Here Are The Best Student Loans of 2021

The best student loans can help you earn a college degree that will lead to higher earnings later in life. They also come with low interest rates and reasonable fees (or no fees), which will make it easier to keep costs down while you’re in school and once you’re in repayment mode.

For most people, federal student loans are the best deal. With federal student loans, you can qualify for low fixed interest rates and federal protections like deferment, forbearance, and income-driven repayment plans. To find out how much you can borrow with federal student loans, you should fill out a FAFSA form. Doing so can also help you determine if you qualify for any additional student aid, and if so, how much.

While federal student loans are usually the best deal for borrowers, many students need to turn to private student loans at some point during their college careers. This is often the case when federal student loan limits have been exhausted, or when federal student loans are no longer an option due to other circumstances. We’re providing the top 8 options, at least according to us, as well as a guide to help you get the best rate.

Most Important Factors When Applying for Student Loans

  • Start with a federal loan. Fill out a FAFSA form prior to applying for a private loan to make sure you’re getting all the benefits you can.
  • Compare loans across multiple lenders. Consider using a comparison company like Credible to do so.
  • Always read the fine print. Fees aren’t always boasted on the front of a lender’s website, so take time to learn about what you’re getting into.
  • Start paying as soon as you can to avoid getting crushed by compound interest.

Best Private Student Loans of 2021

Fortunately, there are many private student loan options that come with low interest rates and fair terms. The best student loans of 2021 come from the following private lenders and loan comparison companies:

  • Best for Flexibility
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  • Best Loan Comparison
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  • Best for Low Rates and Fees
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  • Best for No Fees
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  • Best Student Loans from a Major Bank
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  • Best Student Loans with No Cosigner Required
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  • Best for Fair Credit
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  • Best for Comprehensive Comparisons
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#1: College Ave — Best for Flexibility

College Ave offers private student loans for undergraduate and graduate students as well as parents who want to take out loans to help their kids get through college. Variable APRs as low as 3.70% are available for undergraduate students, but you can also opt for a fixed rate as low as 4.72% if you have excellent credit. College Ave offers some of the most flexible repayment options available today, letting you choose from interest-only payments, flat payments, and deferred payments depending on your needs. College Ave even lets you fill out your entire student loan application online, and they offer an array of helpful tools that can help you figure out how much you can afford to borrow, what your monthly payment will be, and more.

Qualify in Just 3 Minutes with College Ave

#2: Credible — Best Loan Comparison

Credible doesn’t offer its own student loans; instead, it serves as a loan aggregator and comparison site. This means that, when you check out student loans on Credible, you have the benefit of comparing multiple loan options in one place. Not only is this convenient, but comparing rates and terms is the best way to ensure you get a good deal. Credible even lets you get prequalified without a hard inquiry on your credit report, and you can see loan offers from up to nine student lenders at a time. Fixed interest rates start as low as 4.40% for borrowers with excellent credit, and variable rates start at 3.17% APR with autopay.

Compare Dozens of Rates at Once with Credible

#3: Sallie Mae — Best for Low Rates and Fees

Sallie Mae offers its own selection of private student loans for undergraduate students, graduate students, and parents. Interest rates offered can be surprisingly low, starting at 2.87% APR for variable rate loans and 4.74% for fixed-rate loans. Sallie Mae student loans also come without an origination fee or prepayment fees, as well as rate reductions for students who set up autopay. You can choose to start repaying your student loans while you’re in school or wait until you graduate as well. Overall, Sallie Mae offers some of the best “deals” for private student loans, and you can even complete the entire loan process online.

Get Access to Chegg Study FREE with Sallie Mae

#4: Discover — Best for No Fees

While Discover is well known for their excellent rewards credit cards and personal loan offerings, they also offer high-quality student loans with low rates and fees. Not only do Discover student loans come with low variable rates that start at 3.75%, but you won’t pay an application fee, an origination fee, or late fees. Discover student loans are available for undergraduate students, graduate students, professional students, and other lifelong learners. You can even earn rewards for having a 3.0 GPA or better when you apply for your loan, and Discover offers access to U.S. based student loan specialists who can answer all your questions before you apply.

Apply for a Loan with Discover

#5: Citizens Bank — Best Student Loans from a Major Bank

Citizens Bank offers their own flexible student loans for undergraduate students, graduate students, and parent borrowers. Students can borrow with or without a cosigner and multi-year approval is available. With multi-year approval you can apply for student funding one time and secure several years of college funding at once. This saves you from additional paperwork and subsequent hard inquiries on your credit report. Citizens Bank student loans come with variable rates as low as 2.83% APR for students with excellent credit, and you can make full payments or interest-only payments while you’re in school or wait until you graduate to begin repaying your loan. Also keep in mind that, like others on this list, Citizens Bank lets you apply for their student loans online and from the comfort of your home.

#6: Ascent — Best Student Loans with No Cosigner Required

Ascent is another popular lender that offers private student loans to undergraduate and graduate students. Variable interest rates start at 3.31% whether you have a cosigner or not, and there are no application fees required to apply for a student loan either way. Terms are available for 5 to 15 years, and Ascent even offers cash rewards for student borrowers who graduate and meet certain terms. Also note that Ascent lets you earn money for each friend you refer who takes out a new student loan or refinances an existing loan.

Get a Loan in Minutes with Ascent

#7: Earnest — Best for Fair Credit

Earnest is another online lender that offers reasonable student loans for undergraduate and graduate students who need to borrow money for school. They also offer a free application process, a 9-month grace period after graduation, no origination fees or prepayment fees, and a .25% rate discount when you set up autopay. Earnest even lets you skip a payment once per year without a penalty, and there are no late payment fees. Variable rates start as low as 3.35%, and you may be able to qualify for a loan from Earnest with only “fair” credit. For their student loan refinancing products, for example, you need a minimum credit score of 650 to apply.

Learn Your Rate in Minutes with Earnest

#8: LendKey — Best for Comprehensive Comparisons

LendKey is an online lending marketplace that lets you compare student loan options across a broad range of loan providers, including credit unions. LendKey loans come with no application fees and variable APRs as low as 4.05%. They also have excellent reviews on Trustpilot and an easy application process that makes applying for a student loan online a breeze. You can apply for a loan from LendKey as an individual, but it’s possible you’ll get better rates with a cosigner on board. Either way, LendKey lets you see and compare a wide range of loan offers in one place and with only one application submitted.

Pay Zero Application Fees with LendKey!

How to Get the Best Student Loans

The lenders above offer some of the best student loans available today, but there’s more to getting a good loan than just choosing the right student loan company. The following tips can ensure you save money on your education and escape college with the smallest student loan burden possible.

Consider Federal Student Loans First

Like we mentioned already, federal student loans are almost always the best deal for borrowers who can qualify. Not only do federal loans come with low fixed interest rates, but they come with borrower protections like deferment and forbearance. Federal student loans also let you qualify for income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and Income Based Repayment (IBR) as well as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

Compare Multiple Lenders

If you have exhausted federal student loans and need to take out a private student loan, the best step you can take is comparing loans across multiple lenders. Some may be able to offer you a lower interest rate based on your credit score or available cosigner, and some lenders may offer payment plans that meet your needs better. If you only want to fill out a loan application once, it can make sense to compare multiple loan offers with a service like Credible.

Improve Your Credit Score

Private student loans are notoriously difficult to qualify for when your credit score is less than stellar or you don’t have a cosigner. With that in mind, you may want to spend some time improving your credit score before you apply. Since your payment history and the amounts you owe in relation to your credit limits are the two most important factors that make up your FICO score, make sure you’re paying all your bills early or on time and try to pay down debt to improve your credit utilization. Most experts say a utilization rate of 30% or less will help you achieve the highest credit score possible with other factors considered.

Check Your Credit Score for Free with Experian

Get a Quality Cosigner

If your credit score isn’t at least “very good,” or 740 or higher, you may want to see about getting a cosigner for your private student loan. A parent, family member, or close family friend who has excellent credit can help you qualify for a student loan with the best rates and terms available today. Just remember that your cosigner will be liable for your loan just as you are, meaning they will have to repay your loan if you default. With that in mind, you should only lean on a cosigner’s help if you plan to repay your loan amount in full.

Consider Variable and Fixed Interest Rates

While private student loans offer insanely low rates for borrowers with good credit, their variable rates tend to be lower. This is why you should always take the time to compare variable and fixed rates across multiple lenders to find the best deal. If you believe you can pay your student loans off in a few short years, a variable interest rate may help you save money. If you need a decade or longer to pay your student loans off, on the other hand, a low fixed interest rate may provide you with more peace of mind.

Check for Discounts

As you compare student loan providers, make sure to check for discounts that might apply to your situation. Many private student loan companies offer discounts if you set your loan up on automatic payments, for example. Some also offer discounts or rewards for good grades or for referring friends. It’s possible you could qualify for other discounts as well depending on the provider, but you’ll never know unless you check.

Beware of Fees

While the interest rate on your student loan plays a huge role in your long-term loan costs, don’t forget to check for additional fees. Some student loan companies charge application fees or prepayment penalties if you pay your loan off early, for example. Others charge origination fees that tack on a few additional percentage points to your loan amount right off the bat. If you can find a student loan with a low interest rate and no additional fees, you’ll be much better off. Since loan fees may not be prominently advertised on student loan provider websites, however, keep in mind that you may need to dig into their fine print to find them.

Make Payments While You’re in School

Finally, no matter which loan you end up with, it makes a lot of sense to make payments while you’re still in school if you’re earning any kind of income. Even if you make interest-only payments while you attend college part-time or full-time, you can save yourself from paying thousands of dollars in additional interest payments later in life. Remember that compound interest can be a blessing or a curse. If you can keep interest at bay by making payments while you’re in school, you can squash compound interest and keep your loan balances from growing. If you let compound interest run its course, on the other hand, you may wind up owing more than you borrowed in the first place by the time you graduate school and start repayment.

What to Watch Out For

A private student loan may be exactly what you need in order to finish your degree and move up to the working world, but there are plenty of “gotchas” to be aware of. Consider all these factors as you apply for a new private student loan or refinance existing loans you have with a private lender.

  • Interest that accrues while you’re in school: Remember that subsidized loans may not accrue interest until you graduate from college and enter repayment mode, but that unsubsidized loans typically start accruing interest right away. Since private student loans are unsubsidized, you’ll need to be especially careful about ballooning interest and long-term loan costs.
  • Getting a cosigner: Make sure you only apply for a private student loan with a cosigner if you’re entirely sure you can repay your loan over the long haul. If you fail to keep up with your end of the bargain, you could destroy trust with that person and their credit score in one fell swoop.
  • You’ll lose out on some protections: Also remember that private student loans come with fewer protections than federal student loans. You won’t have the option for income-driven repayment plans with private loans, nor will you be able to qualify for federal deferment or forbearance. For this reason, private student loans are best for students who are confident in their ability to repay their loans on their chosen timeline.

In Summary: The Best Student Loans

Company Best Of…
College Ave Best for Flexibility
Credible Best for Loan Comparison
Sallie Mae Best for Low Rates and Fees
Discover Best for No Fees
Citizens Bank Best Student Loans from a Major Bank
Ascent Best Student Loans with No Cosigner Required
Earnest Best for Fair Credit
LendKey Best for Comprehensive Comparisons

The post Here Are The Best Student Loans of 2021 appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee and How Can You Avoid It?

Foreign transaction fees are irritating little charges that every traveler has faced, and most credit card users have questioned. They are the bane of a frequent flyer’s life and if not managed carefully, could result in some serious charges. But what are these charges, why do they exist, what’s the average fee, and how can you avoid them?

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee?

A foreign transaction fee is a surcharge levied every time you make a payment in a foreign currency or transfer money through a foreign bank. These fees are charged by credit card networks and issuers, often totaling around 3%.

For example, imagine that you’re on holiday in the United Kingdom, where all transactions occur in Pound Sterling. You go out for a meal and use your credit card to pay a bill of £150. Your credit card issuer first converts this sum into US Dollars and then charges a foreign transaction fee, after which the network (Visa, MasterCard, American Express) will do the same.

If we assume that £150 equates to exactly $200, this will show on your credit card statement first followed by a separate foreign transaction fee of $6.

When Will You Pay Foreign Transaction Fees?

If you’re moving money from a US bank account to an international account in a different currency, there’s a good chance you will be hit with foreign transaction fees and may also be charged additional transfer fees. More commonly, these fees are charged every time you make a payment in a foreign currency.

Many years ago, foreign transaction fees were limited to purchases made in other currencies, but they are now charged for online purchases as well. If the site you’re using is based in another country, there’s a good chance you’ll face these charges.

It isn’t always easy to know in advance whether these fees will be charged or not. Many foreign based sites use software that automatically detects your location and changes the currency as soon as you visit. To you, it seems like everything is listed in dollars, but you may actually be paying in a foreign currency.

Other Issues that American Travelers Face 

Foreign transaction fees aren’t the only issue you will encounter when trying to use American reward credit cards abroad. If we return to the previous example of a holiday in the UK, you may discover that the restaurant doesn’t accept your credit card at all.

In the UK, as in the US, Visa and MasterCard are the two most common credit card networks and are accepted anywhere you can use a credit or debit card. However, while Discover is the third most common network in the US, it’s all but non-existent in the UK. 

Discover has claimed that the card has “moderate” acceptance in the UK, but this is a generous description and unless you’re shopping in locations that tailor for many tourists and American tourists in particular, it likely won’t be accepted.

There are similar issues with American Express, albeit to a lesser extent. AMEX is the third most common provider in the UK, but finding a retailer that actually accepts this card is very hit and miss.

Do Foreign Transaction Fees Count Towards Credit Card Rewards?

Foreign transaction fees, and all other bank and credit card fees, do not count towards your rewards total but the initial charge does. If we return to the previous example of a $200 restaurant payment, you will earn reward points on that $200 but not on the additional $6 that you pay in fees.

How to Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees

The easiest way to avoid foreign transaction fees is to use a credit card that doesn’t charge them. Some premium cards and reward cards will absorb the fee charged for these transactions, which means you can take your credit card with you when you travel and don’t have to worry about extra charges.

This is key, because simply converting your dollars to your target currency isn’t the best way to avoid foreign transaction fees. A currency conversion will come with its own fees and it’s also very risky to carry large sums of cash with you when you’re on vacation. 

Credit Cards Without Foreign Transaction Fees

All credit card offers are required to clearly state a host of basic features, including interest rates, reward schemes, and annual fees. However, you may need to do a little digging to learn about foreign transaction fees. These fees can be found in the credit card’s terms and conditions, which should be listed in full on the provider’s website.

To get you started, here are a few credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees:

  1. Bank of America Travel Rewards Card: A high-reward and low-fee credit card backed by the Bank of America.
  2. Capital One: All Capital One cards are free of foreign transaction fees, including their reward cards, such as the Venture card.
  3. Chase Sapphire Preferred: A premium rewards card aimed at big spenders. There is an annual fee, but not foreign transaction fees.
  4. Citi Prestige: One of several Citi cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees, and the best one in terms of rewards. 
  5. Discover It: A solid all-round credit card with no foreign transaction fees. However, as noted above, the Discover network is rare outside of the United States.
  6. Wells Fargo Propel World: An American Express credit card with good rewards and low fees, including no foreign transaction fees.

Summary: One of Many Fees

Foreign transaction fees are just some of the many fees you could be paying every month. Credit cards work on a system of rewards and penalties; you’re rewarded when you make qualifying purchases and penalized when you make payments in foreign currencies and in casinos, and when you use your card to withdraw cash.

Many of these fees are fixed as a percentage of your total spend, but some also charge interest and you will pay this even if you clear your balance in full every month. To avoid being hit with these fees, pay attention to the terms and conditions and look for cards that won’t punish you for the things you do regularly.

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee and How Can You Avoid It? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

What is a credit card statement credit?

A recent trend in credit card rewards is increased flexibility in how you can redeem your cash back, points or miles. You can book travel, invest, get gift cards and more – but one of the most common ways a credit card company will issue rewards is as a statement credit.

Statement credits may seem simple, but they’re handled a little differently by each rewards program, and there’s a lot to consider when you’re trying to decide if they’re the best way to redeem cash back or other rewards.

See related: What is cash back?

What is a statement credit?

Put simply, a statement credit is money credited to your account. In its most basic form, a statement credit is not much different from a payment. Like a normal monthly payment, a statement credit is deducted from your card balance, reducing the amount of money you owe. But where cardholders are responsible for payments, credits come from either a merchant or card issuer.

rewards cards also allow you to redeem the points or miles you’ve earned as statement credits. While some cards allow you to use a statement credit to reduce your balance with no restrictions, others only apply credits to your account after you meet certain criteria or make purchases in specific spending categories.

Statement credits on cash back cards

Cash back cards usually make it easy to redeem your points as a statement credit. In most cases, all you need to do is meet the card’s minimum redemption criteria, then choose a statement credit as your redemption method. Once a credit is applied to your account, your card balance decreases accordingly.

If, for example, you were to spend $3,000 with a flat rate 1 percent cash back card, you’d earn a $30 credit; and if you were to redeem this entire credit, $30 would be deducted from your account balance.

While many cards give you the option to request your cash back in the form a check, some only allow you to redeem as a statement credit – so be sure to read your issuer’s terms carefully. After all, when you get your cash back as a check or direct deposit, the money is yours to spend or save as you’d like. With a statement credit, however, the funds are “trapped” in your account and only impact your card balance. If you stop using your card or close your account, you could lose any cash back or points you haven’t redeemed.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, for example, allows you to book travel through the rewards center at a rate of 1 cent per mile. But if you redeem your miles for cash back as a statement credit, their value is cut in half to just 0.5 cents per mile.

If you prefer to redeem your rewards as a statement credit, make sure doing so doesn’t dilute the value of your points or miles, as each rewards program grants and values statement credits a little differently.

Statement credits for an introductory bonus

Statement credits also frequently appear as part of a card introductory or annual bonus, when issuers offer to reward you if you spend a certain amount of money within a given timeframe. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example, offers a $250 bonus after you spend $1,000 with your new card in the first 3 months. Instead of simply sending you a check for $250, however, American Express credits your account $250 after you’ve met the conditions of the offer. Once received, the credit will cover the next $250 you charge.

Statement credits for card benefits

Many cards also award extra perks in the form of a statement credit. The United Explorer Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example, each offer up to a $100 credit to cover the cost of a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application.

In these cases, a statement credit is applied to your account only after you make the eligible purchase and cannot be used for anything else.

How statement credits work with the major rewards programs

Here’s how some of the major rewards programs treat statement credits:

Rewards program Can you redeem rewards as a statement credit? Minimum redemption Rewards rate when redeemed as a credit
Discover cards Cashback Bonus Yes None 1:1
Bank of America Cash Rewards Yes None ($25 for automatic redemptions) 1:1
American Express Membership Rewards Yes $25 1:0.6
Chase Ultimate Rewards Yes $20 1:1

Should I redeem my points as a statement credit?

Once you know what a statement credit is and how it’s treated by your rewards program, you’ll probably wonder if it’s smart to redeem your points or miles in this form. While the answer will depend on your spending habits, goals and financial situation, it makes more sense in certain circumstances.

If you’re trying to decide whether you should redeem your points as a credit statement, consider the following:

  • Are you going to carry a balance? If you’re not sure whether you’ll be able to pay off your balance in full by the due date, redeeming your points as a statement credit makes sense. You’ll knock a chunk off your balance and make it easier to pay in full and avoid interest charges. Keep in mind, however, that statement credits are not usually considered payments, so if you can’t help carrying a balance, you’ll still have to make a minimum out-of-pocket payment.
  • Does your card offer an incentive for redeeming points as a statement credit? Some cash back cards offer redemption bonuses when you opt for a statement credit over “true” cash back in the form of a check or direct deposit. If that’s the case, and you plan to continue using the card, go with a statement credit to get more mileage out of your cash back rewards.
  • Are your points worth less when redeemed as a statement credit? If you’re using a card with a more flexible rewards program, redeeming your rewards as a statement credit is likely possible, but not necessarily wise. Check your issuer’s terms to see if your points lose any value when redeemed as a statement credit. If 1 point is worth 1 cent when used for travel purchases, but only 0.5 cents when redeemed as a statement credit, you’re missing out on a lot of the value you’ve earned. If you have no interest in travel, see if you can get full value out of your points in a roundabout way, like redeeming points for gift cards at stores you frequent.

Other ways to redeem your credit card rewards

Many cards offer several other options for redeeming your rewards. In addition to statement credits, you may be able to redeem cash back, points, or miles for:

  • A direct deposit – You can link your bank account so that when you hit “redeem,” that money goes directly to your account. For some, this is more satisfying than receiving a statement credit.
  • A check – If you don’t mind waiting, many credit card issuers will mail a check for the value of your rewards.
  • Gift cards – Some credit cards allow you to exchange your points or cash back for gift cards. Make sure that you’re getting the same or more value before you choose this option – sometimes the dollar value of gift cards is different from what you would get redeeming for a statement credit or direct deposit.
  • Merchandise – Credit card issuers sometimes have shopping portals that give you the option to use your cash back or points to pay for merchandise. This is another option that you should approach with caution. Do the math to make sure you’re getting the same dollar value as you would with a direct deposit or statement credit.
  • Travel – Travel redemption options vary from card to card, but there are two main methods, one of which is receiving a statement credit for travel purchases you’ve already made. The other is using the issuer’s portal to book travel, such as flights or hotels, online.

Final Thoughts

A statement credit is just one way you can receive bonuses and redeem the rewards you’ve earned. If you’re using a cash back card, it could be a smart, low-maintenance way to reduce your balance and build good spending habits. If you’re using a more flexible rewards or travel card, though, make sure redeeming as a statement credit still gets you fair value for your points or miles.

Source: creditcards.com

How Does Cash Back Work?

How Does Cash Back Work?

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

Credit card companies typically offer a plethora of rewards options for their cardholders to take advantage of. But cash back has long been a favorite of many, as it gives you the chance to earn cold, hard money for making everyday purchases. If you’re confused about how cash back works, read on for a full explanation.

How Cash Back Works

At its core, cash back refers to a predetermined percentage of a purchase you make being returned to you as cash rewards. Cash back rates typically range between 1% and 5%, though there are some outliers to be mindful of. Credit card issuers will usually clearly label what types of purchases earn what level of cash back. But like anything in the credit card industry, you must read the fine print.

This is mainly because all purchases and cash back rewards are governed by merchant category codes, or MCCs. Credit card companies ultimately determine these designations, with Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Discover calling the shots. Some common codes are “restaurant,” “department store,” “airline” and “entertainment,” among others. So if you earn 5% bonus cash back at restaurants and you go to Burger King — which has a restaurant MCC — you’ll get that 5% back.

But what these limiting MCCs sometimes don’t take into account are businesses that could fit into more than one category. Included in this group are hotels, superstores like Walmart, tourist attractions like museums and other multi-faceted establishments. In turn, you could lose out on cash back if you’re confused about which category a purchase you made falls into.

As an example, let’s say your family orders room service while on vacation in The Bahamas. You pay with your credit card thinking you’ll get the advertised 3% cash back on dining. When your credit card statement comes in the mail, however, you’ve only received the base 1% earnings. This is because the MCC of your hotel is just that, a hotel, which leaves your credit card issuer blind to what you really bought.

Unfortunately situations like these often offer very little recourse, as your card’s issuer has no ability to change these codes. In fact, only the major credit companies can change their own code selections.

New cardholders will often receive cash back promotions and bonuses. These offers can either be recurring — monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc. — or simply for just one period of time, usually at the beginning of your account’s life. Hypothetically, a recurring bonus might look like this: “Earn 3% cash back at supermarkets and wholesale clubs, up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter.” On the other hand, a one-time promotion might allow for 5% cash back on airfare purchases made during the first three months you’re a cardholder.

Depending on your card, cash back may be capped or it could expire after a period of time. While some cards feature both an earnings limit and expiration dates, others may have no restrictions. All cash back cards have their own, unique system surrounding them. So it’s important to refer to your documentation whenever you have a particular question.

Using Your Cash Back Earnings

How Does Cash Back Work?

The vast majority of cash back credit cards offer variations of the same choices for redeeming rewards. Most often, you’ll see statement credits, checks, bank account deposits, gift cards and charitable donations available to you.

  • Statement credit – Instead of receiving your cash back in-hand, you can apply it to your upcoming monthly bill, saving you money in the process.
  • Check – As one of the more direct ways of redeeming cash back, checks allow you to basically do whatever you want with its value.
  • Bank deposits – Eligible accounts usually include checking accounts, savings accounts or investment accounts.
  • Gift cards – With this option, you can convert cash back into retail credit at a store or website at which you want to shop.
  • Donations – Many card issuers have open relations with charities. These partnerships open the door for you to aid your favorite causes with real money.

It’s by far the easiest to redeem cash back through your card issuer’s website that it provides. Here you’ll not only see your rewards status, you will also know every possible redemption you could make. If you’d rather talk to a real person, most companies still have rewards phone lines you can call, as well.

Those who’d rather not have to worry about where their rewards currently stand will find that a redemption threshold might be helpful. Not all cards offer this feature. But if yours does, set a threshold at which your cash back is automatically redeemed in any manner you desire. Additionally, some cards require you to attain a certain amount of cash back before redeeming is possible.

Cash Back With Each Major Credit Card Company

what is cash back

There are tons of different cash back cards, depending on your credit score you may be eligible for some but not others. While it’s impossible to give universal specifics for each credit card company, below we’ve provided overviews of some of the most popular cash back cards.

Citi Double Cash Card (Mastercard)

Cash Back Rate: 1% at the time of purchase, 1% when you pay them off

Limit or Expiration: No limit; Expires if no eligible purchases are made for 12 months

Redemption Options: As a check, statement credit or gift card

The “double cash” nature of the Citi Double Cash Card means you effectively earn cash back twice: first when you make the initial purchase and again when you pay your credit card bill. The 12-month expiration is fairly standard and the lack of limits on how much cash back you can earn is generous. Statement credits, checks and gift cards are three of the most common redemption choices, so it’s no surprise to see them offered here.

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card (Mastercard)

Cash Back Rate: 3% in the category of your choice, 2% on purchases at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, 1% on other purchases

Limit or Expiration: Cash back on choice category, grocery stores and wholesale club purchases is limited on up to $2,500 in combined purchases each quarter; No expiration dates

Redemption Options: Once you have $25 or more, you can redeem as a statement credit, a check or a deposit to an eligible Bank of America® or Merrill Lynch® account

Take note of the combined $2,500 quarterly limit on 3% and 2% cash back in category of choice and at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, respectively. The Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card also requires cardholders to have a minimum of $25 in earned cash back before they can redeem.

Blue Cash Everyday American Express Card
(American Express)

Cash Back Rate: 3% on U.S. supermarket purchases, 2% on U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department store purchases, 1% on other purchases

Limit or Expiration: 3% rate at U.S. supermarkets is limited to $6,000 a year in purchases then drops to 1%; No expiration dates

Redemption Options: After earning at least $25, redeem as a statement credit in $25 increments; Gift cards and merchandise redemptions from time to time

Amex offers some of the strongest rewards cards around, and the Blue Cash Everyday American Express Card is no exception. It does come with some limits; namely the 3% cash back rate on U.S. grocery store purchases is capped at $6,000 in purchases a year. At that time, cardholders earn 1% in cash back on groceries.

Discover it® Card
(Discover)

Cash Back Rate: 5% in rotating categories like gas station, supermarket, restaurant, Amazon.com and wholesale club purchases, 1% on other purchases; Full cash back match at the end of your first year

Limit or Expiration: $1,500 cap on purchases that earn the 5% rate each quarter; No expiration dates

Redemption Options: Statement credits, deposits to a bank account, gift cards and eCertificates, pay with cash back at select merchants and charitable donations

Discover cards offer great first-year cash back matches and distinctive cash back categories. These traits are on full display with the Discover it® Card. This includes 5% cash back on purchases ranging from dining to Amazon.com. However, there are limits for this rate and you have to opt in to categories each quarter to qualify. This card also offers five redemption options — the most on this list.

Tips to Maximize Cash Back Potential and Minimize Credit Risk

  • Cash back is one of the most prolific perks that the modern credit card market has to offer. But it’s important that you don’t overspend outside of your means just for the sake of rewards. Because many cash back cards come with higher annual percentage rates (APRs), this could force you into large, unsustainable interest payments.
  • Whenever possible, swipe your card for purchases in bonus categories. Not all cards have these to offer, but most do. So make sure you know which cards in your wallet offer bonuses at places like gas stations and supermarkets.
  • Know what types of redemptions — statement credits, bank account deposits, gift cards etc. — work best for you. This will drastically narrow down your card options, making the decision process much simpler.

Photo Credit: ©iStock.com/4×6, Â©iStock.com/Pgiam, Â©iStock.com/Ridofranz

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which SmartAsset.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). SmartAsset.com does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

The post How Does Cash Back Work? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

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4 Practical Ways to Leave College Debt-Free

A college student looks down at her notebook and smiles because she'll leave college debt-free.

The following is a guest post by Lisa Bigelow, a content writer for Bold.

When it comes to paying for college, the anxiety about how to leave college debt-free starts early. And for thousands of grads who are buckling under the weight of monthly student loan payments that can cost as much as a mortgage, that worry can last for as long as 25 years.

According to EducationData.org and The College Board, the cost of a private school undergraduate education can exceed $200,000 over four years. Think you can avoid a $100k+ price tag by staying in-state? Think again—many public flagships can cost over $100,000 for residents seeking an undergraduate degree, including room and board. And with financial aid calculators returning eye-poppingly low awards, you’d better not get a second topping on your pizza.

In fact, you’d better hope that you can graduate on time.

The good news is that you can maintain financial health and get a great education at the same time. You won’t have to enroll as a full-time student and work 40 hours a week, either—each of the methods suggested are attainable for anyone who makes it a priority to leave college debt-free.

Here are four practical ways you can leave college debt-free (and still get that second pizza topping).

1. Cut the upfront sticker price

Don’t visit schools until you are certain you can afford them. Instead, prioritize the cost of attendance and how much you can afford to pay. Staying in-state is one easy way to do this. But if you have wanderlust and want to explore colleges outside state lines, an often-overlooked method of cutting the upfront cost is the regional tuition discount. Many US states participate in some form of tuition reciprocity or exchange programs. You can explore the full list of options at the National Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators website.

Let’s explore how this works. As a resident of a New England state, for example, you can study at another New England state’s public university at a greatly reduced cost if your home state’s public schools don’t offer the degree you want. So, for example, if you live in Maine but want to go to film school, you can attend the University of Rhode Island and major in film using the regional tuition discount.

Some universities offer different types of regional discounts and scholarships that appear somewhat arbitrary. The University of Louisville (in Kentucky) includes Connecticut in its regional scholars program. And at the University of Nebraska, out-of-state admitted applicants are eligible for several thousand dollars in renewable scholarship money if they meet modest academic standards.

If you already have your heart set on an expensive school and you’re not likely to qualify for reciprocity, financial help, or merit aid, live at home and complete your first two years at your local community college.

Here’s another fun fact: in some places, graduating from community college with a minimum GPA gives you automatic acceptance to the state flagship university.

2. Leverage dual enrollment and “testing out”

When you enroll in a four-year college it’s pretty likely that you’ll spend the first two years completing general education requirements and taking electives. Why not further reduce the cost of your education by completing some of those credits at your local community college, or by testing out?

Community college per-credit tuition is usually much cheaper than at four-year colleges, so take advantage of the lower rate in high school and over the summer after you’re enrolled in your four-year college.

But beware: you’ll probably need at least a C to transfer the credits, so read your institution’s rules first. Also, plan to take general education and low-level elective classes, because you’ll want to take courses in your major at your four-year school.

If you’ve been given the opportunity to take Advanced Placement courses, study hard for your year-end exams. Many colleges will accept a score of 3 or higher for credit, although some require at least a 4 (and others none at all). Take four or five AP classes in high school, score well on the exams, and guess what? You’ve just saved yourself a semester of tuition.

3. Take advantage of financial aid opportunities

After taking steps one and two, you probably have a good idea of what the leftover expense will be if you want to leave college debt-free. Your next job is to figure out how to cut that total even more by using financial aid. There are four types to consider.

The first is called need-based aid. This is what you’ll apply for when you complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Known as the FAFSA, this is where you’ll enter detailed financial information, and you’ll need at least an hour the first time you complete this form. Hint: apply for aid as soon as the form opens in the fall. It is not a bottomless pot of money.

There is also medical-based financial aid. If you have a condition that could make employment difficult after graduating from college, you may be eligible, and qualifying is separate and apart from financial need and academic considerations.

The third type of aid relates to merit and is offered directly by colleges. Some schools automatically consider all accepted applicants for merit scholarships, which could relate to academics or community service or, in the case of recruited athletes, athletics. At other universities, you’ll need to submit a separate scholarship application after you’ve been admitted. Some merit awards are renewable for four years and others are only for one year.

If you didn’t get need-based or merit-based aid then you still may qualify for a private scholarship. Some require essays, some don’t, and some are offered by local community organizations such as rotary clubs, women’s organizations, and the like. Don’t turn your nose up at small-dollar awards, either, because they add up quickly and can cover budget-busting expenses such as travel and books.

4. Find easy money

Small-dollar awards really add up when you make finding easy money a priority. Consider using the following resources to help leave college debt-free:

  • Returns from micro-investing apps like Acorns
  • Tax return refunds
  • Browser add-ons that give you cashback for shopping online
  • Rewards credit cards (apply for a travel rewards credit card if you’re studying out of state)
  • Asking for money at the holidays and on your birthday
  • Working part-time by capitalizing on a special talent, such as tutoring, photography, or freelance writing

Leave College Debt-Free

Finally, if you have to take out a student loan, you may be able to have it forgiven if you agree to serve your community after graduation. The Peace Corps is one such way to serve, but if you have a specialized degree such as nursing, you can work in an underserved community and reap the rewards of loan forgiveness.


Lisa Bigelow writes for Bold and is an award-winning content creator, personal finance expert, and mom of three fantastic almost-adults. In addition to Credit.com, Lisa has contributed to The Tokenist, OnEntrepreneur, College Money Tips, Finovate, Finance Buzz, Life and Money by Citi, MagnifyMoney, Well + Good, Smarter With Gartner, and Popular Science. She lives with her family in Connecticut.

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Source: credit.com

Chase Sapphire cards offering rewards, statement credits for groceries

Ten months into the COVID-19 pandemic, many consumers have settled into new routines and developed new spending patterns. One of the spending categories that hasn’t lost its popularity is groceries, as many people are cooking more at home and eating out less frequently.

See related: Grocery shopping and COVID-19: What’s changed and how to save money

Credit card issuers are adapting to these new patterns as well.

On Oct. 20, 2020, Chase announced it would be temporarily adding grocery rewards to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card* and Chase Sapphire Reserve®. This comes on top of other limited time offers the issuer has recently added, such as limited time redemption options through Pay Yourself Back and gas and grocery store purchases counting toward the Reserve card’s $300 travel credit.

See related: Guide to Chase Pay Yourself Back

“Throughout this very unique year, we’ve provided our cardmembers flexibility and options to get the most out of their cards …  as well as limited time opportunities to earn more points on certain spending,” Chase said in a statement. “We want to continue to give our cardmembers ways to maximize value where they are spending today.”

On top of that, on Jan. 28, 2021, Chase added an offer for new Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders: a one-time automatic $50 statement credit on grocery store purchases.

How the limited time grocery rewards work

Starting Nov. 1, 2020 and running through April 30, 2021, Sapphire Reserve cardmembers will earn 3 points per dollar on grocery store purchases, and Preferred cardmembers will earn 2 points per dollar, up to $1,000 in purchases per month. According to Chase, this will be automatic for existing and new cardmembers.

See related: Best credit cards for grocery shopping

This provides cardholders with an excellent opportunity to earn some of the most valuable travel points while travel is still limited.

The new offer also makes Sapphire cards more competitive when compared with the recently updated Chase Freedom card suite. In August, the issuer replaced the Chase Freedom with the Chase Freedom Flex and added three new valuable rewards categories to both the Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited, namely bonus cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards and on dining and drugstore purchases.

Considering neither Freedom card charges an annual fee and both earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, some cardholders may be wondering if the Chase Sapphire Reserve is worth keeping during a time when most of its premium travel perks might go unused.

Fortunately, all the limited time offers coupled with temporary grocery rewards make it much easier to get value of these popular travel cards – even when you’re not traveling.

How the grocery statement credit works

Another incentive to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card now is the new one-time $50 statement credit on grocery purchases.

New cardmembers will get access to the statement credit automatically and be able to use it for 12 months from the time of account opening. Eligible purchases include purchases made at merchants coded as grocery stores. Warehouse club purchases won’t qualify.

Chase hasn’t announced the offer’s expiration date yet.

Chase Sapphire cards value at a glance

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Newly added limited-time benefits Cardmembers earn more on grocery store purchases: Nov. 1, 2020 – April 30, 2021

  • 3 points per $1 spent
  • Up to $1,000 in grocery store spend per month

Gas and grocery purchases count toward Sapphire Reserve $300 travel credit: 

  • Gas and groceries have been added as qualifying purchases, through June 30, 2021
New cardmembers receive an automatic statement credit:

  • One-time $50 statement credit on eligible grocery store purchases available for 12 months from the account opening

Cardmembers earn more on grocery store purchases: Nov. 1, 2020 – April 30, 2021

  • 2 points per $1 spent
  • Up to $1,000 in grocery store spend per month
Existing benefits
  • 3 points per dollar on dining purchases with restaurants – including delivery and pick-up
  • 3 points per dollar on travel – including tolls and parking
  • Complimentary DashPass Subscription from DoorDash, valued at over $100 per year
  • Up to $120 in statement credits on DoorDash purchases – $60 in statement credits through 2020 and another $60 in statement credits through 2021
  • 10 points per dollar on Lyft rides
  • Complimentary Lyft Pink membership, worth a minimum of $199 in value when you activate by March 21, 2022
  • Pay Yourself Back: Points are worth 50% more now through April 20, 2021 when redeemed for purchases in current categories of grocery, dining, home improvement and contributions to select charities
  • Chase Dining: Points are worth 50% more when redeemed through the new Chase Dining hub in Ultimate Rewards, now through April 30, 2021
  • 2 points per dollar on dining purchases with restaurants – including delivery and pick-up
  • 2 points per dollar on travel – including tolls and parking
  • Complimentary DashPass Subscription from DoorDash, valued at over $100 per year
  • 5 points on per dollar on Lyft rides
  • Pay Yourself Back: Points are worth 25% more now through April 20, 2021 when redeemed for purchases in current categories of grocery, dining, home improvement and contributions to select charities
  • Chase Dining: Points are worth 25% more when redeemed through the new Chase Dining hub in Ultimate Rewards, now through April 30, 2021

 

Bottom line

While travel isn’t the most lucrative rewards category at the moment, your Chase Sapphire card can still bring you plenty of value, especially given the temporary rewards categories and other limited time offers.

*All information about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. This offer is no longer available on our site.

Source: creditcards.com