Banking Deals of the Week: Feb. 24

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There’s been a lot of talk this week about a slowly improving economy, and we’ve been a party to that conversation here at BankingMyWay.com.

Tongues were especially wagging over the Federal Reserve’s decision to increase its discount rate — the rate that it charges to lend money to banks — by 0.25% (to 0.75% from 0.5%). The Fed, the economic soothsayers declared, has sent the first signal that the economy is on the mend, and it's tightening monetary policy to pave the way for larger rate increases down the road, primarily to keep inflation in check.

But did Tuesday’s pathetic — and there’s no other way to describe it — consumer sentiment number stop the economy’s glacial momentum in its tracks?

In its monthly reading of consumer confidence, the Conference Board pegged consumer sentiment at 46.5 for February — down from 56.5 in January. Just how bad is that number? The Conference Board points out that in a decent economy, its index averages about 95 points.

Clearly, the vaunted American consumer — responsible for about two-thirds of the U.S. economy — is exhausted, and has little enthusiasm for what’s coming down the pike in terms of jobs and government spending.

The consumer confidence number — and there’s a contradiction in terms — is worth mentioning in Deals of the Week. Because just when it seemed that the economy saw slivers of sunlight, consumers sent the financial markets and creditors another, more negative message yesterday.

There is some good news. As TheStreet.com’s Jim Cramer points out, businesses are beginning to get healthier, especially industrial stocks. In addition, the commercial real estate crash that economists feared hasn’t come to pass. But sooner or later, the economy will need consumers to shed their fears and anxieties and start spending again.

On that note, let’s see what kind of deals we can dig up in these conflicting economic times:

Checking Accounts

Reliabank is out with a whopper of a rate deal this week — a 4.07% annual percentage rate (APR) on its signature Ultimate Checking Account.

Balance requirements are certainly manageable. You get the 4.07% rate if you keep a balance between one-cent and $25,000. But watch out. If your balance exceeds $25,000, the rate slides back to 1.01%.

With the great rate, you also get a free ATM/check card; free real-time online banking; and free online bill payment services.

To keep the 4.07% rate, you’ll also need to:

  • Make 12 check card transactions per month.
  • Enroll in the bank’s e-statement program.
  • Make at least one direct deposit, one automatic debit or one online bill payment each month.

It only takes $50 to open an account and the bank will run a credit check on you. Find out more at the bank's Web site.

Rebate Credit Card

First National Bank of Omaha is out with a new credit card from Visa (Stock Quote: V) that earns you $25 for every 2,500 points you accumulate using the card.

FNBO is sweetening the pot with its new points program. In a nutshell, you can earn two points for every $1 spent using the FNBO Direct Extra Earnings Visa Card. Every time you reach 2,500 points, FNBO will deposit — and here’s a catch — $25 into your FNBO Direct Online Savings Account. If you don’t have one, you’ll need to open one.

The good news is that the FNBO direct savings account is paying a decent 1.4% interest rate.

The offer is only good for the first 12 billing cycles. After that, the double-points program goes kaput, but you’ll still earn one point for every $1 you spend using the FNBO/Visa credit card.

Here’s a recap, straight from the FNBO Web site:

  • Earn two points for every $1 in qualifying purchases for the first 12 billing cycles after your account is opened.
  • Continue to earn one point for every $1 in qualifying purchases after the first 12 billing cycles.
  • Redeem your points by requesting a $25 deposit into your FNBO Direct Online Savings Account each time you accrue 2,500 points on your account.

For the whole enchilada, visit the FNBO Web site.

Certificates of Deposit

We haven’t written much about 1st Mariner Bank but the Maryland-based financial institution is offering a highly competitive 18-month certificate of deposit that pays a 2.3% interest rate.

Compare that to the average 24-month CD, as measured by the BankingMyWay Weekly CD Rate Tracker. That CD is paying only 1.28%, so you’re earning an extra 100-basis points and you’re only tying your money up for 18 months versus two years.

You’ll need a minimum deposit of $500 (the maximum balance is $100,000) and you can open the account online at the bank’s Web site.

One note of caution. The bank may yank this deal quickly, so if you’re interested, pull the trigger as soon as possible. The bank’s Web site specifically states that all rates are subject to change every Thursday, so act accordingly.

The bank also has some good CD rates outside of the 18-month deal. The one-year CD pays a 1.75% rate, while the six-month issue pays 1.5% interest — compare that to the national average of 0.59%.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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