The credit cards you obtain during your college years should reimburse you at a lucrative rate in order to maintain wallet relevancy after graduation. The following options have staying power, as in zero or justifiable annual fees and can be kept active. Holding onto the same cards for a while lengthens your average age of open accounts. I think that having 2 to 3 for everyday spend will optimize your cash back. Additionally, multiple cards increases your overall spending limits, or the amount of credit available to you, and thus decreases your utilization ratio.
The ultimate credit card for college and after is the U.S. Bank Cash+ Card. You can elect two picks for 5% earning and one additional pick for 2% earning every quarter. All categories listed here.
- 5% Bookstores: For textbooks. Don’t hold me to this but I believe Amazon transactions fall under this category.
- 5% Car Rental: Useful for hauling all the stuff you think you’ll use. And you can drive yourself from the airport and sponsor day trips with frands without having to teleport your car from home.
- 5% Furniture Stores: Get a slouch-inducing bean bag, fire hazard spider lamp and futon/daybed/sofabed; whichever you feel will best display stains and abuse.
- 5% Electronics: Laptop, gaming set, Skype webcam, Blu-Ray DVD player, TV and whatever additional niceties you need to make you feel at home at school.
- 5% Fast Food: For pizza.
- 5% Sporting Goods Stores: To buy sweats/loungewear from Under Armour, Lululemon, Nike :’)
- 5% Cell Phone, Movie Theaters, Gym etc. and
- 2% at Restaurants, Gas or Groceries.
No Annual Fee and Visa Signature Benefits.
If this is your elephant, you have a shot.I was approved with a 707 score, my oldest credit line being 15 months old and with all open accounts averaging 10 months.
Next up is the only Annual Fee card on my list. But it is godly. My first year, my greatest expenditure outside of clothes was food. Only wizards honor the compulsory $5000 freshman meal plan and fuel up exclusively on bagels and cold salads.
I am not a wizard. I ate copious amounts of sodium and fat that I went out of my way to purchase.
Everyone should carve a space for the American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card. 6% Supermarkets and 3% Gas Stations and Department Stores. $75 Annual Fee and Amex Benefits.
This card is legendary. Supermarkets stock everything these days. You can buy shampoo, cold medicine and even gift cards at 6% rewards earnings. And while yes, that is cash back on drinks and smokes, think about your mom for a sec. before you do what you need to do.
The No Annual Fee runner-up to the Blue Cash Preferred is the Bank of America BankAmericard Cash Rewards with 3% Gas Stations and 2% Groceries. Open a Checking/Savings account with Bank of America and earn 3.3% and 2.2%. No Annual Fee and Visa Signature Benefits.
The Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students will go out with you night after night. 2x Restaurants and 2x Entertainment. ThankYou points are worth somewhat more when you redeem for travel, so the 2x earn is a 3% valuation. No Annual Fee and Citi Services such as Price Rewind.
And I recommend the Chase Amazon.com Rewards card to my fellow dormits (dorm hermits). 3% Amazon.com and 2% Gas, Groceries and Drugstores. No Annual Fee.
If you hate leaving your twin bed, you can get a small lifetime quantity of instant noodles and laundry detergent shipped to your campus mailbox. You might have to skateboard everything back to your room from there. But, you can watch movies on Amazon Instant Video!
The Chase Freedom and Discover it are 5%ers but with changing reward categories every quarter. These are back-up cards that sulk in the recesses of your pocket until their 5% categories supersede your other cards’ 2% to 3% earn rates and then they’re something special. No Annual Fee.
I personally have the Discover it card and intend to pick up the Chase Freedom later. Because Discover offers a boost when redeeming gift card amounts, I would value the cash back at 5.5%.
The Citi Double Cash Card earns a flat 2% everywhere and with No Annual Fee. This card is an excellent sweeper for any uncovered bases.👍
Coming up Marc and I will teach you how to establish and build credit pre-18. Until then,
Parents/adult persons/credit scorers will stiffly tell you to curb spending on your credit cards. We at Splurgist.com just wish for you to splurge rewardingly. When interest charges negate your card earnings, you are not being properly compensated for carrying out splurgist duties.
To calculate how much of a hit you’ll take on when carrying a balance, first divide the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) by the number of days in a year for a Daily Percentage Rate (DPR). Then, plug the following:
balance x DPR x number of days in billing cycle = interest for that month’s statement.
For example, I had to carry a $1300 balance this one time.
$1302.73 x (0.1774/365 days) x 31 days = $19.63
While that card has a rewards earn rate of 1% or something, the interest was effectively 1.5%. I was 0.5% under. 😫
And some card policies have a minimum cost to carry a balance. For example, if I leave just 5 cents unpaid on certain cards, the minimum interest charge will be no less than $5.
I’m going to negotiate lower APRs with the banks sometime…
I was previously discouraged from joining Hilton’s loyalty regime because HHonor points are lowly valued at half a cent per and because many existing Hilton members regard their points-accruing program with unveiled contempt.
I have to be as equitable as possible in my pursuit to brandish a walletful of rewards-earning behemoths so I regrettably cannot pass on the Hilton-partnered Annual Fee cards. Hilton has nice locations, too. Marc and I have an upcoming stay at the Conrad New York that lends us walkish access to boutiques and eateries in the Tribeca-Soho-Chinatown-whatever-area. When booking, I was most impressed by the fact that all rooms at the Conrad are oversized suites (430 sq. ft. with a view of the Hudson in the over-populated, not-so-creatively-developed islandpolis is quasi-mansion in comparison to my parents’ 1 bdrm apt in Queens kiddingkindof).
The Annual Fee pertaining cards gain better rewards. The automatic leap to HHonors Gold tier with either Annual Fee card outweighs the Zero Fee cards’ lesser overall earning potentials. Here’s my no frills analyses on the Citi and the Amex Annual Fee versions.
The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card awards 2 weekend night certificates after spending $2500 within 4 months. And a limited time offer of a one-time $100 statement reimbursement after a $100 minimum Hilton stay. Points earning, benefits and fees are as such:
- 10x per dollar at Hilton
- 5x per dollar at Airlines
- 3x per dollar All Else
- No Foreign Transaction Fee
- HHonors Gold for the duration of card membership.
- 1 Anniversary Weekend Night per $10k yearly spend.
- $95 Annual Fee
10 base x 1.25 gold boost + 5 bonus + 10 card bonus = 27.5 points per dollar at Hilton, or about a 13.75% reimbursement towards your next stay.
Additionally, Gold status wielders stay an extra 5th night free. As in, redeeming 4 nights with your points gets you a 20% kickback.
The $2500 spend on the card supposedly encompasses the $100 minimum Hilton stay. That stay would bring in 2750 points or higher, depending on the dollar amount multiplied by 27.5. Divvying the remaining $2400 spend elsewhere (the least profitable expenditure category) earns a flat 3x rate, 7200 points. The minimum-earn 9950 points from spending are a pitiable $50 (so bulk splurge at Hilton and on airlines!).
The 2 award nights have a maximized value of $950 when you redeem Top Category. Without taking into account a higher proportion of Hilton or Airline spending, the minimum earnings are
$950 award nights + $100 statement credit + $50 spend earning amounts to $1100. Considering you spent $2500 plus a $95 annual fee, that’s a
$1100 rewards / $2595 spend = 42% reimbursement towards Hilton Hotel stays.
If you optimized earnings by splurging all $2500 on Hilton stays, you’d earn $344 from spending, or effectively a
$1394 rewards / $2595 spend = 54% reimbursement on your stays toward future stays.
The Citi Reserve offers an Anniversary 1 Weekend Night Certificate (valued at $475) after spending $10k on the card and with an additional $95 renewal fee. If you want to obtain that 3rd night certificate, spend optimally, Splurgists (meaning on Hilton or to a lesser extent, on flights).
After the $10k spend requirement and $190 fees, spending at the 3x flat earning rate offers a decent 16.4% return. Optimized 27.5x earning at Hilton is an unbeatable 28.5% return, though.
Compare $1425 award nights + $100 statement credit + $149 earnings / $10190 spend with $1425 award nights + $100 statement credit + $1375 optimized earnings / $10190 spend.
The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card is an amicable globetrotter with Zero Foreign Transaction Fees and 5x (2.5%) earnings on flying.
Because the 3rd award night is worth <$500, you’re better hitting the $2500 minimum spend on the card and redirecting the $7500 spend on an airline credit card towards earning a Travel Companion Certificate (worth thousands when flying internationally).
The Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from Amex offers a 80k points sign-up bonus after spending $3000 within 3 months (offer expires 5/5/15). Points earning, benefits and fees are as such:
- 12x per dollar at Hilton
- 6x per dollar on Dining, Groceries and at Gas Stations.
- 3x per dollar All Else
- 2.7% Foreign Transaction Fee
- HHonors Gold for the duration of card membership.
- $75 Annual Fee
The 25% base boost from Gold paired with the Points & Points earning method charged to the Amex Surpass card nets
10 base x 1.25 gold boost + 5 bonus + 12 card bonus = 29.5 points per dollar at Hilton, or about a 14.75% reimbursement towards your next stay.
Again, the same 20% kickback when redeeming 4 nights.
The 80k sign-up points are worth $400. Spending $3000 at the 6x rate on food and gas earns you $90. I believe you can purchase brand gift cards at supermarkets with the 6x earnings applicable which is less limiting.
So $490 rewards / $3075 spend with the annual fee = 16% savings. If you’re spending optimally on Hilton stays, at the 29.5x rate you would’ve earned $446. That’s 27.5% savings.
Being landlocked by the 2.7% Foreign Transaction Fee yet earning a credible 6x (3%) on food and gas essentials, the Amex Surpass functions as an everyday card.
I personally went for the Amex since Citi has always kicked my teeth in as an applicant. I wasn’t accepted for their Student Preferred card with a 680 score (what with my lack of history lol). But I only felt personally slighted when I was also declined for the Citi Double Cash Back card with a then 715 score. When my jitters calm I’ll probably research and try for some of their generous sign-up cards.
In the meanwhile, my family’s Citi legacy will still thrive through my mother (she’s been working longterm for Citibank, swears by all of their credit cards/customer service and racks up ThankYou points like a champ).
grrr Citi Y U No?
Splurgists, though I have a second husband in Ebates, I’ve been having a passionate affair with the Discover it credit card. I can’t help the fact that the Discover it is taking me on so many wonderful dates. The 5% cash back at restaurants and movies from now through June incentivizes foodie outings (is it obvious yet how deeply I feel about succulent, odorless cuts of sashimi?) and private matinee attendances.
The Discover it is a supportive partner and actually cares about my interests. Well, the most important one: online shopping.
Discover Deals is accessible through the account summary page. Though few affiliates are listed, brands are constantly rotated. The cash back offered is usually very generous. The following deals stood out to me and I provided the current Ebates and Mrrebates offers if any in parentheses for comparison.
- 10% at Body Shop (Ebates 4%; Mrrebates 8%)
- 10% at Sephora (Ebates 4%; Mrrebates 7%)
- 10% at Macys (Ebates 8%; Mrrebates 3%)
- 10% Under Armour (Ebates 4%; Mrrebates 6%)
- 10% The North Face (Ebates 4%; Mrrebates 3%)
- 10% Backcountry (Ebates 5%; Mrrebates 5%)
- 10% Gaiam (Ebates 5%; Mrrebates 6%)
- 10% Bluefly (Ebates 3.5%; Mrrebates 5%)
- 5% Walmart (Ebates 2%; Mrrebates 2%)
- 5% Apple (Ebates 1%)
- 5% Anthropologie
- 5% J. Crew (Ebates 1.5%; Mrrebates 2%)
- 5% Madewell (Ebates 2%; Mrrebates 2%)
The 5% cash back at Anthropologie and at Apple are especially worthwhile.
I am okay with the fact that Discover Deals cannot be combined with promo codes (as long as free shipping is automatically applied after a purchase minimum and/or ShopRunner) because I am head over heels in like with Discover’s transparent, no strings Price Protection. Splurgists, place impulse buys on this card. I will personally make clothes/shoes purchases with the card through the DD portal because I shop in-season and need to have my exact size.
When you find an identical product being sold at a lower price than the one you paid within 90 days of your purchase (in my case, a $200 Isabel Marant shirt reduced to perhaps $100 off-season), you can file a claim through the 1 800 347 0213 service number. Discover refunds up to $500 of any price difference and up to a generous $2500 total per annum. A call representative confirmed that online stores qualify.
If you purchased multiples of an identical item, Discover only reimburses three and with the $500 cap on each item.
Chase offers price protection on their Sapphire card, but that card charges $95 per year after the first year of account opening. Citi’s Price Rewind does the searching for you, but offers a shorter 60 day coverage.
^ Discover is famously fee-free.
There is no foreign transaction fee associated with any of Discover’s credit cards. That means a less stressful experience when shopping for European brands and when importing Japanese candies from websites that accept payment in local currency only.
I like the Discover It card best because of the ongoing $100 Amazon gift card exclusive sign-up offer. If you would instead prefer a $50 cash back sign-up offer applicable towards any purchase, please e-mail me (Julie) at email@example.com and I will respond with a referral link. The $50 cash back offer is a referral exclusive.
Since there’s no annual fee to keep, there’s no pressure to spend on this card when the active 5% categories are lackluster. I can jump back into the arms of my everyday card husband.
Below are some of the foreign transaction fees charged onto my “Everyday” Amex.
Credit cards for studying abroad should have zero foreign transaction fees and embedded EMV chips. EMV technology is globally standard in credit card processing. You will be better with than without the chip.
EMV cards with No Annual Fee and No Foreign Transaction Fee
The following are absolutely free to keep. If you are studying abroad for a college term, you’re probably around my age (20) and with a nascent credit history. Maintain your account after your trip by intermittently using the card in order to nourish and preserve your credit score.
The Capital One VentureOne earns 1.25 miles for every dollar and offers a 20,000 mile bonus (worth $200) after spending $1000 on the card within 3 months of account opening. Accrued miles can be redeemed as statement credit towards travel related expenses such as flights, hotels, cruises and car rentals. You can also claim miles by booking through the Capital One Rewards center.
The $1000 is easily met by flight or living arrangement costs. If you spent $8000 over the course of your semester abroad, you will have earned $300 in cash rewards (with the bonus), or saved 3.75%.
The Bank Americard Travel Rewards earns 1.5 points per dollar. Apply online for an exclusive 10,000 points sign up offer (worth $100) after spending $500 within 90 days of account opening. Similar to the VentureOne, you would redeem points in the form of statement credit towards travel purchases like flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars and baggage fees. Additionally, having a checking or savings account through Bank of America boosts your earning rate to 1.65%.*
Using the same $8000 example spend, you earn $232 in cash rewards (with the bonus and BoA checking) or 2.9% savings. If you decide against pairing the card with the checking account, the potential is as follows: $220 earnings (with the bonus) or 2.75% savings.
The best card to take with you is the VentureOne, hands down. You will continue to come out ahead in cash earnings with the VentureOne because of its sign-up offering until you theoretically charge an exorbitant $30,000-ish sum on the Bank Americard with a BoA checking account. Without a BoA checking account, the Bank Americard will only beat the VentureOne at $40,001 spend.
Both cards are enshrined by Visa Signature Benefits. Having one of these in your pocket gives you 24/7 access to concierge and assistance. If you need help, the number on the back of your credit card is your 911. Visa Signature offers roadside and emergency assistance and insures your travel, rental car and luggage. There is an extensive hotel programme, discounted movie tickets and you may receive complimentary upgrades. They offer extended purchase protection and security–essentially a back-up warranty.
Bank of America has unique safeguarding technologies against fraud and identity theft. SafePass is a 6 digit passcode and ShopSafe generates temporary card numbers to keep your real numbers private.
I like Capital One because they provide a credit tracker on their account summary page. Checking one’s credit rating is a rather noble splurgist quality. It also demonstrates to credit scoring agencies that you are a responsible borrower.
Personally, I feel that either card listed above should be gracefully placed on the backburner (as in, that hidden wallet pocket you shove gum wrappers into) after you get home. A flat 1.25 or 1.5% cash back isn’t deplorable but there are higher cash back earnings cards for everyday splurging.
EMV cards with No Foreign Transaction Fee and a Reasonable Annual Fee
Annual fee cards bait subscribers with higher sign up bonuses and an introductory fee-waived year. However, the fees will cut into your rewards earning over the course of card membership. Marc’s Amex costs $500 annually with an earnings pittance of 1% which is some inexcusable anti-splurgist bs if you ask me. He is tremendously placated by the fact that his go-to card is unfailing… for his sake, I hope so too.
Credit scores are maimed during account closing because it lowers the total amount of credit available to you and raises the portion of credit utilized. For that godly 850, you ideally want your oldest line of credit to be alive and breathing for 25+ years. Being 20, my credit history is pitiably 2 to 3 years long and still volatile.
Anyway, if you have a more resilient credit score and savor the crisp snap of cutting plastic, the following may better serve your needs. I’ll provide comparisons on the estimate cash back potentials when having the cards open for 1 year vs. for 10 years.
The Chase Sapphire earns 2 points per dollar spent on Travel and Dining with a 40,000 pts bonus (worth $500) after spending $4000 within 3 months of opening. When redeeming towards travel, values are boost to 2.5 points per dollar. Waived annual fee the first year.
Say the trip costs $5000. You will be reimbursed $625 or effectively save 12.5%. Owed to subsequent upkeep fees at $95 each year, the initially impressive 2.5x earnings rate is realistically 1.8% if the bulk of card usage is during that one big trip each year. However, if you dine out a lot and travel frequently, earnings hover in the 2.3% range.
Even though the Chase Sapphire is widely lauded as an everyday card and offers one of the most generous sign-up bonuses, I am only mildly enamored with it. And even then, only for its aesthetics–the metallic blue facets are ceaselessly admirable in person. The double cash back categories (travel and dining), though prudent and relevant, exclude my splurge affairs with shopping and supermarkets. I imagine that jetsetters still visit pharmacies, buy souveniers and shop for groceries occasionally, non?
The Barclaycard Arrival plus earns 2 miles per dollar with a 40,000 miles bonus (worth $440) after spending $3000 within 3 months. Free for the first year but $89 each year thereafter. Redeeming towards travel expenses ups the earning rate to 2.2 miles per dollar.
Closing the card within the first year after a $5000 trip earns you $550 (with the bonus) or 11% savings. After the first year, the returns are significantly diminished by the $89 annual fee. Keeping the card open for 10 years and limiting its use to travel would only reimburse you at a 1.48% rate. Adopting the Arrival+ as your everyday card would power its cash back to a respectable 2%.
The Capital One Venture earns 2 miles per dollar with a 40,000 miles bonus (worth $400) after spending $3000 within 3 months of account opening. Free for the first year, $59 per year thereafter.
Closing the card within the first year after a $5000 trip earns you $500 (with the bonus) or 10% savings. Keeping the card open for 10 years and using it exclusively for travel ($50k spend) would reimburse you at a 1.74% rate after annual fees. When used more extensively as your go-to everyday card, earnings are a slightly sweeter 1.93%.
The Venture and Sapphire are Visa Signature products while the Arrival Plus is a Platinum MasterCard. MasterCard provides comparable service although from a quick browse I don’t see any purchase protection. Tsk.
After fastidious deliberation, I would personally rather have either the Venture or Arrival+ in my arsenal because they transition seamlessly off the plane–they’re true lifestyle cards. Once the blinding euphoria from the sign-up bonus dissipates, the Sapphire is, at the end of the day, an expensive wanna-be Diners Club card.
In an upcoming post, I will rave about a solid 2.36% cash back credit card, even after averaging in annual fees.
*Higher redemption possibilities are available to Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards clients with net assets over $20,000 in BoA holdings. The rewards earnings would be 1.875% at $20k, 2.25% at $50k and 2.625% at $100k.