Rewards Checking: First Arkansas Bank & Trust

A New Rewards Checking Account

First Arkansas Bank and Trust Logo.
Since Coulee Bank dropped their rewards checking rate from 5% to 4% I have been looking for another bank. There are several banks that still offer 5% on their rewards checking accounts but there is one difficulty — they all take local customers only. This didn’t used to be but gradually many banks have withdrawn from the national market. Hence I decided on a bank that is still recruiting customers nationwide (except California). However, see Updates below.

Now First Arkansas Bank & Trust offers only 4.4% (since reduced) but with one redeeming quality — the rate applies up to $50,000. For this you only need to complete the usual ten point of sale debit card transactions per month. Also the one direct deposit, ACH debit, or online bill payment per month. You have to agree to receive E-statements and sign into your online banking account once a month.

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Rewards Checking: First State Bank

Less than a week after updating my list of banks offering Rewards Checking I was applying to some of those same banks to open an account. Deseret First Credit Union had dropped their rate from 5% to 3% but Coulee Bank still maintains 5% (now 4%) on their rewards checking. I am now short one bank so I go in search of a better return. Join me in my over six week long odyssey as I attempt to sign-up with out of state banks in search of rewards.

Choosing a Bank

Looking over the list of banks, which has changed from a few weeks ago, I had eleven to choose from that were open to out of state residents:

  1. AmericaNet Bank
  2. Bank of Asheville
  3. Coulee Bank
  4. Evantage Bank
  5. First State Bank of Kansas City (eligibility recently restricted)
  6. Franklin Bank & Trust Company
  7. Heartland Community Bank
  8. Malvern Federal Savings Bank
  9. Noblebank & Trust, NA
  10. Union State Bank
  11. Valley Bank

I eliminated AmericaNet Bank and Evantage Bank because their high yield rate was only paid up to $10,000. This is much too low of a maximum so they are the first to be crossed off my list. Heartland Community Bank, Malvern Federal Savings Bank, and Union State Bank were put on hold because they have an additional requirement of one account access per month. This slight inconvenience could be offset by two of these banks’ higher maximums on which the first tier interest is paid. I already have an account with Coulee Bank with which I am receiving a decent rate, so strike them off the list. Franklin Bank & Trust Company, Noblebank & Trust, NA, and Valley Bank all require twelve transactions per month. This is a major disadvantage so they are out of the running.

Rewards checking at First State Bank

Rewards checking at First State Bank


Of the two remaining banks, First State Bank of Kansas City (eligibility recently restricted) Bank of Asheville both have, or appeared to have, confusing sign-up web pages. I decide to go with the former as it seems to be a tad clearer. Later I found the sign-up page at First State to be clearly posted, I just missed it the first time around.

Applying On-line

The worst part of Rewards Checking is that in many cases you are dealing with a small bank that is new to signing up out-of-state customers over the Internet. As an example of a drawn out process read about Lee County Bank and Trust.

The time to sign up can be from two to four weeks, or even longer. With these small banks I found the process is very similar. If the bank does not drop its interest rate, it can be well worth the effort. If you have not gone through the process of opening an account with a small out-of-state bank, perhaps the best way for me to describe it is to keep a daily log. That way you can get a flavor of what to expect. I started with First State, then switched to Heartland, and then switched back to First State. While I have a 43 day log, the time from start to finish with First State was three weeks, which is about average. Enough said, here is my log:

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Rewards Checking at Deseret First Credit Union

Deseret First Credit Union
Regular readers of the Rickety blog know that I am a big fan of rewards checking accounts. They have a high interest rate, are FDIC or NCUA insured, and are very liquid. Lately I have been tracking accounts that pay 6% or more but today I will make an exception. One of the drawbacks of banks that offer rewards checking is that it is usually not straight-forward to get signed up, unless you live close enough to go to a branch in person.

For the convenience of having a bank or credit union that offers rewards checking and is also close to home I joined Deseret First Credit Union. The nearest branch is only eleven miles away, their rewards checking is at 5%, and of course it is a credit union, which I prefer. To be eligible to join, one has to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or be employed by the Church. To earn your 5% you have to do the usual monthly direct deposit or ACH, ten debit card transactions, and receive eStatements. You don’t have to access your account once a month as an additional requirement to earn your 5%.

In the Locations / Contact Us section is a list of over 2,000 basic transaction branches where you can use credit unions throughout the U.S. to make deposits, withdrawals, loan payments, etc. All you need is your account number and a government-issued photo identification. I haven’t heard about this service because my current credit union does not offer it.

As a bonus, the credit union does make humorous ads, though you might need to know a little about the LDS life-style to find them funny. The ad below is my favorite but also check out “The Weddings” and “Active“.

Updates

30 Mar 2009 Today I received this email:

…we would like to inform you that your Rewards Checking account rates will change as follows, beginning with the next monthly qualification cycle starting March 31, 2009:

$0 – $25,000.00 balance w/ minimum requirements    3.01% APY
$25,000.01  & higher balance w/ minimum requirements    0.70% APY
Balances w/o minimum requirements    0.20% APY

Unfortunately I will be drawing my account down to the minimum of $25. For 3% it is not worth the effort to get the required transactions. The account was no trouble to open and it will be even less trouble to pull out my money. There are a number of banks still at 5% and I will be looking at one of those.
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Rewards Checking

Coulee Bank
This article will give readers new to Rewards Checking some idea of how it works. Be aware though that the interest rates are out of date.

Ever since my own internet bank dropped their interest rate from 5.2% to 2.5% I have been looking for a better place to park my spare cash. I saw a lot of banks advertising rewards checking at rates between 4% and 6%. I identified a few at 6% that were out of state. Several had very clunky Internet sign up procedures such that I was unable to sign up online. For example, at one bank my browser would crash. At another bank I was diverted to a PDF form with no instructions on what to do with it. Yet another bank had nowhere to start the sign up process.

Eventually I tried Coulee Bank that was offering 6.01% APY with their rewards checking account. They require 10 check card transactions a month, use of e-statements, and require 1 automatic payment a month, called an Automated Clearing House (ACH) transaction. Coulee Bank pays 6.01% on the first $25,000 and 1.01% on anything above that.

For me, Coulee Bank was out of state. The application process was straight-forward except I failed the online identity check. A friend joining the same bank also failed his identity check. I think they have a bug in their program because I’m sure I’m really me at the moment. I was invited to call the branch in Wisconsin and answered the identity questions correctly. Incidentally, the staff were very friendly and helpful, plus there was a bonus — I could understand what they said. Next a paper was sent in the mail for me to sign and return. A thoughtful touch was the stamp placed on the return envelope. Once that was done I received instructions via email to open the online account.

After a few days I received my checking card, complete with a picture of a steamboat. A really nice feature was a user name I could choose rather than have to remember the account number. The web account features were reasonable. There was no count of qualifying transactions but my monthly transaction count ended on the last day of the month making it easy to remember.

To transfer more money to my account I sent a message in the internal email of the account giving the routing number, account number, and amount. The first month you do not have to meet the requirements to obtain the 6.01%. Even so, I met the ACH requirement by having $50 a pay period (fortnightly) transfered from my pay.

The 10 credit transactions are easy to meet because every workday I eat out for lunch. Some rewards checking accounts can require as many as 15 transactions and also mandate at least one account access a month. Coulee Bank rewards checking is still free and pays a standard 0.30% APY if you don’t meet the requirements during the month.

A feature that I don’t use is the $20 to $25 a month reimbursal of ATM fees provided you met the transaction requirements. I don’t expect the 6.01% rate will last for long. Some other banks that started at 6.01% have dropped their rates to 5%. Just yesterday I received an email from Coulee Bank that said in part:

Rewards Checking has been an amazing success due to its incredible rate, ease-of-use, and environmentally friendly attributes. Due to rising costs to deliver this product however, it has been decided to limit the number of Rewards Checking accounts to one per Customer/Social Security Number.

I am going to have difficulty funding one account so this will not affect me. The rate I am earning is 24 times the amount I receive from my local credit union checking and even the standard 0.3% beats their 0.25%.

I hope this little narrative has been of interest to you.

Updates

26 Dec 2008 Recently the rewards checking rate dropped to 5% at Coulee Bank.
28 Mar 2009 See Bank Rewards Checking for banks still offering 5% 4% on their rewards checking.
2 Jul 2009 Coulee dropped their rate to 4%.
2010 Coulee’s rate has dropped below 4%.
7 Apr 2012 Changed have to having in the paragraph beginning “After a few days…”
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