Oh, you’re such a TEASE! Mastering teaser rates and more

Do you like to be teased?

If you’re seven, probably not.  If you’re twenty-seven and with your spouse or significant other … well, I’ll leave you two alone. :)

Like everything else, it depends completely on the context.  And though businesses don’t tease the way a couple of love birds would, they do sweeten the pot a bit to encourage you to pull out your credit card.

Simple Financial Lifestyle (follow him on Twitter) wrote recently about financial teasers.  Although the title says “NO!” the rest of the article says, “Weeelll, let me think about it.”  And that’s a great way to approach these kinds of extraordinary offers.

The tease just isn’t that teasy after a while

A free month at the gym is great.  Let’s say the gym membership costs $40/month.  If you sign a two-year contract, the cost per month is $38.33.  Not a whole lot less than $40.  And that freebie looks a lot more like a trap at month 15 when you might be resenting the fact that you’re still paying for that gym membership, even though it’s been eight months since you set foot there!

free-trial-teaserOr a gas station credit card that offers an 8% rebate on gas for the first six months.  Well, after that, it goes down to 1%, which might actually be worse than a decent rewards card.  If that’s the only perk the card has going for it, it’s not worth the hassle of carrying it.  (“Why do I have this card again?”)

The teaser begins losing its mystique the moment you become a paying customer.  The longer you stay with the service, carry the card, or own the expensive luxury item, the less the teaser matters.  A $40/month gym membership approaches … $40/month.

It’s almost as if the business never teased you in the first place.

A practical guide to sorting through these teases

OK, so you saw “DOT COM DOMAINS FOR ONLY $0.99!!!” and you hesitated.  The tease did its job.

What now?  Pretend that the tease doesn’t exist.  “These aren’t the 99-cent domains you’re looking for.”

Because, in the long run, the tease might as well not have existed at all, anyway.

Now that you’ve strobed the tease out of your mind, look at the deal objectively:

  • Where’s the fine print?  Think Barry Bonds.  Look for the asterisk on the baseball.  Get your glasses on, and make your best attempt at reading the disclaimers in the fine print that taketh away the good deal that got your attention.
  • If it’s great cash back you’re getting up front, how long does it last for?  It may be permanent, in which case it’s not a tease at all!  It’s a lasting benefit.  But often, the cash back rate will go down after a few months.
  • If it’s a low price you’re getting up front, when does the price go up?  How long do you have to keep the service once you get past the initial period?
  • If it’s 0% APR you’re getting up front, how long does it last?  What happens if you don’t make a payment on time?  (Hint: nothing good.)  What does the rate go up to after 12, 18, however many months, even if you do make on-time payments?
  • If it’s a free trial you’re getting, do you need to supply a credit card number?  (Usually.)  What is the rate after the trial period?  By when do you need to cancel if you don’t want to continue?
  • If it’s 125,000 rewards points you’re getting with a new card, what does that buy you, really?  How long do you need to keep the card?  What do need to do with the card after getting it to earn the 125k points?  How long do you have to do these things?

Being teased isn’t a bad thing — financially or otherwise — but you should at least know that you’re being teased.

Credit card expiring soon? Eleven steps to stay in control

My business credit card expires at the end of this month. I had had my brand-spanking-new one on my desk for over a month, and finally activated the card this month.

Credit cards expire (and renew) for a number of good business reasons:

  • Fraud protection.  Stolen or cracked numbers on an expired card are worthless.
  • Re-evaluation of creditworthiness.  Just like car insurance companies only extend insurance for a set period of time, credit card issuers only extend credit for a set period of time.  An expiring card gives them the opportunity to adjust some (but not all) parameters on your replacement card.
  • To make the card prettier.  So that we might be influenced into charging more because the card is green, say.  Or because the company logo changed.  Or any number of reasons.  Anyway: fresh card = fresh design.
  • Because we and the people at the grocery stores beat the tar out of them.  We’re not exactly gentle on these things, and Visa certainly isn’t going to send someone out to caulk it back together and re-coat the magnetic strip.

Credit card expiring soon? 11 Steps for staying in control

The devil, and the potential fees, are in the details

The mechanics of activating a new credit card are really easy:

  1. Dial the number on the sticker on the front of the card.
  2. Follow the directions that the automated voice system leads you through.

Following these two steps, you have a new, active credit card that you can use immediately.

However, the flip side is that the other card is now inactive.  If you try to use the card for new purchases, it won’t work.
New purchases include not only physical point-of-sale purchases, but also the automated monthly charges like Netflix, your cell phone bill, your utilities, and everything else.
The credit card issuer may allow a few charges through on the old inactive card if these was a pattern to the charges that suggests it was a pre-authorized arrangement.  Chase did this for us when our card was compromised and we had a few days before we got the next one.  It saved us at least one $30 fee when they honored the charge on the old card.
Do card issuers extend this same courtesy for regularly renewed cards?
They may, but it’s not wise to assume so.  Why?  Because we see the expiration date coming!  Fraud happens anytime, anywhere, but renewing a credit card shouldn’t be a surprise.
Here’s how to make credit card expiration time easy peasy
The main unpleasantness that can happen following a credit card expiration is that a recurring monthly charge goes to the old credit card, and fails.  There may be a couple of fees that are assessed: one by the bank, and one by the merchant that didn’t get paid.  If the slip goes unnoticed for too long, the late payment could have repercussions on your credit score.
Getting a handle on these charges, and making the switch promptly, is the key.  Here’s a step-by-step on going about this methodically.  As a bonus, once the dust settles on the main task, I’ll throw in a few other follow-up tasks that will make next time even easier.
It’s best to start this process as soon as you get your new card in the mail, or when you get that first email or letter informing you that your credit card is near expiration.
  1. Gather your credit card and bank statements for the past thirteen months.  Why thirteen months?  A year is likely the longest time period you’ll have for your recurring charges.over which your charges will happen.  An extra month gives peace of mind that you’ve covered a full year for sure.statements
  2. Review every transaction in those statements to locate all of the recurring charges, and list them.  Depending on the number of transactions, and how organized you already are, this might take no time at all, or an hour or two.  When you’re done, you’ll have a list of the businesses and websites you’ll need to provide your new card information to.
  3. internet-emailVisit the websites that are involved, and make sure you can log in to all of them.    For some services you use, the billing login may be different than your regular login.  If it’s been a while since you logged into a website, you may not remember your password, or the password may have expired.  It’s best to verify access before activating the new credit card, so you can change the card information on the website immediately after you activate the new card.
  4. Review the automatic transactions, and pick a date that doesn’t collide head-on with any of them.  Not that you’re anticipating issues, but if you have some breathing room between when you pull the trigger on the new card — that is, activate it — then you have more time to switch over in case a storm takes down your power for a week, in case your favorite aunt dies, etc.  (The merchants don’t care about hearing that these things happened.  They just care that they get paid.)calendar
  5. For added assurance, transfer some of the close-in payments to a backup credit card that isn’t expiring soon.  You can do this for the charges that are set to hit first, or for all of them.  Even if this credit card isn’t your favorite one (as in it doesn’t give the best reward) it is a valid credit card, and it will keep you from getting socked with late charges.

Once you’ve picked your date, know all of the places you need to switch over, and know how to get into all of the sites:

  1. Activate the new card.  Call up the number on the sticker on the new card, follow the directions, hang up after confirmation that the new card has been activated, peel the sticker off, and sign the back of the card.  Destroy the now-expired card in any pleasurable way you like.telephone
  2. Immediately switch over the payment information to the new card at the places you’ve identified.  As in, right now.  All of the payment information at those websites is now invalid, and you need to fix it.  This is the place that all of the preparation will work to your advantage!  You know all of the sites you need to log into, and you can log into all of the sites you need.  So, take 20-30 minutes (maybe) and git’r’done!piggy-bank

Following this hopefully-smooth changeover, here are three things you can do to capitalize on your organization, and make things even easier the next time around!

  1. Continue to monitor your email for expired-card warnings.  Consider it a blessing if you catch one, because somehow you missed it.  It’s happened to me.
  2. Review your automatic charges to see if you even need them anymore, or can combine them.  The automatic charges are easy to forget about.  Now, though, you have a good number of them in full view in a nice organized list!  Take a bit of time to look them straight in the eye and see if some of them need to go.photocopier
  3. Consider downloading a password manager and organizing your autopay merchants.  Password managers (like KeePass, which is free) have been given the thumbs-up by security gurus as a good way to manage all of these hard-to-remember passwords.  Consider entering the passwords for your autopay merchants into a password manager, as well as entering new ones in there, to make hunting them all down next time a piece of cake.
  4. Photocopy or scan what’s in your wallet or purse.  This is a good record to have if your wallet or purse is ever lost or stolen.  (We didn’t do this before, and it was hectic!)  Think of it this way:  Do you want to have to remember everything you have to have replaced … or do you want to know everything you need to have replaced?  Simply copy both sides of every card you want to have the information for.  This would have account numbers, expiration dates, the issuer, and most importantly the phone number to call in the event the card is lost or stolen.  A few minutes now can save hours or days of heartache later!

Any other tips?  We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Fourteen travel tips for infrequent fliers

I don’t fly often.  In many ways, I’m very thankful for this.

As an infrequent flier, though, I am vulnerable to being taken advantage of.  People who fly every month or even every week have parts of their travel routine down to a science.  I’ve traveled with fliers who not only have the basics down, but have the nuances of particular airports down so well that they just breeze through.

This is like anything else:  The more you practice deliberately, the better you become.

Rules change all the time

I’m sure you’ve gotten a number of notices from various online services saying that continued use of their service requires you to accept new terms and conditions, or adherence under a new privacy policy.

Tips for Infrequent FliersWhether we read them or not, understand them or not, these change the rules of the business relationship.

The more time that goes in between your air trips, the more the rules have changed in the meantime.  What you knew to be the rules as of your last flight may not be the case anymore.

Regardless, rules are rules.  They still need to be followed, even if you find out about them in the middle of your security check.  Even if you lose all of your personal hygiene supplies to TSA.  Even if you need to pay extra fees for your slightly-oversized baggage.

Some extra prep can go a long way

My last flight, which was down to New Orleans to participate in FinCon, was the first I’d taken in quite a while — well over a year, I think.  While I did manage not to get taken advantage of too badly, there are a number of things I would have done differently.

Here are a few of the preparations I made for my trip.  Along the way I’ll explain the places I could have done a bit better.

  1. When booking the flight, use an aggregator.  Aggregators let you compare flight prices for a bunch of airlines side by side.  Travelocity (check rebates) and CheapAir.com (check rebates) are fine choices.  (I used Travelocity for my flight.)  There’s also Google Flights.  If you have more time before buying your ticket, you have a few shots with Priceline.com (check rebates) to get a really cheap ticket.laptop
  2. Be on the watch for upsells.  Travelocity offered a number of opportunities for me to spend more money on my flight not only during the registration process, but after as well.  Expect a number of cross-sells such as trip insurance, rental car and hotel combos, and more.  This happens during the booking process, and after, with follow-on emails.  (They already have your attention, so they’d be foolish not to milk it for all its worth.)
  3. Take some time to understand the rules for your ticket.  Look at transferability.  Can you transfer the ticket?  What about changing the itinerary?  Is there a cost?  What about flight cancellations?  Know what you are entitled to, and what you aren’t.
  4. Take some time to understand the rules for your baggage.  How many bags can you carry on?  What are the size and weight limits for carry-on and checked baggage?  What are the restrictions as to what liquids can be carried on?  I took the extra step of making sure that each dimension restriction was met individually, not just the total.  As it turned out, they didn’t verify the size of my luggage, but I probably could have gotten away with a slightly bigger bag for carry-on.
  5. Think about the nature of the trip, and leave room for what you’re taking back.  Since I was going to a conference, I knew that I would be getting some swag, so I left room in my bags so I didn’t have to check any baggage on the way back.  My wife even suggested packing some of my socks and briefs that had seen better days, with the intention that I’d just throw them away there!luggage
  6. Investigate parking options, if needed.  If you’re near the airport then there’s no need to consider parking, but if you’ll be parking your car near the airport, check around for garages that may have a better rate than the airport.  I didn’t do this and paid about twice what I needed to.
  7. Investigate options for getting from the destination airport to your hotel.  Are there shuttles that give you a better deal than a taxi?  Check around.  I didn’t do this, and may have paid more than I needed to.
  8. Check in at home, if possible.  This turned out to be a big time-saver.  I had my boarding pass in hand as I entered the airport.  Since I wasn’t planning to check any bags, I went straight to the security line.
  9. Be on the watch for more upsells on check-in!  Yep … again.  I was offered the opportunity to double or triple my airline miles for a fee.  I was also offered the opportunity to rescue my paltry cache of miles from expiration.  The airline miles I get only have marginal value because, well, I don’t fly all that much.  I got a few magazines subscriptions before with the miles from my last trip, and the 143 or so were what was left over from that.airport
  10. Plan not to check baggage, if possible.  It’s not only faster (see above) but it’s also cheaper.  There was a fee for any checked baggage, even the first one.  I used to be able to get one checked for free.  Now, that’s complimentary only for people who fly a lot more than I do.
  11. Leave plenty of time to get to the airport.  The standard guidance is to arrive at the airport two hours before departure for domestic flights, and three hours before departure for international flights.  Since I was 70 miles away from the airport I used, I gave myself extra time above what Google Maps said the travel time would be.  Since I’m an infrequent flier, I don’t have as good a sense for how long traveling to the airport takes on different parts of the day.  So, I recommend being really conservative even if it ends up that you sit at your terminal for a bit.
  12. Consider taking a longer, but more familiar, route to the airport.  If you regularly travel along the fastest route to your airport, then this one may not apply to you.  For me, there was a route that was about 30 minutes faster than one I knew pretty well, but I had never taken it before.  I didn’t want to risk missing my flight because I got lost.taxi-png
  13. Bring snacks.  This isn’t absolutely necessary but it can save a bit of money.  I brought 3 pounds of almonds that I ate not only on the plane but throughout the conference.  Mainly, because I wanted something besides carbs at the conference.  That, and I suspected that Ally Bank was going to bring their irresistible dipped Oreos, and I was correct.  (I know that I didn’t have nearly as many as Mrs. 1500 estimated she had, but, boy oh boy, it was a struggle!)
  14. Save those trial sizes that you get from your dental visits.  Wanted to mention this last one because I totally dropped the ball.  I completely forgot that I had a mouthwash and toothpaste trial size, and and bought new at the store for a really high unit price.  D’OH!

If you’re looking to take a trip soon, and you don’t fly often, the best advice is to give yourself more cushion than you think you need, and plan a bit more than you otherwise would.  That way you won’t be completely scalped at every turn.

What other helpful tips do you have for someone who doesn’t fly all that much?  Leave them in the comments below!