Cash+ Experiments in Progress

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

I recently signed up for the US Bank Cash+ credit card.  The card is free, and it is very likely the best cash back card there is (see “The best cash back card?“).  I know that a lot of my readers care only for points & miles, not cash back, but I believe that’s a sub-optimal view.  Even if you value miles above cash, you can often end up with many more miles by getting cash back and then using that cash to buy miles cheaply (see “Giving Cash its Dukedom“).

What makes the Cash+ card exciting is that each quarter you get to pick one 2% cash back category and (more interestingly) two 5% cash back categories from a set list.  Even better, through a couple of tricks, it should be possible to increase that cash back to over 9%!

Here is an image of the current 2% and 5% categories:

image_thumb8

Now that I have the Cash+ card, I’m excited to begin a series of experiments. Here is what I have going so far:

Verify that the cash back rate is 6.25% when redeeming rewards $100 at a time

This seems very clear from the online documentation, but I might as well double check this.  When you cash out your awards in $100 increments, US Bank promises to give you a $25 bonus.  That means that 5% cash back rewards are really 6.25%.  Sweet.

Verify that checking account bonuses stack with other bonuses for up to 9.375% cash back!

As a reader recently informed me, US Bank has two checking accounts that offer an automatic rewards bonus for Cash+ and FlexPerks cardholders.  The Gold account offers a 25% monthly bonus, and the Platinum account offers a 50% monthly bonus.  If these bonuses stack with the $25 bonus for each $100 withdrawn, then you can increase your 5% return to 7.8% or 9.375%, respectively!  Each account has fees that can be waived through various means.  See this page for details.

To see how this should work, consider a person with the Platinum checking account who spends $4000 in 5% cash back categories.  That person, will earn 5% cash back, which amounts to $200.  Then, at the end of the month, they should get a 50% bonus which would increase their total cash back to $300.  Then, if that person withdraws $100 at a time, he/she will get an extra $25 each time.  In total, this person should get $375 cash back.  $375 is 9.375% of $4000!

Check whether Kiva loans count as charity contributions

Many people have reported that Kiva loans are counted by US Bank as charity contributions with the FlexPerks card (see, for example, this Mommy Points post).  It will be very interesting to see if the same holds true with this card!

For more about Kiva, see “How to maximize points and virtue through Kiva loans,” and “Minimum spend requirements? Kivalens to the rescue.”

See what counts as Department Store purchases


Target:
It’s very unlikely, but if Target counts as a department store, it would be awesome to get over 9% cash back for reloading the Target Amex card!  See “The 5X everywhere backup plan.” 

Sears: Sears is definitely listed as a department store.  I just need to verify that gift card purchases from Sears are counted as such.  If so, you can expect several posts about leveraging that opportunity!

Others?  Can you think of any other stores that might count as department stores and would be worth checking?  Ideal candidates are those that sell a variety of gift cards and/or those in which online portals tend to offer high payouts.

Reader Suggestions

There seems to be an endless number of ways to leverage this card.  Do you have ideas worth exploring?  Have you used this card?  If so, what have your experiences been so far?  More importantly, have you found a good way to figure out how your purchases are classified?  When I look at my transactions online, it doesn’t seem to indicate anything about this.  Do I need to wait for my statement?


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Comments

  1. From looking at other forums, it seems like the checking account bonus only applies to the base 1% rewards and not the category bonuses.

    • nep301: You’re probably right about that (can you point me to some of those forums?), but it would mean that US Bank’s ad is very deceptive (no surprise there!). It says “50% monthly bonus on all rewards earned for net purchases (purchases minus credits and returns).” Nothing is said about base rewards. Regardless, getting between 6.25% and 6.75% would still be awesome.

    • Zz: Good question. Walmart is worth checking too. Yes, I’m in the process of getting a checking account.

      Milezjunkie: Let me know how that goes. I assume you’re suggesting that you would signup for Home Improvement as a 5% category?

  2. The Lowes I shop at has a gift card mall. I will check and see if they sell $500 Visa gift cards. If so, they could be used to then buy VR at Walgreens or OD then load onto BB. It cuts the return down to 3.02% without factoring in a bonus for redeeming $100.

  3. FM:

    Discovery card has great cash bonuses, too, esp if use the shopdiscovery portal. For ex: Sears – 10% thru 1/10/13; drugstore.com – 15%. Not all the time, but has 5% all the time.

  4. I have the flexperks card from the Olympics promo(as I’m sure many of your readers do), Can you point us to where this offer is to get additional points by having a checking account.. thanks!

  5. Target has never come up as a department store on my Amex Blue Cash preferred. And if you check the Visa Supplier Locator (http://visa.via.infonow.net/locator/usa/supplier/NewSearch.do), the MCC is “DISCOUNT STORES/WAREHOUSE/WHOLESALE -5310″. What’s interesting is that the grocery MCC (5411) is also listed for my neighborhood Target on the VSL. I knew that Wal-Mart sometimes has grocery MCCs and discount store MCCs in the same store (the super Wal-Marts have two different sets of registers, I think), but I didn’t know that Target was doing that, and honestly I’m not sure how it would work in my store since there’s only one set of registers.

  6. The Bill Payment category is good for those who aren’t going the Chase Ink/BB route, but forums have found a lot of limitations. It only works for payments that can normally be paid by credit card (not mortgages), and it must fall into one of these specific categories: phone, internet, cable/satellite TV, utilities and insurance. Even following these guidelines, I think some people have found that US Bank does not recognize some of these payments. In a few months I’m sure we will have a better idea of what US Bank classifies as fitting in the Bill Payment category.

  7. @Nick
    I’ve been looking for a website like that for the past month! Thanks! Any ideas as to a similar one for Amex and/or MasterCard?
    Also, I looked up a local Target and it was classified as BOTH a “wholesale/distributor” AND a “grocery”. Any ideas on how that plays out on purchases? I’ll be investigating this weekend, but will have to wait for my statement to close in 3.5 weeks.

  8. For the Gold Package Checking, one of the options to waive the monthly fee is to Auto-pay to a U.S. Bank personal loan, line, or credit card. This should be a easy way of getting the 25% bonus on the base rewards.

  9. Looking forward to this series. I’m earning way too many miles. I want cash or travel-cash. Last to I took was redeemed with FlexPerks, cost 20K points but also earned 4K elite and 17K redeemable miles, in addition to the trip.

  10. Ben L:

    I would think MC/Amex would be processed the same as Visa. Regarding your other question, I’ve never tested it, but my understanding is that you can have different MCCs at the same Super Wal-Mart. Buy from the grocery section, and it’s processed under 5411 (regardless of what you’re buying), and buy from the other set of registers and it’s processed under 5310. So if you have Amex Blue Cash or any other card with a grocery bonus, it’s another way to goose your cash/points/miles earning.

    Incidentally, I seem to recall that retailers pay lower interchange rates on grocery transactions than on others, which is why they have it split like this rather than keeping everything under the discount store MCC.

  11. FrequentMiler,

    The Slickdeals and Fatwallet forums that nep301 links are where I had seen the previous discussions about this card.

  12. If you are jumping through hoops trying to see if Target works as a department store on this card or other 5% card – you just might as well get a Target card that gives you 5% off your bill at checkout. Much simpler :). The way I travel – I will rarely get a 5% return so it still makes sense to me to use the Target card. Plus free shipping on their web site – good use of a shopping portal.

  13. So I’m contemplating openning up another checking account for this miles game. Chase for the “Exlusive” perk with freedom card, Ufb for aa miles by loading bb, and us bank for cash+. I can’t do dd for the accounts. Have you done a cost benefit comparison bt these and what would u recommend?

  14. I have read that different cards code stores differently. Will take more tests to figure out what this one may count as in different areas.
    .
    I have yet to get this card and am a bit leary of chasing around for stackable CB. Sometimes those things fail or have other hidden costs and so it’s hard to justify the work involved unless it runs smoothly. Often times something gets gummed up though.

  15. FM: I get you. If we could use Target card to load to Target Amex you could get your 5% that way. I wasn’t thinking outside the box. I was just talking about the people wanting to use the Cash+ card at Target for actual purchases and wondering if it was classified as a department store. No need since Target card gives 5% back.
    I did just see the Target Amex at my local Target and though of your blog :). But I am lucky to be able to get Vanilla Reloads and they are in good supply so I will just use this for now. And I just got my Ink yesterday. Going to load up the Bluebird and pay my property taxes with their bill pay. This will wipe out the spend in one fell swoop.
    Love your blog. I am a computer programmer so I love all of the analyzing and number crunching.

  16. Thanks for the info and prompt response FM. I’m a bit of a newb here. Start a new job next month and am planning my financial goals.

    Can you confirm any Visa gift or prepaid cards you’ve used (in conjunction with Bluebird) that were treated as category specific? I’m thinking of getting this card to pay rent and loans each month (about $3000). I’m just wary of being able to find gift/prepaid cards that I can purchase without too much trouble each month.

    Also, for grocery specific purchases (e.g., gift cards, Visa GCs, and groceries/food), do you suggest this card given the higher 6.875% return? Or the AmEx card that gives 6% cash back? I’m weighing the options since w/the AmEx you wouldn’t have to wait for the $25 card in the mail which is a huge hassle and can take 6-8 weeks I’ve read. Would be nice to receive the 6% automatically credited to my account. Your thoughts?

    • Lgea: I haven’t yet found any good places to get high value gift cards at 5X with the Cash+ card. The Amex is definitely better for grocery purchases, but don’t forget that it is now capped at $6K spend per year (i.e. $300 cash back from grocery stores).

  17. Have you checked out Home Depot and Best Buy yet? How rare exactly are $500 Visa CC payable cards? If you’re not using the Cash+, how exactly are you paying rent/mortgage right now and what sort of cash back return on it are you getting?

    • Okay, thanks. Are there any Vanilla alternatives that are sold at grocery stores? If so, I would use the AmEx 6% card there. Otherwise, Cash+ for 3.125% (when coupled with a plat. checking account) it will be. Unless you know of a better/higher yielding alternative?

      Thanks again for all the great info!

  18. I have been a long-time US Bank customer, but have only recently become obsessed with the points/miles game. I called US Bank back in October and enquired about upgrading my Platinum Visa (which was one of the only cards left in my arsenal that didn’t have a rewards program). The very friendly CSR went through the options with me, and as soon as she got to the Cash+ card, it was a no-brainer. Right around the same time, I refinanced my mortgage and my broker sold the loan to US Bank. Another easy phone call and I am now a Platinum Checking holder with no monthly fee. By now, everyone knows about the [somewhat] misleading language regarding the 50% bonus on cash back. But it still works out to 1.875% on everyday purchases, 3.125% on the 2% category (I chose grocery), and 6.875% on the 5% bonus categories (I’m currently doing bill pay and restaurants). I have been able to get most of my monthly bills moved over. There is no fee for AT&T Uverse, State Farm Insurance, Sprint Wireless, trash, or sewer. There is a fee for electric ($2.75), gas ($2.95), and water ($1.85), but the returns far exceed the fees. Plus, I have gas and electric on budget billing, so to minimize the fees I have been alternating paying 2 months of each one in one transaction.

    We eat out a lot, so restaurants seemed like the obvious choice for the second category, but I’m beginning to second guess. So far, all of my rewards gathering has been on normal spend categories, but blogs like yours have me thinking. I have been studying the gift card racks at my local grocery stores and Targets to see how much of my everyday spend I might be able to bump up to 3.125% instead of the paltry 1.875% (LOL). I found a CVS very close to me that has so far allowed me to purchase Vanilla Reloads on my Citi HHonors card. But I don’t know if I really feel that 1500 HHonors points for $3.95 is a good deal, so now I’m thinking about changing my 2% category to drug stores and using my Cash+ instead. But I definitely don’t want to do anything that will get me in trouble with US Bank and jeopardize my accounts, so I’m hesitant to use my Cash+ to purchase VR’s.

    Then there is Kohl’s. I love Kohl’s. My wife and I are MVC’s. We regularly get 15 – 20% off deals, and usually get 30% deals 4 – 5 times a year. We tend to save our purchases until we have one of these deals, and we’ve always used our Kohl’s charge to get the extra discount. I never really thought of using a different credit card at Kohl’s until a week ago when we bought a Dyson. We had quite a bit of Kohl’s Cash and a $100 gift card, so we used all that combined with our 30% off and put the balance on our Kohl’s charge. When I got home, I studied the receipt. The Kohl’s cash came off first, then the 30% was applied to the balance. After that, the $100 gift card and then the balance on our Kohl’s charge. So I can use gift cards in conjunction with the precious 30% as long as part of the balance goes on my Kohl’s charge. Great news! Now I’m thinking of ways to buy Kohl’s gift cards to get points on another credit card and use them to cover most of my Kohl’s purchases in order to get the MVC discounts and Kohl’s Rewards points. I know Kohl’s is a department store – has anyone had any luck buying gift cards in store at Kohl’s using the Cash+ with department stores set as one of the 5% categories? This should net me an extra 6.875% on almost everything I buy at Kohl’s as long as it works. Plus, Kohls has a gift card rack for other merchants as well, so that offers an opportunity to increase my cash back on other everyday categories. Thoughts? Is there an even more lucrative way to get Kohl’s gift cards?

  19. cjstl: try buying Kohl’s gift cards at Kohls.com after going through an online portal for cash back or points. That way you should get the US Bank Department store bonus plus the portal points/cash

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