As a reminder, if you carry the US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature, which has no annual fee, you can select one 2% cash back category (out of gas stations, drug stores, or grocery stores) and two 5% cash back categories each quarter. 2% cash back is unlimited, while 5% cash back is earned on up to $2,000 in combined category purchases each quarter. You'll earn 1% cash back on all non-bonused purchases and those above the $2,000 5% limit.
Here are this quarter's 5% cash back category options (remember, you can pick two):
- Sporting Good Stores
- Cell Phone
- Department Stores
- Electronics Stores
- Fast Food
- Furniture Stores
- Car Rental
- Movie Theaters
So, which categories should you choose?
Charity: Earn 5%+ Interest on $8,000 in Savings
I'm not going to relitigate the morality of microlending every time I post about US Bank, but suffice it to say that loans made through the Kiva microlending website earn "charity" bonuses on US Bank credit cards. Since many Kiva loans are repaid in less than 12 months, the effective Annual Percentage Yield achieved by using a US Bank Cash+ (or Flexperks Travel) card is somewhat higher than 5% (since you can reloan the same money more than once in the same 12 month period).
Bookstores: Load American Express Campus Edition Prepaid Cards
If you live nearby a Barnes and Noble Campus Bookstore, you may be able to order and load an American Express Campus Edition Prepaid Card there. You'll have to check whether your local campus bookstore participates, but if so, you can pay $3.95 to load up to $500 to your prepaid card, earning $25.20. You can then liquidate the prepaid card's balance for free through Amazon Payments or by buying a PIN-enabled Visa Debit card anywhere those are sold.
Interestingly, I'm no longer able to find the language in the Cardmember Agreement limiting loads to $6,000 per 12-month rolling period, which had previously been a pretty serious throttle on this technique. Does anyone know if that limit has been lifted, or if I'm just getting worse at reading legalese?
Finally, the last time I looked into it, purchases made at Amazon.com also count as "bookstore" purchases and earn 5% cash back. This could be great if you do a lot of shopping at Amazon.
Electronics Stores: Great Discounts on Electronics
If you're actually interested in buying something, you can get great discounts on electronics purchased at (for example) both the online Apple Store and Best Buy by first clicking through a shopping portal (like the ShopDiscover mall, which gives 5% cash back at both), then get an additional 5% cash back by using your Cash+ card on purchases up to $2,000. I sometimes do this to give friends discounts on purchases they were going to make anyway, when they don't have access to (or can't be bothered to sign up for) the most lucrative shopping portals. Bringing the cost of a $2,000 laptop down to $1,800 is a pretty big deal in my neck of the woods.
Cell Phone: Cash Back on Phone Upgrades
Personally, I went to a contract-free cell phone plan a long time ago, and only pay $180 per quarter in cell phone expenses. If you're still on the contract treadmill, however, you may plan to purchase a new cell phone directly from your wireless carrier. In that case, you can earn 5% cash back on the phone (and plan) when you make the purchase with your Cash+ card.
Department Stores: Take Advantage of Periodic Promotions
There's a whole microindustry of blogging about how to take advantage of periodic spikes in shopping portal payouts at various popular department stores. If that's your thing, the Cash+ card lets you earn an extra $100 cash back on your department store purchases each quarter. Check out these posts for more information (personally I don't have the time, patience, or interest to get in on most of these offers):
- Frequent Miler: Sears 25X via an interesting confluence of events
- Mommy Points: Earn Tons of Miles and Points for Holiday Shopping
Am I Missing Anything?
I know I can count on my readers to let me know if there are any big opportunities I haven't covered here.