2011 High-Yield Checking Survey
High-yield checking
High-yield checking down, not out in 2011

Required services: Similar to last year's tally of 91 percent of accounts that require the use of certain services, 89 percent of high-yield checking accounts require customers to sign up for automated payment, direct deposit or online bill pay.

Besides the transaction fee income that these arrangements can generate, they also make the accounts "stickier" for the bank, Ely says. You're less likely to move your money to a different banking institution because of the inconvenience of switching your bill pay, direct deposit or automated payments.

Pick your service: More high-yield checking accounts are giving customers a choice between direct deposit and bill pay. In Bankrate's 2010 study, 48 percent of accounts allowed users to choose between direct deposit or bill pay. One year later, that number has risen to 63 percent.

Balance caps for earning a high rate of interest: To limit the amount of interest account holders can earn, banks often cap the balance that earns a high yield. Those caps range in Bankrate's study from $500 to $50,000, although the most common maximum balance is $25,000. That's unchanged from last year.

Why the restrictive rules? If banks are going to offer you a higher-than-market rate for your checking account funds, they're going to want something in return, Ely says. That might be stickiness, as is the case with the bill pay and direct deposit requirements, or it may be higher revenue for them.

For instance, the reason many accounts require you to make at least 10 debit transactions is because banks receive sizable debit card interchange fees for every debit card transaction you make, Ely says. Interchange fees, or swipe fees, are the fees merchants pay banks to process debit card transactions.

But, that very reliance on debit transactions for bank revenue puts high-yield checking accounts at risk of extinction as limits on debit interchange fees from the Durbin Amendment go into effect July 21, 2011, he says.

"You don't know what your revenue stream is going to be from this, and what steps you're going to have to take if the proposed rule is put into effect," Ely says.

McBride agrees that the new interchange fee could have a huge impact.

"My expectation is in future years, debit swipe-fee rule changes could have a dramatic impact either on the yields offered or on the required number of debit card transactions to earn the top yield on these accounts," McBride says.

But, for the time being, high-yield checking accounts still can give financially savvy, yield-hungry investors a rewarding place to stash substantial piles of cash, McBride says.

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