CIT Bank Review: 11-Month No Penalty CD 2.05% APY, 18-Month CD 2.50% APY, Money Market 1.85% APY

“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.”

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Rates updated 9/11/18, No-Penalty CD now at 2.05% APY. CIT Bank (not to be confused with Citi Bank) is an online-only bank with a multi-year history of competitive rates. They don’t offer a checking account and instead focus on a variety of savings and CD products with high interest rates. Here are the highlights:

  • 11-Month No-Penalty CD at 2.05% APY with $1,000 minimum to open. 11-month CD keeps a fixed rate, but no withdrawal penalty seven days or later after funds have been received. This means that your interest rate will never go down, but you can still move out if interest rates go up. (If you have an existing No Penalty CD that you want to close and open up a new one, please see my instructions below.)
  • Money Market Account at 1.85% APY, currently available on all tiers ($0+) with no max. $100 minimum to open, but no minimum balance requirement. Up to 6 withdrawals per month.
  • 18-month CD at 2.50% APY, 13-month CD at 2.25% APY. Each CD also has a $1,000 minimum opening deposit. The early withdrawal penalty is 6 months of interest on CD with terms of 1 to 3 years.

Each of these types of account has their pros and cons. The No-Penalty CD has a rate that can’t go down, but also has a $1,000 minimum balance. The 18-month CD has a higher rate, but significant penalties if you make an early withdrawal. The Money Market rate could rise or drop, and also has more flexibility as you can easily make more deposits and also make 6 withdrawals every month.

Check out my rate chaser calculator to see if it makes sense for you to move money over.

New customer? Opening process overview. Here’s my review of the opening process if you are a new customer.

  • The application process was completely online. You provide the usual personal information.
  • You must submit to a credit check, but in my experience it was a “soft” pull which did not harm my credit. None of my various credit monitoring services showed it was a hard pull.
  • You may fund via (1) electronic ACH transfer, (2) wire transfer, (3) mobile check deposit via CIT Bank mobile app (iOS and Android), and (4) mailing in a paper check. There was no option for credit card funding. I picked online ACH funding and you need to provide routing and account numbers, followed by manual verification via micro-deposits after a day or two. There was no instant linking option via login information.

After deposit verification, then your funding will go through.

You have successfully verified your external account. Please allow up to 5 business days for your funds to appear in your CIT Bank account.
No further action is required for this account. Thank you!

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Existing savings or money market customer? Check your rate. If you already have an existing High Yield Savings account, it may remain at a lower interest rate than this money market account. If so, take a minute and upgrade yourself to the better interest rate. Click on “Open an Account” here, then “I have a CIT Bank account”, and then login with your username/password. You can do everything online and even fund your new Money Market account with an instant transfer from your existing Premier High Yield Savings. I wish I didn’t have to do this, but at least it literally only took a minute to complete.

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How to transfer your money from an existing No Penalty CD into an new, higher-rate No Penalty CD (or any other new account). Let’s say you opened up a No Penalty CD at 1.55% APY or 1.85% APY, but then the rate for a new CD has risen to 2.05% APY. You have the option of moving the funds (with no penalty of course) over to a new CD with a new 11-month holding period. I just did this, and here’s the easiest way to do so:

  • Start a new online application for the 11-Month No-Penalty CD. Click on “Get Started” and sign-in as an existing CIT customer.
  • After signing in, go through the opening process but look for “Existing CIT Bank Account” under “Funding Source”. You should see a list of your existing accounts, including any No Penalty CDs. (Screenshot below.)
  • Note that online, your only option will be to have the entire CD balance (including accrued interest) moved over into the new CD. If you want a different amount, you’ll have to call CIT Bank customer service at 855-462-2652, open M-F 8a-9p ET, Sat 9a-5p ET, Sun 11a-4p ET. Press “0” for operator. Tell them you opened up a new No Penalty CD and you wish to fund it by closing out your old No Penalty CD.
  • That’s it. The online option says it will take 2-3 business days to complete. Your new accounts will show up online.

User interface. While the front-facing website is pretty slick, after you login the backend is run by Fidelity National Information Services (subdomain ibanking-services.com). This is a popular backend software system used by many smaller banks who don’t want to create their own software from scratch. As of early 2018, the user interface was upgraded to be look more appealing and be more user-friendly. Two-factor authentication is available using voice or SMS.

There is also an app available (iOS/Android) provided by the same company. It is similarly functional and includes mobile check deposit. Here are some screenshots:

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Bottom line. CIT Bank is a lean bank offering targeted products for folks looking to get higher interest rates on their cash balances. They don’t do physical bank branches, checking accounts, or fancy apps. However, I have been pleasantly satisfied with their customer service on my accounts with them. Their most compelling products are their Money Market accounts, 11-month No Penalty CD, and usually they have a top rate on one of their Term CDs. The No Penalty CD is unique in that you are always able to move out to a higher rate, even within CIT bank itself.

Chase Ink Business Preferred Card Review: 80,000 Point Bonus worth $1,000 Towards Travel

“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.”

inkpreferred2018Updated. Business credit cards can be used by self-employed or side-gig workers with eBay, Amazon, Etsy, Uber/Lyft, Adsense or other 1099 income that make you a sole proprietorship. The Ink Business Preferred Card is now offering a 80,000 point bonus for new cardholders, worth an even $1,000 towards travel when redeemed through Chase. This is their premium travel card with 3X points on travel purchases and the ability to transfer points to airline miles or redeem at a 25% premium through their travel portal. Here are the details:

  • 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. That’s worth $1,000 toward any airfare or hotels booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal (works like Expedia or Travelocity).
  • 3X points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel, shipping purchases, internet/cable/phone services, and advertising purchases with social media sites and search engines.
  • 1X point per $1 on all other purchases with no limit.
  • Ability to transfer points directly to airline mile partners.
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Free additional cards for employees.
  • Primary rental car coverage when renting for business purposes.
  • $95 annual fee.

Ultimate Rewards points. This card offers a 25% bonus on travel bookings made through the Ultimate Rewards travel website. 80,000 Ultimate Rewards = $1,000 in travel. Similar to Expedia or Travelocity, you can book flights on most major airlines, hotel chains, and car rental companies. This makes it much more flexible to spend your points. You can even buy something more expensive and pay the difference.

If you have other Chase cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points like the Ink Business Cash or Ink Business Unlimited, you can transfer points into this card account and take advantage of the 25% premium. However, if you happen to have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you could transfer your points over to that card and grab the better 50% premium.

You could think of this card as the small business version of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

Prefer airline and/or hotel points? This card also allows you to transfer Ultimate Rewards points into hotel and/or airline miles. Transfer to United Airlines, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air, Southwest, Hyatt Hotels, IHG Hotels, and Marriott Hotels at a ratio of 1 Ultimate Rewards point = 1 mile/hotel point. Miles redemption continue to offer great value for savvy travelers, especially for last-minute travel and business class seats.

Many people aren’t aware of the fact that they can apply for business credit cards, even if they are not a corporation or LLC. The business type is called a sole proprietorship, and these days many people are full-time or part-time consultants, freelancers, eBay/Amazon/Etsy sellers, Uber/Lyft drivers, or other one-person business owners. This is the simplest business entity, but it is fully legit and recognized by the IRS. On a business credit card application, you should use your own legal name as the business name, and your Social Security Number as the Tax ID.

Note that Chase has an unofficial rule that they will most likely deny approval on new credit cards if you have 5 or more new credit cards from any issuer on your credit report within the past 2 years (aka the 5/24 rule). This rule is designed to discourage folks that apply for high numbers of sign-up bonuses. This rule applies on a per-person basis, so in our household one applies to Chase while the other applies at other card issuers.

The good news is that small business cards from Chase hardly ever show up on personal credit reports, so getting this card in itself won’t affect your future 5/24 eligibility. This it makes a “free” application if you are already eligible.

Bottom line. The Chase Ink Business Preferred Card has a huge 80,000 point sign-up bonus worth a cool $1,000 towards travel, along with premium travel features included with the $95 annual fee. You can transfer Ultimate Rewards points from other Chase cards to increase your value. If you’d rather have a more simple cash-focused rewards structure and no annual fee, be sure to compare with the Ink Business Unlimited and Ink Business Cash.

“Disclaimer: 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.”

Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard Review: Up to 3% Back Towards Travel During First Year At $15,000 Annual Spending

“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.”

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(Updated. They just started waiving the annual fee for the first year. This means you can get the full 3% back towards travel for the first year when you hit $15,000 and $25,000 in annual spend.)

The Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard® is a new hybrid travel/cashback rewards card with miles that can be redeemed for both cash or transferred to select mileage partners. Note that this card is different from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. Here are the highlights:

  • 75,000 miles each year if you spend $25,000 on purchases.
  • After that, keep earning unlimited 2X miles on every purchase.
  • Global Entry – $100 automatic statement credit for the cost of one Global Entry application fee every five years.
  • Book the best travel deal, no airline, seat or hotel restrictions, and redeem your miles for travel statement credits.
  • Access to over 800 lounges worldwide with Mastercard® Airport Experience provided by LoungeKey, fees apply.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • International Chip and PIN for use at self-service chip terminals around the world.
  • Redeem your miles for travel statement credits, which allow you to book the best travel deal with no airline blackout dates, seat limits, or hotel restrictions.
  • Transfer your miles to participating travel loyalty programs.
  • Complimentary online FICO® score access.
  • $150 annual fee (waived first year).
  • Terms and conditions

Bonus details. Currently, there is no upfront sign-up bonus. Instead, they have spending bonuses – Spend $15,000 on purchases and get 15,000 miles. Spend an additional $10,000 on purchases and get an additional 10,000 miles, for a total of 25,000 miles after $25,000 in purchases.

Up to 3% cash back towards travel analysis. You can redeem 10,000 miles for $100 toward all or a portion of your qualifying travel purchase of $100 or more made within the last 120 days. Basically, you pay for any eligible travel purchase on your card (buy airfare, book a hotel, rent a car, etc) and then you use your “miles” afterward to get a cash credit towards that purchase. Travel purchases eligible for redemptions are defined as “airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries and your account annual fee”.

So if you spent $15,000 in a year, you could get the 2x miles (30,000 miles) the 15,000 miles bonus for a total of 45,000 miles worth $450 towards travel. That’s effective 3% back towards travel on all purchases. The same thing occurs at $25,000 in annual total spending (50,000 miles + 25,000 bonus = 75,000 miles total). In between, at worst you’d hit 2.6% back towards travel. 2.6% to 3% back towards travel is a very high rate for rewards cards. The $150 annual fee is also waived for the first year.

Here are the calculations that take into account the annual fee (after the first year). At $15,000 annual spend, you would net $300 towards travel (2% back overall). At $25,000 annual spend, you would net $600 towards travel (2.4% back overall). Therefore, if you spend exactly $25,000 a year (average $2,083 a month), then you could get 2.4% back on travel on all purchases. I’m a geek, so I plugged the numbers into a spreadsheet to get the chart above of effective cash back towards travel vs. annual spending. There are basically three zones.

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  • If you don’t spend at least $15,000 a year on this card, you will net worse than 1% cash back towards travel! This card offers very little rewards to light spenders.
  • If you spend between $15,000 and $25,000 a year on this card, you will net a flat 2% cash back towards travel. Not bad, but there are other cards that earn 2% flat with no annual fee.
  • If you spend exactly $25,000 a year on this card, you will net exactly 2.4% cash back towards travel. As you go above that level, your cash back will start to drop slowly but always remain above 2%.

Miles transfer options. The transfer ratio is 1.4 Arrival “miles” to 1 airline mile for the following partners. You may only transfer miles if you are a primary cardmember, and only to a participating travel loyalty program account belonging to you. Note that you earn 2x miles per dollar spent, so that works out to earning 1.43 airline miles per dollar spent. If you spend $15,000 a year on this card, the bonus results in a total of 2.14 airline miles per dollar spent. These numbers do not include the $150 annual fee.

  • Aeromexico
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • China Eastern
  • Etihad
  • EVA Air
  • Jet Airways
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas

The transfer ratio is 1.7 Arrival “miles” to 1 airline mile for the following partners. Note that you earn 2x miles per dollar spent, so that works out to earning 1.18 airline miles per dollar spent. If you spend $15,000 a year on this card, the bonus results in a total of 1.76 airline miles per dollar spent. These numbers do not include the $150 annual fee.

  • Japan Airlines
  • Air Canada Aeroplan

If you are knowledgeable about the airline miles game and can use one of the internationally-based airlines listed above (no domestic airlines), these rates can be higher than other cards. You’ll still want to hit the $15,000 or $25,000 annual spending marks.

Bottom line. The new Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard® card is best suited for higher spenders. During the first year, you can get unlimited 3% back towards travel at $15,000 and $25,000 in annual spending. Other notable perks are the ability to convert to select airline miles, and a $100 Global Entry fee credit.

After the first year, a $150 annual fee will apply. Taking the annual fee into account, if you spend more than $15,000 annually on the card ($1,250/month average), you will always net 2% or higher cash back towards travel. Between $25,000 and $33,000 annual spend, you’ll get between 2.3% to 2.4% net cash back towards travel even after taking into account the annual fee. If you do not spend at least $15,000 a year on this year, there are better travel card alternatives.

RealtyShares Real Estate Investing: Default and Foreclosure Example – June 2018

“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.”

Updated June 2018. One of the new “marketplace” (aka “crowdfunding”) real estate investing sites that I have put my own money into is RealtyShares. Although I have invested over $30,000 across different RE sites over the last 3+ years, this is my first investment to go into foreclosure proceedings. There are risks in every investment, and my potential loss is your learning opportunity!

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Initial investment details.

  • Property: 6-unit, 6,490 sf multifamily in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
  • Interest rate: 9% APR.
  • Amount invested: $2,000.
  • Term: 12 months with 6-month extension option.
  • Total loan amount $168,000. Purchase price $220,000 (LTC 76%). Estimated after-repair value $260,000. Broker Opinion of Value $238,000.
  • Loan secured by the property in first position. Personal guarantee from borrower.
  • Stated goal to rehab, stabilize, and then either sell or refinance.

Subsequent summary of events.

  • January 2016. Funds committed. Loan closed.
  • July 2016 to May 2017. Sporadic payment history for over a year. They would be on-time for a while, then there’d be a late payment, then things would brought back current, etc.
  • May 2017. Borrower stated that the property was under contract for $225,000 with final walk-through completed and expected close within 30 days.
  • June 2017. Borrower stopped paying. I guess the sale fell through (or they lied). Foreclosure process initiated by RealtyShares.
  • September 2017. Judgment granted in Wisconsin court. By law, there will be a 3-month redemption period where the borrower can still keep the house if they pay foreclosure judgment interest, taxes, and costs.
  • January 2018. The foreclosure sale was held and property ownership was reverted to RealtyShares. A judge still needs to confirm the sale.
  • February 2018. The judge confirmed the foreclosure sale, and RealtyShares is officially the owner of the property. Property can now be assessed and fixed up before sale.
  • April 2018. Property listed for $134,500 as per new BPO (Broker Opinion of Value).
  • June 2018. Property is under contract for sale. Price not disclosed yet.

Payment history. I invested $2,000 and got paid $210.84 of interest before the payments stopped. Based on the fact that the total loan amount was $168,000 and the property was only listed for $134,500, it looks like I will definitely lose some money on this deal. Including interest paid, I hope to exit with somewhere around 80% of my original investment.

Thoughts and takeaways. Well, I have made close to 50 different real estate-backed loans now, so it was only a matter of time before I got a full default. The question is how often that happens and the size of those losses. When it came to Prosper or LendingClub, the interest rates might be higher but when a loan was 60 days late you were pretty much done. As an unsecured loan, you had nothing to fall back on if the borrower broke their promise (besides hurting their credit score). Sending it to collections typically only got you pennies on the dollar.

Real-estate backed debt is backed by a hard asset, so in the end at least you get the property to sell off. Beforehand, RealtyShares told me that the foreclosure process in Wisconsin typically took about 12 months. That turned out to be a good estimate, as it was 12 months between foreclosure initiation and the property being under contract for sale.

One takeaway is to be careful about based your loan-to-value ratios on optimistic appraisals or BPOs (broker opinions of value). A broker thought this property was worth $238,000 in January 2016. Another broker thought the same property was worth only $134,500 in April 2018.

Another takeaway might be to be careful about investing in struggling local economies. I didn’t know this at the time, but the low-income rental market in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was profiled in the NYT Bestselling book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Many of the properties mentioned in this book were literally down the street from this unit.

Finally, sometimes you just get bad luck. This is my only Realtyshares loan and it went into foreclosure. There are other folks with multiple loans and perfect payment histories. Realtyshares has since shifted their investment focus onto commercial properties and not residential ones, so perhaps they are stronger in that area. In turn, I have shifted my residential debt investing to PeerStreet as they have $1,000 minimums and a slightly different model. Strangely, I’ve done 50+ total active and paid-off loans with PeerStreet with zero foreclosures. Basically, when you read about my experience or someone else’s, your mileage may vary.

Communications quality. I would grade the online updates from RealtyShares as acceptable/good. They are relatively detailed and consistent, providing me a look inside the foreclosure process. Here are some sample updates:

October 9, 2017 We have identified a real estate broker to sell the property. The broker spoke with the previous property manager who was at the property a couple of weeks ago and who may be available for property preservation. The broker is going to take a contractor to the property to try and get an accurate cost estimate to complete the renovation.

September 21, 2017 Judgment was granted at the hearing. We expect the filed judgment from the court in approximately one week and will process it upon receipt. We should be able to schedule the sale in late October and it will be held after the redemption period expires—sometime in December. As soon as we receive the filed judgment order from the court we will have the exact 3 month redemption date. Sale cannot be held until the redemption period has expired.

September 8, 2017 The partner has declined to go forward with the purchase of the property. On the foreclosure front, the judgement hearing is scheduled for September 18th. If the judgement is successful, there is a 6-month right of redemption period during which the property can not be sold. During this period we will identify a property preservation firm and a commercial broker to sell the property.

August 25, 2017 A minority partner has stepped forward and has asked for a week to visit the property with the idea of making a paydown in exchange for an extension. We have agreed to speak next week after his inspection.

August 22, 2017 Service has been completed on the foreclosure. The defendants were personally served with the summons and complaint on August 2, 2017. The statutory answering time will expire on August 22, 2017. The judgment hearing will be scheduled at that time.

June 29, 2017 Due to the borrower’s inability to stay current, we have decided to start the foreclosure process for payment default. The foreclosure will run parallel with the sales process, meaning if the sponsor can sell the property and pay us off before the foreclosure is complete we will stop the process, if not we will take over the property. Typically, foreclosures in Wisconsin take up to 12 months.

Bottom line. Investing in real-estate backed loans means that if the borrower doesn’t pay up, you can foreclose and take over the property. This post will hopefully serve as a useful example of the foreclosure process from a marketplace real-estate investment site. I haven’t seen any other similar resources. If you are an interested accredited investor, you can sign-up for free and browse investments at RealtyShares before depositing any funds or making any investments. Current opportunities include office buildings, retail space, and large apartment complexes.

I also have active investments in these other real-estate sites: PeerStreet ($1,000 minimums, accredited-only, debt-only) and Fundrise eREIT ($500 minimum, open to everyone, equity and debt). Closed investments include Patch of Land.

Northern Bank Direct Money Market Review – 2.26% APY Guaranteed Through June 2019

“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.”

Update: As of 6/20/18, the rate is now down to 1.50% APY. I hope everyone who was interested got the 2.26% APY rate, you definitely had time and they did give roughly a 24-hour notice.

Here comes another new “Direct” bank leapfrogging the current competition for some attention. The Northern Bank Direct Money Market account is offering 2.26% APY on average daily balances up to $250,000, and the rate is guaranteed through June 30, 2019. Of course, another bank could take the throne tomorrow, but at least this one comes with a rate guarantee. Other highlights:

  • $5,000 minimum to open.
  • Includes limited checkwriting and ATM debit card access.
  • No minimum balance requirements or monthly service charges.
  • Interest is compounded monthly and credited monthly. If you close your account before the interest is credited, you will not receive the accrued interest.
  • Read full review for notable quirks.

Northern Bank Direct is the online division of Northern Bank, a community bank in the New England area. You must open accounts online, but you can do transactions in their branches and use the NBTC Mobile Banking apps. They also offer various certificates of deposit, including currently a 30-month CD at 3.01% APY ($500 minimum to open, 12-month early withdrawal penalty). Their routing number is 011303097. You can them at 844-348-8996 EST Monday-Friday: 9a-6p, or via email to [email protected]

Money Market features. This is a money market account, which is similar to a savings account but adds limited checkwriting and an ATM debit card. You are still limited to 6 withdrawals per month, whether via online electronic funds transfer, check, wire, or ATM machine.

ACH limitations. Northern Bank Direct has a somewhat weird rule that if you initiate a electronic transfer from your Northern Bank Direct account, there is a maximum daily limit of $5,000.00 (or the available balance in your account, whichever is less) for Interbank (external) transfers per transaction; $5,000 in aggregate per day; and $25,000 in aggregate per calendar month. If you initiate the electronic transfer from an external financial institution, Northern Bank Direct does not impose a limit on the amount of the transfer.

Notable fees. According to their full Deposit Account Agreement, there are a few other fees that caught my eye:

  • Account closure (by mail): $10
  • Dormant Accounts fee (per month– starting in the 13th month for account balances less than $500.00): $4.00
  • External Transfer Fee (per transfer): $3
  • New account closure within 120 days: $25

It appears that not only do they limit your transactions to $5,000 per day ($25,000 per month), they will also charge you $3 if you initiate the transfer from your Northern Bank Direct account. There are some reports that they are removing the $3 fee, but I still see it on their online fee schedule. Hopefully, you already have a favorite “hub” bank account with free, fast transfers and high dollar limits (mine is Ally Bank).

These fees are notable as other online savings accounts have all of the following: no minimum opening balance, no minimum balance requirement, no early closure fee, and/or no inactivity fee.

Smartphone app. It’s amazing how much I bank from my phone these days, from checking balances to mobile check deposit. Based on the app store screenshots, it looks like Northern Bank also outsourced their back-end software to Fidelity National Information Services (subdomain ibanking-services.com). In my experience, the app is basic but functional. Mobile check deposit and Touch ID are supported.

Bottom line. The Northern Bank Direct Money Market account is offering 2.26% APY on average daily balances up to $250,000, with the rate guaranteed through June 30, 2019 ($5,000 minimum to open). In terms of liquid savings accounts, this is the highest rate currently available (with a few quirks noted above). There are a few short-term CDs with higher rates (and withdrawal penalties), but this is more like a no-penalty CD you can also add funds at any time. If you have a large cash balance and you want to preserve your liquidity options, this is something to consider. Act fast though, as previous similar accounts have closed to new applications after a few weeks.

Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to estimate how much additional interest you’d earn if you switched over and make an informed decision.

Personal Capital Review 2018: Automatically Track Net Worth and Portfolio Asset Allocation

“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.”

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Updated 2018. Personal Capital is free financial website and app that links all of your accounts to track your spending via bank and credit cards, investments, and net worth. You provide your login information, and they pull in the information for you automatically so you don’t have to type in your passwords every day on 7 different websites. Personal Capital’s strength is in investments, including portfolio tracking, performance benchmarking, and asset allocation analysis.

Net worth. You can add your home value, mortgage, checking/savings accounts, CDs, credit cards, brokerage, 401(k), and even stock options to build your customized Net Worth chart. You can also add investments manually if you’d prefer. I have a habit of accumulating bank and credit union accounts, so I find account aggregation quite helpful.

Cash flow. The Cash Flow section tracks your income and expenses by pulling in data from your bank accounts and credit cards. This chart compares where you are this month against the same time last month. If you hate budgeting, you may find it easier to view a real-time snapshot of your spending behavior. Their expense categorization tool is pretty accurate, and if it isn’t you can change it manually. However, it isn’t quite as advanced as Mint.com, where you for example you can make a rule to always classify “Time Warner Cable” as “Utilities” and not “Online Services”.

Portfolio. This is where Personal Capital is better than many competing services, by analyzing my overall asset allocation, holdings, and performance relative to benchmarks. If you’re like me, you have investments spread across multiple custodians. I now have investments at Vanguard, Fidelity (401k), Schwab, TransAmerica (401k), and Merrill Edge. It’s nice to be able to see everything together in one picture. They can also analyze your retirement accounts fees to see if you are quietly getting charged too much.

For comparison, Mint did not allow manual input of investments and it did not break down my asset allocation correctly based on my linked accounts. In fact, all it shows is a big orange pie chart with “99.9% Not Sure” and “0.00 Other”.

Personal Capital considers the major asset classes to be US stocks, International stocks, US Bonds, International Bonds, and Cash. The “Alternatives” classification includes Real Estate, Gold, Energy, and Commodities.

If you have one bank account, one credit card, and a 401(k), you may not need this type of account aggregation service. Life tends to get messy though, and this helps me maintain a high-level “big picture” view of things.

Security. As with most similar services, Personal Capital claims bank-level, military-grade security like AES 256-bit encryption. The background account data retrieval is run by Envestnet/Yodlee, which partners with other major financial institutions like Bank of America, Vanguard, and Morgan Stanley. Before you can access your account on any new device, you’ll receive an automated phone call, email, or SMS asking to confirm your identity. Their smartphone apps are compatible with Touch ID/Face ID on Apple and mobile PINs on Android devices.

In terms of the big picture, my opinion is that by making it more convenient, I am able to keep a closer eye on all my account and thus actually make myself less likely to be affected by a security issue.

How is this free? How does Personal Capital make money? Notice the lack of ads. Personal Capital makes money via an optional paid financial advisory service, and they are using this as a way to introduce themselves. (People who sign up for portfolio trackers tend to have money to manage…) They are a hybrid advisor, combining their online tools with real human access. Their management fees are 0.89% annually for the first $1 million, with slightly lowered pricing as you go past $1 million in assets. As an SEC-registered RIA fiduciary that now manages over $7 billion, I think this improves their credibility as a company built to handle sensitive information.

Note that if you give them your phone number, they will call you to offer a free financial consultation. If you answer the phone or e-mail them that you don’t want to be ed anymore, they will honor that request. Or you could ask them your hardest financial question and see how they respond. However, if you simply ignore the phone calls, they will keep calling. Now, you can keep using the portfolio software for free no matter what happens. But, if you aren’t interested, I would highly recommend simply being upfront with them. A simple “no thank you” and you’re good.

If you’re upfront with them, they’ll be upfront with you. I’m still a DIY guy when it comes to my money, and they have been happy to keep monitoring my accounts for free, without any additional phone calls over the last 5 years.

Bottom line. It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep that counts. The free financial dashboard software by Personal Capital helps you track your net worth, cash flow, and investments. I recommend it for tracking stock and mutual fund investments spread across different accounts. I’d link your accounts on the desktop site, but interact daily through their Android/iPhone/iPad apps for optimal convenience (log in with Touch ID or mobile-only PIN).

Republic Wireless Review: New Phone + 3 Months Service $89 or Free SIM + Free 1st Month

“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.”

rw2018freesimUpdated 2018. Republic Wireless is a T-Mobile MVNO that reduces costs by using WiFi for calls and texts whenever possible. They have settled into the simple pricing structure below, with no contracts.

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The best value plans allow a single user to pay $20/month for unlimited talk/text/1 GB LTE and $25/month for unlimited talk/text/2 GB LTE. The nice thing about these pay-for-what-you-use plans is that you save money on the months where you use very little data, as opposed to always buying the plan where you know you won’t pay for overages.

Buy new phone, get 3 free months of service (phones start at $89). Get 3 free months of service if you buy a new phone and activate a new line. This is with the Unlimited Talk/Text + 1 GB Data plan, so that’s $20 x 3 = $60 value for free. New phones start at only $89 for the Alcatel A30 Android phone. Moto E is $129.

Bring your own phone + Free SIM card + 1 free month of service. Right now, they are offering a Free SIM card + Free Shipping + Free 1st Month of Service. This is with the Unlimited Talk/Text + 1 GB Data plan ($20 value). If you use more data, you pay the difference. Taxes and telecom fees are not included. The idea is that you can swap out the SIM card in your phone and try them out with no obligation. You must activate by 6/30/18.

Phone options. You can either buy a phone from them or bring your GSM unlocked phone and use their SIM card. There are still no Apple phones on the list. Below is a partial list of eligible phones. The best thing to do is use their phone checker.

  • Google Pixel
  • Google Pixel XL
  • Google Pixel 2
  • Google Pixel 2 XL
  • Samsung Galaxy S8
  • Samsung Galaxy S9
  • Samsung Galaxy J7
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
  • Samsung Galaxy S7
  • Samsung Galaxy J3
  • Samsung Galaxy S6
  • Nexus 6P by Huawei
  • Nexus 6 by Motorola
  • Nexus 5X by LG
  • Moto X Pure Edition
  • Moto X4
  • Moto G5S Plus
  • Moto G5 Plus
  • Moto E4
  • Moto E4 Plus
  • Moto G4
  • Moto G4 Plus
  • Moto G4 Play
  • Moto Z
  • Moto Z Play

Bottom line. Republic Wireless now allows you to bring your own unlocked GSM phone for use on WiFi and T-Mobile LTE networks. Right now, they are offering a free SIM + free month of service to try them out for free. Apple phones are not eligible. The cost is straightforward: $15 for unlimited talk/text and $5 per GB of data used, making it best for modest data users.

If you are willing to buy several months of service at once (or have an Apple phone), also check out Mint Mobile (formerly MintSIM).

Chase Ink Business Unlimited Card Review: $500 Cash Bonus, 1.5% Flat Cash Back, No Annual Fee

“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.”

inkunlimited2018Chase has freshened up their line-up of small business credit cards. The new Ink Business Unlimited Card is offering a $500 cash bonus for new cardholders and the simplicity of a flat, unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Here are the details:

  • $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
  • Unlimited, flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases with no limit. Simple.
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers.
  • Free additional cards for employees.
  • No annual fee.

Ultimate Rewards points. The cash sign-up bonus actually comes in the form of Ultimate Rewards points at 1 point = 1 cent in cash. 50,000 points = $500 cash. If you have one of the other annual fee cards that offer a boost in value like the Ink Business Preferred, Sapphire Preferred, or Sapphire Reserve, you can transfer your points between Ultimate Rewards accounts and redeem using that other card’s 25% travel bonus. This can increase the value of your points.

You could think of this card as the small business version of the Chase Freedom Unlimited card.

Prefer airline and/or hotel points? You can’t transfer points to miles directly with this card, but if you transfer over your Ultimate Rewards points to the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (or Ink Business Preferred card), then you can use that card to transfer into hotel and/or airline miles. If you value those miles/points at more than 1 cent per point, then your 1.5X rewards from this card can be significantly higher. Examples:

– You could earn 1.5 United miles per dollar spent.
– You could earn 1.5 Hyatt points per dollar spent.
– You could earn 1.5 British Airways Avios per dollar spent.
– You could earn 1.5 Southwest Rapid Rewards points per dollar spent.

For example, if you placed a perceived value of 1.5 cents on each United mile or Southwest Rapid Rewards point, then you’d receive 2.25 cents of perceived value per dollar spent with this card. Your actual numbers will depend on your own specific redemption choices.

Many people aren’t aware of the fact that they can apply for business credit cards, even if they are not a corporation or LLC. The business type is called a sole proprietorship, and these days many people are full-time or part-time consultants, freelancers, eBay/Amazon/Etsy sellers, or other one-person business owners. This is the simplest business entity, but it is fully legit and recognized by the IRS. On a business credit card application, you should use your own legal name as the business name, and your Social Security Number as the Tax ID.

Note that Chase has an unofficial rule that they will automatically deny approval on new credit cards if you have 5 or more new credit cards from any issuer on your credit report within the past 2 years (aka the 5/24 rule). This rule is designed to discourage folks that apply for high numbers of sign-up bonuses. This rule applies on a per-person basis, so in our household one applies to Chase while the other applies at other card issuers.

Bottom line. This Chase small business card has a large sign-up bonus and flat 1.5% cash back with no annual fee. This card is best for people who want simple and straightforward rewards. If you have certain other Chase credit cards, you can transfer Ultimate Rewards points over to those cards and increase your value. Be sure to compare with other Chase small business cards – Ink Business Preferred and Ink Business Cash.

Chase Ink Business Cash Card Review: $500 Cash Bonus, 5% Back Categories, No Annual Fee

“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.”

inkcash2018Chase has freshened up their line-up of small business credit cards. The Ink Business Cash Card is offering a $500 cash bonus for new cardholders, along with 5% cash back and 2% cash back on select small business categories. Here are the details:

  • $500 cash bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
  • 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
  • 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year.
  • 1% cash back on all other card purchases with no limit to the amount you can earn.
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers.
  • Free additional cards for employees.
  • No annual fee.

Ultimate Rewards points. The cash sign-up bonus actually comes in the form of Ultimate Rewards points at 1 point = 1 cent in cash. 50,000 points = $500 cash. If you have one of the other annual fee cards that offer a boost in value like the Ink Business Preferred, Sapphire Preferred, or Sapphire Reserve, you can transfer your points between Ultimate Rewards accounts and redeem using that other card’s 25% travel bonus. This can increase the value of your points.

You could think of this card as the small business version of the Chase Freedom card.

Leveraging the 5% back bonus categories. Putting all of your small business cell phone, landline, and internet bills on the card and getting 5% back is pretty handy. For example, even just $200 a month x 12 months x 5% back is $120 back a year without changing your spending habits. Now let’s take the office supply store category and the fact that you can buy gifts cards to Amazon.com and other retailers at such office supply stores like Staples and OfficeMax… now you can effectively discount many of your other purchasing needs by 5% as well. Putting those purchases on such gift cards upfront can also help you meet the spending requirement for the bonus.

Many people aren’t aware of the fact that they can apply for business credit cards, even if they are not a corporation or LLC. The business type is called a sole proprietorship, and these days many people are full-time or part-time consultants, freelancers, eBay/Amazon/Etsy sellers, or other one-person business owners. This is the simplest business entity, but it is fully legit and recognized by the IRS. On a business credit card application, you should use your own legal name as the business name, and your Social Security Number as the Tax ID.

Note that Chase has an unofficial rule that they will automatically deny approval on new credit cards if you have 5 or more new credit cards from any issuer on your credit report within the past 2 years (aka the 5/24 rule). This rule is designed to discourage folks that apply for high numbers of sign-up bonuses. This rule applies on a per-person basis, so in our household one applies to Chase while the other applies at other card issuers.

Bottom line. This Chase small business card has a large sign-up bonus and ongoing features of 5X/2X categories with no annual fee. This card is best if you have significant expenses in the special 5% and 2% categories above. If you have certain other Chase credit cards, you can transfer Ultimate Rewards points over to those cards and increase your value. Be sure to compare with other Chase small business cards – Ink Business Preferred and Ink Business Unlimited.

Betterment Review 2018: Customized Asset Allocation, Human Financial Advisors

“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.”

bment1707_0Updated April 2018 with custom ETF allocations. Betterment is an independent hybrid digital/human advisor that will manage a diversified mix of low-cost index funds and help you decide how much you’ll need to save for retirement. (By independent, I mean that they are not tied to a specific brand of funds like Vanguard or Schwab). Betterment is also an RIA, which means they have a legal fiduciary duty to keep client interests first. They frequently announce new features and improvements, so I will work to keep this feature list updated.

Diversified portfolio of high-quality, low-cost ETFs. Their portfolios are a diversified mix of several asset classes including: US Total, US Large Value, US Mid Value, US Small Value, International Developed, Emerging Markets, US Corporate Bonds, US Total Bond, Inflation-Protected Treasuries, Muni Bonds, International Bonds, and Emerging Market Bonds. For the most part, Vanguard and iShares ETFs are used.

The traditional Betterment portfolio has a more pronounced tilt towards the size premium and value premium than the cap-weighted indexes. You could argue the finer points of whether this will really create higher risk-adjusted returns, but overall it is backed by academic research. Betterment has also added a Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) portfolio option.

In April 2018, Betterment added Flexible Portfolios which lets you manually adjust the percentages of each asset class. As a DIY investor with assets spread across multiple accounts, this customization has been something I’ve been waiting for. This option is currently available only to clients with $100,000+ in assets.

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Both the SRI and Flexible Portfolio options will work with Tax Loss Harvesting and Tax Coordination features (see below).

Free access to human advice for everyone. In July 2017, Betterment announced that all of their customers can message a licensed financial experts. Digital members (0.25% annual fee) can ask questions any time via their mobile app. Digital members should expect an answer in approximately one business day. Betterment Premium members (0.40% annual fee) have unlimited e-mail and direct phone access to “Certified Financial Planner professionals”. From their press release:

Our experts can assist with deciding which funds to move to Betterment, setting goals (like saving for college, a house, or retirement), and identifying which Betterment tax features may be right. They can also help you make important investment decisions, like choosing risk levels, amounts to invest, and types of accounts.

Reading between the lines, Digital members get “licensed financial experts” while Premium members get “Certified Financial Planner professionals”. This suggests that while Digital members will still get fiduciary (client-first) advice, Premium members will get priority access to the more-experienced advisors in exchange for paying their higher fee.

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Retirement planning software with external account balances. RetireGuide is Betterment’s retirement planning software, first launched in April 2015. This service links your external accounts from other banks, brokerages, and 401k plans (similar to Mint and Personal Capital) in order to see your balances without having to manually input them. According to their methodology guide ], they don’t analyze your transactions to estimate savings rate, they are just pulling in balances.

Example questions: How much do I have invested elsewhere? Am I saving enough money? How much estimated income will I have in retirement? Your future Social Security income is estimated for your based on your chosen retirement age and birthdate. You can change many of the variables as you like.

Account types. Betterment now supports taxable joint accounts, trust accounts, 401k rollovers, Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, and Inherited IRAs.

Tax-efficent asset location. Tax-Coordinated Portfolio will place different asset classes in your taxable accounts vs. tax-deferred accounts (IRAs, 401ks) for a higher after-tax return. In addition, if you have multiple types of accounts at Betterment (i.e. both IRA and taxable), it will manage multiple accounts as a single portfolio, placing assets that are taxed more into more favorably taxed accounts (like IRAs). Note that this only works across accounts that are held at Betterment. It does not adjust for non-Betterment accounts. This is called their Tax-Coordinated Portfolio (TCP).

Use dividends and new contributions to rebalance. They will use your dividends and new contributions to rebalance your asset classes in order to minimize sells and thus minimize capital gains.

Daily tax-loss harvesting. Betterment’s Tax-loss Harvesting+ (TLH+) software monitors your holdings daily and attempts to find opportunities to harvest tax losses by switching between “similar but not substantially identical” ETFs. If you can delay paying taxes and reinvest them, this can result in a greater after-tax return. The exact “tax alpha” of this practice depends on multiple factors like portfolio size and tax brackets. You can read the Betterment side of things in their whitepaper. Here is an outside viewpoint arguing for more conservative estimates.

My opinion is that there is long-term value in tax-loss harvesting and especially daily monitoring to capture more losses. However, I also think it’s wise to use a conservative assumption as to the size of that value. (DIY investors can perform their own tax-loss harvesting as well on a less-frequent basis. I do it myself, but it’s rather tedious and I’m definitely not doing it more often than once a year. I would gladly leave it to the bots if it was cheap enough.)

Invest your excess cash automatically. Automatic contributions are good, but perhaps you don’t want to commit to a set amount each month. (Ideally, you do commit to a set amount, and this service invests more money on top of that.) Called SmartDeposit, you link your checking account and choose your Checking Account Ceiling and Max Deposit amount. If your checking account balance goes above the ceiling, Betterment will automatically sweep over money and invest it for you. Betterment will account for future scheduled deposits so you don’t over-contribute.

Fee schedule. Betterment has a fee structure with two tiers.

  • Betterment Digital. No minimum balance. Digital portfolio management and guidance. Unlimited access to “licensed financial experts” via mobile app with ~1 business day turnaround time. Flat fee of 0.25% of assets annually. The management fee on any assets over $2 million is waived.
  • Betterment Premium. $100,000 minimum balance. Digital portfolio management and guidance. Unlimited access to “CFP professionals” financial experts” via e-mail or phone. Includes more in-depth advice on investments outside of Betterment. Flat fee of 0.40% of assets annually. The management fee on any assets over $2 million is waived.

In my opinion, the main concern of any outside advisor is the same: you are handing over control to someone else. Betterment could change their investment philosophy, their pricing structure, and feature set in the future. Digital advisors are constantly changing, and some of their new features could be great or it could just be a fad.

Bottom line. Betterment is an independent digital advisory firm with nearly $10 billion in assets, which means they aren’t tied to any specific brand of funds like Vanguard, Fidelity, or Schwab. Their main differentiators from the other independent firms (see my Wealthfront review) are (1) access to human advice available to all customers and now (2) the ability to customize your target asset allocation ($100k+ in assets). Other notable features include: Retirement planning software that syncs with external accounts, tax-loss harvesting, tax-coordinated portfolios (when you have both IRA/401k and taxable at Betterment), and SmartDeposit which automatically invests excess cash from your checking account.

Special offer. Open a new Betterment account and you can get your management fee waived for up to 1 year, depending on how much you roll over or deposit within 45 days of account opening. Here’s the breakdown:

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Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card Review: 5% Back at Amazon + Whole Foods

“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.”

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(Updated: Now with 5% back at Whole Foods for Amazon Prime members. Amazon recently announced free 2-hour delivery from Whole Foods in 4 US cities, with nationwide rollout expected later this year…)

Chase and Amazon have rolled out the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, a new credit card (not store card) available only to Amazon Prime members. Highlights:

  • 5% back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market for Amazon Prime members. If you stop your Prime membership, you’ll be downgraded to 3% back.
  • 2% Back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores.
  • 1% Back on all other purchases.
  • Sign-up bonus of variable amount based on each person’s account. I was offered a $70 Amazon Gift Certificate. Click on the “Apply Now” link to see your personalized offer, you’ll have time to stop the application.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee.
  • Extended warranty protection. Extends the time period for the U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year, on eligible warranties of three years or less.
  • Purchase Protection. Covers your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.

Existing Amazon Rewards Visa Signature cardholder? If you have the original card and are an Amazon Prime subscriber, you should be “upgraded” to this new card automatically. You may see the change online first (your linked purchases will start earning 5% back instead of just 3% back) before you actually receive a new physical card.

Commentary. I recently did a Amazon Store Card review, about a retail card issued by Synchrony Bank that was only valid at Amazon.com. My overall opinion of this credit card is similar, except for the extended warranty protection. If you use gift cards to buy things at Amazon, you will forgo the extended warranty protection and purchase protection that many other credit cards offer. With this card, you will get the extended warranty protection and 5% cash back. How much is an extra year’s warranty worth? Depends on how many big-ticket items you buy at Amazon and how likely you’ll actually remember to use this benefit.

My rough rule of thumb is that a “hard” credit check can reliably net me at least $500 in value, usually from credit card sign-up bonuses but also potentially from bank bonuses and higher interest. It is very rare that I shop at any specific retailer enough to get $500 in savings. For example, it would take $10,000 of Amazon purchases at 5% back to net me $500 in cash back. (2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores only draws a yawn when I can get that much cash back on everything. 1% cash back on everything else… zzzz.)

Now, the addition of the 5% back at Whole Foods adds a wrinkle for those that shop at Whole Foods regularly. If you were only getting 2% back before, now 5% on the combined spending at Amazon and Whole Foods might become more compelling. (Amazon recently announced it will offer free two-hour delivery of Whole Foods groceries in four cities – Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas and Virginia Beach. The plan is to expand delivery nationwide later in 2018.)

For the casual Amazon shopper, 5% rotating category credit cards often have Amazon or a place that sells Amazon gift cards as an eligible category. Other cards like the American Express Blue Cash Preferred offer 6% back at grocery stores (that sell Amazon gift cards) or Chase Ink Business cards offer 5% back at office supply stores (that sell Amazon gift cards). Basically, there are other ways that I can stock up on Amazon gift cards at 5% off without having this card.

Bottom line. If you are a loyal Prime member that spends a lot of money at Amazon and/or Whole Foods and prefer simplicity, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card can add up to serious rewards. Be sure to make it your default card for your Amazon account. You can then track all your Amazon spending on one card, and also get extended warranty protection and purchase protection. As with any rewards credit card, you should always pay off your bill in full as the annual interest rate on balances is significantly higher than 5%.

Robinhood App Review: Free Stock Trades, Free Options Trading, No Minimum Balance

“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.”

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Updated. The Robinhood app just announced free Bitcoin trading, which expands their suite of services to the following:

  • Unlimited free stock and ETF trades with no minimum balance requirement.
  • Free options trading. No commission and no per contract fee, no exercise or assignment fees.
  • Trade Bitcoin & other cryptocurrencies, 24/7 & commission-free. I’m not into Bitcoin myself, but hey y’all are adults.
  • Sleek smartphone app (Android and iOS) + Robinhood for Web option + API integration.
  • Free real-time market data.
  • Free share of stock for new users with referral.

Also, check out this new Bloomberg article Brokerage App Robinhood Thinks Bitcoin Belongs in Your Retirement Plan.

Background. I’ve been Robinhood beta user since mid-2014. I was skeptical as I’ve been an long-time early adopter of free trading platforms (read: cheapskate investor). In August 2015, they rolled out both iOS and Android app and reported processing over 2 million free trades. As of 2017, they have over a million users and processed $30 billion in trades. According to Bloomberg, they recently raised money at a $1.3 billion valuation.

Application process. You must provide your personal information including Social Security number, net worth, income, investing experience, etc. This is the same as any other brokerage firm, but this may also be the first such account for many users. Everything was done online; there were no paper documents that required mailing or faxing.

Core features review.

  • Legit. Robinhood Financial is a member of the SIPC which protects the securities in your account up to $500,000. Data is encrypted with SSL. Apex is their clearing firm.
  • $0 commission trades. Yes, it works, all with no minimum balance requirement. You could open an account, put in five bucks, and buy a single share of Zynga (ZNGA) if you wanted to (maybe two on a bad day…).
  • Market orders, limit orders, stop limit orders, and stop orders available. Certain orders may be entered as good for the day or good till canceled (GTC).
  • Individual cash or margin accounts available.
  • Free options trading: No commission and no per contract fee upon buying or selling options, as well as no exercise or assignment fees. Level 2 self-directed options strategies (buying calls and puts, selling covered calls and puts) as well as Level 3 self-directed options strategies such as fixed-risk spreads (credit spreads, iron condors), and other advanced trading strategies are available.
  • Customer service details. You are encouraged to go through their e-mail “[email protected]”, but they have added a phone number now during market hours (9:30am – 4:00pm EST) at (650) 940-2700.

Funds transfers. You can manually link any bank account with your routing number and account number, but you can also directly use your username and password at these banks: Chase, Bank of America, Citibank, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Charles Schwab, PNC, Silicon Vally Bank, and USAA. ACH transfers are free and take approximately 3 business days (same as other brokerages). There is also a automatic deposits feature where you can schedule ACH transfers on a weekly, biweekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.

ACAT account transfers. Robinhood now accepts incoming stock transfers from outside brokerage accounts. To do this, go your app account menu, select “Banking”, then select “Stock Transfer” and follow the on-screen instructions. Incoming transfers are free. Outgoing transfers will incur a $75 fee.

Robinhood Instant. Robinhood Instant is a free upgrade that gets you a “limited margin account” that has the following features:

  • Immediate access to funds from selling stock. That means you can reinvest those funds without waiting two days for settlement. (All brokerage margin accounts offer this.)
  • Limited instant deposits. Use up to $1,000 of your pending bank deposits right away. No waiting 2-3 days for a bank transfer to complete.

What’s the catch? Getting free trades is great, but be aware of the following:

  • Although they announced that a web interface is available, I have been on the waitlist since early November (currently #600,000 in line). Full rollout is not scheduled until some time in 2018. Everyone can access their account via a mobile Apple iOS or Android device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android phone, Android tablet).
  • There are unofficial sites that use the Robinhood API to provide web access, but I would be wary of sharing your login credentials with a 3rd-party.
  • I’m currently on a wait list for the free options trading as well.
  • Broker-assisted phone trades are $10 each, according to their fee schedule.
  • Electronic statements are the default and only free option. I don’t even see an option to enable paper statements in the app, but according to their fee schedule paper statements cost $5 a pop.

How do they make money? First, Robinhood will make some money the same way other brokers do: collect interest on your idle cash, charge you interest for margin loans, and sell order flow. The most innovative prospect is to the plan to sell API access to other financial apps.

The fact that Robinhood sells order flow may leave you with a slightly worse execution price as compared to other brokers with more complex order routing. If you are making large value trades, then this small percentage difference may add up to something significant that matters more than commission price. With my tiny order volume, I am fine with them selling my order flow if they are giving me commission-free trades.

Robinhood Gold is their premium service tier that gives you extending trading hours and interest-free margin for $10 a Month. My Robinhood Gold review.

User interface. Over the last 10 years, I’ve opened an account at the majority of the “discount” brokerage firms. I’ve had $0 trades before, along with $2 trades, $2.50 trades, $4.95 trades and so on. What makes Robinhood special is their modern, app-centric approach. I agree with this quote from Wired:

But the app’s simplicity is meant to be about more than style. Ease of access and understanding is meant to make Robinhood compulsively engaging for a new generation of investors that don’t find the stock market very accessible from the mobile screens at the center of their lives.

Screenshots.

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Recap. Robinhood delivers on their $0 stock trades promise with no minimum balance. The app interface is clean and intuitive. Customer service is on the lean side, but my requests were responded to within a day or so. They continue to make incremental improvements. They’ve been open to the public since March 2015, which is honestly longer than I expected. They announced a web interface on November 1, 2017. They announced free options trading in December 2017.

Sign up for Robinhood with my referral link and get a free share of stock, and I’ll get one too. Details on this promotion here.