A credit card for plastic surgery? That, and nine other unusual offers from banks and credit card issuers.
We'll be honest: When we set out searching for unusual credit cards, we didn't dream of finding a card for plastic surgery or one with a $25,000 monthly sweepstakes.
With almost 900 million debit and credit cards in circulation (the total for Visa, MasterCard, Discover Card and Diners Club, according to the latest data from the Nilson Report, an industry newsletter), you, too, are bound to stumble across a few that are, well, weird.
Some of the cards we found are truly beneficial. Others are innovative, but have some drawbacks we thought you should know about. And some are just so wacky we had to tell you about them.
1. Plastic Makes Perfect
With cosmetic procedures like botox and liposuction now as mainstream as teeth whitening, it was only a matter of time for a credit card targeting plastic-surgery patients to hit the market.
Issued by CareCredit, a unit of General Electric Consumer Finance, this card is geared toward consumers interested in financing various medical procedures typically not covered by insurance. Those include cosmetic and laser eye surgery, hearing aids, dental treatments and even veterinary expenses for pets.
Applications are available at participating doctors' offices. (Currently, at least 45,000 medical professionals participate in the CareCredit program.) If approved, based on your credit history, you will receive a credit limit equal to the amount needed for the specific procedure you would like to finance. Once you receive your card in the mail, however, it can be used for additional procedures, and the limit will be increased as needed. The program often comes with a number of promotional options, such as deferring interest charges for three, six or 12 months, or securing a lower fixed interest rate (currently 9.9%) for the life of the loan.
|Annual Fee: none.
APR: 22.98% variable, after promotions expire.
Pros: Low-APR promotions on pricey procedures.
Cons: The card is not Visa- or MasterCard-branded, so it can be used only with participating CareCredit providers.
Also consider: Capital One, which offers loans specifically designed for cosmetic, dental, vision, orthodontics or fertility expenses. Rates range from 5.9% to 13.9% fixed.
2. One of a Card
Tired of carrying around credit cards with boring pictures? The aptly named "One of a Card" lets you choose your own image or drawing to put on the card's front. (You can change the images as often as you'd like for $4.95 per image after the first two.) Card features come in many flavors: a choice of travel or cash-back rewards, a student card that offers 10% discounts on textbooks and other supplies, and one that carries a low APR on balance transfers. (For more on these options, some of which aren't available on the card's web site, go to the site of the card's issuer, First National Bank of Omaha and click on "One of a Card.")
|Annual fee: none.
APR: varies with the different options.
Pros: you don't have to carry that creased photo of your child in your wallet anymore.
Cons: the rewards programs aren't as generous as those offered by larger card issuers like American Express, Chase or Citibank. With cash-back, 7,500 points earn a $60 check and 10,000 points earn an $80 check, instead of $75 and $100, respectively. Higher point levels are redeemed at the more mainstream, 100-points-per-dollar level (such as 50,000 points for $500). The Airmiles program is tiered based on ticket price: you start at 16,000 points for a $200 ticket, and you need 4,000 additional points for each additional $50 (20,000 points for $250 ticket, 25,000 for $300, etc.)
Also consider: Bank of America's "Photo Expressions" option allows any of the bank's credit card holders to place their own photo or image on their credit card. The first photo is free; additional photos cost $4.95.
3. Upfront Rewards
Why wait to accumulate enough points to redeem a reward when you can get one as soon as you open a credit card? The Upfront Reward Visa Platinum card, issued by Milwaukee-based Universal Savings Bank, will give a Dell Inspiron 1200 notebook computer (an $800 value, according to the bank) to anyone who is approved for an account.
The catch: To get the laptop, you have to make a balance transfer of at least $5,000 to the card. If your balance falls below $3,500 at any time during the first 18 months after your account is open, you will be charged an "early pay-down" fee of $600. And at a balance transfer interest rate of 9.99%, keeping a $3,500 balance for 18 months would cost you at least $534. That laptop isn't so free after all. But if you have credit card debt anyway, and you know you won't be able to pay your balances below $3,500 in the next 18 months, the card may make sense.
|Annual fee: None.
APR: 9.99% on purchases, 9.99% on balance transfers.
Pros: Immediate rewards.
Cons: Required to carry a $3,500 balance for at least 18 months. Also consider: Any credit card that offers a low or 0% APR on balance transfers for those who carry balances — the savings could add up to more than the retail price of the laptop.
4. The American Dream
What's the American Dream? Winning a $25,000 monthly jackpot, according to this card. For every dollar charged on the American DreamCard, you get one entry in a monthly drawing to win a $25,000 jackpot. (Up to a maximum of 1,000 entries per transaction.) The card's bank issuer, Direct Merchants Credit Card Bank in Phoenix, Ariz., wants to spread the word: For each referral you provide who becomes a cardholder, you get 1,000 extra entries in the next drawing. In addition, you get 100 entries each time you pay your credit card bill online. CardWeb.com, a leading credit card information web site, ranked the American DreamCard among the Top 10 most innovative credit cards for 2004.
|Annual fee: None.
APR: 0% APR for the first five months; after that, 10.24%, 15.24% or 20.25% variable, depending on credit history.
Pros: To earn $25,000 through a traditional cash-back credit card, you'd have to spend $2.5 million.
Cons: There's a chance that you never win. In the meantime, you're encouraged to spend as much as possible. And "people charging more and getting in credit card debt is not the American dream," says Curtis Arnold, publisher of Cardratings.com, a credit card information web site.
5. Insurance Rewards
How does earning rewards for your insurance premiums sound? Several weeks ago, Commerce Insurance started offering Visa Extras points to its customers in New Jersey. Points accumulate through a Commerce Bank Visa check card or credit card enrolled in the Visa Extras program. You will receive 2,000 bonus points for each new policy (auto, home owners, umbrella, watercraft/boat and flood policies qualify) and one point for each dollar of your total premium, up to 11,000 points per year.
|Annual fee: None.
APR: None for check card, 13.9% or 16.9% APR for credit cards.
Pros: Receive rewards points for insurance premiums.
Cons: Offer available only in New Jersey.
6. A Card for Fans
Clay Aiken fans may be happy to hear that their American Idol is now featured on MyPlash, a MasterCard debit card issued by South Dakota-based First Premier Bank. This is a prepaid card that targets teenagers. The pitch: By giving your child a prepaid card, they can learn to stick to a budget while getting the benefits of a MasterCard-branded card. The catch: It's laden with fees. It costs $28.94 to open, carries an additional $0.99 monthly maintenance fee, $1 to $6.75 in fees each time you load the card, fees for ATM withdrawal or balance information, and even a $1.50 per minute charge for speaking to customer service.
|Annual fee: $11.88.
APR: None — this is a prepaid card.
Pros: Your child can use a card without sinking into credit card debt.
Cons: High fees; doesn't help build credit history.
Also consider: Visa Buxx, which is issued by six different banks. Fees are typically lower.
7. A Card That Pays
Here's a prepaid card that combines a cash-back rewards program with a multi-level marketing structure. Here's how it works: The First Vineyard card gives you 1% cash back for every dollar you spend. You also get a one-time $25 bonus for every person you refer who signs up for and uses the card. Once you refer three friends and your total spending exceeds $1,000, you start receiving cash-back for your friends' spending as well. The more people you refer, the higher-level cash back you get on their spending. According to the card's issuer, South Dakota-based BankFirst, if you have five referrals and an average spending of $300 from each referral, you would earn $820 a month in cash-back rewards.
We have to admit, it does sound a bit suspicious, as would any multi-level marketing business. But it carries the MasterCard logo and has received positive reviews at Cardratings.com, so it might be worth looking into. Keep in mind, this is a prepaid card, so it isn't reported to the credit bureaus. (Prepaid cards typically target people with bad or no credit history who are unable to get a secured credit card. Secured cards are also prepaid, but are reported to the credit bureaus and help you build credit.) As any prepaid card, it comes with hefty fees, starting with a one-time $39.95 opening fee, a $6.95 monthly maintenance fee, ATM withdrawal and balance inquiry fees of $2 and $1, respectively, and so on. Loading the card through payroll deposit, money order or PayPal is free, but using an electronic funds or bank wire transfer will cost you about $5.
|Annual fee: $83.40.
APR: None, this is a prepaid card.
Pros: Can receive a fair amount of cash back with a lot of referrals.
Cons: High fees; doesn't build credit history.
8. A Card With Speed
We selected this prepaid card for its unusual features. It gives you the option to have your activity reported to a credit bureau, something no other prepaid card offers.
The Eufora prepaid card comes in three flavors: associate (annual fee: $29.95), preferred ($59.95) and elite ($99.95). The preferred and elite levels carry additional MasterCard benefits, such as auto and travel accident insurance. They also give you the option to enroll in Eufora's CreditBuilder program, which will report your card activity to TransUnion, one of the three major credit bureaus. (The card issuer is currently working on setting up a relationship with the other two bureaus, Equifax and Experian.) CreditBuilder costs an additional $19.95 annually and requires you to own the prepaid card for at least two years. Additional fees include a $1.00 value load fee, a $2.00 fee for cash withdrawal, $1.00 for an ATM balance inquiry and a $3.00 charge for speaking with a live customer service representative. For more on fees, click here.
Now, the fun part - Instead of offering a traditional rewards program, the card offers a sweepstakes: For each $100 you spend on the card, you receive one entry in a monthly sweepstakes to win a car worth roughly $30,000. The winner has a choice of 30 vehicles. Each month's drawing takes place with a six-month delay (so the drawing in June is for spending for the month of January).
|Annual fee: $29.95, $59.95 or $99.95, depending on card level. $19.95 extra for CreditBuilder.
APR: None; this is a prepaid card. The company is currently switching bank partners for its credit card.
Pros: Helps build credit history.
Cons: High fees.
9. It's a Zoo Out There...
...So why not carry a credit card that supports it? With the San Diego Zoo Visa card, issued by Bank One and Chase, a fraction of your purchases goes to support the Zoological Society's conservation education programs. You have the option to add Bank One's Flexible Rewards program for a $59 annual fee. For the card's image, choose a panda or a baby cheetah. Any unique features for this card? Nope. But the baby cheetah is awfully cute. (For more information, click here and then choose Credit Cards, followed by San Diego Zoo in the Menu.)
|Annual fee: None; $59 for optional rewards.
APR: 9.99%, 13.99%, or 20.99% variable, depending on credit history.
Pros: Support your favorite zoo; rewards program features a flat 1.5% cash-back option (typical cash-back rate is 1%).
Cons: if you're in it for the rewards, you can find a no-fee card with a similarly attractive program. And we have to ask: What about a card benefiting the Central Park Zoo?
10. If It Quacks Like a Duck...
Well, it doesn't really quack, but each time you swipe it at the register, this Ducks Unlimited MasterCard issued by MBNA will donate 0.5% of your purchase to the Ducks Unlimited wetlands conservation organization. It also offers an introductory 1.7% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first six months. Choose between pintails, mallards, Canada geese and wood ducks for your card's picture.
|Annual fee: None
APR: 1.7% for the first six months, 12.99% fixed thereafter.
Pros: Great for duck lovers.
Cons: If you're into rewards, all you'll get with this card is a free Ducks Unlimited hat. The rest goes to the ducks.