Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Here comes the long post...

I'll be leaving for Australia next week as part of a study abroad program (I've mentioned this briefly in some older posts.) I've been very busy preparing for the trip, but one of the things I've made sure to do is to read up on www.flyertalk.com, www.freefrequentflyermiles.com, and www.webflyer.com. These are great sites with some terrific discussions and ideas about making the most of travel in every way (but especially financially.)

I've never been into frequent flyer miles, but my interest has definitely peaked as the anticipation for my trip builds. (Reading the above sites may also have something to do with it.) I'm considering extending my ever-growing credit portfolio into some frequent-flyer based cards. Most intriguing is the Citi AAdvantage Mastercard and its 15,000-20,000 signup miles with the first year's fee waived. I wouldn't pay to have this card, but I would get the bonus miles, use it for a year, then cancel ;).

American Airlines is my preferred airline. I will be flying with them domestically and to Australia (and within Australia) I will be travelling with Qantas, a partner of AA. Because I booked my flights through the school, I may or may not receive mileage credit for my flights. And because I'm flying deep, deep discount economy class on Qantas, I will (at best) qualify for only 50% of the actual miles I fly. Still, I'll be flying about 25,000 miles total, so hopefully I'll get some miles credited.

Of course, the AMEX Starwood card also looks great. I signed up for the SPG program through Starwood and got an email offering 6,000 bonus Starpoints upon applying. This card offers an exciting 5,000 point bonus upon converting 20,000 points into airline miles (including AA at an excellent 1:1 ratio,) but it would take me a long time to reach 20,000 miles, even with the 6,000 mile bonus. "If" I do decide to go for this card, it will be a few months into the future. I recently accepted an invitation for an AMEX Gold Rewards Plus card with the first year free, and I don't want to jeopardize my relationship with American Express by going for too much credit too fast. They're picky.

All of this applying will have to wait until after I return from Australia, so as to let a couple credit inquiries pass the important 6 month mark.

If anyone has any suggestions or comments about frequent flyer programs, please post: I'm all ears. They are my new fascination.

As I mentioned in the comments of my last post, my T-bill purchase did go through 5/04/2006.

Unfortunately, my identity was not adequately identified by my bank. Actually, the bank didn't use the correct stamp/seal. The ID verification form has to have the bank's official seal on it; apparently the stamp my bank provided wasn't enough. A CSR emailed me and politely requested another copy be mailed in with the seal. This isn't a big deal because this T-bill will be rolled over into a new 28-day bill upon maturity. Remember, TD securities can be purchased while the identity verification is pending, but they cannot be redeemed.

The CSR did attach another blank form for me to fill out and take to the bank. Surprisingly polite service, especially for a government employee.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Recently, I began exploring investment opportunities through the US Treasury at www.treasurydirect.gov. This week, I:
  • Set up an account at TreasuryDirect
  • Scheduled an ACH debit to occur on the May 2 auction
  • Ordered a $1000 28-day T-bill
For whatever reason, TreasuryDirect has asked me to go to a bank and have them verify my identity. In the mean time, I can purchase T-bills, but I can't redeem them, so instead of rolling my first purchase over into another T-bill, it will just go back into my HSBC account.

I chose the 28-day term and $1000 amount mainly because I am doing this to "test the waters" and get the hang of how it all works before I commit (if I commit) to a longer term bill. So far, the process has been really smooth.

This week, I received the $100 check from the Charles Schwab credit card promotion. I also received my check for $61.46 from cashing out the rewards on my Citi Dividend card. To top it off, I got a gift certificate from Amazon.com courtesy of Citi's ThankYou Network.

I love getting free money from my credit cards. :)

In preparation for my trip to Australia, I have purchased a new digital camera and a number of accesories to go with it. I'm looking forward to taking some nice shots once I get down under.

Monday, April 10, 2006

As an update to a previous post, I have been successful in finding a new job. I've actually had it for a few weeks now (I'm bad at updating.) I make more money than I did at my previous job, which is good, and the work is related to my field of study.

I'm also in the process of securing a second job for myself this summer, working for a professor in the department. The summer job pays as a stipend, and will probably work out to just less than minimum wage. But- it's only 10 hrs/week, so I'll still have time for my other job and the two classes I'll be taking. Even though the pay sucks, the experience will be worth it.

As an update to my last post about the Schwab credit card, I see I have 10,000 bonus points "pending" in my Schwab account. Looks like the $2.65 charge qualified for the $100 bonus.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

$100 bonus for Schwab Credit Card

Charles Schwab is offering a $100 bonus for signing up for their credit card and making a purchase. The card is through MBNA, and is essentially a 1% back card (1 pt / $1 spent.) Nothing special in that regard, but $100 is $100!

The bonus comes in the form of 10,000 bonus points, which can be redeemed for $100. Note that even though the points are called WorldPoints, they are different from other MBNA WorldPoints, in that they can be redeemed for cash at a straight 1% value with just 5,000 points (details here.)

I won't use this card much, but the card seems to have no foreign transaction fees. I'm not sure if this means no additional fees on top of Visa's standard 1%, or no fees at all. The T&C say no fees on foreign transactions. 1% or 0%, I'll still use the card abroad.

I just got my card a few days ago and made a $3 purchase, so let's see if that qualifies as a purchase for the $100 bonus. :)

Almost forgot, here is the link for the 10,000 point signup bonus.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Citi 5 ThankYou points for Home Improvement purchases

For anyone with a Citi account, be sure to regularly check the "Special Offers" tab on your online account for promotional deals.

Currently, Citi is offering a promotion for 5 ThankYou points on Home Improvement purchases (Lowe's, Home Depot, etc.) until 5/31/06. One of my cards was eligible for this, so be sure to check it out.

I don't ever shop at these stores, but I know a lot of people do (especially homeowners,) so it's worth a shot.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Today I helped my mom fund the Fidelity IRA account she began opening almost a month ago. We maxed out her 2005 contribution, but since the funds aren't there yet we haven't picked a place to put it. My mom's not so much a hands-on person when it comes to these kind of things, so I think she'll probably go with one of the target retirement date funds.

I've made plans for the money sitting in a Savings & Loan CD. It should be around $4800, so when it matures (February 2007) I think I'll open a Roth IRA at Fidelity and max out my 2006 contribution. Of course, I'll have to first make at least $4500 in 2006 (only earned income can be used to fund a Roth, and last year I only made $4000 (!!)) And I'll try to throw whatever spare cash I can afford into the account for the next few years.

Assuming I retire at age 65, I'll have 44 years of tax-free growth in the Roth. Start early!

In other news, about a month ago I got a killer deal on an iPod. Amazon had white 30 GB iPod videos on sale for $264 (they go for $299 at most places.) Take off ~$36 I had leftover from an Amazon gift certificate I got from Citi and the $30 I got for applying for the Amazon.com Visa, and my total came to about $200 shipped. Not bad.

The iPod is definitely a "leisure item," and something that I normally wouldn't buy, but my current MP3 player was on the way out and I more or less live for portable music players. Makes walking to class much more fun. I planned to buy an iPod, just not for a few more weeks. But who can pass up such a deal? ;)

Again, sorry for the lack of an update. I know I've been slacking on this whole thing. I'm home for Spring Break now so I'll take some time to give an update.

I'm slowly recovering from a rash of unexpected expenses from earlier this year. Not quite there yet, but working on it. I did get my tuition reimbursement check from my employer for my book expenses back in January. Books cost about $400 this semester, so now that I finally have that money back it's going straight into my HSBC account at 4.80%. Also got a small tax refund from my state and am awaiting a slightly larger refund from the IRS.

In other news, I'm currently looking for a new job. Hopefully I'll find something soon that pays more than what I've been making. It's hard to find a decent part time job that will fit around my school schedule.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

For those of you who have Citi credit cards, you might try asking for a credit line increase. They seem to be getting a little more liberal with the preapproved CLIs. Here's a FatWallet thread about it.


Login to your account online, move your mouse over "Manage My Account" and click "Credit Line Increase Request." Previously, Citi required having the card for 6 months before being eligible for an increase, but I got an increase on a card I've had for 5 months.

I got an $800 CLI on my Driver's Edge card, and a $1000 CLI on my mtvU card. Last month I got a $500 increase on my Dividend card.

I also received another increase on my AMEX Blue, this time to $4600. In 1 month with AMEX I've gone from $2000 > $2400 > $4600.

So give the Citi thing a shot. Be warned, if you're not preapproved for a CLI, you'll be shown a form to fill out. If you fill out this form, you'll probably get a hard inquiry on your credit report.

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