Rewards in Checking: Citibank

This is Money Under Your Futon’s 101st post!  To celebrate this occasion and thank our readers, we are announcing our new e-mail address: moneyunderyourfuton [at] gmail [dot] com.  Please feel free to send us your money-related questions, and we will try to respond to them in future posts.

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It is hard to make money off your checking account.  With a few exceptions, such as ING’s interest-paying Electric Orange account, most checking accounts give you no more cash than what you have already deposited into them.  And some don’t even offer that, as their maintenance fees slowly chisel through your balance.  But sometimes a bank promotion can transform a regular checking account into part of a relatively generous program.

With Citibank, for example, you can earn ThankYou points every month simply for having a checking account with a debit card and direct deposit.  The ThankYou Network allows for point accumulation through several services and merchants, including Citibank and Expedia, though the fastest way to earn points is usually through one of Citibank’s credit cards tied to the program.  But Citibank also gives its checking customers monthly ThankYou points for coupling the account with at least any two other services, such as having a debit card, direct deposit, or online bill payment.  The monthly points range from 25 to 1,200, depending on the type of checking account and the number of services linked to it (click here for a table detailing the points per account type and number of services).

You can earn even more ThankYou points if you use your Citibank debit card for purchases.  Although the credit card offers tends to be more generous, Citibank has jumped into the bank trend of linking debit cards to reward programs in an attempt to attract more customers dropping credit cards in response to the crisis.  For purchases made with a Citibank debit card, you can earn 1 ThankYou point for every $2 spent on signature purchases (i.e., a purchase that requires your signature on the receipt) and 1 point for every $3 on purchases using your PIN.

If you already have a ThankYou Network account, make sure to get points for your checking and debit card use.  Call customer service (1800-THANKYOU) to link your checking account to the network.  And if you have a Citibank checking account but are still not in the ThankYou Network, consider joining it and reaping rewards, especially if you use the other partners in the network, have a high-end account for which you can get a lot of points per month, or use your Citibank debit card frequently.

With the current low interest rates on savings account, you may find that your checking account gives you more bang for your buck.

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Check Cards Advance into Credit Card Territory

With consumers trying to rein in their spending by using credit cards less frequently and credit card issuers trying to limit their exposure to increased delinquency by decreasing solicitations – as found by market-research firm Mintel and reported by Progressive Grocer in May, – check cards, or “debit cards,” may earn a new status among purchase payment methods.  As banks and credit card issuers look to attract and/or retain would-be-credit-card-users-in-better-times, check card offers are now sometimes coming with extras that until recently were reserved for their more profitable credit card cousins.

If you are looking to switch from credit to check cards but are not ready to give up the credit card perks (or have shied away from credit cards but envy the benefits), here are two offers worth considering:

ING’s Electric Orange Checking: This account can be linked for free to a checking or savings account you have at any other US bank, standard among internet-based banks, and pays 0.25% interest (APY) on balances of less than $50,000 and at least 1.60% on balances above.  It comes with a MasterCard check card, which can be used for payments as well as for withdrawals at ATMs from the Allpoint network for no fee.  And if you sign up by July 31st and use the card for three “signature transactions” (i.e., those that require your signature, to the exclusion of online purchases, for example) within 45 days after opening, ING will give you a $25 bonus.  To get this offer, just make sure to use code EM292 when registering.

SunTrust SkyMiles Check Card: Advertised as the “first-ever SkyMiles Check Card” this is, as far as I know, the check card closest to mimicking a credit card in terms of bells and whistles.  There are two options for individuals – classic and platinum – as well as a business option.  The Classic Check Card has a $20 annual fee and gives 1 mile on Delta per $2 spent, along with 2,500 bonus miles after the first signature purchase.  With an annual fee of $55, the Platinum and the Business cards both give 1 mile per $1 spent, 5,000 bonus miles after the first signature purchase, and a Delta Sky Club Day Pass (the latter a $50 value).  All three cards are from Visa and can be used for free at SunTrust ATMs and for purchases.

These two offers are probably only the first of many check card deals to come.  As the credit card industry has adapted to different people’s needs by offering a diverse range of benefits through different credit cards – from miles to prizes and from cash back to points, – check cards  should soon follow the same trend.  If you have long stayed away from credit cards or are trying to move to debit, your vindication may be just around the corner.

Museum Visits, Compliments of Bank of America

Last week, I came across an article on Bank of America’s Museums on Us program, which gives free access to over 100 museums all over America during the first weekend of each month when you show your BofA active debit or credit card.  Even if there aren’t that many options in your own city, remember to check the list of participating museums when planning your next trip – the Met and the Aquarium in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, for example, are part of the program.  It may also be a good place to start as you plan your July 4th or Labor Day weekends (both are the firsts of the month).  Be sure to check out the article and the Museums on Us website for more details.