The Lazy FI Dad blog is all about personal finance. I try to share with you guys any little trick/tip that I can to help you save money or increase your income. That’s why, when we got a few hundred pounds from American Express cashback, I knew I had to share it with you.
I’ll share with you what I learned about American Express and what other options you have. In addition, for the first time on this blog- you can play with the numbers yourself! If you like Excel, you’re in for a treat.
Disclaimer: the details below are correct at the time of writing this post (January 2022), for updated figures please visit the American Express website or MSE’s (Money Saving Expert) top picks.
First, let’s go through the basics of cashback and then we’ll talk about the card we use.
What is Cashback?
Cashback is when credit card companies pay you back a certain percentage of what you spent.
For example, let’s say a credit card has a 1% cashback and you spend £1,000 in a certain month. The credit card company will pay you back £10 (1% * £1,000).
You don’t need to do anything special. Just spend money on your card as usual and the cashback will be applied automatically.
Some credit cards will give you other rewards rather than cashback (like Nectar points or Avios points, for example), which will also be applied automatically.
In addition to cashback or other rewards, which are ongoing, some credit card companies offer a “Welcome bonus” if you spend enough in the first few months.
What is a welcome bonus?
A welcome bonus is a one-off bonus used to entice you not only to join but also to spend big as soon as you join. Which one did we choose and why?
For example, the Platinum Cashback Credit Card, which I’ll discuss soon has a welcome bonus of
“5% cashback on your purchases (up to £125) for the first three months of Cardmembership.” (from their website).
If you spend £1,000 in the first three months, You’ll get £50 (5% * £1,000).
If, however, you spend £4,000 in the first three months you won’t get £200 (5% * £4,000). You will “only” get £125 on the first £2,500 (as £125 is 5% of £2,500) and the ongoing cashback rate on the rest.
Other welcome bonuses can be £100 if you spend more than £3,000 in the first three months. A welcome bonus can be anything but I hope these two examples make the point.
Usually, American Express have the best card for cashback and rewards (although not all businesses accept them).
That’s why I’ll mainly discuss American Express cards here.
Some of you might be thinking “OK, I’ll sign up for a card, enjoy the joining bonus, cancel it and apply for a new one every 3 months“. If you thought that- I like the way you think 🙂 However, American Express had that thought too. That’s why you can only get a welcome bonus if you haven’t had an American Express card for the past 2 years. Kind of like a “cooling-off period”.
Can you work around the American Express “cooling-off period”?
Apparently, there is a way around this 2-year cooling-off period but only if you and your partner have joint finances. Let me explain.
When I had my American Express card, I got a supplementary card for Lazy FI Mum. That way she had her own credit card but I was liable for anything she spends on it. As we have joint finances, who cares? Also, why am I even telling you that?
Because apparent;y, American Express doesn’t consider having a supplementary card as having an American Express. From their perspective, I was the only one who had a card and Lazy FI Mum only had a “copy” of mine. That way, she used it for 2 years until she got hers and I cancelled mine. If we do this every 2 years, we can enjoy the joining bonus every 2 years.
Currently, Lazy FI Mum has her own card and I use a supplementary card for her one. She is now liable for anything that gets spent on each of the cards.
When I first thought of this “workaround”, I wasn’t sure it would work. Instead of guessing, I gave them a call and asked them directly! They confirmed it.
Referral bonus and our plan
In addition to a joining bonus, American Express also use a referral system. If I get referred to a card (instead of applying directly) I will get a bigger welcome bonus AND whoever referred me gets a referral bonus.
Therefore, our plan is as follows:
Step 1: Get a good card and use it for two years, let’s assume I take out the first card and Lazy FI Mum uses the supplementary card.
Step 2: Two years later, I refer Lazy FI Mum and cancel my card once I get the referral bonus. This way we get a bigger welcome bonus AND a referral bonus.
Step 3: Lazy FI Mum asks for a supplementary card for me.
Step 4: Wait 2 years, go back to step 1 and switch roles.
Why would credit card companies give me cashback / rewards?
In case you’re wondering “why the hell would they do that? what do they get out of it?” Don’t you worry about the credit card companies, they know exactly what they’re doing and why they do it. There are actually a few reasons
Credit card companies make money in 2 ways:
From the business owner
Every time you pay with a credit card, the business owner pays a percentage of the amount to the credit card company. That’s why the more cardholders a specific credit card company has, the business owner will be more inclined to accept that card.
American Express is known for the high fees they charge businesses. That’s why it’s not as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard.
From customers (like you and me)
Another way credit card companies make money is from customers like you and me (hopefully not). When you pay with a credit card, you are essentially loaning money from the credit card company. Think about it, you can use your card to buy something but you don’t have to pay it off immediately. You can wait up to a month (whatever date you chose) to pay it off.
The deal is that as long as you pay your card off IN FULL (like Martin Lewis likes to shout), you will pay no interest on what you spent. However, if you only pay part of your balance, the remaining (unpaid) amount will start accruing interest. It is a very high-interest rate.
For example, the Platinum Cashback Credit Card, which I’ll discuss shortly has a 1.85% monthly (!!!!!) rate, that’s a 24.5% annual interest rate. That’s crazy!
That’s why it’s not all fun and games. If you’re not sure you can pay it off in full, the cashback simply isn’t worth it. If that’s the case, please use a debit card or cash instead.
Which card cashback does the Lazy FI Family use?
Platinum Cashback Credit Card
As I mentioned, we chose the Platinum Cashback Credit Card. With this card, you get 0.75% cashback on your first £10,000 each year and 1.25% on any amount over that (with no cap).
For example, if you spend £24,000:
On the first £10,000, you will get 0.75% * £10,000 = £75
On the remaining £14,000, you will get 1.25% * £14,000 =£175
Total: £250 for the year (ignoring the welcome bonus)
This card comes with a £25 annual fee and a welcome bonus of 5% up to £125 (so on your first £2,500 spent) for your first three months.
We chose this card for 2 reasons:
The first one is that we wanted a cashback card and not a reward card (we don’t really need Nectar points, Avios or whatever).
The second reason is that we usually spend more than £10,000 a year, which meant the free card (I’ll discuss it in a second) was not as good for us. Although I did consider it for a while.
If is important to note that you will actually get your welcome bonus (and cashback) only after a year and a bit (as a lump sum) and then, every month. We just got our first cashback, 12-13 months after joining.
Platinum Cashback Everyday Credit Card
This is the free (no annual fee) version of the Platinum Cashback Credit.
With this one, you get 0.5% cashback on your first £10,000 each year and 1% on any amount over that (with no cap).
For example, if you spend £24,000:
On the first £10,000, you will get 0.5% * £10,000 = £50
On the remaining £14,000, you will get 1% * £14,000 =£140
Total: £190 for the year (ignoring the welcome bonus).
As you can see, for a family spending £24,000 (no, that’s not our spending level) a year, it’s worth paying the £25 annual fee as you get £60 more in cashback (£250 vs £190).
This card also comes with a welcome bonus of 5% up to £100 (so on your first £2,000 spent) for your first three months.
Want to know which one is right for you? scroll down to the “Play with the numbers” section, where I implemented a new feature to this blog, which I’m really excited about.
Risks of cashback credit cards
As I said, if you don’t pay your card off in full, you will end up losing this game. The credit card companies are “happy” to pay out cashback because they know a big enough percentage of the customers won’t pay it all off. Please don’t be a part of that statistic.
That’s why Martin Lewis warns everyone to pay their card IN FULL (he yells that part) each time he discusses credit cards, and rightly so.
A credit card is like fire, it can do you some good (cashback being compared to cooking and heating) or burn you (high-interest debt to credit card companies).
Maybe that’s why Dave Ramsey is so against credit cards in general, he’s talked to so many people who got burnt by them.
There are two scenarios I have in my head for people unnecessarily spending on a credit card.
The first one is to max the welcome bonus. That’s why it’s worth waiting until you know you have big expenses anyway before applying for the credit card. Need to buy furniture or book a holiday anyway? That’s a perfect way to max your welcome bonus.
The second scenario is (sadly) out of our control. Our brain works in very mysterious ways and credit card companies know that. We spend more when using (credit or debit) cards than we would’ve otherwise spent if we used cash. That means that just by using a card instead of cash, we are already likely to spend more.
Don’t believe me?
Here are 2 pieces of research conducted on the subject:
Study: Paying Cash Is Painful, And Makes You Value Your Purchase More (forbes.com)
Spend ‘Til It Hurts – Carnegie Mellon University | CMU
According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and MIT, “Credit cards effectively anesthetize the pain of paying”.
Want to join American Express?
If, after reading the risks, you want to apply for this card (or any other American express) and want a bigger welcome bonus, feel free to use our bonus link (we get something if you join, as mentioned above). Drop me an email at LazyFIDad@gmail.com and I’ll happily send you a link.
What other (non American Express) options are there?
The first reason is that American Express is not accepted everywhere. As I explained above, the fees they charge the business owners are higher than other credit cards. That’s why some business owners don’t always want to accept American Express. That means you probably need a backup card. I just carry my debit card with me but it has no rewards or cashback so maybe I’m missing a trick here.
The second reason is that you may be on a cooling-off period (the 2 years mentioned above) and don’t want to go two years without cashback/rewards.
The third reason is some cards (see the “Monzo” section below) offer other benefits that American Express doesn’t.
In any case, there are other cards out there besides American Express so let’s go over the best ones in my opinion.
Chase – 1% cashback
Chase (from American bank JP Morgan Chase) has just launched in the UK a few months ago. It is app-only (no physical branches).
I’ll give you the highlights but you can read MSE’s full review here:
JP Morgan launches new ‘Chase’ bank account that pays 1% cashback and 5% interest – here’s how it compares (moneysavingexpert.com)
While not really a credit card but a current account (that comes with a card, Mastercard), they still offer a 1% cashback on almost everything. The list of exclusions can be found here. 1% for a non-American Express card is amazing. Too bad it’s only for 1 year.
Besides giving 1% cashback, they also have 3 very cool features:
- They say:
“We won’t charge you when you use it abroad, plus you can withdraw cash with a transparent exchange rate and no fees from us.”.
It seems like they have the same advantage which made me love Monzo.
- They have no fees (similar to Monzo it seems)
- You can open a few accounts under your main accounts to help you budget. You can have one account called “spending” and one called “holiday fund” or whatever. That’s a very cool feature in my opinion.
I’ve added the Chase account to the comparison below in the “Play with the numbers ” section.
If we didn’t already have a Monzo account, we probably would’ve signed up with Chase.
Monzo- great for travel
Monzo is also a separate bank account (app only) that comes with a card, like Chase.
We love Monzo for travelling. Whenever we travel to a non-pound country, we top up our Monzo and don’t have to deal with money exchange.
They charge no fee when you pay in non GBP currency. In addition, their exchange rates are amazing. When I was in Israel in Poland I did a little experiment. As soon as you use your Monzo card, you get a notification on your phone with the local currency and GBP amount.
Whenever I got a notification, I Googled the amount I would’ve paid using the live rate. For example, if I spent 100 NIS (New Israeli Shekel), I would Google “100 NIS to GBP” and compare that amount to the amount Monzo charged me. They were almost identical. I was very impressed and highly recommend you use such a card for travelling. I only tried Monzo but know that Starling offers the same “deal” (and it seems that Chase as well).
I recommend checking Martin Lewis’ website, MSE (MoneySavingExpert.com) for the latest and best cashback (and other rewards) credit cards. As we’re all lazy, here is a link to the relevant page. I feel uncomfortable recommending cards or accounts I haven’t used myself, with Chase being the exception.
Play with the numbers
A brand new feature on the Lazy FI Dad blog
I am really excited about the next feature, who knew you could embed Excel within your blog? Now you (the readers) can see all the calculations without having to download the file (you can if you want). You can just change the numbers right here (in the yellow cells), even if you’re using your phone.
Now that I explained my excitement, let me explain the assumptions below:
- To compare apples to apples, we will compare each card for 2 years.
- If you spend (annually) enough to max the welcome bonus, I assume you will. For example, to max the welcome bonus with the Platinum Cashback Credit Card, you need to spend £2,500 in the first three months. If you spend less than that, I will assume all your spending happens in the first three months. If you spend more, I will assume you spend £2,500 in the first three months and the rest will be spent in the other 9 months. Please note the welcome bonus is only in the first year, not each year, no bonus in year 2.
- I assumed all the spending on the Chase card will be in year 2 because in year 1 you will want to spend on the American Express cards to max the welcome bonus and therefore, the model will never recommend Chase (which is correct for year 1).
- I compare 4 cards:
3.1. Platinum Cashback Credit Card (with a fee)
3.2 Platinum Cashback Credit Card (no fee)
3.3 Chase account
3.4 Blank- here you can fill your own figures to add a 4th card that you want to add to the comparison.
Please note that you can only change the cells that are coloured in yellow.
If we look at both years:
As you can see (if you change the numbers), If your annual spend is £6,750 or more- Platinum Cashback Credit Card (with a fee) is best for you over 2 years.
If you spend £6,750 or less per year- the Platinum Cashback Credit Card (no fee) is best for you over 2 years.
If we only look at year 2 (to compare with Chase):
Again, change the numbers in the model above to ensure you agree with me. Go to the net cashback for year 2.
The Platinum Cashback Credit Card (no fee) will never be chosen for year 2 because it gets 0.5% on the first £10,000 and 1% on the rest while Chase gets 1% on everything. That means that whatever number you put as your annual spend on the card, Chase will be better for year 2. That means we need to compare Chase and the Platinum Cashback Credit (with a fee).
If you spend £30,000 or less- Chase is best for you for year 2.
If you spend £30,000 or more- the Platinum Cashback Credit (with a fee) is best for you for year 2.
Cashback is a great way to get some extra money. Usually, American Express offer the best benefits but their cards are not as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard.
In addition, you can get a welcome bonus every 2 years if you and your partner have joint finances and don’t mind sharing a credit card (although each one gets his/her own physical card).
Once again- If you’re not sure you can pay it off in full, the cashback simply isn’t worth it. If that’s the case, please use a debit card or cash instead.
Anyway, I hope you’ve learned something from this post. I also hope you are as excited as I am (no chance!) about the ability to embed an Excel file in a blog post.
You don’t get cashback on Amex if your account has been in arrear at any time in the year. And personally I keep Amex and barclays reward (now chase too) in scenarios where Amex is not accepted.
Not only do you have to pay an absurd interest rate, you don’t even get the tiny (in comparison) cashback to offset it?