Besides paying bills, your checking account may benefit you if it has rewards.

When shopping for a consumer checking account that offers “rewards,” you’ll notice that plans vary from bank to bank. Some “rewards” offer interest on checking account balances and/or cash back when using the debit card associated with the account. Others offer discounts and various types of protections.

In general, all checking rewards programs have features and benefits, says Tim Studlack, vice president, skills development manager, at 1st Security Bank.

“But unless you’ll use those benefits, they won’t benefit you,” Studlack adds.

What’s available

You may want a debit card that gives you a percentage of cash back on specific purchases, but make sure the spending categories listed are ones you’re going to use. The bank may only offer cash back on dining out and travel. Check that the purchases eligible for cash back are ones you’re likely to make.

Although credit cards offer better cash back deals than a checking account, you may not want to use credit because you don’t want debt piling up. Or you don’t qualify for the credit card you want.

If a checking account that pays interest appeals to you, look for the current best Annual Percentage Yield. The interest amount paid on checking accounts calculates daily but doesn’t pay you until the end of the month. Normally, the higher your account balance, the higher rate of interest you’ll receive.

Refunding out-of-network fees for ATMs is a fairly common reward. If you regularly travel where your bank doesn’t have ATMs, this might be an important feature for you.

Banks vying for your business may offer a one-time sign up bonus for opening a new checking account with them. Those typically range from $100-$450 and may or may not require that you set up direct deposit with that bank.

Some financial institutions offer discounts on roadside assistance, prescriptions, eye exams, frames, lenses, hearing services, travel, hotels, car rentals and other money-saving benefits. Protections may include cellphone insurance, identity-theft assistance, travel accidental death insurance and bill negotiation.

Studlack says that one of 1st Security’s customers found out the true value of such a rewards plan when she locked her keys in her car and didn’t realize it until after work.  “She remembered that she had just that week signed up for the 1st Rewards program, so she tried out the roadside assistance benefit on the app,” Studlack says. “She was able to get a lockout response and told us the service was better than the roadside assistance program she had previously been paying a subscription fee for.”

All of these rewards, discounts and protections most likely won’t be available with a single checking account. When you do find one that you like and will benefit from, ask a few questions before signing on the dotted line.


Questions to ask

When the account you want is at a bank that’s new to you, check to see if that bank has the other services you need, low fees, a brick-and-mortar presence, if that’s what you want, and/or online banking.

If your regular financial institution has a checking account with all the bells and whistles you’ll use, that will make the decision to open it easier. By now, hopefully, you’ve met a banker there you know and trust who will layout the benefits to see if they’re a match to you and your lifestyle, says Studlack.

Here are some questions to ask a banker:

“If rewards don’t cost anything, then they are a real benefit,” says Studlack. “If there’s a charge, then decide whether it’s worth it to you or not.”

You may have to keep a certain balance, like $1,000, in the checking account to be eligible for the rewards. Fees may be assessed on the account and those decrease the upfront advantages of the rewards.

Ask if an annual fee will be charged on this checking account like happens on some credit cards. It’s unlikely but asking is still a good idea.

To understand the ins and outs of the account you’re about to open, Studlack says to read the terms and conditions. This is the fine print most people skip over. It must reveal any hidden costs.

A final word. Look for a checking account with benefits you’ll use. Not having to pay for those benefits makes the banking product even better and more worthwhile.

At 1st Security Bank of Washington, we take a customized and personal approach to your financial well-being. We live in the communities we serve, so our branches offer tailored solutions to their communities. We believe relationships make the difference, and that sets 1st Security Bank apart.