Don’t Knock It Till You Try It: How These Financial Products and Services Surprised Me

by Kevin on November 15, 2012

Skepticism when it comes to financial products is a very healthy thing. Far too many people end up on the gullible side of things and fall for a horrible scam that costs them hundreds or thousands of dollars.

But I’ve learned that skepticism doesn’t work if you stand on the sidelines and never investigate into the details of whatever you’re looking at.

That’s called being lazy.

I’ve been lazy in the past, but in the last year or so I’ve gotten better about digging deeper into financial products, services, and strategies to better my life and financial position. Many times I’ve decided something isn’t worth it and move on, but there are a few things that have surprised me.

3 Financial Products and Services I’ve Been Surprised By

Here are three things I was initially skeptical about in the land of money that ended up being just fine:

Reward Checking Accounts

I’ve written about these amazing accounts many times in the past, but they are worth mentioning again. I used to be a big believer in only using high yield online savings accounts like ING Direct, but the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates so low that you can’t earn any interest on them anymore.

The next best thing has been a rewards checking account that requires you to swipe your debit card several times per month, have direct deposit, and use electronic statements. (These are average terms, obviously specific terms depend on the bank or credit union.) In return the financial institution will pay you a higher interest rate on your deposits that month up to a certain amount. One of my accounts pays 3.10% on up to $15,000 in the account. That far outweighs the current interest rate of the online banks.

Grocery Fuel Points

As I wrote about recently, grocery fuel points have surprised me. Instead of being a scam that makes you overspend on gas and groceries, I’ve found my local program to be a very nice way to save some money on each fill up in our cars. This isn’t going to make or break us financially, but for the zero effort we put in it’s not bad at all.

AMEX Sync

American Express has been an innovator in the social media space. One of the biggest promotions of the year is Small Business Saturday (the day after Black Friday) in which they give you a $25 statement credit for spending $25 or more at a local small business that registers with AMEX.

On top of that they have developed AMEX Sync where you sync a social media account (namely Twitter, Facebook, or Foursquare) with one of your American Express cards. You then receive special offers to spend a certain amount of money at a store in order to get a statement credit.

It seemed too good to be true, but here’s what I’ve used thus far:

  • Best Buy spend $200 get $20 statement credit (bought $200 in Amazon Kindle gift cards) x2 (two different promotions)
  • Simon Malls buy $50 gift card get $10 statement credit (plus $2.95 fee)
  • Premiere Outlets buy $50 gift card get $10 statement credit (plus $2.95 fee)

These four things alone have saved me over $50 for spending I will have anyways. The Amazon gift cards will be used eventually because we buy from Amazon all the time. The Simon Malls and Premiere Outlets gift cards are AMEX Pre-Paid cards that can be used anywhere, not just at the outlet or mall.

Again, this is a small thing, but I’ll take a small win for spending I was going to have anyways. Plus I get cashback on my American Express for buying all of the above!

What kind of financial products or services have you been pleasantly surprised by?

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