It pays to have friends.

And these days, the more friends you have, the more cash you can receive or miles and points you can score from your favorite credit card company, retailer or travel rewards club.

While refer-a-friend programs have existed for decades in various industries, financial services companies have been slow on the uptake,  says Jim Sullivan, a partner with Colloquy, which focuses on the loyalty marketing industry.

Such programs “have not been used routinely by banks for customer acquisition,” Sullivan says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a second look as they try new ways to line people up.”

One of the newest financial companies to take that tack is Discover,  which in the summer of 2011 launched a refer-a-friend program, while also tapping into the power and popularity of social media. Through the program, if you’re a Discover cardholder, you can refer your friends to the credit card company using email, Facebook or Twitter, says Discover spokeswoman Laura Gingiss.

If your friend applies for a Discover card and is approved, you’ll receive either a $50 cash-back bonus or 5,000 airline miles, and your friend will get $50 cash back if she makes a purchase during the first three months she has the card. The rewards are good for a staggering 100 friends a year, giving you the potential to earn big bucks through the program.

Gingiss says you can keep track of your referrals online and see which of your friends or family members sign up for a new Discover card.

The company is not alone. Retailers such as REI and Gymboree offer cash or gift card bonuses if you refer a friend for a store-brand Visa card, and your friend is approved

If you have a U.S. Bank FlexPerks Visa credit card, you can snap up bonus miles for referring a friend, while several prepaid credit cards offer you cash if you refer a friend and he signs up for a card.

Travelers have friends, too.

Read more here.

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