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avatar You are viewing an archive of articles by Luke Landes. Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View 's Google Profile.

Luke Landes

Most taxpayers can choose between itemizing tax deductions to reduce taxable income, which requires accurate record-keeping and support, and taking the standard deduction. The standard tax deduction is a fixed amount that reduces the amount of money on which year-end taxes are calculated. Generally, if you can show that you’ve had more deductible expenses than the amount of the default standard deduction, it’s better to itemize.

IRS publication 501 outlines each year’s deduction amounts. There are some cases where adjustments should be made to the standard deduction. For example, if you are 65 or older, or if you are blind, the standard deduction increases.

The personal exemption is another deduction to your income that you can take for yourself and for any dependents.

Tax Year 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009
Single $6,300 $6,300 $6,200 $6,100 $5,950 $5,800 $5,700 $5,700
Married filing jointly $12,600 $12,600 $12,400 $12,200 $11,900 $11,600 $11,400 $11,400
Married filing separately $6,300 $6,300 $6,200 $6,100 $5,950 $5,800 $5,700 $5,700
Head of household $9,300 $9,250 $9,100 $8,950 $8,700 $8,500 $8.400 $8,350
Personal exemption $4,050 $4,000 $3,950 $3,900 $3,800 $3,750 $3,650 $3,650

Note: When you file taxes in April 2017, you’re actually filing for your 2016 earned income. Review the numbers in the 2016 column and understand the federal tax brackets.

A dependent child can increase the standard deduction by as much as $1,000, if certain requirements are met.

Do you itemize your tax deductions or take the standard deduction?


Cash back credit cards can help consumers practice responsible spending while earning a little extra for their efforts when used properly. The days of earning 5 percent cash back for all credit card purchases may be just a memory, but the smart use of credit cards can still be profitable for diligent consumers. You may be able to find some credit cards offering a high level of cash back in certain spending categories, but these are often subject to maximums.

Most of today’s better cash back credit cards offer 1 percent to 2 percent cash back on purchases. However, if you look hard enough, you’ll find a number of credit cards with higher cash rebates. Keep in mind that in order to make credit card with rewards programs worthwhile, you must pay your bill on time and in full every single month to avoid interest charges and late fees.

This ever-changing list reflects the best cash back credit cards currently available.

Best Cash Back Credit Cards

1. Discover it Card-Cashback Match

Discover It® CardThe Discover it Card-Cashback Match has a tempting offer for anyone considering a new cash-back card— they’ll double all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year automatically on this card. This offer is only intended for new cardmembers and is only available for a limited time. That applies to the 5 percent cash back in quarterly categories as well as the 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

With the new New Freeze It® on/off switch, you can prevent new purchases, cash advances and balance transfers on misplaced cards in seconds by mobile app and online. You can also get your free FICO® Credit Score on statements, online and by mobile app, and will pay no annual fee or foreign transaction fees.

  • Cash Back: 5% on categories that change each quarter, up to $1,500 in purchases. All other purchases earn 1% cash back.
  • Sign up bonus: Discover will double your cash back rewards at the end of your first year.
  • Annual Fee: None.
  • Introductory APR: 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months.
  • Other Benefits: Discover gives you free access to your FICO score.

Find out how to apply for the card here.


2. Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

I recommend the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express as the one whose bonus categories are most likely to overlap the spending habits of parents. Cash back is earned only on eligible purchases as follows:

  • 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations
  • 3% cash back at select U.S. department stores
  • 1% cash back on other purchases

There are no rotating reward categories. No enrollment is required. Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit. You can also earn $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. You will receive the $150 back in the form of statement credits. There is a $95 annual fee.

Find out how to apply for this card here.


3. Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Blue Cash EverydayIf you prefer a no annual fee version of the card, consider the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. While you save on the fee, the rewards are a step down. You’ll earn $100 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. The cash back percentages are a bit lower, but still very good:

  • 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases
  • 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations
  • 2% cash back at select U.S. department stores
  • 1% cash back on other purchases

Find out how to apply for this card here.


4. Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

With the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card, you earn 1.5% on all purchases. There are no categories to remember or quarterly signups to worry about. In addition, you can earn a one-time $100 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months. It also offers a unique perk–Every 10th Uber ride is free up to $15 when you pay with your Quicksilver® card through March 31, 2017. There is no annual fee.

  • Cash Back: 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • Sign up bonus: Get a $100 bonus when you spend $500 on the card in the first three months.
  • Annual Fee: None.
  • Introductory APR: 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 9 months.
  • Other Benefits: Every 10th Uber ride is free up to $15 when you pay with your Quicksilver card through March 31, 2017

Find out how to apply for this card here.


5. Discover it® Chrome

With Discover it® Chrome, you can earn 1% cash back on every purchase, but Discover® offers an opportunity to earn double cash back on certain categories. The double cash back is limited to $1,000 in combined purchases, though, which adds up to only $100 extra. Still, that’s $100 you wouldn’t have otherwise.

The categories for double cash back with Discover it® Chrome are gas stations and restaurants. In order to make using the cash back points even easier, Discover® allows you to pay for items on using points instead of dollars. That could come in handy during the holiday seasons.

  • Cash Back: 2% cash back on all purchases at gas stations and restaurants, up to$1,000 in combined purchases every quarter—no sign-ups needed. 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Sign up bonus: Discover matches all your cash back earned the first year.
  • Annual Fee: None.
  • Introductory APR: 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months.
  • Other Benefits: Free access to your FICO score.

Find out how to apply for this card here.


6. Ink Cash Business Credit Card

The Ink Cash Business Credit Card is a business card, but sole proprietors can open an account too. Not only is this a good cash back card, but it’s the card I recently chose to open for a side business. Chase is currently offering new customers a $200 account cash back bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases across the first three months from account opening.

Beyond the opening bonus, Chase offers cardholders 5% cash back on purchases at office supply stores, telephone (mobile and landline) payments, and cable and internet bills, up to a total of $25,000 in combined purchases each account anniversary year. The next tier is a 2% cash back rate on combined purchases up to $25,000 at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year. These bonus cash back tiers include points that aren’t added to your account until the anniversary of your card opening, so that’s a little inconvenient.

Otherwise, all other purchases earn an unlimited 1% cash back. Always see issuer’s terms regarding APR.

  • Cash Back: Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year. Earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year. Earn 1% cash back on all other card purchases with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • Sign up bonus: $200 when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Annual Fee: None.
  • Introductory APR: 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months.
  • Other Benefits: Employee cards at no additional cost.

7. Citi Double Cash

The Citi Double Cash card offers up to 2% cash back on all purchases. You earn 1% cash back on every purchase. You earn another 1% cash back when you pay for the purchase. There is no annual fee, and the card also offers a competitive 0% introductory rate offer on balance transfers and purchases.

  • Cash Back: 1% cash back on every purchase and 1% cash back as you pay for those purchases.
  • Sign up bonus: None.
  • Annual Fee: None.
  • Introductory APR: 0% on balance transfers for 18 months.
  • Other Benefits: None.

8. Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card

The Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card is regularly cited as a Consumerism Commentary readers’ favorite. You’ll earn a solid 2% cash back on every purchase.  There is no limit to the amount of rewards you can earn and the rewards never expire. On top of that, there is no annual fee.

This card requires a linked account at Fidelity, but these accounts are free and can be good choices for savers and investors. A few years ago, I chose to rollover a former company’s 401(k) into a Fidelity IRA, and I use Fidelity as the servicing company for my charitable gift fund. Their index mutual funds are some of the lowest cost in the business, but for most of my own investing I prefer Vanguard. Vanguard, however, does not offer a similar credit card offer.

If you’re holding on to a cash back credit card that you feel deserves to make this list, let me know by leaving your thoughts in the comments below. If the offer is good, I’ll add it to this best cash back credit cards list.

  • Cash Back: 2% cash back on all purchases. Cash back rewards are deposited into your Fidelity account.
  • Sign up bonus: Get $100 after you spend $1000 in the first 90 days.
  • Annual Fee: None.
  • Introductory APR: None.
  • Other Benefits: None.

Find out how to apply for this card here.


9. Chase Freedom Card

The Chase Freedom card offers a lot of ways to save. First, get a $150 bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account-opening. Besides this bonus, with Chase Freedom you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. You’ll earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. It also offers a longer introductory APR than many cash back cards.

  • Cash Back: 5% on categories that change each quarter, up to $1,500 in purchases. All other purchases earn 1% cash back.
  • Sign up bonus: Get a $150 bonus when you spend $500 on the card in the first three months.
  • Annual Fee: None.
  • Introductory APR: 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months.
  • Other Benefits: You can earn an additional $25 bonus when you add your first authorized user and make your firstpurchase within this same 3 month period.

Compare each of these and other cash back cards, and apply online, here.


Twelve years ago today I started a blog called Consumerism Commentary. On that date, I was about one year into my journey of improving my finances. I had the bright and forward-thinking idea to track my progress — both in my bank accounts and in my skills of money management — publicly but anonymously, and by the end of the day I had a new website up and running. You can see what it looked like in 2003, in the graphic below, thanks to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

I’ve told the story a few times before. Here’s my most recent and succinct retelling of how I found myself in grave financial circumstances and, through the help of blogging and later the business that grew from it, improved my financial situation and my life substantially, from a negative net worth a few months before I started writing to a seven-figure net worth today. It’s not just about the money, though. I’ve met lovely people including and especially my girlfriend thanks to this website and the community, and I seem to have grown into a fully-formed adult (after starting the website as a late-model adolescent of 27 years).

I sold this website to a lead generation company called QuinStreet three and a half years ago. It was a good acquisition for the company, as they really wanted to ensure their own advertising was being served to the high-quality search engine traffic from which this website was benefiting. It was a good sale for me, because I saw revenue from search engine traffic as highly volatile and unpredictable, and I was happy to offload that risk for a good price.

After the sale, I became an employee, continuing to write for Consumerism Commentary, manage the blog, and offer consulting on blogging and community building as the company was interested. I negotiated a healthy salary — but six months after the sale, the company determined I was too expensive and laid me off. For some reason that baffles many (sometimes including myself), I offered to continue as a contractor, reducing my consulting role but continuing to manage this website and write occasionally.

The frequency of my writing has dropped off significantly since then, especially in the past couple of months. My “freedom” date was approaching. I had many years to prepare to move on, and I had a plan to do so. As luck would have it, after another reorganization at QuinStreet, I got a call the other day from the new supervisor of QuinStreet’s blogs asking me to reduce my role even further. I declined, choosing instead to move on. I imagine I’ll always be welcome to contribute an article for time to time at QuinStreet’s freelancing rates, but I expect I won’t have much to write here that couldn’t be published elsewhere.

I plan on launching a new financial website soon, and in the mean time, working on The Plutus Awards, the Plutus Foundation, a drum and bugle corps I work with as a volunteer, my photography, and other projects will keep me more than busy. Please follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and my website to stay on top of my current projects — and consider reading or joining my new financial website once it is launched.

There was no financial blogging community in 2003 when I started Consumerism Commentary. Today, thousands of blogs cover financial topics from thousands of angles. The community today is one of the most supportive groups I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of. I’m not leaving the community; in fact, I’ll be more involved than ever as I work hard to make The Plutus Awards the premiere event for the community and turn the Foundation into the most important charitable effort for the independent financial media.

The days of an independent financial blogger earning seven figures from advertising are probably over, at least not without an expensive team of professionals helping behind the scenes. I don’t expect any project I work on to be as lucrative as Consumerism Commentary was, but as long as I continue to have passion for financial education, I’ll find a way to express myself and gain something of an audience. I’m not retiring. This isn’t the early retirement everyone promises. I still have much more to do.

From the readers’ perspective, I expect the future of Consumerism Commentary to feature several articles a month from a freelance financial writer.

There was a point earlier at which, had I left Consumerism Commentary, I would have felt bittersweet about the departure. This was my baby; I put my heart and soul and countless hours into writing and working behind the scenes. When I had a day job, I’d come home, eat dinner, and work another eight hours writing for Consumerism Commentary, emailing readers, bloggers, and the “mainstream” media. I put many unpaid hours into building other affiliated sites and projects like the Carnival of Personal Finance, (the ad-free personal financial blog aggregator), and free hosting for other financial bloggers. This was my life. There are some readers who have been with me since the very beginning. I appreciate that more than anything else. Thank you.

But today, moving on feels like nothing other than the natural course of action.

I wish QuinStreet the best continued success with the website. Thanks for reading.


There’s a good reason I can’t get into extreme savings for retirement. When desperate financial times call for desperate financial measures, there is a good incentive to cut all unnecessary spending and eliminate bad debt. Many people even wait until they hit rock bottom before reforming their approach to their finances, because the effects of bad money management aren’t always clear until they’re completely unavoidable.

After one extreme — complete lack of reasoning and complete lack of understanding consequences — there is a tendency to hit the other extreme. An obsessive spender is just as likely to become an obsessive saver. A little obsession might be good. When I realized I wasn’t saving for my future, I began tracking every cent of income and expense, and it helped me learn where I could cut back my spending and improve my income. It’s an important part of moving your life in the right direction, and I still recommend this to anyone who hasn’t seriously considered their money management skills, particularly those who aren’t left with much net income at the end of the month, if any.

There’s a danger in taking saving too far. Money is more than a number, and you are more than just your net worth. The only point in growing your bank account balances is to use that money for something at some point. Money has no intrinsic meaning; its purpose is only what you can do with it. Although it’s a problem not many will face, it is possible to save too much money.

The government encourage saving decades in advance for retirement by providing tax incentives. It’s a good way to decrease the burden on employers, who at one time offered pensions to assist their employees when they could no longer work. Pensions have all but disappeared in the private sector, replaced by 401(k) plans and IRAs. Preparing for retirement in advance is healthy financial planning, but you still have to consider there is a chance, though remote, that you won’t survive until the end of the saving-for-retirement phase of your life.

It’s a morbid thought, of course, and I wish all Consumerism Commentary readers a long, healthy life. An insurance company may use actuarial tables to determine the chances of any individual living a certain number of additional years, but it’s just an estimation. When we plan for the future we have to assume that the money we invest or save while looking at a time horizon decades in the future will be there when we need it, but we also have to assume that we’ll be there to use it. That’s a lot of assumptions, and putting money away that could be used today is a certain type of risk.

Having a will helps a saver feel comfortable with the fact that if his money outlives him, it will at least see a chance to be used, either by relatives who might save it or by a non-profit organization who can use the funds to move its mission forward. For those who have the means, however, having not completed everything on a “bucket list” could be a regret. Life is almost always shorter than we want it to be, and with many fulfilling activities, many of which require money, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to wait until retirement to do everything.

It’s not a good idea, though, to take this “life is short” mantra and use it as an excuse to spend money with wanton abandon. This is a toxic financial attitude, even though it could be considered the opposite of putting your financial concerns off until the future, another toxic attitude.

While I fully agree that everyone should seize the day in as many opportunities as possible, this approach should be balanced with enough consideration for the future. I don’t think that balance can ever be perfect, though. All anyone can do is make an educated guess, and aim for an approach to finances with which one is comfortable. One that provides a chance for thriving when income from work is no longer a factor while taking advantage of opportunities today for enjoying life.

The good news is that we can enjoy life today while saving for the future. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, although when you’re living paycheck to paycheck or worse, the smart decision is to focus on getting out of that situation and beginning to build wealth as the primary and only priority. Once you are building wealth, you are in a better position to have that flexibility. The frugal approach to life assists with this goal. You can find ways to enjoy life on a budget while keeping the automatic investing plan in full force.

Although I save for retirement to cover myself in the likely event I’ll eventually want to stop working in exchange for money — likely well before I reach the government-suggested age of retirement — I want to make the most of my time today. That doesn’t always require money, but sometimes it does.

  • I see people putting up with terrible bosses and jobs they don’t like. Life is too short to waste your time in situations that aren’t ideal, or at least moving in that direction. It’s a myth that we need to just accept what we have and be happy when we’re treated poorly at work. When the economy is bad, people are brainwashed into thinking they should be lucky to have any job. Get out and find something better.
  • Unhappy marriages and personal relationships are similar to bad working situations. Life is too short to spend your life with someone who doesn’t make you happy or to force yourself to spend time with people who don’t share your values. There are seven billion people in the world.
  • Why waste your time watching television when life is so short? Well, while reading a novel might better flex your neurons, seeking entertainment is a part of enjoying life today, so don’t be too quickly to accept the productivity refrain that mindless entertainment is a waste of time. There may be better ways to be entertained, but life is not worth living if you have to be productive every waking minute of every day — especially if that “productivity” is for the benefit of someone else.

Recognize that life is short and that we might lose our chance to enjoy life if we wait around for retirement or financial independence to start living. We can’t use the fact that life is short as an excuse that prevents good decision-making, which takes the idea to the extreme to the detriment of important goals like saving for the future.

How do you balance the need to plan for your financial future and to achieve financial independence with the need to make use of what you have and enjoy life today? How do you make the most of what is a relatively short life without sacrificing your future? How do you prevent “life is short” from becoming a toxic financial attitude that takes away your ability to save?



Podcast 175: Carl Richards, The One-Page Financial Plan

by Luke Landes
Carl Richards

It may have been over a year since I last put together a podcast episode, but I’m back today to talk with Consumerism Commentary Podcast guest Carl Richards. Carl is here to talk about his new book, The One-Page Financial Plan: A Simple Way to Be Smart About Your Money. The author will also be […]

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Command and Control: From Baseball Pitches to Your Money

by Luke Landes
Matt Harvey

When your life is out of control, nothing seems to go right. You have the worst luck, and you can’t seem to get ahead with anything, whether a project, a goal, or even simple things like taking care of daily tasks. Regaining control of your life is imperative. For your finances, you can do that […]

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Can You Blame Them for Not Being Invested in Stocks?

by Luke Landes
Luke Landes

After the stock market closed on Friday, my portfolio was at an all-time high. That was likely also the case for a lot of investors living in the United States who are similar to me: earning income, investing in the stock market with a buy-and-hold strategy for the future, and leaving money invested during the […]

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5 Reasons Why New Chip Credit Cards Won’t Reduce Fraud

by Luke Landes
Chip-Embedded Credit Cards

Banks in the United States are undergoing a major transformation in credit card technology, a process similar to the one Europe successfully completed several years ago. Despite the technological advances in mobile payment that have already rendered plastic cards obsolete, the financial industry wants to replace every magnetic stripe credit card in every wallet. When […]

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LearnVest Acquired By Northwestern Mutual

by Luke Landes

Congratulations to the owners of LearnVest, a financial planning start-up that is in the process of finalizing a deal with Northwestern Mutual wherein the latter will be acquiring the assets and business of the former. In a deal of more than $250 million in cash, a company that provided early funding for the start-up will […]

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Life Is and Isn’t About the Money

by Luke Landes
Life and Money

Accumulating money is not a real goal for anyone’s life. Growing wealth is not the point. People don’t work hard because they want to see their bank balance grow; those of us who track our finances and chart our net worth over time aren’t trying to compete in some financial competition. I imagine there are […]

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