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Credit

Many consumers know that they can get a free annual credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. But this report only shows your credit report, not your actual credit score.

When you go to get your free annual credit report, the credit bureau will likely ask if you want your numerical credit score.There will almost always be a fee involved with providing this to you.

It is useful to know this number, especially if you’re trying to increase it or plan to apply for credit. But did you know that you don’t actually have to pay for your credit score? There are a number of options out there to snag your credit score for free. Here are our eight favorites:

1. Credit Karma

This website specializes in providing consumers with a free credit score, updated monthly. Credit Karma is one of the more valuable options on this list. Most free credit score options are based on a credit file from just one of the three major reporting bureaus. Credit Karma offers scores based on both your TransUnion and your Equifax reports.

The free dashboard will tell you if your scores have changed recently. It will also over the factors that influence your credit score, including your payment history, credit card utilization, and more.

Unlike many of the free credit scores named here, Credit Karma’s will give you access to your credit report details, including current credit card balances, derogatory information, and more.

Credit Karma is also helpful if you’re shopping for a credit card, as it will recommend cards based on your current credit score.

2. Credit Sesame

Answer a few basic questions, and Credit Sesame will give you access to your TransUnion credit score for free. If you’d like to have all three credit bureau scores, you can pay $15.95 per month. You can also opt to pay $19.95 per month for access to all three bureau scores, along with credit monitoring and ID protection.

One interesting feature of Credit Sesame is its borrowing power estimate. It tells you how to apply for different credit cards that it recommends, as well as loans to borrow funds you may need.

Credit Sesame grades you on each aspect of your credit score, including payment history, credit usage, and account mix. It’ll give you details on problems in each of these areas, as well as ideas for how to improve your credit score.

3. Quizzle

Quizzle’s score is based on the VantageScore model, which may look different from models based on the FICO scoring model. It’s still an accurate representation of your creditworthiness, though it may not be exactly what your lenders see if they prefer to pull a FICO score.

Like the other options here, Quizzle’s score offers a variety of tools. It includes a credit summary that shows all of your different accounts and their balances. It also offers a complete overview, including credit utilization, available credit, length of credit history, and average age of accounts.

Quizzle’s “trending” feature allows you to track your progress in a variety of areas related to your credit score, including your actual score, available credit, balances, and more. This can help you see how you’re progressing with raising your credit score month over month.

4. Discover Scorecard

Even if you’re not a Discover customer, you can sign up for a free Scorecard account. This option will provide you with your Experian FICO score. You’ll get your actual numerical score, as well as a grade that compares your score to the rest of the U.S.

Discover’s Scorecard will give you access to the various aspects of your score, including your open accounts, length of credit history, credit utilization, and missed payments. It’ll tell you what’s helping and what, if anything, is hurting your score.

5. LendingTree

Sign up for an account with LendingTree, and you’ll get access to your free credit score from TransUnion. Similar to the other services, LendingTree will track your score over time, and will grade each aspect of your score. This includes negative marks on the report and your available credit. It’ll also give you specific ways to improve your credit.

Besides giving you recommendations for credit cards that fit your score, LendingTree will give you offers for personal loans and refinancing options.

6. Credit.com

This service is interesting because credit.com will show you both your FICO score and your VantageScore 3.0. This way, you can get some perspective on how they’re different. It’ll give you grades on the various areas of your credit score, including how you stack up to the average American.

Credit.com will also create a customized plan for you to reach a higher credit score, and it’ll estimate how high your score could go if you followed the plan. For instance, your plan might tell you to have no late payments for a certain number of months and pay off an extra $X in debt each month. Then, it’ll tell you approximately how high your credit score should be at the end of that period.

7. Your Credit Card Company

More credit card companies are now jumping on the free credit score bandwagon. Your statement or online account may come with access to a free credit score. Some card companies, like Capital One, even offer a credit simulator tool, where you can “try out” different credit decisions to see how they could impact your score.

Credit card companies currently offering their customers free credit scores include Discover, Citi, Chase, Bank of America, Barclaycard, Commerce Bank, American Express, Capital One, First Bankcard, USAA Bank, US Bank, and the Walmart Credit Card.

8. Apply for Credit

As of 2011, lenders are required to provide customers or potential customers with a copy of the credit score the lender used, even if the customer is rejected for the loan or line of credit.

Applying for credit can ding your score. If you’re going to do it anyway, be sure the lender provides you with a copy of the score used.

Keeping track of your own credit score through your credit card company or these free methods will not harm your score, and may even help you bring it up more quickly. The only option listed here that will impact your score is applying for credit. So before you do that, use a free option to pull your credit score. That way, you’re more likely to apply only for credit for which you’re likely to be approved.

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If travel is in your plans, you may want to know about this offer from American Express. It’s the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card, and it offers 25,000 bonus points when you make $3,000 in purchases in the first three months after opening your account.

You can redeem those points for free nights when it works for you because there are no blackout dates at over 1,200 Starwood hotels and resorts in almost 100 countries. (Some hotels may have mandatory service charges and resort charges.) For international travelers, though, it’s a big plus that there are no foreign transaction fees. You can stay connected with free in-room premium Internet access, but booking requirements apply. Other perks give you access to discounts and presale tickets for live events as well.

After the introductory period, your travel and everyday purchases continue to help you earn travel rewards too. You can get up to 5 points for every dollar you spend at Starwood hotels and 1 point on all other purchases. The offer includes a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year and goes to $95 per year after that. Terms and conditions apply.

This card was voted one of the best travel credit cards in CardRating’s Editor’s Choice Awards: Best Credit Cards for 2016 article. (CardRatings.com is one of our partner sites. Here is CardRating’s full review.)

Another travel reward card offer

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card was also honored in the CardRating.com Editor’s Choice Awards article for its introductory offer – 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account. (That translates to $625 in travel rewards.)

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you earn two times the points on travel and dining. You earn one point for each dollar spent on all other purchases.

It seems that turning your everyday purchases into better travel experiences is getting easier – and there are a number of options to choose from to boot. Happy trails!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Amazon.com 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.

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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.

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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.

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[Editorial note: This offer was last updated on July 13, 2016.]

Are you still wrestling down holiday debt?

Zero-interest balance transfer credit card offers can help you meet this challenge, but only if you know what to look for. Otherwise, you will end up paying interest anyway, which is exactly what the credit card companies hope will happen.

Time to pay the piper

According to a Consumerism Commentary analysis of Federal Reserve figures, since 1989, Americans accumulated an average of nearly $30.3 billion in new credit card debt in the final three months of the year. In the first three months, they paid down an average of $24.1 billion in credit card debt.

Chart depicting rise in revolving consumer credit from 1989 to 2014

Click on the image to the left, and you can see that Americans run up more holiday debt than they repay after New Year’s Day.

This problem is made worse by the fact that they also run up debt in the second and third quarters of the year.

As a result, credit card debt increased four-fold over those 25 years, to nearly $890 billion.

Balance transfer credit cards – what to look for

What adds to this problem is that the debt accumulates interest, often at high rates. Zero-interest balance transfer credit cards can help, by buying you some time to pay off your debt without interest. However, it is important to know what to look for when considering an offer:

  1. Does the offer apply to your credit profile? Credit card companies advertise their most attractive terms, but these only apply to the most attractive customers – those with strong credit ratings.
For example, a current offer being marketed by Chase Slate can help a consumer save with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee, a 0% APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and a $0 annual fee. (Chase Slate) That’s over a year of 0% APR for balances transferred within the first 60 days — but the cream of the crop of balance transfer offers are only available to those with great credit. If your score is above 740, you are considered to have prime credit and can probably choose from any offer that’s out there. At the other end of the spectrum, if your credit score is below 620, you are considered sub-prime and probably won’t get the best credit card terms.
  1. How long does the zero interest offer last? These offers are temporary, so compare to see which ones give you the longest interest-free period. Those periods can range from a few months to over a year, so it does make a big difference.
People assume that, when the time expires, they can always roll any remaining balance into a new zero-interest balance transfer credit card, but opening new accounts frequently can damage your credit rating. Ultimately, this could make new zero-interest offers unavailable to you.
  1. What is the interest rate after the initial period? Chances are you will incur interest charges eventually, either on the unpaid portion of your transferred balance or on new purchases. So, it is important to compare rates you would be paying after the zero-interest period runs out.
  1. Is there a fee for transfers? Keep in mind that these fees, which are often 3% – 5% of any transferring balance, will reduce the savings of the zero-interest period. Compare to see which cards have low transfer fees.
As mentioned above, Chase Slate® is one notable example of a card that is offering a $0 introductory balance transfer fee, a 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and a $0 annual fee as a part of its introductory offer.
  1. What is the credit limit? Make sure the limit is high enough to allow you to consolidate your existing credit card debt, or at least a meaningful portion of it.

The ultimate question: What is your repayment plan?

After you’ve asked all the right questions about different credit card offers, you have to ask yourself one very important question: What is your plan for paying down that debt? You need a budget with a payment plan that lets you project how long it will take you to pay off your credit card balances, preferably before any zero-interest offers run out.

One way or another, the build-up of debt is a problem that won’t be solved by simply moving it around. The best balance transfer credit card offers can help you pay off your debt less expensively with zero interest, but the clear goal must be to pay off that debt completely.

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Hurry While Discover’s® Double Miles Deal Lasts

by Curtis Arnold

Whether you’re planning a very special trip next year or just travel a lot, there’s currently a limited-time offer you really ought to think seriously about. The Discover it® Miles-Double Miles your first year card is effectively offering double miles for the first year after new cardholders (but not existing ones) open their accounts. Here’s […]

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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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Three Overlooked Tools for Repairing Credit

by Luke Landes
Sue the creditor

This is a guest article by Neal Frankle. Neal is a Certified Financial Planner® in Los Angeles. He is also the senior editor for WealthPilgrim.com, MCMHA.org and CreditPilgrim.com. Your credit report is like a financial passport. If it’s clean you’ll find the doors to the financial world wide open. Your credit journey will be carefree […]

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5 Questions Before Applying for a New Credit Card

by Luke Landes

Since the credit crunch in the midst of the latest recession, credit card solicitations have seen a significant increase. Unless you’ve opted out, and good luck with that, you’re probably getting junk mail from credit card issuers with invitations to apply for the latest credit card offers. Don’t get too excited, especially if you have […]

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Why Most Millennials Don’t Have Credit Cards

by Luke Landes
Credit Card Statement

According to a new survey, 63 percent of Millennials own no credit cards. For this poll, the Millennial generation is defined as those in the United States aged 18 to 29. The survey, put together by BankRate, attempts to get to the root cause for the lack of penetration of credit cards among this younger demographic, […]

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FICO Score 9: Fair Isaac Changing Credit Score Algorithm Again

by Luke Landes
Loans

FICO Score 9 is an improvement over FICO 08, and may be more consumer friendly and fair. But will it have any overall effect for consumers?

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