Q: I want to apply for a credit card but feel uncomfortable entering my social security number online. Is there a way to check the security of the application?
A: This is a great question and we applaud you for your caution; it is always important to be aware when entering personal information online. In general, financial institutions that host these online applications use top-tier security measures like SSL encryption to make sure that your data, for example your social security number, is secure.
Whenever you are unsure whether the site you are using to enter personal information is secure or not, there are a couple of things you can look out for:
1. Most browsers, including Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer, just to name a few you may be familiar with, now include a color-change on the left side of the address bar to show that the site has been verified as legitimate. For example, Chrome highlights the first part of the URL in green and surrounds it with a little green box.
2. Still looking at the left side of the address bar, check for a little lock sign on most browsers, which indicates that the webpage is secure.
3. Check the URL for 'HTTPS' at the beginning, which is much more secure than a 'HTTP' URL.
Want to take extra precautions when entering personal information online? Many Internet security software suites are offering a feature that spotlights a "secure environment." For example, the top-rated BitDefender's SafePay feature opens browsers in a secluded environment where you can enter private information worry-free. Many Internet security software suites also offer a feature that checks the reliability of sites you are using. Compare the top Internet security software suites here.
If you are worried about someone stealing your social security number, or are already a victim of identity fraud, consider signing up for an identity theft protection service, which monitors public records and the Internet's black markets for use of your social security number and changes in your credit report. Many of these services also offer Internet security software included in the plan. Read all of our identity theft protection reviews here.
Q: With the Capital One® Cash Rewards card, are ALL purchases eligible for cash back? Are any purchases excluded?
A: Great question! We called Capital One to find out and they reassured us that ALL net purchases (purchases minus any credits or returns) you make with your Capital One® Cash Rewards card are eligible for the 1% cash back reward. The only "exclusion" is that any checks used to access your account will not earn rewards.
The fact that ALL purchases will earn cash back rewards is a nice touch – some cards don't earn cash back on warehouse purchases (like Costco) or other places you may shop regularly. That's why it's always a good idea to read through your cardholder Terms & Conditions agreement.
We gave our top ranking to the Capital One Cash Rewards card because we think it's a great card. Not only do cardholders get 1% cash back on all purchases, but they also get a 50% bonus on the cash back they earn every year – an effective 1.5% cash back rate over the course of a year. In addition users will enjoy a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers until August 2013, and $100 Bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months.
Q: One of my credit card companies wants to cancel a dormant credit card that I have not used in over 3 years. Should I cancel the card myself or should I let them cancel it? I don't want to hurt the credit score that I have worked so hard to obtain.
A: If you'd like to protect your credit score, it would be best to not cancel your credit card at all. There are two reason for this:
1. 30% of your credit score is based on "Amounts Owed". Very simply, this looks at how much total credit is extended to you and then how much of that credit is being used. This is frequently referred to as your credit utilization ratio. Let's say that between all of your credit cards you have $15,000 in total credit and your oldest card is $5,000 of that. If you cancel your card you'll only have $10,000 in total credit. That means if you owe $7,500 of the $10,000 you have a 75% credit utilization ratio. However, if you keep the old card you would only owe $7,500 out of $15,000 – i.e. 50% – a much better ratio.
2. 15% of your credit score is based on the length of your credit history. Your history is comprised of the how long you've had your credit cards, including the age of your oldest card and the average age of all your accounts. So if your card is 10 years old now and you cancel it, it will never help you out in the future by being 11, 12 or 15 years old.
That's why it's a good idea to keep your oldest credit cards open. In general, a better credit utilization ratio and longer credit history – helped out by the age and credit limit of your oldest card – will help you credit score. If you need to charge a couple of items a year on the card to keep it open, it's probably worth your while to do so. (To learn more about what else makes up your credit score, take a look at this previous blog.)
It's also smart to keep an eye on your credit reports and scores. By being aware of your credit history, you can make sure that's it's accurate. Errors on your credit report can negatively affect your credit score, so the sooner you know about them and can correct them the better. In addition, you can catch any fraudulent activity (such as identity theft) before it progresses.
The easiest way to stay in touch with the everyday changes of your credit reports is to sign up for a credit report monitoring service like our top rated Identity Guard. Right now they are offering NextAdvisor readers a free 30-day trial and 25% off the subscription price – a great deal. You'll also get all 3 of your credit scores for free when you sign up and they are yours to keep, even if you cancel during the trial period.
Q: Can I apply for the Discover® More Balance Transfer card even if I do not have a balance to transfer?
A: Yes, you can apply for the Discover® More – Balance Transfer card even if you do not plan on transferring a balance. It's a great card, offering a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months and a 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months. In addition, cardholders can earn up to 5% cash back on their purchases.
My bigger question would be: if you don't have a balance to transfer why not apply for a card that aligns more with your needs? If you're interested in a lengthy 0% APR on purchases, you should check out the Citi Simplicity® Card which has a 18-month 0% APR on purchases. Or, if you'd like to earn cash back and get a 0% APR on purchases, take a look at the Discover® More card. It features a 15-month 0% purchase APR and up to 5% cash back on purchases.
Q: Is the Applied Bank Secured Visa Gold card a credit card or a debit card?
A: The Applied Bank® Secured Visa® Gold card is a secured credit card. It looks and operates just like a regular credit card, but is secured by funds you deposit. These funds help guarantee payment on any balances on the card. There is no credit check; once you are approved for the card you'll just need to deposit funds into a FDIC insured account. There is a minimum deposit requirement of $200 and the maximum is $5,000. The way secured cards usually work is that if you deposit $200 you'll have $200 in credit available. There is a small caveat with the Applied Bank card though – the $50 annual fee is deducted from your balance as soon as you deposit it, so if you put in $200 you'll have $150 in credit.
The Applied Bank Secured Visa Gold card is a good choice for anyone who can't qualify for a regular credit card – those with past or current credit issues or a limited credit history. In addition to a low 9.99% APR, this card reports your payment history to all Experian and TransUnion. By paying your balances on time you can help improve your card history. However, we'd prefer that it reported to all 3 credit bureaus, like some of the other Bad Credit Credit cards we review. We also prefer it if this card offered a grace period on purchases, instead of immediately beginning to charge interest as soon as you purchase something.
Instead you might want to consider our #1 rated Bad Credit card; the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®. It reports to all 3 credit bureaus (instead of just 2) and offers a grace period, during which they won't change interest. Per their Terms and Conditions "Your due date is at least 25 days after the close of each billing cycle. We will not charge you interest on new purchases, provided you have paid your previous balance in full by the due date each month." Even though their interest rate is higher than the Applied Bank card, the grace period may be worth it for those who plan to pay their balances in full and on time each month. In addition, this secured card's annual fee is lower than the Applied Bank card at $29 per year, and the minimum deposit required is $49 instead of Applied Bank's $200.
Q: I want to transfer my balance from my American Express card to a credit card with NO balance transfer fee. Which cards offer this?
A: Although there are many Balance Transfer credit cards out there, most will charge a fee to transfer your balance. This fee typically ranges from 3% to 5% of the balance you're moving, which can definitely add up if you're transferring a large dollar amount. However, there is one great card that features a 0% intro APR and no balance transfer fees:
Chase SlateSM - No Balance Transfer Fee card. With a 15-month 0% APR on both purchases and balance transfers, this card should please most people. Since there are also NO balance transfer fees, users can transfer their balances from high-APR credit cards onto this card free of charge and pay no interest for 15 months. Plus, new purchases are interest-free for 15 months.
Or, if you're willing to pay a balance transfer fee to reap the benefits of a Balance Transfer card with cash back benefits and a low post-intro APR, take a look at this card:
Discover® More – Balance Transfer card. Featuring a lengthy 18-month 0% APR on balance transfers (but not on purchases) with a balance transfer fee of 3% of the amount of the transfer, this is a great card. Add to it the fact that you earn up to 5% cash back for purchases and you've got yourself another winner. And from October through December of this year cardholders can earn 5% cashback on all online shopping and department store purchases (on up to $1,500 in purchases).
Q: Can you pay your bill online with the Citi Simplicity card?
A: Yes, the Citi Simplicity® Card lets you easily pay your bill and manage your account online. Once you are approved for the card you'll have 24/7 access to your account online and from your mobile phone. You"ll be able to pay your bill, check your balance and view transactions. You can also get free acccount alerts delivered to your mobile phone.
Citi Simplicity makes paying your monthly bill easier by allowing you to choose your payment date – pay your bill on the date most convenient to you. This is an especially good feature for those who want to pay their bill right after receiving their paycheck. In addition, you can choose to pay your full balance or just the minimum payment due each month (although we always recommend paying your bill in full if you can to save on interest payments).
Citi Simplicity is our #1 rated Low APR card for a good reason – it features an 18-month 0% APR period for both purchases and balance transfers. Combine that will no annual fees and no late fees and you've got a great card for those who want to transfer balances from high-interest credit cards or just be able to make new purchases without paying interest for 18 months.
Q: I don't quite understand the redemption of Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express Starpoints. If I spend $10,000 will get 10,000 miles for traveling everywhere except United and Continential?
A: The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express Starpoints awards program features different point payouts that depend on where you are spending your money. Instead of a 1-to-1 ratio that rewards one point for every dollar spent on the card, cardholders can reap the benefit of their tiered rewards. Users earn 4 to 5 Starpoints for every dollar spent at Starwood Preferred Guest Hotels and Resorts, a great perk for business travelers or those who frequently stay at Starwood hotels. In addition, cardholders earn 1 Starpoint for every eligible dollar spent everywhere else.
This means if you spend $150 at a Starwood hotel or resort you'll earn 4x to 5x as many points – or between 600 and 750 points – and not just the 150 points your question assumed. Once you've earned your points you can redeem them for free nights at over 1,000 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries and for free flights on over 350 airlines – including United and Continental.
There is a tiered system for redeeming your points, starting with a minimum 10,000 point redemption for flights. In your example, spending 10,000 points will get you an airline ticket of up to $150. If you spend 15,000 points you can buy a flight valued up to $215, and so on. Unfortunately, if you don't have enough points to buy the ticket you want you can't combine them with cash to complete the purchase. Instead you can buy up to 20,000 additional Starpoints a year through the program.
While researching our Travel Rewards Credit Card Analysis, we found the Starwood Preferred Guest card to have the highest hotel redemption value of any card in our study – an impressive $2.50 for every $100 spent. Although the flight value was a lesser $1.30 per $100 spent, it's still still higher than some airline rewards cards.
We think the Starwood Preferred Guest card is a great travel card, but if you're in the market for a more flexible travel card you might want to consider the Capital One® VentureSM Rewards Card. With the Venture Rewards card you can book your travel with ease – from any travel site, agent or airline. And once you've earned point and would like to redeem them you can so do for travel as well as cash, gift cards, brand-name merchandise, and more. Read more about this card and others in our Travel Card Review section.
Q: How can I redeem my Citi ThankYou Preferred Card points for airline tickets?
A: With the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card cardholders can spend the points they earn on a variety of travel including flights, hotels, cars, travel packages and activities. To do so you need book your travel online via the ThankYou Rewards site. You can also use your points for a large selection of items such as home and garden supplies, gift cards and statement credits.
If you're looking for a credit card that specifically earns travel rewards, check out our Travel Rewards Credit Card Analysis. We've investigated the top travel credit cards to see how much each point you earn is actually worth. Our number one pick was the Capital One® VentureSM Rewards Card with a $2.00 flight and hotel redemption value for every $100 spent. To find out what other cards did well (or didn't), read our results.
Q: With the Chase Ink CashSM Business Card would I be able to apply for the corporate card and have three cards provided for three different employees?
A: Yes, once you have applied and been approved for the Chase Ink CashSM Business Card you are eligible to receive free additional Ink Cash cards for your employees. You can even set spending limits for individual cardmembers so you won't have to worry about your employees overcharging.
Providing Ink Cash cards for your employees is a great way to rack up additional cash back rewards. In fact, we've given the Chase Ink Cash Business card our top Business Card ranking because of it's generous cash back policy combined with it's 0% intro APR for 12 months on all purchases and balance transfers. Cardholders (including approved employees) earn 5% cash back per $1 spent at office supply stores and on cellular phones, landline, internet and cable TV services (up to $25k per year). They'll also earn 2% cash back per $1 spent on gas and dining (up to $25k per year) and 1% cash back on all other purchases. In addition, they can earn a $250 cash back bonus – $100 cash back after first purchase and another $150 cash back after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months.
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