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AmEx to offer debit card that will accrue rewards points

NEW YORK (AP) – American Express on Tuesday launched a checking account that comes with a debit card that will allow its customers to accrue its popular Membership Rewards points the same way they do on its credit and charge cards.

It’s a notable move for AmEx and the banking industry in general, since debit cards that offered airline miles or rewards went basically extinct after the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act following the Great Recession. Currently only a handful of small banks and credit unions offer cash back or rewards for debit card purchases.

AmEx’s checking account will come with a debit card and an annual interest yield of 0.5 per cent. The debit card will give account holders one Membership Reward point for every USD2 they spend on purchases. Those points can be pooled with the Membership Reward points the cardmember might already be already earning on a credit card.

“Our customers are happy with the benefits and rewards they get from our products, so we have been very interested in finding ways to have a broader relationship with our members,” said Executive Vice President and General Manager of consumer banking products at AmEx Eva Reda, in an interview.

The new checking account will only be available for existing AmEx credit card holders presently, the company said.

It used to be common for large banks to offer checking accounts that gave cash back for rewards for debit card purchases. JPMorgan Chase had a debit card that gave Mileage Plus points on United Airlines in the early 2000s, for example.

That came to a crashing halt after the enactment of the Durbin Amendment, a part of the Dodd-Frank Act passed in 2010 after the Great Recession. The Durbin Amendment capped the amount of money banks and payment processors could charge merchants for debit-card transactions. It was a major win for merchants at the time, who have long complained about the fees they were paying for routine debit-card purchases.

Banks, who were using the fees they were earning from debit-card purchases to partly fuel rewards programmes, quickly ended these programmes.

A sign for American Express is seen outside a New York store. PHOTO: AP
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