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I'm not sure if this is an appropriate forum to post this in -- happy to relocate if needed!

I'm wondering if anyone has found success with a really great travel or cash-back credit card that they'd like to recommend to another grad student. I am just starting an MA program this fall but thinking about a credit card to open now and continue with throughout my PhD (if accepted -- fingers crossed) and for the next several years. Right now, all I have is a basic secured card I opened during undergrad when I had no credit score.

I am debating between a travel card and a cash-back/rewards card. Like many of you, I'm sure, I am very frugal. Other than rent and utilities, I generally only spend money on basic necessities, with most of that being groceries. Dining rewards don't appeal to me because I do my cooking and eating at home; likewise, entertainment/recreational shopping rewards don't appeal to me either. But it would be great to get free cash back on the money I do spend -- gas, groceries, the occasional pharmacy trip, maybe laundry or phone bill. But alternatively, while I don't travel much now -- and when I do, I'm used to flying with budget airlines and spending minimally -- I anticipate I'll be doing so quite a bit for conferences in the future, so I'm considering travel cards as well. The only thing is I'm not sure how useful that would be since my program will hopefully be reimbursing me for that travel anyway. Would anyone recommend one strongly over the other?

I'd prefer something with no annual fee. I will be abroad for my MA program so no foreign transaction fees is a must as well.

FWIW, my credit score is fairly good -- mid to upper 700s -- and I never carry a balance on my card, so low interest rate is appealing but not altogether necessary.

Edited by indecisivepoet

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I got Chase Freedom Unlimited -- the 150$ for spending 500 in the first few months was nice because I had a lot of moving costs. Otherwise, it's 1.5% on everything, no annual fee. The rewards are decent but I mainly use it for statement credit.  I've been generally happy with the customer service as well.

In general, I've only even really paid attention the cash back for the introductory promotion, and then when I rack up 1000$+ balances. Otherwise, it's pretty lack-luster.

Hope that helps!

Edited by StatHopeful

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Hi - Citizen's Bank has two different credit cards you might want to look into. One has points that equal cash-back and one is a travel card. Off the top of my head, both have 0 foreign transaction fees and no annual fees. Also, their banking hours are longer than most other places and their customer service/online interface is good. 

I might suggest looking into the cash-back card as opposed to a travel card - when I did my MA in English, I went to (at most) 2 conferences per academic year, as did most of my peers. Also, as I understood it while talking to a CB rep, the travel card is ideal for people who travel multiple times per month for work (like consultants or sales reps who are on a plane every other week). While academics travel, I don't think we consistently put in those kind of hours (especially graduate students), so the cash-back might get you more. 

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I'm not sure how I like the card yet since I've only had it for a month but I have a cash back card through US Bank. It's the Cash + Visa Signature Card and I thought I'd mention it since it has the option to choose cash back categories in areas you seem interested in getting cash back from. You can get 2% cash back on groceries and 5% on home utilities and a few other categories too (I think gas is another option for the 2% category option and cell phone bills I think is an option for the 5%). You also get 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases and there is no annual fee. This is my first credit card of this kind after my introductory credit card I also got in undergrad when I had no credit score so it might be a good option for you. You can also change your categories every couple months (every quarter I believe?) if you want.

Like I said I've only had it for a month so I don't know how much cash back I'll really get from it with regular usage in my cash back categories, but I already have $6 cash back so that's something I guess haha!

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2 hours ago, FishNerd said:

I'm not sure how I like the card yet since I've only had it for a month but I have a cash back card through US Bank. It's the Cash + Visa Signature Card

I liked the sound of this -- being able to set groceries, bills, etc as bonus categories -- but I looked it up and got scared off by these reviews... you'll have to let me know what you think of it!

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After doing a ton of comparisons and research, I ended up going with Capital One Quicksilver (If I get approved). It's a flat-rate cash-back card. It doesn't offer much, but I have no reason not to start using a cash-back card since it's free money (any amount counts!) and having two cards will up my score since my current credit line on my undergrad secured card is pretty low. Plus, since I anticipate having some up-front apartment costs to pay when I head abroad in a couple weeks, I should easily reach that $150 cash sign-up bonus.

I looked into Chase Freedom/Freedom Unlimited and they seemed liked the best choices...but they both had 3% foreign transaction fees ?. I looked into Citizens Bank as well but the lower reviews scared me off as well as the minimum redemption amount and lack of automatic cash back. These are minor bones to pick but the Capital One option didn't have any drawbacks for me.

I think I will sign up for Capital One Venture when I start my PhD or at some point during/after it if it seems like I'm going to start doing a lot of conference/work related flying.

Thanks everyone!

Edited by indecisivepoet

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Get a miles card early, I lament how many miles I could have been earning on trips that were ultimately reimbursed by my department.

I personally use a Delta American Express, because it's convenient to my school, as well as to my home and my fiancé's home, and the free checked bag on every flight is the tops, and more than pays for the annual fee.

Edited by jrockford27

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10 hours ago, indecisivepoet said:

Thanks for the recommendations, everyone. I think I am leaning toward a cash-back card. @a_sort_of_fractious_angel -- silly question, but do you need to bank with Citizens Bank in order to qualify for these cards?

Not silly at all - if you mean "do you need to bank with them prior," nope. I went to sign up for a checking & savings account that is linked to my university for direct deposit. After I opened that account, I was offered the credit card options. 

If you are asking if one can get just the credit card - I don't know, but I do think you have to have a checking account with them so you can pay the card off. 

Hope this helps! 

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13 hours ago, jrockford27 said:

Get a miles card early, I lament how many miles I could have been earning on trips that were ultimately reimbursed by my department.

Hmm, I should have thought of it this way. You're getting miles for flights you aren't even paying for so you can use them for your own personal trips that the department isn't paying for. The cards for specific airlines do seem to be the best offers but I'm also hesitant about getting one of those since I'd be restricted to that airline and I normally fly with budget airlines if I'm paying for the flight myself. I suppose I'll do some pro and con weighing against something like Capital One Venture. I don't anticipate needing to book a flight for quite a while so I'll have some time to decide, at least.

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@a_sort_of_fractious_angel - I meant the latter, which sounds obvious now that I realize this is probably how most credit cards work. I'm used to using Capital One, which I link with my Wells Fargo checking account and pay off through there. I'm not entirely satisfied with WF though and will probably switch my accounts over to someone else when I return from the UK; Chase sounds like a bank to consider.

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If you're considering the Chase Freedom/Freedom Unlimited, you might as well get the Chase Sapphire Preferred too. Chase's Ultimate Reward Points are among the best rewards program out there (just Google it) and the CSP and CF/CFU combo will mean you will be getting a lot of points for use in future travel. The points transfer 1:1 to both airlines and hotel chains. You can also apply for both cards at the same time so Chase only does a hard pull on your credit score once. The CSP does have a $95 annual fee, waived the first year, but I think what you get with the card outweighs the annual fee, especially if you foresee yourself traveling a lot. Just something to consider.

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21 hours ago, indecisivepoet said:

I liked the sound of this -- being able to set groceries, bills, etc as bonus categories -- but I looked it up and got scared off by these reviews... you'll have to let me know what you think of it!

I honestly had not researched cash back credit cards because I just got this one as an upgrade to my first credit card through US Bank so I was pleasantly surprised to see I would even have the choice to try and get cash back. So I didn't read any reviews but I'm not concerned because I didn't have to officially apply for this card or anything. I'm just happy it has double the credit limit that my previous card had since I will be needing to buy furniture to furnish my new apartment. But hopefully I can make the categories work in my favor and get a little cash back in the process but if not oh well, I just needed a card I could put furniture on until I get my first paycheck in my new location.

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@FishNerd - that makes sense. Honestly, I think as long as anyone is using their card responsibly, they shouldn't have any problems. So far I haven't come across a single credit card in any category that doesn't have a number of 1-star reviews. Credit card companies are ultimately out to make as much money as they can, not help people. I think by using any card as a debit card, not accruing interest, and not relying on bonus schemes to work in our favour, we should be fine.

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On 8/12/2018 at 7:13 AM, indecisivepoet said:

Hmm, I should have thought of it this way. You're getting miles for flights you aren't even paying for so you can use them for your own personal trips that the department isn't paying for. The cards for specific airlines do seem to be the best offers but I'm also hesitant about getting one of those since I'd be restricted to that airline and I normally fly with budget airlines if I'm paying for the flight myself. I suppose I'll do some pro and con weighing against something like Capital One Venture. I don't anticipate needing to book a flight for quite a while so I'll have some time to decide, at least.

Yeah.  I mean, it's not like I would have racked up enough to go globe trotting, but my guess is I would have earned enough miles maybe for an extra free trip home.

It's a fair point about being restricted to one. Personally, as I've entered my mid 30s and started having old person problems (back pain, for example), and also being quite tall, I've started being more choosy about my airline. Delta and Southwest tend to be the most pleasant and comfortable of the domestic carriers in my experience, and Delta is usually among the cheapest to my most frequent destinations, so I went with them.

Delta also offers a free checked bag on every flight to card members, which I didn't think I'd care about, as I've never been a bag checker in the past, but it really makes flying easier. That's a $50 value per round trip, which usually makes up for the price difference for most flights if Delta isn't the cheapest to begin with. They also treat you better when you're a card member, you get prioritized for bumps, I've found it much easier to get seat changes, and you get zone 1 boarding.

The Zone 1 boarding matters because on Delta's basic economy rate, the only disadvantage is that you board last and thus might have to check your carry-on. If you book basic economy with your Delta card, you get Zone 1; that is, you get the basic economy rate without the risk of checking your carry-on. While you don't get a seat until you're at the gate with basic economy, I've found it very easy to get a fine seat by talking to the gate agent about 85% of the time.   If you happen to be a short person you probably don't care what seat you're in anyway.

So while the versatility of a non-airline specific card is definitely a plus, you might miss out on some things. I wouldn't sweat the one star reviews.  Remember, the type of people inclined to leave reviews for their credit card probably skews toward the unusually disgruntled. 

Here I am, a freakin' walking commercial for Delta.  No I don't work for them. I used to never fly (I had to overcome a phobia) and had no opinions about this stuff.  When I became a grad student, moved away from home, and became romantically involved with someone whose family lived on the opposite side of the country I started (surprise) developing strong feelings about air travel.

 

 

 

Edited by jrockford27

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On 8/13/2018 at 11:19 AM, indecisivepoet said:

I think by using any card as a debit card, not accruing interest, and not relying on bonus schemes to work in our favour, we should be fine.

This is the advice my dad gave me when I got my first credit card and I've always stuck with it because it's great advice. This is how I continue to treat my credit card because I really only have one to build credit and if I happen to get some cash back with this new card then hooray! 

Edited by FishNerd

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For what it's worth, I spent months trying to decide between the Capital One Venture and the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and ultimately went with the Chase after reading literally every review and comparison on the internet. I agree with @lordtiandao about it- it's a great card and the travel benefits are super duper worth the free. And no foreign transaction fees!

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