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Manage credit card reward bonus categories easily

I am a big fan of rewards credit cards, especially the ones that offer bonus categories that give up to 5% back on purchases. But if you have several of these credit cards, how do you keep up with all various bonus categories that typically change on a quarterly basis? Here’s the solution I have found, which is incredibly easy: write it on the card!

credit card rewardsAfter you have enrolled in the quarterly bonus for a particular card, simply take a small piece of paper and write down the bonus categories for that quarter. I find that post-it flags (the paper ones, not the thin plastic ones) work great for this task, but you could use any scrap paper and cut it to the appropriate size. Then just take that piece of paper and tape it to the face of the card in the area above the card number. That’s it! You now have an instant reminder of what card gets bonus rewards in each category right there in your wallet taking up no additional space. At the end of the quarter, just pull the tape and paper off the front of the card and replace it with a new one with that quarter’s bonus reward categories. (Note: you might have some tape residue left on the card after removing the old one, which will come off with rubbing alcohol or Goo-Gone.)

Although you might get the occasional odd look from a cashier or waiter if you have to hand them your card, doing this does not affect your ability to swipe the card as long as the paper is taped to the front of the card and not covering the card number or the magnetic strip on the back.

ING Direct Electric Orange Checking Review

If there’s one thing everyone hates, it is bank fees. One of the most popular posts on this blog is my rant about Bank of America’s monthly maintenance fee on their checking accounts that don’t meet certain balance, direct deposit, or other requirements. Thankfully you don’t have to pay monthly maintenance fees and other ridiculous charges to have a checking account. There are checking accounts out there without the outrageous fees and direct deposit requirements, and perhaps the best of those is ING Direct’s Electric Orange Checking. There is a lot to like about this account, including a $50 signup bonus (see below for more details), but there are a few drawbacks. Here’s a brief overview of the pros and cons of this account.


No monthly maintenance fees

One of the biggest selling points of the Electric Orange Checking account is that there are no monthly maintenance fees – period. There is no minimum balance requirement, direct deposit requirement, or debit card usage requirement.

Interest on checking deposits

Electric Orange pays interest on deposits based on the balance on the account. Deposits up to $50,000 collect 0.20% APY, $50,000 to $100,000 collect 0.85% APY, and over $100,000 gets you an APY of 0.90%. Granted 0.20% APY isn’t much, but is better than almost any other checking account out there, and if you have a good pile of cash this could be the perfect place for it.

Free debit cards and bill pay

Electric Orange offers a free debit card and free bill pay service. When it was introduced Electric Orange was designed to be a nearly paperless checking account, thus the encouragement to make payments electronically. Electronic payments can be made to merchants or to individuals using their Person2Person transfer service. You can also have a paper check sent via postal mail for free for those vendors you can’t pay electronically.

No overdraft fees

Unlike most other banks that love to soak you with overdraft fees, there are no overdraft fees on the Electric Orange checking. I think this fact is grossly oversold by ING on their website (the main page for the Electric Orange account just has a link inviting users to compare their overdraft fees to other banks without specifically stating there is no overdraft fee). The only fee related to overdrafts is an interest charge for accessing an overdraft line of credit based on the amount of the overdraft.

Free ATM access at select locations

For an online bank, ING Direct actually has a pretty good ATM network that you can access for free. You can access any ATM in the Allpoint network (most ATMs in this area are in retail locations of CVS, Walgreens, and Target) and, thanks to the buyout by Capital One, any Capital One ATM.

$50 Bonus for New Customers

As noted above, you can get a $50 bonus for opening an Electric Orange account. Just use one of the links below to sign up and make three card or Person2Person payments to earn your $50 bonus. Please see the fine print below for requirements.  Disclosure: these are referral links for which I will earn $10 for each successful referral.

ING Electric Orange Bonus 1

ING Electric Orange Bonus 2

ING Electric Orange Bonus 3

ING Electric Orange Bonus 4

ING Electric Orange Bonus 5

Bonuses are only paid for accounts that are opened and a total of 3 Card purchases or Person2Person Payments (or any combo of the two) are made within 45 days of account opening. The $50 bonus is available only for new accounts with a new Customer as primary owner. Only one bonus will be provided per household. Your $50 bonus will automatically be deposited into your account on day 50.


No branch network

Because it is an online bank, there is no branch network for the Electric Orange account, meaning there is no way to directly deposit cash into your account or talk to someone face-to-face it the rare event there is a problem with your account. This also makes depositing of paper checks a pain, as noted below.

Difficulty depositing paper checks

In the era of electronic transfers and direct deposits, everyone still gets paper checks occasionally. Currently the only way to deposit paper checks directly into your Electric Orange account is to mail them in to ING Direct, which means a significant delay in how quickly the funds are credited to your account. ING Direct has announced that customers will be able to upload check images for deposit via computer or smartphone app beginning sometime this spring, but until then this will continue to be a significant drawback of the Electric Orange account.

Limited check writing capability

For most checking accounts you have the option of ordering checks directly through the bank, ordering from a third party (usually at a significant discount to the bank’s charge), or printing your own check on your home computer. For the Electric Orange account, however, you must order checks from ING Direct at a cost of $5.00 per 50 checks. Granted there is an additional layer of security to this arrangement as checks must be activated before use, but many will be annoyed at having to pay more for their printed checks. It is worth pointing out that this does work almost like a service fee for check writing, and that by minimizing the costs of processing paper checks they can offer other benefits without fees.

The ability to write paper checks is an improvement to the Electric Orange account since its introduction, even if the checks must be ordered from ING Direct. Previously customers could not write paper checks at all.

Overall assessment

My overall assessment is that this is a great alternative to the fee happy checking accounts offered by most larger banks these days. Provided you don’t need to make cash deposits to your account, don’t write a lot of paper checks, and do most of your banking electronically you should definitely consider Electric Orange for your checking account needs.

If this doesn’t quite fit your needs you may also consider going to a local credit union or community bank with a truly free checking account. Compared to paying monthly maintenance fees at the big banks, you will still come out ahead.


ING Direct Account Bonuses: Earn a Quick $25 to $50

Opening bank accounts has always been one of the easiest ways to score some extra cash, and our friends at ING Direct are offering two different accounts to choose from to earn bonuses of up to $50. Disclosure: these are referral links for which I will earn $10 for each successful referral.

ING Electric Orange Bonus – $50

Electric Orange is ING’s checking account offering geared towards users that do most of their banking online. The account comes with no monthly maintenance fee, free access to 35,000 ATMs in the Allpoint network, and free bill pay service. Deposits also earn interest, with APY ranging from 0.20% to 0.90% depending on account balance (as of 2/21/2012). ING has also recently added the capability to write paper checks on the account, a previous weak point in their otherwise strong service offering.

Use one of the links below to sign up and earn a $50 bonus. Please see the fine print below for requirements.

ING Electric Orange Bonus 1

ING Electric Orange Bonus 2

ING Electric Orange Bonus 3

ING Electric Orange Bonus 4

ING Electric Orange Bonus 5

Bonuses are only paid for accounts that are opened and a total of 3 Card purchases or Person2Person Payments (or any combo of the two) are made within 45 days of account opening. The $50 bonus is available only for new accounts with a new Customer as primary owner. Only one bonus will be provided per household. Your $50 bonus will automatically be deposited into your account on day 50. Valid through 03/22/2012.

ING Orange Savings Account Bonus – $25

The easy-to-use online savings account so many others tried to emulate over the years, the ING Orange Savings Account is perfect for socking away extra cash. The account has no fees and no minimum balance requirements, and sports an APY of 0.80%.

Use one of the links below to sign up and earn a $25 bonus. Please see the fine print below for requirements.

ING Orange Savings Account Bonus 1

ING Orange Savings Account Bonus 2

ING Orange Savings Account Bonus 3

ING Orange Savings Account Bonus 4

ING Orange Savings Account Bonus 5


Bonuses are only paid for accounts that are opened with an initial deposit of at least $250. Initial deposit does not include bonus. The $25 bonus is available only for new accounts with a new Customer as primary owner. Only one bonus will be provided per household. Bonus starts earning interest upon account opening, but is unavailable for withdrawal for 30 days. Variable 0.80% Annual Percentage Yield, effective 01/06/2012.

Storage Auction Tips

Having watched Storage Wars and Auction Hunters way too often recently, my brother-in-law and I decided to use a good portion of our day off to check out some storage auctions around Houston. It was a pretty interesting experience to say the least. I read up on some storage auction secrets and was ready to become a modern-day Fred Sanford.

Here are a few tips from my own experience today:

  • Storage Wars and Auction Hunters are probably drawing people out of the woodwork, so expect bidding to be fierce right now. The auctioneer was telling us that the crowd today was about three times as many as they would consider normal.
  • Many auctioneers will do several auctions on a single day, one immediately after the other. This means that the published times on auctions later in the day are just guides and bidding will likely start well after that.
  • Don’t expect to see lots of really cool units like you do on the storage auction shows. Most of the units we saw today had average quality furniture and old appliances. There was nothing really special that could be seen in any of the units. The shows have the luxury of creative editing, real life auctions do not.
  • Don’t try to talk about something you saw on one of the shows with anyone at the auction. Based on the comments I overheard today most of the regulars think the shows are ridiculous, and when they aren’t bragging about their own finds from past auctions they are badmouthing the storage auction shows. I think many of the regulars are also unhappy about the newbies the shows are bringing out, which makes the auction process longer and creates more bidding competition.

Ultimately we didn’t buy anything as the bidding went higher than we wanted, but it was still a cool experience and I would do it again. Next time I may try to find a small independent facility that might not have the crowd that a large chain does. I might need to read up on some storage auction secrets first, though.

Fighting Red Light Cameras

As state and local governments struggle to keep up with their reckless spending in this economic downturn, more and more cities are installing red light camera to fine motorists and help bridge the revenue gap in their budgets. It seems like these things are everywhere now, which makes me love this story of how a couple in Florida fought the city over one of these tickets and won. How did they do it? By confirming that the cycle for the yellow light had been set too short according to county guidelines. The husband simply went out the the light where the ticket was issued with a stopwatch and timed the yellow light cycle to find in 15 instances the average cycle for the yellow was 3.8 seconds compared to 4.5 seconds required by law. He was able to get the county to concede the cycle was too short and the ticket was dismissed. How widespread is the issue? This fellow checked a total of 65 intersections in the area and found only 7 lights that meet the requirement.

Not specifically personal finance related, but I thought it was an interesting story to pass along.

Free Museum Admissions from Bank of America

If you are a Bank of America customer, you can get free admission to select museums on certain dates by showing your Bank of America credit or debit card and a photo ID. The eligible dates for 2009 are currently the first full weekend of each month through September, although their website says that more 2009 dates are to come. Full details on the program can be found on their Museums on Us(R) website.

Make an Easy $25! New ING Bonus Links Posted

If you are looking to make a quick $25, one of the easiest ways to do it is by opening an ING Direct account as a new customer using one of our referral links. You can earn the referral bonus for the Orange Savings Account, the Orange Business Savings Account, or the Electric Orange Checking Account (limit one bonus per customer, not per account). All three are great products earning competitive interest rates with minimal if any fees.

ING Direct is one of the oldest online banks with a website unsurpassed for usability and an interest rate several times higher than the national average. If you are a new customer, simply use one of the referral links below and open your account with a deposit of at least $250. You will get a bonus of $25 credited to your account (there’s your 10% return) and one of my kids (the referrals are from their accounts) will get $10-$20 for referring you.

Orange Savings Account – Links expire 5/7/2010

Electric Orange Checking Account – Links expire 5/7/2010

Business Orange Savings Account – Links expire 4/29/2010

If you see a message at the top of the ING signup page saying the link is invalid or expired, it means it has probably already been used. Just use one of the other links to complete the signup. Thanks!

Rules of the game: Bonuses are only paid for accounts that are opened with an initial deposit of at least $250. Initial deposit does not include bonus. The $25 bonus is available only for new accounts with a new Customer as primary owner. Only one bonus will be provided per household. Bonus starts earning interest upon account opening, but is unavailable for withdrawal for 30 days.

$200 Chase Business Checking Bonus (exp May 15 2010)

The $200 Chase Business Checking Bonus is back again. As I’ve posted about and taken advantage of before, you can get a $200 bonus for opening a Chase Business Checking account. To take advantage of the offer you will need an opening deposit of $5,000 (previous offers were $500) and a printable coupon. The coupon expires May 15 2010, but Chase often takes the links down before the coupon expiration so you should print out your coupon now. It’s worth noting there is no requirement you keep $5,000 in the account, only that your opening deposit be at least that amount, so you could withdraw the money shortly after opening the account to avoid tieing up your money.

You can open a free account where the service fee is waived if you do five debit card transactions per month or have an active business credit card (meaning there was a balance at some point in the statement period) linked to the account. To open the account you either need a business license or you have to be a licensed professional (attorney, accountant, etc.).

Be warned that you have to go in the branch for this and depending on the representative you work with this could take up to an hour as they probe you for information on your business and opportunities to sell other products. However, $200 is well worth an hour of my time.

Texas Powerful Smart Appliance Rebate Fiasco

As our government continues to find new ways to squander taxpayer money, the federal government provided to the states funds for incentives for energy efficient home improvements. Here in Texas that has taken the form of the Texas Powerful Smart Appliance Rebate, which has thus far been a fiasco of Texas-sized proportions.

The program seems relatively simple: you get a rebate for replacing an old appliance with an energy efficient model, and an extra bonus if you recycle the old one. However, because funding is limited you have to reserve your rebate in advance through the state Comptroller’s office, first come first served. They opened the reservation website and phone lines this morning at 7am, and since frustrated Texans have spent hours struggling to get through the system to reserve their rebate before the funds run out. The published 877 number has been unreachable with callers getting busy signals of all sorts, and the website has timed out consistently leaving users to start over even if they get past the initial request page.

Myself, I tried since 7am this morning to get through on both the website and phone number, and after stepping away for an hour for a meeting and restarting I finally got through on the phone at 12:32pm, meaning I wasted about 4.5 hours trying to get through. I only got through because someone figured out that their was an unpublished alternate number at 877-581-1993, which was intended to be the rebate status line but was directing people into the rebate request queue. That line is still presenting callers with a message saying that the call can’t be answered at this time due to high call volume in most instances, but it is occasionally allowing you into the hold queue where you’ll wait about 5 minutes for a representative to process your reservation.

So if you are wanting to get in on this, remember:

  1. Funds are limited. If you don’t get this today, you probably won’t get it.
  2. Information on the program is at However, the rebate request website is at The published rebate reservation phone number is (877) 780-3039, and the unpublished number is (877) 581-1993.
  3. Be sure to get a confirmation number! Without it there is nothing to prove you made the reservation.
  4. You are limited to two rebates per household and one rebate in each appliance category, however you are allowed to request only one rebate during each call or web session.

As of 1:05pm Central, it is reported that 63% of rebate funds have been reserved and $8.1 million remains, so you need to hurry and get in.

$75 bonus for free checking account at Bank of America

A few weeks ago I posted a rant about the stupidity of Bank of America and the monthly maintenance fee they charge on some MyAccess checking accounts. In my reasearch I found that although the MyAccess checking normally has an account maintenance fee if you don’t have a direct deposit, they were currently offering MyAccess checking with no maintenance fee or direct deposit requirement if you opened the account online. Unfortunately Bank of America would not apply those terms to our existing account, and said the only way we could get those terms was to open a new account.

I debated whether to bother with BofA anymore, but ultimately decided I liked the convenient branch access for ATMs and depositing small checks and dollar coins and opened the new account. I’m going in today to close the old account and transfer the funds to the new account.

Now for the bonus…BofA is currently offering a $75 bonus for opening a MyAccess checking account online using the promo code CH75OL1 and funding the account with $125. The full terms are listed on BofA’s website here. Based on the terms you have to be a new checking customer, although I signed up anyway to see if I would get the bonus (the old account had my wife as the primary account holder, so perhaps I’ll slip through). I’ll probably get refused, but since I was going to open the account anyway there is no harm in trying.

A couple of other helpful notes:

  1. You can fund the new accounts online using a credit card (the website says debit card but my Schwab Visa went through just fine) for up to $1,000 per account and earn reward points. I opened the checking and a savings and funded each for $1,000, resulting in a total of $2,000 charged to my card and $40 in cash back.
  2. If you are opening the checking you should consider opening the savings as well to take advantage of the Keep the Change program. The program itself is okay – your debit card purchases get rounded up to the next dollar with the extra amount being transferred from your savings to your checking, and BofA will normally match 5% of the KTC amount. However, in the first three months you earn a match of 100% of the transfer up to $250, and you can reach the $250 pretty easily paying bills online in $1.01 increments.