Archives for October 6, 2014

Money Magazine Best Credit Card Rankings 2014

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

money1410The October 2014 issue of Money Magazine features their annual rankings of the “Best Credit Cards”. Here’s a condensed list of their top picks for various categories. I’ve written about most of them, and in those cases I’m linking to that post which provides more details. Otherwise, I’m linking directly to the card page and including a few highlights about the card.

Best for Balance Transfers (Low, long introductory APR)

  • Chase Slate Card. 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. No balance transfer fee if you transfer within the first 2 months. No annual fee.

Best for Regular Balance Carriers (Low ongoing APR)

  • Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa. 6% to 14% APR on balance transfers, starting at Prime + 3% for those with excellent credit. No balance transfer fee. No annual fee.

Best Flat-Rate Cash Back Rewards (Tie)

  • Citi® Double Cash Card. 1% flat back when you swipe, 1% flat when you pay your bill. No limits or tiers. If you redeem rewards via check that is 2% flat cash back, if you redeem via statement credit then it is actually technically 1.99% cash back. Spend $2,000 a month on this Mastercard and get back $480 a year without changing your spending patterns. No annual fee.
  • Fidelity American Express. 2% back with no limit or tiers. Rewards must be deposited into a Fidelity account.

Best For Cash Back on Essentials

Best 5% Cash Back Cards (Tie)

  • US Bank Cash Plus. 5% back on two categories from 12 possible choices, on $2,000 in purchases per quarter. No annual fee. Must apply in physical branch, application is not available online.
  • Chase Freedom. 5% in categories that rotate quarterly, on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter. $100 sign-up bonus. No annual fee.

Best For Travel Rewards / Traveling Abroad.

Best For Miles Hounds / Best Sign-Up Bonus.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred. Big upfront sign-up bonus, 2x points on Dining and Travel, Ultimate Rewards points offer flexible transfers to miles, cash, or travel credit.  $0 annual fee first year, then $95.

Best For Hotel Perks.

Best For Small Business Rewards.

  • Chase Ink Cash. Decent sign-up bonus, 5% cash back on up to $25,000 in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services. No annual fee.

Best For Small Business Borrowing.

  • US Bank Business Edge Platinum. 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months, 10% to 18% after that. This is the lowest APR among no annual fee small biz cards. No annual fee.

Best First Card For a College Kid

  • Northwest Federal Credit Union FirstCard. No annual fee. Reports to credit bureaus. Must be a credit union member to apply (can be done for $10).

Best Card For Online Shopping

  • Discover It Card. The ShopDiscover portal offers cash back bonuses of 5% to 20% at select online retailers, which can be redeemed as statement credit. Also has 5% rotating categories. No annual fee.

Backup Hard Drives: Expect Failure and Plan Accordingly

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

In the past month, both of my Western Digital 1 TB external backup hard drives have failed on me. This was pretty disconcerting considering I bought two of them specifically so they could be redundant backups. I was a bit lazy and barely had enough time to transfer my data while the last drive was limping along.

I turns out there isn’t that much data on real-world hard drive failure rates. When searching, many reference this post by online backup site BackBlaze which has owned over 25,000 hard drives (also see their recent update). In both posts, Seagate drives had much higher failure rates than Hitachi or Western Digital. However, other tech experts point out the flaws in drawing that conclusion. Brands don’t matter as much when they keep merging with each other anyway.

Really, the only conclusions I would confidently draw are (1) don’t buy specific “low power consumption” models of Seagate hard drives and (2) expect hard drives to fail on you. Imagine how little can go wrong in order to fit 4 terabytes of information on a little spinning disk. This Backblaze post is the one you should actually read. It cites other studies that say hard drives fail much more often than the MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) statistics put out by manufacturers, and it is hard to predict impending failures even with regular hard drive checks. Here is a chart showing that hard drives tend to fail either within the first year, or after 3 years.

hdfail_bb2

Here is a chart of survival rates over time.

hdfail_bb

That’s roughly 1 in 5 drives failing within 4 years, and maybe half will fail within 6 years. That starts to make a service like Crashplan at $60 a year more palatable.

In the end, Backblaze still buys Seagate drives because their cheaper price more than offsets any expected unreliability. Perhaps that is what consumers should do as well. Forget brands, buy whatever is cheapest, keep redundant backups in expectation of failure, and save your receipts. Of course, hard drive warranties keep getting shorter and are now usually only a year long (perhaps an admission of their unreliability?). Here’s my plan:

  • Purchase with an American Express that offers their Extended Warranty which will double the manufacturer’s warranty, up to one year.
  • Purchase from Costco whatever is on sale, due to their generous return policy. While even 90 days is relatively good, but I also do not see hard drives included explicitly in their 90-day electronics return policy – “We guarantee your satisfaction on every product we sell with a full refund. The following must be returned within 90 days of purchase for a refund: televisions, projectors, computers, cameras, camcorders, touchscreen tablets, MP3 players and cellular phones.” Do accessories count?
  • Keep my important documents and family pictures on multiple formats (cloud, flash drives, multiple hard drives).
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