.  Even if you are not a frequent flier, or usually stay with friends or relatives when traveling, you should still make the most out of your occasional hotel stay.

Most large hotel chains have loyalty programs through which you can earn hotel points or airline miles for your stay.  Even if you travel infrequently, you can still sign up for the program and opt to earn miles in the airline program of your choice.  This way, even if you don’t stay at hotels enough to score a free night, you can at least boost your frequent flier account. Continue reading

Bonus Miles on United to Warm You Up for Winter Travel

In airline loyalty programs, bonus offers and promotions abound – but usually not for the most popular flight routes.  But until March 31, any round-trip flight on United Airlines can earn you some hefty Mileage Plus bonus miles.

United’s “Fly early, fly often and earn big” promotion is offering members of its frequent flier program 1,000-4,000 miles for the first flight taken between January 1 and March 31, 2010, and 2,000-8,000 for the second and third flights taken during that same period.  The exact number of bonus miles will depend on the month in which you take the return leg of your flight, according to this table: Continue reading

Early Bird Gets the Worm

If you own a Discover Online Savings Account, you might have received the good news by now.  Discover Bank has sent out letters notifying certain select customers that they have been upgraded to a Premium Savings Account as of Jan. 31, 2010. 

The Premium Savings Account has the same features as the Online Savings Account, except it has a variable interest rate that will always be equal to or higher than the Online Savings Account.  As of Jan. 31, 2010, the current Premium Savings Account has an interest rate of 1.59% as compared to 1.35% for the Online Savings Account.  Most importantly, this offer is not available to the general public.

But there might still be hope.  If you do not have a Discover Online Savings Account, you can still open one today.  A 1.35% interest rate is comparable or slightly higher than some of the other online saving accounts out there, such as ING Direct, HSBC Direct, and Emigrant Direct (with the exception of American Express’s High Yield Savings which is currently offering a 1.50% APY).  And afterwards (or if you already have an account but have not received the current invitation), you can call customer service and request to be upgraded to a Premium Savings Account.  You may be pleasantly surprised, as Discover is known for its good customer service. 

Once again, the moral of the story is to start savings as soon as possible; but it’s better late than never.  Congrats to the lucky readers!

Soon, No More Free Trips for Eating Your Veggies

Travel is not the only source of frequent flier miles.  With proper planning, you can often score miles through online shopping, credit cards, and evening dining out.  But another source of miles – grocery shopping – is soon to dry up.  Safeway recently announced that, as of February 28, 2010, it will no longer award airline miles to its customers.  Until then, customers can earn 125 miles for every $250 in purchases at Safeway and other stores within its group.

Although a rate of 1 mile per $2 spent is not great, Safeway’s partnership offered a good deal for regular patrons – and could be combined with airline credit card offers for even more miles.  But this turn-around does not mean customers are necessarily losing out.  There are still other ways to score deals at Safeway.  First, Safeway has had to cut out this program presumably because it is now offering more frequent sales and deeper discounts in face of the economy.  Second, you can still take advantage of online coupons that can be uploaded into your Safeway card for more discounts.  Third, you can enroll your Safeway card with UPromise to earn cash back in your UPromise account for purchasing specific items from various brands including Nestle, Hefty, and Florida’s Natural.  Customers are only allowed to enroll their Safeway card in either the miles program or in the UPromise program, but, with the miles program about to be canceled, that decision has already been made for you.  The cash back rate for groceries on UPromise is generally low, but it is better than no miles or cash back at all, and can be much higher when combined with the eCoupons you can upload from the UPromise site.

If you are close to reaching the $250 threshold for 125 miles, make sure you do that before the end of this month.  But if you are not, you may as well switch your Safeway card to UPromise and start earning that cash back as soon as possible.  To learn more about UPromise, check out our previous post on the program here.