2010 Exclusive Debit Card Rewards Survey
Debit cards
checking
Free money for debit card users

Obviously, there is a wide range of rewards programs out there for debit card users.

"The whole debit card rewards market is vast and there are all sorts of variations and combinations with different reward levels and different behaviors that are rewarded," says Hansen.

When evaluating debit card rewards programs, avoid fee-laden programs and remember, "it's really signature-based transactions that pay off in terms of padding your reward," McBride says.

Types of rewards

As far as choosing a debit rewards card, if you have the option you should go with one that matches your spending patterns and lifestyle.

"It really depends on how much you spend and where you spend it. A few cards offered higher payouts in certain categories of purchases; so depending if you spend a lot on travel or everyday purchases -- groceries, gas or fast food -- you can earn bigger payouts on certain cards," McBride says.

Rewards run the gamut from cash back on purchases to airline miles and relationship-building programs.

Relationship-building programs focus on improving the banking experience for customers so they remain loyal and bring in more business.

These are programs "that are focused on the broader relationship with the institution, like Citibank's 'ThankYou' program or Bank of America's 'Keep the Change,'" says Hansen.

Bank of America's "Keep the Change" program "is not a debit card rewards program per se," says Hansen and, that's also why it wasn't included in the survey. But it's a useful program; Bank of America rounds up the cost of your purchases and deposits the difference between the actual cost and the next dollar into your bank account.

Another rewards program that consumers should be aware of is offered by PerkStreet Financial. It's not a bank, but it offers checking accounts and debit cards through Bancorp Bank. The debit card rewards program offers 2 percent cash back to card holders with balances of at least $5,000. For customers with less than $5,000, the card pays 1 percent cash back.

They also offer up to 5 percent cash back at selected retailers every month.

"I'd say for the average American and how they spend, we offer 50 times the average. Even the better programs in the market you're going to have a hard time getting more than 0.5 percent across everything that you spend," says Dan O'Malley, CEO at PerkStreet Financial.

Expiration

The one caveat to the debit card rewards programs is that many rewards come with a ticking clock. Forty-five percent of the programs surveyed have no expiration, while 7.5 percent of rewards expire in two years, 32.5 percent expire in three years and 10 percent will last for five years.

In order to reap the benefits of a debit card rewards program, use up your points before they disappear. That's a pretty easy to rule to follow when you're getting something for nearly nothing.

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