What is the Best Points Debit Card and Checking Account?

Oct 10, 2011

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I’ve been asked this question a lot lately – especially as banks continue to roll back the benefits of debit cards and add fees, like Bank of America recently announcing their $5 monthly fee on most debit cards.

While I am a big advocate of having a strong credit score and leveraging powerful points earning credit cards like the Sapphire Preferred and Amex Premier Rewards Gold to maximize every dollar you spend, many people prefer the simplicity of debit cards. For one, you don’t need to have good credit to get a debit card – the bank will simply run a soft inquiry on you to make sure the information you provide is correct. There are strict laws that banks need to “know their customers” due to anti-money laundering and terrorism, but these soft inquiries will not hurt your FICO score.

Secondly, people like debit cards because they keep you within your spending limits. Unlike credit and charge cards which will let you run up huge balances, debit cards will generally only let you spend the money you have in the bank – with some allowing modest over-drafting (at high fees, of course).

The bad thing is that new financial regulation has made debit cards less profitable for banks and thus rewards have been drying up, with Chase officially canceling their Continental airline rewards cards this July. However, there still are a couple decent options for those looking to get decent rewards for their checking accounts and debit card spend:

Checking Accounts:
1) Until 10/31/11 Citi is offering 40,000 ThankYou points for opening up  a Citigold checking account. Once opened, enroll the account in ThankYou Rewards and within 45 days after account opening, initiate one direct deposit AND complete one electronic bill payment for two consecutive months. Offer open to new checking customers only, 18 years or older.

ThankYou points cannot be transferred to any airlines, but they can be redeemed towards travel and gift cards at 1 cent per point, so this sign-up bonus is worth $400. The bonus ThankYou Points will be credited to your ThankYou Member Account within 90 days from the end of the statement period in which you satisfy all offer requirements. New checking account must be open and in good standing at the time the bonus ThankYou Points are posted to your ThankYou Member Account.

Citigold account details:

  • Open your Citigold interest checking account with a $500 minimum deposit.1 There’s no monthly service fee for the first 2 statement cycles. After that, we’ll continue to waive the monthly service fee if the combined average balance of your eligible linked accounts is:
  • $50,000 or more for all linked deposit and retirement accounts OR
  • $100,000 or more across all your eligible linked Citiaccounts, excluding a first mortgage with Citibank OR
  • $250,000 or more if your Citibank first mortgage is included in the total relationship.

Otherwise, a $30 monthly service fee will apply.

So, essentially if you complete the minimum deposit of $500 and then initiate a direct deposit and do two monthly bill payments, in the worst case scenario you’d have to pay for 2-3 months of $30 fees (unless you can meet the huge monthly balance requirements). However, in my experience Citi posts points pretty quickly, so it’s quite possible you wouldn’t have to wait the 5 months total to get the sign-up points.

2) Bankdirect American Airlines Checking Account with Interest. BankDirect used to offer a 23,500 mile sign-up bonus, but they have expired to my knowledge. The best I could find on their website is:

  • Earn 1000 miles for opening a Mileage Checking Account
  • Earn 10,000 miles for signing up for payroll direct deposit into a Mileage Checking Account
  • Earn 5,000 miles for using BankDirect’s bill pay service for 12 months
  • Earn 100 miles per month for every $1000.00 of the collected balance in your Mileage Checking Account up to the first $200,000. Earn an additional 25 miles per $1,000 in balances over $200,000, WITH NO CAP!
  • $100.00 minimum to open
  • Interest compounded (credit method) daily
  • Interest paid on collected balances
  • First order of personalized checks free (50-pack)
  • Free Bill Pay Service
  • Free Visa® CheckCard upon request
  • Four (4) reimbursed ATM withdrawals per statement cycle (up to $2.50 per transaction)

Debit Cards:

Perkstreet Financial 2% Cash Back Debit card. This card doesn’t give miles, but instead gives 2 cents back per every dollar spent (non-ATM), so you can use the credits to buy any travel reward – or anything else – that you might want. In my opinion, if I had to only use a debit card, it would be this card. See my full post on it here.

Bank of America US Airways Debit Card: 3,000 miles for sign-up and 1 mile for every $2 in non-ATM transactions. $30 annual fee. Using this card also counts as a hit in the US Airways Grand Slam promotion which ends 11/14/11. Beware of the $5 monthly fee.

Bank of America Alaska Airlines Debit Card: 3,000 miles for sign-up and 1 mile for every $2 in non-ATM transactions. $30 annual fee. Beware of the $5 monthly fee.
Suntrust Delta Debit World Check card- $55 annual fee, 5,000 Skymiles with sign-up. 2 miles earned per dollar spent on non-ATM versions. $20 annual version also available with a 2,500 mile sign-up.

Other banks are also scaling back their debit card rewards programs, like Wells Fargo, who is no longer accepting new members. Per their program FAQ:

Q: What changes are occurring with the Rewards for Debit Card program?

A: Currently, debit card customers are no longer able to enroll in the Rewards for Debit program or the Rewards for Business Debit program. Additionally, as of October 8 2011, existing rewards customers will no longer earn points on debit card transactions or bill payments, including purchases made through the Earn More Mall shopping site. Note: Points may continue to post to Rewards accounts for qualified transactions that occurred on or before October 7, 2011.

In general, debit card rewards are much less lucrative than credit cards, but you might as well get something. If you have any other good debit or checking account deals, please feel free to share them in the comments section and I’ll add any noteworthy ones to the post.


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