If this recession cloud has one silver lining, it's that Americans are saving more. (How that's probably dismal for the economy as a whole is another post for another day.) But the truth is, we're probably still not saving enough. Even in these tough times, saving requires a fair amount of self-discipline. I was talking to the Undercover Economist the other day, and he said that beyond automated processes such as 401(k) paycheck deductions, socking away cash is still excruciatingly difficult.
Now, it seems like credit card companies are capitalizing on the need for more automated savings programs by offering new reward cards that supposedly help customers save or pay down debt. For example, there's the Wells Fargo Home Rebate Card, which allows users to earn 1% back on purchases (and there's no cap on the amount you can earn). But the rebate doesn't result in cash in your wallet; instead, it's paid in $25 increments toward the loan principal on most Wells Fargo mortgages. And then there are the Fidelity Retirement Rewards or 529 College Rewards American Express Cards: You earn 2% cash back on purchases (again, no cap), but the money must be deposited into a Fidelity IRA or 529. (You can also redeem points for WorldPoints rewards, a program that offers travel and other merchandise.)
But my favorite is the Schwab Bank Invest First Visa Credit Card. It offers users 2% cash back on purchases (no cap, and you get your cash back at the end of the month, no matter how much you've spent). The catch? The money is deposited into a Schwab One brokerage account. The good news, however, is that this investment account is completely free as long as it's linked to your card, so there are no monthly service charges or minimum balance requirements. And once the money goes into the brokerage account, you can withdraw it for cash without any penalties. This is especially useful for those (like myself) who bank with a Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account, a Money favorite.
Out of the three, the Schwab card offers the most flexibility, and getting 2% cash back on all purchases, sans caps or spending thresholds, is hard to beat. Of course, these cards are not a license to spend money just to save. The interest rates, which range from 10%-22%, can be steep. So if you're not paying your balance off every month, forget it. But if you charge only what you'd normally spend and don't carry a balance, 2% back is a nice little bonus.
– Ismat Sarah Mangla