Final status report on my personal finance application cycle

Last June I wrote about my personal finance application cycle, in which I applied for a Chase Slate and Citi Double Cash credit card in order to run up high balances and use the resulting negative-interest-rate loans to finance other projects. Since my 0% APR introductory periods are coming to an end, I thought readers might enjoy a final update.

Did it work?

My strategy worked perfectly, as it had to.

Fees and interest rates, unlike other terms and conditions of credit card agreements, are heavily regulated and cannot be changed by the banks to retroactively apply to existing balances (as long as you stay current on payments). In fact, even if my Chase and Citi accounts had been closed for some reason, I still would have been entitled to continue making only the minimum payments on the two cards until the introductory interest rate period elapsed.

I had no trouble moving my existing Chase credit lines to my new Slate card, as I explained in the original post, and was able to transfer $15,000 in balances to the card at the promotional 0% APR. I also didn't have any problem manufacturing my $5,200 credit limit on the Citi Double Cash, maximizing the amount of cash I was able to borrow at a negative interest rate.

What happened to my credit score?

When reading about this tactic, many of my readers grow agitated about the horrific damage that must have been wreaked on my credit score by nearly maxing out two credit cards on an ongoing basis.

In the 12 months of FICO score history Barclaycard provides, my score has bounced around between 677 and 729. In the last 6 months, Citi has me between 667 and 683. And in the last 12 months American Express has my FICO score between 670 and 720.

But I don't care about my FICO score, and the "damage" didn't keep me from being approved for a new Chase Hyatt credit card.

As should be obvious, everyone's situation is different: if you have just a few cards, or a short credit history, then high utilization on one or more cards might do significant damage to your credit score, potentially keeping you from getting approved for the credit cards you want.

If you have a lot of cards, and a long credit history, it's more likely to have only a nominal effect on your score, as it did on mine.

What did I do with the money?

Not much! I funded my Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking account with $10,000, and used the rest of my newfound cash flow to increase the speed and convenience with which I manufactured spend on my other credit cards. Even if you diligently pay off each of your credit cards with the same spend manufactured with that card, there are still inevitable delays connected with depositing funds and making payments. Having a substantial amount of cash on hand smooths out those inconvenient delays and increases my overall return.

What's next?

This month I paid off the balance on my Citi Double Cash, and have already started using the card to manufacture unbonused spend. It's a somewhat inconvenient product since you have to pay off your balance in full before your statement closes in order to earn a full 2% cash back on your spend each month. Still, 2% is a perfectly reasonable return on unbonused manufactured spend, so the card still has its uses to me.

After I pay off my Chase Slate balance at the end of the month, I'll call to request a product change to the Chase Freedom Unlimited, which earns 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent everywhere, and that card will enter my rotation as a go-to card for unbonused manufactured spend.

Once that's complete, I'll wait a few weeks until I'm safely out from under the shadow of Chase's 5/24 guideline for new account approvals, and apply for another Chase Slate. I'll move available credit from my new Chase Freedom Unlimited account, and start this process over again.

Should you do this?

I don't give advice. I don't know your situation, and have no idea whether a 15-month, negative-interest-rate loan is right for you. But there are a few reasons you might consider it.

First, there are purchases that you might be considering paying for over time, like a car, which will cost less in total if you accelerate your payments using a negative-interest-rate loan.

Second, holding borrowed cash in a high-interest checking account, as I did, can serve as an "emergency fund" to protect you from job loss, emergency medical bills, or losses in the stock market. Even if, like me, you don't find the idea of an emergency fund particularly interesting from a personal finance perspective, you'll still earn more in a high-interest checking account than you will in a fixed-income mutual fund, a subject I've written about elsewhere.

Third, if you're a reseller or the owner of a business that needs access to capital in order to grow, you might consider financing expansion with a negative-interest-rate loan, especially if you work with vendors who only accept cash or give a discount on cash transactions.

Citi Double Cash Purchase Tracker — Revealed!

The Citi Double Cash is, at face value, a no-annual-fee, 2% cash back credit card. But rather than awarding 2% cash back on purchases, the geniuses in Citi's credit card division came up with a way to drag out their cash back awards over the life of a balance (compare to Barclaycard's practice of awarding Arrival+ miles as soon as purchases move to posted from pending status). 

According to the card's terms and conditions, there are two ways to earn cash back:

"Cash Back on Purchases: Unless you are participating in a limited time promotional offer, you will earn 1% cash back based upon eligible purchases appearing on your current month's billing statement. Eligible purchases you make will be accumulated in the 'Purchase Tracker' shown on your billing statement. The Purchase Tracker shows the balance eligible to earn cash back on payments each billing cycle.

"Cash Back on Payments: You will also earn 1% cash back on payments you make that appear on your current month's billing statement as long as the amount paid is at least the Minimum Payment Due that is printed on your billing statement and there is a balance in the Purchase Tracker. The balance in the Purchase Tracker is reduced by eligible payments you make. When the Purchase Tracker reaches $0, you won't earn cash back on payments until more eligible purchases are made."

This Rube Goldberg contraption raised a few obvious questions: what's a "Purchase Tracker?" How often is it updated? Most importantly, would payments made against purchases in the same billing cycle award all 2% in cash back when the statement closed, or would cardholders have to wait for a second statement to close before they earned the second 1% cash back?

Now that my first Citi Double Cash statement has closed, I'm prepared to reveal all.

What does a Purchase Tracker look like?

There are two versions of the Purchase Tracker: the one that appears on your billing statement, and the one that appears online. They reflect the same information, but in slightly different ways. Here's the Purchase Tracker that appears on my billing statement:

And here's my online Purchase Tracker:

As you can see, my Purchase Tracker reflects all the purchases and all the payments I made during my first billing statement, and I received 1% cash back on each.

The Purchase Tracker is not updated in real time

The online Purchase Tracker only reflects purchases and payments on your last billing statement; it is not updated in real time, and my best guess it that it's unnecessary to wait for your purchases to post before making payments against them.

In other words, all your purchases in the current billing cycle are added to your previous Purchase Tracker balance, and all your payments during the current billing cycle are compared to that new total. If your total payments are less than that new Purchase Tracker balance, you'll receive 1% cash back on the total payments amount.

Statement credit redemptions are not payments and are not supposed to reduce the Purchase Tracker

When redeeming your Double Cash cash back balance as a statement credit, you're informed that the redemption will not reduce the amount in your Purchase Tracker, since statement credit redemptions are not treated as payments.

On the one hand, that means you won't earn cash back on the amount of your statement credit redemption. On the other hand, that means that even when you pay off your entire remaining balance, you will still have a balance in your purchase tracker.

Direct Deposit redemptions aren't immediately available

While you can redeem your Double Cash cash back for statement credits immediately, you cannot redeem your balance as cash back deposited into a bank account until you initiate two ACH "pull" payments from that bank account. Since my "payments" were balance transfers from my new Chase Slate card, I did not have any eligible linked bank accounts, and made a statement credit redemption instead.


If you pay off your entire Citi balance before your statement closes each month, the Citi Double Cash card is a true 2% cash back card. If you instead take advantage of its 15-month 0% introductory APR by paying off your balance as slowly as possible, you won't receive the entirety of your second percent of cash back until you pay off your balance in your 15th month of card membership.

A personal finance application cycle

Last night I applied for two new credit cards which have nothing to do with miles and points. It was a strictly personal finance application cycle.

Citi Double Cash

When the Citi Double Cash was first launched, I explained why I wanted to sign up for the card: with its 2% cash back earning rate and 15-month introductory 0% APR on purchases, Citi is extending a fairly long-term negative-interest-rate loan. In life, when people offer you negative-interest-rate loans, you take them (present European finance ministries notwithstanding).

Before applying, I took the advice of my Twitter followers and lowered the only substantial credit line I had with Citi, a $13,700 credit limit on my Dividend Platinum Select card, to $3,000.

My online application for the Double Cash was immediately approved with a $5,200 credit limit.

Chase Slate

The Chase Slate and Citi Double Cash cards are two great tastes that taste great together: for the first 60 days of a Slate account membership, you can transfer up to $15,000 in balances with no balance transfer fee. Those balances are then interest-free for 15 months.

What this means is that I should be able to turn my $5,200 Citi Double Cash credit limit into a $20,200, 15-month negative-interest-rate loan by repeatedly manufacturing $5,200 in spend and then requesting balance transfers (in the first 60 days) from my Citi Double Cash to my Chase Slate.

Since I have over $25,000 in combined Chase credit lines, I didn't bother adjusting them before applying, knowing that if necessary I could reallocate my credit lines in order to have my Slate application approved.

That wasn't ultimately necessary. My online application was not immediately approved, and I was given an application reference number and phone number to call (877-260-0087). When I called last night, I was told Chase's "systems were not available." But when I called back this morning, after providing some information, I was told my application was approved, with a $500 credit limit.

Once the card arrives I'll call and have $15,000 of my existing Chase Freedom credit lines reallocated to my Slate card.



Of course, as great as long-term negative-interest-rate loans are, what's almost as great is being able to request a product change from my Slate card to a third Chase Freedom in 16 months!

The newest 2% cash back card (and how to use it)


For quite a while now, there have been two cards worth mentioning for everyday, non-manufactured, real honest-to-God spend: the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express card, which gives 2% cash back on all purchases, and the Barclaycard Arrival (now Arrival+) MasterCard which earns 2 Arrival "miles" per dollar spend, redeemable for 1 cent each against travel purchases, with a 10% rebate on all travel purchase redemptions.

With its $89 annual fee, the Arrival+ MasterCard is theoretically only superior (with its 10% rebate) to the Fidelity Investment Rewards card if you spend over $44,500 per year on your Arrival+. Thanks to Barclaycard's liberal approach to annual fee waivers, that hasn't actually been a binding constraint for literally anyone I have talked to about the card. But that fee waiver policy could change at any time, so the annual fee is still important to be aware of.

Citibank has now entered the market with what claims to be a 2% cash back, no-annual-fee MasterCard. It's no secret that I've given Gary Leff a hard time about his fawning treatment of the card, but I'm not one to throw babies and bathwater out together. I'll probably get the card one of these days, and this is how I'll use it.

What we know – and don't know – about Citi Double Cash

The new Citi Double Cash card earns 1% cash back on purchases and an additional 1% cash back "as you pay." I assume my readers' first reaction to this scheme was the same as mine: "Wait, can I earn 1% cash back on bill payments?!?" Here's the relevant entry in the card's Terms and Conditions:

"Cash Back on Payments: You will also earn 1% cash back on payments you make that appear on your current month's billing statement as long as the amount paid is at least the Minimum Payment Due that is printed on your billing statement and there is a balance in the Purchase Tracker. The balance in the Purchase Tracker is reduced by eligible payments you make. When the Purchase Tracker reaches $0, you won't earn cash back on payments until more eligible purchases are made." (emphasis mine)

Good try, but whoever came up with the unlimited 5-ThankYou-Point-per-dollar offer has apparently been let go, so they aren't just shoveling cash willy-nilly into furnaces anymore.

What we don't know is what the hell a "Purchase Tracker" is and, most importantly, whether purchases show up there immediately upon posting or only after a statement has closed.

There's simply no way to know until datapoints start coming in, but that's a potentially huge difference: will folks who pay off their entire balance before each statement closes earn 1% or 2% cash back on their purchases?

For those who do wait to pay off their balances until after their statement closes, the final 1% cash back won't be earned until two months after the initial purchase was made. That makes the card a hybrid between the "old" Blue Cash's 2-statement delay and the Fidelity Investment Rewards card's 2% cash back program, which allows you to redeem all your rewards each month (as long as you've accumulated at least $50 in cash back).

The beauty of negative-interest-rate loans

Many cards offer 0% introductory interest rates on purchases. The goal, naturally, is for customers to run up large bills during the interest-free period, then pay them off over time (or, realistically, never) once the promotional period ends. It's a ludicrously simple – and effective – trap for unsuspecting customers.

Few of those 0% introductory rate cards offer 1% cash back on all purchases. None of them have offered 2% cash back on all purchases, until now.

The Citi Double Cash card offers 15 months of 0% interest rate financing for purchases (and balance transfers, but with their 3% balance transfer fee).

The 1% immediate cash back rate makes your initial manufactured spend purchases free once your first statement closes. Except they're better than free: they're interest-free. Fund Kiva loans with a US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards card, stick the money in a Mango 6% APY saving account, or pay off your Blue Cash card and go around the track another time or two each month. No matter what you do with the money, your returns will be printed at the bank's expense, since the 15-month loan is interest-free.

Then 14-and-a-half months later, pay off your Citi Double Cash card with your favorite miles-earning debit card and pocket another 1% cash back on the amount you've been floating.


That's how I'll be using my Citi Double Cash card, once I make up my mind to actually apply for one. I'd love to hear from readers who have already decided to jump in: what the hell is a Purchase Tracker, and what else do we need to know about the card?