Last week I started writing updated reviews of some of the mature reward checking accounts that are still nationally available. In this updated review, I'm taking another look at North Country Savings Bank and its reward checking account that it calls Advantage Checking. I first reported on this account in 2009 when the yield was 3.00% for balances up to $50K. As you might have guessed, the rate has fallen. However, the balance cap remains at $50K (at least as of today). It's the only nationally available reward checking that still has a $50K balance cap. Most have reduced their caps to $25K with some as low as $10K.
Below are the rates and features of the Advantage Checking Account if certain monthly requirements are met (as of 5/10/2012):
- 1.50% APY on balances up to $50,000
- 0.75% APY on portion of the balance over $50,000
- 0.15% base rate if requirements are not met
- ATM fee refunds nationwide of up to $25
The monthly requirements include:
- 10 debit card purchases
- one Automatic Payment or Direct Deposit (including direct debit or EagleNET bill payment)
- Enroll and receive e-statements
Additional features of the account regardless of the monthly requirements include:
- $25 minimum initial deposit
- No minimum balance requirement
- No monthly service charge
- Accounts with balances below $100 and no activity for 180 days will be closed
- Qualifications for the first monthly cycle are waived
There's a link to the online application available at the bank's Advantage Checking page. I confirmed with the bank this week that people from any state can apply online. The customer service representative gave me the following instructions for the online application. Unfortunately, it's not an all-online process:
All you have to do is follow the steps and then download the printable application, sign the forms and then mail them in with a check or money order to open the account.
Note, it's common for small banks to change their policy on nationwide availability. Since North Country Savings Bank hasn't changed its policy for 3 years, hopefully, there won't be a change.
North Country Savings Bank branches are located in north New York State near the Canadian border.
The bank has an overall health score at DepositAccounts.com of 4 stars (out of 5) with a Texas Ratio of 8.01% (above average) based on December 2011 data. Please refer to our financial overview of North Country Savings Bank for more details. The bank was established in 1909 and has been a FDIC member since 1943 (FDIC Certificate # 16030).
How This Reward Checking Account Compares
With a yield of only 1.50%, you may wonder why anyone would choose this account over other nationally available reward checking accounts that have yields over 2.00%. The benefit of the Advantage Checking is that the 1.50% applies up to $50K. So for a $50K balance, you will earn more interest in this account than any of the other nationally available reward checking accounts. For example, INOVA FCU has a reward checking that pays 3.00% APY on balances up to $20K and 0.30% for the portion of the balance over $20K. If a $50K balance is maintained for a year with these rates, the total interest earned would equal $690. The total interest earned from the Advantage Checking would be $750.
The risk with the Advantage Checking is that the bank will cut the balance cap. That has been common for other institutions that have offered a $50K balance cap. In February 2011 I looked at 4 reward checking accounts with $50K balance caps. One of these 4 had a balance cap reduction that lowered the cap to $20K, and another one had a reduction that lowered it to $25K. However, 2 of the 4 have kept their $50K balance caps. One is Lake City Bank's reward checking account which has a 2.51% APY and the other is Market USA Federal Credit Union's reward checking account which has a 2.00% APY.
You can search for the best rates with various investment amounts by using our reward checking rate table. This can be used to find accounts that are local in your state and those that are available nationwide. If you're new to these tables, my rate table guide should be useful.
If you're new to reward checking, my blog post, 10 Common Traits of High-Yield Reward Checking, should be useful.
Update 5/22/2012: Comments from readers who claimed to be from banks had reported that the FDIC has been sending letters to "all of the banks to cut or close or convert all reward checking accounts." I asked my contacts at BancVue about this, and below is the reply I received:
We work with over 700 financial institutions across the country, and we have not received word from a single one of those institutions regarding letters from the FDIC concerning their relationship with us or issues regarding REWARDChecking or any of our other accounts. As you can imagine , should an institution receive such guidance from the FDIC, we would be the first to know about it, and there hasn't been one.