TIME

These Credit Cards Are Desperate to Give You $400

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Adam Gault—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

Thanks healthier economy

If you’re good with your finances, credit card companies are literally throwing money at you to get you to become a customer. Issuers are laying their cards on the table with bonus offers of up to $400, trying to seize the momentum of a rebounding economy.

“You have a slugfest among the big guys over those people who pay their bill in full every month,” says David Robertson, publisher of the credit card industry newsletter The Nilson Report. He also says banks are willing to take a little more risk with customers who may have had years or even decades of sterling credit before the recession. “This was a person who was good as gold a decade ago, and the recession shot them off their horse, so to speak,” he says. For banks, these customers are starting to look attractive again.

“The Great Recession is the driving force behind the emergence and staying power of lucrative credit card initial bonuses,” says Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of Evolution Finance, parent company of personal finance sites CardHub.com and WalletHub.com.

So which issuers are dangling the biggest carrots?

“If you aren’t a frequent traveler and you’re just looking for some extra cash to pay off everyday expenses, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is the way to go,” says John Kiernan, senior analyst at Evolution Finance. “It offers 40,000 bonus points redeemable for a $400 statement credit, in return for new cardholders spending at least $3,000 during the first three months,” he says. Cardholders can boost the value of that pool of points up to $500 — but there’s a catch: The higher value only applies if you use the points for air or hotel redemptions made through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program. There’s also a fairly steep annual fee of $149, although it’s waived for the first year.

“Another great offer is the Barclaycard Arrival,” says Credit.com credit card expert Jason Steele. This card will be most appealing to frequent travelers or people looking to take a vacation, since its $400 bonus (issued as 40,000 reward miles) has to be redeemed as a statement credit towards travel-related charges. As with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you also have to spend $3,000 in the first 90 days after opening the account, and after the first year, there’s an $89 annual fee.

But even if you don’t charge a lot from month to month or don’t want to pay an annual fee, you can still find signup bonuses for new cards, says Amber Stubbs, managing editor at CardRatings.com.

“The standard seems to be $100 bonus cash back right now and you can get that with the Chase Freedom, Citi Dividend Platinum Select or the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards card, to name a few,” she says. No, it’s a far cry from $400, but here’s the good part: None of these have an annual fee, and you only have to spend $500 in three months — rather than $3,000 — to get the bonus.

“I like Quicksilver’s ongoing rewards program better because you earn a straight 1.5% cash back on all purchases, so no need to worry about rotating bonus categories or caps,” Stubbs says.

The Discover It card, which also has no annual fee, is being promoted on some third-party credit card sites with a $150 cash back bonus for users who spend $750 in the first three months. “I’m sure Discover is trying to make that card stand out,” says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com. “It does have the leading cash back — not points — bonus at the moment,” he says, although the spending threshold is $250 higher than its competitors.

These “free money” offers might sound great, but the experts say before you rush out to sign up for a new credit cards, there are some things to keep in mind.

If you plan to revolve a balance, you should look for the card with the lowest APR rather than chasing bonuses — the amount you’ll pay in interest charges will outstrip the value of any rewards you earn, since APRs tend to be higher on rewards cards.

And while customers with less-than-perfect credit are being courted by banks again, people with the best credit are still the biggest catch. “Given that such people safely navigated the housing market collapse and resulting struggles, they likely possess solid financial values,” Papadimitriou says. If your credit is blemished, you’ll only damage it further by applying and getting rejected.

“It’s important for consumers to think beyond the introductory offer and find the card that offers the most value for the long run,” Stubbs says.

TIME Technologizer

Now Hipmunk Saves Your Searches (and Shares One Weird Tip for Saving Money on Hotels)

Hipmunk
Hipmunk

A new feature keeps track of your research from PC to phone and tablet, and back again.

How do you shop for travel? The chances are probably pretty good that you check out a travel site or app on whatever device you have handy — and unless you go from research to purchase in one fell swoop, multiple devices may be involved.

That’s the theory behind Hipmunk Anywhere, a new feature in Hipmunk, my favorite travel site and app. If you’re logged into Hipmunk and searching airfares or hotel rates, all your research in progress will automatically show up in tabs across all variants of Hipmunk you use, in desktop browsers, mobile browsers and mobile apps. That means that you can shop in fits and starts without having to keep track of which gadget you started on.

“The feature is so simple you’re probably going to smack your head and think it’s the simplest thing ever,” says Goldstein. “But as usual, nobody else in the travel industry has done it.” (If that sounds a tad hubristic, it’s O.K. — Hipmunk’s interface is so radically better than any competitor that Goldstein has earned the right to boast.)

Other travel sites have sometimes tried to remember searches so that consumers don’t have to start from scratch, but Hipmunk’s goal was to implement the idea in so seamless a manner that it was hardly noticeable as something new. “You don’t even need to know that the feature exists — most users won’t know it exists,” Goldstein says. It’s available on the company’s desktop and mobile sites, along with its iOS and Android apps, beginning today.

Oh, and that one weird tip? It’s pretty simple. If you’re booking a hotel room at the last moment, do it on a phone or tablet rather than a laptop or desktop PC, and you might save some bucks. Goldstein says that it’s now common for hotel chains to target their best deals to folks on the go, with offers Hipmunk is contractually required to show only to shoppers on a phone or tablet.

TIME Deals & Shopping

Best Buy Has Some Pretty Good iPad Deals This Week

If you're in the market for an iPad, Best Buy has them this week (through Saturday) starting at $289 through $849 – normally $299 through $929.

If you’re in the market for an iPad, Best Buy has them this week (through Saturday) starting at $289 through $849 – normally $299 through $929. The discounts range from $10 off the first-generation iPad Mini to $100 off the iPad 2, with all other models discounted as well.

What’s more, CNET’s Lance Whitney reports that a customer buying a cellular-enabled iPad in a Best Buy store apparently gets a $30 discount on the tablet itself and, if a data plan is activated in-store, another $100 is lopped off at checkout. The $35 activation fee is also waived, and people activating an AT&T or Verizon iPad get a $100 bill credit.

Not too shabby if you’re willing to jump through a few hoops. Click here for the list of discounts on Best Buy’s site. You’ll apparently have to go to a store for the bigger discounts, though.

Best Buy sale trims price on cellular iPads [CNET]

TIME Smartphones

Which Wireless Plan Is Cheapest?

It's 2014 and wireless carriers are changing all their plans. This used to be a lot simpler.

Smartphone wireless plans didn’t used to be so complicated. You handed over about $200 for the phone, tried to get by with the minimum amount of voice, text and data — most carriers charged about $70 per month — and paid a little extra if you needed more.

Now, carriers want you to figure out exactly how much data you’ll use, down to the gigabyte. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile would also like you to stop paying up-front for a subsidized phone and instead pay the full price in monthly installments. In exchange, they’ll give you cheaper service, and may even let you upgrade to a new phone more often. But the discount you actually get depends on which carrier you’re on, how much data you’re using and how many people are on your family plan.

And just when you think you’ve got it figured out, the carriers change their pricing structures again. That’s what happened this week when Verizon announced its “More Everything” plans, and last week when AT& T introduced its Mobile Share Value plans. The goal of both plans is to make early upgrades less of a ripoff than before.

So here’s what we’re going to do: Below are two charts comparing the prices of the four major carriers as they exist in February 2014 March 2014 April 2014. First we’ll compare their standard plans, and then we’ll compare the early upgrade plans, in which you trade up to a new phone every year. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll assume everyone’s getting a $200 phone, like a 16 GB iPhone 5s. Finally, we’ll calculate the long-term costs in a few different scenarios.

Best of luck to you in figuring it out. The carriers certainly don’t make it easy.

Verizon vs. AT&T vs. Sprint vs. T-Mobile

Here’s the breakdown by carrier without any early upgrade privileges. The first section shows monthly service pricing for a single phone with unlimited talk and text, with additional charges listed below. In all cases, we’ll assume everyone’s getting a 16 GB iPhone 5s or a comparably-priced phone once every two years:

Verizon AT&T Sprint T-Mobile
< 500 MB $55 (250 MB) $60 (300 MB) - -
500 MB $70 - - $40
1 GB $80 $65 $70 $50
2 GB $90 $80 - -
3 GB $100 - - $60
4 GB $110 $110 - -
5 GB - - - $70
6 GB $120 $120 - -
8 GB $130 $130 - -
10 GB $140 $140 - -
> 10 GB $10 per 2 GB Varies - -
Unlimited - - $80 $80
Upfront Phone Cost $200 $200 $200 $0
Monthly Phone Cost $0 $0 $0 $27 for 24 months
Second Line $40 $40 $60 to $70 $30 to $50
Third Line $40 $40 $50 to $60 $10 to $30
More Lines $40 $40 $40 to $50 $10 t0 $30
Mobile Hotspot? Included Included $10 (1 GB) Included

.

A few observations based on the chart above:

  • An individual, moderate data user would pay the least through T-Mobile. at $2,088 over two years, but Sprint’s unlimited plan isn’t much more expensive at $2,120 over two years.
  • If you’re an individual who burns through enough bandwidth to justify unlimited data and needs mobile hotspot, Sprint’s price jumps to $2,360. T-Mobile’s 5 GB plan is a little cheaper at $2,328 over two years, but unlimited data is much more expensive, at $2,568.
  • Individuals who can get by with just a little data will spend the least through Verizon ($1,520 over two years on a 250 MB plan) and AT&T ($1,640 on a 300 MB plan).
  • T-Mobile doesn’t do shared data for families. Additional lines start with 500 MB, and increase in $10 increments for 2.5 GB and unlimited data. A family of four, each with 2.5 GB of data, would pay $5,952 over two years — much less than any other carrier.

Verizon Edge, AT&T Next, Sprint Framily and T-Mobile Jump Compared

Early upgrade plans are trickier, because they all work a little differently. With AT&T and Verizon, you pay off the full price of the phone in monthly installments, which is a lot more expensive in the long run than getting a $200 subsidized phone. But in exchange, they give you a discount on service, and you can trade up to a new phone once per year at no extra charge. With T-Mobile, you’re already paying monthly installments and getting cheaper service, but for $10 extra per month you can trade up to a new phone twice per year. You also get insurance for lost, damaged or stolen phones.

Sprint’s “Framily” plans are even wackier. The base price is $55 per line with 1 GB of data. For each additional member who joins, everyone on the plan pays $5 less, down to a minimum of $25 per month per line. So for example, a “Framily” of three with 1 GB of data each would each pay $45 per line. The silly name comes from the fact that you can have friends or family on the same plan, with the option to pay separate bills. But Sprint’s plan also has one big catch: You can only upgrade every year if you have an unlimited data plan. Otherwise, you can only upgrade every two years.

Perhaps we should let the chart speak for itself. This time we’ll assume you’re getting a new 16 GB iPhone or comparably-priced phone once per year:

Verizon Edge AT&T Next Sprint Framily T-Mobile Jump
< 500 MB $45 (250 MB) $45 (300 MB) - -
500 MB $60 - - $50
1 GB $70 $50 $55 (no early upgrade) $60
2 GB $80 $65 - -
3 GB $90 - $65 (no early upgrade) $70
4 GB $100 $95 - -
5 GB - - - $80
6 GB $110 $105 - -
8 GB $120 $115 - -
10 GB $115 $115 - -
> 10 GB $10 per 2 GB Varies - -
Unlimited - - $75 $90
Upfront Phone Cost $0 $0 $0 $0
Monthly Phone Cost $27 for 24 months $32.50 for 20 months $27 for 24 months $27 for 24 months
More Lines $30 for plans under 10 GB
$15 for 10 GB or more
$25 for plans under 10 GB
$15 for 10 GB or more
Subtract $5 from all lines for each extra line (down to $25) $40 – $60 second line, $20 – $40 additional lines
Mobile Hotspot? Included Included $10 (1 GB) Included

.

More observations:

  • A family of four using 10 GB per month on Verizon would pay exactly the same amount as a family with 12 GB on T-Mobile, at $6,912 over two years, but the data would be apportioned differently. The Verizon family would pool its data together and could upgrade once per year at no extra charge, while the T-Mobile family would get 3 GB per person, and could upgrade once every six months. (AT&T is only a little more expensive, at $6,960 every two years.)
  • If you have four lines on AT&T Next or Verizon Edge, you might as well get a 10 GB plan. It’s cheaper than the 4 GB plans on either carrier, because the line access fee is much less on 10 GB or higher plans.
  • Verizon Edge isn’t a great deal if you don’t use much data or don’t have other people on your plan. But it can be cheaper in the long run if you do.
  • AT&T’s new 2 GB pricing puts an individual plan at $2,320 over two years. T-Mobile’s costs plan, which offers 3 GB of shared data, is still a little bit cheaper at $2,328.
  • Want more evidence that wireless carriers keep their pricing in sync? AT&T and Verizon both charge $250 per month for 10 smartphones and a 10 GB shared data plan. That’s exactly how much Sprint charges for 10 “Framily” lines with 1 GB each. (If you can keep your mega-family to 30 GB or less, AT&T and Verizon are the way to go. Otherwise, put everyone on an unlimited Sprint Framily plan.)

Of course, pricing isn’t everything when picking a wireless carrier. The quality of service in your area and the availability of phones that you want can be just as important. But if you’re looking to make a switch and don’t know where to start, hopefully we’ve helped you do the math.

TIME Business

Whole Foods Will Use Square’s iPad Cash Registers

A Whole Foods Market in Redondo Beach, Calif. on November 5, 2013.
A Whole Foods Market in Redondo Beach, Calif. on November 5, 2013. Patrick Fallon—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The mobile-payments startup signs up its second huge customer.

When I interviewed Square CEO Jack Dorsey last December for our 2014 User’s Guide issue, he told me that the company’s payment products, such as the Square Reader credit-card swiper, Square Register iPad app and Square Stand iPad point-of-sale setup, weren’t just designed for small businesses, but for big companies, too.

“We’ve always tried to build a tool that scales from an individual — a massage therapist or yoga instructor — all the way up to the largest organizations in the world,” he said at the time. “We believe, fundamentally, that they should be using the same tools. And therefore the only limit is their ambition.”

Now there’s news that proves Dorsey’s point: The company has signed a deal to put its iPad-based payment systems inside Whole Food Market grocers in the U.S., where they’ll be used at counters that sell ready-to-consume products — from pizza and sandwiches to coffee, beer and wine — as a supplement to the conventional checkouts at the front of the store. Customers will be able to pay with credit and debit cards, cash and, in some locations, by using the Square Wallet smartphone app. The idea is to expedite things both for people making a quick purchase from one of these venues and for those who are at the checkouts with a cartful of groceries.

The agreement is Square’s second with a high-profile national retailer, after its 2012 partnership with Starbucks. And unlike that one, it uses Square’s off-the-shelf stuff rather than a customized solution. (Square Register is already in use by some sizable regional merchants, such as Dutch Bros. Coffee, an Oregon-based chain with almost 200 drive-through locations.)

Square may or may not show up at your local Whole Foods right away: It’s in use in a few stores already, with dozens of additional locations planned for the near future. And, eventually, even more beyond that.

TIME

Affordable Smart Tech for Your Home

We're surrounded by smart technology that's designed to make our lives easier. So why shouldn't our homes get in on the game?

We’re surrounded by smart technology that’s designed to make our lives easier. So why shouldn’t our homes get in on the game? It’s easier than ever to bring smart, connected technology into your home with the help of something you already own — your smartphone.

If you’re looking to get a start building your own smart home, here are five pieces of smart tech that will help monitor and manage your home with the aid of phone apps for easy control.

Cool or heat your home

Honeywell

The Honeywell Smart Thermostat with Voice Control

A smart thermostat lets you control the temperature of your home from afar using your smartphone and could even help save you money by cutting energy costs.

The Honeywell Smart Thermostat with Voice Control is a basic programmable thermostat that features a large touchscreen display instead of the standard buttons or dials. The Honeywell also has voice controls, so you can tell it “make it warmer” — even from across the room — and it will adjust the temperature accordingly.

And, of course, it’s connected to your home network over Wi-Fi, so you can control it using your computer or smartphone.

Price: $299 at Amazon

The Nest Thermostat

Nest

Not what you’re looking for? Then check out the Nest Learning Thermostat, a smart thermostat without voice controls that focuses instead on helping you save energy.

The Nest can tell when you’re not home, so it turns the cooling or heat down to save you some cash.

The Nest also aims to keep your home just the right temperature for you, so it remembers your temperature adjustments and tweaks its temperature program accordingly.

Price: $249 at Amazon

Stay safe from fire and other hazards

The Nest Protect Smoke and CO Detector

Nest

You probably already have smoke detectors in your home, but newer detectors do the job more intelligently. For example, who enjoys dealing with a smoke detector’s false alarm after burning something in the kitchen? With the Nest Protect Smoke and CO detector, all you have to do to turn the alarm off is wave a hand under it.

And the Protect has even more smarts: Instead of simply blaring an alarm, it speaks in a human voice to tell you where and what the problem is so you can address it. It can also communicate with other Nest Protects and your Nest Thermostat, which will shut off a gas furnace if the Protect senses a carbon monoxide leak.

Price: $129 at Amazon

KidSmart Vocal Smoke Alarm

KidSmart

If you have children (especially young children), you may be interested in the KidSmart Vocal Smoke Alarm. It’s not as smart as the Nest, but it aims to address a major problem with smoke detectors and children, who often aren’t immediately roused by a loud alarm.

KidSmart says two out of three children will sleep through a traditional smoke detector’s alarm, while a child will wake to the sound of a parent’s voice 96% of the time. So the KidSmart lets you record a message to wake your child and tell them what to do in case of a fire — a simple but effective step toward better fire safety.

Price: $42 at Amazon

Keep your home secure with smart tech

A standard home security system usually includes a complicated installation process and monthly monitoring fees to boot. But modern smart systems are all about easy installation and self-monitoring, alerting your smartphone if the system detects a problem.

The iSmartAlarm System

iSmartAlarm

The iSmartAlarm system is modular, letting you buy the pieces you need in order to put together the perfect system for your home. You’ll need a CubeOne, which is the brain of the system, and then you can add sensors for doors and windows, cameras, motion detectors and remote control keyfobs.

If any alarms come up, you’ll get an alert on your phone, and you can see what’s happening through the app in order to respond appropriately. You can also use iSmartAlarm to see if your family is home — even when you’re working late — and check that all of the doors and windows are closed and locked before heading to bed.

Price: Starting at $199 at iSmartAlarm

Piper

Piper

If the multi-part iSmartAlarm system seems like too much, Piper is a single piece of equipment that you set up in your home to keep an eye on things. It warns you if there’s motion or a loud noise and lets you see photos or video of what’s happening at home when you’re away.

Additionally, Piper works with Z-Wave-enabled electronics like this power outlet and door sensor, which it can monitor and control for additional security and automation options.

If you want a simple system, pick up Piper by itself, but if you want something more robust, look for the right Z-wave accessories to customize your perfect automation system.

Price: Starting at $239 at Piper

Lock (or unlock) the doors

Kevo

Kevo

If you want control of your door beyond notifications of when it opens or closes, Kevo is the answer. With Kevo, you just need your smartphone or an included keyfob to open your door. Simply walk up to the door with your smartphone or keyfob in your pocket or purse and touch the lock. It’s a little bit like magic, but it’s really Bluetooth technology.

Kevo is as easy to install as a standard door lock and once it’s set up, you can grant access to any number of smartphones, even remotely allowing access to friends or family via email. And with the Kevo app (iPhone only right now) and web portal, you can track who has access and see who’s come and gone. Monitoring your home was never so easy.

Price: $219 at Amazon

Control your lights and appliances

Belkin WeMo Outlet and Light Switch

Belkin

Smart tech can also control a variety of home appliances. With the Belkin WeMo Outlet and Light Switch, you can control what’s on and off at any time. Using the WeMo app, you can turn lights or appliances on and off as well as schedule them to turn on or off at specific times. You can even configure lights — for example, the porch light — to turn on at sunset and off again at sunrise.

The end result? A home that’s always lit up and powered on when you pull into the driveway.

Price: Outlet, $49.99 at Amazon; light switch, $48.99 at Amazon

Connected by TCP

TCP

If you only want to control your lighting, then Connected by TCP may be the answer. The starter pack comes with three bulbs, a remote and a gateway that controls your lighting. Once it’s set up, you can program lights to turn on, turn off, dim or brighten with your smartphone or tablet.

If you need more than three bulbs, you can buy additional LED bulbs — make sure they’re Connected by TCP to work with your system — for just $17. The starter pack is pricey at $110, but bear in mind that these LED bulbs have a lifespan of 22 years, so you’re not going to have to worry about replacing them for a while.

Price: Kit, $109.99 at Amazon; LED bulbs, $16.97 at Amazon

Considering how simple these smart systems are to set up and install, you’ve got no excuses not to include smart technology in your home. Get smart and save money all at the same time.

This article was written by Elizabeth Harper and originally appeared on Techlicious.
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TIME

RadioShack’s Super Bowl Ad Revels in an Uncomfortable Truth: It’s a 1980s Throwback

A 93-year-old electronics retailer admits that it's been out of touch with the times.

+ READ ARTICLE

I don’t like football and am usually immune to the charms of Super Bowl commercials. So I caught up with RadioShack’s spot — which you can watch in the player above — only after the game was over, online.

It’s a funny, self-effacing ad, which confronts the electronics retailer’s reputation for being somewhat less than cutting-edge by depicting Kid and Play, John Ratzenberger as Cheers‘ Cliff Clavin, 1984 Olympics darling Mary Lou Retton, Child’s Play‘s Chuckie, Hulk Hogan, ALF, Erik Estrada as Ponch from CHiPs, the California Raisins, Q*Bert and other icons of the 1980s ransacking a dowdy RadioShack of its VCRs, fax machines and boom boxes.

At the end, there’s a glimpse of a surprisingly spacious, modern RadioShack tastefully displaying sexy products from Samsung and Beats. Which seems to be more of a promise of good things to come than a claim that your nearby RadioShack is fully a creature of the 21st century. My local one looks more like the store looted by Cliff and Mary Lou than the dream store at the end of the commercial; it’s claustrophobic and a bit messy, qualities which most of the RadioShacks I’ve ever visited have shared. It also devotes a fair amount of its precious floor space to stuff like capacitors, which I have a hard time believing is a rational business decision in 2014.

Rummaging around in the investor section of RadioShack.com, I learned that the company is losing money and is hopeful that new concept stores — presumably similar to the sleek one in the Super Bowl ad — will come to the rescue. That’s pretty much the latest chapter in a long-running saga. Back in 1992, for instance, the New York Times compared the chain to Sears Roebuck — which, then as now, is never a compliment. Then, in 1993, it reported that the company was looking for a new ad agency to help change consumers’ perceptions of its stores.

In other words, even when the 1980s were a recent memory, Radio Shack was already struggling with image problems. If they’ve festered for decades — and they have — it’s unlikely that a clever TV commercial and store remodelings will turn things around in a jiffy.

Still, this new campaign avoids the lameness of the company’s attempt, in 2009, to get us to call it “The Shack.” (A similar lack of comfort with its own moniker led it to compress “Radio Shack” into one word in 1995.) And I’d love to see this venerable institution thrive. The computer that introduced me to computers, back in 1978, was its TRS-80. I used to actively look forward to the publication of the annual Radio Shack catalog. Like many Americans of a certain age, I’m also a former card-carrying member of the Radio Shack Battery Club.

That’s the firm’s dilemma in a nutshell: The fact that you evoke warm, nostalgic feelings is not a plus when you’re trying to sell the latest in consumer electronics. The Super Bowl commercial is a logical attempt to confront this uncomfortable truth head-on — but we’ll know that RadioShack has entered a new era when stepping into a typical store no longer feels like entering a Wayback Machine.

For no particular reason other than that they’re loads of fun, let’s end this with some vintage Radio Shack commercials. Here’s Peter Nero on behalf of portable tape recorders:

Half-price 8-track tape players:

The not-that-well-remembered Color Computer 2:

$2495 cell phones in 1987, when that was apparently a bargain:

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