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The Return of Debit Rewards Cards?

Debit rewards have been disappearing, but analysts say a new card could trigger a comeback.

Earlier this week, Chase introduced the Disney Visa debit card, which offers cardholders deals including 10% off at select Disney resort restaurants and a $50 onboard credit for Disney Cruise Line vacations. Many perks are identical to those on the two Chase-branded Disney credit cards, except for the rewards: credit customers earn at least 1% back to redeem toward future Disney purchases, while debit customers earn nothing.

As we’ve previously reported, banks — including Chase — have curtailed debit rewards over the past year as a result of caps on the fees they can charge merchants for processing debit-card transactions. The regulatory change makes offering rewards less profitable. “Debit reward cards are dying a rapid death,” confirms Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com.

But experts say Chase’s new card may signal a shift to debit cards that offer more perks — without reward points. “Everybody is going to be looking at this to see if it gets any traction,” says Dennis Moroney, a director of research at Tower Group. The discounts and special offers are likely to appeal to consumers, he says, while Chase and Disney could win extra customers.

Consumers searching for true rewards may find that there are a few debit offerings that still have them, says Anisha Sekar, vice president of debit and credit products at NerdWallet.com, a comparison site. Online bank PerkStreet, for example, has a free debit card offering 1% back on most purchases and 2% at select retailers including Wal-Mart and Amazon.com. Bank of America charges $30 a year for an Alaska Air debit rewards card, and Visa-branded debit cards from numerous banks can still get points via the brand’s Visa Extras program.


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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.