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Amex Platinum temporarily adding $30 monthly PayPal credit

As 2020 ended, we left behind some challenging times – and some valuable credit card perks, like $20 streaming and mobile statement credits the on The Platinum Card® from American Express. (Both expired on Dec. 31, 2020.)

Fortunately, Amex hasn’t left Platinum cardmembers with nothing in the place of the expired perk. On the contrary, the issuer has added yet another exciting benefit.

See related: Amex adds Uber Eats Pass for Green, Gold and Platinum, Uber Cash credit on Gold

For a limited time, Amex Platinum cardholders will be able to enjoy a $30 monthly PayPal credit. While it’s less than the cumulative $40 in monthly streaming and mobile credits the issuer offered late last year, the perk still offers a great value and can be very versatile.

How the new PayPal credit works

Amex Platinum cardmembers will be able to use the new perk through June 30, 2021. No registration is required, and the credit will be applied automatically.

To use the perk, link your American Express Platinum card to your PayPal account and set it as the default payment method. Now, when you shop at eligible online merchants, you can select to check out via PayPal and get up to $30 credited back to you in your monthly statement. You’ll earn Membership Rewards points on this type of transactions as well.

Note, however, that peer-to-peer payments aren’t eligible for this offer, and you also can’t use it on gift card purchases or prepaid card reloads.

Receive up to $880 in credits with Amex Platinum in 2021

This perk is far from the first valuable credit offered on the Platinum card.

The credits on the Amex Platinum include annual Uber credits of up to $200 ($15 per month plus an extra $20 in December), an up to $200 airline-fee credit, up to $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credits per year, a $100 Global Entry or $85 TSA Precheck application fee credit every four years and a $100 hotel credit every time you book with The Hotel Collection.

The $30 monthly PayPal credit will be available through June – for up to $180 in PayPal credits in total.

The newly added limited-time perk brings the total credits you can receive from the Amex Platinum up to $880 in 2021 (if you only use the hotel credit once).

Considering the card’s annual fee is $550, you can get a lot of value from your Amex, especially if we get to see travel finally coming back this year.

Bottom line

The new $30 monthly PayPal credit on Amex Platinum may be less valuable than the discontinued $20 streaming and mobile statement credits, but it’s versatile and easy to use – PayPal checkout is available at thousands of online retailers, including major ones, such as Walmart, Target, Home Depot and others.

Coupled with other credits and perks the Amex Platinum offers, the new benefit drives up the value of the card, making it a travel credit card that’s worth it to have even in the times when travel is limited.

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.

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Source: smartasset.com

My take on Chase Freedom’s Q1 2021 categories

From Jan. 1 through March 31, 2021, the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Flex℠ cards will offer 5% cash back at wholesale clubs; select streaming services; and internet, cable and phone services.

The promotion includes up to $1,500 in combined spending as long as you activate by March 14, 2021. If you wait to activate (but still make the deadline), you’ll retroactively earn 5% back on bonus category purchases made after Jan. 1, 2021. Once you reach $1,500, you’ll earn 1% cash back.

At first glance, I’m not particularly excited about these categories, but your mileage may vary. It’s a big win for people who frequent wholesale clubs (I don’t). These stores haven’t been a Freedom 5% category since Q4 2018. But it makes sense, as many people are stocking up more frequently at warehouse clubs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more from our credit card experts.

Ask Ted a question.

Earning at wholesale clubs

Note that Costco, the largest wholesale club, only accepts Visa cards in-store. The original Chase Freedom card was a Visa card, but it stopped accepting applications in Sept. 2020. Cardholders who still have one can take advantage of this 5% promotion in Costco stores. The Freedom Flex essentially replaced the Freedom, with some new perks like enhanced travel, restaurant and drugstore rewards. But it’s a Mastercard, so it’s not accepted in Costco stores. It is accepted at Costco.com. Freedom Flex cardholders can, of course, earn 5% back in Q1 at other warehouse clubs such as Sam’s Club, BJ’s and others.

See related: Best credit cards for Costco purchases

The Q1 list in 2020 also rewarded Freedom cardholders for spending money on certain streaming services and internet, cable and phone services, but gas stations were on the list instead of wholesale clubs. Chase included gas stations during Q1 rotating categories each year going back to 2016. Amid the pandemic, it’s likely a favorable trade to wholesale clubs if you have a membership, and many Americans do. Costco has over 100 million members, Sam’s Club has more than 50 million and BJ’s has more than 5 million. There’s some overlap (and some of Costco’s members live in other countries), but it’s reasonable to estimate that about half of U.S. adults have a wholesale club membership.

Spending at gas stations is more universal, but the average gas expenditure is around $175 per month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I think there’s a good chance we’ll see gas on the calendar later this year, probably in the summer when a lot of Americans tend to hit the open road. And don’t fret if you do most of your food shopping at grocery stores rather than warehouse clubs. Groceries tend to be a Q2 Freedom bonus category.

How I’ll use my card in 2021

Since I don’t belong to any wholesale clubs and I spend very little on streaming, my Q1 Freedom Flex strategy will focus on internet, cable and phone services. By paying my April bills a little early, I’ll be able to squeeze four months’ worth of expenses into Q1. I’ll probably end up a little more than halfway to the $1,500 limit for 5% transactions.

Assuming the Freedom calendar follows its typical blueprint, Q1 should be my weakest of the year. As long as groceries are included in Q2, I won’t have any trouble maxing out that quarter. In 2020, Q3 included Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market. I spend a lot at Amazon.com, and if I’m right about gas, that would make the summer quarter even more lucrative. Q4 generally focuses on holiday shopping, and especially if it includes PayPal again, that will be easy to optimize.

Bottom line

Even though I won’t use it a ton in Q1, the Freedom Flex remains a strong player in my overall cash back strategy. Subsequent quarters should be even stronger. This no annual fee card provides a lot of other benefits, too, like purchase protection (which saved me $299 in 2020) and 3% cash back at restaurants and drugstores. I haven’t traveled in a while because of the pandemic. But when I do, I plan to take advantage of 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase portal. The Freedom Flex is a very valuable all-around card, even if your spending doesn’t line up with every rotating category.

Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at ted.rossman@creditcards.com and I’d be happy to help.

Source: creditcards.com

Congress’ $900B stimulus deal would provide $600 per individual

Congress has passed a $900 billion stimulus package that will include direct payments to most Americans and extend unemployment benefits into the spring. The bill awaits President Donald Trump’s signature, and a new round of stimulus checks could begin to roll out as early as next week.

The legislation also provides protection for the stimulus payments against garnishment by debt collectors. Besides, the payments cannot be used to offset old child support enforcement debts that are owed to state governments. Lauren Saunders, associate director, National Consumer Law Center, a consumer advocacy, noted, “Debt collectors grabbed many of the first stimulus payments, but fortunately it will be hands off for these payments.”

See related: Coronavirus: Credit card issuers offer cardholders relief

New round of stimulus payments, unemployment benefits  

In a Christmas gift for U.S. consumers, the new measure will authorize $600 in direct payments, which is half the $1,200 approved in the first round of stimulus passed earlier this year. There is an income cutoff for the payment, with individuals making up to $75,000 a year and couples making up to $150,000 annually qualifying for the full $600.

Those with dependent children under the age of 16 will also qualify for $600 in payments for each child. As in the previous stimulus round, those above the stated income thresholds will qualify for a lower phased-in payment. In this new round, families in which one person doesn’t have a Social Security number would also qualify for the stimulus payments.

The stimulus also extends unemployment benefits until April and provides a $300 unemployment supplement for 11 weeks. And it extends a program that provides benefits for freelance and gig workers, and contract workers.

See related: Americans would save more of a second stimulus check, study shows

Paycheck Protection Program extended, evictions stayed

The Congressional deal would also extend a moratorium on evictions for a month, The Washington Post reports. After that, it would be up to the new administration to extend it again if it sees fit. And the deal would make for about $25 billion in emergency assistance to renters.

The proposals would grant businesses some relief too, extending the Paycheck Protection Program with $275 billion in funding. Those whose PPP loans are forgiven will also be eligible to have costs that the loans cover deducted on their tax payments if they meet certain criteria.

The Congressional deal had been held up earlier over a disagreement about whether the Fed could initiate new emergency lending programs identical to the ones that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had declined to extend to next year. The deal would allow the Fed to engage in similar programs, but not identical ones.

Source: creditcards.com