December 2014: Checking Rewards Programs

Banking rewards programs tend to vary between, as some offer both standalone and co-branded rewards, some carry annual fees, and some firms are eliminating checking rewards programs altogether. Additionally, certain banks prioritize non-PIN purchases, while others offer the same rewards regardless of transaction type. This report details the findings our investigation into rewards program earnings, fees and redemptions. We looked at multiple aspects of each bank’s rewards program(s), including accelerated earnings within programs for specific purchases and partner-based earnings.

We specifically look at the following criteria for each detailed finding:

  • Account Details
  • Points Earnings
  • Redemptions and Other Details

Seven firms currently offer rewards programs tied to checking accounts or debit cards, down from nine in June of 2012. As recently as 2010, around 80% of the firms tracked by Bank Monitor offered rewards programs for banking customers – a sharp difference. While 31 different programs or rewards-earning products were offered to prospective checking account clients in 2010, only 11 point-earning options are available today. These 11 options are spread across three different program types, with firms offering clients rewards via integrated account programs, through specialized debit cards and based on retail partnerships or overarching firm relationships.

Of all the rewards programs outlined in this report, only one is based solely around the number of purchases an account holder makes, instead of the size of those purchases. In this case, two checking accounts enable clients to earn a set number of miles per purchase, with each account offering more miles for signature purchases than for PIN-based ones.

In total, five checking rewards options continue to use a traditional dollar-value of purchases for accruing points or cash back. Four of these options allow clients to select offers on the web that provide between 1% and 15% cash back on purchases. Earned cash back is then deposited into the client’s checking account at a later date.

Additional key findings include:

  • Four firms offer points-based and four offer cash-back programs.
  • Only one firm offers two rewards checking accounts.
  • Some firms only offer points for banking customers who meet certain requirements – such as using online bill pay.
  • One firm offers both a points program and a cashback program.
  • Clients at some firms can earn extra points if they have a linked checking account.
  • Clients at one bank can earn cash rewards each month through a special checking account.