Our goal at The Ascent is to help you find the best products and services to make your money work harder for you. We also only stand behind products and services we'd feel comfortable recommending to our closest friends and family members. The only problem is the market is packed with high-quality options that are always evolving as each month passes, so it's hard to know where to get started.
The Ascent's staff picks are here to help. Our staff picks include not only timely deals we want to bring to your attention, but also the products we use ourselves, in addition to other perennial favorites. Read on to learn which offers are piquing our analysts interests today and why.
From: Lyle Daly, Credit cards analyst
American Express has amped up the value of its credit cards throughout the pandemic, and there may be no better example than the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. American Express is waiving the $95 annual fee for the first year if you apply by Dec. 10, 2020. This is a deal we think you won't want to pass up, especially if you want one of the biggest welcome bonuses and unheard of cash back for U.S. supermarkets. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express earns 6% back at U.S. supermarkets (up to a spending cap of $6,000 per year) and on eligible streaming services, plus another 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit spending. To make it even better, you'll also receive a larger welcome offer of $300 after spending $3,000 on purchases in six months.
There may not be a better credit card for holiday shopping than the Discover it® Cash Back. Cardholders can activate rotating bonus categories every quarter to earn 5% back on up to $1,500 in purchases. From now through December those categories are Amazon.com, Walmart.com, and Target.com.
Discover also doubles all your cash back over the first year. That bonus means you could effectively earn 10% back on your gift shopping with those three online retailers. If you spent $1,000 across those sites, you'd collect $50 back -- and then another $50 in a year after through the Discover Cashback Match.
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From: Kailey Hagen, Banks analyst
The Radius Rewards Checking account would stand out at any time, but its perks seem almost uniquely suited to pandemic life. In addition to a decent APY, customers with at least $2,500 in their accounts can earn unlimited 1% cash back on debit card purchases. That's not all: There's 1.5% back on health, food, entertainment, and social good purchases between now and Dec. 30, 2020.
For those who are more worried about paying their bills than earning a profit, the Radius Rewards Checking account has you covered there too. It makes direct-deposited funds available to you as soon as they're deposited -- up to two days sooner than other banks. Plus, it offers unlimited worldwide ATM fee reimbursements so you can always access your cash for free.
In a year that's seen savings account APYs slashed in half, the Varo Savings account stands as one of the sole reminders of how things used to be. Its 0.81% base APY is lower than it was at the start of the year (as is the case with every bank slashing rates), but still higher than that of most of its competitors.
Customers who receive at least $1,000 in direct deposits and make at least five qualifying debit card purchases each month will see their APY skyrocket to 2.80% for balances under $10,000. That's higher than many of the best high-yield savings accounts were offering at the beginning of the year. And there are no minimum balance requirements or monthly fees to steal any of your profits.
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From: Matt Frankel, Brokers and personal finance analyst
Ally Invest has several perks that will appeal to beginners right up to seasoned investors. In addition to commission-free stock trades, Ally's standard mutual fund commission rate of $9.95 is among the lowest around. Plus, Ally has competitive margin rates and no minimum requirements to open an account.
One reason investors should consider Ally now is that it has some of the most generous new account bonuses in the industry, topping out at a $3,500 cash bonus for new accounts of $2 million or more. Ally has incentives for investors of all account sizes -- you can qualify for a bonus with a deposit of just $10,000. But the current bonus offers are set to expire on Dec. 31, 2020, so if you're looking for a change, it might be a good time to give Ally a closer look.
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From: Dana George, Loans and personal finance analyst
U.S. Bank is not calling their great personal loan a "holiday loan" per se, but in keeping with their generosity toward existing clients during the COVID-19 pandemic, I think U.S. Bank is worth a second-glance for anyone in search of a holiday loan. Here's why:
The only fly in the ointment is that you must be a U.S. Bank customer to qualify for one of their attractive personal loans (although they make it easy to sign up for an account online). For those with a smart payoff plan mapped out, this loan can be a lifesaver during the holidays. Let's say your credit score is good but not excellent, and you qualify for an APR of 10%. You only want to borrow enough to purchase gifts for your kids and close relatives, so you borrow $1,500. You can repay the loan in four months by making monthly payments of $383, and the total amount of interest you will pay will only be $31.
While I've seen better low-end rates on personal loans, the upper-end rate is pretty impressive for the industry.
Learn more: U.S. Bank personal loans
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From: Christy Beiber, Personal finance analyst
Santa's Bag is much more than just a shopping list. You can set your holiday budget, plan the total number of gifts to buy, and track each gift from your "To Buy," list all the way through ordering and wrapping. There's also a helpful countdown to let you know just how many more days, minutes, and hours you have until the holiday is upon you.
What's great about this app is you can quickly see whether you're under or over budget, and even include links, photos, and notes for each gift. The one downside is that it's for iOS users only, but there are similar apps for Android devices such as Christmas Gift List. (I have an iOS phone so haven't used that one personally -- although it received good reviews.)
It's never too early to think about your holiday shopping. This app is one of my favorites as it keeps me on budget and makes sure I don't forget anything during the busiest time of the year.
I've been using Slickdeals since 2001, which is a very long time. Of course, they now have a deal-finding app for Android and iOS that didn't exist back when I first found the website. Slickdeals is a large community of deal hunters who post some of the best bargains they find. The deals come from both the web and in brick-and-mortar stores. The site and apps also provide access to coupons, allow you to set up deal alerts, and have a large forum devoted to Black Friday deals -- all ideal for anyone wanting to save money. If you want to make sure you're able to score rock-bottom prices, this is an app that you should have on your phone.
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