Credit Union Offers more than Free Cashier Check

I did not think about writing a post about credit union until I was able to request cashier check without any fee from my Star One Credit Union.

Star One also offer several other benefits.  I do not know if these are general characteristics of a credit union.

If you are looking for these benefits, check out a credit union which has a branch office near where you live or where you work.  Search online about the credit union review.  If the credit union has a partnership with your company, that would be the best.  For example, techCU is fairly popular in the SF Silicon Valley.  But I opened accounts in Star One Credit Union (for Santa Clara County).

Why Isa and I opened accounts in Star One Credit Union

  • No-fee cashier check: it charges no fee for up to three cashier check per day, if my account balance is at least $5000,
  • Competitive savings interest rate: its savings account interest rate is currently 0.85% per year, higher than even most CD annual interest rate.  Fidelity currently offers 0.70% for one-year CD.
  • No-fee and competitive HELOC interest rate: No account management fee for Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) account.  There is also no closing cost if HELOC is not over $250k, and no cancellation fee after 2-years account opening.  I applied for a HELOC in 2015.  I became Star One member, because of their competitive HELOC offering.
  • Account sign-up bonus:  like Chase bank, it sometimes offer account bonus.  I received $150 from opening a checking account with $50 opening balance and monthly direct deposit, and another $100 for closing a HELOC with them.
  • Free checking account: I have a checking and savings account with only $50 balance, to become eligible for their home mortgage program.
  • Competitive mortgage program: its mortgage rate often beats those offer by large banks.  Unlike non-bank mortgage firm, credit union charges lower closing cost for lower loan amount, because there is no middle man (loan broker) who would want to make a good commission from your mortgage loan transaction.
There are many credit unions in US.  Each credit union should be unique in its own way in order to stay competitive in the banking business.  Identify what you need (mortgage loan? auto loan?), then google search which credit unions' offering fits your needs.

I would not recommend opening a checking account just to earn the account sign-up bonus.  The time and effort you put to open and close the account will be worth much more than $150.

It took us five days to open a checking account successfully, but three months to finalize my HELOC account.  Therefore, if you plan to take advantage of these benefits, take into the time needed to open an account.

How to Qualify for Citi Thank You Premier Card Retention Bonus

Isa and I each applied for the Citi Thank you Premier Card with 50,000 sign-up bonus points about 10 months ago.  Since the beginning, we plan to use the cards often so to be able to ask to waive the annual $95 membership fee later.  With 3X for flight, hotel and gas, and 2X for dining for each $1 spent, and support transferring points to Singapore Airline KrisFlyer program, Citi Thank You Premier card is an attractive card to stock up Thank You points.  Isa travels outside of US about five times a year.  She can use Citi Thank You Premier Card, which does not charge foreign transaction fee.

Citi does not offer 50,000 sign-up bonus points as I am writing now.  So this post is for those who already have Citi Thank You or Citi Thank You Premier card.

Offers from Citi

Isa called last week, attempting to waive the annual $95 membership fee.  Indeed, she received a retention offer:
  • spend $200 in the next 2 months to receive $95 statement credit
  • and, if she spends $500 per month on the card, she will receive 500 Thank You Points for the next 16 months, total 8000 Thank You points for $8000 spent.
Early this week, she receives an offer to add an authorized user for 5000 points.  But we are practicing 5/24 rules. Adding an authorized user will draw a credit pull on Isa' profile, equivalent as applying for one credit card.  so she will not add an authorized user.

I also receive an offer from Citi for 10,000 bonus points if spending $3000 for the next 90 days.  Isa does not receive this offer however.

Also 5X bonus category offer,

How to receive Citi Thank You Premier Card Retention Bonus?

My observation is the following:
  • Spend at least $1000 per month.  Grocery, eat-out, gasoline, utility bills, auto insurance easily add to more than $1500 per month.
  • Use the card often.  Credit card company charges higher % fee from merchants when the amount charged is small.  The more small charges you charge, the more valuable as as credit card customer you are.
  • Call Citi customer support 1-800-842-6596 on the 11th month of your card, and give a good reason.  We have been seriously considering applying for Chase Sapphire Preferred for the 50,000 sign-up bonus UR points.  Isa mentioned CSP card sign-up bonus attractiveness, asked about any available retention bonus for good credit card customer.  After a couple minutes, the Citi customer representative offered to waive the $95 membership fee after $200 spend.

Why are Citi Thank You Points attractive?

Both Citi Thank You points and Chase Ultimate Reward points can be transferred to KrisFlyer program.  I used 120K ThankYou Points, worth about $1200 statement credit, to redeem two one-way Business Class flights for them.  Love to see smiles on their faces; they are humble couple.

If annual membership fee is waived, Citi Thank You Premier card becomes a fee-free card.  We set a conservative target to earn 30k Thank You points each year on each card without any manufacturing spend and intentionally to spend more money.  One key is to use my Citi Thank You Premier card to pay for my parents' flight ticket expenses and any large expenses.  They would reimburse me back.  They don't want to deal with credit card hassles.  My mom said, "the flat bed was so comfortable that she slept for 8 hours straight without enjoying all the amenities of the business seat experience".

To Own or Not to Own a Time Share Vacation Property: Pros and Cons

One question that we asked ourselves three times in the past is whether to own a time-shared vacation property.  The first time we were asked at Hilton Las Vegas Grand Vacation Resort.  The second time we were asked at Hilton Grand Vacation Hawaii (Oahu) Lagoon Tower.  The third time we were asked at Hyatt Maui Kaanapali Residence Club.  We were relaxed by the breath-taking Maui beach view.

Maui Ocean view from Balcony

We had such a great time.

We loved the experience so we signed to purchase a unit, priced about $35k, with annual maintenance fee of $800.  We were offered a sign-in bonus of 80k Hyatt points.  That night, we calculated again, identified the real motivation, and the following day I requested to cancel the contract.  It was a difficult decision because Isa loves the Maui Hyatt experience.

I gather the following Pros and Cons for a time-shared property investments.  If money is not an issue, then the Hyatt Residence Club would be an excellent choice.

- every year you are guaranteed a spot in that resort.  The location must be attractive enough so you don't mind re-visit every year.
- if you need to visit the same place once a year for business or personal reason.  For example, a friend of ours need to visit Las Vegas Fair every year, so they purchased time-shared property in Las Vegas.
- Hilton or Hyatt vacation resort uses point systems.  These points can be used to redeem for other participating hotels worldwide.

- Capital investment.  In our case, $35k cost of the property plus $800 annual maintenance fee which will also increase.  This same amount of money can be used for paying many nights of hotel stays.
- Re-sell the property typically ends as a loss.   Rumor is that Hyatt management charges a 40% transaction fee.  The time-shared properties encourage you to endow the ownership to your siblings and children, so they can continue enjoying it.
- If one has limited allowed vacation days each year and wants to be able to anywhere one wants, then one would not want to be bothered by the points system.
- The growing popularity of, and Costco Travel where value deals are offered offer alternative options for vacation planning.

Locking ourselves in the same location (Maui) every year may turn out to be not the way we want for a couple decades.  We also found other friends who already bought time-shared properties and willing to let us buy their points.  Most important of all, if we really want to go to Maui again, Hyatt Regency Resort is always a good alternative.  Hyatt Residence Club offers several vacation packages.

Hope this helps your decision.

Happy New Year with Summary of our 2015 efforts to build a beautiful life

Riding on a tandem bike along a beach in Taiwan in Oct 2015

Time flies.  Today is already the last day of 2015.  Isa and I want to catch this special moment and wish you a happy new year, more courage and confidence to put efforts into things which you know are important to your life and family, with consideration of others' needs if you can afford, with patting on your shoulder that you have done well.

In 2015, we earned over 300k airline miles from credit card sign-up bonuses, donated money to our favorite charities, joined other Californians to save hundreds of gallons of water (12) per month by saying farewell to my lawn, had a Maui vacation, Los Angeles Universal Studio - Mandalay Beach Resort getaway, Carmel - San Luis Obispo - Long Beach getaway, San Francisco Union Square Xmas getaway, Eva Airlines Laurel Business Class Flights to Taiwan, and redeemed two Singapore Airlines business class seats (worth ~$6500 value for two) for my parents' first ever business class flight.  They look forward for this new experience!

My parents got the two seats in the first row, the best seats in the business section.

Regarding long-term financial planning, we shifted strategy to spend more time to understand financial investment area.  I tested the stock market with IRA money throughout the year, and am glad to report that 11% stock asset gain ( ~$11k) is accomplished in 2015, even after partially burnt by energy stock collapse.

My IRA asset is about $100k at the beginning of 2015, not $1MM

Thank you Exxon. I learned a hard lesson
On the other side, witnessing the rising cost of living, skyrocket increases in property prices and rental cost in the San Francisco Bay Area, we believe it may still be a good idea to purchase a residence property for investment purpose and rental income.  For the last 2 years, we saved more and cut recurring monthly expense.  Two months ago, we purchased a townhouse.  One mistake I made is overestimation of Isa's FICO score to be above 740 which is required for premier mortgage rate; her real FICO score is only 705.

It may seem that everything seems going smoothly.  It is not, in one area.  In 2016, we want to be parents.  We like to focus more attention on health related findings, financial investment ideas and building better relationship in our new home.

We sincerely wish you good health and happiness.

Best Wishes,
Isa & Patrick

Chase United MileagePlus 50,000 + 5000 Bonus Miles After $2K spend

Both my parents, Isa and I received promotional emails about the United Airlines 50,000 Bonus Miles for the Chase MileagePlus Explorer card.  To see whether you account is eligible for the promotion, sign in via this link to see if 50,000 bonus miles promotion would show.  The following is the Offer Details which are common for Chase credit cards now.

50,000 Bonus Miles
This new Cardmember bonus offer is not available to either (i) current Cardmembers of this consumer credit card, or (ii) previous Cardmembers of this consumer credit card who received a new Cardmember bonus for this consumer credit card within the last 24 months. With this bonus offer you will qualify and receive 50,000 bonus miles after you make Purchases totaling $2,000 or more during the first 3 months from account opening. ("Purchases" do not include balance transfers, cash advances, cash-like charges such as travelers checks, foreign currency, and money orders, any checks that access your account, overdraft advances, interest, unauthorized or fraudulent charges, or fees of any kind, including an annual fee, if applicable.) After qualifying, please allow 6 to 8 weeks for bonus miles to post to your account. To be eligible for this bonus offer, account must be open and not in default at the time of fulfillment. Bonus miles do not count towards Premier status. If your account is not open for at least six months, United and Chase reserve the right to deduct the bonus miles from your MileagePlus Program account.
5,000 Bonus Miles
This new Cardmember bonus offer is not available to either (i) current Cardmembers of this consumer credit card, or (ii) previous Cardmembers of this consumer credit card who received a new Cardmember bonus for this consumer credit card within the last 24 months. With this bonus offer you will qualify and receive 5,000 bonus miles after your First Purchase and addition of an authorized user to your account; both must occur during the first 3 months from account opening. 5,000 bonus miles will only be awarded once, for the first authorized user added to your account regardless of how many total authorized users you add to your account. ("First Purchase" does not include balance transfers, cash advances, cash-like charges such as travelers checks, foreign currency, and money orders, any checks that access your account, overdraft advances, interest, unauthorized or fraudulent charges, or fees of any kind, including an annual fee, if applicable.) After qualifying, please allow 6 to 8 weeks for bonus miles to post to your account. These miles do not count toward Premier status. If your account is not open for at least six months, United and Chase reserve the right to deduct the bonus miles from your MileagePlus Program account.
Some concept clarification:

  • "new card member bonus within the last 24 months" - If you forget the exact dates you received the bonus last time (like we did), log into your United MileagePlus account and search account history.  If there is no United Airlines bonus from Chase within the last 24 months, then your account is eligible again.
  • "from account opening (date)" - This is the date Chase approves your UA credit card application.  We do not exactly have 3 months to spend $2,000, because it typically takes 7-10 business days to receive the card after application is approved.
  • "authorized user to your account" - An authorized card user is different than a joint account card user.  Near the end of the Chase credit card application form, it would ask you whether you want to add an authorized card user.  Unlike American Express or Barclay authorized card user, Chase authorized card has the same credit card and 3-digit secret key as the primary credit card.  In other words, Chase can not differentiate whether a purchase is done by the authorized card holder or primary card holder.  So this 5K points is a freebie.  This authorized card however does affect the authorized card user's FICO score. I believe the best candidate for an authorized user is someone you know who does not care about their FICO score for the next 12 months.  Both authorized and primary cards are mailed to the primary card holder's mailing address.  In my case, it would be my grandma or parents.

How to be eligible to receive the 50,000 Bonus Miles promotion

It looks like the promotion this time is available for UA member who has at least 30K miles in their United MileagePlus account.  The easiest way used to be transfer from Chase Sapphire Preferred card 40,000 + 5,000 Bonus UR points.  But now Chase has the 5 cards/24 months rule for approving new Chase Sapphire/Ink/Freedom cards.  For some people, the easiest way would be to open a Fidelity brokerage account with 50,000 Bonus Miles (my review).  Or, if time is on your side and you are new to the credit card sign-up magic, the following steps are worth considering,
  1. Wait for Chase Freedom $200 bonus promotion and you apply for it.
  2. Sometimes there is the Chase Freedom referral bonus $50 or 5,000 UR points.  But not every Chase Freedom card holder is eligible to offer this referral.
  3. Your spouse apply for Chase Freedom for $200 (20,000 UR) bonus promotion.
  4. Six months later, you apply for Chase Sapphire Preferred for the 40,000 Bonus UR points.
  5. Again, you can try to refer your spouse for the $50 or 5,000 UR points
  6. Your spouse apply for Chase Sapphire Preferred for 40,000 Bonus UR points.
  7. Link Chase Freedom credit card of your spouse to your Chase Sapphire account.  Chase allows transfer of UR points between two spouses, not among relatives.  So you should be able to see 120k UR points under your CSP account (20k + 20k + 40k + 40k) after all the linking and transferring.  Now you can transfer 30k or 120k into your United MileagePlus account
  8. Another 6-8 months later, you can apply for the United MileagePlus 50,000 bonus miles.  You should receive a promotion email by then.
Chase usually does not approve two Chase credit cards within a 90 days period.  I added "usually", because there are always exception.  But I do not like to plan for exception.

Is United Airlines 50,000 bonus miles worth my effort

If used in redeeming international flight ticket, mathematically, 50k UA miles would worth about $900-$1000.  For example, Taiwan Eva Air between Taipei and SFO one-way coach class requires 35k UA miles.  This one-way ticket would price about $600-$700 in  By the way, the bonus miles earned from credit card sign-up bonuses are NON-TAXABLE.

There is a better offer 50,000 UA bonus miles + $50 statement credit

This has always been the case for United Airlines and Alaska Airlines.  Just try to book a flight within the United Airlines website.  Before you select a flight, there is always an ad for the statement credit.

Chase has approved Isa's new United MileagePlus card this time. A call to Chase United Airlines customer support confirmed that Isa is indeed eligible for the 50,000 Bonus Miles and $50 statement credit.  To be safe, Isa received her Chase UA bonus last time 26 months ago.  Also differently this time, she plans to keep using this UA card for 2 years before canceling it, to build an excellent card relationship with Chase.

Going Forward ... A Small Change in Strategy

Isa and I gladly wrapped up our credit card sign-ups for 2015 with this Chase United MileagePlus card 50,000 bonus miles.  We have a few reasons,
  • Due to Chase's new 5 cards/24 months rule,  it seems like an excellent transition to start practicing only 5 new cards for every 24 months period.  I plan to apply only those cards with at least 50k bonus miles, preferably 100k bonus miles ones.  I am fine to apply fewer than 5 cards.
  • We want Isa's FICO score to boost up to above 780 for excellent home mortgage rate for most lenders, in case a home refinance, or another house investment, or a new car finance is needed.  We have learned that a better lender typically has higher FICO score requirement.  She may not apply any credit cards for the next 24 months.  Her current FICO score is 710.  My FICO is fortunately still 780.
  • Isa and I have saved sufficient frequent flyer points and miles.  It is time to redeem them for good fun and share our experience.
  • Instead of spend more efforts to earn miles/points, how about finding sustainable ways to increase household income 10% in 2016, and use that extra money to purchase flight tickets and hotel nights.  I have been reading and learning more about financial investment.
Wish me luck, so I can share good news in 2016. 8-)