This is a guest post from Joel J Ohman, a certified financial planner and president of Credit Card Chaser. 

If you are in the enviable position of many who have their high interest consumer debt paid off and firmly in control then you have likely reached a point in your financial life where you are maybe in somewhat of a befuddled mindset about how to best make the transition from solely working for your money to putting your hard earned money to work for you as your servant with you being it's master rather than vice versa.

This transition of how to best deploy your hard earned cash is a great place to be because now you are no longer in the "pay off high interest debt as quickly as possible" stage but rather you are about to enter the stage of "Wow, I had always hated watching interest rates climb when I had a balance on my credit cards but now I love high interest rates because it just means that my interest earning bank account balance is going up even faster!"

Granted, this was a rather broad introduction but I think it is appropriate because I think two of the very best ways to jump feet first into the "making money work for you" stage is by using a combination of a high yield checking account (sometimes called a rewards checking account) and a rewards credit card.

First, lets make sure that we are on the same page and define what exactly a high yield checking account and a rewards credit card is:

High Yield Checking Account - This is a checking account that earns an above average rate of interest (often significantly higher than the average) and is typically found at regional banks, online banks, and local credit unions.

Rewards Credit Card - This is a credit card that allows card holders to receive special perks for every time they use the card. These specials perks can be in the form of cash back (my personal favorite), points, frequent flyer miles, free hotel stays, free dining, free travel, etc.

Pros and Cons

High Yield Checking Account Pros

  • Interest rates can be astonishingly high (the highest rate that I was able to find from the chart linked to above was 6.01% APY with the average yield for all 483 high yield checking accounts surveyed being 3.74% APY). Compare those rates with the rates that you would get (if you can find a personal checking account that earns interest at all in the first place) on a regular checking account at Bank of American or Wells Fargo or any one of a number of national banks and you will quickly see that even the average high yield checking account's interest rate will quickly send the checking accounts from the big bad national banks crying home to momma.

  • Debit card access. It is rare to see any type of checking account without debit card access be it a regular checking account or a high yield checking account. Many high yield checking accounts have the same Visa or MasterCard backed debit cards as their regular checking account counterparts.
High Yield Checking Account Cons

While of course each high yield checking account is different and there are many different requirements from one bank to another here are some of the downsides to using a high yield checking account:
  • Balance caps. Every single one of the 483 high yield checking accounts on the list that I searched through had a balance cap of anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 with the average balance cap being $34,451. What this means is that you can certainly keep more than the balance cap in the account but the maximum base that they will pay out interest on is limited to the balance cap number.

  • Number of debit card transactions. Most high yield checking accounts institute a requirement that you use your debit card a minimum number of times every month or else the interest rate will decrease to close to nothing. Usually the minimum is set at 10 transactions every month.

  • Maximum deposit levels. Another restriction that some banks and credit unions impose on high yield checking accounts is that they set a maximum deposit amount that will be able to earn interest. This means that if the maximum deposit amount is $5,000 and you deposit $10,000 then at best only $5,000 of your deposit will earn interest and at worst none of your deposit will earn interest because it exceeded the preordained maximum deposit amount. The exact implementation of this requirement, if at all, will of course depend upon the specific bank of credit union.

  • Various bank fees. I almost didn't even add this bullet point because it seemed like a no brainer. Understanding that there are many potential bank fees is a no brainer but I think it's important to just mention this quickly because we all need to be reminded about how quickly those bank fees could potentially eat into our interest if we aren't careful. Whatever you do make sure that you don't throw your money away on bank fees.
Reward Credit Card Pros
You likely already know many of the benefits to using a reward credit card but here are a few quick things to remember:
  • Cash back. You really can't help but love cash back. As long as you use your cash back credit card properly and make sure to pay off the balance in full every month then if your card gets 1% to 3% cash back on every purchase then you are essentially only having to pay 97% to 99% of full price for everything you buy. This is like your own little plastic coupon that guarantees that you will never have to pay full price for anything no matter where you buy it (unless they don't accept credit cards for payment of course).

  • Additional rewards. Even though my personal favorite is cash back (I use the American Express TrueEarnings Costco Card) there are many different rewards cards that offer anything from free flights to free hotel stays.

  • Purchase protection. Just like any other credit card if you make your purchases with a credit card you have a level of protection that you just don't have with cash or checks (although many Visa or MasterCard backed debit cards offer just as much protection as a credit card so this is not really that much of a distinguishing feature for most rewards credit cards vs. high yield checking account comparisons).
Reward Credit Card Cons
There are certainly some cons to using a rewards credit card:
  • Potential for mismanagement. If you carry a balance on your rewards credit card for even one month then you can potentially wipe out an entire years worth of cash back savings. If you think that you might feel at all tempted to just run up a bunch of purchases on your card without having the money in the bank to pay the balance off in full every month then you should seriously consider either scheduling your credit card payments to be made automatically from your checking account to your card and for the bill scheduler to be set to automatically pay off the balance in full every month (which will force you to spend responsibly) or if that still doesn't work then you should reconsider using a rewards credit card in the first place until you can get a firm grasp on managing credit responsibly.

  • Fine print. This is true of a high yield checking account just like it is true of a rewards credit card because you can see from the above high yield checking account cons that there are quite a few hoops that one has to jump through to earn the high interest rate for the checking account but I think it is important to point out on the credit card side of things because it seems that many people tend to gloss over the details for their credit card. Wander blindly into a new credit card application at your own peril. Take a few minutes and really compare credit cards in depth to make sure that you understand the features and the fine print.
What Should You Choose?
So should you choose a high yield checking account or a rewards credit card? I don't know your specific situation and so of course I have no idea of what strategy is best for you but I do know that many people can put their money to good use and their spending to good use by using a combination of the two. I am a firm believer in putting ones money to work for them rather than going into debt and serving money. When you have paid off any existing high interest consumer debt then consider crafting a strategy that involves using both a rewards credit card and a high yield checking account to propel you towards your financial goals.

What do you think?