Debit Card Rewards Programs - List of Cards, Tips, Types of Programs

Get Rewarded for Spending your own Money

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Debit cards with rewards are hard to find, but they still exist. It’s possible to spend money that you already have (as opposed to using a credit card) and get perks. However, things have changed in recent years so you have to do a bit more legwork, and you may have to choose specific types of rewards for your credit card use.

The Good Old Days

First, the bad news: the days of simple cash back debit card rewards are pretty much behind us.

As a result of the financial crisis and new laws that limit how much banks can charge for debit card transactions, the money just isn’t there anymore.

There are still debit cards that offer cash back, but they’re much less generous than before. In some cases, you can use rewards to get gift cards, which might be the next best thing.

Cash Back Debit Card Rewards

Let’s start with a few options that might not be for everybody, but their rewards can be turned into cash more easily than other cards:

SmartyPig's Cash Rewards Card is the closest you’ll get to a simple cash back debit card reward. The card functions like a prepaid debit card; instead of spending from your checking account, you “load” value onto the card and spend from that amount. For every purchase you make, you get 1% cash back, which can be added to your card balance or credited to one of your SmartyPig “goals” (and then you can transfer that money back out to a bank account).

Note that you have to sign for transactions or use the card online – you can’t use your PIN when making a purchase or you won’t get the reward.

PayPal’s Debit MasterCard BusinessCard also provides 1% cash back on signature-based purchases (again, don’t use your PIN at checkout). However, the card is only available for business accounts.

Your individual card won’t earn rewards. Learn more about the various cards available from PayPal.

Credit cards are really your best bet for getting cash back. Of course, those may be hard to qualify for and expensive. For more debit card ideas, read on.

Points and Perks

Most debit card reward programs fall into one of two categories:

  • Points-based rewards
  • Relationship (or perks) rewards

Points-based rewards allow you to accumulate points when you use your debit card. You might earn one point for every dollar you spend, or the formula might be less generous (maybe it’s one point for every five dollars, for example). Points, as you might imagine, are not the same as cash. However, you can redeem points for things that you’d otherwise spend money on, so maybe you’ll save some cash.

Relationship rewards give you certain perks with certain companies. For example, your debit card’s rewards program might consist of discounts when you shop at specified stores and websites. Again, you save money, but you don’t have as much choice about where you spend your money if you want to take advantage of rewards. If you have a good idea of where you spend a lot (and therefore where you’ll get the most mileage out of discounts) these reward programs can save you a lot of money.

Points-Based Debit Card Reward Programs

There are countless programs out there, but here are a few to get you started:

Key Bank allows you to earn points whether you sign for your transaction or use your PIN. You can also earn points when you pay bills online and complete other transactions with the bank. Rewards include gift cards, “cash back,” travel, merchandise, and charitable giving.

UMB Bank also allows you to rack up points while you spend with your debit card. Eventually you can redeem those points for typical rewards: travel, entertainment, and gift cards.

SunTrust Bank has a Delta SkyMiles World Check Card that gives you one “mile” for every dollar you spend (or two miles per dollar if you’re buying flights directly from Delta). A nice feature of this card is that you’ll earn miles whether you sign for transactions, shop online, or use your PIN.

You also earn miles for paying bills online. Miles can of course be redeemed for travel on Delta Airlines.

Visa Extras is a points-based debit card reward program that is only available if your bank has signed up for it. With Visa Extras, you accumulate points when you shop online or sign for purchases (don’t use your PIN), and you can redeem points by shopping through the Visa Extras website.

Relationship Rewards

Instead of earning points that you’ll use in the future, you can also use your debit card rewards program to get discounts and perks right away. A few samples of relationship reward programs include:

TD Bank’s debit card can save you money on travel and other purchases. Perks include discounts at major retailers, coupons for rental cars and restaurants, and free nights at certain hotels (although I’m not sure how restrictive those deals are). To take advantage of the program, you’ll need to start shopping from TD Bank’s website.

Chase’s Disney Visa Debit Card provides discounts on merchandise and tours at Disney properties, as well as a few other perks. It might not be worth switching banks for these perks, but if you’ll bank with Chase anyway (or if you’re a real Disney fanatic) it might be worth your while.

Relationship rewards require a bit more legwork than points-based rewards. They're only a great deal if you find a rewards program that really fits your spending pattern and your life. Don't just pick a bank based on a vague mention of "rewards" – find the bank that will actually help you. For example, if you spend a lot on gas, find a debit card with gas-related rewards.

Fine Print

As you might imagine, there are always restrictions and limitations that make these rewards less rewarding. Be sure to read the fine print to find out if you’ll get what you expect. Take a close look at how you really use your card, and compare carefully with the terms and conditions of your bank’s rewards program. For examples of what to watch for, read Debit Card Reward Gotchas.