New Rewards Cards Offer Cold, Hard Cash

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Credit card companies are cranking up their marketing machines once again, and one of their trendiest gambits is to offer consumers what banks have been offering for years with checking accounts – cash back for signing up.

In fact, Discover (Stock Quote: DFS), MasterCard (Stock Quote: MA) and Visa (Stock Quote: V) are teaming up with banks to lure consumers in with the gift that really shows you care – cash.

We actually included one such card in our weekly deals column last week.

There, the Chase Freedom MasterCard offers you $100 cash back after you spend $799 in the first three months with your new card. You also get:

  • 5% cash back in quarterly bonus categories like gas, home improvement and department stores, subject to quarterly maximum.
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases with no spending tiers.
  • Up to an additional 10% cash back when you shop online at select merchants through Chase.

The “three month” provision is interesting, and typical for bonus cash credit card offers. Banks and card issuers don’t want you to accept a new card, take the bonus and drop out in 30 days. So they have some built-in trip-wires available to keep you using the card and racking up at least a minimum amount of debt ($799, in the case of the Chase card.)

Chase (Stock Quote: JPM) offers new customers another immediate bonus option. The Chase Freedom Visa Card. The card offers a $50 cash-back sign-up bonus (payable after your first purchase); an unlimited 1% cash back bonus on all purchases, and a 5% cash back bonus on select quarterly seasonal categories (the October to December quarter features a 5% bonus on grocery store, movie theater and department store purchases).

You can also get an additional 10% cash back with selected merchants as defined by Chase (check the card web site for details).

Chase is hardly alone in the sign-up bonus card market. Discover does a better job with its new More Card. The card lowers the barrier set by Chase, with new customers only having to spend $500 in the first three months to earn a $100 cash bonus.

Like the Chase card, you also get the 5% cash-back feature with the More Card. You also get a nice 0% introductory APR for the first six months of the card (it goes up to 11.99% to 20.99% after that, depending on your credit health).

The trend we’re seeing isn’t only about cash-back sign-up bonuses, either.

The Marriott Rewards Premier Card, for example, offers 30,000 bonus points after your first purchase for new cardholders.

But bonus rewards points really aren’t anything new – what is new is the trend of cash back for opening an account and making a modest purchase or two.

Expect more card carriers to follow suit.

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

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