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Find the best prepaid debit cards of 2017, including low fee cards and those you can use for free. We compare features, fees, and bonuses.

best prepaid debit cards

Prepaid debit cards have always been a controversial topic. Some cards carry insanely high fees just for making everyday purchases. Suze Orman’s entry into the prepaid card business, the Approved Card, prompted heated debate about whether it represented a conflict of interest, given Orman’s following.

In 2010, the Kardashians announced their branded prepaid card. They received bad press due to the card’s predatory fees and lack of customer benefits. They canceled the card soon after it was announced.

Not all prepaid cards are as bad, but fees are common. You need to evaluate each offer to determine whether a prepaid card is right for you. Prepaid debit cards are the preferred tool for many parents. They can monitor their children’s spending while teaching their children how to responsibly handle money management.

The best prepaid debit cards are cards without fees, offering rewards for everyday purchases. While credit is almost everywhere in this country, many Americans do not have a credit card or bank account. They use cash for their needs. While this might be a cheaper method of paying for products and services, it isn’t always safe to carry around cash for purchases. Rather than resort to prepaid cards with high fees consider looking at some of these best prepaid debit cards available for consumers today.

The Best Prepaid Debit Cards of 2017

American Express Serve

If you’re looking to avoid fees with your prepaid debit card, this choice from American Express might be the best option. You can load the card from a bank account online or by phone, or you can place your deposit in the form of cash at over 50,000 retail locations including Walmart, CVS, 7-Eleven, and Family Dollar. There is a service fee of up to $3.95 that will be added to your purchase for depositing cash.

American Express does not charge reload fees made through bank accounts and direct deposit linked to the card (in network). Cash reloads and other reload methods may carry a third party purchase or service fee. This is not a credit card, however, the card comes with many of the major benefits that all American Express cardholders receive, like roadside assistance, purchase protection, and entertainment access.

There is a $1 monthly fee but that can be waived when you have a direct deposit each month of $500 or more. No ATM withdrawal fees when you use a MoneyPass location and no online billpay fees either.

Netspend Visa Prepaid MasterCard

Netspend is one of the leaders in the prepaid card industry. Their strongest offering comes in the form of the Netspend Visa Prepaid MasterCard. If you’re savvy enough to know how to transfer money to and from your card without the help of a Customer Service agent, the transfers are always free, If you need help, it’s $0.50 per transfer. There is no direct deposit fee and no initial fee for getting the card.

Netspend offers three different plans to manage your prepaid card. They are as follows:

  • Pay as you go – No monthly fee but a $1 charge per signature transaction and a $2 charge per pin transaction. This plan is ideal for people who plan to use their card very very little.
  • FeeAdvantage Plan – $9.95 per month, all transactions included at no additional cost.
  • Premier FeeAdvantage Plan – $5.00 per month if you have at least one qualifying direct deposit of $500 or more every month. The best value in terms of monthly cost if you have the direct deposit available.

Also, be careful at the ATM with this card. There is a withdrawal fee of $2.50 and a decline fee of $1 if you don’t have funds readily available.

Walmart MoneyCard® Visa® with Cash-Back Rewards

The Walmart MoneyCard® Visa® offers the best rewards program of any card on our list. For all Walmart shoppers, you stand to earn 3% cash back on every Walmart.com online purchase. 2% cash back is earned at Murphy USA and on Walmart fuel purchases and 1% cash back is earned at Walmart stores. The maximum amount of cashback you can earn is $75 each year. If you find yourself getting cut off from cash back rewards because you’ve already capped out $75 in a year … perhaps you should review your finances!

The fee structure for the Walmart MoneyCard® Visa® is fairly straightforward. There’s a $5 monthly charge and it can be waived when you load more than $1,000 on your card in the previous month. A $2.50 ATM withdrawal applies on every transaction and to get cash from your card at a Walmart location is free of charge. There is no charge to receive the initial card, no charge to make daily purchases and a $3 fee if you require a replacement card.

American Express Serve® Cash Back

If cash back is your game, the American Express Serve Cash Back provides a great opportunity. Every time you shop at a store or online, you’ll earn 1% cash back. Cash back is added immediately after you make your payment and available for redemption on your next purchase, at anytime. There is no annual cap on the amount of cash back you can earn and it never expires, so long as your account remains open and in good standing.

Now let’s talk fees. The initial card price is up to $3.95 if buying at a retail location. There is a $5.95 monthly fee unless you live in TX, VT or NY (no fee in those states). No direct deposit fee, no fee to add money from a bank account but up to a $3.95 fee to add cash at a retailer. Depending on the ATM you use, there could be up to a $2.50 ATM fee. No ATM fees when using a MoneyPass location. Last but not least, if you’re looking to take cash out of your American Express Serve Cash Back, up to a $9.49 fee applies.

Green Dot® Prepaid MasterCard®

This is a card with a simple fee plan. Cardholders will not have to pay a monthly fee as long as they deposit at least $1,000 onto the card monthly or make 30 qualifying purchases posted to your account monthly. If these conditions are not met, the monthly fee is $7.95. There are fees for initial purchase, which varies by retailer, of up to $4.95. Reload fees also vary by retailer and is currently up to $4.95.

Green Dot is an extremely convenient but expensive prepaid option. In addition to using the card for everyday purchases, you have the ability to write checks using your account. The limit per check is $3,000 and it’s only good for 90 days. In addition, The Green Dot® Prepaid MasterCard® offers free online mobile bill pay and NO fee for an ACH transfer. As always, direct deposit is FREE.

Try a Checking / Savings Account Instead

Chime Visa® Debit Card

Prepaid cards can certainly make life easier, but they can also make life more expensive. If you’re in the market for a prepaid card, you may want to consider opening a savings account with Chime. The Chime Visa Debit Card can be used anywhere Visa is accepted. There’s no monthly fee to worry about, no card fee, and no fees for making day to day purchases. ATM’s in the Money Pass network are also free to use (there are over 24,000 of them nationwide)

On the savings account side, every time you use your Chime card to make a purchase, they round up the dollar amount and deposit the change into your Chime Savings Account. Setting up direct deposit is easy and there are no fees to transfer money in and out of your account. Coolest of all, Chime is willing to start you off with a free $5 after you first direct deposit.

You can also have a look at our best savings and checking account promos. All of the checking accounts listed can also provide you a debit card to make purchases, but be aware of each bank’s monthly fees and/or requirements for waiving the fee.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the prepaid debit card industry is mired in fees. If you believe a prepaid debit card is right for you, tread carefully. Read the terms and conditions and know the fees. Even the best prepaid debit card can end up costing more money than you are prepared to spend. There are many other debit cards I’m not including in this list at all because they are best avoided. Using a prepaid debit card can help a responsible person who does not qualify for a credit card handle their expenses, but it can also be a recipe for disaster.

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You can get your credit score for free if you know where to look. Here are eight ways to check your FICO score without paying a dime.

Get Your Credit Score for Free

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? More and more websites these days are offering them for free.

Before we dive into the details, let’s talk about one quick thing: you have more than one credit score. It’s confusing but true!

There are several different credit scoring algorithms, created by companies like the Fair Isaacs Corporation (FICO). These models each have a slightly different emphasis. They’re meant to give lenders the most relevant score for the type of loan you’re trying to obtain. And each of these models can be applied to each of your three credit reports, which typically contain slightly different information.

So if you look at your score through more than one of these free options, you’ll likely see slightly different numbers. That’s normal. You’re just getting an idea of what lenders will likely see when they pull your credit report and score.

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 cover 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.

Try Credit Karma

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. Quizzle also rates your debt-to-income ratio, based on self-reported income information. This isn’t included in your credit report, but is useful to know if you’re planning to apply for a major loan, like a mortgage.

Try Credit Karma

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.

Quizzle DashboardLike 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 Scorecard

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. Discover offers several financial products, including personal loans. The scorecard will tell you if you might qualify for a lower-interest personal loan, which you could use to refinance higher-interest debt.

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.

Lending Tree Dashboard

Besides giving you recommendations for credit cards that fit your score, LendingTree will give you offers for personal loans and refinancing options. One of the interesting things about LendingTree is that it’ll give you specific ways to save, based on your current situation. For instance, it may tell you that you can refinance a specific personal loan to a lower payment. It’s a useful tool if you’re hoping to refinance your debts to pay them off faster.

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.ocm Dashboard

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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Getting a credit card as a young adult is a big step. To help, we’ve researched the best first credit card options and how to make this important choice.

Getting your first credit card is a significant financial milestone. Maybe you’re a college student jumping into personal finance for the first time. Or maybe you’ve just never had a reason to get a credit card before. Regardless, you may be overwhelmed with all the options that are out there.

When it comes to getting your first credit card, I recommend first looking at your spending habits. Then, choose a card that offers the most rewards based on those spending habits. Here are three recommendations for first credit cards: one for general cash back, one for travel rewards, and one for gas rewards. I also discuss secured credit cards and student credit cards for your reference.

First Cash Back Credit Card: Discover it® Cashback Match™

Discover itLearn More

The Discover it® Cashback Match™ is a no-fee card that offers plenty of attractive perks. It’s an excellent choice for your first credit card if you’re looking to maximize your cash back rewards right off the bat.

You’ll earn 1% cash back on all credit card purchases and 5% cash back on new bonus categories each quarter. Currently, through December, the bonus categories are for purchases at Amazon.com,and Target–perfect for holiday shopping! What’s more is that new cardholders will get a “dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.” This makes it the perfect time to sign up for Discover it if you’re looking for your first cash back credit card.

Other perks include the ability to view your FICO® score for free each month on your statements. You’ll also have the ability to immediately freeze your account with an on/off switch (online or via the mobile app), should you suspect fraud.

Resource: How to Get Your Credit Report for Free

There’s no annual fee, no fee for your first late payment, no overlimit fee, and no foreign transaction fee. You’ll also pay no interest on purchases made during the first 14 months after opening this credit card.

First Travel Rewards Credit Card: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit CardLearn More

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is an excellent choice for first-time cardholders who plan to travel a lot. You’ll earn 2 miles for every dollar you spend, regardless of category. One hundred miles is equal to $1 in travel rewards. There’s also a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles (equal to $400 in travel rewards) once you spend $3,000 on the credit card within the first three months of opening it.

In addition to having no foreign transaction fees, this credit card also offers the many perks that come with being a Visa Signature card. These include:

  • Complimentary travel upgrades
  • Complimentary concierge service
  • 24-hour travel assistance services
  • Special access to premier sporting events and concerts
  • Shopping discounts at select online merchants
  • Extended warranty on purchases

There’s an annual fee of $59, which is waived the first year. If you use this card often and take advantage of all the travel rewards, it should easily make up for the annual fee.

  • Learn more about Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card at CardRatings.com

Best First Gas Rewards Credit Card: Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Blue Cash EverydayLearn More

If you’re a frequent driver, you may be looking for a credit card that offers good gas rewards. The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is the perfect credit card in this instance. You’ll receive the following cash back rates:

  • 3% cash back at the grocery store
  • 2% cash back at gas stations
  • 2% cash back at select department stores
  • 1% cash back on everything else

There’s no limit on the amount of cash you can earn, and it never expires. You can redeem your cash to your bank account, as a statement credit or in the form of gift cards. There’s also no annual fee.

Another perk of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is that you’ll get online access to view your FICO® score for free. This comes in handy for monitoring your activity, especially if you’re new to building a credit history

  • Learn more about Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express at CardRatings.com

A Note About Secured Credit Cards

Secured credit cards require you to put down a refundable deposit as collateral. This deposit becomes the credit line for your card. Secured credit cards can help you establish or rebuild your credit history, and are useful if you have no credit or bad credit.

If you’ve been paying off a loan in your name or otherwise have some credit history, you may not need to get a secured credit card before applying for a regular credit card. Regular credit cards tend to offer more attractive perks than secured credit cards.

A Note About Student Credit Cards

Student credit cards are a great option for young people to get their feet wet with credit. I got my first credit card while I was in college and still have that credit card to this day. It’s a Wells Fargo cash back credit card.

Related: Best Credit Cards for College Students

Most credit card issuers offer at least one student credit card. These credit cards are often comparable to their other rewards credit cards but come with a low initial limit. As you establish your creditworthiness by making on-time payments, you’ll likely see your limit increase over time. If you’re in college, I highly recommend starting to build your credit now by getting a student credit card.

Final Thoughts

Getting your first credit card is an exciting time and the process shouldn’t be taken lightly. Which credit card you choose as your first can have a huge impact on your finances. If you choose correctly based on your spending habits, you can reap some great benefits such as travel rewards or cash back.

Once you receive your first credit card, remember to use it wisely. Only make purchases that you can afford to pay in full when the bill comes. Try to keep your credit utilization ratio low by not using more 30% of your credit card balance at any given time. Above all, enjoy the many perks that come with being a cardholder.

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Some say carrying a small credit card balance will increase your credit score. Is that true or an urban legend? We asked the credit experts.

Credit Card Balance Will Increase Your Credit Score

I’ve spent countless hours research credit scores. One of the more interesting assertions I came across had to do with credit card debt. Some financial experts say it’s better to carry a small credit card balance than to carry no balance at all.

I’d actually never read this before, even though I’ve been writing about personal finance for nearly a decade now. But it’s an interesting idea, so I set out to determine the truth about this claim.

Credit Score Formula

If you spend any amount of time reading (or writing!) about credit scores, you’ll find that sometimes getting a straight answer is tough. This happens for a couple of reasons:

  1. Credit scores are highly personal. What negatively affects my score might not affect yours at all. Or what causes your score to increase by 100 points might only increase mine by 25.
  2. Credit scoring algorithms are practically state secrets. Companies like FICO make money from having the most finely-tuned credit scoring algorithms that lenders trust. This means they’ll release general information about their algorithms, which is good for consumers who want to boost their scores. But they tend to avoid giving hard and fast answers about some questions. Plus, algorithms are constantly being updated, so what’s true today may not be true tomorrow.

With all that said, getting answers about questions like this isn’t impossible. We just have to look to the actual sources–places like FICO and the actual credit bureaus–for information. And then we need to apply some common sense to the answers–and variations in answers–that we might find there.

What the Experts Say

First, I dug around the internet to find some different opinions on this question. One Bankrate article said experts tend to recommend carrying a balance equal to 10 to the 30 percent of your available credit, though the lower is better.

The article notes that carrying some balance is important for two reasons:

  1. It shows credit reporting bureaus that you’re actually using your cards, which is a good thing from a credit score perspective.
  2. It can keep your credit card accounts from being unexpectedly closed due to lack of use.

A Time Money article, on the other hand, said that consumers should not carry a balance. This advice is mainly because carrying a balance means paying interest. And carrying a balance can get you started down the road to hefty credit card debt.

A blog post from Credit.com agrees that it’s in consumers’ best interests to pay the balance in full each month.

What the Credit Bureaus Say

So how do we resolve this discrepancy in expert opinion? Let’s go straight to the source: the credit reporting bureaus.

Experian, the bureau with the best online documentation, says, unequivocally, that it’s best to pay off your balance in full each month, if possible. A second Experian article says that any credit utilization ratio under 30 percent is good, but that lower is better.

What About Reporting Timelines?

One factor that plays into this question is when credit card companies report to the credit bureaus. If you use a free credit reporting service, you may notice that your credit card balances don’t all change at the same time. That’s because your credit card company might report your balance at the end of your billing cycle, rather than after you pay off the balance when you receive the bill.

This can be a problem if you use your credit card for everyday expenses, leading to a high balance at any point during the billing cycle.

So What’s the Verdict?

After sorting through the information online, it’s clear that paying off your credit card balances in full each month is the best option. Since we’re disagreeing with the Bankrate article, let’s break down why we think the information there isn’t quite correct.

  1. Credit bureaus only care if your account is open. It’ll be counted as active, even if you don’t use the account frequently, or at all. The credit card companies just report your monthly credit limit and balance, and that’s what counts towards your credit score.
  2. You don’t have to carry a balance for a credit card issuer to consider your account active. You can pay off your balance in full each month when you receive your bill, and the issuer won’t close your account for inactivity–because it’s not inactive.

Some Caveats and Exceptions

If you can’t pay off your credit card balance in full, it’s not the end of the world. You just need to make a plan to pay off your balance as soon as you can. And know that the lower your balance gets, the better your credit score will be in most cases.

Also, I’m not saying that it’s a completely dumb decision to finance a big-ticket purchase on a 0% APR credit card. Let’s say your fridge putters out unexpectedly. You have some money in emergency savings, but not enough to have money left over after you replace your fridge. But you qualify for a credit card with a 0% introductory APR offer on purchases.

Should you charge the new fridge to the credit card? Or should you drain your savings account?

Well, as long as that charge to the credit card won’t max out the credit card in question, charging the fridge isn’t a terrible idea if you meet the following criteria:

  • You have a good track record with managing debt.
  • You can definitely pay off the debt well before the introductory APR offer is up.
  • Your overall debt-to-credit ratio won’t go above 30 percent with this purchase.

In this case, using the credit card isn’t the worst choice you could make. But, again, make sure you pay it off as quickly as possible. And don’t make a move like this if you’re getting ready to apply for a large loan like a car loan or mortgage.

Your Credit Card Strategy

So what’s your best credit card strategy if you’re trying to keep your credit score high? Here’s what you should do in our opinion:

  1. Pay down any balances you’re currently carrying. Use this debt calculator to figure out the best way to pay down your debts.
  2. Make a habit of paying off your debt in full each month.
  3. Keep total balances under 30 percent of your total available credit each month, so that your balance doesn’t show as too high at the end of your billing cycle.
  4. If you do want to net rewards by using your card for most of your expenses, consider paying down the balance midway through the cycle to avoid the above issue.
  5. Only use your credit cards to finance longer-term purchases if you meet the criteria above, and limit this type of activity whenever possible.

Finally, check out our guide on how to get out of credit card debt once and for all.

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Discover it® Miles – 3% Cash Back for the First Year

by Michael Pruser

It’s the only card that pays you 3 percent cash back on every purchase the first year. And with no annual fee. The details are in our Discover it Miles review. Some time ago, Discover made the conscious decision to re-brand its entire line of credit cards. Previously known as “More” credit cards, Discover decided to […]

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How to Use Rent Payments to Improve Your Credit

by Kevin Mercadante

Using rent payments to improve your credit is now easier than ever. We cover the websites that can help you report your rent to credit bureaus. If you’re among the 36.6 percent of US households that rent, you’re probably missing out on the single biggest credit reference: Your rent payment! Traditionally, the only way that your […]

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The Best Credit Cards in 2017

by Richard Barrington

J.D. Power recently issued its annual study of the best credit cards. Not surprisingly, cash back cards are still the most popular. American Express, Discover, and Capital One topped the charts for customer satisfaction. Yet J.D. Power also found that customer satisfaction varied based on the cardholder’s age. While these surveys are helpful, nothing beats […]

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How to Get Out of Credit Card Debt… For Good

by Adam Luehrs

Credit card debt doesn’t have to crush your budget. Take the proper steps and you can get out of credit card debt once and for all. Here’s how how to pay off your credit card debt. Credit card debt is a national epidemic. According to one survey, the average U.S. household with credit card debt […]

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Authorized User vs Joint Account – How to Add a Cardholder

by Adam Luehrs
authorized user vs. joint account holder

When adding somebody to an account, a common question is whether to add them as an authorized user or joint account holder. Here’s the difference. Are you looking into the options for sharing a credit card with another person? There are actually two main options to consider when making the decision to share a credit […]

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The Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2017

by Luke Landes

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 on 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 […]

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