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What Is a Rewards Checking Account?

Rewards checking accounts might earninterest orprovide a generous sign-up bonus, but some carryhigh monthly fees — think $20 or more — unless customerskeep their accounts padded with an almost comically high balance or meet some other requirement.

Still, finding arewards checking account that doesn’t have steep fees andrequirementsis possible. Here’s a look athow to qualify for one of these accounts — and whether you should even want to.

Rewards checking basics

Rewards checking accounts often come with excellentperks, such as:



- One-time sign-up bonuses between $50 and $200
- High annual percentage yields (often 1% or higher)
- Reimbursements for ATM surcharges
- Airline miles
- Cash back

Sometimes, the highest APYs are tied to balances. For example, you may earn a high rate only if you keep your balance under $10,000. Know the requirements involved, including what it takes to waive the monthly fee, in order to get the best deal.

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How to qualifyfor rewards checking

Although the criteriato receive these benefits vary by account, generally you’ll have to meet a fewrequirements, such as:



- Making 10 to 15 debit card transactions each month
- Having at least one direct deposit or oneACH automatic withdrawal clear your account each month
- Using self-service options such as electronic statements, online banking, ATM deposits or online bill pay at least once each month

You may be asked to fulfill all of these requirements, some combination of the three or different ones altogether; keeping a minimum balance is another popular one. It depends on the account. Check to see what those requirements are, and ask yourself whether you could meet them on a regular basis.

» MORE:What is a checking account?

Is a rewards checking accountworth it?

If an account truly is free, there isn’t much downside to choosing one that offers rewards as well. Even if you don’t qualify for any of the add-ons, you’ll still have a free account. That’s a win in and of itself.

Problems arise, though, if you find yourself straining to meet the monthly requirements to have fees waived. For example, by forcing more debit card transactions than usual, youmay end up overstepping your budget and triggering an overdraft. In that case, the interest you’ve earned won’tmake up for excessivespending and fees.

Rewards can play a role, but not the main one

There’s nothing wrong with having rewards sway your decision if you’ve narrowed down your search totwo accounts that suit your needs. If that’s the case, then by all means go for the onethat does more than just store your money.

But don’tlet flashy rewards lure you into signing up for an account that could do more harm than good.

Tony Armstrong is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: tony@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @tonystrongarm.

Updated March 20, 2017.

The article What Is a Rewards Checking Account? originally appeared on NerdWallet.