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Study: Intro Bonus Offers for Travel Rewards Cards Nearly Triple in 10 Years

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Travel rewards aren’t just for frequent fliers anymore, as credit card issuers ramp up intro bonus rewards on travel credit cards.

New research by MagnifyMoney found that the average introductory bonus on a travel rewards credit card in 2018 is now 40,556 points, more than double the average bonus in 2008 (16,050 points) and up from 34,327 points five years ago.

This comes as debit card rewards have nearly disappeared extinct following implementation of the Durbin Amendment, which capped the interchange fees banks could charge on debit transactions.

Just 18% of Americans with a debit card said their card offers rewards as of 2017, according a MagnifyMoney analysis of data from the Atlanta Fed’s annual survey of consumer payment choice.

 

Credit card companies have long used introductory bonus offers as a way to lure potential customers into getting their travel-related cards. And in an increasingly competitive space, those reward offerings have steadily increased.

“More and more cards are offering travel rewards without being tied to one airline,” said Brian Karimzad, vice president of research at LendingTree, the parent company of MagnifyMoney. “We wanted to see what that competition has done to intro bonuses.”

MagnifyMoney looked at more than 90 intro bonus point offers from each of the five largest credit card issuers for personal credit cards in five-year increments, February 2018, 2013 and 2008. Some issuers targeted offers to consumers via email, direct mail or site login but those weren’t included in this study.

Key findings:

  • These bonuses come at a steep cost to consumers. The average annual fee on a card with a bonus offer is $120, up 62% from $74 in 2008.
  • Airline miles offers more than doubled to 38,438 miles from 15,500 miles on average in 2008.
  • Cards with travel rewards you can use as cash on any airline have the highest growth rate – with bonuses tripling over the last 10 years, from 10,000 points to 30,455 points.
 

2008

2013

2018

10 year change

Average introductory bonus points

16,050

34,327

40,556

2.5x

Airline branded

15,500

30,556

37,059

2.4x

Hotel branded

21,250

48,000

60,000

2.8x

Transferable points

15,000

30,000

37,143

2.5x

Cash for travel

10,000

11,875

30,455

3.0x

Average annual fee

$74

$89

$120

62%

What’s driving these changes?

Competition among banks and airlines is heating up as miles have become bigger business over the last 10 years, which is likely feeding the rise in lucrative intro bonus offers. A tipping point may have been reached on Sept. 14, 2005, when Delta Air Lines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. As part of its filing, American Express agreed to provide Delta with $350 million of secured financing. This was on top of a $100 million loan and the pre-payment of $500 million for SkyMiles executed on Oct. 25, 2004.

And in 2008, Delta signed a multi-year extension with American Express and sold $1 billion in SkyMiles to the card company in lieu of cash payments. These deal showed how miles could add to a carrier’s bottom line.

It’s hard to get firm numbers on revenue earned by airlines and hotels under their credit card deals, since they aren’t separated as line items in their financial reports. Delta showed a slide in its December 2014 investor relations presentation that valued its new multi-year contract with American Express at $2 billion. American Airlines announced new deals with Barclays and Citi on July 16, 2016, that it valued at $800 million by 2018.

So it’s clear that reward offerings are a key factor in drumming up new consumer interest and are adding to the bottom line of both airlines and card companies.

“Airlines are earning upwards of 50 percent of [income] from selling miles to a credit card company, which we believe is a great business to be in,” wrote Joseph DeNardi, a senior airline analyst with Baltimore-based Stifel Financial Corp., on March 20, 2017.

In turn, credit cards use these points and miles to lure new customers with intro bonus offers that allow them to cash in quickly for things like flights and hotel rooms. Here are just a few examples:

On Dec. 5, 2017, Marriott International announced it had inked new deals with JPMorgan Chase and American Express for Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards Visa credit cards, and the Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards.

Marriott also announced new co-brand products coming later in 2018, including super-premium consumer and small business co-branded products from American Express, and mass consumer and premium consumer co-branded products from JPMorgan Chase.

In 2014, Delta Air Lines announced a multiyear extension of its co-branded credit cards with American Express, and a spokeswoman says that deal is still in place, although she declined to share further details. In its 2017 annual earnings release, American Express cited its strategic co-brand agreement with Marriott and its announcement of a suite of new co-brand cards with Hilton as a bright spot during the year.

Southwest Airlines Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Watterson said in a Skift interview that credit cards are “core to the airline business,” noting that his carrier’s planned service to Hawaii is partly driven by potential customers interested in using the carrier’s Rapid Rewards points for free flights to the island.

That’s a long way away from what the airline credit card space looked like in 2008. Ten years ago, an IdeaWorks study found that airlines were generating more than $4 billion a year in revenue. Back then, rewards were pretty basic, where miles and points were accumulated on appointed cards and revenue was generated from loyalty program customers.

But then Chase raised the bar when it introduced its Chase Sapphire Preferred® Cardcard in 2009 and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® in 2016, targeting more affluent customers who wanted more perks and benefits. That included access to its Chase Ultimate Rewards® website, where cardmembers use their points to book travel, transfer points to airline and hotel loyalty programs, buy gift cards and merchandise and get cash back. Chase Sapphire Reserve® members get 1.5 cents toward travel for every point, while it’s 1.25 cents per point for Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

This created more competition among card companies like American Express, Bank of America and Citi, which have unveiled new products and more intro bonus programs to keep up.

The information related to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

The bottom line

Not all points are created equally. You could earn the same number of miles on one card as points on another card but each can carry very different redemption values. For example, 50,000 United miles could get you two round-trip domestic coach tickets worth $700 or more if you’re flexible, while 50,000 Hilton points might not be enough to cover a full night at a $400 per night big city hotel. In general, hotel points tend to give you less reward value per point than airline miles, while cash for travel points tend to be worth at least one cent each, so 10,000 points gets you at least $100 in travel rewards.

Cards that offer cash for any travel purchase give people who don’t want to mess with miles — but want to save on travel — a way to get more value from their spending than many straight cashback cards.

With hotel-branded cards, you can use bonus points for travel or transfer them into airline miles with their respective partners, which helps boost miles in a loyalty program to use for things like free flights and seat upgrades. Some airline-branded credit cards not only offer intro bonus miles, but also the chance to earn qualifying miles that count toward that all-important elite status. And travel-branded cards offer websites where you can get bonus points to use toward travel.

Sometimes the chance to get higher bonus points may not be worth it, due to a high annual fee or higher spending needed to get them. Cards with high bonus points coupled with lower annual fees and/or spending could be a better fit.

 

The study is good news for frequent travelers who are finding it more difficult to earn rewards by racking up miles alone. Banks are realizing that some people are frustrated with their airline miles and the rules for using them, said Karimzad.

“The airlines have made it harder to earn miles by flying in recent years,” he said. “Many of them now award miles based on the price of your ticket, instead of how far you fly, making sticking with a single airline mile program less lucrative for people who aren’t heavy business travelers.”

Cards that offer cash for any travel purchase give people who don’t want to mess with miles — but want to save on travel — a way to get more value from their spending than many straight cashback cards, he added.

These days, 50,000 miles is the new 25,000, said Karimzad. “As offers and competition have increased, the bar for going through the trouble of applying for a card has gone up, and consumers should be looking for offers that get them more value than the 25,000 miles of years ago,” he said. “Transferable point cards are the most flexible because you can use the points like cash for travel, or convert the points into real airline miles, so a big bonus on a transferable point card is a great place to start.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Benét J. Wilson
Benét J. Wilson |

Benét J. Wilson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Benét J. at [email protected]

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How to File Taxes as an Immigrant

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Two recurring themes have dominated the news cycle over the past few years: immigration and taxes. While these may seem like entirely separate issues at first glance, immigrants do pay federal income taxes — and face a variety of unique challenges in the process, including dealing with language barriers and learning to file for the first time.

To help make filing your taxes as an immigrant a little easier, here’s an overview of who needs to file, how to file for the first time and where you can turn for help.

Who files taxes?

Citizens aren’t the only ones who pay taxes in the U.S. Immigrants who are authorized to work in this country are required to pay the same federal and state income taxes that citizens do, and undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes each year — often for public benefit programs that they are unable to use.

Filing requirements depend on whether you are considered a nonresident alien or a resident alien.

Resident aliens

A resident alien must meet one of two tests:

  • Green card test. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued you an alien registration card, also known as a “green card,” which allows you to permanently live in the U.S. as an immigrant.
  • Substantial presence test. You must be physically present in the U.S. for at least:
    • 31 days during the current year, and
    • 183 days during the three-year period that includes the current year and the two years immediately before that. (You can read more about how days of presence are determined here.)

Resident aliens follow the same filing requirements as U.S. citizens.

Nonresident aliens

If you are not a U.S. citizen and don’t meet either of the tests to be considered a resident alien, you are considered a nonresident alien.

As a nonresident alien, you must file a tax return if you own a business in the U.S. or have U.S. income and did not have enough tax withheld by your employer. You may also want to file an income tax return to receive a refund of tax withheld.

What’s a W-4?

If you work in the U.S., your employer should ask you to complete Form W-4, which is used to determine the correct amount of tax to withhold from your pay.

Form W-4 includes worksheets to help you determine how many “allowances” you should claim. Each allowance reduces the amount held from your paycheck. You get one allowance for yourself, one for your spouse, and one for each dependent you claim on your tax return.

You can complete a new Form W-4 at any time, and it’s a good idea to submit a new one to your employer anytime your tax situation changes, such as if you get married or divorced or have a new baby. Adjusting your withholding can help prevent having too much or too little tax withheld.

Rather than relying on the worksheets included with Form W-4, you may want to use the IRS’s Withholding Calculator.

How to pay U.S. taxes

In some countries, the government withholds tax from your paycheck, and that’s the end of your tax filing requirements. In the U.S., it’s more complicated. Here’s an overview of what you’ll need to file a tax return.

SSN or ITIN

To pay taxes in the U.S., you will either need a Social Security number (SSN) or an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN).

Noncitizens authorized to work in the U.S. by the Department of Homeland Security can apply for a Social Security number in their home country before coming to the U.S. or by visiting a Social Security office in person. You will need to complete Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, and provide documentation to prove your identity, work-authorized immigration status and age. You can learn more about the acceptable documentation here.

If you are not eligible for an SSN, you can apply for an ITIN by filling out Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and submitting it to the IRS along with documentation proving your identity and foreign status. The Instructions for Form W-7 include a list of acceptable documents and instructions for submitting your application.

Which tax forms to file

The tax forms you’ll use to file your tax return depend on whether you are a resident alien or a nonresident alien.

Resident aliens use the same tax form as citizens: Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. Generally, Form 1040 is due on April 15 of the following year. However, if you are living and working outside of the U.S. on April 15, you are given an automatic extension to June 15. You can request a longer extension, until Oct. 15, by filing Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Nonresident aliens file using Form 1040-NR, U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return. Form 1040-NR is also due on April 15 of the following year, but taxpayers who are not living and working in the U.S. on that date have until June 15 to file. You can request an extension to October 15 by submitting Form 4868 by the due date of your return.

Reporting income earned outside the US

Many resident aliens and nonresident aliens continue to receive income from outside of the U.S. even after they begin working in the country. Resident aliens are required to report income from all sources within and outside of the U.S. on their tax returns, whether they are living in the U.S. or abroad.

However, you may qualify to exclude a portion of your foreign earnings from your taxable income — the amount you can exclude changes each year. You can determine your eligibility and the exclusion amount using Form 2555, Foreign Earned Income. You can also use the IRS’s Interactive Tax Assistant Tool to help determine whether the income you earned in a foreign country can be excluded.

What to do if you’re undocumented?

According to the Pew Research Center, there were roughly 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S in 2017, and 7.6 million of them are a part of the U.S. workforce.

Whether undocumented immigrants work legally under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections or work illegally with falsified or nonexistent documentation, they are required to pay taxes on any income earned in the U.S.

Many undocumented immigrants face barriers to complying with U.S. tax laws due to language barriers, difficulty understanding complex tax laws or fears that the IRS will pass their information along to immigration enforcement.

Later, this article will cover resources where immigrants can find help with tax filing. As for immigration enforcement fears, you generally do not have to fear that the IRS will share your application for an ITIN or tax information with immigration enforcement officials. The IRS is not allowed to release taxpayer information to other government agencies, except for providing information to the Treasury Department for tax compliance investigations or under a court order related to a non-tax criminal investigation.

Benefits of paying taxes

Filing a tax return and paying taxes to the U.S. does not entitle nonresident aliens or undocumented workers to claim Social Security benefits, but there are other benefits to filing tax returns. According to the National Immigration Law Center, paying taxes:

  • Demonstrates compliance with federal tax laws
  • Gives immigrants who want to legalize their immigration status and become a citizen an opportunity to prove they have “good moral character”
  • Document work history and physical presence in the U.S.
  • Claim certain tax benefits, such as the Child Tax Credit
  • Claim insurance premium tax credits for children who are U.S. citizens

Where to find help

The IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program helps taxpayers who cannot afford traditional tax preparation service, need translation assistance or need help applying for an ITIN. The IRS trains and certifies volunteers to provide free basic tax return assistance to individuals.

You can locate a VITA site by visiting http://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/ and entering your ZIP code. Before visiting a VITA site, you may want to review Publication 3676-B (available in English and Spanish) to verify the services provided by VITA and check out the IRS’s What to Bring page to ensure you have all of the required documents and information volunteers will need to help prepare your return and apply for an ITIN, if necessary.

If you prefer to handle tax filing on your own, check out our recommendations for tax filing software.

The bottom line

Working through the forms required to apply for an ITIN and prepare a tax return can be daunting, but seeking help and overcoming the barriers to complying with U.S. tax law is important. If you plan to seek citizenship down the road or someday appear in front of an immigration judge, the fact that you’ve dutifully filed income tax returns while you lived and worked in the country can help make a stronger case for you to remain in the country.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Janet Berry-Johnson
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Janet Berry-Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Janet here

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Financial Therapy: What It Is and How to Know if You Need It

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Whether you’re stressing over paying bills or spending money to make yourself feel better, anxiety and money often go hand in hand. Still, financial advice tends to emphasize numbers and strategies, not the root cause of money concerns.

Financial therapy is a holistic process that enlists both therapeutic and financial methods to help you transform your relationship with money. Here’s how to tell whether or not it might be the right move for you.

What is financial therapy?

The Financial Therapy Association was born out of the 2008 financial crisis, which left many Americans feeling totally hopeless and out of control with their money — a kind of trauma that went deeper than traditional financial counseling could heal. Researchers and practitioners from both the mental health and business fields teamed up shortly after the crash to create a unique, new practice that combines the best aspects of both disciplines.

By late 2009, the Financial Therapy Association, or FTA, was officially recognized as a nonprofit corporation, and the group held its first annual conference in September of 2010. Today, the association offers a variety of tools for both consumers and professionals looking to participate in this unique practice, and also offers a searchable database for finding financial therapists by state.

The association defines financial therapy as “a process informed by both therapeutic and financial competencies that helps people think, feel and behave differently with money to improve overall wellbeing through evidence-based practices and interventions.”

In short, just like regular therapy, it helps you get your head on straight — except in this case, it’s particularly concerned with financial matters. Many financial therapists are also licensed family or marriage counselors, so you can take it on solo or with a partner.

5 signs you need a financial therapist

So, how can you tell if financial therapy is right for you?

Chances are, almost anyone could benefit from professional coaching… but if these scenarios sound familiar, you might want to take finding professional help more seriously.

1. Your relationships are strained, and money’s always the reason. If you’re constantly fighting with your spouse (or other relatives or family members) about money matters, a financial therapist can help you find productive ways to navigate your relationships.

2. You’re depressed or anxious about your money in a way that’s impacting your wellbeing. While money can be a stressful topic for anyone from time to time, if it’s ruling your life, a therapist can help you find new behavioral patterns. Whether it’s the emotional toll of debt or the stress of saving a workable nest egg, a financial therapist can offer both mental and monetary tactics to help you tackle the problem.

3. You know the steps you need to take, but can’t quite seem to make them happen. Whether it’s balancing your budget or paying down debt, if you can’t make your behavior match your financial plan, a financial therapist could have the answer.

4. You find yourself lying about money and hiding your excessive or emotional spending. These kinds of behaviors can wreak havoc on your wallet, not to mention your relationships, and may be based in compulsion. A financial therapist can help you develop alternative relaxation tactics so you can overcome your emotional splurges without doing damage to your nest egg.

5. Thinking about your financial future is leading to unexpected emotions or creating family tension. As important as estate planning may be, it can also be a difficult and emotional experience. After all, it means thinking seriously about the reality of your own death. And divvying up your stuff can lead to difficult conversations, particularly if you have a blended family or strained relationships. A financial therapist can help you work through all that emotional baggage and offer helpful communication tactics.

Do you need a financial therapist and a financial advisor?

There’s no specific set of certifications or degrees a professional must have to be a member of the Financial Therapy Association — so each individual counselor is just that: an individual. He or she may lean more heavily toward one side of the professional aisle or the other, and finding the right fit could take some trial and error.

For instance, if you’re mostly concerned with the how-to part of financial advisement, like figuring out the difference between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA or the best way to tackle credit card debt, a plain-old financial advisor can probably help you, but so could a financial therapist who works primarily as an advisor or wealth management professional.

On the other hand, if you’re really digging into the emotional side of your financial landscape, finding a financial therapist who is a mental health professional first can help you tackle those struggles, while also laying the framework for solid monetary planning and behavior down the line. A financial therapist who identifies more strongly with the clinical counselling part of their job title may also be able to help you in other aspects of your mental health, if you’re struggling with matters beyond your money.

The bottom line is, there’s no one approach that’s right for everyone — and, just like dating, you’ll definitely want to shop around. Whether you hire a financial therapist, a financial advisor or both, when you’re talking about people who are going to advise you on matters as important as your financial future, getting along well is key. It’s worth making several calls and sitting through a few introductory interviews to make sure you’ve found a good fit.

How to find a financial therapist

If financial therapy sounds like it might be a fit for you, there are some wonderful resources available from the Financial Therapy Association to help you find and hire a professional. For instance, it offers a great database of financial therapists that’s searchable by both name and state.

Of course, since it’s such a new field, financial therapists are relatively few and far between — and you may find there’s not one in your area. Several states on the list have zero names listed beneath them (so far, anyway).

Fortunately, the internet makes it possible to do financial therapy work at a distance, and many professionals do just that. If you find someone whose credentials, focus and basic methodologies you like, you can reach out to them directly to see if they’d be able to perform therapy via Skype or phone call. You can also check out the specific “at a distance” list available via the FTA database. The association also offers monthly online webinars and other educational tools to start the process on your own if you’re not quite ready to hire a professional.

The bottom line

Financial therapy can be a great way to help alleviate your anxieties and fears about financial matters, or to help you find ways to break money-related habits you just can’t seem to knock out on your own. And as with any type of therapy, seeking out professional help is anything but a sign of weakness. Money touches all of our lives and has a huge impact on our lifestyles, so it makes sense that it’s a wildly emotional topic. So if financial therapy sounds like it might be a fit for you, don’t be afraid or ashamed to reach out. If anything, recognizing you need help makes you that much stronger — and both your brain and your bank account will thank you for it.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jamie Cattanach
Jamie Cattanach |

Jamie Cattanach is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here