I'm going to do my readers a favor and assume that by the time they've graduated to blogs like mine from the training-wheels affiliate bloggers, they're perfectly aware of my objections to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, so I won't relitigate that case today. Suffice it to say, the only person who should even entertain the notion of paying a $95 annual fee for the card is a business traveler who's reimbursed for their travel expenses and is allowed to pay for their own hotels and meals while on the road. Even then, I'd be skeptical.
But whenever I rail against the Sapphire Preferred, someone inevitably comes back with their supposed trump card: "Sure," they say, "you'd have to be crazy to keep the Sapphire Preferred, but a 40,000 Ultimate Rewards-point signup bonus makes it worth applying whenever you're eligible for a new bonus."
That's wrong too. Here's why.
Both Sapphire Preferred and Slate can be product-changed to Freedom
While Sapphire Preferred is an Ultimate Rewards-earning card and Slate isn't, both products are "own brand" Chase credit cards, and cardholders can call in to request a product change to the best no-annual-fee Ultimate Rewards-earning credit card: Chase Freedom.
That means the end game is the same with both cards: a product change to Freedom. The only comparison worth making is the advantages of signing up for each card in the first place. So which card offers bigger rewards for signing up?
What are 40,000 more Ultimate Rewards points worth to you?
A lot of bloggers will try to tell you what 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points are worth. A night at the Park Hyatt Vendôme costs 672 Euro, so 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points must be worth $810!
But I don't really care what 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points are worth in the abstract. I care what 40,000 more Ultimate Rewards points are worth.
And the answer is that if you're not going to redeem them, they're worth $400.
Now, maybe you are going to redeem them. Maybe you keep your Ultimate Rewards balance as low as possible by continually redeeming them for premium cabin international trips and luxury hotels. But even if so, don't value 40,000 more Ultimate Rewards points at the highest value you get from the program; value them at the average value you get across all your travel redemptions.
What is a $30,000 negative-interest-rate loan worth to you?
I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but last week I understated the value of the Chase Slate introductory balance transfer offer of no balance transfer fee for transfers within the first 60 days, and a 0% interest rate on balance transfer for 15 months.
I wrote, "for the first 60 days of a Slate account membership, you can transfer up to $15,000 in balances with no balance transfer fee."
But that's not exactly right. You can transfer up to $15,000 from non-Chase-issued credit cards in the process of opening a new account, but that actually has nothing to do with the $0 balance transfer fee and 0% balance transfer APR: it's a restriction Chase places on all balance transfers.
In fact, Chase's rule is that only $15,000 can be transferred in each rolling 30-day period. Since the $0 balance transfer fee lasts for the first 60 days of card membership, you're actually able to transfer up to $30,000 under the no-fee, 0% APR offer.
Of course, that would require having a sufficiently high credit limit, but Chase does allow you to transfer available credit from other credit cards, so you can always scrounge up as large a credit line as possible from your worthless Marriott, British Airways, Hyatt, and Southwest credit cards, for example.
Before I dig any deeper, let's be clear on the math here: your $30,000, 15-month loan has a negative interest rate because you've transferred the balance from other, rewards-earning credit cards. Using conservative assumptions of a 2% cash back credit card with 1% in purchase and liquidation fees, your $30,000 loan is worth a minimum of $300 — before you even get around to using the money!
So, how should you use the money?
Money is fun. Lots of money is even more fun
So now you've got $30,000 in cash lying around, and you only need to make minimum payments on your new Slate card for 15 months. What do you do with the cash?
- Max out high-interest savings accounts. Maybe you're like me and you drip a steady amount into your high-interest savings accounts each month. That's no longer necessary: max them out and reap 5% or higher APY on your savings.
- Pay down your mortgage. While your home is hopefully financed at an extremely low interest rate, you may still be paying private mortgage insurance if you haven't yet built up enough equity. By bringing your equity up to 20% of your home's value, you may be able to save hundreds of dollars a month in mortgage insurance payments (I'm not your banker or insurance agent; check with them first).
- Pay down your student loans. I have a small Perkins student loan that's accruing interest at a rate of 5.6% APR. I'm going to pay it off, saving a few hundred dollars in interest payments over the life of the loan.
- Make retirement contributions. If you qualify for the retirement savings contribution credit, up to 50% of your contributions to qualifying retirement plans can be rebated when you file your taxes. I recently wrote a walkthrough of the retirement savings contribution credit over at the Saverocity Forum; there's a lot more information available there.
- Invest it. Of course traditional investment vehicles aren't paying much at the moment, but we're travel hackers: there are alternatives. You can fund Kiva loans with a 5%- or up-to-6%-earning credit card. If you belong to a bank or credit union that allows it, you can fund certificates of deposit with a rewards-earning credit card. A 6-month CD funded with a 2.22% cash back credit card suddenly adds 4.44% to your annualized return. 3-month CD's will double that again.
- Buy something. Of course this isn't strictly speaking a way of maximizing the yield on your loan, but if the alternative is to finance a car or appliance at a high interest rate, being able to make the purchase with cash may save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.
The options I listed above are just the first few that sprang to mind; you no doubt have your own ideas about what you'd do with a $30,000 negative-interest-rate loan. So do the math, and in almost all cases I suspect you'll find the loan is more valuable than the additional Ultimate Rewards points.
After all, Ultimate Rewards points are easy to earn — a lot easier than finding negative-interest-rate loans!