Interesting Credit Card Marketing From AAA and Bank Of America

My wife paid her credit card a couple of days late.

Between work and taking care of the kids (that includes me too) she forgot the exact due date.  It isn’t a card that’s used often.

It happens.

Unfortunately we got hit with a no payment fee (about $30) and an interest fee (a couple of bucks). There were no other late payments on the card so I decided to call the company and ask if they can drop the fees. We’ve been good customers and have been paying in full every month.

So I called the number on the back of the credit card.

I go through all of the phone hoops and get to an account person. He asks who I am. I give him my name and tell him I’m calling on behalf of my wife (this is a credit card she had before we were married). The account rep then says he sees my account. My account? This is my wife’s card! It seems that Bank of America is the issuer of the AAA card and since we have a banking account there he could see my account.

So I tell him our situation, that we never pay late and always pay in full, could you drop the late fees? He tells me since I’m not on the account he can’t authorize it. My wife has to tell the rep to put me on her account. So now I give her the phone which kind of defeated the purpose of me calling since she was taking care of the kids, and she gives him permission to add me to the account. Took two minutes maybe. Easy process. I get the phone back and go back to the original question of removing the fees. He looks at the account and says he can remove the no payment penalty but there’s nothing he can do about the interest fee. I press on the interest but he won’t budge. It was a couple of bucks and it was our fault so OK we’ll pay that. At least we got the no payment fee taken off! The whole process was a bit annoying but in 15 minutes we were able to eliminate a $30 charge.

Fast forward a week or so and we get a package in the mail.

Two new credit cards for the account. We didn’t ask for a new card. Since they added me to the account they assumed that I too would need one of their cards.

Hmm…interesting. I guess they want me to start charging on the account too! Now they double the chance of a late payment or interest charges (not really for us but hypothetically)! What they did wasn’t wrong from what I can tell but it annoys me that they automatically sent out another card assuming I wanted it. Very aggressive marketing on Bank of America’s behalf.

This gets me thinking though.

What cards do we have between us? Should we consolidate some accounts with both of us on the accounts? Until now it hasn’t even been a thought. We’re both responsible with our spending and very open with our spending habits. I like the idea of one separate card between us so we can buy gifts for each other without the cost popping up on a shared statement. How can this affect our credit scores? I need to do some research on this.

P.S. To prevent future late payments we signed up for email alerts from the bank that tell us the payment is due in a few days.

Do you think Bank of America was sneaky in sending us another card?

For those married folks out there – How do you handle credit cards between you and your spouse? I’m interested in hearing your stories.

Family – Can’t Live With ‘Em…Unless It Helps Debt

I was in the hole for thousands over a few credit cards.

I was getting better at paying on time and I was managing to pay more than the minimum due. I was also transferring balances to lower and zero interest rate cards (which had it’s ups and downs). The totals were chipping away but it still felt like it would take forever to pay my credit debt off. At the time I was living on my own supporting myself with a full-time job. What I could save I did.

Then something interesting happened – I lost my apartment.

Seems my landlord wasn’t really supposed to be renting his basement out to tenants. Some funny NYC law that said he wasn’t zoned for it. Great. I had a few dollars saved but really I was still living paycheck to paycheck. If I went and found a new apartment, which would be more expensive and involve moving costs, real estate fees, etc…, I would be completely tapped out and would have to add more to my credit cards to get by.

Fortunately my parents came to the rescue.

They still had an extra room and they were ok with me moving back in with them. Now understand, I love my parents and they were great in helping me out but the last thing I wanted to do was move back into my parents’ place. But I didn’t really have many better options either. So I managed to cram all of my stuff back at their place. My original idea was to stay as long as needed to save up enough to move to a new apartment (I wasn’t paying rent now so I should have enough in a few months or so). It was not fun being back at the ‘rents. All the freedom I had grown accustomed to were gone. But I needed time to save.

After the first month I realized something – by not paying rent or electricity I was able to save a lot more than I had been. By the end of the second month, seeing how my bank account had grown, I decided to put a new apartment on the back burner. I was gonna suck it up and stay at my folks until my debt was gone!

What was the point of moving back out and being in the same debt situation?

With my new resolution I started to pay much more than the minimum on my credit cards.

Soon one card was paid off. Then another. One day I was finally able to get rid of all of my credit card debt! I felt like a slave that had just been freed!! No more of that debt monkey on my back. I was able to look at all of my bills and accounts and finally say that I had a positive net worth! This was not just a financial victory but a huge psychological victory!

I started to save for real. Not saving to pay debt but saving for me. As tough as it was living with my parents I realized what freedom really was. Sure I couldn’t live the same way under my parents’ roof as I did on my own, but freedom meant being free from debt (or free from broke)! It took me being thrown out of my apartment and moving back with my parents to realize that.

Do you have a debt story? Let me know in the comments

Loose Change Gets Us Free Meals On Vacation

So we usually go on vacation in the Summer.

Every time we get free meals from loose change!

Let me explain – We have two change jars in the house: one for quarters and one for all other change. This gets filled up whenever we come home for the day with change in our pockets. The quarters are for laundry so those get used pretty quick and isn’t part of our free meals. The other jar though slowly fills up over the course of the year and is usually filled to the brim by the Summer.

All year we watch the jar fill up higher and higher. It almost becomes a calendar for us to tell when it’s time for vacation! The week before our trip my wife and daughter will go to the local Commerce Online bank (yeah, it says online but they have a ton of brick and mortar locations where I live) and use their coin counting machine which is free for anyone! [This is better than Coinstar since Coinstar charges 8.9% to count your change (though if you convert your change to a gift card or eCertificate the counting is free)].

Now with cash in hand we’re ready to go on vacation.

We can usually get anywhere from $60-$100 depending on the change that’s in the jar. Maybe this only covers one special dinner or maybe this covers the first few meals for us. Either way we look at the meals as being free, paid for by change that accumulated in our pockets over the year.

Of course we understand that the meals aren’t really free.

What’s important is this is another small, disciplined way for us to save some money that we get to use on vacation. What’s more is it’s fun to watch the change grow and fun for our daughter to pour the change in the counting machine (extra bonus here is that she gets to see how saving small amounts can turn into large amounts in time).

What small tricks do you use to save money? Let me know!

What Is The Opportunity Cost?

The term “opportunity cost” is thrown around a lot but many people don’t fully understand the concept.

Opportunity Cost can be defined as

the cost of something in terms of an opportunity forgone…or the most valuable foregone alternative (Wikipedia).

Basically, everything you do has an opportunity cost which is what you are giving up for what you are doing.  If you sleep late, the opportunity cost is whatever you may have done in the morning instead.  When you buy something the opportunity cost of the item is whatever else you could have done with that money (or even with your time shopping for the item).

Why is this concept important? Whenever you make a decision, be it with money, life, whatever, you should look and see what the opportunity cost of that decision is.  This makes you stop and think about whether what you are about to do is worth it.  Is there a better action?  Is my time better served?  Can my resources be better used?   These are questions that should cross your mind.

In terms of personal finance this is looking at what you do with your money and figuring out it’s true worth to you.  See, an important aspect here is what your values are.  Is it better for you to redo your kitchen or put more money away for retirement?   There isn’t necessarily a “right” answer for this.  The decision is yours.  You should be aware of what other opportunities you will miss when you make your decision.

Try to think about the things you do today and figure out the opportunity costs.  Will it change any of your decisions?

Let me know.

Emotions Got The Best Of Us At The Picture People – Review

Baby pictures at The Picture People

So this past weekend my wife and I took the kids to get their pictures taken at The Picture People at the mall. We had a coupon for a free 8×10 portrait and since we hadn’t had pictures taken of our children together we thought we’d go (the little one is an infant).  We figured we’d go in, get our picture and get out.  Far from it!

Baby pictures at The Picture PeopleThey have some marketing plan set up there! We got there and checked in.  When it was our turn we were brought to a curtained off area to take pictures.  The photographer is a young guy with a digital camera.  He took all sorts of pics with each child separately as well as together.  When the picture taking was over we told to wait a bit and we would be helped.

Here is where they get us:

  • They show you about 20 pictures, all which make you say “awwwww.”  Now we want all of the pictures.
  • The sales person says “wouldn’t this be nice” and takes out a large, vertical, black and white portrait already framed.   It looks amazing until we’re told it costs about $150. He also produces a large horizontal frame with three photos.
  • When we seem like we’re not so sure he tells us there’s a way he can get us the three pic frame as well as some others in a great package that will save money. Sounds interesting. Oh, the package costs $249!!
  • When we’ve finally decided what we want (much more than what we planned) and we’re ready to pay we’re told about a membership club we can join that will make one of our pics cheaper and entitle us to some free pics throughout the year.
  • They also ask for your email address so you can view your photos online. They encourage you to send the site to friends and family so they can see if there’s pictures they want to buy (you can put a picture on anything from a mug to a mouse pad or just order copies).

Suffice it to say we spent way more than we intended to. The pictures do look great (including the three picture frame we got) and they have everything done for you within an hour.

Pros and Cons About The Picture People

Pros

  • Convenience – We made an appointment and went to the mall. We didn’t have to schedule a photographer to come to the house.
  • Ease of Service - The people were friendly and you walk out with your photos within an hour.
  • Price – Although we spent more than we wanted to it would have cost more to hire a photographer.
  • Quality – The pictures really do look great!

Cons

  • Atmosphere – It’s a bit of a mad house there with all of the families coming and going, many with small children.
  • Price – Yes it’s relatively inexpensive but the photos and packages still come out to a hefty amount (at least to our liking).
  • Emotional Factor – It’s really tough to say no to all these great pictures of your children. You see them and want them all.   I jokingly told the sales person that it would be on his conscience if we couldn’t afford to put our kids through college.

Overall we’re happy with the product and we will be going back to get our free pictures (yeah we signed up for the membership). Since we now have some nice photos we won’t be needed large packages and we intend to only go for our promotional photo.

The big lesson here is that spending is emotional and we have to be careful not to let our emotions get the better of our budget!

Buying A Car – Know Your Credit Score And Get Financing Before Hand

Monster+Car+Sale

A few years ago I set out to buy my first car.

This was a big deal for me, it was to be my most expensive purchase as well as my greatest debt.  Thankfully I was able to get a lot of advice from the site The Motley Fool (check out their steps to buying a car).  Even if you don’t follow each of their steps I think you will find their information useful.

I don’t want to go into what my whole car-buying process was like.  That might be too long a post (there was much drama but that’s for another time).

What I want to discuss is knowing your credit score and getting financing before-hand.

I knew I needed to check my credit report and score before making a big purchase.

 

I purchased all three reports and my score online.   I was surprised at what I saw!  I expected to have a mediocre score due to past late fees and debt but what I found was that my score was actually very good.   I guess my efforts at reducing my debt and transferring balances to 0% cards helped.

With my credit score in hand my next step was to secure financing.

Included in my credit score was a description of how the score was determined as well as what kind of credit I could expect.  I applied for financing through an online bank and received a check to fill out when the purchase was made.  Due to my credit score my interest rate on the financing was favorable and below the average for a car loan.

Credit_report_history_225I don’t know how many of you have purchased a car but you may not know that you aren’t done negotiating after you have figured out the price of your car-to-be.

Oh no!

You spend your time and effort haggling over the car price with the sales person and maybe the sales manager and you finally come to an agreeable price and you let out a sigh of relief.  Finally, all I have to do is pay for the car and it’s mine!

Well at this point the sales person brings you into the office of the finance manager!  Sitting in the manager’s office, he looks over my forms and tells me I can get financing for X percent and goes into what I need to sign (it’s in his interest to give me a loan with as high a rate as possible).   “Whoa,” I say.  “I know my credit score can get me better financing” I tell the manager (keep in mind I already have financing in place).   The manager looks at my credit report and tells me I do have a good score and offers me a lower interest rate.  This rate is still higher than my outside financing!  It’s then I tell him that I already have financing so I don’t need to finance through the dealership.  Wanting to have my debt through his dealership he then offers me a rate about half a point below what my outside loan was.  I accepted the new rate and was finally able to buy my new car.

If I didn’t have a loan already and didn’t know my credit score before hand I would have paid significantly more for my car!

It would have been very difficult to negotiate at this point without those two pieces in place.   Having my credit score and a loan in place allowed me this:

  • I knew what kind to interest rate to expect.
  • I was able to get a rate lower than the financing I already had set up.
  • I saved money.

Finally

Remember, the price you negotiate with the sales person is not what you are paying for the car (unless you’re paying in full of course).  You have to add in the cost of your loan.  When you go into a major purchase you need to have as many tools and as much information as possible because you can be taken advantage of and you might not even know it.

Make sure to check your credit score and know your financing options before-hand!

How AMEX And ING Gave Us A Wedding Gift

My wife and I have been married for almost two years now.

When we were planning our wedding (which we planned in three months) we didn’t want to get too extravagant and end up in debt because of the wedding (not a good way to start a life together). Still we knew there would be some hefty expenses to cover.  Luckily for us I got an offer for an American Express credit card with 0% interest on charges for a year.

I know, some of you may be thinking “Uh-oh credit card debt!”

Well yeah but look at how we made a new credit card work for us:

  • We charged what we could on the card. This included not only wedding expenses but also the honeymoon and many other charges over the course of a year (we would have charged more but some vendors preferred cash or check).
  • When the monthly bill came we paid only the minimum. I know, another red flag – Never pay just the minimum. Stay with me it gets better.
  • We took as much of the remaining monthly balance as we could and put it in our ING account and labeled it AMEX. This money would only be used to pay the Amex bill once the 0% offer was over!
  • Fortunately we already had money saved for the wedding so we were able to add money to our ING “AMEX” account. Essentially we could have covered the credit card bill at any time but let it sit since we weren’t being charged interest.
  • At the end of the offer we paid our bill in full. We continue to use the card paying off the statement in full every month.

Basically what American Express did was give us a free loan for our wedding! On top of that we were earning decent interest in our online high-yield savings account for money that could have paid off the card. AND for the charges we made on the card we were earning rewards points as well. The points translated into a nice gift certificate to the Pottery Barn! Thank you American Express and ING!

Understand, we had to be disciplined to do this. At no time did we go crazy making charges we couldn’t already pay off. We had a plan and stuck to it.

This shows you that credit cards don’t have to be bad if they are used correctly. Money can be saved and earned in all sorts of ways. We just have to be open to how it can be done.

Let me know what you have done creatively with a credit card or online bank account!

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