When Cash Earns Little Interest, Should You Aim for Rewards?

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These days, the returns available for cash and short term CD investments are so low, many are just giving up on seeking higher rates and writing cash off as a lost investment. But, there are other options.

The idea of opening an account with 1.30% with the likes of Sallie Mae or American Express's Bank should get you excited because these rates are competitive and risk free. But, if you need some sort of other incentive, there are other things out there.

For starters, you might want to look into an outfit called BankDirect which is owned by an FDIC-insured outfit called Texas Capital Bank is willing to give you 100 American Airlines miles for every $1000 in your account each month.

Let's do the math, $100,000 at Sallie Mae or American Express is going to produce $1,300 this year (assuming rates stay the same and neither rise nor fall). $100,000 at Bank Direct is going to yield 120,000 American Airlines miles (assuming they continue the program). That's not an unattractive proposition for those who travel often and are savvy about frequent flier programs who can probably figure out how to get more than $1300 in value out of the miles. However, you should be reporting the miles as income on your tax returns so that should factor into your equation.

Likewise, those people shopping for CDs are likely to find that the best rate today, according to BestCashCow.com, is 1.85% for a 2 year CD (at CNB Bank Direct), 2.25% for a three year CD (at EBSB Direct) and 2.50% for a five year CD (at Acacia Federal Savings Bank). Yet, those out for rewards might be intrigued by a website called GiftsforBanking.com which is owned by Flushing Savings Bank and also owns IGoBanking.com. That website is offering CD rates of 0.75% on a 2 year, 1.05% on a three year and 1.75% of a five year CD. A $5,000 deposit for a 2 year period will get you a Cross watch or a Nambe bowl (among other things), but a $100,000 deposit will get you a cruise or a 46 inch TV or a bicycle with a 2 year commitment, and 5 year commitment will get you a 7 night getaway for two to Hawaii or St. Thomas or a 65 inch TV or all new Whirlpool appliances for your kitchen.

Let's do the math on this one. $100,000 is going to produce close to $3,800 over two years with a CNB Bank Direct CD; your giftsforbanking.com CD will earn $1,500 during the same time and give you something that probably isn't worth the difference. $100,000 in a five year CD is going to earn about $13,100 at 2.50% whereas the same money at Giftsforbanking.com is going to earn about $4,000 during the same period. Equally, you probably aren't going to find something on the giftsforbanking.com website that is worth the $9,100 difference.   To boot, Giftsforbanking.com makes it very clear on their website that they are sending you a 1099 for the value of the gift.

Jason Rodgers
Jason Rodgers: Jason Rodgers was an experienced research analyst for a major bank prior to retiring to run his own investment consultancy in beautiful Lihue, Hawaii. Jason contributed articles to BestCashCow from 2008 to 2014.

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