Best Credit Card Rewards Strategy – 2019 Edition

For reference, here’s a link to all the articles I’ve written on the BoA credit card strategy.

 

(Lack of) Disclosure:

I don’t make a penny on any credit card recommendation. What I recommend is what I currently have (or have had) in my own wallet.

 

There are Two Basic Credit Card Strategies:

  1. Choose your credit card based on the best available sign-up bonus at the time.
    1. If you decide to go down this path, here is a great resource: https://www.doctorofcredit.com/best-current-credit-card-sign-bonuses/
    2. I have a colleague who implements this strategy and has around 25 active cards. This seems ludicrous & unwieldy to me.
  2. Alternatively, sign up and use the best cards on an ongoing basis.

I don’t have much to say about Door #1 above. Doctor of Credit is going to be the best resource there.

 

However, if you take Door #2 above (by getting & using the best cards), then I have two recommendations:

 

Door #2A (getting & using the best cards) with < $100k (or even $50k) of investments

Fidelity offers a great no-nonsense, no-fee 2% cash back card (https://www.fidelity.com/cash-management/visa-signature-card). I’ve had permutations of this card for almost 15 years now (starting with a 529 MasterCard version of the card way back in the day). The card requires you to have a brokerage account with Fidelity to receive your cash back rewards. There are no fees associated with the brokerage account and zero minimum balances. For years the sole purpose of my Fidelity brokerage account (before I started using it as a high-yield savings account) was to receive the rewards before I pulled the money to an external checking account. Once you’ve accrued $25 or so of rewards (I forget the exact number), you can set it up to automatically dump into the brokerage account.

If you want to supplement the above with a nice zero-fee card (aside from the cost of the normal Costco membership), the Costco Citi Visa is a pretty nice one (https://www.citi.com/credit-cards/credit-card-details/citi.action?ID=Citi-costco-anywhere-visa-credit-card). 4% cash back on gas. 3% cash back on travel & dining. 2% cash back at Costco. 1% cash back everywhere else. The annoying thing about this card is that cash back is paid back annually in the form of a check, which is much less convenient than the above Fidelity card. For this reason alone, the Fidelity card is better than the Costco card for Costco purchases. For obvious reasons, the Fidelity card is better than the Costco card for any non-gas, non-travel, and non-restaurant transaction (i.e. those transactions earning only 1%).

The above is what I recommend to my students who are just starting out. It’s a great system, and pretty similar to one that I utilized for a decade or so.

 

Door #2B (getting & using the best cards) with > $100k (or even $50k) of investments

This is where the gravy train of credit card rewards can be really lucrative. But unfortunately you have to jump through a few non-trivial hoops.

**** Edit: To be abundantly clear, the rest of the article can be pretty well exploited with only $50k of investments. Doing so simply reduces the bonus multiplier from 75% (with $100k of investments) to 50% (with $50k of investments). As reader MA points out in the comments, this is still not a bad strategy at all. ****

 

 

Hoop #1: Get $100k to Merrill Edge to qualify for “Platinum Honors” status

The whole point of the madness that ensues is to quality for a 75% bump in credit card rewards (link). Without this, BoA’s cards would be pretty impotent. With this, BoA’s cards are the best in the country.

In order to quality for the preferred rewards, you need to do the following:

  • Open up a checking account. I keep $0 in mine on an ongoing basis and avoid maintenance fees through my Platinum Honors status. The sole purpose of this account is to meet the requirements of the preferred rewards program and to dump the CC rewards there (which are then immediately swept elsewhere).
  • Enroll in the preferred rewards program.
  • Transfer $100k of investments to Merrill Edge.
  • Wait 3 months to qualify.

The $100k transfer may initially seem like a nuisance, but it isn’t too bad. Transferring $100k from our joint brokerage account at Vanguard to our newly opened joint brokerage account at Merrill Edge was as simple as any transfer I’d ever experienced at any brokerage. It takes about 3 minutes to initiate the transfer online. Zero paperwork. Zero mailings. Zero faxes. Zero phone calls. Just a simple online request.

The downside to holding VTSAX at Merrill Edge is that you cannot costlessly sell it. There is a $20/transaction commission for doing so, which puts a damper on tax-loss-harvesting strategies. To combat this, you may want to consider converting VTSAX to VTI at Vanguard before transferring to Merrill Edge. With platinum honors status, you get free ETF and stock trades, so VTI becomes free to trade.

Once the $100k is at Merrill Edge, you have to wait up to 3 months for the “Platinum Honors” status to kick in since it is computed on a three month rolling average. Annoying, but necessary.

Once you hit this “Platinum Honors” status, you qualify for a 75% bonus on all credit card rewards.

By the way, the act of transferring $100k from Vanguard to Merrill Edge will qualify you for a transfer bonus of $250: https://www.merrilledge.com/cmaoffer

These bonuses will periodically increase during promotional time periods. Check this link to see if now is one of those times: https://www.merrilledge.com/offers/900offer.

If you wanted to transfer IRAs instead of brokerage accounts, you could do so. If you go down this path, your spouse’s IRA will not count towards your preferred rewards status (and vice versa). Only jointly owned accounts count towards both spouses preferred rewards statuses. Since my wife and I have a joint brokerage at Merrill Edge, $100k in assets there will suffice for both of us (i.e. no need to store 2*$100k there).

 

Hoop #2: Get two different types of BoA credit cards

Credit Card #1: BoA Premium Rewards (link)

Bank of America<sup>®</sup> Premium Rewards<sup>®</sup> Credit Card

  • Travel & Dining: 2% base rewards * 1.75 = 3.5% cash back with platinum “preferred rewards” status.
  • Everything else: 1.5% base rewards * 1.75 = 2.625% cash back with platinum “preferred rewards” status.

Disadvantage: $95 annual fee, though the card provides $100 statement credit on travel incidentals which can be used to purchase an American Airlines egift card which I sell on Raise.com for $85. You are able to do this once per calendar year. After this nonsense, the annual cost of the card is $10. If you truly incur $100/year in airline incidentals, then you wouldn’t need to jump through this hoop. What airline incidentals get reimbursed? Check out this link at Doctor of Credit.

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I hit the $100 benefit this year through the purchase of a $100 American Airlines E-Gift Card.

blankHere is the after-commission sale of the $100 gift card on Raise.com for $86.

Advantage: In addition to the $100/year in airline incidentals, there is a Global Entry / TSA precheck credit every few years (which we’ve taken advantage of through my wife’s Global Entry membership). Other benefits, such as no foreign transaction fee, are described here (link).

Current sign up bonus: $500 (not amplified by 75% bonus).

 

Credit Card #2: Get some BoA Cash Rewards cards (link)

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The BoA Cash Rewards card comes in a bunch of different forms, all of which are absolutely identical in function. When I initially signed up for the base “Cash Rewards” card shown in red above, it was a Visa. For some reason it is now a Mastercard. If you prefer Visa (as I do b/c of Costco), then simply pick out a different card.

  • Your choice of: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings
    • 3% base rewards * 1.75 = 5.25% cash back with platinum “preferred rewards” status.
  • Groceries/Wholesale
    • 2% base rewards * 1.75 = 3.5% cash back with platinum “preferred rewards” status.
  • All else:
    • 1% base rewards * 1.75 = 1.75% cash back with platinum “preferred rewards” status. Note that this portion of the card is inferior to the above Premium Rewards card so it makes no sense to spend in this region.

Advantages: No annual fee.

Disadvantages: $2.5k/quarter spending cap on these good rewards. After hitting the cap, the credit card bonus on all subsequent purchases within the quarter reverts to 1%*1.75=1.75%.

Current sign up bonus: $200 (not amplified by 75% bonus) is the promotional rate, though this bonus is normally $150.

 

Hoop #3: Defeat the $2.5k/quarter BoA cash rewards cap by getting multiple Cash Rewards cards

Each BoA Cash Rewards card has a $2.5k/quarter spending cap on the 3%*1.75=5.25% and 2%*1.75%=3.5% categories. If you are single, you are able to get multiple BoA cash rewards cards so long as they have a different picture on front. If you are married, you can repeat this activity for your spouse as well. There is essentially no reason (other than the $500 sign-up bonus) to get a second BoA Premium Rewards card. However, there are huge incentives to getting multiple BoA Cash Rewards cards.

I own 1 red card + 1 tigers card + 1 breast cancer card.

My wife owns 1 red card + 1 eagle card.

We are both authorized users on each other’s cards.

The net effect of the above is $2.5k * 5 = $12.5k/quarter in spending eligible for 5.25% cash back, in up to 5 different categories at one time.

 

Hoop #4: Buy Costco Cash Cards Online for 5.25% cash back there

We shop a lot at Costco. I may have an unhealthy obsession with the place. While the base 3.5% cash back from the Cash Rewards card at Costco are indeed better than any card on the planet I can think of, I have an obsession with optimization. So, on a monthly basis I purchase a $1k Costco Cash card online and have it delivered via snail mail (usually takes at least a week). Why would I do this nonsense? Because the most lucrative Cash Rewards category is the generous “Online” category. Costco.com counts as online, resulting in 5.25% cash back in-store via the “backdoor” Costco Cash Card.

To put the “hassle” into perspective, the online transaction takes about 2 minutes and the activation of the card takes about 1 minute. I reason that a $17.50 (=$1k*(5.25%-3.5%)) tax-free return for 3 minutes of labor is not a bad trade-off.

For months, I would also use the Costco Cash Card for my gas purchases. In recent months, however, I’ve dedicated one of my cards as a “gas” card and started using that instead. Why? To limit the hassle of reordering the Costco Cash card and to better utilize credit card float. Further, when paying for gas via the Costco Cash Card I lost the ability to easily track my gas spend. The dedicated “Gas” card remedies this.

If you misplace the Costco Cash card, they can reissue it at the help counter at Costco.

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And a few random observations I’ve made over the past many months.

Random Observation #1: The Online Category is the best

It’s been my experience that booking a hotel through Expedia counts towards either Online or Travel, which begs the question why anyone would select Travel as their category if most Travel also counts as Online….I’m still looking into this. Need something from Home Depot? Buy it online and pick it up in store. In-store Walmart counts as “online” for me so long as I use the Walmart app to pay. Use your “online” category to purchase gift cards at Raise.com for 5.25% cash back in addition to whatever the Raise discount is (good for retail, travel, restaurants, etc). Ebay, Amazon, etc are all obviously Online as well.

If you want to learn more, Doctor of Credit has two great threads on the topic: Thread 1 & Thread 2.

Edit 5/21/20: I document how I use Raise.com to earn ~8.25% at Walmart and ~9.25% at CVS here.

 

Random Observation #2: You Can Change Categories on the BoA Cash Rewards Category relatively freely

So long as you haven’t already changed the category in your BoA Cash Rewards card in a given month, you may do so at any time during the month. Let’s say that you have a card designated as your “gas” card but are about to spend $200 on medication at the end of the month at a pharmacy. On the 31st of the month you could change your card to “pharmacy”, make the $200 pharmacy purchase, then revert the card back to a “gas” card the very next day on the 1st. If you do this, be aware that you’ll be unable to make subsequent changes until the 1st of the following month. It’s a pretty interesting strategy.

The below screenshot shows how easy it is to choose a new category. It also shows the historical spend on the card across all categories. Unsurprisingly, I only used our “online” card for online purchases.

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Random Observation #3: Having many of the BoA Cash Rewards card is great

Between my wife and I we have 5 Cash Rewards cards. 2 are permanently designated as “online.” 1 is permanently designated as “gas.” The remaining two card can be whatever we want.

 

Random Observation #4: BoA’s website is frustrating

The bill pay portion of the site is almost bad enough to not be worth thousands of dollars of tax-free money per year. Luckily the Finance Buff has a great guide on how to navigate it: https://thefinancebuff.com/autopay-bank-america-credit-card.html. The good news is that once autopay is set up (much easier said than done), you’ll never have to log onto that god-forsaken site again.

In the process of signing up for autopay, I screwed up a few times (it’s really easy to do) leading to some late payments. Luckily BoA forgave my mistakes. Their website really is horrific.

 

Random Observation #5: If you want to change the statement dates of your credit card (to align with your paycheck, for example), you have to call them

Most other banks will allow you to do this online. It’s annoying that BoA requires a phone call.

 

Random Observation #6: There are no 1099s

Like credit card miles, there are no 1099s generated by the cash back (same as any other bank’s credit card reward system).

 

Random Observation #7: It adds up

Over the past 12 months, I’ve redeemed $3,687.04 in rewards (admittedly, some of those were deferred). The little stuff adds up. And unlike miles or hotel points, I’m able to vacation how I want (by sleeping on the ground for weeks for near-free) and pocket the difference. I’m not compelled to stay in swanky hotels to use points.

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Random Observation #8: My avg cash back across all purchases is higher than any other strategy I’m aware of

Average Cash Back % = 5.25%*(Fraction of Spending on Gas + Costco + Online + Travel + in-store Walmart/Sams) + 3.5%*(Fraction of Spending at Other Grocery) + 2.625%*(Fraction of Spending on All Other Categories).

Given the large amount of spending we have in the 5.25% categories, when I plug in my numbers above I get a number around 4.5%(ish) as the weighted average cash back across all spending.

Here’s an entire blog post dedicated towards the calculation of the above: https://frugalprofessor.com/another-boa-efficiency-post/

 

Random Observation #9: The one-time bonuses aren’t too shabby either

$250 Merrill Edge transfer bonus
$500 BoA Premium Rewards Card (Spouse 1)
$200 BoA Cash Rewards Card #1 (Spouse 1)
$200 BoA Cash Rewards Card #2 (Spouse 1)
$200 BoA Cash Rewards Card #3 (Spouse 1)
$200 BoA Cash Rewards Card #4 (Spouse 2)
$200 BoA Cash Rewards Card #5 (Spouse 2)
$1,750 total rewards.

 

Random Observation #10: Despite the underlying complexity of owing 5 BoA Cash Rewards Cards + 1 Premium Rewards Card, the wallet is pretty simple

Since “online” and “travel” categories are used with online purchases, there is no need to lug those cards around in the wallet. I simply carry the Premium Rewards Card + the Cash Rewards Card (the “gas” one) in my wallet. If I make an online/travel purchase, the info is saved in Lastpass so there is no need for the physical card. The only reason I hold the Costco Citi card is to get into Costco. Now that Costco offers digital cards, I’ll be left with the mathematical problem of whether the few megabites of data (times $0.02/mb) to access the digital card is worth not having to lug around the otherwise unused card. My intuition is that the digital card won’t be worth the hassle. Unpictured below is the Costco Cash card because my wife is the one that does most of the shopping.

On the topic of simplicity, all billing cycles are perfectly aligned and autopay on the 1st of the month. The underlying complexity does not making paying the bills any more difficult.

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Random Observation #11: BoA Doesn’t alert you when you’ve blown through your $2.5k/quarter spending cap

This is annoying, but solvable with a pivot table in Excel with output from Personal Capital. Below is our quarter-to-date spending on each of the 5 BoA Cash Rewards Cards. Quarters follow the calendar (Jan + Feb + Mar, etc) and are independent of billing cycles.

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Random Observation #12: Given the above strategy, the BoA Premium Reward Card is somewhat impotent

Given how generous the 5.25% categories of the Cash Rewards categories are, the premium rewards card is somewhat impotent. The 3.5% travel & dining categories are dominated by the Cash Rewards card. The only reason I retain this card is to get 2.625% on all other expenditures, which admittedly are large (property taxes, doctors offices, utilities, insurance, etc).

 

Random Observation #13: BoA gives additional random bonuses away if you click to activate

I think this is largely a gimmick, but I think I’ve used it once or twice. Unfortunately, it’s not automatic and requires a few mouse clicks. The only one that is remotely appealing to me in the below list is the 5% Airbnb discount. Curiously, my offerings are more generous than my wife’s.

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Random Observation #14: The platinum honors bonus is now awarded at time of purchase rather than at time of redemption

Last year you used to be able to defer the redemption of the cash back until you hit the platinum honors status. This strategy is no longer viable, as the credit card bonus multiplier (1.25, 1.5, or 1.75) is now applied at the time of purchase.

 

 

Conclusion

More free money is better than less free money.

The above setup is as good as any I’ve seen in the past decade and a half of my adult life since I started paying attention to credit card rewards. I can’t really think of how it could realistically be improved upon, though admittedly I may pick up a 6th Cash Rewards Card because why not? If I go down this path perhaps we’ll get a BoA Premium Rewards for my wife, harvest the $500 bonus + $100 global entry bonus + $100 airline incidental – $95 annual fee then “product convert” it to a Cash Rewards card. Doing so would produce a net sign-up bonus of ~$405 higher (500+100+100-95-200) than going the straight Cash Rewards route.

If you have $100k of investments laying around (even if it’s in IRAs), you might want to consider following suit.

The setup costs are non-trivial (i.e. transferring the $100k and getting autopay worked out properly), but once you’ve got it figured out it is smooth sailing.

79 thoughts on “Best Credit Card Rewards Strategy – 2019 Edition”

  1. I feel like the Chase Trifecta is a much more hassle-free way to get similar types of rewards. The Sapphire Reserve gives you essentially 4.5% back on dining and travel. Pair that with the Freedom for rotating ~7.5% categories and the Freedom Unlimited for ~2.25% back on everything else. All the above for a total annual fee of $150, which the Reserve sign up bonus alone will cover for 5 years. Not to mention all the other Reserve benefits like Global Entry credit and airport lounge access among others.

    Then if you really want to optimize, you can use the Costco card for gas and American Express blue cash everyday for groceries.

    I’ve written about this here: https://www.moneyandmegabytes.com/?p=440. I think it’s a more accessible plan than the above, but I’m also biased by what’s in my own wallet :).

    Reply
    • Thanks Joey. I concede that the $100k transfer is too large of a hassle for most people.

      Your strategy looks pretty good, though the annual fee turns me off (albeit $150 after travel credits). And the rotating categories also seem stingy-ish. That said, for someone with <$100k, it's probably a good strategy?

      Reply
  2. Dude – this is some seriously impressive optimizing. Well done.

    I like the Citi Double cash/AMEX Blue Preferred/Chase Sapphire Reserve/Citi Ink Cash/Prime Visa combination.

    Please correct me if I’m mistaken but think the above combo beats your system for groceries, streaming, internet service, cell phone service, restaurants. (Counting ultimate rewards points at 1.5 cents). But because those categories are a big part of my spending I estimated that my combo has a similar overall return for me (3% vs 3.2% for your system) after subtracting out annual fees.

    Reply
    • Thanks.

      I’m not terribly familiar with your system, but I did some quick doubling.

      Double cash (a card I had for years before product converting to Citi Costco Visa) is inferior to premium rewards because 2% < 2.625%. AMEX Blue Preferred is better than the BoA Cash Rewards because 6% grocery > 5.25% (assuming Costco / Walmart grocery, for example. But it’s inferior because of the $95 annual fee vs the $0 annual fee. Chase Sapphire Reserve seems to be most powerful when combined with the Chase Freedom as Joey mentions above, but I dislike the $150 annual fee. Chase Ink Cash is indeed better for cell phones, internet, and cable TV because 5% > 2.625% but my monthly spend on those categories is on the order of $35/month. Prime Visa is worse than Cash Rewards because 5% < 5.25%. What I like most about my system is dealing with a single bank (albeit across 2 accounts for my wife and me), pretty generous spending caps ($2.5k/card/quarter), the fact that these generous spending caps can be defeated by getting multiple cards, and that the net annual fee for all 5 cards is ~$0.

      Reply
  3. How do you spend so little on phone and internet. Amazing! 🙂

    Two small responses:
    1. I think people should be annual-fee neutral. Just make sure to subtract it from the cash back before calculating the %. The AMEX is effectively a 4.5% cash back card on $6000 of groceries after subtracting the fee.

    2. Chase rewards have a 1.5 multiplier with the CSR when spent on travel (which I am spending anyway), so for example I would argue that 5% return on Internet is really 7.5%

    For my current spending habits, your card system returns .2% more than mine. I’m sure I could squeeze more out of your system by adjusting my spending or if I had a local cosco.

    Reply
    • The 1.5x multiplier you get with the CSR is pretty powerful. With the Freedom Unlimited, that makes non-category spending 2.25%, which is still less than FP’s 2.6% but not by too much! $150 annual fee is not too bad, and you can calculate return after accounting for the annual fee as you mention. If you have 100k to move around and some free time then maybe BoA is slightly better than Chase, but it’s close!

      Reply
    • Almost free cell phones described here: https://frugalprofessor.com/phones/

      Internet: By haggling with Spectrum to get $30/month 450mbps (down) / 20mpbs (up) internet. I’ve been a long time customer of theirs at a $15/month plan 2mbps (down) / 1mbps (up) for almost a decade. I cancelled to go with a local fiber company for $45/month. A month after cancelling I called and they offered that $30/month plan for 3 years. When the promotion ends, I’ll cancel again for a month then repeat.

      I agree with being annual fee neutral.

      The CSR + Freedom seems pretty sweet. Perhaps I’ll investigate more.

      Reply
  4. I read your “2018” strategy earlier this year and gave it a try, turns out you don’t have to be a “Platinum Honors” to take advantage of that BofA program:

    I’ve been in the “Platinum” tier (> $50k) for a while even though my 3 month average balance is below $35k…I don’t know why I haven’t been “demoted” yet.
    I have 2 Cash Rewards (Online and Gas) and 1 Premium Rewards (Travel, Dining and Everything) and have been redeeming between $30-$45 per cycle per card (of course, I put everything on the cards).
    I also have the Costco Credit Card.

    This is what I get with the “Platinum” tier (x1.5):
    – Gas and Online: 4.5% (greater than Costco’s Gas cash back).
    – Dining and Travel: 3% (same as Costco but more redeeming options).
    – Wholesale (Costco Food Court included) and Groceries: 3% (greater than Costco’s cash back).
    – Everything else: 2.25%.

    Reply
    • I’m sorry I wasn’t more transparent in the blog post. $20k with BoA/ME gets you a 25% bonus, $50k gets you a 50% bonus, and $100k gets you the max 75% bonus. You’re indeed right that the 50% bonus gets you most of the way there.

      It’s curious that you haven’t been demoted, but that’s awesome. After today’s market turmoil perhaps I’ll be demoted soon! In that case, I’d transfer more from Vanguard to ME.

      It sounds like you’ve got a good system going (almost identical to mine). Hopefully I didn’t lead you astray.

      Have you figured out any secrets to the “online” category? I’ve been really impressed with the category and have yet to be disappointed with it. I’m still never sure whether southwest.com, delta.com, hotels.com, etc would count or not. There was a good thread at flyertalk on the topic: https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/credit-card-programs/1945621-bank-america-cash-rewards-3-category-qualifying-options.html. Comment #69 looked interesting (using Paypal to pay for Southwest flight apparently worked?).

      Reply
      • Have you heard about Plastiq? I’ve been using them whenever they run a promotion (their fee is 2.5% but they sometimes run promotions and lower the fee, lowest I’ve seen is 1%).

        I’m a BoA Platinum and I get 1.5% on everything with my Cash Rewards Mastercard…there was an issue with BoA Visas not working but seems to have been resolved now, I’d still check Plastiq’s website.

        Anyways, I was checking my rewards last night and noticed that the two Plastiq payments I made during December were categorized as “online” giving me 4.5% instead of 1.5%! I believe this has to do with Plastiq now adding the recipient’s name to the description and BoA still hasn’t catch up.

        Reply
        • Pretty slick! I saw some discussion on doctor of credit’s site about Plastiq + 5.25% BoA cash rewards. At the time, the consensus was less favorable than what you’re indicating.

          So, best case scenario Plastiq would produce 5.25% online benefit – 1% promotional fee = 4.25% net of fees under the best case scenario? For non-promotional periods, it’d yield 5.25%-2.5%=2.75%?

          Reply
          • You are correct. They waive the fee on the first $500 or so if you sign up using a referral link.

            I’ve used Plastiq to make regular payments for an auto loan, payoff another car, mortgage payments (regular and principal only) and property taxes.

            I usually wait for promotions but will schedule a couple of payments since I’d still get 2% back with their regular fee (4.5% – 2.5%).

    • In-store Walmart counts as grocery (3.5%). In-store Target usually has not counted as grocery for me. Both could presumably be 5.25% “online” if you purchased gift cards from Walmart’s and Target’s websites as I do with Costco.

      Reply
      • I’d like to bring up the Target RedCard here. They have a credit card, but also have a debit card option (that you link to your checking account). Both get 5% off Target purchases, free shipping from online orders, and an extra 30 days to make returns. I have avoided the credit card for lack of sign-up bonus, but the debit card does not involve a “hard credit pull.”

        Reply
  5. Does your authorized user for the cash reward card also have a $2.5k quarterly cap, or do authorized user purchases count towards the account holder’s $2.5k cap?

    Reply
    • All purchases go towards the same cap (so you can’t defeat the cap by simply adding more authorized users). I went over the cap by $20 once and my rewards reverted from 5.25% (or 3.5% in the case of groceries) to 1.75% for those last $20 of purchases in the quarter.

      Reply
  6. Thank you! I am about to adopt this strategy. I plan to transfer a Vanguard IRA ($100k+) to Merrill Edge. I would prefer to keep my funds invested in non-ETF Vanguard index funds. I typically set my Vanguard dividends to automatically reinvest. Do you know if Merrill will charge any sort of transaction fee to reinvest December dividends? I won’t be able to reach Platinum Honors status until January.

    Reply
    • I have 106k of VTSAX at ME right now. There are luckily no charges for reinvestment of dividends. If you needed to sell, there would be a non-trivial redemption fee ($20?), but this is easily avoided by transferring back to Vanguard if you need the liquidity.

      It’s a bummer you can’t immediately qualify for Platinum Honors status, but once you do you’re golden for 5.25% cash back on most of your life. Seems to me like a pretty decent payoff.

      Reply
  7. I have a question and a comment about the ability to change the 3% category once a month for the Cash Rewards card.

    Question: Does the 3% reward bonus get applied to whatever category is selected *at the moment of purchase* — allowing one to get rewards in up to 2 categories within a given calendar month? Or does the category selected at the end of the month apply to that whole month (so there is still some value to switching, in that you know what your expenses have been)? For example, if I spend $500 in Category A, switch mid-month to Category B where I spend another $250, assuming the $2500/quarter limit has not been reached, do I get 3% applied to 500+250=750, or just to 250?

    Judging by the BofA rewards page, it seems that the rewards get calculated within a few days of each purchase, so the first answer above seems correct, unless BofA does retroactive adjustments. (This question may have been implicitly answered by an example you gave about pharmacy purchases at the end of the month, but I wasn’t sure.)

    Comment: Assuming the 3% gets applied to to whatever category is selected at the moment of purchase, one could effectively get 2 categories every month by using a 2-month cycle:

    Month 1: Category A until the 15th, then switch to B
    Month 2: Category B until the 15th, then switch to A

    I just signed up for a second Cash Rewards card and fear that I will be “wasting” a lot of the $2500/quarter by not spending enough on travel or dining alone (of course, the low spending is otherwise a good thing). The first card should be max-able if I can convince my wife to use gift cards for all grocery purchases like you do at Costco.

    Reply
    • The change is effective immediately and doesn’t retroactively negate any pre-change rewards accrued. Rewards are always accrued at the time of purchase, so it’s impossible for them to renege.

      Your category switching example looks Kosher to me.

      This quarter, we’ve maxed out 2×2500 “online” category cards so we converted our “restaurants” card to “online” mid-december. No big deal at all.

      The optimal strategy is to have a sufficient number of cards across both spouses to not hit the cap. It introduces a bit of complexity but has a pretty good payoff. I think it’s worth it.

      Reply
      • Hi Professor,

        When you changed the category, is the bonus based on the date of transaction or the date the charge posted?

        Thanks for the great post!

        Reply
        • This is a good question. I’m not 100% sure, but whenever I need to change categories I do it before the actual transaction (just in case it’s the transaction date not post date).

          If anyone else has feedback, I’d be curious to hear.

          Reply
  8. Here’s a way to get 3.5% cashback for the things that will only generate 1% cashback. Use the BofA cards at grocery stores to buy $500 Visa/Mastercard Debit/Gift Cards when they offer a promotion to take off the activation fees. That way, you get the 3.5% cashback and you don’t pay the extra $5.95 fee. I generally use the Visa Gift Card in situations where the POS terminals will give me 1% (i.e. parking garages, medical bills and co-pays, utility bills to be paid online, but don’t count as “online purchase”, etc). Just don’t lose the Visa/Mastercard debit card!

    Reply
    • That is an interesting suggestion. To be more clear, the worst-case with my current system is 2.625% with the boa preferred rewards card or 1.75% with the cash rewards card.

      Relative to my system, I’d be (3.5%-2.625%) better off for doctor’s offices, etc. I spend a lot of money at doctors, so perhaps this is worth looking into.

      Is there an easy way of finding out “when they offer a promotion to take off the activation fees”? Do you have a grocery store of choice? If purchased at Walmart via the Walmart app, this would yield 5.25% (I learned this trick from another reader on the thread).

      Reply
      • In California, the Albertsons/Safeway/Vons group of stores have a weekly “just4you” savings program on their app where they offer a discount to offset the activation fee every few weeks. I believe Kroger and Kroger owned-chains have similar app coupons occasionally as well, but not as often.

        Reply
  9. I’ve only been using one BoA Cash Rewards and did not really think you could have multiple! I use my 5.25% for dining but had been wishing I could get another for online shopping. Also had been considering adding the Premium Rewards card to my wallet to upgrade over the Double Cash and the now useless to me Uber card; simple question: can I apply for both at the same time or should I space them out?

    Reply
    • Between my wife and I, we have 4 Cash Rewards + 1 Premium Rewards. We seldom use the Premium Rewards any more.

      If I were you, I’d apply for a 2nd BoA Cash Rewards, and once approved, apply for premium rewards. The worst they can do is turn you down for PR. Best case, you get both cards on the same day. Admittedly, the Doctor of Credit forum would probably have better into than my random intution.

      Reply
    • 1.87% swipe fee for federal, which I don’t do b/c I withhold via W2 wages. For my property taxes, I pay 2.35%, so there’s a tiny spread.

      Reply
    • It’s my understanding the answer is unfortunately no. However, with the premium rewards card you can get 2.625%, which is higher than the 1.87% swipe fee.

      Reply
  10. Merrill checks your balances with Merrill/BoA about every 6 months or so and gives you another 3 months to put the money back (they’ll send you a warning). Perusing online it looks like once you qualify, you can keep status for up to 1 year, after your balance falls below the threshold amount.

    With regard to stock/ETF/mutual fund sale fees, most brokerage (as of 2020) have eliminated fees on stock/ETF. For this reason, I’d prefer to keep my Merrill holdings in ETFs. There are no charges for reinvestment of dividends/cap gains for any type of holding I’m aware of.

    Reply
    • If you’re talking about the $100k status, it’s been my experience that they update the status/balance on a monthly basis (calculated on a 90 day rolling basis).

      With respect to comissions, ME used to have an advantage here with free trades. Now the advantage is gone since everyone does it. It’s my understanding that VTSAX is still costly to liquidiate there. Consequently, VTI would be preferable to hold there.

      Reply
  11. A quick Google search landed me on TPG’s website showing Bank of America has a 2/3/4 rule. Can only be approved for 2 cards within a 30 day period, 3 cards within a 12 month period, and 4 cards in a 24 month period. Should have did that before posting!

    Also I feel I’ll use the Premium Rewards card quite a bit; I’ll be able to put my rent on it given my complex charges 2.5% for CC (effectively cost neutral with 2.62% return but a little something is always better than nothing), I’ll buy plane tickets with it because even if it’s paltry and utilization likely rare, I’d rather have some form of trip cancellation/delay insurance – one claim would likely see the benefit of 5.25% vs 3.5% disappear, I have a bunch of work related incidentals (many of which are reimbursable), and then of course insurance (auto+renter’s), internet, etc. Not a huge boost from 2% from Citi Double Cash but the no FTF, Global entry, and the fact I’ll be living in an American Airlines hub soon (and will be making full use of the $100 eGC) make it a worthwhile upgrade.

    I’ve been approved for both and looking forward to a dining-online shopping (will fit gas and groceries via gift cards) -premium rewards combo! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Like you, I’m glad to have the premium rewards card in my wallet. It doesn’t provide the 5.25%, but it’s still not a bad card, particularly if you can utilize the $100 AA egift card. I don’t live by a hub so I have to sell the card online. No big deal.

      Glad you were approved for both cards!

      Reply
  12. 22.03/ 500 As I only get 500 gift card. I am waiting for my card to arrive and read the fine print, people apparently to many many thousands there.

    Reply
    • Thanks for correcting my math.

      I hope you have a good experience with the gift card. Please let me know how it goes. It’d be pretty nice to funnel spending through that channel.

      Reply
  13. I’m interested in the Bofa Premium Rewards Card at the Platinum Honors level. I’m trying to simplify things and having one card with at least 2.625% cash back all the time sounds really good.
    I’m also interested in Travel Protections offered by this card. I have not been able to find any detail on the Coverage Limit on Common Carrier Travel Accident Insurance. This is important for me since I plan to do a bit of travel after the current situation improves.

    Can someone who has this card post their coverage limit for the Common Carrier Travel Accident benefit?

    Reply
  14. Thanks you, I’m aware of the info on Bofa website. Can you check the Benefits Guide that came with your card?

    Most banks (Chase, Wells, Citi) put out the Benefits Guide on their sites so the benefits are available for everyone to review. An example from Wells Fargo: https://www08.wellsfargomedia.com/assets/pdf/personal/credit-cards/guide-to-benefits/cashwise-signature.pdf
    Bofa for some reason does not put the detailed information on their web site.

    I think that your focus is on Rewards and your posts are really great. I’m trying to combine (and maximize) the Travel & Shopping Protections along with optimizing the Rewards. Having a generous protection offers peace of mind. As an example, in the case of the Wells Fargo card above (disclaimer I do not own this specific card, just quoting this as an example), granted that the cash back is less, but the travel protections seem to be very generous.

    Another example is that Costco Visa offers one of the Best (if not THE best!) Extended warranty benefits. So I use it for new electronic or other purchases where additional warranty makes sense. I can accept a few dollars less in cashback rewards for a 2500$ TV or a 1500$ laptop,if the card offers 2 additional years of warranty.

    Reply
    • I can’t find the terms of the card in my email inbox. I would have tossed the paperwork that came with the card.

      I’m aware of the extended warranty on the Costco card. I recently bought a TV from Costco and had to decide whether the 2% cash back + extended warranty was better than 5.25% using the BoA card. I opted for the BoA card, but I’ll obviously regret it if my TV craps out in 3.01 years (or whenever the default Costco warranty expires).

      Reply
  15. @frugalprofessor – Appreciate your prompt reply. I’ve followed your posts for a while, have not posted until recently. I’ve been trying to find out the coverage limit on Bofa card for a while.

    Would you be able to call up and find the Coverage Limit on Common Carrier Travel Accident Insurance?

    Reply
  16. You mentioned yr wife also has 2 of her own cards, but does she also require to have her own $100K in BofA? Or is your $100K in BoA a Joint account thus she also gets her own Platinum status? Thanks.

    Reply
    • We only have $100,000 in a joint brokerage account and it counts for both of us. We picked up a fifth cash rewards card since I wrote this blog post. Pretty slick system.

      Reply
  17. I really enjoy your posts/blog and have moved to a BoA system. A question regarding Raise, after you list your GC, how long did it take the listing to go from pending to actually listed? After being listed, how long did it take for someone to purchase it?

    Keep blogging!

    Reply
    • Thanks for stopping by.

      If selling the AA gift card on Raise, it must sit there for about 4-6 weeks before it sells as an anti-fraud precaution. It’s annoying, but apparently it’s their policy for retailers they consider to be high fraud risk. With other retailers, it lists and sells almost instantaneously. I forget what card I sold there most recently (perhaps Barnes and Noble?) but it had listed, sold, and the cash was transferred out in the same day.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the info. In the info they send you, they say most list within 24 hours and say a few can take several days. It’d be nice if they were a little bit more upfront about the length of time for some GC’s to list.

        Regardless, the BOA system is very nice. Given that the hoops to jump through are rather steep and it isn’t really heavily promoted, hopefully the Preferred Rewards system is here to stay.

        Reply
        • I’m glad you like it. I think BoA isn’t promoted on other blogs because they don’t have good affiliate programs. Since my recommendations are independent of the presence of affiliate programs, I’m happy to recommend what I like and use.

          My biggest concern with my strategy going forward is BoA taking away the lucrative “online” category from their Cash Rewards card. I use that category almost exclusively, so it’d be a big blow if it were taken away.

          Reply
          • Online is my category of choice for the Cash Rewards card as well. I can see why you have multiple of that card. There are not too many cards with that reward category, one wonders if they will do away with that one. CC companies are constantly changing their T&C’s.

            The Discover It after the first year gives 5% (up to $1500 per quarter of spending, I believe) in the reward categories for that quarter. If you could max every quarter out you’d net up to $300 cash back after the first year. It is 1% cash back after the first year for non bonus category spend.

  18. In the first year of a Discover It card, the effective rate is 10%. Q2 includes wholesale clubs. Costco takes Discover online. It’s $1500 per quarter. If you got the card before June 30, you could do $1500 this Q2 and $1500 in Q2 2021 before your anniversary date. Q3 is usually restaurants. Q1 is drug stores. Q4 is Amazon,etc. Anyway, possible to max out at $750 cash back on $7500 spend. You can have 2 Discover It cards….

    Reply
  19. My HOA dues posted as Travel/Dining on the premium rewards. No idea why. I used it to hit the sign up bonus, but it turns out the 3.5% multiplier is higher than the 3% fee…..

    Reply
    • Really weird! We visited a community rec center / pool in Aurora CO once and that counted as Travel. Our local YMCA, on the other hand, does not.

      If you had the cash reward card, you’d presumably be able to get 5.25% back on that next time.

      Reply

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