Unfortunately, pretty much a necessary evil in the world we live in.
If we want to buy something online, we need a credit card to pay for it. If we plan to rent a car, we need a credit card. Same thing if we book a hotel, they want a credit card.
The good old days of paying for everything in cash have graduated into the convenience of paying with plastic. And then the inconvenience of paying the bill when it shows up a few weeks later.
A tough pill to swallow. Paying with credit card instead of cash might feel like we’re getting it for free, but that feeling goes away fast when the statement shows up!
Back in the old days, your bank might have dealt with Visa aka Chargex or Mastercard. These days there are a ton of options within Visa and Mastercard for earning points and the categories you might want to spend the points on and various annual fees.
Am I showing my age with remembering that old “will that be cash or chargex” commercial? You’d think I could find that on Youtube, but nope. Too old I suppose! I did find an online article recalling how Chargex came about. https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2010/05/28/click_click_how_the_peoples_credit_card_was_launched.html
My history with credit cards
It seems I mostly just sit back and wait for credit card companies to come to me!
Except for my very first credit card with the Bank of Nova Scotia, which these days goes by Scotiabank. I’m pretty sure that was a Visa, though I don’t recall if the name had changed from Chargex by that time. I filled out an application. I got a card.
In a previous post where I was a victim of a rogue TD employee, I chatted a bit about my TD Visa.
One day, around 1990 give or take a couple of years, TD, known as Toronto Dominion Bank back then, sent me a letter saying I’d been approved for a Visa with a $5,000 limit. Yay me! I still have that card though I rarely use it.
Back then it didn’t occur to me that a person would need, or could have, multiple credit cards. When my TD Visa arrived, I cancelled my Bank of Nova Scotia Visa. It had a lower limit anyway. I don’t recall how much, maybe $3000.
Same thing happened with Envision Credit Union. They sent me a letter saying lucky me – I’ve been approved for a Mastercard with a very high limit, around $20,000. Why not? I bit.
It happened again with RBC, formerly known as the Royal Bank of Canada. I’d switched my mortgage to them after the frightening experience with the rogue TD employee. One day a letter shows up in the mail saying I’m pre-approved for a Visa with a $20,000 credit limit. Whoopee! I decided to go for it.
So now I’m sitting on three credit cards with about $50,000 in available credit between them. That’s good enough for me.
But that doesn’t stop Tangerine Bank, formerly known as ING Direct. A couple of times a year they send emails and regular mail saying I’ve been pre-approved for their credit card with a $14,000 limit. Oddly enough they don’t say anywhere what kind of credit card that is. When I look at the website it shows a picture of the credit card and the Mastercard logo is on it.
No thanks. I have enough credit cards and there’s nothing really exciting about their card to entice me. If it had no foreign transaction fees, I’d be all over it.
Interestingly, a few months ago when Tangerine sent their biannual credit card offer to me, the limit I’ve been pre-approved for has significantly jumped to $22,000.Tempting, but do I really need another credit card I’ll rarely use?
Envision’s foreign transaction fees
When I drove down to Oregon in September, 2018, I decided to use the Envision Mastercard. No particular reason. It gets points that I can cash in and get a gift card for a restaurant. It just seemed convenient. Envision had recently switched the provider of their Mastercard. I didn’t look too closely at the terms. There was no change to me in regards to limit and no annual fee.
To conserve my US cash, I use my credit card for just about everything when I travel. Even things I would not normally use a credit card for at home, like restaurant meals and groceries.
When the credit card bill rolled in, Envision added a 2.5% transaction fee to everything I bought!
Holy cash cow!
Like I need any more proof that Envision is ass wipe?
That $51.40 cash cow grab is on top of the exchange rate that was probably overinflated anyway. There were more foreign transaction fees on my next statement, because the cut off date for billing was when I was still on holiday.
I let my feet do the walking and stopped using ass wipe Envision Financial’s Mastercard.
Credit card without foreign transaction fees
It became pretty clear to me that I needed to find a credit card without annual fees that also didn’t charge foreign transaction fees. A card like that would be more suitable for when I’m traveling.
This next part will be more of use to Canadian readers. Sorry, Americans, you’ll have to put in a bit more research!
I follow a website called How To Save Money and receive their email newsletter. The tips are great no matter what your nationality! The website owner also runs Credit Card Genius where he compares the benefits of Canadian credit cards. There’s a questionnaire to fill out based on what’s important to you, and the site will bring up a list of credit cards that might be of interest to you. Go ahead and try it. No charge for a credit card evaluation!
In one of the newsletters I received last year from How to Save Money, there was a link to a recent article on Credit Card Genius called Travel Rewards without the Annual Fee. After the cash grab from Envision, I remembered reading that article and went back to find it.
The Travel Rewards post is updated from time to time. When I first read it, there were 3 cards listed. Now there are 5, and one card has dropped off the list.
This will be important in a moment!
When I looked at the list, the best deal to me was the Home Trust Preferred Visa. No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees! They have 1% cash back and some insurance coverage. Those things were less important to me.
I believe I applied shortly after I got my Envision Mastercard bill, early October, 2018.
On December 5, 2018 I received an email from Steffany at Home Trust apologizing for the delay and asking for more information to finish my application:
o Utility bill i.e. Electricity, Water, Telecommunications or Municipal property tax assessment
o Bank Statement i.e. Chequing or Savings Account, Credit card or Loan account statement
IMPORTANT: Please note we can only accept an original and unaltered document. Options would be to mail us an original paper document or to email us an electronic document that has been emailed to you or downloaded from the company’s website. We cannot accept a photo or scan of a paper copy that is sent to us as this is not considered original.
I downloaded a PDF document from my cell phone carrier’s website, and emailed it to Steffany.
The next day she emails me and says nope, that cell phone bill has your PO Box. We need a bill or bank statement with your physical address. I live on a secondary home on a small farm. All the utilities are in my landlord’s name. When I filled out the Home Trust application, it only asked for a street address, not a mailing address. Canada Post does not deliver here, so I have a PO Box.
I argue a bit about that with Steffany, but I remember a financial institution that screwed up the year before and put my street address on a statement, and mail that in. See above, they want the original mailed, not scanned and emailed.
Stefany emails me on December 19 and says she got the statement, but it’s no good because its over 90 days old. Why the hell didn’t she say that, when I emailed her I had a statement from the year before when the bank screwed up?!
I went into my credit union, explained the problem, asked them to switch my address to the street address, print a statement, and then switch the address back to my PO Box so I can get my mail. They do that. I mailed the statement with my street address to Home Trust on December 20.
On January 12, 2019 Steffany follows up saying she’s still waiting to get my “proof” that I live somewhere. If she doesn’t get it, she’ll cancel my application. I email her back that I mailed it two weeks ago.
She responds she didn’t get it and she’s checked with everyone in her office. Then she states I must have addressed the envelope incorrectly!
I’m one of these people who pays great attention to detail. There is no way I addressed the envelope incorrectly. The envelope was to her attention and I also included my reference number to make it easy to match the bank statement to me.
Months later, Canada Post has not returned to sender, so there’s no doubt that Home Trust received the envelope. Maybe they lost it in their office.
My experience is financial institutions reaching out to me with a pre-approved credit card. I tell Steffany in 40 years of owning credit cards I have never had so much difficulty. I tell her I don’t really need another credit card and I am done jumping through hoops. Cancel my application.
Takeaway? If you have a post office box, don’t bother applying to Home Trust for their Visa. If your mailing address is to a street address and you can prove you live there, then it might be a good choice.
When I looked at the travel reward credit cards without annual fee, one of the cards mentioned was Rogers Fido Mastercard. Though I don’t see it on the list today, it is on another page on their site. https://creditcardgenius.ca/cards/rogers-fido-mastercard
The big draws to me were the $0 annual fee and 3% cash back on foreign purchases. Even though there’s still the 2.5% foreign transaction fee, the cash back pretty much cancels it out – with a little bit of cash leftover!
I applied for it, might have helped that my cell phone carrier is Fido, and it was approved within days. It has a much lower limit than all my other credit cards, but seeing as how I’m only using it for travel, that’s not an issue for me.
On my most recent trip I used this Mastercard exclusively. On my statement, I don’t see the 2.5% foreign transaction fee listed, but I double checked and they add it onto the US exchange rate. It doesn’t really matter how they get there. I earned a lot of cash back!
My credit card rules
I really have only one big rule when it comes to credit cards – never buy food on credit.
Except when traveling, and that’s only to conserve my foreign currency. I don’t travel until I have enough money in my travel fund to cover my credit card expenses upon return.
So, that would be another rule – don’t use your credit card for travel unless you can pay it off when the bill comes in.
I’m OK using a credit card for emergencies. For example I go to the mechanic for an oil change and they find something wrong with the suspension or the timing belt. A few hundred dollars or a couple of thousand dollars later….
If you’re like me and rarely use credit cards, make sure you buy something on a credit card at least once a year so it doesn’t go inactive or cancel on you.
This Fido Mastercard I use for travel, I have it set up to buy Covergirl Simply Ageless every two months. Pretty small charge, under $20. I’ve got this! I use #245 which I can get through Amazon no problem. Sometimes the shades over #240 aren’t always in the store. I like the color plus it has SPF in the formula. Here’s what I use in case you’re curious. (Disclosure: if you click the link you’ll be taken to Amazon. If you make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission for the referral.)
Even though I don’t plan on using Envision’s Mastercard unless for a big time emergency, I’ll make one or two small purchases a year on it with Amazon so it doesn’t go inactive.
I never know when I’m going to have a huge emergency where all my credit cards are going to have to work together to help me financially.
So there you have it. Be smart with your credit card use and find cards that suit your plans.