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:
- Know where to look for the best bank offers
- Understand the different requirements you need to meet
- Avoid fees that can eat into your bonus
- 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:
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:
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 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:
- Transfer a lot of “new” money into the bank account, or,
- 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.
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.
Bonuses May Expire Early
Banks will usually tell you when an offer will expire – however, they will often pull an offer early if they get too good of a response.
So 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.
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!
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?