Chase vs. Schwab Credit Card

Update June 22 — The Schwab card is no longer available.

Chase vs. Schwab

Chase Freedom Plus or Schwab Invest First

Chase Freedom Plus vs. Schwab Invest First

For the last year my wife and I have been using the Chase Freedom Plus. It gives you 3% cash back in the top 6 categories for each billing cycle and 1% everywhere else. Save up to $200 in rewards and you get an extra $50 bonus! Not bad right? When Charles Schwab came out with the Schwab Invest First (flat 2% cash back at the end of every billing cycle) card I wondered which would fare better. Finally ran the numbers of my actual spending on the Chase card against the flat 2% I would have gotten back with Schwab:

MonthChase Freedom Plus % backSchwab Invest First % back

Ouch! 1.32%?! I figured I would at least be getting 2%. What happened? Well, it turns out that I should be getting closer to 2% but Chase doesn’t classify the categories correctly for many stores. For example: One of our biggest expenses is groceries but Chase doesn’t include Trader Joe’s or Stater Brothers in the “grocery” category. They’re in the “other” category which always pays 1% cash back. We made several large home improvement purchases on the Chase card in April when we bought the house but none of it went towards a category!
I suppose your results will vary depending on where you spend your money. It may not be the best for everyone, but with our spending habits we’ll get an extra %0.68 by switching to Schwab.
Schwab also has the advantage of paying you back each billing cycle meaning you have immediate access to the cash rebate and instantly start earning interest on it.
A few other differences:

FeatureChase Freedom PlusSchwab Invest First
Rebate AvailabilityWait until $200 accruedAt end of billing cycle
QuickenTransactions available as they clearTransactions available at end of billing cycle
Foreign Transactions3% FeeNo fees
Annual Fee$30None
Spending LimitNo limitNo limit
Rewards CapNoneNone

1 The total includes $50 bonus (adjusted as if I had spent a perfect $200 to get the maximum benefit) and the $30 annual Chase credit card fee as if it were amortized over 12 months (because I only put up 8 months of data). Obviously how much and how you spend your money will cause the total percentage to vary.

2007 Mazda3 Costs

2007 Mazda3 Costs

Update: July 11, 2010. Added Honda-CRV and added data for year 2009/2010.

2007 Mazda3 36 month costs (May 23, 2007 to May 30, 2010)1

(bought new)

Interest Expense7276913475881,765
New car tax1,274nilnil4251,274
DMV Registration362171217250750
Documentation Fee55nilnil1855
Jury Duty parking ticket14nilnil514
Total Costs$6,851$5,127$3,8335,270$15,811
Miles Driven18,61910,0907,83112,18036,540
Cost per mile$0.37$0.51$0.49$0.43$0.43


2003 Honda-CRV 12 month costs (June 8 2009 to May 30, 2010)

(bought used)
Starting miles: 77810
Ending miles: 83500

DMV Registration49012%
Total Costs4,207
Miles Driven5,690
Cost per mile$.74


Total cost of ownership for the 1993 Ford Taurus SHO (64 months, 2002-2007). (bought used)


DMV Registration6242%
Ebay Fees940%
Total Costs$28,564
Miles Driven32,645
Cost per mile$0.87



1 I’m not including the car payments because the car is an asset and the the loan is a liability. The correct way to calculate costs is to add the value of your car as an asset, add the value of your loan as a liability (which has a net effect of 0) and only look at the depreciation and interest expense. Depreciation—the difference between the purchase price and sale price is part of the total cost of ownership.
2 I expect fuel costs per mile to drop this year since the price of fuel went down. Update June 11, 2010: I was wrong about this. Fuel costs were $0.11 mile in 2007, the same as the mean.
3 The insurance rate for the Mazda3 reflects what I paid before getting married in August 2008. Insurance after this is split between the Mazda3 and Honda-CRV as I have no way to apply it to each vehicle separately. My insurance also went down after getting married.
4 Depreciation is low because I shopped around and got a very good deal on the Mazda3—about $4,000 less than what Costco offered ($100 over invoice) for the exact same model. At some points in 
last year

 I could have sold my car for more than I bought it for. However, I expect depreciation to be much higher in the future. Depreciation calculated from KBBUpdate June 11, 2010. I was right, depreciation actually increased as the car has aged. I expect among the 4th-5th year that trend should start to reverse and my depreciation expense will be lower.
5 The insurance rate for the SHO is what I /would/ have paid had I not been living with my parents… this is higher because my insurance company was 21st (I use Amica now) and they didn’t have very good rates. But because I lived with my parents I paid much less than that. If I remove insurance from the calculations on both vehicles the SHO is $0.54/mile compared to the Mazda3’s $0.28/mile (in 2007).
6 Added July 11, 2010. The service this year is almost entirely replacing the A/C that went bad. I expect service costs will go down significantly over the next few years.

Money Advice

My church is going through one of Dave Ramsey’s finance programs to help people get out of debt and better manage their finances. Naturally attendees must pay a fee to get in. So, here’s some free advice from Ben:

Make more than you spend.
Have a budget, or a reverse budget. Make sure your saving, meeting your basic needs, and set some aside for fun.

Have some money in the bank ready for an emergency. Keep some cash stashed away in case you can’t access your bank account.
Save for retirement. Save for short term. Save for long term. Diversify your savings. Put your short term savings in high yield checking/savings accounts.

Spread your money into several bank accounts.

Don’t get into debt over something that’s not worth more than the debt.

Your time is worth more than your money.

Take a photo of everything in your wallet/purse.