One pretty easy way to get “free money” is to sign up for bank account bonus offers. Utilizing these bonuses, you may only earn a few hundred bucks or you may earn up to a couple of thousand bucks a year — it all just depends on what accounts you pursue and how aggressively you pursue these deals. At any given time, though, there are scores of bank account sign-up offers that are out there offering you free funds. Here’s a quick intro to these bank account offers and what you need to know.
Where to find these offers?
First, you need to be able to find these offers.
The indisputable top source for locating bank account offers (at least to to me) is the Doctor of Credit. If you sign up for the Doctor of Credit newsletter and follow them on social media, you will not miss very many bank bonuses. Some of these are offers on a national basis, some are just statewide, and some are even limited to a region within a state or some kind of membership. You never know what’s going to pop up.
The DOC also offers its own advice for finding bonuses using Google:
These bonuses are actually quite easy to find yourself, just find the web address of banks in your area and in google type in site:<url of bank you found> bonus. You can replace the word bonus with anything, for example promotion. If you find anything, let me do the hard work for you by finding out more about the bonus. Just let me know by using the contact us form.
What are the bonuses?
The bonuses are usually cash bonuses but the cash amount can vary pretty dramatically.
Typically, I see them offering $100 to $200 for meeting basic requirements discussed below. However, I’ve come across plenty of bonuses for $300 and over from time to time. Once bonuses get near the $500 mark, they usually require you to submit a pretty significant deposit of something like $10,000 or more. And finally, sometimes bank account bonuses can even offer airline miles or other reward currencies as bonuses, although cash is by far the most common bonus I’ve seen.
How do they work?
So here’s how the bonuses usually work.
Sometimes you can set up these accounts over the phone or via fax but sometimes you have to actually go into the branch. When you set up an account over the phone or fax, you might have to have an ID that matches a utility bill or some other form of secondary ID to verify your address. I’ve had some frustrating experiences with ID verification with some banks and that’s just one of the many reasons why it’s important to keep good records when opening these accounts.
Sometimes they require a minimum deposit to open up the account but it’s often not very much money at all. Often you can get by with depositing $25 to $100 or something like that. However, with the larger account bonuses, a requirement might be to deposit a substantial amount ranging from $10,000 to $15,000.
Most banks in my experience do not do a hard pull on your credit report when opening up an account but some definitely do. So you always want to check up on that. If you’re getting your information from the Doctor of Credit, you’ll usually be able to see if there will be a hard pull. Personally, I wouldn’t waste a hard pull on opening up a bank account unless the bonus were very high (like $400 or more) but that’s just me.
Banks usually (but not always) require you to set up some kind of direct deposit. Usually, this is done via EFT with your paycheck but sometimes there are other creative ways to meet this requirement. There’s usually a threshold, such as requiring two $500 automatic deposits per month.
Sometimes there’s a debit requirement to get the bonus, so you’ll be forced to use a debit card for a certain purchase amount or for a certain number of times. There are several effecient ways this can be done.
Another popular requirement is bill payment. You may have to pay one or two bills per month or over a period of time to meet an requirement. Sometimes the bill payments requirements are very specific so it’s important to pay close attention to exactly what the requirements are.
You always want to check if there are monthly fees for keeping the account open. They usually aren’t very much and typically range from $10 to $30. Sometimes, they won’t charge you the monthly fee for the first couple of months after you open your account as a grace period.
Waiting time for the bonus
Many banks will require you to wait something like 30 to 90 days after you meet the requirements for your bonus to post. I have seen some that grant you your bonus as soon as you meet your requirements but you should expect to have to wait at least a month based on my experience.
Waiting time to close the accounts
You usually have to keep your account open for a minimum amount of time even after you receive the bonus or they will clawback the bonus or charge you an early-termination fee. Also, you always have to follow up on these things because sometimes they’ll leave your account open and the next thing you know you’re unknowingly getting hit with monthly fees.
Bank account bonuses are usually treated as bank interest and you are typically issued a 1099-INT.
Is it worth it?
I’ve opened a few bank accounts and received some benefits but overall I don’t play the bank account bonus game very often. I don’t like fiddling around with our EFTs and I’ve had frustrating experiences with some banks when it came to things like identity verification and claiming the bonus. Sometimes it was a lot smoother experience but other times it felt like my time would be better spent just billing on my day job. Thus, for me, unless the sign-up bonus is particularly large or very simple to obtain, I’m usually not interested. However, many people cash out with multiple bank accounts each year so it can definitely be a nice way to have a few hundred bucks or even a thousand or two roll in each year.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.