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Great Debit Card Rewards: A Student’s Opinion

Reviewed by Candace Bowers
Managing Editor
Finances
Written by Annika World
Updated: June 23, 2024
19 min read
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of Pathward®.

While credit cards often take the spotlight when it comes to rewards programs, debit cards can also offer a range of benefits that can help boost your savings or earn rewards on debit card transactions. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the different types of debit card rewards, great debit cards for earning rewards on your debit card purchases, and other tips on how to make the most of your money.

At Bold.org, we recognize how important financial literacy is to your college journey. Our team, with extensive experience in higher education and personal finance for students, is here to help you understand debit card rewards and find scholarship opportunities to support your path. Let's dive in!

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Understanding Debit Card Rewards

Debit cards are used to make purchases by deducting funds directly from a bank account. Many debit card issuers now offer rewards programs as an added incentive. These programs allow you to earn points, cashback, or other perks every time you use your debit card for qualifying purchases. Debit card rewards systems can vary, so it is important to do thorough research and compare your options before signing up for a card.

Some debit cards have specific terms and conditions governing how points are earned and redeemed. For example, certain purchases may not qualify for rewards, or there may be limits on the number of points you can earn within a given time frame. Familiarizing yourself with these details can help you make informed decisions about when and where to use your card to maximize your rewards potential.

Unlike credit cards, which require you to pay off a monthly balance or incur interest charges, debit cards spend your money more quickly than credit cards. Every purchase you make with your debit card can earn you rewards depending on your card, effortlessly allowing you to build up points or receive cashback without accruing debt.

Oftentimes, rewards programs offer additional perks for account holders beyond points or cashback. These perks may include discounts at specific merchants, overdraft protection, unlimited ATM fee reimbursements, extended warranties on purchases made with the card, no fee ATM access with partner financial institutions, or even access to exclusive events. Exploring the full range of benefits offered by your card issuer can help you take full advantage of the rewards program.

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contactless payment

Types of Debit Card Rewards

Banks offer a wide variety of debit rewards to cater to different consumer preferences. Let's explore some of the most common types of debit card rewards available:

Points-Based Rewards Systems

Some banks may offer points-based systems, where you earn a set number of points for each transaction. These points can then be redeemed for a variety of rewards, such as merchandise, gift cards, or even travel benefits. With a points-based debit account, there may be restrictions on where and when you can redeem these points, restrictions which vary by account type and between financial institutions.

Under points-based rewards systems, debit card purchases are often sorted by category and assigned different values according to the card type. These policies vary from bank to bank and are often related to the target consumer audience for a checking account. For example, points-based debit cards geared towards travelers might offer additional points on transportation, hotels, entertainment, dining, and other travel-related expenses, as well as additional perks like waived ATM fees in the U.S. and abroad or waived foreign transaction fees.

Cashback Rewards

A cashback checking account, on the other hand, earns you cashback rewards based on a percentage of your eligible purchase amount on a cashback debit card. With a cashback checking account, cashback earnings may come with every transaction or might be limited to particular categories of transactions, such as groceries and dining, entertainment, or gas. The rewards on some cashback debit cards change each quarter, rotating between different categories and in-person or online merchants.

Cashback rewards are popular, since a percentage of the money you are already spending is returned to you in the form of cash or credited back to your bank account. Cashback debit cards allow you to earn cashback rewards on everyday expenses, rewarding you for your typical patterns of checking account use.

Similar to cashback credit cards, many cashback debit reward programs offer additional perks, such as bonus cashback on specific categories like groceries, gas, or dining. Some cashback rewards programs even provide higher cashback rates for online purchases or rotating quarterly bonuses, making it even more enticing for users to maximize their savings.

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Travel Rewards

If you're a frequent traveler, you'll love debit cards that offer travel rewards. These programs allow you to earn points or miles that can be redeemed for flights, hotel stays, rental cars, or other travel-related expenses, usually through a special platform offered by the card issuer. By using debit for everyday purchases, you can accumulate travel rewards over time and save significantly on your next vacation.

A travel reward checking account often comes with additional benefits such as travel insurance, airport lounge access, complimentary upgrades, waived ATM fees, ATM fee rebates, or discounts on international ATM transactions. Some programs partner with airlines, hotels, and travel booking platforms to offer exclusive deals and discounts to cardholders, enhancing the overall travel experience and providing more value for your money.

Retail Rewards

Retail rewards are designed for those who love to shop. With these programs, you can earn points or discounts when you make purchases at specific stores or online retailers with your checking account. Retail rewards can be a great way to stretch your budget on the items you love or even try out new products without breaking the bank.

Some checking account retail reward programs offer early access to sales, exclusive member-only events, or personalized discounts based on your shopping habits. These perks not only make shopping more enjoyable but also help you save money while indulging in your favorite retail therapy.

Sign Up Bonuses

Other banks may offer sign-up bonuses for opening a new account with a minimum initial deposit and minimum monthly direct deposits. In order to receive the bonus, typically, you must make a minimum deposit above a certain amount when you first open the account. You may choose to deposit cash to fulfill the minimum deposit requirement or deposit money via check or bank transfer. Typically, you must also maintain an average daily balance above this minimum deposit for a set amount of time and receive direct deposits above another minimum deposit threshold within a set time period.

bold visa debit card

Bold Visa® Debit Card

The Bold Debit Card is a demand deposit account that supports students by offering points-based rewards on debit card purchases. This card allows students to earn points and redeem them for student loan payments or cashback. Using the Bold card, you can earn 1 Bold Point for every $2 spent across any category. Redeem 1,000 Bold Points for $10 cashback or for $15 towards your student loan payment.* 

Bold points earned anywhere on Bold.org are also eligible for redemption as cashback or towards your student loan payments, and there is no limit on the points you can earn with this card. If you are already active on Bold, this card is a great way to make use of your Bold points! 

The Bold Debit Card also offers no annual fees, no monthly maintenance fees, no foreign transaction fees, no account closing fees, and no hidden fees. You can easily set up direct deposit  for your paycheck, so your paycheck funds are automatically added to the card.

This card comes with top-of-the-line security and anti-fraud features, as well as $250k of FDIC insurance on deposit accounts.** Currently, the FDIC insures deposits at FDIC-insured banks and savings associations up to $250,000 per depositor, per FDIC-insured bank, for each account ownership category. 

Although FDIC insurance covers deposits in all types of accounts at FDIC-insured banks,  it does not cover non-deposit investment products, even those offered by FDIC-insured banks. For more information about coverage and limitations, see the FDIC website. These security features help keep you protected, making this card a great choice for students wanting peace of mind over the safety of their finances. 

For more up-to-date information and reward features, check out our website.

Sign up for the Bold Debit Card today!

axos

Axos CashBack Checking Account & Debit Card

The Axos CashBack Checking Account offers up to 1% cashback on qualifying purchases and rewards every time you make a signature purchase with this card. In order to earn the full 1% cashback on debit card purchases, you must maintain a checking account average daily balance above a certain threshold. If your minimum balance is lower than this threshold, you will earn a lower percentage on purchases made with the cashback debit card.

Unlike other checking accounts, there are no monthly maintenance fees associated with this checking account, making it a great option for anyone interested in cashback debit cards without a monthly fee. Unlike other debit cards, the Axos CashBack Checking offers unlimited ATM reimbursements throughout the US. This makes it a great checking account for those who often use cash and are looking to avoid ATM fees. You can also check your credit score with the online banking tools included with this bank account.

For specific and up-to-date account details, visit the Axos Bank website.

discover

Discover CashBack Checking Account & Debit Card

The Discover CashBack Debit account offers 1% cashback on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month, making it a great choice for those interested in debit card cash rewards. Early direct deposit enables you to receive your paycheck up to 2 days earlier via direct deposits, a major perk of the Discover CashBack Debit account. Unlike other cashback debit cards, there is no monthly fee associated with this cashback debit card account. The Discover CashBack Debit also offers no overdraft fees and no fees associated with a minimum balance.

The Discover CashBack Debit account stands apart from other cashback debit cards with its robust network of ATMs without ATM fees, as well as the option to add cash to your checking account at any Walmart in the U.S. without fees. These in-person banking features set Discover Bank apart from other online banks. The Discover CashBack Debit account also comes with the robust security features of Discover Bank, like comprehensive fraud protection and FDIC insurance. This card offers help removing your personal info from select people-search websites using the mobile app.

For the most up-to-date and accurate details, visit the Discover Bank website.

upgrade debit card

Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus

The Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus account offers up to 2% cashback on common everyday expenses, recurring payments, and subscriptions, all with no monthly service fees. The card also offers unlimited 1% cashback on all other purchases. There are a few requirements you must meet in order to earn cashback rewards at the full 2% rate. A $1000 monthly direct deposit unlocks this reward along with a mobile check deposit and ATM fee reimbursement.

While there is no minimum opening deposit for this checking account, meeting the direct deposit requirement will unlock its full benefits. All customers, regardless of direct deposit amount, enjoy advanced direct deposits, allowing you to get paid up to 2 days early, no overdraft fees, no monthly fees, and up to 1% cashback on purchases, recurring payments, and subscriptions. Unlike other cashback checking accounts, this account comes with a shopping app offering up to 10% cashback at select stores. This card is a great choice for those looking to earn rewards on retail purchases while avoiding a monthly maintenance fee.

For the most up-to-date and accurate details, visit the Upgrade website.

wealthfront

Wealthfront Cash Account

The Wealthfront Cash Account is an account that has banking features that provide flexibility, unlimited transfers, and free same-day withdrawals, plus an unusually high-interest rate (APY) comparable to that of a high-yield savings account. You can earn significant interest on your balance with the Wealthfront Cash Account, making it a great choice for those looking to earn interest-based rewards.

The Cash Account comes with checking account features like direct deposit, recurring bill payment, check cashing, and an attached debit card. However, not all features are immediately available upon the creation of the account, and time or balance minimums are required to unlock them.

The Wealthfront app comes with personal finance planning tools, including the option to create savings goals, track projected interest earnings and net worth over time, and link other cards and accounts to track all your finances in one place. There are no monthly service fees associated with this account, and the minimum deposit amount required to open the account is only $1, making it a great choice for anyone beginning their personal finance journey and seasoned experts alike.

For the most up-to-date and accurate details, visit the Wealthfront website.

apiration

Aspiration Spend and Save Account

The Aspiration Spend and Save Account offers the option to plant a tree with every roundup and up to 10% cashback on debit card purchases with Aspiration Plus. This checking account stands out for its sustainability incentives, which allow you to earn rewards for sustainable shopping habits, including extra cashback on purchases at any sustainable businesses within the Conscience Coalition.

There is no monthly fee on the standard Aspiration Spend and Save Account, though there is a monthly fee associated with the Aspiration Plus Account. The monthly fee is reduced if you opt to pay it in the form of an annual fee. This fee unlocks additional perks, including up to 10% cashback at select retailers, an increased APY every month you make $500 of qualifying debit card transactions, and carbon offsets to reduce the climate impact of your car. There is only a $10 minimum deposit required to open either account type. The advanced rewards for sustainable habits make this checking account a great choice for consumers who prioritize sustainability.

For the most up-to-date and accurate details, visit the Aspiration website.

Bank5 connect

Bank5 Connect High-Interest Checking

The Bank5 Connect High-Interest Checking account offers cashback rewards at select retailers. To access the cashback rewards, simply log into the mobile app or website, activate the offers that appeal to you, make qualifying purchases at those retailers, and wait for your cashback rewards to be deposited into your account. This card is a great choice for anyone interested in earning both cashback rewards and a competitive interest rate on their checking account.

Bank5 Connect comes with free ATM use and reimbursement of up to $15 for other banks' ATM surcharges. With early direct deposit, you can access your paycheck up to 2 days earlier. Unlike other checking accounts, Bank5 Connect offers no monthly maintenance fee, making this account a great choice for anyone looking to avoid monthly fees. A minimum deposit of $10 is required to open the account, while there is a $100 minimum balance required to activate a 2.70% APY offer.

For the most up-to-date and accurate details, visit the Bank5 Connect website.

SoFi

SoFi Checking and Savings

The SoFi Checking and Savings account offers FDIC insurance up to $2 million. There is also a sign-up bonus of up to $300 with minimum direct deposits. You can also earn up to 15% cashback when making purchases at local businesses using your SoFi card. With savings rates averaging 10x the national average, it's no wonder SoFi won more than a dozen banking awards from industry publications last year.

SoFi's secure mobile app allows you to pay bills, find ATMs, send money, make a mobile deposit, and more, all from the convenience of your cell phone. Early direct deposits enable you to get paid up to 2 days early with the SoFi Checking and Savings account. Unlike other checking accounts, there is no monthly fee, overdraft fee, or account fee associated with this account, making it a great choice for those avoiding monthly fees. There is no minimum deposit required to open this account, though there are minimums to earn the sign-on bonus pertaining to direct deposits and average daily balance.

For the most up-to-date and accurate details, visit the SoFi website.

quontic

Quontic Cash Rewards Checking Account

The Quontic Cash Rewards Checking Account offers 1% cashback on all eligible debit card purchases, up to a total of $50 per statement cycle. This account also comes with a variety of in-app and online financial tools, allowing you to track your spending across categories, monitor your credit, and receive a full credit report. You can also sync other bank accounts and loans for an overview of all of your finances in one place.

Unlike other rewards debit cards, there is no monthly maintenance fee associated with this account, nor overdraft fees and foreign collection fees, making it a great choice for those looking to avoid monthly fees. There is a minimum opening deposit of $100. This card also grants you access to an ATM network of 90,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide. As a CDFI, Quontic caters to low-income families, immigrants, people of color, small business owners, and others who are able to obtain mortgage financing through traditional lenders. With a Quontic account, you can feel good about who you bank with!

For the most up-to-date and accurate details, visit the Quontic Bank website.

NASA debit card

NASA Federal Credit Union Checking Accounts

The NASA Federal Credit Union Checking Accounts offer cashback rewards on debit card purchases, up to $250 a year. The EarlyAccess Payroll program grants you access to your paychecks up to 2 days earlier via direct deposits. There are multiple checking account types available through NASA Federal Credit Union and different tiers of accounts based on your combined balances that come with tiered rewards. Your account perks and rewards grow with your money.

If you prefer to open a checking account with a credit union rather than a traditional bank, NASA Federal Credit Union Checking Accounts are a great option for receiving debit card rewards through a credit union. There are over 35,000 ATMs and 5,000 brick-and-mortar branches nationwide for all of your in-person financial needs. There are three checking account types offered by NASA Federal Credit Union, all with the option to waive the monthly fees through maintaining a minimum daily balance or direct deposit.

For the most up-to-date and accurate details, visit the NASA Federal Credit Union website.

Maximizing Your Card Rewards

It's essential to stay informed about any changes or updates to your rewards program. Keep an eye out for new partnerships or limited-time offers that can boost your earning potential. Some programs may introduce special promotions during certain times of the year, such as holidays or back-to-school season, providing you with opportunities to earn extra rewards.

Tips for Earning More Rewards

To earn as many rewards as possible, make an effort to use your card for all eligible purchases. Pay attention to promotional offers and bonuses that can help you earn additional points. Some rewards programs also partner with specific retailers, allowing you to earn extra rewards when you shop at those establishments.

Another effective way to increase your rewards earnings is to take advantage of special events or bonus categories that may offer higher reward rates. For example, some programs may offer double or triple points for purchases made at certain types of merchants, such as restaurants, gas stations, or grocery stores. By aligning your spending with these bonus categories, you can accelerate the accumulation of rewards.

Best Practices for Redeeming Rewards

Evaluate the available redemption options and choose the one that offers the highest value for your points or cashback. Some programs may offer discounts or exclusive deals that can further enhance the value of your rewards. Additionally, consider saving up your points for larger, more substantial redemptions to maximize your savings.

It's important to regularly review your redemption options to ensure you're getting the most value out of your rewards. Some programs may periodically update their redemption catalog with new items or experiences, giving you fresh opportunities to use your points or cashback. By staying informed and flexible with your redemption choices, you can make the most of your rewards.

Choosing the Right Card for You

To pick the right checking account or card for your needs, first reflect upon your spending habits and financial goals. Beyond just rewards, consider the overall convenience and security features offered by the card. Look for features like fraud protection, purchase alerts, and mobile banking options to ensure a seamless and secure banking experience.

debit card purchase in drive thru

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Rewards Card

Look for a checking account and debit card that offers rewards that are relevant to your lifestyle. Consider the categories where you spend the most and find a card that offers the most rewards in those areas. Additionally, pay attention to any fees associated with the card, such as an annual fee or transaction fees, to ensure that you're not diminishing the value of your rewards through excessive charges.

Consider the network of ATMs that you can access with your card, especially if you plan to withdraw money or deposit cash via ATM regularly. Opt for a card that provides easy access to ATMs to avoid unnecessary fees when withdrawing cash. Some debit cards offer fee reimbursement for using out-of-network ATMs, which can be a significant cost-saving feature for frequent cash users.

Online banks typically offer strong mobile and online banking experiences. If you are interested in online bill pay and simple procedures for setting up recurring payments, research the online banking features of each card to find one that meets your needs. Features like budgeting tools, account alerts, and mobile check deposits can enhance your overall banking experience and help you stay on top of your financial goals.

If you receive money from your parents or share finances with another person, it may be advantageous to look into joint accounts. Also, checking accounts without transfer fees or international fees. No-fee transfers are especially important for students studying abroad since you will likely need to receive money from people overseas.

Take the time to compare different debit cards and their rewards programs. Consider the earning potential, redemption options, and any additional perks or benefits offered. Don't hesitate to reach out to the card issuer's customer service representatives to get any additional information or clarification you may need.

Consider Account Opening Requirements

While rewards debit cards themselves don't have specific opening requirements, the associated checking accounts may have certain criteria that need to be met. The most common are minimum balance requirements, which can take the form of a minimum opening deposit, an average minimum account balance throughout the lifetime of the account, or both.

If you are financially strained or just beginning your personal finance journey, it can be helpful to prioritize accounts with a low minimum deposit amount required to open the account. Before opening any account, make sure that you can meet the average minimum balance requirement with your current income in order to avoid fees.

The Impact of Debit Rewards on Your Savings

Using debit rewards strategically can have a significant impact on your overall savings. Let's explore how rewards can boost your savings while also considering potential drawbacks:

How Rewards Can Boost Your Savings

By earning rewards on your everyday purchases, you're effectively getting more value for your money. Whether it's through earning cashback, travel perks, or discounts on retail purchases, these rewards help stretch your budget and allow you to save more in the long run. As you accumulate rewards, consider depositing the saved money directly into a high-interest savings account to further boost your savings potential.

Potential Drawbacks of Debit Card Rewards

Some programs may have limitations or restrictions on earning or redeeming rewards. Additionally, not all transactions may qualify for rewards, such as certain types of bill payments or cash withdrawals. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions of the rewards program to make the most informed decisions.

online purchases with debit card

Frequently Asked Questions About Debit Card Rewards

How do I budget?

Creating a budget for college is as simple as setting limits on your monthly spending across categories based on your monthly income. The process varies from person to person depending upon what aspects of your finances you are prioritizing, be it short-term or long-term savings goals, reducing debt, or investing your money.

Effective personal finance often requires multiple bank accounts serving different purposes, not only rewards debit cards. In addition to maintaining a minimum balance of spending money in a checking account, it is important to set aside funds in savings accounts. Some people even set up multiple savings accounts to serve different purposes, such as an emergency fund savings account, a travel and leisure savings account, and a savings account for major goals like buying a car or a house. A high-yield savings account is a popular choice for account holders looking to earn preferred interest rates on their savings. For more tips on saving money in college, check out our guide.

How can I pay for college?

Affording college can seem like a challenging task, but through ample research and preparation, as well as conscientious budgeting, you can simplify the process of paying for higher education. You can hone your scholarship research to those most relevant to your goals and background by searching for scholarships by major or searching by state, age, and demographic information. To begin your scholarship search, check out these top merit scholarships!

What are good credit cards for students?

There is a wide range of credit cards available to young adults, some geared specifically to students and others towards those beginning their personal finance journeys. Check out our handy guide to student credit cards in order to find the beginner credit card that's right for your needs. Many credit cards enable you to earn rewards on purchases, with similar cashback and point systems as rewards debit cards.

Credit cards come with additional benefits like cash advances, though the method of payment is through the line of credit rather than directly from a bank, so this can be considered a riskier form of payment. Be sure to familiarize yourself with how to use a credit card before applying for one so that you can maintain a healthy credit score.

At Bold.org, we are committed to helping students eliminate student debt. Check out our Scholarship Blog for more information and learn how to apply for scholarships today!

Bold.org Visa® Debit Card is a demand deposit account provided by Pathward®, N.A., Member FDIC. Bold.org Visa Debit Card is issued by Pathward, N.A., Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. Card can be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted. Visa is a registered trademark of Visa U.S.A. Inc. All other trademarks and service marks belong to their respective owners. Register your Card for FDIC insurance eligibility and other protections.

No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with Bold.org, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article.

*This product or service is independent of Pathward® and Visa and is neither endorsed nor sponsored by Pathward® or Visa.

**Funds are FDIC insured, subject to applicable limitations and restrictions, once Pathward receives the funds deposited to your account.

†The features associated with the Bold Debit Card discussed in this blog post are provided by Bold.org and are not affiliated with our Bank partners, Pathward®, or Visa.

Annika World

About Annika

Annika is a talented and versatile writer and researcher. She has extensive expertise in researching and applying for scholarships and grants, as well as the process of navigating financial aid. 

As a senior at NYU, Annika is pursuing an interdisciplinary degree at the intersection of film, psychology, philosophy, writing, and visual arts, with a minor in film production. During her time at NYU, she completed a number of interdisciplinary research projects and is currently working on her thesis film.

Experience

Through Annika’s coursework, she has engaged in a number of writing workshops and intensive seminars, honing her writing craft under the guidance of acclaimed authors and poets. Within the entertainment industry, she has fulfilled a range of diverse roles, working in film and TV development, production and distribution, sustainability consulting, and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. She also has experience working in educational services, tutoring, and libraries.

Since joining the Bold.org team in 2023 as a Content Writer, Annika has utilized her extensive background as a scholarship recipient to guide others through the complexities of financial aid, scholarships, and grants. Her expertise also extends to securing internships in the creative arts and entertainment fields.

Motivated by a desire to make a meaningful impact, Annika's work at Bold.org is driven by her passion for assisting fellow students and combatting the student debt crisis. Through her compelling writing and advocacy for educational and financial empowerment, Annika is dedicated to uncovering funding opportunities and providing students with the resources they need.

Annika is no longer with the Bold.org Writing Team, but we continue to value and appreciate her contributions.

Quote from Annika

“Knowledge is power.”

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