Two New Charles Schwab Credit Cards from American Express Now Available

Are You an Existing Schwab Customer?

Charles Schwab just released two new credit cards backed by American Express.

If you have an eligible Charles Schwab brokerage account, you can apply for their new American Express co-branded credit cards. But before you do, let’s determine if they’re even worth applying for.

For the record, an eligible brokerage account means a Schwab One Account or Schwab General Brokerage Account. This is also required if you want the Schwab Visa Platinum Debit Card, which can save you money on ATM fees.

I have the debit card and it has been great for grabbing small amounts of cash when my own bank’s ATMs are out of reach. I had one hiccup while traveling in Europe, but otherwise it’s been quite handy.

Anyway, about these new Schwab credit cards. As mentioned, there are two to choose from.

Schwab Investor Card from American Express

The Schwab Investor Card from American Express is the cheaper of the two as it comes with no annual fee. However, the perks are also probably less attractive for most folks.

You can earn a $100 statement credit after making $1,000 in purchases during the first months of membership, and you earn 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases.

This makes it quite comparable to the Discover it Miles card, or the Capital One Quicksilver card.

Unfortunately, this also means it falls short of 2% cash back options like Fidelity Amex or Citi Double Cash.

So I don’t know what the draw of this card would really be other than the cash being automatically deposited into your Schwab investment account. I guess it’s forced savings.

The American Express Platinum Card for Schwab

Schwab bonus

That brings us to the the American Express Platinum Card for Schwab, which is just another iteration of the well-known and popular Platinum Card.

The bad news is that it carries the usual $450 annual fee, which isn’t waived the first year. The good news is that you get 40,000 Membership Rewards points if you spend $3k in three months.

Again, there are other American Express credit card offers that come with better spending bonuses and smaller annual fees or no annual fee the first year so I don’t know if this is a winner either.

It includes the usual bells and whistles tied to the Platinum Amex such as airport lounge access, credits for Global Entry, and a $200 annual airline credit for incidental fees.

What separates it from the usual Amex Platinum crowd is two special Schwab-only features.

First, you can earn a Schwab Appreciation Bonus annually if your qualifying Schwab holdings are at or above certain levels.

If you have at least $250,000, you’ll receive a $100 Card statement credit. If you have at least one million dollars invested, that’s bumped up to a $200 card statement credit. This bonus will offset the annual fee and it’s a great perk if you already have that money invested with Schwab.

The second unique draw to the American Express Platinum Card for Schwab is the fact that redemptions of MR points into your Schwab brokerage account convert at a rate of 1.25 cents per point. So 10,000 MR points equates to $125.

While this sounds great, there’s one little issue. Most people collect MR points for the sole purpose of redeeming them for travel after transferring them to frequent flyer programs. This allows cardholders to squeeze a lot more value out of the points, much more than 1.25 cents per point.

And if you were redeeming for cash, you could just go with the annual fee-free Schwab Investor Card from American Express instead, or better yet, a card that earns 2% cash back on every purchase with no annual fee.

Overall, these new Schwab credit cards leave a lot to be desired, though they could make sense for someone with lots of assets already parked in a Schwab account. For most people there are probably many better card options out there.

Chase Freedom Unlimited 1.5% Cash Back on Every Purchase

Chase Freedom Unlimited Cash Back

In an effort to match products offered by rival credit card issuers, Chase is launching “Freedom Unlimited” to compete in the 1.5% cash back space. This will complement their existing Chase Freedom card, not replace it.

The new offering will align it with the likes of Capital One Quicksilver and Discover it Miles, which both offer the exact same cash back rewards – 1.5% cash back per dollar spent.

But what about cards like Citi Double Cash, which offers 2% cash back on every purchase? Or the Fidelity Amex? You could also argue that you’re better off going with Discover it Miles and it’s 3% cash back rate during year one.

All that being said, is the new Chase Freedom Unlimited card really competitive?

Chase Freedom Unlimited Earns Ultimate Rewards Points

So we know there are cards out there that offer better rates of cash back than the new Chase Freedom Unlimited card. No one can contest that.

But if you dig a little deeper, you could argue that we’re comparing apples and oranges, or more specifically, cash back and rewards points.

For those who have the Chase Freedom Unlimited and another Ultimate Rewards earning card, such as Chase Ink or Chase Sapphire Preferred, those points can be transferred to travel partners.

As a result, the 1.5% cash back rate could actually be valued a lot higher if the points are used to purchase first class airline tickets.

So that’s the big distinction that some people may miss if they’re underwhelmed by the 1.5% cash back rate.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Math

Let’s take a minute to do some math to see if the new iteration of Chase Freedom is any better than the existing rotating category version, which offers 5% in certain categories each quarter.

We’ll assume our hypothetical cardholder spends $12,000 annually on the card.

Now remember the existing Freedom card earns 5% cash back each quarter on up to $1,500 in purchases. That’s a maximum of 7,500 UR points, or $75 if redeemed for cash, per quarter.

If we pretend that the cardholder maximizes the 5% cash back category all year round, they’ll earn 30,000 UR points. That accounts for $6,000 ($1,500 x 4) of their spending.

They’ll earn another 6,000 points for their remaining $6,000 in annual spending at a rate of a point per dollar.

In total, that’s 36,000 UR points for the person who maximizes the 5% cash back categories on the old version of Freedom.

How about the new Unlimited version? Well, the math is decidedly easier to compute. We simply multiply 1.5 x $12,000 to come up with 18,000 UR points. I figured make it an even $12,000 in annual spend for both our cardholders.

If you’re keeping track, that’s 50% fewer UR points on the new version of the card. The upside is that they can spend the $12,000 anywhere they want. And if they spend a lot more than $12,000 their UR points potential is endless.

But that’s the big question isn’t it? How many individuals will actually spend more than $12,000 on their Chase Freedom card each year?

Where Do You Win with the New Version of Freedom?

Of course, you can argue that many folks won’t maximize the 5% categories either. If we assume a slightly more realistic scenario where they spend $750 per quarter in the 5% categories, it drops to 15,000 UR points.

Let’s add the remaining $9,000 ($750×4=$3,000 in 5% categories) in spending and it’s 24,000 UR points.

That’s still 33% more points earned on the old version of Freedom.

If we drop it to $500 per quarter in the 5% categories, the total would be 20,000 UR points. (10k bonus + 10k in regular spending). That’s still better than the new card.

Ultimately, if you don’t spend more than $375 in the 5% categories, the new version is better. Assuming you do spend $375 per quarter in those bonus categories, you’ll earn 7,500 points. That would account for $1,500 of your $12,000 in spending annually.

The remaining $10,500 would earn 1 point per dollar, or 10,500 UR points. Combined with the 7,500 bonus points that’s 18,000 UR points.

Anything less than $375 each quarter and the new version is a better version.

Chase Freedom Unlimited vs. Chase Freedom Classic:

If $12,000 in annual spending:

Chase Freedom Unlimited = 18,000 UR points
Chase Freedom (old version)
= 36,000 UR points if you maximize 5% categories
= 24,000 UR points if you spend $750 in 5% categories each quarter
= 20,000 UR points if you spend $500 in 5% categories each quarter
= 18,000 UR points if you spend $375 in 5% categories each quarter

I Netted About $1,600 with Discover and Apple Pay

When the Apple Pay and Discover promotion first surfaced I got super excited. It was a chance to earn 23% cash back on virtually all shopping for a limited time.

If you don’t remember or happened to miss it, the deal was basically 10% cash back or 10 miles per dollar spent when you used a Discover it card via Apple Pay in physical stores.

To make the deal much sweeter, Discover offered to double your cash back or miles the first year, assuming you were a new cardholder.

Since I already had Discover it, I applied for Discover it Miles, which incidentally offers 1.5 miles per dollar spent, meaning once you add the 10 bonus miles and double it, it equates to 23% cash back.

$800 Times Two

While there was plenty of controversy over the promo, mainly because Discover changed the terms shortly after launch by explicitly excluding gift cards, many folks were still able to cash in.

There was a limit of $10,000 in spending, and because the promo only lasted about three months, it was difficult to fully exploit it. Oh, and did I mention Discover credit limits are painfully low?

All in all, I was able to spend about $7,000 via Apple Pay. I may have been able to spend more, but two things held me back.

One, I didn’t buy a new iPhone 6s until October when my 24-month contract clock reset. And two, my credit limit was low so I had to keep paying it off and wait for it to refresh, which happened to take several days. In the end, I was fine with what I spent.

I purchased a laptop and a desktop Mac from the Apple Store, along with lots of food from Trader Joe’s, plenty of gasoline, and hit various other purchases along the way where Apple Pay was accepted. Some restaurants I regularly dine at had Apple Pay.

My wife also got a new laptop with her own Discover it card, and I made some purchases with her card on my own phone (she didn’t have a compatible phone so she wasn’t able to maximize this offer).

Out of an abundance of caution, I avoided the gift card game because I didn’t want to deal with a dispute to get my miles/cash back. And I actually needed new computers and the food and gas, so it wasn’t mindless or unnecessary spending.

Now the beauty of all this is that the ~$800 or so I already earned will double in a year. I already received $800 and direct deposited it to my checking account.

In 12 months, I’ll get another $800 that I can deposit into my account, meaning I’ll walk away with some $1,600. If you factor in other purchases made on the card, that effectively earn 3% cash back for the first year, I may wind up with around $2,000 in cash back.

That’s pretty good considering I didn’t need to do much nor alter my normal spending much. Sure, I had to buy a new iPhone, but I needed that too. And it was subsidized by AT&T.

The real savvy players coupled this promo with the AT&T Access More Card from Citi to snag a free phone and take advantage of 23% cash back. I couldn’t be bothered with all that, but I’m still happy with my haul.

How’d you do? We’re you able to earn the maximum $1,150, which doubles to $2,300? Or in the case of the regular Discover it card, $1,100, which doubles to $2,200.

Remember, the double cash back applies for the first year so you may still want to use your Discover card, especially if you can double the portal bonuses and the quarterly bonuses with the standard Discover it card.

My Credit Score Got Pummeled

dropped

Oh, one last thing I wanted to mention. As a result of this promo, my credit score took a huge hit, per data from Credit Karma.

I had a $5,000 credit limit on my Discover card and was up to $4,850, using roughly 97% of my total available credit.

That sent my credit score down about 50 points, from excellent territory to just very good territory.

Now this doesn’t matter because I’m not applying for any new credit in the near future. But for those who were/are, it could present a problem, at least in the near-term.

Of course, I expect my score to jump back to where it was once the credit bureaus see that I paid my high balance back down to zero.

I’ve never really maxed out a credit card before so it was interesting to see the high impact. Had Discover just given me a decent credit limit this wouldn’t have happened. Yet another reason to ask for a higher limit folks…

Can You Can Add Someone as an Authorized User Who Already Has the Same Credit Card?

There are a variety of reasons why a credit cardholder would want to add an authorized user.

For some, it’s a means to a better credit score thanks to the piggybacking that takes place if the person authorizing the user has good credit.

For others, an authorized user could open the door to more cash back rewards if their significant other uses the card. My wife is an authorized user on my Old Blue Cash Amex because it earns 5% back on gas, groceries, and at drugstores.

Obviously I don’t want to have to be there all the time for her to earn 5% at the pump, or 5% while shopping at the grocery store. Essentially our cash back earnings get multiplied by her having access via the authorized user account.

Yet another reason to add an authorized user is for things like Amex Offers, where you can earn cash back savings for buying certain stuff.

Before our wedding, I signed up all of our authorized user accounts to that awesome Smart and Final deal where you received $25 back for spending $50. Most people just bought gift cards.

For us, it meant nearly all of our booze for the wedding was half price. We had about ~10 cards that we were able to load the offer to so it paid major dividends.

Get Bonus Points for Adding an Authorized User

That brings us to the final reason (that I will mention in this post) to add an authorized user. Many credit card companies, especially Chase, will offer a bonus if you add an authorized user to your new card account within a specified period of time.

For example, Chase Sapphire Preferred comes with 5,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points if you add an authorized user within three months of account opening and make a single purchase.

So on top of whatever bonus you get for opening the card yourself, you can snag another 5k points for simply getting a card for your spouse or sibling and making any small purchase.

Those 5k points can certainly come in handy if you need them while transferring points to a frequent flyer program. They’re also worth $50 if you redeem them for cash. So it’s pretty much a no-brainer.

But suppose your spouse/sibling already has the Chase Sapphire card. Can you still make them an authorized user on YOUR Chase Sapphire card and earn the 5k bonus?

The answer is yes. The idea being that authorized and primary cardholders are different and both may add their own value to the individual user and card issuer. After all, two people with one card means a greater chance of spending.

Get the Opening Bonus Despite Being an Authorized User

Additionally, someone who is an authorized user but never primary should also be able to get the bigger opening bonus if they were to apply for a primary card for the first time as well.

So if someone were only an authorized user on a Chase Sapphire card, but later wanted their own card, again, because they may want to control their own account for whatever reason, they should be treated as a new cardmember and entitled to the opening bonus.

Between two people, they should be able to earn nearly 120,000 UR points if they both add one another as authorized users and meet minimum spend when the 50k offer is in effect.

It breaks down as:

  • 50k bonus for spending $4k (x2) = 108,000
  • 5k for adding authorized user (x2) = 10,000
  • *5k for referring that person = 5,000
  • 118k-123k Ultimate Rewards points

You could potentially earn 123,000 points together if one person refers the other and gets another 5,000 bonus points. That 123,000 points would be good for $1,230 in cash or a whole lot of free travel.

Note: Just be careful of the 5/24 rule that applies to Chase cards that earn Ultimate Rewards. Adding someone as an authorized user may push them over this limit, though I’ve heard you can ask for an exception if this is the case.

How to Get an Amex Credit Card Without a FICO Score

If you know anything about American Express, you know they require excellent credit to get approved for their credit and charge cards.

They are perceived as a top-tier credit card issuer so only the best applicants can typically apply and get approved for their cards.

But now there’s an option for those who are lacking in the credit department.

A pair of co-branded Amex cards from BBVA don’t use FICO scores to determine approval. Instead, the bank uses your “AMP Credit Rating,” which apparently doesn’t even correspond with FICO.

You Create Your Own Credit Score

The AMP Credit Rating comes from a credit reporting agency called “eCredable” that lets you build your own credit report and subsequently generate your own credit score.

The angle here is that you can add bills that aren’t typically reported by the big three credit bureaus, including Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

So even if you eschew credit, you can get approved for an American Express credit card.

With eCredable, you can add bill payment information for a number of bills not found on a standard credit report, such as utilities, insurance, cable and cell phone bills, rent, and more.

In other words, those with no credit who are living “debt free” (I’m looking at you Millennials), or those with limited credit history, can build a report and show creditors like BBVA they are worthy of holding an Amex card.

Apparently some 26 million adults lack a credit file and 19 million don’t have enough credit to generate a credit score using traditional models. These folks are known as “credit invisibles.”

The downside is that it costs $19.95 to get your bill accounts verified. Obviously lenders can’t just take your word for it, and verifying takes time and manpower, so it costs money.

It’s unclear how many accounts you’ll need to verify (if any) to get approved for an Amex (it will depend on your unique credit profile), but it could be worth it. You can use a simulator on the eCredable website to determine what you’ll need for a certain score.

BBVA Compass NBA Credit Card Uses AMP Credit Rating

BBVA NBA

There are a pair of BBVA Compass Amex credit card offers that pull your AMP Credit Rating. They seem to be exactly the same other than the fact that one calls for excellent credit and the other good credit, per AMP’s scale.

Both offer 0% APR for the first six months on purchases before jumping to a variable APR between 9.49% and 29.49%.

The credit limits will range from $500 to $2,000, which is quite low but expected for someone lacking traditional credit.

The good news is there’s no annual fee, a $200 sign-up bonus if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days, and a decent rewards structure.

You get 5X points on all purchases during NBA All-Star Weekend and the two weeks of the NBA finals. This is presumably when you’d want to hammer your card hard to earn 5% cash back on everything.

The rest of the year you earn 3X points on NBA tickets, at NBA arenas, and at NBAStore.com.

You also earn 2X points at gas stations and at supermarkets, along with one point per dollar spent elsewhere.

So it’s certainly not a bad starter card…it actually stacks up pretty well. And if you take advantage of the many Amex Offers available you should be able to generate hundreds in savings the first year alone.

That should be more than enough to offset the fees to generate your AMP Credit Rating.

Ideally, you should attempt to build credit the normal way so you have a FICO score (and a VantageScore) so you can avoid paying to create a credit score.

But this is one way to get around that pesky requirement and still end up with a decent credit card.

Barclaycard Launches Luxury Card: 2% Value When Points Redeemed for Cash Back

Barclaycard has released three new credit cards under the umbrella brand “Luxury Card.” They are, it seems, aimed at the high-end of the credit card market.

Why do I think that? Because the word “luxury” is part of it. Oh, and the annual fee on the most expensive of the three is a whopping $995. Yup, just short of a grand. Yikes!

Luxury Card Comes in Three Flavors

flavors

As mentioned, the new Luxury Card series comes in three different versions, including the:

  • Titanium Card
  • Black Card
  • Gold Card

Each has different benefits (and costs) so let’s go through each one separately to see if there’s any value here for new cardmembers.

MasterCard Titanium Card Offers 1% Cash Back

The MasterCard Titanium Card is, you guessed it, not made of titanium! Haha. Sorry. But it is made of a patented mix of brushed stainless steel and carbon. It looks pretty cool I suppose and can probably slice a piece of paper.

Anyway, this entry-level version of Luxury Card comes with 10,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.

Those 10,000 points are worth $200 if you use them for airfare, or just $100 if you opt for a cash back credit on your statement.

You also get access to the Luxury Card Concierge and the members-only Luxury Magazine. That’s a lot luxury, eh?

The annual fee is a not so cheap $195 and $95 for any additional cardmembers.

They claim this card is better than the Amex Platinum because 50,000 points is worth $1,000 in airfare, as opposed to just $500.

Thing is you can transfer Amex points to frequent flyer programs and get even more value than $1,000 if you book business class or first class tickets.

MasterCard Black Card Offers 1.5% Value for Cash Back

The MasterCard Black Card is the mid-tier version of the card that comes with all the same stuff as the Titanium Card plus a little more.

For example, you get 1.5% value for your points when you redeem for statement credits. And you get 25,000 bonus points when you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days.

That works out to $375 if you opt for cash back. It also doubles the redemption value when you redeem for airfare, so $500 on that opening bonus.

It also comes with a $100 annual airline credit for incidental airline purchases, $100 for Global Entry applications, and complimentary Lounge Club membership. Oh, and luxury gifts, whatever those are?

The downside is the $495 annual fee (and $195 for each additional cardholder). That ain’t cheap.

MasterCard Gold Card Is Actually Made of Gold

The MasterCard Gold Card is the cream of the crop, and surprise, is actually made of gold.

Yup, 24 karat gold plating and carbon. Pretty cool, right? Well, not if you pay attention to the annual fee of $995. Yes, basically $1,000 a year for this puppy.

I’ll be adding this card to my list of the most expensive credit cards.

Oh, and additional cards run $295 a piece…great deal! Just kidding!

The Gold Card comes with everything the Black Card has with a few boosts. For one, you get 50,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days.

That’s good for $1,000 if you redeem for cash back because it doubles on this version of the card. Or $1,000 toward airfare. So you can cover your annual fee the first year with the sign-up bonus.

You also get a $200 annual airline credit. Other than that you’re paying an arm and a leg for not much else.

My Thoughts on the Luxury Cards

These new Luxury Cards seem to be more style than substance. While it may be cool that the gold-plated card “reflects your status,” you may go broke in the process with that staggeringly high annual fee.

Additionally, most if not all of these benefits are available on other cards with much lower annual fees. I’d personally opt for the Citi Prestige instead and snag the 50,000 sign-up for a much lower fee.

That card also comes with an annual $250 airline credit that can be used on actual airfare. So just running the math it’s a no-brainer to avoid these cards in favor of cheaper, yet still awesome alternatives.

If you want 100,000 points, you can sign up for both Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Premier, with the latter having its annual fee waived the first year.

You’ll wind up with 100k points that can be transferred to leading airlines and you’ll only pay $450 the first year, less all those valuable airline credits.

Oh, and you’ll get to take advantage of bonus categories for things like travel, hotels, and so on. Meanwhile, the Luxury Cards will only give you one point per dollar no matter what you charge.

Alternatively, you could just apply for a 2% cash back credit card such as Citi Double Cash, or take advantage of double miles your first year on the Discover it Miles card.

What I’m saying here is that there are plenty of better, cheaper options to swipe with.

Fidelity Amex Switching to US Bank Issued Visa Credit Card

For those who hold the quite lucrative Fidelity Amex credit card, changes are a coming.

Starting in July of this year, existing customers will have their FIA Card Services (a Bank of America company) issued Fidelity Amex replaced with a U.S. Bank-issued Visa credit card.

In short, this means you won’t have the perks of an American Express card anymore, though apparently nothing else is changing.

So you will continue to receive 2% back on all purchases, which you can redeem into your Fidelity account and put toward retirement. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it’s not going to be an American Express card anymore, which presents some challenges.

I’ll get to that in a minute. As for why the change was made, Fidelity reportedly chose their new partners because of “improved technology options and customer service.”

Last I checked, Amex customer service was pretty good, though you can’t use an Amex everywhere. Not really a tech issue, more an inconvenience. Visa is, after all, accepted everywhere.

Bank of America said it was mutual, noting that they’ve been terminating many of their co-branded relationships since it doesn’t get customers into Bank of America branches in order to cross sell.

The Drawbacks to the U.S. Bank Issued Fidelity Visa

Let’s talk about those drawbacks now. For one, it’s not an Amex, meaning you won’t be able to take advantage of the awesome Amex Offers constantly being churned out (no pun intended).

This could amount to hundreds or even thousands of dollars in lost cash back, especially if you had lots of authorized users.

Secondly, for those who use Fidelity Amex to load Serve each month, this option will be gone unless you have the old, grandfathered version of Serve.

This obviously doesn’t affect everyone, but for those who are affected, they’ll need to find a new card that earns 2% cash back (or better).

I happen to have the old Serve account and was loading with Fidelity Amex. But I got the Discover it Miles card that earns 3% cash back the first year so I switched to that anyway.

But after a year, if Serve credit card loads still work, I’ll need to find a new alternative to maximize my cash back.

Why the U.S. Bank Issued Fidelity Visa Might Be a Good Thing

For one, it’s a Visa. So you won’t have to worry about merchants accepting it or giving you grief when you ask if they take Amex. You know the grief I’m talking about…

That’s the biggie. Secondly, you will still get the 2% cash back on all purchases, and there’s still no annual fee.

Another potential plus is that it’s being issued by U.S. Bank. Why is that a plus? Well, to me, it doesn’t get much worse than FIA. The FIA website is a joke and their customer service is questionable if not nonexistent.

I’ll be happy to partner up with any other card issuer aside from FIA, and I’m looking forward to having an app to track my spending and make payments as opposed to using the archaic FIA website.

All in all, this change shouldn’t bother too many folks, which is a good thing.

photo: Marcin Wichary)

Please Don’t Get an Alumni Credit Card

Go State! Sure, maybe while you’re attending university and watching their football games on the weekend.

But when it comes to your precious financials, you might want to keep them out of your wallet for good.

Don’t be fooled. When we’re talking about money, loyalty generally doesn’t pay. And secondly, you graduated. It’s time to grow up and throw away your old Ohio State t-shirt. I know it’s a lucky charm but you’re an adult now.

The bad news is the alumni association has your address, even if you move, and tend to always have your address no matter where you go. It’s kind of incredible how they track you.

This means you’ll probably receive all sorts of mailers, and eventually a cool credit card with your school’s logo on the front.

But if you take them up on their offer, chances are you learned nothing during the four or six years it took you to graduate.

Why? Because university credit cards are notoriously crappy. They might have annual fees, sky-high APR, or a poor rewards program (if any at all).

One alumni credit card I came across even rewards you with points for every dollar in interest you accrue! Are you kidding me? The last thing you want to do is carry a balance and pay interest.  Pay it off if you can!

They’re basically banking on your love of the university because they know there are always going to be much better offers out there.

You Probably Got Your First Credit Card on Campus

Let’s rewind for a moment. There’s a high probability you applied for your very first credit card on your college campus.

You know the booths they put out there in the quad with free t-shirts and Snickers bars used as bait.

Well, I’m hoping you learned something during your college years. Things like reading the fine print and shopping around. And while you’re at it, learning how credit cards work to avoid costly finance charges.

If you didn’t bother figuring all that out, maybe the alumni credit card is just the ticket for you. They may even throw in a new sweater you can proudly don on game day.

But I’m hoping you’re smarter than that, despite our lackluster education system that teaches kids and young adults very little about money.

I never learned about credit cards or anything else about personal finance in school. I had to learn as I went and deal with the many pitfalls encountered along the way.

So why would I want to stay loyal to my college and swipe with a credit card with poor terms to boot? That makes no sense.

Plus, as I mentioned, you’re an adult now, so no need to show everyone where you graduated from every time you purchase groceries or start a bar tab.

Besides, your school probably already made enough money off you, what with ridiculous tuition costs and the kickbacks they may have already received for your earlier credit cards.

Look for Something Better Than What the Alumni Association Is Offering

Most of the time, the best offers won’t come to you. Sure, there are targeted credit card offers that do arrive in the mail and they’re certainly worth a look.

But always compare the incoming offers to what’s out there as well. There’s a good chance you’ll do better by seeking out an offer instead of going with what falls in your lap (or out of your mailbox).

I highly doubt there is any alumni credit card in existence that has better terms than most other halfway decent credit cards.

These days, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards card seems to be the card of choice for universities. It’s not terrible, which makes me feel a little better, but it’s certainly not the best card out there, not by a long shot.

And let’s face it; you’re going to need a better rewards program to get out of all that debt.

Is There a Limit to How Many Credit Cards You Can Get Approved For?

Some more credit card Q&A, this time concerning the number of credit cards you can apply for in a certain period of time (and hold) successfully.

This question certainly depends on the card issuer, but some new rules are preventing approvals even if you’ve never applied with a given bank.

Chase Now Has a 5/24 Rule

5/24 rule

Earlier this year, Chase instituted a new policy (it’s not written anywhere publicly) referred to as the “5/24 rule.”

It has been given that name in credit card circles because you won’t get approved for certain Chase credit cards if you’ve opened up five or more credit cards in the past two years.

Apparently the rule only applies when you apply for a personal Chase credit card that earns Ultimate Rewards, such as Chase Freedom and Chase Sapphire Preferred. So it’s really only two cards that are restricted.

However, business cards such as Chase Ink should be exempt from this rule because they’re tied to a business credit report as opposed to a personal credit report.

Additionally, co-branded Chase credit cards are also exempt so you can still apply for the Chase Hyatt card, the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier card, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card, and so on.

This is bad news for those looking to churn a lot of Ultimate Rewards credit cards in a small period of time because very few individuals that churn open fewer than five credit cards every 24 months, let alone in a year.

Tip: You can use Credit Karma for free to see how many accounts you’ve opened in the past two years by clicking the credit reports tab, then accounts, then sort by open date.

Also, if you’re denied, you can try to get around the 5/24 rule by calling Chase directly (reconsideration line) and asking if you can close an existing Chase credit card in order to open the new one. Or try opening a card with a personal banker in-branch.

Citi’s 8/65 Rule

With Citi, you can only apply for a new Citi credit card every eight days, and only do so twice in a 65-day period.

In other words, you apply for Citi Premier on Day 1. Hopefully you get approved. Then you apply for Citi Prestige on Day 9 or later and ideally get approved for that card as well.

I actually did that recently to take advantage of both 50k sign-up bonuses and it worked just fine.

After you’ve been approved for two Citi cards you have to wait a full 65 days before applying for another (third) Citi credit card.

Again, this is an unwritten rule but one that seems to be true. If you try applying for a third Citi credit card after receiving two approvals in less than 65 days you’ll likely be denied on that basis.

I haven’t tried it so I can’t back it with personal experience, but again it seems to be the rule with Citi.

The good news is that it only applies to Citi cards, unlike Chase’s more comprehensive 5/24 rule.

American Express Limits It to 4 Credit Cards

While this is still widely debated, most pundits agree that the most American Express credit cards you can have at one time is four.

However, you can apply for multiple new American Express cards on the same day. I know this because it’s a tactic to avoid multiple credit inquiries.

Note that the “rule of 4” applies to credit cards and not charge cards. Many Amex cards are actually charge cards (Platinum, Green, Gold, Premier Rewards Gold) and these aren’t counted in the limit.

Additionally, Amex cards issued by other banks such as Fidelity Rewards shouldn’t count nor should prepaid cards like Bluebird and Serve, or authorized user accounts.

This makes the limit confusing to calculate and also weakens the limit itself. If most Amex cards aren’t even credit cards who cares, right?

Aside from Old Blue Cash, Starwoods Preferred Guest, and maybe the new EveryDay credit cards, what else would you want from American Express that isn’t a charge card?

Maybe the TrueEarnings card from Costco, but that’s going away soon and being replaced by Citi. I guess the Delta cards but you could always close an account and avoid that pesky annual fee in the process.

Discover Allows One Credit Card Approval Per Year

Discover is a real stickler for credit card approvals, but because they only offer a few cards it’s not really an issue.

With them, you can only apply for a second Discover card after a full year has passed since you got approved for your first Discover card.

This has probably been an issue for those attempting to take advantage of the Apple Pay promo and the double cash back for new cardholders.

Apparently you can only have two Discover credit cards total in which you are the primary cardholder.

Again, not really an issue because they only have two credit cards worth applying for, Discover it and Discover it Miles.

However, note that you’ll probably need to explain why you want a second Discover credit card if you apply twice because the cards are so similar.

And you may need to reallocate your credit limit if you’re maxed out.

As with all things in the credit card realm, Your Mileage May Vary. If you’re concerned you may be declined and hit with an unnecessary credit hit, you can contact the card issuer in question before you apply and ask if there’s a limit based on your unique situation.

Just be careful not to put your foot in your mouth in the process. Maybe ask such questions discreetly and without identifying yourself.  And don’t be afraid to close a credit card if you want a different one.

Read more: How many credit cards should I have?

Quickly See the Many Ways You Can Use American Express Membership Rewards Points

I recently got targeted for the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card.

They’re offering me 50,000 Membership Rewards points if I spend a piddly $1,000 in the first three months from account opening.

Now that sounded pretty good at first glance seeing that the public offer is just 25,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000.

But I have no plans to travel or stay at hotels in the near future because I just won’t have the freedom to do so. But I’m always happy to earn cash back from credit cards no matter what’s going on in my life.

So I quickly wondered what I could glean in cash back from this offer. If I could get $500 cash back and take advantage of the $100 airline credit each calendar year before the waived annual fee kicked in, it would make sense to apply.

How Much Are Membership Rewards Points Worth to You?

50k

As noted, I won’t be using MR points to transfer to travel partners like airlines and hotels, which is pretty much the best redemption value without question.

And I don’t want to buy any merchandise in their catalog like a blender or headphones or some other silly item.

So that pretty much leaves me with cash back ( via Amex gift cards), statement credits, and gift cards.

But how could I quickly determine the best value for my points?

Well, I dig some digging and found a link that lets you do just that on the American Express website.

It’s best to visit this link while not being logged in to American Express so you can select the card of your choice, not just the cards Amex knows you already have.

So use a browser you don’t normally use or clear your cache before visiting that link.

If it works properly, you should get to a page that says to login or alternatively, shows you all the cards if you are “not a card member.”

You want that second option so you can see the redemption options/values for cards you’ve yet to apply for.

Pick Your Amex to See Redemption Options and Values

select

I went ahead and selected the Amex Premier Rewards Gold to see what I could possibly get out of the offer.

From there it will default to show you what 10,000 Membership Rewards points are worth…and then display a variety of tabs including gift cards, shopping, travel, charity, your charges, and more.

So I went ahead and changed the default amount of Membership Rewards points to 50,000 to match my offer and then toggled through the redemption options.

Here’s what 50,000 Membership Rewards points will get you:

Gift cards – up to $500.00
Amex gift card – $250.00
Shop with MR points – $250.00
Shop with Points at Amazon – $350.00
Use points at Best Buy – $350.00
Find flights – $500.00
Reserve prepaid hotels – $350.00
Use points for Airbnb – $350.00
Ticketmaster – $250.00
Telecharge – $250.00
New York City Taxis – $500.00
Uber – $500.00
McDonald’s – $500.00
Chili’s – $425.00
Donate to charity – $500.00
Use points for charges – $300.00
Transfer to Plenti – $400.00

Notice how very few of the redemption options provide a one cent per point valuation. Kind of weak.

It’s also important to look at all your options. For example, using points for Airbnb will give you 0.7 cents per point value, but you can buy Airbnb gift cards for one cent per point.

You can use your points on the fly at Chili’s via point-of-sale for a value of 0.85 cents per point, or just buy a Chili’s gift card ahead of time for one cent per point.

At the end of the day, if you aren’t using Membership Rewards points for travel or for travel partners, or for Uber or a taxi in NYC, you’re probably not going to get even one cent per point.

For me, the targeted offer isn’t really as lucrative as it first appeared. Sure, I can transfer those points to a frequent flyer program and save them for a rainy day but it’s not that enticing of a deal. If it were a 75k or 100k sign-up bonus I’d maybe go for it.

Moral of the story: When it’s not a cash back credit card, determine how much the points will be worth to YOU before you apply.

Read more: Good, Bad, and Ugly Credit Cards for Gift Card Redemptions