By RUTH CAMPBELL

rcampbell@gctelegram.com

An initiative with a funny sounding name at a local bank is offering some serious rewards for customers.

First National Bank has introduced KASASA. Checking accounts under the program give customers 3 percent cash back on point-of-sale purchases items bought with a debit card at the grocery store or gas station for example up to $200 each month.

"Essentially I'm going to pay you $6 to have your checking account," said Brian Schwindt, chief marketing and business development officer for the bank.

He said this is more than the average person would get on an interest-bearing checking account.

Also with a KASASA checking account, customers will receive refunds of up to $25 each month in ATM fees charged by machines that don't belong to First National.

"So you have the possibility of receiving $31 from me each month," Schwindt said.

With a KASASA savings account, customers can receive 1.01 Annual Percentage Yield on balances up to $10,000. Anything above $10,000 is .25 percent, Schwindt said.

Those who tie the KASASA checking to their savings accounts can get refunds put into the savings account to "help build it up a little faster. It's kind of a nifty little deal," he said. Customers who just have checking accounts will get the refunds put into those accounts.

To qualify for the cash back checking account, customers must sign up for e-statements.

"We ask that you log into our online banking at least once a month. That way we know the customer is managing their account," Schwindt said.

Customers are asked to swipe their debit cards 15 times in a 30-day period, which most people do easily.

"They have to post and clear," Schwindt said. "The average debit card holder swipes their card 22 times a month. This is research from our customers."

The service also offers ATM refunds when customers use automatic teller machines that aren't owned by their bank.

If there's a month when customers don't meet qualifications, checking accounts remain free and there is still no minimum balance, but there won't be a reward that month and the savings account rate falls to the base rate of .05 percent, he said.

BankVue in Austin, Texas, provides KASASA.

"We want to find ways of rewarding them," Schwindt said, adding customers are treated the same way regardless of bank balance.

With the service, introduced in December, "we've had so many people switch their accounts over. They enjoy the rewards," Schwindt said.

BankVue only offers KASASA to small community banks. The service has been available for four years at more than 900 branch locations through more than 150 community banks and credit unions nationwide, according to information from KASASA spokeswoman Jacquelyn Daane.

The first national brand of free rewards checking and savings accounts, KASASA has paid more than $71 million in earned interest to more than 350,000 consumers. To date, the KASASA accounts also have paid out more than $7 million in refunded ATM fees, the information said.

First National, headquartered in Syracuse, has branches in Garden City and Johnson City. KASASA is offered at all three locations. The next closest bank that offers the feature is Emprise Bank in Wichita. ESB Financial in Emporia offers KASASA, as well, according to the organization.

Schwindt said the bank also plans to offer KASASA 360, a financial management tool, later this year.

"We're real excited about it," he said.

As a side note, First National in Syracuse is offering a free showing of the movie "42" at 7 p.m. tonight at the Northrup Theater in Syracuse. Along with free admission, the first 250 attendees will receive free popcorn and soda. Schwindt said you don't have to sign up for an account to attend the movie.