With a seemingly endless array of credit card bonus programs and money-managing apps and programs, it can seem overwhelming to figure out which products and services are worthwhile.
While everyone's situation is different and you need to find financial products that fit your own lifestyle, there are a few tried-and-true products I have come to love in my years of managing money and racking up credit card rewards. Here are three of the key products (and a few similar alternatives) that I use to help me invest, manage my money, and maintain a high credit score.
1. My cash-back card, which deposits into my investment account
In July 2016, my favorite credit card got even better. For years, I used an American Express Fidelity Rewards Card. I loved the card because I earned 2% cash back on all purchases, but I was also forced to carry two cards in my wallet, as many retailers don't accept American Express.
In July, Fidelity transitioned my favorite card to a Visa Signature Card, which I'm now convinced is the best possible option for cash-back cards. Not only is the card accepted everywhere that Visa is accepted, but the card also continues to pay a generous 2% on every purchase with no limits.
The card has no annual fee; it works with Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay; and it offers some travel discounts. The best part about the card, though, is that when I earn rewards, they are transferred automatically into my Fidelity account. The card provides a choice of depositing rewards into a basic brokerage account, a 529 college savings plan, a Fidelity Cash Management account, a retirement account, or a charitable giving account.
I love the card because I don't have to worry about a series of rotating categories to earn the maximum cash back, and the cash back helps me save toward future goals instead of just spending it as my part of my routine budget. I've earned hundreds of dollars, which I use to buy dividend-paying stocks. Over time, the account has turned into a money-making workhorse.
There used to be several other cards that allowed rewards points to be deposited into investment accounts, including offerings from Charles Schwab and E*Trade. Unfortunately, none of those cards is still offered. A popular Upromise Mastercard that allowed cash back to be allocated to a 529 college savings account, a high-yield savings account, or Sallie Mae loan repayments also appears to have been recently discontinued, leaving Fidelity as the only option for a rewards card focused on investing. So if you want to put your cash back to good use, this is the card to consider.
2. Mint, to track all of my accounts and calculate my net worth
Mint is my go-to money-management software. I gave the app information on my bank accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, and mortgage loans, and now I can sign in and get a glimpse of my entire financial life on one page.
Mint allows me to see the total cash balance I have in all of my different bank accounts, and it lists recent transactions, including checks that cleared. I get an alert from Mint when my credit card payments and mortgage payments are due. I've entered the addresses of our homes and the makes and models of our vehicles, and Mint gives me updated appraisals so I can see how much these assets are worth. It also shows me which stocks have made big moves in my investment accounts and how far my mortgage balances have declined (to keep me motivated to pay off the loans early). Plus, Mint adds up all of my assets and debts and tracks my net worth for me, so I always know how I'm doing.
Mint allows me to monitor my finances by logging in to a single website, and I do so every day. This was helpful several months ago when someone made unauthorized charges on my business credit card: I was able to see the transactions instantly on my Mint page and contact the creditor before lots of damage was done.
Mint is free, but it does have a few downsides, including the fact that the software doesn't make it easy to categorize spending. Alternatives include Personal Capital, which is also free and has more features for investors, as well as You Need a Budget, which has more educational offerings but costs $50 annually after a 34-day free trial. One of these programs should help make monitoring your finances simple and quick.
3. Credit Karma, to track my credit
Credit Karma is my favorite website for monitoring my credit (although Mint also offers a free educational credit score). Credit Karma shows me my scores from both Equifax and TransUnion, and it allows me to access full credit reports from both of these credit bureaus.
The Credit Karma website helpfully provides detailed information on each of the factors affecting my score, including my credit utilization, the total number of accounts I have, and the age of my credit history. I love CreditKarma because I can see at a glance which factors are helping my score and where I have room for improvement (my credit history is a little shorter than I'd like).
Credit Karma also has a Credit Score Simulator, so I can see how my score might change if I open a new loan, transfer a credit balance, or take other debt-related actions. And like Mint, it tracks my debt balances over time. If I wanted to connect my accounts, Credit Karma would help me track spending, too (though I use Mint for that).
Credit Sesame is an alternative to Credit Karma that offers similar features, including letter grades for different factors impacting credit scores. I find Credit Karma a little easier to navigate, and I like that it provides two different credit-bureau scores, as well as the Credit Score Simulator feature. Credit Sesame does make it easy to see changes to your credit with its Alerts feature, so I sign in to Credit Sesame occasionally as well. Both programs are free to use, though they're ad-supported.
Hopefully, some of these products can help you maximize the value of your cash back and get more control over your financial life. There's no cost just to try, so consider checking them out.