While credit card sign-up bonuses are my main source of free travel/money, there are some pretty lucrative sign-up offers for opening bank accounts. If you are planning on opening a new bank account anyway, it’s definitely worth finding one with a good bonus. However, I also think it’s worth opening bank accounts just for the bonus even if you don’t need a new checking or savings account.
Rationale for Opening Bank Bonuses
As with credit card sign-up bonuses, I started off opening a bank account for the bonus thinking it was going to be a one-time thing. I’d received a targeted offer from Capital One 360 for a $400 bonus after opening a checking account and receiving two direct deposits in 90 days. I almost didn’t do it because I didn’t want to go to HR and get the form to change my direct deposit! Thankfully, I decided to walk 50 yards down the hall to fill out the form. After getting a taste of free money, I found it hard to pass up on some of these offers. Now I mainly open accounts for two reasons: if I need help meeting a credit card spending requirement and if the requirements to receive the bonus make the offer easy money.
Meeting a Credit Card Spending Requirement by Funding a Bank Account
Some banks will allow you to fund your new account with a credit card. This is the perfect way to meet spending requirements on credit cards without actually spending money. Not only will you get the credit card offer but you’ll also get a bonus from the bank! I’ve written about an example of how to do this here. A few things to keep in mind when funding a bank account with a credit card:
- Banks have a limit on the amount you can charge to fund your account. Since this limit is usually per account, you can open and fund a second account at the same time if you need to put more spend on your credit card.
- Some credit card funding will post as a cash advance. This will not help you meet your spending requirement and can result in high fees. Make sure to set your cash advance limit to as close to zero as possible before funding the account. Doctor of Credit has a list of what credit cards people have used to successfully fund bank accounts.
Making Easy Money
Deciding if a bank account bonus is “easy money” will depend on personal preferences. A majority of bonuses require direct deposit(s) to trigger the bonus. To guarantee you get the bonus, it’s best to set this up through work. However, you can also push money from various checking accounts to trigger these bonuses. Doctor of Credit is the most valuable source for all bank account bonus-related data points, and you can find a list of which accounts may work here. Other requirements may include depositing a lump sum of money and leaving it there for a few months, making a certain amount of debit card purchases, or even simply opening the account.
Depending on where you work, it may be easy to change your direct deposit. If this is the case, you are only limited by banks not approving your applications. Similarly, if you can float a large amount of money, you can take advantage of bank account bonuses with large funding requirements.
For me, I try to only change my direct deposit at work if there are limited data points on what methods will work as a direct deposit. Sometimes, the extra hassle at work is worth ensuring I get the bonus. Some bonuses like the ones from Wells Fargo and M&T Bank (more on that later) are super easy to get so there’s no need to set up a legit direct deposit.
What You Need to Know About Bank Account Bonuses
When opening bank accounts for the bonus, there a few things to keep in mind. While there are a lot of moving parts that can get complicated if you have multiple accounts going at once, it can be worth it in the end if you stay organized.
ChexSystems and Credit Pulls
Some banks use ChexSystems when deciding if you will be approved for a new account. This is kind of like a credit report for bank accounts. I’ve never looked at my ChexSystems report but having too many inquiries could limit you from opening new accounts. Some banks will do a soft pull on your credit report when you open a new account. Others, like Charles Schwab, actually perform a hard pull!
A lot of checking accounts have monthly maintenance fees. If the fees are unavoidable, I likely won’t open the account for the bonus. Most accounts have various ways of keeping the account fee-free. Examples include maintaining a minimum balance, making a transaction each month, or receiving a direct deposit each month. Make sure to identify these methods and take action each month to keep your account fee-free!
Early Termination Fees
Some banks charge a fee for closing the account before a certain date (usually 6 months). I always keep my accounts open until this point or longer to maintain a good relationship with the bank. If there is no early termination fee, I still try to keep it open for a few months before closing. Some bank account bonuses also require you to keep the account for a certain amount of time or you’ll forfeit the bonus.
Unlike credit card offers, bank account bonuses are treated as interest from the bank and are therefore taxable income. You should receive or request a 1099-INT form from each bank. These are usually issued in January or February before taxes are due.
While you actually are earning less than it appears because of taxes, I still think it’s worth collecting bank account bonuses. If I earn over $1,500 in a year from bank account bonuses before taxes, that’s still over $1,000 I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Possibility of Not Meeting The Requirements
For bank account bonuses requiring direct deposit(s), if you use alternate methods to try to trigger the bonus, there is no guarantee that you will actually get the bonus. Some banks like BMO Harris have been requiring proof that direct deposits are actually from an employer. If you are okay with accepting this risk, there is no reason not to give it a try! The same goes for applying for a targeted offer without actually being targeted.
Bonuses Can Take Months to Post
Patience is a virtue and this is especially true with some bank bonuses! While waiting a few months for your bonus to post isn’t a big deal, it may require you to actively monitor your account to make sure you are continuing to avoid fees. If you need to make transaction(s) to keep it fee-free, set calendar alerts so you don’t forget. This can also tie your money up for a while so make sure to choose your accounts wisely.
Lucrative Bank Account Bonuses I’ve Received
Since last fall, I’ve opened 6 bank accounts and received $1275 (before taxes).
|Requirement||Bonus Amount||Credit card funding?||Offer Type
|Capital One 360 Checking||Two direct deposits within 60 days ||$400 ||No||Targeted offer
|Charles Schwab High Yield Checking||Used a referral link||$100 ||No||Public offer
|Santander Simply Right Checking||$500 in direct deposits within 90 days ||$225 ||Yes||Targeted offer|
|Capital One 360 Money Market||Deposit $10,000 or more||$100 ||No||Public offer
|Wells Fargo Everyday Checking||10 debit card transactions within 60 days||$250 ||Yes||Targeted offer (that I wasn't targeted for)|
|M&T EZChoice Checking ||$100 direct deposit within 90 days||$200 ||No||Targeted offer (that I wasn't targeted for)|
I opened some accounts because I actually needed the account. I opened the Capital One 360 Money Market because it has a decent APY and I opened the Charles Schwab checking account because there are no account fees and unlimited ATM fee rebates, even outside of the U.S.! I leave other accounts open like my Capital One 360 checking since they’ve been a useful “direct deposit” source for other bank account bonuses.
Now, I have to mention the two easiest bonuses I’ve done from Wells Fargo and M&T Bank. This is what you’re looking for if you really want to make some easy money.
It’s often rare that a bank account bonus doesn’t require a direct deposit. Earlier this year, Wells Fargo offered a $250 sign-up bonus on all checking accounts after making 10 debit card purchases. This offer was targeted but many people including myself got the bonus despite not being targeted. The best part about this bonus was that it was extremely easy to trigger. I made 10 Amazon gift card reloads of 50 cents each. After the transactions cleared, the $250 bonus posted to my account. I was also able to close the account easily through a secure message.
At the time, M&T Bank had multiple sign-up offers. Despite the language saying it’s only available in certain states, you can still get the sign-up bonus. You can actually apply for each of these bonuses and receive them all! It’s also very easy to meet the direct deposit requirement since transfers from a wide array of banks seem to be triggering it. The best part is the bonus posts the same day that the “direct deposit” posts. This amazing deal is still going on so jump on the bandwagon while you can! There is a $50 early termination fee so I will be keeping my M&T bank accounts open for the time being. I also need to make a transaction each month to avoid the maintenance fee.
I was initially skeptical of bank account bonuses but if you can stay organized, there’s really no downside. You just need to do the following: 1) know what to do to keep accounts fee-free, 2) keep them open long enough to avoid a penalty, and 3) submit your 1099’s come tax season. Bank account bonus offers just seem to be getting more frequent so now’s the time to start if you haven’t already. Who doesn’t love free money?