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Expect to Use Your Debit Card 13 Times a Month — on Average — to Earn the Highest APYs, Best Rewards

Written by Dawn Papandrea | Published on 11/10/2020


Many traditional banks aren’t offering much of an opportunity to earn high APYs right now. Some consumers are turning to high-yield and rewards checking accounts to try to squeeze a little more value from their banking relationships.

However, the requirements to earn the highest APYs and best cashback rewards can often be onerous — or even risky for some consumers. DepositAccounts researchers reviewed 73 high-yield and rewards checking accounts from banks and credit unions, finding that 65% of these accounts have two or more main eligibility requirements.

In this article we will cover:

Key findings

  • On average, 13 debit card purchases are required monthly with the 74% of high-yield and rewards checking accounts that require customers to make a certain number of purchases to receive high APYs or better rewards.
  • Some accounts have other or additional requirements, including:
    • 55% of accounts require direct deposit
    • 29% of accounts require customers to do their banking online
    • 8% of accounts require customers to pay bills online
  • When examining the main requirements — debit card use, direct deposit, online banking and online bill pay — we discovered:
    • Nearly two-thirds (65%) of accounts demand at least two requirements
    • Just 1% of accounts require all four
    • 15% of accounts don’t require any

Know the number of required monthly debit card purchases

Choosing a checking account with a higher APY or other rewards is smart, but you should understand what’s required of you. The accounts in our study required customers to use their debit cards 13 times a month on average, or about three times a week.

Credit unions seem to have slightly more stringent requirements than banks when it comes to monthly debit card purchases, with accounts from Premier Members, Ideal and Partner Colorado requiring 20 or more.

Here are some other comparisons of the banks and credit unions we reviewed:

  • Banks ranged from seven to 18 required monthly debit card purchases
  • Credit unions ranged from eight to 25 required monthly debit card purchases
  • 79% of credit unions require monthly debits, while just 65% of banks do

You might be wondering why banks and credit unions would be incentivizing people to swipe their debit cards at stores or use them online. In short, it’s because they make money each time you do.

“When you make a purchase with a debit card, the merchant pays an interchange fee of around 2% on the amount of the purchase,” said Ken Tumin, founder of DepositAccounts. “A significant part of that interchange fee is paid to the bank where the debit card was issued.”

Know the other requirements to earn highest APYs, best rewards

Although reaching a set number of monthly debit card purchases is the most common requirement to earn the highest APYs and best rewards, there are others. Account specifics vary by financial institution and can change periodically. However, this study focused on four key areas:

  • Debit card purchases
  • Direct deposit
  • Online banking
  • Online bill pay

Researchers found that 65% of accounts required customers to meet two or more of these qualifications.

Only one of the 73 accounts — FREE Checking from Great Lakes Credit Union — has four requirements, with a debit card purchase minimum of 15. Though it has a decent APY of 2.50% on balances of up to $10,000, it’s not the highest in the study. America’s Credit Union’s Affinity Basic checking account is offering a 3.00% APY on the first $1,000, and doesn’t require any of the four criteria. That’s why it pays to shop around and dig into the details.

Downsides to debit cards

Debit cards can be a convenient tool at times. However, making a lot of purchases may not always be in your favor. Here’s why:

You may be on the hook for fraudulent charges

The primary security risk with a debit card is unauthorized charges. “The longer it takes the consumer to report the unauthorized charges, the more liability the consumer assumes for those charges,” Tumin said. And it can be up to the full amount taken if it’s 60 days after your bank statement. Meanwhile, most credit cards offer zero liability against unauthorized charges.

You could be leaving rewards on the table

While using your debit card may help you earn a higher APY from your checking account, you have the potential to earn more through credit cards that have cashback rewards. “This is possible since banks generally receive a higher percentage of interchange fees from credit cards than from debit cards,” Tumin said. They can then pass on some of those earnings to customers in the form of cashback bonuses.

You don’t get help with credit-building

If you’re someone with a limited credit history, credit card activity — not purchases made on debit cards — is what gets reported to the credit bureaus. Over time with good payment behavior, your credit file will grow and your credit score will improve.

It’s worth noting that some institutions let you enjoy credit card perks while still earning a respectable APY on your bank accounts, but it will take some checking account research.

“There are a few high-yield rewards checking accounts with activity requirements that involve credit card purchases instead of debit card purchases,” Tumin said. “This can give checking account customers the benefits of both the high interest rates on the checking account and extra protection and rewards of credit cards.”


Analysts reviewed the terms of 73 high-yield and rewards checking accounts captured in the DepositAccounts database. The data is as of Sept. 10, 2020.

All rates accurate as of Nov. 2, 2020
Previous Comments
  |     |   Comment #1
I always refuse debit cards when I open an account due (in part) to the potential fraud liability. It's just not worth it. And every transaction you make increases the chance of fraud. So the combination of potential liability for fraud and the increased exposure to fraud that pursuing these reward accounts presents is a non-starter for me.

I don't think I even have 13 charges to my credit cards in a typical month, especially not now with Covid. So I would have to fool around with figuring out how to create extra charges that meet the requirements.

And then the accounts have a dollar cap that typically is way too small to interest me.

Just not worth it to me. Too much risk and hassle for the minimal reward.
  |     |   Comment #2
The article notes that 15% of the 73 accounts studied contain none of the four requirements (direct deposit; debit card use; online bill pay; online banking).

Would it be possible for DepositAccounts.com to provide us with a list of those 11 institutions? Thanks.
  |     |   Comment #3
This was a Good Article.
alan 1 has a reasonable request .
Percentages not really of interest to me, but the general requirements, explained well.
  |     |   Comment #4
Debit cards are dangerous, I keep mine in the "safe" and use only 1-3x a year to withdraw cash. I hate gimmicky accounts, rather just give me 1) a solid free checking account(s) with online bill pay and REAL "customer service" (as well as credit cards with cash back that I use daily for my wallet and another for online use). FIRST COMMAND BANK of Fort Worth, TX DOES THAT!  2) Combine a high yield savings account (say 1%+ without ACH limits) for idle emergency cash. MERCHANTS BANK of IN DOES THIS!. 3) Then, I'll find high yield CD's for other monies using this site and "ladder them (4 or 5)" each year using 4-5 year timeframes for each. That's a perfect banking relationship and, SIMPLE!
  |     |   Comment #5
I do not use my c.u.'s debit card, I use a cash back credit card for everything I can, pay everything I charge, no fees and earn around $375 a year.
  |     |   Comment #6
I use many reward cards. I earn anywhere from a low of 2% cash back up to 5% (The 5% are discounts at retailers and for gasoline). I rarely pay with cash. No taxes on rewards I earn. I also get bonuses to open cards too. Recently earned $150 from Fidelity after charging $1,500 and I earn 2% on all purchases. Next year I'll open a Chase card and get a $200 bonus.

Prefer using charge cards than trying to make numerous required debit transactions. But some people prefer the Kanasa accounts.
  |     |   Comment #9
All those have-to-do debit card purchases mean you are WORKING for the bank, making it revenue. For a very low hourly rate, below the $15 that is believed fair in many instances. No thanks.
  |     |   Comment #10
I do not use debit cards as what is said about them is true. Some people use them because it is easy. I hope the government gets after the banks that are abusive of use and not helping the people that are getting hurt ... Maybe things will change I hope in the future to real these banks and credit unions in.... Laws are needed or just followed..I would say to get rid of them as this is the only way to creat change

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