What Cards Are In My Wallet? 2006 vs. 2016 Flashback Edition


What’s in my wallet? Besides trying to land at least $500 on new sign-ups, which cards do I end up using on a regular basis? Apparently, the last time I answered this question was in 2006, more than a decade ago?! Let’s see if I have made any improvements since then. These are the cards that work best for my spending patterns and redemption preferences.

All-around cash back rewards card.

  • 2006: MBNA/Fidelity Investments 529 College Rewards Card. I still have this card, although it is in sock drawer mode now. This Fidelity-branded card went from being issued by MBNA, to FIA Cardservices (subsidiary of Bank of America), now to Elan Financial services. The 2% rewards did help me rack up over $8,000 in tax-deferred college savings (including appreciation from investments).
  • 2016: BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card. After moving over $100,000 of existing index funds from Vanguard and qualifying for their Platinum Honors tier, this enabled me to earn 2.625% cash back on all my purchases – redeemed as a statement credit offsetting any travel purchase. That’s a 31% improvement on 2% rewards. If you don’t have $100k in assets to move over, 2% is still double the 1% many cards give on all purchases – I have the Citi Double Cash card as backup.

Category-specific rewards credit card.

  • 2006: Citi Dividend Platinum Select Mastercard. This card is no longer available to new applicants, which is probably why the 5% categories got rather stale. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I stopped using it so long that Citi closed it due to inactivity. Whoops! It was one of my older cards, but not a big loss as I have so many other cards to contribute to my “average age of accounts” stat.
  • 2016: Chase Freedom Visa and Discover It Card. This quarter, the Chase Freedom is giving 5% cash back at Costco, Sam’s Club, Walgreens, and CVS ($1,500 total). The Discover It card is giving me 5% cash back at Amazon.com. Overall, I think recent competition has made the 5% categories more useful. Note that Chase Freedem technically earns Ultimate Rewards points, which can provide even higher value when redeemed for points/miles (see below).

Points or miles rewards card.

  • 2006: Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card. Still a good card overall (we’ll see how the merger changes things). If you redeem in 20,000 point increments, it will provide 1.25 miles per dollar spent for a variety of airline programs. However, I don’t travel as much as I used to, and even at a 2 cents per mile valuation, that’s only 2.5% back on value (more than 2%, but less than the 2.625% above). SPG does not transfer 1:1 to United. I don’t travel for business much these days so I can’t rack up SPG points for hotel stays as quickly anymore, and I also don’t need this card to keep my stash of SPG points active and useful.
  • 2016: Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This card gives 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining out. Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to both United and Hyatt, for some solid redemption value. If you value at 2 cents per UR points, that’s 4% back value. I also need this card to keep all of my Ultimate Rewards stash active and available to transfer to the various airline and hotel partners. (I also earn UR points elsewhere from Chase Freedom, Ink business card, and their shopping portal.) If you haven’t had 5 new credit cards in the last 24 months, you should check out the Chase Sapphire Reserve card as well.

ATM Debit card.

  • 2006: Bank of America ATM card. I still have this account, but got tired of how BofA pays no interest and charges you money to initiate a transfer out. If I have to use a online bank as a transfer hub all the time, I’m just going to make that hub my primary account.
  • 2016: Ally Bank ATM card. These days, it’s a lot easier to do all of your banking at an online bank with no branches. Mobile deposit with smartphone camera is much easier than scanner. ATM rebates allow me to use any ATM, and up to $10 per statement cycle in rebates is enough for me (Allpoint ATM network is free and doesn’t count towards limit). 1% APY on savings account, which serves as free overdraft source for checking. Their app is solid, I can easily imitate interbank funds transfers (and I can login with just my thumbprint).

So the overall theme of what goes in my wallet has stayed the same, but the players have around changed a bit.

Which Asset Classes Offer True Diversification in Bear Markets?

The financial gurus are always looking for a new “alternative” asset class that both reduces the risk in your portfolio and increases returns. Longboard Funds looked at data from the past 15 years and examined what happened when you added 20% of various asset classes to a traditional 60/40 stock/bond portfolio. Below is a chart of the results based on two factors:

  • Did the asset class have a lower or higher correlation in declining markets? This reduces maximum drawdown.
  • Did the asset class improve overall historical return?


The 6 asset classes that both lowered max drawdown and increased overall return were:

  • Trend Following (SG Trend Index)
  • U.S. Treasuries (Barclays 1-3 Yr US Treasury TR Index)
  • MLPs (Alerian MLP TR Index)
  • Municipal bonds (Barclays Municipal TR Index)
  • Gold (S&P GSCI Gold Index)
  • TIPS (Barclays Gbl Infl Linked US TIPS TR Index)

I would add that your next consideration should be to research each asset class and determine which ones you have strong faith in over the long term. As diversifiers, these asset classes will have long periods of poor performance during bull markets. You must be able to hold onto these asset classes so that they can eventually help you in a bear market.

Personally, I do not have faith in trend-following, I don’t understand the fundamentals of gold (seems heavily based on speculation), and I don’t like the various complexities of Master Limited Partnerships. You may feel differently. That leaves me with the classic high-quality bonds: US Treasury bonds, Municipal bonds, and TIPS (also backed by US Treasury). Munis seem to be the best relative deal right now depending on tax bracket (and perhaps also I Savings Bonds?). None of these offer a ton of yield, but most importantly I’m okay holding them through these lean times.

Savings I Bonds November 2016 Update: 2.76% Inflation Rate

Savings I Bonds are a low-risk investment backed by the US Treasury that pay out a variable interest rate linked to inflation. You could own them as a short-term investment in place of bank CDs or savings accounts, or you could hold them as … [Read the rest]

American Express 2X Rewards On Purchases at Small Businesses


American Express has a new promotion that offers you "2X Rewards" on your consumer or small business AmEx when you shop at a small business. Runs through the end of the year, 12/31/2016. You must register here. List of what counts as small … [Read the rest]

BuffetGo: Reduce Food Waste and Buy a Big Box of Leftovers for $3


The cheap, hungry student inside me couldn't help but mention a new site called BuffetGo. In an effort to reduce wasted food, both mom-and-pop and hotel buffet restaurants work with BuffetGo to offer a special deal. You show up at their restaurant … [Read the rest]

How To Read Market Commentary and Stay The Course


Every day, new articles are published telling you to buy this! Sell that! Hedge against this other thing! One of the most underrated skills in investing is the ability to stick to your plan and do nothing. Some folks argue that that … [Read the rest]

Navy Federal Visa Signature Flagship Rewards Credit Card: 30,000 Bonus Points, 0% APR No Balance Transfer Fee Offer


NavyFed Credit Union has brought back the sign-up bonus on their premium rewards credit card, the Navy Federal Visa Signature Flagship Rewards Credit Card. Taken altogether, the sign-up bonus and the low intro balance transfer rate are quite … [Read the rest]

Plastiq: Pay Tuition, Rent, or Taxes With Credit Card or Debit Card


New promo. Plastiq has a new promotional rate if you schedule at least six rent or mortgage payments with American Express (2.25%) or Mastercard (1.75%). You must schedule them by October 31, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. PT. Schedule 6 or more payments, … [Read the rest]

iShares Core ETF Expense Ratios vs. Vanguard ETF Comparison (Updated 2016)

Updated 10/12/16. 18 iShares Core ETFs now trade commission-free at Fidelity. Blackrock announced price cuts to 15 out of its 22 iShares Core ETFs last week. The iShares Core series is their low-cost, index ETF line-up targeted towards … [Read the rest]

Free 500 Virgin America Points for Newsletter Sign-Up


Get another 500 free Virgin America Elevate points when you sign up for the new Virgin America Produced e-mail newsletter. * Offer valid until October 26, 2016. Only one email address is allowed and only one set of 500 points will be awarded per … [Read the rest]

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel (Book Review)


I don't recall how I discovered this book, but I remember being initially skeptical. I was wary that Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts would be a poorly-written eBook with a very catchy title and … [Read the rest]

Follow-up: Georgia Tech Online Master’s Degree in Computer Science for $7,000


I'm always fascinated by the potential power of cheap, accessible education. Back in 2013, I wrote about how Georgia Tech planned to offer an online master's degree in Computer Science for only $7,000. Three years later, the NY Times has a … [Read the rest]