A New Rewards Checking Account
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 This didn’t used to be but gradually many banks have withdrawn from the national market.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.
I automate the direct deposit and receiving E-statements so no problem there. As for the ten debits I simply keep a thin card the size of a credit card in my wallet and write on one border 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. as I make charges. I don’t even have to take the card out of my wallet as the top border is visible. Many banks do not require a sign in each month and when they do it is an annoyance. It really seems to have no purpose other than to catch you out so that you do not qualify for your interest. However, an entry in your favorite online calendar takes care of remembering.
It is easy enough to sign up. You just fill in a few details at the Kasasa website you are redirected to when you click on the big green OPEN NOW. You have to answer some questions about your credit that only you would know and submit a $100 deposit. I completed the process on a Tuesday evening and on Saturday a packet arrived with some forms. I opened the envelope on Monday and mailed the required information back on Tuesday. I was able to go online and setup my direct deposit from my pay because the bank routing number and my account number were on my temporary checks.
Inside The Packet
There was a cover letter, an application form, a debit card application, a Truth in Savings Disclosure, a fee schedule, and a form to order checks. I didn’t need checks and I signed the two forms where they were highlighted. I had to write in an emergency contact but otherwise I was almost done. A copy of my driver’s license was needed to comply with Federal law. The whole thing was painless and much smoother than previous applications from other banks. Yes I know, we should be able to do the whole thing over the Internet and be done, just like an online savings account.
Once the signed paperwork was received by the bank a Visa debit card was mailed to me and later a PIN. The card is activated by requesting a balance at an ATM or purchasing from a retailer using the PIN. I did a balance inquiry at a local ATM for which a $1 fee showed up several days later in my Arkansas Bank & Trust account. This was refunded when I met the transaction requirements for the month.
One of the most useful functions for a bank to offer to its out of state customers is a simple and fast external account transfer ability. With First Arkansas Bank & Trust an online form is available to fill in the details of your account you wish to link to. The form with a voided check has to be mailed or faxed to the bank. You also have to specify the maximum daily amount of a transfer. The bank says that if you transfer money to external accounts, a $5.00 fee will apply for each transfer.
A friend told me that he sets up his home bank with PayPal to do transfers. When he opens a new account with an out of state bank he adds the bank to PayPal. Then he transfers money to PayPal and from PayPal to the new bank. It takes up to seven days to complete. PayPal will often call for verification when you initiate a transfer. All this is accomplished online. One advantage is that if you have several banks they can be indirectly connected via PayPal without being connected to each other.
13 Aug 2009 — According to Bank Deals, “First Arkansas Bank & Trust stopped accepting nationwide applications for its reward checking account on Monday. Only applications from Arkansas residents are now accepted.” This illustrates the importance of signing up quickly for a good rewards checking account as soon as it goes national.
29 Oct 2009 — Some bad news:
Effective with your new statement cycle beginning 11/3/2009, the following changes will be made:
- On balances from $0.01 to $50,000 the new interest rate will be 3.45% APR / 3.50% APY
- On balances over $50,000, the new interest rate will be 0.50% APR / 0.50% APY
Effective with your new statement cycle beginning 12/2/2009, the following changes will be made:
- On balances from$0.01 to $35,000 the interest rate will be 3.45% APR / 3.50% APY
- On balances over $35,000 the interest rate will be 0.50% APR / 0.50% APY