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How to earn rewards beyond credit cards

Want to be rewarded for your spending? Don't limit yourself to the same old credit cards in your wallet.

Traditional credit card rewards programs just aren't as generous as they used to be with card issuers adding annual fees, setting spending limits and reducing the rate of rewards that you earn with each purchase.

These days to get the most valuable rewards out of all your spending dollars, you may need to sign up for an additional rewards program or two.

Where should you turn in your quest for more spending rewards? How about your bank or your favorite stores?

Debit cards and store cards are wooing customers with a wide range of rewards and discounts.

And if you hate the idea of jumping through the hoops of a traditional rewards program, you may want to check out the RevolutionCard, a credit card issued by Revolution Money, an alternative payments company based in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The RevolutionCard offers customers immediate point-of-sale discounts at hundreds of thousands of merchants nationwide so there are no rewards points to track or tally.

Here's a closer look at three alternatives to traditional credit card rewards programs.

Debit card rewards

Are you using your debit card for more and more purchases? So are a lot of Americans.

In early 2009, debit card usage in the United States surpassed credit card usage for the first time. And banks have responded to the consumer tilt toward debit purchases by rolling out more debit card rewards programs.

"We've seen a proliferation in the last 12 months of debit card rewards," says Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com. "They've become more commonplace, which is good for consumers. But we haven't seen them increase rebates."

Choosing a debit card
  • What is the annual fee?
  • What is the rate of rewards?
  • What type of rewards will you earn?
  • How long will it take to earn enough points to redeem a reward?
With debit card rewards programs, you typically receive one point or dollar for every $2 in purchases that you make with the card. For example, to earn 5,000 points you would need to make $10,000 in purchases. So it would take a whole lot of spending to earn any significant rewards.

Keep in mind most debit card rewards programs only award points and dollars for signature transactions. So folks who prefer to make debit card transactions by punching in their PIN, or personal identification number, may have a tough time earning rewards.

Some banks offer richer debit card rewards programs, allowing customers to earn one point for each dollar spent on signature purchases, but those programs often come with hefty annual fees.

For example, with the SunTrust SkyMiles Platinum Visa Check Card you earn one mile per dollar spent on signature purchases, but you also have to shell out a $55 annual fee.

With the plain old SunTrust SkyMiles Classic Visa Check Card, you earn just one mile for every $2 spent on signature purchases with the card, but you pay only a $20 annual fee.

With both cards, customers earn SkyMiles that can be cashed in for flights on Delta Airlines.

To attract new customers to the rewards program before the end of the year, SunTrust is sweetening the deal by offering 7,500 bonus miles after the first signature purchase on the SkyMiles Classic Visa Check Card and 15,000 bonus miles after the first signature purchase on the SkyMiles Platinum Visa Check Card.

Those are some pretty serious bonus awards for new debit rewards customers. More typical bonus rewards fall in the 2,000 to 5,000 range. For example, with your first signature purchase with the Chase Leisure Rewards debit card, you receive 2,500 bonus points. You could cash in 2,000 of those points for a $4 Visa cash reward straightaway or you could hold on to those points and apply them to higher-level rewards, including gift cards from retailers and merchants.

With the Chase Leisure Rewards debit card, you earn four points for each dollar that you spend on signature-based purchases, so your rewards points can add up fairly quickly. Spend $500 on the card and you'll earn 2,000 rewards points. Spend $750 on the card and you'll earn 3,000 rewards points. Combine those 3,000 rewards points with the 2,500 bonus rewards points you received after making your first signature purchase and you'll have the 5,500 points required to redeem a $10 gift card for Starbucks, Panera Bread, Papa John's, Target, JCPenney or Old Navy.

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That's a pretty good deal, even when you factor in the $25 annual membership fee.

As nifty as earning rewards on debit card purchases may be, it's important to keep a close eye on your spending and keep your checking account in good standing.

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