Banking Deals of the Week: Jan. 6 - TheStreet

While banks play a wait-and-see game with the economy (banks won’t offer better rate deals unless the economy improves, when more cash is pouring into the system), it’s not easy finding the best interest rate deals.

You’d think that at the beginning of the year, with a fresh start and a chance to reboot, more banks would be out there waving great rates at customers. But that’s really not the case, so taking advantage of the deals that do exist becomes even more important.
Let’s take a short cut and encapsulate some of the best bank deals available - right here and right now.

IRA Certificate of Deposit

Let’s begin with an IRA CD from Apple Federal Credit Union.  The credit union is touting a 14-month “IRA-to-get-your retirement-growing” with a 3.00% APY. The minimum deposit is $500. Apple says it’s offering the deal for a  “limited time” so you need to check it out quickly – banks have a nasty way of pulling great deals off the table  - sometimes even a week or so after offering it. For now, Apple says the deal comes off the table on February 20, 2010. You can visit the Apple web site or you can call the bank directly at 703-788-4800.

While you’re at it, ask Apple about its auto loan-refinancing program. If you’re in the market for such a refinancing deal, Apple is offering to pay up to $600 of the first month of your new loan payment. Rates begin at 3.74%, the credit union says on its web site. Anyone can join the credit union, but you’ll have to join the Northern Virginia Athletic Directors Association, which is listed in the credit union’s membership list on the web site. Anyone can join – but you’ll need to pay a $20 membership fee.

Savings Accounts

U.S. Bank (Stock Quote: USB) has a creative new Spend-and-Save” program that gives you reward dollars for saving money with the bank.

The bank calls it “S.T.A.R.T.” and it works fairly simply. Just set up recurring transfers from your U.S. Bank Package Checking Account into a U.S. Bank Package Money Market Savings Account. The idea is to save a little each week from wherever possible – your pay check, your cookie jar – wherever you can come up with some savings. When the amount grows to $1,000, you’ll earn a $50 U.S. Bank Rewards Visa Card. If you keep the balance for a full year, you’ll get another $50 credit card.

Here, from the U.S. Bank Web site, is how to get rolling:

Step 1 - Visit a participating branch, call it toll-free at 800-720-BANK (2265) or enroll onlineand “choose the U.S. Bank Package that works best for you.”

Step 2 - Enroll in S.T.A.R.T. and create your savings plan. Set up one or more of the following qualifying transfer options from your Package Checking account to your Package Money Market Savings account:

  • Transfer an amount you choose on a specific day of the month, OR
  • Transfer an amount you choose for each U.S. Bank Check Card purchase, OR
  • Transfer an amount you choose for each U.S. Bank Credit Card purchase.

Optional Savings Accelerator: Choose to automatically transfer the FlexPerks Cash Rewards you earn each month to your savings account.

Step 3 – Get the rewards credit cards. Visit the U.S. Bank web site to get started.

Credit Cards

For a while now, Discover Bank (Stock Quote: DFS) has offered a nice program – a 5% rebate every time you use the credit card for a given category at a specific time on the calendar.

What rankles Discover Card members is that the calendar wasn’t always accessible and cardholders never really knew if the purchases they were making were leading to a specific rebate or not.

Some good news. Now, Discover has an easily-accessible calendar on its web site, where cardholders can see where and when they can earn that cash back bonus. The calendar is broken down into categories like travel (January through March); groceries (only in March); home improvement and clothing (April through June); and gas and movie tickets (July through September).  Besides the 5% cash back, Discover cardholders offer balance transfers for 12 months for customers with excellent credit, and up to 1% cash back for purchases that fall out of the categories listed on the Discover calendar.

A quick note: to qualify for the 5% cash back, category-specific deal, you’ll need to sign up ahead of time on the web site. You’ll also face some spending barriers – $400 for grocery stores and restaurants, for example – which you’ll need to hit to trigger the rebate.

Still, if you can manage the calendar, and hit some spending limits, you can earn some decent cash back money with your Discover card.

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