Amex Serve To Add $4.95 Monthly Fee To Accounts


This morning AmEx sent out an email stating that on January 6, 2016, they will start charging a $4.95 monthly fee to Amex Serve Softcard accounts. The notice did specifically say Softcard account holders so I am not sure if this also applies to regular Serve accounts.

"Starting on January 6, 2016, there will be a $4.95 Monthly Fee for your American Express Serve Softcard Account. This fee will be waived if you Direct Deposit money onto your Account during a monthly statement period."

The monthly fee can be waived if you have a direct deposit coming into the account. I have an Alliant account whose ACH transfers have a good track record of counting as a direct deposit so that's the first method I'll be trying.

Fortunately, Amex has not turned off the free money faucet for depositing via credit cards yet. Here's to milking that for as long as possible.

Short Term Loans Using Credit Card Balance Transfers


I have credit cards opened from most of the major banks. A few of them have sent me balance transfer offers which are very interesting. These are targeted offers so your credit score do need to be decent. Based on my experience, if your score is 700+, you will have plenty of offers coming in.

Most cards have an initial sign up bonus for 0% APR balance transfers with a fee ranging from 3% to 5%. The offers I'm talking about today are for existing cardmembers which make them worthwhile because new credit inquiries or hard pulls are valuable. It's not efficient to waste a hard pull on a balance transfer offer when we can get sign up bonuses worth $300+.

I accepted a 0% APY with 3% fee offer last year and this year they are only offering a 0% APY with 5% fee. Maybe they keep track of how many offers you've used in the past and adjust their rates based on how likely you are to accept.

They gave me an offer for 0% APR with 2% fee which is better than the standard of 3% fee.

4.99% APY with no fee with the Penfed Promise card. The advantage this card has is that if you pay off the loan early in 6 months, it will be a better deal than a straight up 5% balance transfer fee.

What can we use these for?
Back in the day of 0% APY and 0% fee offers, you could just park the money in a 5% savings account and earn money that way. Nowadays, almost all companies charge a balance transfer fee and with savings account interest rate at 1%, that option is no longer available.

You could use it as a short term loan with a very attractive interest rate for projects or emergencies.

Have you gotten balance transfer offers from other banks? It would be interesting to know which banks makes these offers to existing card members.

Is the Santander extra20 Checking Account Worth It?


Santander Bank is offering to pay you $20 a month for having a direct deposit of $1500 and making 2 bill pays through their system. I did some research on whether this offer is worth your time to do.

Santander allows you to apply for the extra20 account through their online system which is definitely the preferred method. Not only will it save you a trip to the branch but it will allow you to fund the initial account using a credit card up to $500. This is useful to meet minimum spend requirements for bonuses or just to get your cash back reward. However, be warned that depending on the card issuer, they may code bank fundings as a purchase or cash advance. Reports from people have said that Barclay's and Chase will code as a purchase. Citi and Discover have been reported to code as cash advances.

Myself unfortunately was not able to complete the application online as apparently I failed the identity questions. I was able to apply at a local branch which took about 30 minutes.

Once you have the account open, you will need to have $1500 worth of direct deposits and two bill pays to qualify for the $20 monthly. Note that if you fail to meet the direct deposit requirement, you will be charged a $10 account maintenance fee. The 2 bill pays are quite easy to fulfill. If you have two credit cards, you can simply do 2 minimum payments each month for $30 or whatever you want and pay the rest as you normally do.

The direct deposit will be a bit more involved but still not too difficult if you have the right setup. The simplest way is to change your payroll deposits to Santander but most people will have some other bank account which also requires an active direct deposit. The way around this is to open an online bank account that supports incoming and outgoing ACH transfers. The one I'm using is Alliant Credit Union but others like Chase, Paypal, and Capital One are also reported to work with Santander. Some banks that are reported to not work with this are Ally and Schwab. All you have to do is setup an outgoing transfer from Alliant for $1500 into Santander every month. Once it hits Santander, do your 2 bill pays then transfer the rest back into Alliant.

In my opinion this offer is worth doing considering the requirements are easy to hit. The only question is how long Santander will have this promotion. Since its been active since 2013, I'm confident that this will stick around at least for the near future to make signing up worth it. At $240 bonus a year, it makes it very competitive with the one time bonuses offered by most banks. I'm a fan of ongoing bonuses because I'm trying to build a passive income portfolio that hopefully will replace my job one day. Looking at this another way, you can lease a brand new car for $200 a month. This bonus is like 10% of a brand new lease. Now we just need to find a few more offers like this! If you're looking for similar offers, check out the AmEx Serve which can earn $20 monthly with even less hassle than this one.

Credit Unions That Everyone Should Join


With the recent announcement that the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) may start imposing tighter regulations about open membership in credit unions [WSJ link], I thought it may be a good time to list some credit unions that everyone should be a member of before it becomes too late. Some credit unions offer products that the major banks just can’t compete with. I will only list credit unions that have open membership, usually with a small donation to a charity.

Alliant Credit Union’s biggest strength is their fast ACH processing times which makes it a good hub account to transfer funds between your other accounts. Their ACH system allows free inbound and outbound transfers between banks, even those that don’t offer ACH themselves. Alliant always seems to offer competitive interest rates on their savings and checking accounts. Check out my full review of Alliant Credit Union here.

Consumers credit union offers a reward checking account with 3.09% APY interest up to $10,000 balance. There are 4 requirements that are not too difficult to achieve. The easiest is to elect to receive online statements and login to their online banking system once a month. The direct deposit requirement can be met by using Alliant to initiate the ACH or you can do one bill pay through their system. The 12 debit card transactions can be done by buying 12 Amazon gift cards for $1 each. In order to qualify for the 4.09% APY, you must sign up for a Consumers credit card and make 12 purchases a month. Again, you can just buy 12 Amazon gift cards. To qualify for the maximum 5.09% APY up to $20,000 balance, you must spend at least $1,000 on the credit card each month.

Consumers Credit Union is part of the CO-OP network of credit unions which means you can do regular branch transactions, including cash deposits, at any credit union in the network. This effectively removes one of the biggest advantage of big banks, which is their many brick and mortar locations.

Digital Credit Union is worth a mention because their auto loan products are usually one of the lowest available anywhere. Recently they had a new auto loan at 1.49% interest (although it has risen to 1.74% in recent weeks). DCU is also part of the CO-OP network so you can usually find a branch in your local area that participates.

Penfed Credit Union gets a mention here because they typically have some of the lowest rates for mortgage and auto loans in the country. They also have some unique mortgage products like their 15/15 ARM which only adjust once for the life of the 30 year loan. The PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards Visa gets 5% back on gas purchases and 3% back on supermarkets along with no foreign transaction fees.

Is there any credit unions that you feel should be on this list? Let me know in the comments.

Serve Confirmed To Still Allow Mastercard and Visa Loads In May


We broke the news that it was still possible to load your Amex Serve account using a Visa, Mastercard, or Discover back on April 22. American Express had set a shutoff date of April 15 for credit card loads other than those on the Amex network.

We just confirmed that it is still working for the month of May, my $500 load was successful using my Citi Double Cash card. The only caveat is that your old credit card has to be saved to your account before the shutoff date. This may also be limited to those people who signed up through Softcard. After you click on "Add Money", simply find the "Change Source" link to switch to your credit card.

If you don't know what Serve is, it's basically a free $20 or $30 every month for 5 minutes of work. The loads count as a purchase for cashback reward purposes. If you are new to Serve, you can still get the rewards by using a card on the Amex network like the Fidelity Amex.

What Are The Best Credit Cards For Non-Travelers?


I wanted to write a post for the people out there who don’t travel or simply don’t like traveling. I know for me, traveling causes more headaches than its worth. I would much rather be in the comfort of my own home where I have everything setup exactly the way I like. What are the best credit cards for people in my situation? I will cover some good general use cards as well as category specific cards like restaurants or groceries.

1. The best credit card for non-travelers in 2015 in my opinion is the Sallie Mae Mastercard. This card gives a whopping 5% cash back on gas and groceries up to $250 per month AND 5% back at That 5% cashback is simply put, AMAZING. To earn the same cash back amount as the Sallie Mae on the next best card, the Citi Double Cash, you would have to spend $1250 compared to $500 on the Sallie Mae. The best part is that the bonus category are good categories that everyone spends money on each and every month AND they never change. I know I will be grocery shopping and using gas for the foreseeable future. I also do a lot of shopping at because they have the lowest prices on a wide variety of items. What I used to buy at Walmart or Target has shifted to Amazon because I’m lazy and I enjoy opening packages.

Contrary to its name, anyone can qualify for the Sallie Mae card even if you don’t have any student loans. The cash back can be simply be redeemed for a statement credit. The card is administered by Barclaycards which has one of the better user interfaces I’ve seen. It is much more user-friendly than the one offered by Citibank. Be on the lookout for my full review of this card in the near future.

2. The Citi Double Cash Mastercard comes in second place and ahead of the Fidelity Amex because Mastercard is more widely accepted by merchants. There are still many places that do not accept Amex because their processing fees are higher than Visa and Mastercard. On my recent trip to the DMV, I found out they did not accept Amex! The Double Cash card is a excellent all around card that gives 2% effective cash back on everything. How they setup the reward is fairly ingenious. You get 1% back on any purchases and 1% back after you pay the balance off. This is advantageous to Citi because it encourages spenders to pay their balance to earn the full reward. One of the big areas where credit card companies lose money is when they have to write off accounts for non-payment. You have to remember that card companies make money off you even if you never carry a balance or pay interest. This is because again of the processing fees that they earn from the merchants.

3. The Fidelity American Express Card comes in third place. This is another 2% cashback reward on every purchase. However, it is lower in my rankings because Amex is less accepted than Mastercard AND because it is slightly more complicated to receive your reward. You are required to have a linked Fidelity account to collect your cashback. A Fidelity Cash Management Account is similar to a online only checking account and is sufficient to meet their requirement. Because of this extra step to collect your reward, I rank it below the Citi Double Cash. With Amex Serve moving to American Express only in the future, this card should be in your portfolio for the free $30 each month.

4. The Chase Freedom card is worth a mention at fourth place because their 5% reward categories are typically useful. For 2015, they have grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and as their quarterly rotating categories. I am not a big fan of rotating rewards because they make you sign up every quarter and you have to remember which bonus category is active. I’m sure the reason they make you activate the bonus category is because there is always a certain percentage of the population who don’t care or simply forgets to enroll and thus giving them extra profits.

Discover Credit Limit Increase Second Time In Two Weeks


It seems like Discover Card is being really friendly with their credit limit increase button lately. I first requested an increase about 2 weeks ago when I heard their credit limit button was fixed. I got auto approved for an increase of $1000 to go from $9100 to $10,100. Today I tried the button again and it gave me another $1000 bump! Discover is now my highest limit card, although not my highest of all time. A few years back during my college years, Citi somehow gave me a 14,600 limit on my Dividend card. They reduced that limit when the bank collapses started happening and a new CEO was brought in.

Anyway the point is, if you have a Discover card, go try the credit limit button! Having a higher limit even if you don't use it, will help your score. Utilization rates play a fairly big part in determining your credit score.

Did you have any success with the credit limit button? Let us know how much your limit increased by in the comments.

How To Remove Flood Insurance Requirement From Your House


We recently purchased a house that was in a flood zone. We got a good deal on the house so I felt comfortable buying it even with that downside. I ran a check on FEMA's website ( which showed that a couple of my neighbors had gotten their flood zone revised. This meant our house had a good chance of success if we had a elevation certificate done. However, fair warning, I would not advise buying a house in a flood zone as flood insurance premiums are expected to increase even more in the future.

I will explain the steps I took in getting the flood insurance requirement removed from my property.

The first step is to order an elevation certificate from licensed land surveyors that basically tells you how high your house is. I would highly suggest calling a few companies as prices can vary greatly. One company I called wanted $700 to do the elevation certificate and another $700 to prepare a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA). I went with a company that only charged an additional $150 to prepare the LOMA. I was told the LOMA was basically just some paperwork that the surveyor had to fill out for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). All told I paid $850 to do the elevation certificate and LOMA.

The elevation certificate will tell you whether your house is high enough to be removed from the flood zone. If it is, then they can prepare a LOMA for you. It took FEMA about a month to process my documents. Once FEMA gives you the approval, I just had to submit a copy to my lender and flood insurance company and they took the requirement off my loan. In addition, I was told that because my flood zone was reclassified, I was eligible for a full refund of my flood insurance premium, even for the months I had already used.