Easy debit card rewards, from home

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Debit cards are increasingly becoming the easiest way to earn rewards.  The hard part is obtaining a debit card that offers miles or cash back.  The easy part, then, is earning rewards.  Here are a few options for earning debit card rewards without stepping out of your house…

Square Cash

Square Cash is a new service that lets you quickly and easily pay anyone over email.  To send money to a friend, simply send them an email with a dollar amount as the subject line and CC cash@square.com.  That’s it!  Square Cash will email you back with an option to input your debit card info, and they’ll provide your friend with an option to withdraw the cash to their bank.  Square allows you to send up to $2500 per week in this way.  Note that most debit gift cards and prepaid cards do not work with this service.

You can read more about Square Cash from these blog posts:

Potential annual spend: 52 weeks x $2500 = $130,000.

Bluebird

Bluebird accounts can now be loaded online via debit cards for free.  Online debit loads are limited to $100 per day and $1000 per month.  Luckily, Bluebird offers an option to do automated repeated loads, so it’s possible to set this up once a month for 10 daily loads rather than having to log in every day.  Note that most debit gift cards do not work for online debit loads.

Potential annual spend: 12 months x $1000 = $12,000.

Federal Taxes

Federal Tax payments can be made online with debit cards for a flat fee of as little as $2.99 per transaction.  The larger your tax payment, the lower the fee becomes as a percentage of the total.  For example, the fee for a $300 tax payment is 1%, whereas the fee for a $3000 tax payment is 1/10th of a percent.

Potential annual spend: Limited only by your tax burden.

Stepping out

If you don’t mind an occasional visit to Walmart, you can easily increase your debit spend dramatically:

  • Load Bluebird for free, up to $1000 per day and $5000 per month (note that this limit is shared with Vanilla Reload limits).
  • Load GoBank for free, up to $2500 per day.
  • Buy money orders for 70 cents each (Also available at other locations, but at different price points. According to MilesAbound, money orders bought at the post office do not earn points or miles, so avoid that option.).
  • Pay bills ($1 to $1.88)

 

Debit cards that offer rewards for debit payments

There aren’t many debit cards that offer rewards, but there are some. Here are a few popular ones:

  • SunTrust Delta debit card: earns 1 mile per dollar.  Best bet is to apply in person when near a SunTrust branch although many have been successful with applying on their web site via online chat.  Regardless, I don’t recommend funding with a gift card as I tried to do.
  • Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines debit card: earns 1 mile per every 2 dollars spent.  To get this card, you need a Bank of America checking account.  You can then go to this page to sign up for the debit card.  According to several readers, this card does not earn miles for tax payments.  Limited to 100K miles per year.
  • UFB Direct Airline Miles debit card: earns 1 American Airlines mile per every 2 dollars spent.
  • Hawaiian Airlines Visa check card: earns 1 mile per every 2 dollars spent.

Overall, the SunTrust Delta debit card offers the highest rewards at 1 mile per dollar.  For those looking to increase their Alaska Airlines or American Airlines balances, though, a half mile per dollar spent is still a lot better than nothing.  Personally, I wouldn’t consider the Hawaiian Airlines option since Hawaiian miles are worth less than the others and mile earnings are capped at $5K per month spend.

Debit cards that offer rewards for signature payments

Debit cards with Visa or MasterCard logos can be used in-store as either debit cards or as credit cards.  Since banks can earn much higher transaction fees from credit transactions, they sometimes offer rewards only when you use your debit card as a credit card.  The interesting part of this is that the way some banks decide that you are eligible for rewards is based on whether or not you entered a PIN for the transaction.  In all of the examples for debit spend that I listed above, except for Walmart, no PIN is used.  That means that, with some debit cards, you can earn “signature only” rewards for these no-fee or low-fee transactions!  Since this is a loophole that would probably be quickly shut down if overly publicized, I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out which cards this works with and whether or not it is over the line.

Potential earnings

Assuming you were to max out the Square Cash and Bluebird options, one person could easily spend $142,000 on debit transactions even without IRS payments or Walmart visits.  With the SunTrust card, this would mean earning 142,000 miles per year for free!  With the other mile-earning debit cards, this would still be a very nice haul of 71,000 free miles per year!  With a 1% cash back card, this would be $1,420 in cash back!  Obviously, these numbers can grow a lot higher with tax payments and Walmart visits.

Bottom line

While there continue to be many ways to earn even more rewards with credit cards, debit cards are quickly becoming the easiest way to earn rewards.  Of course, keep in mind that unlike credit cards, you do need to have enough money in the bank to process each debit transaction.  I still recommend signing up for great credit card offers and using the best rewards credit cards for daily spend, but there’s no doubt it’s now time to add a rewards debit card to your wallet as well.

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