Liz Pulliam Weston: Bonuses, debit card rewards boost savings balance

The Basics

5 ways to earn more from your bank

Interest of less than a penny on a dollar is hardly inspiring, but there are ways to get a lot more than that -- even in today's low-interest environment.

By Liz Pulliam Weston
MSN Money

You know you need to save, but anemic interest rates aren't much reward for the hard work of delaying gratification. Most money markets are paying less than 1%, and the rates for traditional savings accounts can be a fraction of that.

There are ways to goose your returns, though, even in this environment. Here are five to consider.

1. Get bonused

Many banks are offering cold, hard cash -- sometimes $100, $150 or even more -- as an incentive to open an account. The richest deals typically require that you open a checking account and hook up direct deposit or make a certain number of debit card transactions.

Checking accounts are meant for spending, not saving, but that doesn't mean you can't tuck away the free cash.

Several posters on the Your Money message board reported opening Chase checking accounts to receive a $125 bonus recently. BB&T (as of this writing) offers a $100 incentive to new customers, while Comerica Bank has a $300 promotion. MSN Money columnist Donna Freedman scooped up $225 in one month opening two accounts and wrote about it in "Get free money from banks."

"Every bank seems to have some sort of new account promotion these days," said Jim Wang of Bargaineering, a personal-finance website. "You're doing yourself a real disservice if you sign up for free."

You need to check out the details, of course. Some banks have account fees or other charges that could more than offset a bonus if you didn't keep a minimum balance, for example.

Some of blogger J.D. Roth's readers at Get Rich Slowly complain that chasing these deals would add to their "account clutter," giving them too many financial accounts to track, while others said the deals allowed them to "test-drive" a bank they might not have otherwise tried.

You can search for bonuses at Blogging Banks or DepositAccounts.com, which track various banking deals.

2. Look for specials

Banks and credit unions that want to attract more money often do so by offering "savings specials," or higher-than-average rates on savings accounts and certificates of deposit.

DepositAccounts.com recently highlighted two CD specials for individual retirement accounts at NJM Bank: 3.75% for a five-year IRA CD and 3.35% for a four-year IRA CD. The national average for a five-year CD is 2.85%.

You run a risk tying up money for that long, because rates may rise in the interim, but the higher the rate paid, the more of that risk you may be willing to take.

Other sites to check include Bankrate.com and MoneyRates. Also stop in at your local credit union, because many run specials but don't have much of an advertising budget.

Your money is safe as long as you're depositing less than $250,000 and the institution is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (for banks) or the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (for credit unions), both of which are backed by the U.S. government.

But a bank failure can be a hassle, so you might want to check out Bankrate's safety ratings before you invest.

Continued: Consider rewards checking

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