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Does It Pay to Bank With Your Credit Card Issuer?

June 20, 2017
Banking, Credit Cards, Rewards Credit Cards
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Having your checking and savings accounts under one roof can simplify your financial life. And at some banks, you can earn bonus rewards for using that institution’s credit card, too. However, qualifying for those bonuses isn’t necessarily easy. Here’s a look at three big banks that offer relationship bonuses for customers: 

Here’s a look at three big banks that offer relationship bonuses for customers: Bank of America, PNC Bank and Wells Fargo.

Bank of America®

The Bank of America® Preferred Rewards program pays bonuses for customers with a minimum amount in combined deposits in Bank of America®, Merrill Edge and Merrill Lynch accounts. The combined minimum balance is $20,000 for the Gold level, $50,000 for Platinum and $100,000 for Platinum Honors. That’s a lot of cash, but the benefits of those tiers may be worth it:

  • With the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card, you get bonus cash back when you redeem cash rewards into an eligible account — 25%, 50% or 75% of the redeemed amount, depending on your status. For example, if you were a Platinum member and you redeemed $100 cash back, you’d get a $50 bonus. (The card’s standard rewards are 3% cash back for gas purchases and 2% cash back at grocery stores and warehouse clubs — on up to $2,500 per quarter in combined gas, grocery and warehouse spending — and 1% cash back on all other spending. The annual fee is $0.)
  • With the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, you get similar bonuses: 25%, 50% or 75% of the points you earn. So if you were a Gold member and earned 300 points for a purchase, you’d get a bonus of 75 points — that is, 25% of 300 points. (The card’s standard rewards are 1.5 points per $1 spent on anything. Annual fee: $0.)
  • On a Rewards Money Market account, you can get an “interest rate booster” of 5%, 10% or 20%, depending on status. So, for example, if the regular rate on the account was 1%, your rate would be 1.05%, 1.1% or 1.2%. 
  • Auto loan interest rates have discounts of 0.25 to 0.50 percentage point. 
  • Cardholders have access to priority customer services through the Preferred Rewards Center

For Bank of America® customers who have checking and savings accounts but who aren’t in the Preferred Rewards program, the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card and the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card offer 10% bonuses. 

PNC Bank

PNC Bank also offers points bonuses of 25%, 50% or 75% based on your relationship with the bank, but there are complicated rules for qualifying for the higher tiers. To earn bonuses, you first must have the bank’s Virtual Wallet — a special PNC account that combines checking and savings features — or a qualifying checking account:

  • To qualify for the 25% bonus, all you need is the Virtual Wallet or checking account.
  • To qualify for the 50% bonus, you must meet one of the following criteria: Maintain an average monthly balance of at least $2,000 in your qualifying account; receive at least $2,000 a month in direct deposits to that account; or have a total of $15,000 in balances in all linked PNC accounts, including loan accounts.
  • To qualify for the 75% bonus, you must meet one of the following criteria: Maintain an average monthly balance of at least $5,000 in your qualifying account; receive at least $5,000 a month in direct deposits to that account; or have a total of $25,000 in balances in all linked PNC deposit or investment accounts.

On its own, the PNC points® Visa® pays 4 points per $1 spent on all qualifying purchases, and you can redeem points for cash, gift cards, travel and merchandise. The $0.

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo is also riding the mobile wallet bandwagon. The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card pays 1.8% cash back on all Apple Pay or Android Pay purchases during the first 12 months the account is open. For all other purchases, you earn 1.5% cash back. Plus, the sign-up bonus was recently increased: Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. The annual fee is $0.

Some of Wells Fargo’s credit cards give you a loyalty bonus for meeting certain criteria. For example, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card allows you to earn a 10% annual boost on your non-bonus rewards points if you have a qualifying checking or savings account with the bank.

To earn more, join Portfolio by Wells Fargo. That program charges a $30 monthly fee, which is waived if you have $25,000 or more in linked accounts (checking, savings, CDs and so on) or $50,000 in linked bank and brokerage accounts and credit balances (including 10% of your mortgage balance). In return, you’ll get a bonus of 25% or 50% on rewards points for purchases made with your qualifying Wells Fargo credit card.

The bottom line

The amount of money you need to have parked in a bank to earn bonus rewards is a steep downside of these programs. Unless you have an existing relationship and meet the complex criteria, you may be better off finding the best rewards credit card that suits your lifestyle.

Ellen Cannon is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ecannon@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ellencannon.