Look Out for Credit Cards that Are “Yours” but Aren’t With You

Recently I got an automated email from Citibank letting me know that my credit card “statement is ready to view.” It was not spam and contained the email security zone, which states my name, the last 5 digits of my account, and since when I’ve had the card. The problem? I don’t have a card with those last 5 digits.

I called Citibank to check whether there was a glitch in their automated system, but the customer service representative (CSR) confirmed that there was in fact a card open in my name with those last 5 digits. Luckily, there were no charges to it, but apparently it had been open for a year now. I asked for him to securely close that account, and, since I already had him on the phone, asked to make sure that there were only 2 cards to my Citibank account – the two cards I actually own. He found those and two more. There were three cards to my name that I never actually had!

None of the three cards had any charges to them, but because I do not actually have any of them their very existence was enough to scare me. The CSR was able to securely close two of them but had to write out a manual close request for the third, so I will call in a couple of weeks to check up on that.

But this is what I’ve learned from this experience:

  • Read your credit card emails. Just because you get them every month doesn’t mean they are always the same. For some reason the card that triggered the notification had been open for a year but I never received any notification about it other than this one. Nonetheless, I opened and read through it because it came to a different email address than the one I use for my credit cards. Had it been sent to my other email, I might’ve never found out about it at all.
  • People worry about the impact that opening too many credit cards or closing a card might have on their credit score, but there’s something a lot worse: open credit cards that you don’t physically have. I am less worried about the ding on my score that the inquirer(s) may have caused by opening the card or the dent I may have made by closing all three cards at once than about the possibility that someone could’ve actually used the cards. I do not understand how the card application happened, and why someone would have a card on my name and not use it for a whole year, but I think I’m lucky. If any of the cards had been charged, my score and I would be in much bigger trouble.
  • Call your credit card company just to check what they have on file. You should definitely do that when you get a strange notification like I did, but I would recommend also calling every year or so just to make sure. Even though my “statement notification” email came from Citibank, I am calling Discover as well to verify that they really only have one card on file for me. You never know what you’ll find out – I only got the notification for one Citibank card, but once I had the representative on the line and asked him to check, he found 2 more.

I was lucky that nothing had been charged to any of the three cards I had never opened, and I hope that you are even luckier than I am and don’t have any fraudulent activity to your name at all. But with credit cards, better safe than sorry is the rule. Even if you think you’re lucky, it’s better to call and check than find out the hard way.

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To Travelers: Time to Make Room in Your Wallet

Capital One has recently launched a new travel rewards credit card, as you might have already heard from its many TV commercials.  If you like to travel, Capital One’s Venture Rewards credit card could be your match made in heaven. Continue reading

Credit Card Offers Reward the Prudent and the Patient

Over the last few months I received three invitations from American Airlines/ American Express to sign up for a new joint AA-Amex credit card that would not have an annual fee as long as I kept my current American Airlines Citibank MasterCard as well.  As a sign-up bonus, the AA Amex card would give me 20% more miles during the first 12 months.  I assume this offer was sent to all AA Citibank card holders, and although I contemplated signing up for the card, I ultimately decided that 20% was not enough to convince me to add another card to my wallet.

We already wrote about checking your “junk mail” for interesting offers, but here I clarify that statement – don’t jump into any “junk mail” offer you get either.  Weigh the offer and consider your circumstances as well.  Naturally, if you accepted every single credit card invitation that included some kind of reward, you credit score would probably suffer while your wallet would likely be overflowing with cards.  Rather, when deciding whether to switch or take on a new rewards credit card, consider how it fits with your other cards.  Is the new card offering you a 1% cash back on everything when you already have a card that offers that?  Does it make sense for you to take on a new credit card with a different rewards program and split up your point accumulation?  That’ll largely depend on whether each of the reward schemes offers something unique and valuable to you, the reward rate of each card, as well as how much you put on your credit card each month.  If your credit card bill is small and it already takes you a while to accumulate enough points for a reward, for example, splitting your purchases between two cards will mean it’ll take even longer. Continue reading

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.

Saving for Retirement through a Credit Card? Not So Fast.

Two weeks ago, the WSJ published an article on credit cards that offer cash back or points that can be used to fund your retirement or another investment account.  As the article explains:

Instead of redeeming earned points for the typical airline tickets or gift cards, users of these cards receive cash that they can then deposit into an individual retirement account or another investment or savings account.

This seems like a reasonable deal, and may in fact be useful to those who need some help remembering to move some of their savings into their retirement account.  But beware of the conditions and reward rates.  Here, we review the cards mentioned in the WSJ article:

  • Ameriprise: Ameriprise has 5 credit cards – 2 for only members of its Achiever Circle Elite program.  Its rewards program is like many others, awarding one point per dollar spent on most purchases (and varying bonuses depending on the card).  Points can then be redeemed for a range of things, including travel, gift cards, and funding into an Ameriprise account, including savings and investment accounts.  Points for funding Ameriprise accounts can only be redeemed in increments of 10,000, which are converted into $150 – effectively, a 1.5% reward return.  Two of the cards have no annual fee, while the fees for the other three cards range from $125 to $450 after the first year.
  • Edward Jones: The rewards program for the Edward Jones Personal Credit Card is very similar to Ameriprise’s, offering a variety of options for which points can be redeemed.  One of them is funding into an Edward Jones account, such as an IRA or 529.  However, points can also be redeemed for cash at exactly the same point exchange rate.  For example, for 2,500 points, you can get either $12.50 in your account or as a cash reward check, and for 50,000 points, you can get $500 in either form too.  The reward rate is also relatively low, as it ranges from 0.5% when redeeming 2,500 points to just 1% for redeeming 50,000 points.  There is no annual fee for this card.
  • Fidelity Investments: Fidelity offers 4 different credit cards, all of which transfer your rewards straight into your Fidelity account.  There are 3 American Express options, which post 2% of the value of your purchases into a Fidelity Investment, IRA, or 529 accounts, respectively.  The Visa card, on the other hand, gives only 1.5% on the first $15,000 you spend per year on the card, and 2% thereafter.  All 4 cards do not have annual fees.

The WSJ article also warns about interest rates, but even readers who pay their balances in full every month should think carefully before signing up for one of these retirement or investment cards.  These cards require that rewards be deposited into an account opened at their respective financial  institutions.  Further, their reward rates are quite low, and you are likely better off getting a good cash back card – such as Discover or CitiForward – and, if you want, depositing some or all of your returns into an investment account or IRA of your choice.