One way to combat the low rates that plague bank customers is to open a rewards checking account, which can pay more than most 5-year CDs. But qualifying for such special rates isn’t easy.

Not to be confused with accounts that offer high yield interest checking, such as those from Capital One and Incredible Bank, a rewards checking account offers a competitive interest return when accountholders meet a stringent list of requirements.

In a MyBankTracker study of 100 rewards checking accounts in the U.S., the average APY (annual percentage yield) was 2.82%. That’s much better than the national average 0.33% APY for savings accounts. For 5-year CDs, the national average is 1.41% APY.

Because the Federal Reserve has projected that interest rates won’t rise until 2014. Thus  rates on deposit accounts are expected to remain low — steering Americans toward alternatives such as rewards checking accounts.

The map below shows 100 banks that offer rewards checking accounts. Check your local bank for comparable deals:

Traits of rewards checking accounts

Most rewards checking accounts are available at local community banks, which tend to serve customers only in their geographic areas.

Rewards checking accountholders are required to conduct a number of monthly debit card purchases, enroll in online statements and complete a monthly direct deposit or ACH credit transfer.

Consumers National Bank, an Ohio-based bank with 11 branches, offers a rewards checking account that requires 25 debit card purchases to qualify for its 4.00% APY.

Furthermore, the advertised rate is available only up to a specified deposit limits. The average deposit limit was $21,310 and ranged from $1,000 to $50,000, according to the MyBankTracker study. Deposits in excess of these limits are subject to a lower interest rate.

Certain banks may also require other criteria such posting an online bill payment or logging in online once per month.

On the bright side, many rewards checking accounts don’t charge a monthly maintenance fee if the requirements are met. Cash back on purchases and ATM fee refunds are also among the perks offered.

First Community National Bank, a Missouri-based bank with 7 branches, has a rewards checking account that refunds up to $10 in foreign ATM fees and gives 25 cents back for every signature-based debit card transaction (when certain criteria is met).

Evantage Bank and Redneck Bank (yep, that’s its real name) are two online banks that offer nationwide rewards checking accounts. Currently, the accounts are marked as “sold out” — a telling sign of their popularity.

An account that craves attention

Consumers interested in opening a rewards checking account should consider their spending habits to ensure that the necessary number of debit card transactions can be made on a monthly basis.

Shifting direct deposit or a recurring ACH transfer to the rewards checking account may also entail reshuffling of one’s money flow.

Additionally, many banks with rewards checking have relatively outdated online account interfaces and lack mobile banking access.

If the high maintenance aspects are tolerable, then rewards checking accounts would be a viable way to fight low interest rates.

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