Rewards checking -- still a bright spot for banking customers

Though it seems bankers are doing everything but adding a black cape and a twirling mustache to their wardrobes these days, and bank fees continue to be as insane as usual, not everything about your local bank is necessarily bad. Rewards checking accounts are still one of the few bright spots around.

Rewards checking accounts are accounts offered by banks and some credit unions on which you can earn money if you use your debit card in conjunction with the account. The standard is usually 3% to 4% of the monthly average of whatever's in your bank account. It's that simple.

Well, it's not that simple. Most of these programs have a few requirements you have to meet before you can earn any money. For one thing, you have to use your debit card at least a dozen times a month; you also have to have direct deposit and agree to get rid of your paper billing statements (and just have the statements emailed to you). If you follow the rules, you get money back and are often reimbursed for your ATM fees, too.

What is simple is understanding why banks would want to encourage you to use your debit card. Every time you run your debit card through one of those machines at the register, the bank gets some of the interchange fee that the store pays to Visa or MasterCard. And obviously, if your statement is emailed to rather than mailed, the bank is saving money on paper and postage, too.