Rewards in Checking: Bank of America

Barring the rare interest-yielding accounts, it is hard to get much out of your checking account besides the money you already deposited into it and some checks.  But using programs associated with you bank may get you a little more.  Two weeks ago, I wrote on how to make the most of your Citibank account using the ThankYou network, and today I will cover Bank of America.

Bank of America hosts Add It Up, an online shopping portal offering cash back for purchases you make through it.  Of course, there are several other similar portals, such as ShopDiscover, UPromise, and each of the airline portals, and Add It Up won’t always have the best deal.  However, it is worth a visit when you online shop, since the top cash back offer varies by retailer and the cash back earned through Add It Up is deposited directly into your Bank of America checking account – unlike ShopDiscover, for which there are thresholds for cash back redemption, and UPromise, which has a threshold and only makes transfers quarterly. (Click here for a previous post comparing different cash back offers and here for last week’s NYTimes’ Your Money column’s explanation on online shopping portals).

Moreover, unlike most other online portals, Bank of America has a good range of in-store partners as well – at least until the end of 2009.  Once you register your Bank of America checking account for the Add It Up program, you can get a 5% cash back for purchases you make at Staples, Barnes & Noble, Sephora, Macy’s, and Radio Shack stores and at Olive Garden and Burger King restaurants.  This offer runs until December 31, 2009, and is limited to $250 in cash back.  Once you enroll in the Add It Up program, just use your Bank of America check/debit card when shopping at these stores and the bonus will be credited straight into you checking account.  And don’t forget that you can always combine these cash back offers with store coupons.

With Add It Up, it is almost as if Bank of America is paying you to do your holiday shopping – or at least giving you a discount for doing so.

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Habits That Pay

Humans are creatures of habit. We visit the same coffee shops, clothing stores, and movie theatres, because we are familiar with the products/services and know what to expect. And in turn, these places become part of our routine. Think back on the purchases you have made or take a look at your credit card statements from the last few months and you might notice that the same few merchants appear over and over again. Last week, we blogged about signing up for free loyalty cards to grocery stores and pharmacies, but this principle also applies to other places depending on how often you visit and how much you spend. The following are just a handful of options available:

  • BananaCard/GapCard/OldNavyCard – Banana Republic, Gap, and Old Navy are some of my favorite places to shop for work and casual attire. As a result, I have a BananaCard, which I can use at any of the above stores (as well as piperlime.com and athletica.gap.com). For every $1 I spend, I get 5 points, and once I have accumulated 1,000 points, I receive $10 off my next purchase. This is the same as a 5% cashback.  In addition, I get an extra 15% off my first purchase and free standard shipping over any purchases over $100. Once I have spent over $800 in a calendar year, my BananaCard gets upgraded to Luxe status, which entitles me to even more benefits, such as free basic alterations and a 15% off personal shopping day.  Even though I can use my BananaCard at any member of the family of stores, it does matter which card I have, because my BananaCard only entitles me to special promotions at Banana Republic. The GapCard, for example, is offering an extra 10% off on Tuesdays, to which I cannot participate.  I would recommend waiting for special promotions before signing up so you can get even more benefits. For example, when I signed up for my BananaCard, I actually received an extra 20% off my first purchase due to a special promotion. Currently, it is offering a bonus 500 points reward for new cardmembers.
  • Sephora Beauty InsiderAmericans spend over $7 billion a year on beauty products, which is why I suggest signing up for Sephora’s Beauty Insider. You get a point for every $1 you spend. Once you have accumulated 100 points, you can receive a deluxe sample, or you can save your points and redeem 500 points for an exclusive product (options change each month). You will also have access to special events, as well as a gift during your birthday month.
  • Starbucks Gold – Perhaps you are an avid coffee drinker and need your venti non-fat soy latte with extra foam every morning. Starbucks Gold has a $25 annual membership fee, but if you spend more than $250 a year on coffee, then this would more than pay for itself because Starbucks Gold offers 10% off every purchase (drink, coffee beans, mug, espresso machine, etc.). Other benefits include a free first drink, a free drink on your birthday, 2 hours of free Wi-fi every day (after you have registered your card), and special coupons.

My point is not to sign up for a card at every place we spend money, but that we might be able to get something extra, however little, from our shopping habits. So give your purchases a quick evaluation and see if your habits warrant a reward.