Banking Deals of the Week: March 3

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Bank rates are at the mercy of increasing public debt these days.

With a 2010 proposed White House budget that would result in a $1.6 trillion deficit if it passes Congress, the impact for bank rates would be substantial.

There are several schools of thought on what would happen to bank interest rates if the U.S. can’t bring its deficit down, but the primary impact of all this spending is to scare the U.S. consumer.

Already saddled with an employment market where at least 10% of the adult population is out of work (and millions more have likely settled for part-time jobs or have given up looking), and having seen the value of their homes decline and their retirement plans plummet, Americans are reluctant to spend with the economy so weak.

Thus, a $780 billion stimulus package; a budget-busting health care bill, and potentially hundreds of billions more potentially on a “cap-and-trade” energy bill have all set the stage for an exploding national deficit and a skittish consumer base.

History shows that when money grows scarce, bank rates rise. But that hasn’t been the case so far, even as the government borrows hundreds of billions to keep the money train rolling. In addition, economists typically worry about inflation in times of high deficits. High government debt usually devalues the U.S. dollar, causing interest rates to rise. But the problem there is that even if bank rates go up as the dollar goes down, inflation rises even more aggressively, taking even more cash out of the American consumer’s pocket.

So it’s not a pretty picture for bank rates and for consumers these days. All the more reason for BankingMyWay’s Deals of the Week to scour the banking landscape for the best deals.

This week, the focus is on three hot-button areas: bank rewards checking accounts, credit cards and personal checking accounts. Let’s take a look.

Basic Checking Account

SunTrust (Stock Quote: STI)  is out with a new program that gives you up to $150 if you sign up (and use) the bank’s Online Banking With Bill Pay Program.

The offer is good through April 30 and is only available to new SunTrust bank checking account clients.

When you open the online banking account, SunTrust pops $50 right into your personal checking account; but you have to open up the online bill payment account, and make three online bill payments over the next two months.

To earn the remaining $100, you’ll need to make three online bill payments over each of the next three months. The bank does take time paying the full $150 — about up to 10 weeks after you’ve fulfilled your end of the bargain.

But in this economy, $150 is $150.

Find out more here.

Rewards Checking

HCSB Bank has a nice return on its RewardsChecking account — a 3.51% APY with no minimum balance or monthly fees.

That’s a great rate — the average personal checking account interest rate, as measured by the BankingMyWay National Interest Checking Rate Tracker is 0.134%.

But here’s the cherry on top. HCSB will also refund your service fees when you use non-network ATMs.

Here’s the deal breakdown, straight from the HCSB Web site:

  • 3.51% APY on checking account balances up to $25,000
  • 1.51% APY on amount of checking account balance over $25,000
  • 0.05% APY if qualifications aren’t met
  • Unlimited check writing
  • No minimum balance
  • No monthly fees
  • Personalized check ordering available
  • ATM fee refunds (up to $20 each month)
  • Free HCSB Visa Check Card
  • Free Online Banking with Bill Pay
  • Free eStatements
  • Direct deposit available
  • Overdraft privilege

To earn and maintain that great 3.51% rate, you’ll need to make 12 check card purchases and at least one direct deposit during the qualification cycle.

Get all the details here.

Credit Cards

American Express (Stock Quote: AXP) has rolled out a bonus points offer on its American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card.

You can earn 10,000 bonus points by activating the credit card and making at least one purchase — for any amount. After that, you get the bonus points, which can be redeemed for, among other things, a $100 gift card from American Express.

According to the card issuer's Web site, all future purchases get you:

  • 3 points for every $1 spent on airfare
  • 2 points for every $1 spent on gas and groceries
  • 1 point per $1 spent on everything else

AmEx does have a pricey $175 annual fee, but the card carrier will waive that fee for the first year. You can also earn an additional 15,000 bonus points by spending $30,000 in one calendar year. At about $2,500 per month, that may be a heavy burden for many cardholders, but we’re just throwing it out there.

Note that the offer isn’t good for current American Express cardholders.

Find out more here.

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

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