checking
Pay more, get more debit rewards

Wells Fargo bucked that trend by tacking on a $1-per-month charge in Dallas and Houston when a PIN-based purchase is made. The bank had already been imposing that fee in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Only three of the 100 institutions surveyed don't offer debit cards, the same as in our last survey. Forty-five of the institutions offer rewards; 52 don't. Most of the savings institutions surveyed do not offer rewards programs.

Rewards may cost you

If you want to participate in a rewards program, you may have to do more than make purchases. Most programs charge an annual fee for better benefits. For example, with Citibank's Basic AAdvantage, a program with American Airlines, customers pay an annual fee of $25 in exchange for earning one mile for every $2 spent. Citibank's Premium AAdvantage program has a $65 annual fee, but customers earn one mile for every $1 spent. You'll have to decide if the rewards are worth the fee.

With the restrictions typically imposed on airline miles, you may find yourself with a lot of unused miles. When applying for a rewards program, see if there is a way to use up, or burn, points for miles that you'll probably never use. It could be something as simple as the ability to get magazine subscriptions or gift cards.

"At the end of the day you feel somewhat jilted if you don't get to use those (mileage points)," says Brian Riley, senior analyst at Needham, Mass.-based TowerGroup. "I feel that way with gift cards when I end up with $1.72 at the end of it. I just don't feel that I got my value. So at least with point-burners it keeps you engaged in it."

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What you get for free

Not all rewards programs carry an annual fee. Citibank's ThankYou Network grants points based on the number of Citibank banking products and services that you use. The points can be used toward purchases made at over 300 retailers. Bank of America's Keep the Change program rounds your purchases to the next highest dollar and transfers the difference from your checking account to your savings account. The bank matches the savings for three months and then contributes 5 percent per year.

While the debit reward options for consumers are better than ever, industry analysts say there's plenty of room for improvement.

"Consumers are inundated with different loyalty programs, so they're forced to make a choice," says Bruce Cundiff, senior analyst at Javelin Strategy & Research in Pleasanton, Calif. "I choose the AA program, somebody else chooses United Airlines or a cash-back program or a catalog points program. We're reaching this point where there's a need for further innovation and looking at loyalty beyond just a rewards program."

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