3 Big Credit Card Trends And How To Make The Most Of Them

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Brokamp: Let's do that.

Southwick: Is this making you feel good about your age?

Brokamp: [laughs] Yes. I'm closing in on my peak!

Rick Engdahl: I'm ready to go start a company.

Southwick: Do it! Among the founders that they looked at in their Census Bureau data set, the average age of a company founder at the time of founding was 41.9 years. That's all the founders. They limited their data set to include only tech companies, and further winnowed that down to the fastest-growing 0.1%. In other words, this is the one company out of every thousand that saw its sales or number of employees increase the most in its first 5 years. Among this subset, the average founder age was 45. 

The researchers decided to look at it another way. They looked at firms that had successfully gone public or were acquired by another company. The average founder age there was 46.7. Finally, they created a batting average. The odds that the founders of different ages would make it into the top 0.1% percentile? The data revealed that a founder who is 50 years old is 1.8X more likely to start a top company than a 30-year-old founder; and that a 20-year-old founder has the worst chance of all.

While researchers didn't dig into the why, they did offer that founders with three or more years of experience in the same industry as their start-up are twice as likely to have a 1/1000 fastest-growing company. 

Let's revisit Dan Scheinman and his old farts venture fund. How's it doing? Well, when his skeptical wife asked to see where the money was going, he showed her the results, and her response was, "Keep going." He's now one of the leading angel investors in Silicon Valley.

Brokamp: Wow! You wonder if, A, it's a question of survivorship bias. We hear about the Zuckerbergs and all those folks, but we don't hear about all of the other 20-somethings who tried to start a company and it didn't work. Also, who the media chooses to profile and make a celebrity CEO, it just might be a flashy story to find some kid who's doing something.

Procter & Gamble for 30 years!"" data-reactid="56">

Southwick: A wonderkid, yeah, as opposed to some old dude who's like, "I ground it out at

Procter & Gamble for 30 years!"

Brokamp: Let me make it clear here that mid-40s to 50 is not old.

Southwick: Oh, no! It's not! It is not, by the way! As I am approaching my 40th birthday, no, no, it's not.

Brokamp: And tomorrow is my 49th.

Southwick: Is it?! Tomorrow's your birthday?!

Brokamp: It is, yeah.

Southwick: I didn't know that! Happy birthday!

Brokamp: Thank you very much. Yeah, my birthday is July 11th. In celebration, 7-Eleven always gives out Slurpees. Go get your free Slurpee.

Southwick: It's also my dad's birthday. Did you know that?

Brokamp: I didn't know that.

Southwick: 7-11!

Engdahl: I thought the Slurpees were for him.

Southwick: For my dad? Oh, yeah, they're for my dad, not for you.

Brokamp: It's for both of us.

Southwick: Today, we're going to tackle three credit card trends to watch out for and what you can do about them. Helping us is Austin Smith. He works on The Ascent. It's a new website that The Motley Fool has launched. Hey, Austin! Thanks for joining us!

Austin Smith: Hello! Thanks for having me!

Southwick: Before you get going into our topic at hand, can you tell us a little bit about The Ascent?

Smith: I would love to. I'm glad you asked. Everybody knows The Motley Fool's helped you invest better for years, but there's a lot of other personal finance decisions beyond investing that we feel like we can bring light to. We've launched The Ascent, which is a personal finance-focused site, helping you pick the best credit card, the best mortgage, the best savings account, the best insurance, you name it. We're going to review hundreds of products across all if these categories, bring a little bit of Foolishness to the table and provide our recommendations for which one is the best for your specific situation.

Southwick: All of this content is available for free?

Smith: Always. You can access it whenever you want at theascent.com.

Southwick: Alright, let's get into it. We're going to tackle a few trends in credit cards, and then you're going to tell our listeners what they can do to take advantage of that trend, or come out on the other side even wealthier and healthier and with shining credit ... I don't know. We'll see. I'm making a lot of promises for you. We'll see how you do.

Smith: It's a lot to live up to, but we like high expectations. Our tag line is "helping you live more richly," so I think we'll be able to fit that mold.

Southwick: Alright, here we go! What's the first trend?

Smith: We're seeing quite a bit of an enrollment arms race by the credit card issuers right now. 

JPMorgan kicked this off a few years ago with their Sapphire cards. They just started lavishing new card owners with massive benefits. It's resulted in this massive ramp among almost all of the issuers, where they're giving you more points, free hotel stays, free sign-up bonuses. 

It used to be that, when you signed up for a new card, maybe you were getting $200-250 worth of benefits. JPMorgan dialed that all the way up to 11. You can get up to $625 worth of sign-up bonuses, all the way up to $725 or $750, depending on your category. They kicked off this arms race. All the other issuers are following suit. 

American Express is upping their sign-up bonuses,

Discover is becoming extremely competitive with some 50,000 bonus point sign-up reward. Just lavishing new card owners when they register.

Southwick: If one of the trends is that people like us are getting tons of points and awesome benefits for signing up for new cards, I want to assume that the best way to take advantage of this trend is to sign up for new cards. Did I get it right?

Smith: That's a really good guess, but there's an even better version of it. While you might be looking at ten cards, and they might be showering you with 40,000 sign-up bonus points, the value of those points will value out differently based on the issuer and the card platform. What we've found in our analysis is that not all miles and bonus points are considered equal. 

This is an instance where niche cards or particular cards will actually transfer better. What I mean is, if you look at Chase Sapphire Preferred -- which set the high-water mark in this category with their 50,000 sign-up bonus points -- if you can sign up for an airline, maybe a Frontier or a

Southwest, you might only get 40,000 bonus points. That's still pretty rich, but because they transfer onto their own platform instead of just a platform where you can book with any airline, they're worth more per mile or per point. Those 50,000 on Chase might not be worth as much as a 40,000 on a Southwest card.

Our suggestion to play this trend is, if people are ramping up these sign-up bonuses, to actually go with a niche player like a Southwest card, a Frontier card, a

Marriott Hotel card, because they transfer more richly within their own network, they're worth more. The standard transfer rate to consider is about $0.005-0.01 per point on a Chase platform. If you look at a Southwest or a Frontier, the transfer rate is about $0.01-0.03 of value per point. They end up being worth quite a bit more.

Southwick: You mentioned niche cards that are all travel-related. What if I'm not much of a traveler? What good are sign-up bonus points for me?

Smith: Typically, the math will still work out -- if you're looking at a sign-up bonus with a niche product where all of those bonus points stay within their own network, you're going to get a better rate transfer than trying to transfer those points to something that lets you book to any airline or any hotel. You just get a lower point value per point.

Brokamp: Sometimes, you read articles about how to negotiate with companies. For example, if you have an annual fee with a card or something like that. I've occasionally read articles where they say you can call up and say, "I'm not interested in paying this fee anymore, I'm going to leave," and it can get waived. I don't know how accurate that is. But, do you know if these side benefits are anything you could negotiate for? Could you say, "I'm interested in this other card, but I'll stay with you if you give me some more points," or anything like that?

Smith: We haven't seen a lot of people get flexibility on the points. Granted, we haven't tried it or researched it ourselves. But, we have seen people get flexibilities on their annual fees on the cards, to your first point. I would just go for it on that measure, because that's something they can themselves more easily control. It's just waiving a fee.

Brokamp: Got it.

Southwick: Alright, what's the second trend that our listeners should be on the lookout for?

Smith: The second trend, which relates to the first, which is one of the ways credit card companies are now able to afford these lavish sign-up bonuses, is by eroding side perks. It used to be that credit cards maybe came with a dozen different perks, and most people didn't realize they had access to all those benefits, they didn't use any of them. Things like auto rental coverage, price protection, free credit scores. 

Basically, what we've seen is, they've traded this more benefits mantra that persisted in the credit card space for a very long time in favor of the best. They're going to bundle all of their chips in a huge sign-up bonus or a huge cash back allowance on the card. They're doing away with a lot of these side perks, maximizing their sign-up bonuses.

Southwick: Alright, and how should I take advantage of that?

Smith: Most people didn't even know that they had access to most of these benefits. What we've found is, there are still side door ways to reap these same rewards, but maybe not through the credit card issuers themselves. The way to play this trend, since what we've found is that what most people care about, in order, are, cash back cards, no annual fee, and a low interest rate, you pick the benefit that's most important to you. Find the card that maximizes that benefit the most. If you're looking at a cash back card, maybe look at something like a Discover it or a 

Bank of America cash back card, both of which have really great rates right now. Maximize on the single benefit that's most important to you. 

Then, add in the tertiary benefits with other third-party services that you no longer get through your credit card yourself. For example, you can still get price protection through a program like Earny, which automatically scrapes your credit card statement and looks for price differences between what you paid and refunds you half of the balance automatically. Though you no longer get that through your credit, you can still get it through the third-party bolt-ons, if you so choose.

Southwick: Wait, what is that? Earny? I've never heard of this.

Smith: You've never heard of this?

Southwick: No, tell me about Earny!

Smith: Price protection used to be something that persisted in a lot of credit cards. They no longer have it, so that vacancy has been filled by a company called Earny. You connect it to your credit card statement and they scan everything that you purchased on your statement and balance it up against the lowest available price. If there's a difference, if you overpaid, they file a claim on your behalf, and they refund you half of the balance. 

We find that, by combining these other features with a card, you can maximize the benefit that's most important to you -- maybe cash back, maybe low interest rates. Pick your ideal best card for your pillar, most important benefit. Then, you can still get these other benefits like auto rental coverage or price protection through other third-party products.

Southwick: Earny. I have to look that up.

Smith: We have a Fool in Colorado who gets $20-25 back every month from their statement.

Brokamp: Nice!

Smith: It's fabulous.

Southwick: And what is the third trend that we're going to talk about today?

Smith: The third trend we're going to talk about is kind of derivative of the second, which is the changing ancillary features of credit cards in favor of putting all of your benefits in one basket. That is the travel benefits-ish trend. 

It used to be that credit cards, particularly travel cards, would have all sorts of perks like lounge access at airports, access to pre-check or global entry, which gets you through security faster. What we're finding is that the popularity of a lot of these cards -- particular Chase Sapphire, to name the biggest offender in this space -- has given those benefits to so many people over the last few years that it's eroded the value of it.

Southwick: Oh, yeah, there was the New York Times article. Did you see this?

Smith: I think it was Wall Street Journal.

Southwick: Oh, was it Wall Street Journal? Basically, all these people who used to have the executive lounges at the airports all to themselves were like, "What are all these hoi polloi doing here?"

Smith: "What's the bourgeoisie doing in here?"

Southwick: Basically, they were complaining about little toddlers running around throwing trail mix everywhere, naked.

Brokamp: The credit card commoners!

Southwick: [laughs] It was!

Engdahl: I did that. I brought my kids to the lounge. I was like, "Look at this cool thing! Free food! Help yourselves, kids!"

Smith: OK, we're going to modify this third trend to be the Rick Issue Trend. 

Engdahl: They were spinning around in those cool chairs.

Southwick: Meanwhile, international first-class traveler in the next chair is just fuming at you. But you didn't care. Nope. [laughs] 

Smith: Him and his five guests.

Southwick: [laughs] Everybody! Kids, strangers, "Come on in!"

Engdahl: I didn't notice/ I was stretched out on one of those couches, taking a snooze.

Brokamp: [laughs] "Someone watch my children, I need a nap."

Smith: Our tip for how to play this trend is actually just to avoid Rick and his friends altogether by no longer going to the airport lounges.

Southwick: News you can use, here on Motley Fool Answers -- avoid Rick.

Smith: But seriously, as so many people have signed up for these benefits, it's eroded the value of what used to be a really premium perk. We advocate that people, again, anchor on the one pillar benefit for you. If it's cash back, find the best cash back card. Don't anchor too much on these ancillary benefits, because they're not as valuable as they used to be. 

For example, TSA pre-check used to get you through in about five minutes. Now, with so many people having access to the program, it's closer to 15 or 20. Given that the average TSA line is about 30 minutes, you're really not gaining as much as you used to. Airport lounges have reacted to this inflow of Rick and all his friends, so now you're not getting full meals anymore.

Southwick: [laughs] They just have a picture up in front that says, "No Rick." "Would you like the Rick or No-Rick section?" "I'll take the No-Rick section."

Brokamp: I'll take the Rick section, because I like Rick and his children.

Smith: They pulled back a lot on the volume of benefits. Your meals aren't as large, you aren't getting as many drinks, they might cap the dollar amount that you're getting in that lounge -- which really restricts the value of those benefits to begin with. So, don't chase the ancillary benefits, we say. 

Again, the best way to play this is not to anchor too much on the value of a TSA pre-check and lounge access, which sound like they might be great on paper. Pick the biggest benefit to you, find the card that satisfies that. If you still want lounge access, there are other ways to get it that don't involve you taking a card that's otherwise imperfect for your situation.

Brokamp: Let's say someone hears all this, loves all these perks, and they say to you, "Austin, I'm going to go open up a bunch of credit cards to get all this stuff." What do you say to them?

Smith: There's a responsible and an irresponsible way to open a lot of credit cards. The responsible way is to maybe be aware of what your long-term plan is. If you plan on taking out a large loan in the next year, it's not a good time to take out a bunch of credit cards, because you'll ding your score with each extra application. If you're planning on getting a mortgage, not the best time to take out a bunch of cards. 

If you're not planning on taking out a mortgage or a car loan in the next, let's say, year, don't take out more cards than you have a capacity to reasonably spend on and pay off. If your monthly spending about $2,000 a month and there are two different cards, and you think you can realize the benefits on both of them with $1,000 a month in spending, that's great. But don't take out so many cards that you have to stretch your spending to hit those bonuses. That's like spending for a sale, spending more to save more, the math doesn't end up adding up. Don't stretch your spending level.

Brokamp: That highlights, by the way, another trend that I know of. As the economy has gotten better, people are more gainfully employed, you'd think that their credit card debt would not grow. Actually, credit card debt is growing as people feel wealthier. Let me just highlight, that trend is not a good trend. Folks, just because you're getting these cards doesn't mean you should load up on them.

Smith: Of course. There's another interesting side to that, which is, we see a lot of people misusing their cards. Millennials in particular are not putting enough credit cards. They tend to be very debit card-heavy users. In some instances, we have users maybe abusing their credit card and loading up on debt and not paying it off. We always advocate to pay it off as quickly as you can, ideally every month so you avoid those interest fees. On the other side, we're seeing some people not using a credit card appropriately at all, because maybe they're so scared of debt and that situation. There's a lot of education needed across the spectrum.

Southwick: We've covered travel hacking before. We've talked about a number of these credit cards. We finally got Chase. If we could hang out in the airport lounge, we would be there right next to you with our Chase card. But, we actually were able to get free plane tickets to Orlando because of our points, and it felt so good! It felt really great! I was so happy. Anyway. That's my success story, that I've actually been taking our advice on travel hacking, a little bit. We opened up the one card and got the free plane tickets. I was more excited about it than Ron was. Ron was like, "Whatever."

Smith: If you're traveling, it's hard to beat the Chase Sapphire card. Although, if you're thinking about the travel hacking game -- I don't know if you've covered this before -- we always advocate for signing up for the Chase cards first because Chase has a 5-24 rule. If you sign up for more than five cards within 24 months across any issuer, you're automatically rejected. So, it's best to get your Chase cards in there first. And the Chase points tend to be one of the more transferable credit card points of all the issuers out there. You have a currency which you can combine with other platforms. If you want to play the travel hacking game, you're on the right first step.

Southwick: Taking baby steps. It is scary. The idea of opening up a bunch of credit cards goes against everything that I grew up believing. So, it's a little scary, but it's going fine. And people like Rick made me a believer. Thumbs up.

Engdahl: I had a really nice hotel suite in Iceland, and I would not have paid cash for that, because that place is expensive. But it was free on points!

Southwick: There you go! All these moments! Alright, how about a disclaimer? Again, where can our listeners go if they want to learn more about the research you've done into credit cards?

Smith: www.theascent.com. I would just remind people that while we are very credit card-heavy to launch -- because there are so many credit card users, it's an integral part of many people's lives, there's a lot of misuse, we're covering that heavily for the first few months, but we are going to be expanding into mortgages, insurance, savings accounts, basically any financial product you can imagine. We're going to be out there reviewing it, testing it ourselves, and giving you our honest, transparent assessment. 

Southwick: Alright, there you go! So, everybody, you can head over to theascent.com, and we'll see you at the airport lounge.

Brokamp: Alison, it's no secret to longtime listeners that I'm a fan of The Millionaire Next Door, a book that was first published in 1996 by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. Basically, they looked at real-life millionaires to see how they lived. They found out that real-life millionaires don't live in big houses and have fancy cars. Actually, most of those people are not millionaires because they have such big debts. The real-life millionaires live in middle-class or lower neighborhoods, they drive ordinary cars, they don't live a flashy lifestyle. 

While they focused on millionaires for the study, really, what they emphasized is the ability to cumulate above-average wealth given your circumstances. In fact, they even had a formula for it. But the thing is, you wouldn't know that these people have amassed a decent amount of wealth relative to their income because they live relatively simple lives, and they usually pass their wealth onto their kids or to charities. It's the cases of these charities where we sometimes learn about some people who surprisingly had accumulated a decent amount of money. 

In the coming weeks, we're going to profile a few of these so-called philanthropists next door, starting with someone whose bequest was actually much less than a million dollars, at least initially. In this first installment, we'd like to introduce you to a woman named Oseola McCarty.

She was an African American woman born in 1908 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She lived with her mother, her grandmother, and an aunt. The women made a living by washing clothes, cooking, and cleaning houses. The washing was all done by hand. In the morning, they went out, built the fire, put the pot of water on, washed it by hand, and then they'd hang the laundry out on a line.

Southwick: Oh, wow, and using lye and all kinds of horrible chemicals.

Brokamp: Yeah. Doing all the ironing with an iron that you put on a stove, all that stuff.

Southwick: Oh, hard work. 

Brokamp: Right. Oseola started helping with the washing at a very early age, and she loved it. She was particularly careful about washing and ironing her own clothes for school. One day, her teacher asked her, "Who irons your clothes?" And Oseola said, "I do." So, the teacher hired her, and the word spread. 

The children in a household where her grandmother worked had thrown out a doll buggy. Her grandmother brought it home and gave it to Oseola, and that became her piggy bank. That's where she'd deposit all her money. When she was 12, her aunt became sick and could no longer walk or work, so Oseola had to leave school in the sixth grade to help take care of her and help with the washing. She never returned to school.

One of her jobs was to walk around town and pay the family's monthly bills -- pay the grocer, pay the milkman, people like that. One day, she passed the bank and thought she should put some of the money there. She once said, "I went to the bank and deposited it. I didn't know how to do it. I went there myself, didn't tell Momma and them I was going." 

For her entire working like, she washed clothes by hand. In the 1960s, she tried a washing machine and a dryer, but felt that the washer didn't rinse enough and that the dryer turned whites yellow, so she turned back to her scrubbing rag and just setting a fire every morning and doing the washing herself. 

She lived in a small, simple house, never owned a car, pushing a shopping cart a mile each way to the local grocery store. She never married or had her own children, but she did regularly go to church and made sure that she put money in the collection plate each week. And, she kept putting money in the bank.

By the time she retired in her 80s, in 1995, her account was worth $280,000. Adjusted for inflation, that's almost $500,000. That alone is pretty remarkable. But then, with the help of her banker and a lawyer for whom she worked, she decided to donate $150,000 of it to the University of Southern Mississippi to create scholarships for lower-income African-American students, even though she never attended college. She never even visited the college, even though it's just a few blocks from her house. 

Word got out about her donation, and 600 other people contributed to the fund, adding another $330,000. Then, she became a celebrity. She was on the David Letterman show, she was on Oprah. She was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Southern Mississippi and Harvard. It was the first time she'd ever been on a plane. She carried the Olympic torch through part of Mississippi as it made its way to Atlanta in 1996.

Southwick: She's 80-some years old when this is all happening?

Brokamp: Yes. She also won the United Nations Avicenna Medal for educational commitment, and Bill Clinton awarded her a Presidential Citizens Medal. She rang in 1997 by being the person who flips the switch for the ball to drop on Times Square. She said at the time it was the latest she'd ever stayed up in her whole life. It inspired Ted Turner, the creator of CNN, to donate $1 billion to charity. He said, "If that little woman can give away everything she has, then I can give a billion."

Most of her life, it was in a savings account or CDs. Eventually, the people at the bank convinced her to invest in some conservative mutual funds, so it grew a little bit more. They also convinced her, by the way, to buy an air conditioner for her house and cable TV. Fellow Fool Selena Maranjian has written about her. She wrote about her several years ago. One of Oseola's bankers wrote to Selena and said, "If we had been able to introduce her to equities earlier, she would have left millions instead of thousands."

Oseola died in 1999 at the age of 91. Today, at the University of Southern Mississippi, there's a residence hall named after her. According to articles from 2014, the Oseola McCarty Endowed Scholarship fund is worth more than $700,000. I emailed the university to ask what it's worth now, and they said they don't provide that value anymore, but they did say that through this year, approximately $480,000 has been distributed to 84 students.

Yeah. I'll close with four quotes from Osceola herself. A journalist from People Magazine asked why she didn't spend the money that she'd saved on herself. She answered that, "Thanks to the pleasure that comes from making the gift, I am spending it on myself." 

She said, "I hear some people today have financial advisors to tell them how to save their money and what to spend it on, or people who want more of this or more of that to make them happy. They just can't get enough. Well, the Lord portioned out the good things in life to me just fine. Who needs any more?"

She also said, "I'm proud that I worked hard and that my money will help young people who worked hard who deserve it. I'm proud that I'm leaving something positive in this world. My only regret is that I didn't have more to give." 

And finally, "I can't do everything, but I can do something to help somebody. And what I can do, I will do."

answers@fool.com. Don't forget to send us a postcard from your exotic travels and journeys. Our address is 2000 Duke Street, Alexandria, Virginia, 22314. Our email is answers@fool.com. For Robert Brokamp, I'm Alison Southwick. Stay Foolish, everybody!" data-reactid="165">

Southwick: Wow, that's the show! Thanks again to Austin for dropping by and dropping some credit card knowledge on our heads. The show is edited philanthropically by Rick Engdahl. It is a charity, actually. [laughs] Our email is answers@fool.com. Don't forget to send us a postcard from your exotic travels and journeys. Our address is 2000 Duke Street, Alexandria, Virginia, 22314. Our email is answers@fool.com. For Robert Brokamp, I'm Alison Southwick. Stay Foolish, everybody!

Alison Southwick has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Rick Engdahl owns shares of Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and Facebook. Robert Brokamp, CFP owns shares of Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and Facebook. The Motley Fool recommends Marriott International and Southwest Airlines. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy." data-reactid="166">Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Alison Southwick has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Rick Engdahl owns shares of Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and Facebook. Robert Brokamp, CFP owns shares of Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and Facebook. The Motley Fool recommends Marriott International and Southwest Airlines. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Source : https://finance.yahoo.com/news/3-big-credit-card-trends-144706989.html

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