The Beginner’s Guide to Bank Account Bonuses

One of the best ways to make a little extra money with almost zero risk (more on that) is to take advantage of a bank’s new account bonus.

There are over 5,000 FDIC insured banking institutions and many of them, especially the big national or regional banks, offer hundreds of dollars when you open an account.

For them, it’s a direct way to get new customers. Instead of advertising, and hoping people open an account, they can offer a cash incentive for you to give them a try.

So how do you take advantage of these offers?

It comes down to a simple four-step process:

  1. Know where to look for the best bank offers
  2. Understand the different requirements you need to meet
  3. Avoid fees that can eat into your bonus
  4. Hold a little back for the tax man

There are a few other things to look for but that’s the gist.

Let’s dig into each:

Table of Contents
  1. How to Find the Best Bank Offers
  2. Understand the Requirements
    1. Chase Total Checking Account – $200
    2. Common Bank Bonus Requirements
  3. What To Watch For
    1. Keep a Copy of the Offer Page
    2. Check Qualifications VERY Carefully
    3. Don’t Open Multiple Accounts
    4. Bonuses May Expire Early
    5. Avoid Maintenance Fees
    6. Track Your Offers in a Spreadsheet
    7. Remember Taxes
    8. Avoid Early Closure Penalties
    9. Watch for Credit Inquiries
  4. Summary

How to Find the Best Bank Offers

We maintain a list of the offers we know about – the only requirement is that they be at least $100 in cash to appear on this list of bank bonuses.

We don’t list every single bank because there are some smaller, regional banks that only service a small area. The list would be unwieldy to read, let alone maintain, so we try to stick with larger banks. We don’t have a set rule on what is included but generally, I like them to be available in at least a handful of states.

If you want to find the best offers in your area, Google is your best friend. Just do a search for “bank bonuses” or “best bank bonuses” and peek at the advertisements. I know that when I do a search, Google knows my zip code and if a bank is targeting that zip code, I’ll see an ad like this one:
M&T Bank Checking Offer - July 2020 Ad
Just look for the ads, click on them, and get the offer!

Understand the Requirements

Most bank offers are structured in the same way – open an account, make a minimum deposit, and then satisfy the conditions of the offer to get the bonus cash. Sometimes the bonus condition is to transfer over a certain amount of “new money.” Other times, it may be a monthly or cumulative direct deposit requirement. We’ll break down a few popular offers and explain how they work.

Let’s break down one popular offer:

Chase Total Checking Account – $200

Chase Bank will give you a $200 cash bonus when you open a Chase Total Checking account, set up, and receive a direct deposit within 60 days. The deposit must be an electronic one from a paycheck, pension, or government benefit. You can’t transfer money from another account, it has to be a direct deposit.

This offer is considered an easy one to achieve because:

  • It doesn’t require you to transfer in a high amount of “new money” to the bank;
  • There is no minimum direct deposit amount or a cumulative amount you have to reach – any will satisfy the conditions

The account itself is appealing because there is an easily waivable $12 monthly service fee. You just have to:

  • Have a monthly direct deposit of $500+ each month, or,
  • Keep a minimum daily balance of $1,500 in the account, or,
  • Keep an average daily balance of $5,000 in Chase checking, savings, and other balances.

The bonus is paid out 10 days after you satisfy the conditions. There is one last requirement – you keep the account open for six months or they take back the bonus.

You can learn more about Chase promotions here.

You have 60 days to get a direct deposit, which is a nice long time period. Some banks will have a shorter window. You want to double-check this because the direct deposit may need to come from a government benefit or your employer. It may take those entities a long time to process a change of payment. Try to find out how long it would take to change your payment information and when the next payment will be – so you can get it done within the requirement.

Common Bank Bonus Requirements

Most bank bonuses fall into one of two categories:

  1. Transfer a lot of “new” money into the bank account, or,
  2. Set up and receive a “large” amount in direct deposits.

The idea behind both is they want you to make them your primary bank. Moving a large sum of money into the bank and requiring you to keep the account open for six months may incentivize you to stay there but most people don’t have many thousands sitting around in a checking account.

Asking you to change a direct deposit can be a pain but once you do, you’re likely to stay. Plus, a direct deposit of $500 is often much easier than transferring $5,000. Plus, your employer’s human resources department may not like you much if you keep moving it around – which keeps people with the same bank.

You will rarely see a bank offer that requires both. Usually, it’s one or the other and the bonus requirement also helps get you a waiver on monthly maintenance fees.

What To Watch For

Here are a few things to watch out for when it comes to bank bonuses:

Keep a Copy of the Offer Page

When you apply for an offer, keep a copy of it in your records. I like to print it as a PDF and save it on my computer. Make sure you include the terms & conditions if they are included on a separate page. Otherwise, save the terms & conditions page too.

This way if there is any question about the terms of the offer, you have a copy of the PDF handy. When an offer expires, the bank will usually remove the page. You want a copy of your own so you know exactly what the requirements are and whether you satisfied them.

Check Qualifications VERY Carefully

Many banks will restrict the promotion to new customers and those who haven’t had a bank account at the bank within the last 12-24 months. They don’t want you to be opening and closing accounts just to get their bonuses. Sometimes they will set a specific date, sometimes it’ll be “customer must not have had an account in the last 12 months” or some other time period.

They also have geographic requirements – typically where they have a physical location.

Don’t Open Multiple Accounts

The offers will usually be one per household or one per person. If you open multiple accounts, they will likely get flagged and you’ll have issues collecting the bonus. They may even close your account and your funds may be tied up in the process.

If you and members of your family (but not household) are taking advantage of an offer, don’t open those accounts from the same computer. A bank seeing three accounts opened from the same IP address won’t know whether they’re looking at fraud or just three people using the same computer to get a promotion.

I’ve heard of cases where accounts were frozen because three people, who were related but not living together, used the same computer (they were over for dinner) to open an account and all three were flagged and frozen until they sorted it out.

Bonuses May Expire Early

Banks will usually tell you when an offer will expire – however, they may often pull an offer early if they get too good of a response.

I’ve also seen banks change the terms of an offer before it expires. For example, in February 2021, Sunflower Bank was offering a $200 bonus for a new checking account and allowed you to open it online. I sent an email out to our bank bonus email list and within a day or so, Sunflower Bank made it so that you had to visit a branch to get the offer!

If you see an offer you like, jump on it.

Avoid Maintenance Fees

Most checking accounts have fees that can be waived if you meet certain requirements. Before you open an account, make sure you review those pesky monthly maintenance fees. Since most of these accounts are checking accounts, you will have a small monthly fee that will be waived if you receive a direct deposit or maintain an average daily balance of a few thousand dollars.

Make sure you can meet these requirements or that you’re willing to take the monthly charge.

Track Your Offers in a Spreadsheet

If you start doing a lot of offers, make sure you keep track of it in a spreadsheet. A lot of savvy readers will track:

  • Amount of bonus
  • Requirements of the bonus
  • Important dates – when to get direct deposits by, how long to keep the account open, when the bonus is deposited
  • Other relevant terms & conditions

If you do several of these, it’s hard to keep track so a spreadsheet can help.

Remember Taxes

The bonuses are always going to be taxed as income and reported on Form 1099-INT as bank interest. If you do a lot of these in a year, make sure to set some aside for income taxes so you don’t get surprised. Unlike your regular salary, the bank does not withhold interest to pay for your taxes. It’s taxed as ordinary income.

Also, fees are not considered expenses that reduce your income. So if you get $100 in a bonus put are charged $20 in fees, you still owe taxes on the full $100.

Avoid Early Closure Penalties

Many banks will require you to keep the account for a set period of time, sometimes as long as a year. If you close it early, they warn that they will charge you a fee or even claw back the bonus.

Watch for Credit Inquiries

In some very rare cases, a bank may use your credit report to determine eligibility, especially if they offer some kind of overdraft protection. This will result in a hard inquiry appearing on your credit report, which will reduce your score temporarily. If you are planning on getting a loan, such as a mortgage or car note, then you want to make sure the bank only does a soft inquiry (usually for identity verification).

You don’t want to earn a $100 bonus but then pay thousands more on a mortgage over 15 or 30 years!

Summary

Banks often offer bonuses for opening a new account with them and jumping through some hoops – such as depositing a certain dollar amount into the account or setting up direct deposit.

Before taking advantage of these offers ensure that you know the details of the offer and what you need to do get your bonus. It’d be a shame to sign up but then miss a requirement that keeps you from getting your payout.

Here’s a list of our best bank bonuses. If you do a lot of them, be sure to set aside some money for taxes as bank bonuses are taxable income. If you are really into bank bonuses, you can also check out our list of credit card bonuses as well.

That’s it! You now know practically everything you need to know when it comes to taking advantage of bank bonuses.

The only question is which one will you do first?

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Jim Wang

About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a thirty-something father of three who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and a farm in Illinois via AcreTrader.

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These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

  1. Gary David says

    Hi Jim,
    I’ve been following your advice and appreciate the info. I recently deposited $ 50K into Citibank looking for the $ 700 bonus due in 60-90 days, Not needing to withdraw the money any time soon,
    Not looking to get back into stock market w/the ups & downs right now. I also have money in Chase,
    so I cannot open another acct for bonus moneyl. I’ll probably get reimbursed from Citi bank by mid-Feb. Do you feel this was a good move? Any other suggestions? I just retired this past year. Thanks,
    Gary

    • Jim Wang says

      If you’re going to sit on the sidelines, you might as well get a few hundred bucks for your trouble right? I think it’s fine.

      If your question is whether you should be sitting on the sidelines, that’s for you and a financial advisor to sit down and talk about. Personally, I’m making contributions to my retirement accounts but I haven’t made any taxable investments in the market.

  2. Anita Mutiara says

    Hi Jim — Let me tell you and your readers something. We work these bank promotions like a serious avocation. We could have written what you wrote for advice. It is fantastic advice. We make a file for each bank offer and follow all of their rules, carefully. We keep the accounts open long enough to get the bonus and add a touch more time. Then, we close the accounts. My husband and I often do this separately, where it is possible and double up on our earnings! We have made at least a steady of $1500 a year doing this, for over 15 years. That is a lot of extra money over the years!

    • Chelle says

      Hello! I am new to this avocation (love that word!) and wanted to know how much to expect to pay in taxes on getting 1500 in bank bonuses throughout the year. Thank you kindly for your assistance and wish you all the best for a safe 2021!

      • Jim Wang says

        The money get from bonuses is usually considered interest and will be reported on a 1099-INT, so you’ll owe whatever you’d owe on bank interest.

  3. Carlo F Bongiorno says

    Hi Jim,

    Will an ACH transfer between an existing bank account I have and the new account I’m opening for the bonus usually work? I have read that w/ Capitol One new accounts it does. Just curious if you know if this practice normally works or do the banks verify it’s an employer or government benefit?

    Thanks so much for the time you put into all this work. Thanks, Carlo

    • Jim Wang says

      They generally won’t consider that a direct deposit for a promotion. They will say so in the terms & conditions, that it has to be an employer or government benefits.

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