Published on May 27th, 2015 | by Chuck28
It’s Time We Reevaluate Citi and their Cash Advance Policy
For time immemorial, Citi has gotten a bad rap as the credit card issuer who charges a cash advance fee on various transactions. For most ‘normal’ people, this issue is something they may have bumped into one time in their life. For those in the miles-and-points community, the issue could literally be a daily conundrum.
Here are some of the occasions that many people bumped into Citi slapping them with a fee:
- Buying Amex gift cards online at americanexpress.com
- Loading the prepaid Visa Buxx card
- Loading Serve (Note that most Serve cards can no longer be loaded with non-Amex cards.)
- Funding bank accounts
There seems to have been a positive shift in Citi’s cash advance policy sometime over the past year and currently they may not be worse than any other credit card issuer with regards to charging cash advances.
Disclaimer: Please do not rely on this information for practical application. Do your own research or lower your cash advance limit to zero instead.
First, let’s explain what was…
Citi used to charge a cash advance fee for transactions done at financial institutions. This point is important: there were no reports of cash advance charges when buying gift cards in CVS or the like.
When a financial institution runs a purchase, they may be able to code the purchase as a bonafide cash advance, even without having a PIN input in the system. In such a case, any credit card will charge a cash advance fee. This was not the issue that we bumped into with Citi cards. In that scenario, any other credit card will get the same cash advance fee as a Citi card.
The issue at hand is when a financial institution runs a transaction as a POS purchase transaction. Such a transaction typically will show up as just that: a POS purchase.
Citi notoriously considered most transactions made at financial institutions to be automatic cash advances, despite the fact that the institution never ran it as a cash advance.
This led to things like the purchase of Amex gift cards at americanexpress.com being considered a cash advance. And it led to the scare when using a Citi card at any suspect location…and even some locations which weren’t particularly suspect. People were nervous to use their Citi cards for many cash-like transactions.
Note that not every transaction at a financial institution is coded as a cash advance. Funding an LMCU checking account, for example, comes up as ‘Business Services'(1). Somehow they have themselves coded differently. There are no reports of cash advance problems with funding LMCU accounts, even with Citi cards (and even before any recent change). Similarly, loading US Bank Buxx has always coded as a purchase with Citi cards, probably because it’s coded as ‘Business Services’ and not as ‘Financial’.
Why it couldn’t continue
We must realize that the Citi cash advance policy is not something that affected churners exclusively. Most Americans probably purchase an Amex gift card or load a prepaid card or do a bank transaction with a credit card at some point in their life. It may not be a daily occurrence, but it will leave a disgruntled consumer when it does happen. It’s logical that eventually Citi wouldn’t be interested in dealing with the complaints and simply switch the policy.
More current reports on just about every one of the previously problematic transactions indicate a shift in Citi policy.
- Amex Gift Cards The FlyerTalk wiki was updated to say that numerous Citi cards have been posting as purchases. They stop short of declaring that all Citi cards are okay.
- Buxx Here too the Flyertalk wiki clears using a Citi card “(at least Mastercard)” for NW Buxx loads. My personal experience has been that Citi Visa (TY Preferred) posts as a purchase, not a cash advance. In the past, NW Buxx was a no-no with Citi cards and that seems to have changed.
- Serve This one is a little trickier: Flyertalk reports that Mastercard and Amex cards from Citi are okay to use, while Citi Visa cards do incur a cash advance charge. However, the issue here doesn’t appear to be connected to Citi, rather many Visa cards consider this a cash advance, including US Bank, Bank of America, PNC, and Citi. Perhaps Serve runs Visa transactions as a genuine cash advance. More likely, there’s some quasi-cash category in the Visa coding which is considered by most banks – including Citi – to be a cash advance. In any case, there’s no evidence here of Citi being different than other banks.
- Funding Bank Accounts This one is the trickiest since some bank may actually run the transaction as a genuine cash advance. There are some data points of funding a bank account with a Citi card which have been considered a purchase, one as early as July 2014 (1), and another three in 2015 (1, 2, 3). On the other hand, there is one data point (1) of a Citi cash advance charge for funding a Santander bank account in March 2015, despite the fact that most other credit cards treat this as a purchase. This contradicts the theory we’re trying to set forth here that Citi no longer interacts differently with such transactions. It is possible that actual banks have a different Merchant Category Code (MCC) than Buxx, Serve, and Amex Gift Cards. (NWBuxx has MCC 6012.) If this is the case, then bank transactions are still worse with Citi while other financial-type transactions are okay with Citi.
Fascinating Bonus Rewards Reports
Though it appears that for the most part Citi is no longer different than other card issuers in charging cash advance fees, there is one other fascinating thing that Citi managed to pull on us with regards to transactions made at financial institutions.
FrequentMiler reported that both NW Buxx and Amex gift cards have not been earning bonus points under a bonus retention offer. The offer gave an additional 2x rewards on all purchases, yet NW Buxx loads and Amex gift card purchases did not earn this bonus amount, despite the fact that it transacted as a purchase and did earn the regular 1x rewards.
I commented there that in my recent experience Buxx has worked to help meet a Citi signup bonus. FrequentMiler replied that he too has no problems meeting minimum spend thresholds with Buxx purchases and the issue is specific to this one particular thing that they won’t let us earn the bonus points with such financial transactions.
Now, listen to this…
After making that comment, I realized that I personally have used Buxx to trigger my retention bonus offer as well. At that time, my retention points hadn’t posted to my account, but now they have and I definitely did not have enough purchases without the Buxx charges. Bear in mind that my retention bonus offer was a little different than FrequentMiler’s in that it got triggered by fixed-spend of $3,000, similar to a signup bonus requirement (more on this point below).
The plot thickens…
As per a Flyertalk data point (mentioned in the wiki) Citi Double Cash considers Amex gift cards as a purchase and earns 1% cashback. However…it does not earn the second percent upon payment.
Additionally, there’s a report of Nationwide Buxx only earning 1% with Citi Double Cash and not earning the second percent.
What this means
Let’s digest what we have so far and see what it means:
- FrequentMiler has two reports indicating that non-fixed bonus rewards are not earned on certain financial transactions.
- Citi Double Cash likewise does not get its non-fixed second percent on NW Buxx loads or on Amex gift cards.
- Signup bonuses and fixed-spend retention offers do consider Buxx to be no different than any other purchase.
It seems that Citi has excluded certain Financial transactions from earning any bonus-level rewards, even in the event that the rewards are the standard credit card rewards as in the case of the Citi Double Cash card. [This may perhaps be one of the reasons Citi didn’t make the card a straight 2% card and instead opted to code the second percent as a bonus reward.]
Citi records NW Buxx transactions as “Financial” (MCC 6012) and this category is excluded in the Citi system from earning any bonus rewards. Amex gift cards are probably categorized similarly and thus won’t earn bonus rewards with retention offers or with the Double Cash card. Based on this it’s quite possible that Serve loads would also only earn 1% with Citi Double Cash, depending on exactly how these transactions are coded. We haven’t seen any confirmed reports either way.
(As mentioned above, US Buxx seems to be coded differently and does earn bonus rewards with Citi Double Cash and with retention bonus offers. It’s probably not coded as “Financial” [MCC 6012], rather as “Business Services, Not Elsewhere Classified” [MCC 7399].)
AT&T Acces More
Another interesting question was brought up relating to the AT&T Access More card. The card is supposed to earn 3x rewards on some online purchases, but it’s not yet clear exactly which online transactions will be included in that category.
Based on the above, it would seem that even if the 3x category turns out to be extremely generous and includes the likes of Amazon and Paypal, it still won’t earn 3x rewards on Amex gift cards or loading NW Buxx, no different than the reality that Double Cash does not earn the second percent on these transactions.
The issue of cash advance fees is complex and it’s hard to put together all the various data points into one clear picture. There are likely many additional factors and categories involved which are not mentioned in this post. Hopefully, we’ve clarified some part of the Citi cash advance puzzle.
Aside from one data point (mentioned above) at Santander Bank, all other indications point to Citi having made a policy shift for the better. If this is the case, a bank account which is transacting as a purchase with other credit cards would probably be considered a purchase with a Citi card as well. Though there are many reports of cash advance charges from Citi while funding a bank account, it may be that this is a relic of the past.
The Santander data point would indicate that bank accounts are still a no-no with Citi cards, possibly due to a separate coding that real banks have which processes differently than the Financial coding that Buxx and others have. However, I’m not entirely convinced by that Santander data point, it’s entirely possible that the reason the charge didn’t go through had nothing to do with the lack of a cash advance limit, rather it was some other issue such as a fraud alert. Hopefully, we’ll get more reports coming in which can clarify this point.
The one raw point which we’ve clarified in this post is that Citi won’t dispense non-fixed bonus rewards for purchases coming through as Financial. I hate to say this, but I’m pretty impressed that Citi managed to pull this one off.
While we are, of course, not happy with this particular point, appear to be overall a net positive in the Citi departement in that we can use Citi cards at some/all Financial institutions and even earn our regular rewards in most cases.
In conclusion we’ll repeat what was mentioned earlier: please do your own research before deciding whether to use a Citi card or any other credit card in a place where there’s a risk of a cash advance fee. Best to lower your cash advance limit to zero when possible. We hope to have one more post up soon to clarify some general cash advance issues which pop up from time to time with all credit cards.
A couple things have come to our attention since this post was published:
- We wrote that Citi Double Cash has not been getting the double cash on NW Buxx loads. Other reports now indicate that it is earning double cash on that (1, 2) Unclear if something changed here or if there’s some other explanation.
- We theorized that the AT&T card would not earn bonus rewards on Financial transactions. However, the Flyertalk wiki says that it has been earning 3x rewards on Serve loads.
- With regards to the main suggestion of this post that Citi is no longer different than other issuers with regards to charging cash advance fees, we’ve gotten a couple additional reports in the comments of this post which continue to suggest that this is true.