Q: I plan to start my holiday shopping in the next few days and recently heard about a Bank of America credit card that saves the shopper money every time the card is used. What can you tell me about this "keep the change" program? -- Sara Saver
A: Dear Sara: The card to which you refer is Bank of America's "Keep the Change" debit card and I, too, thought it looked great until I cleaned my spectacles.
At first glance, I discovered when we use this BOA Visa check card, it rounds up purchases to the nearest dollar and deposits the remainder into your savings. Perhaps you buy a video game for your teenager for $19.59; you'll save the extra 41 cents by swiping the card. Or you use it to purchase Five Guys hamburgers for your busy family -- the total comes to $28.83 so your deposit rounds up to 17 cents. So far so good....
But now for the downside. To receive the maximum 100 percent match of $250 yearly, you must swipe your card 14 times every single day.
Furthermore, the 100 percent is good only for the first three months you use the card; after that, the percentage saved drops drastically to only 5 percent.
According to my friend Mary Hunt, author of "Debt-Proof Living," not only do the savings stop after the $250 max is reached, but also we may play havoc with our checking balance while trying to "save." In fact, since most banks charge about $30 for one overdraft, it wouldn't take too long before we've dissipated our $250.
Mary suggests a much more (but oft-overlooked) simple approach: a plain, 'ole jar or piggy bank. This plan worked for me when I quit smoking some years ago; each day I placed the equivalent of what a pack of cigarettes cost in those days into a clean, 32-ounce pickle jar. At the end of three months, I had enough money for some major shoe shopping.
So far as true savings go, however, my husband bought a huge Coke bottle bank and plopped his daily change into the bottle; each month, he deposited the coins into a savings account. Over the years, he saved enough change to give our granddaughter a nice down payment on her first automobile.
Believe me, every little bit adds up!
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business. E-mail her at email@example.com