I use my debit card almost exclusively these days. Unlike checks, debit cards are accepted almost everywhere, and you can make large purchases with a card without having to carry around a wad of cash. I keep “vending machine” cash and change in my wallet, just in case I get a hankering for a 6-pack of Oreos. And even vending machines are starting to accept cards!
Besides those obvious benefits, debit cards offer some good benefits, courtesy of your bank. It’s worth talking to someone at your bank (or taking a closer look at the next debit card rewards leaflet hidden amongst other junk mail) to find out exactly how to make the most of these benefits.
Here are some reasons why you should consider using your bank’s reward cards and how to maximize their benefit.
One of the most common rewards offered by debit cards is “cash back.” You can think of this like a discount on your purchases, because a percentage of your total purchase is credited back to your account. There is a catch, though: you’ll only get cash back when you buy from participating retailers. The retailer and the bank team up to try to increase each other’s business. It’s worth weighing the pros and cons of, for example, shopping at a different grocery store in order to take advantage of cash back rewards.
Similar to cash back programs, saving programs give you a small percentage of your purchase, but this time it is added directly to your savings account instead of your checking account. If you have a hard time remembering to periodically add funds to your saving account, this rewards program can help.
It’s important to note that not all saving programs operate like cash back programs. Some will move your own money between your credit and checking accounts instead of giving you a small cash reward.
You can rack up points with every purchase made with your debit card, and then exchange those points arcade-ticket-style for prizes like a deluxe toaster, a gift certificate, or even (if you exercise good self-control and don’t spend your points willy-nilly) truly awesome prizes like vacation packages. Ask your bank for a full catalog of options and set a goal for yourself.
Worthy of its own category, it’s also common to earn airline points with your debit purchases. Once you accumulate enough points, you might even be able to fly for free, or perhaps even upgrade your seat. Make sure you know which airlines participate in your bank’s reward program, since not every airline may participate.
Remember that a debit rewards program may not be something you’re automatically signed up for just because you have a bank card. Talk to a representative at your bank to find out if you need to do anything to participate.
Another important caveat is that bank rewards cards are most beneficial if you are making a lot of purchases at participating retailers. That doesn’t mean you should spend money just for the sake of accumulating points, because you’re not going to actually “benefit” from the program if it doesn’t save you money in the long run.
In short, your bank’s reward cards can be an untapped source of discounts. Know what your options are and use your card wisely every time you hit the shops.
Does your bank offer unique rewards? Let us know in the comments!
Cathy Habas is a Spanish to English translator, as well as the managing editor for Coquí Content Marketing. Cathy specializes in writing about home improvement and global advocacy. You can reach her at www.cathyhabas.com or on Twitter: @CoquiContntMktg