Oct 20 2017

National Save for Retirement Week

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Carrying forward a post I stuck on Facebook:

 

Someone somewhere declared this “National Save for Retirement Week.” Ok, it’s as good of a time as any to evaluate your progress.

Vanguard has some helpful ideas here:

In my mind, there are 4 main factors to consider when saving for retirement:

1. How much money you’re investing. (Employer-sponsored plans, including any potential match; IRAs, regular taxable investment accounts when the first two options have been exhausted).

2. Which investment options you’ve selected. Each fund has a purpose and is designed to meet particular goals. Make sure they are YOUR goals and are appropriate for your situation.

3. Asset allocation. Are you dumping it all into one target-date fund where the asset allocation happens automatically? Or are you handling the asset allocation and rebalancing yourself?

4. FEES. Do not overlook fees. High fees will eat into your returns, costing thousands over time. Some employer-sponsored plans might have a higher fee, say 1-6% or more.

There might or might not be much you can do there, but pay attention. You can control the fees associated with your IRA, as you’re the one in charge. My target-date retirement fund at Vanguard has a .16% expense ratio, for example. Some Admiral funds at Vanguard have even lower fees, .04% is an example — VTSAX Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares. Nice.

Here is an investment fee comparison calculator so you can see the difference. I like this article on NerdWallet showcasing the impact in an example portfolio.

It can feel overwhelming, but this is your life. This is your money. You can handle this.


Posted under Personal Finance | Comments Off on National Save for Retirement Week
Aug 29 2017

Current cards and current points balances

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Oh, this points hobby is just too much fun! Traveling more often and in better accommodations? Yes, please!

I thought I’d record our points balances as of now, tentative plans for using them, which cards we have and plans for future sign-ups. I like it when I can get a sense of the possibilities from others, so I hope this is somewhat helpful.

I’ve combined my Chase Ultimate Rewards points all onto one card, our respective Chase Sapphire Reserve cards. This way, I can transfer points to travel partners, or use the points in their portal for an extra 1.5x value. I could also transfer all points to one card since we’re married in the same household, but Note that Chase recently made a change to the Sapphire lineup — a cardholder may only have one Sapphire card for new sign-ups. For more, Doctor of Credit has the scoop.

Current balances

  • My Chase Ultimate Rewards, earned from my Sapphire Reserve, Freedom, and Freedom Unlimited: 147,256 
  • Husband’s Chase Ultimate Rewards, earned from his Sapphire Reserve, Freedom Unlimited, and referring me to Unlimited: 161,506
  • Disney Visa (no annual fee version) balance: $81
  • Combined Marriott and Starwood points, earned from stays and my Amex SPG card: 115,000 Marriott points or 38,338 SPG. Nearly enough for 5 nights.
  • Southwest: 80,000ish
  • Hyatt: in progress
  • IHG: in progress

If I wanted, I could cash out the Ultimate Rewards at one point = $0.01 for $3,087. (!??!!!) That alone is a tremendous value, but I can do even better with other redemption options. In the Chase portal, those points would be worth an additional 1.5x in purchasing value, so it becomes $4,631 in combined value if I went that route.

In June, I booked one night in a hotel using the portal when I didn’t really have other options for that particular stay. Spending 10k odd points for an overnight vs. paying $180 or so was a good value (I forget the exact amounts for that redemption, but it was roughly that).

I can also get value by transferring 1:1 to partners. I think I’d be most likely to transfer to Hyatt or Southwest to get the most value, but it will just depend on trip specifics for what we’ll need. Often, transferring to these partners would yield an even greater value than booking in the portal. Just do the quick math on it.

Upcoming trips for 2018:

I get really sick of winter by the end of February, so this year we’re going to head south to Florida and spend some time at Universal Studios. I booked our flights on Southwest on points that we’ve had hanging around and when they were running a good sale. I’ll check back periodically and rebook if the fares drop, and we’ll get a refund on those points.

I haven’t yet booked our room, but I’m considering using Marriott points or potentially Hyatt.

Then in the fall, I’m planning a trip to southern California. Disneyland! We’ll potentially use Southwest points for that as well, but I’m open to other possibilities. There are some good points values across the street from Disneyland at Marriott properties, and I’ll either go for that or use some Chase points to go for a Disneyland hotel. Splurge, but might be fun.

Current credit cards:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve x2 (and I plan on keeping these, as we are getting great value even with the high annual fee). This is for all travel purchases and dining, except for when dining is a x5 category for Freedom like it is right now. I could consider downgrading one to a Sapphire Preferred, or becoming an authorized user on the CSR for $75/year. For now, keeping both.
  • Chase Freedom (mine). This card is for bonus category spend for 5x points. This quarter is dining and movie theaters.
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited (we each have this, husband referred me). For non-bonused category spending.
  • Chase Disney Visa. There was a targeted promotion for 5x bonus on utility payments, so we shifted our electric, gas, internet, and cell phone bills over to this card during the promotional period. Once that’s up, those categories will go on the Starwood or Unlimited
  • American Express Starwood Preferred Guest (mine) I’m using this card for non-bonused spending categories to work toward a 5-night stay at a Marriott or Starwood property. Unfortunately, some retailers do not accept American Express, so if I can’t use that card, I use my Freedom Unlimited Visa.
  • PNC 1.75% cash back Visa. My oldest active card. Keeping it active for my credit history.

New cards:

I recently applied for two more Chase cards on the same day. I was hoping this strategy would combine into one hard pull instead of two on my credit report, and it looks like it did. Both went as “pending” because my credit limits on my other Chase cards are quite high, and they don’t want to raise my credit line. So, we’re shifting some credit line from some cards over to the new cards. They are:

Chase Hyatt: Earn 40,000 points when you spend $2,000 in 3 months. The card comes with Discoverist status, which is pretty basic but has a few perks we might use, such as late check-out. The card includes a free night on a category 1-4 hotel on the card’s anniversary. Ok, and when I say “free,” I mean $75, as that is the card’s annual fee. Still, good luck finding a Hyatt for cheaper than that! I can potentially get 5 nights for those 40,000 points, or transfer my Chase points to top off what I would need.

Chase IHG Mastercard: Earn 80,000 points when you spend $1,000 in 3 months. The card comes with Platinum status across its brand (Intercontinental Hotel Group, includes Holiday Inn, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood, Intercontental, etc.). The card also includes a free night at any of their properties on the card anniversary and no annual fee in the first year. After that, it is $49. I’m never all that excited to stay at a Holiday Inn, but sometimes on a road trip it just is the best option and gets the job done. We stayed at a Staybridge Suites in Toronto for a night, and it was really nice.

I am working on the minimum spend for these cards, and putting grocery store, gas, and restaurant on the IHG card as that earns 2x per dollar. The Hyatt card has a higher minimum spend requirement, so I’m just putting everything else on that card for now until I finish off the IHG minimum spend.

Impact on credit score:

According to Credit Karma, my TransUnion score is 791 (down 10 points) and Equifax is 807 (down 5). All of my hard pulls for my Chase cards showed up on TransUnion. Things that are hurting me are my average age of credit history. While I have a mortgage on there that is nearly 5 years old and one credit card that is 4+ years, my newer cards are bringing down my average age to 1 year 11 months. Eep.

I have had a credit card of some form for more than 10 years, but my oldest cards were kind of lame and I just stopped using them, not realizing that the bank would eventually shut the accounts due to inactivity. Whoops. In retrospect, I should have tried a product change or kept a small recurring bill on the oldest card.

That’s it

That’s it for now — unless we have some crazy good targeted offers, I’m going to leave everything as-is for awhile. My husband as player 2 in this game prefers to keep it simple on his end, and he can manage what he has in his wallet no problem. I don’t want to make things more complicated for him. Perhaps we will try and keep him under Chase’s 5/24 to maybe go for the Southwest cards again on down the road, or just leave his options open to see what pops up.

I’m also still waiting to see what will become of the AmEx SPG.

 


Posted under Points | Comments Off on Current cards and current points balances

Hey! I'm Kacie, wife and mother of 3. I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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