The financial business is a dog-eat-dog world. So when companies decide it's time to fight for your business, it pays to play hard-to-get -- because the price financial firms are willing to pay to get you to become a customer has gone higher than ever.
Below, I'll share two tips that have earned me thousands of dollars over the years. But first, let's take a look at why financial companies are willing to be so cutthroat to earn your business.
Looking for the right people
More than anything else, what financial companies learned during the financial crisis was how much their best customers were actually worth to them. For instance, with credit card companies, as long as default rates were relatively low, they could potentially make a lot more money on interest charges than they ever could from interchange and merchant fees. As a result, those who paid their balances in full were ostracized as "freeloaders" who weren't paying their fair share for the convenience of credit.
But once banks had to start writing off those loans, the importance of a high credit rating rose dramatically. Suddenly, those freeloaders were valued customers again -- and rightfully so, given their dependability even in the midst of a tough recession. And with financial institutions trying to make the most of the new normal in the U.S., grabbing up those valued customers is worth paying for.
Get the credit you deserve
If you play your cards right, taking out a new credit card can get you huge rewards. Consider these current deals:
(NYSE: JPM)is offering points on its Sapphire Preferred card that are worth $500 in cash or $625 in travel credits. All you have to do is spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months you have it.
- Until December, Citigroup
(NYSE: C)offered points worth $500 on its Thank You card in two equal installments, if you spent $5,000 in the first six months and another $5,000 in the next six months. That offer has now expired, but a similar offer gives you points worth $250 for spending $2,000 in the first three months.
- Even smaller issuers sometimes make great deals. Pentagon Federal Credit Union, for instance, offers 5,000 points worth $50 on your first purchase, along with 20,000 more points if you spend $1,000 in your first three months.
It's true that opening card accounts with the intent of closing them soon after getting your rewards will hurt your credit score somewhat. But if you have flawless credit, then sacrificing a few points shouldn't cost you much -- compared to what you can gain.
Investing has never been so profitable!
The other area of financial services where companies are bending backward to get your business is in the brokerage arena. Take a look at some of the offers available right now:
(Nasdaq: AMTD)will pay you a $100 bonus to open a new account with $25,000. That goes up to $300 for $100,000 deposits and $600 for $250,000 or more. Moreover, you also get two months of free no-commission trades.
- Similarly, E*TRADE Financial
(Nasdaq: ETFC)offers up to $600 for IRA rollovers of $250,000, with $250 bonuses for $100,000 rollovers and $100 for $25,000. E*TRADE also offers two months of free trades.
- Fidelity is offering Apple gift cards worth up to $500 for new accounts or deposits of $300,000 or more, with $300 cards for $150,000 or more and $100 for $75,000 or more.
Admittedly, few people have this much cash lying around waiting to get invested -- and those who do probably won't think a few hundred dollars is worth the bother. But if you've been looking to switch brokers anyway, then getting a little extra money for your trouble is a nice boost.
What's the catch?
Thousands of people take advantage of deals like this on a regular basis to get paid for their good credit and savings habits. So if you're looking for a credit card, brokerage account, or other financial service, keep your eyes open -- you may well find a company that's willing to pay you a lot more than you'd expect for your business.
Being smart about your credit is just one part of preparing for a prosperous retirement. Smart investing is also important. The Motley Fool's latest special report highlights three smart stock picks for retirement investors, and we won't charge you anything at all for it -- but it won't be around forever, so read it today while it's still available.
Tune in every Monday and Wednesday for Dan's columns on retirement, investing, and personal finance. You can follow him on Twitter here.