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For anyone that’s been involved in the travel hacking world, there’s plenty of overlap with other communities. I tend to notice this the most when looking for non-travel deals and other ways to save money. I mean hey, who doesn’t like “free” money??
When I discovered travel hacking, I dove in head first….I’m sure most of you can relate. I went from one or two new cards, to manufactured spending, to bank bonuses, and I keep finding new things! If you like to learn and want some extra cash, you’ve got to start chasing bank bonuses!
The Nuts and Bolts of a Bank Bonus
Just like the card issuers, banks want our money. In a stroke of genius, a lot of banks decide to forgo the typical expensive advertising campaign, and hand a chunk of that money directly to the consumer. That means you and I benefit. Basically, instead of paying big bucks to attract customers through massive advertising budgets, they’re giving us a small portion of the money saved. In exchange, we agree to do business with the bank in question, and open up a new account!
I apply for a bonus, meet the bank’s requirements, and the bank gives me some cash. It’s really that simple. Here are the most common requirements you’ll have to tackle:
Direct Deposit – Banks will often require some kind of direct deposit to trigger the bonus. If you’re sending your employer paycheck to the new account every 2 weeks, you’re good to go. Occasionally, transfers from other accounts also trigger this requirement, but it’s highly YMMV based on the accounts and banks involved. Direct Deposit requirements will usually ask you to deposit at least $XXX.XX, Y number of times, within Z number of days. Easy as pie.
Transactions – Slightly less common than the direct deposit requirements, banks will ask you to do a certain number of transactions to earn their bonus. Sometimes you’ll use the issued debit card to complete this requirement. Other times you can transfer money, deposit checks, anything at all. Keep an eye on how and when you need the transactions to post.
Minimum Balance – Many banks will ask you to keep a certain amount of money in the account after opening. Be sure to know whether it’s a minimum balance, minimum average balance, or simply required at the time you open the account. I’ve seen all these requirements before; make sure to read the details carefully.
I’m sure you’ll see other requirements out there too, but these three represent most of the monsters you’ll deal with.
So, what’s the catch?
There’s a few things to watch out for with bank account bonuses. Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but I want to give you a good idea of what to keep an eye on:
Hard Pulls – If you’re a seasoned credit card churner, you might not care too much about hard credit pulls on your report, but keep in mind this can happen. Banks will sometimes pull a credit report when extending you overdraft protection. Sometimes, they’ll even do it for seemingly no reason (ahem, Schwab), but you’ll usually be able to do a bit of Google-fu to see if your bank will pull your credit.
ChexSystems Report – Ever heard of a Chex Report? Totally cool, a lot of folks haven’t. Think of it as a credit report for bank accounts. If you’ve ever had an account closed with a negative balance, it’ll show up on your Chex. Opening a bunch of bank accounts? Those new accounts will be on it too. Some banks are more sensitive than others, so do some research before applying. Check out this article on NerdWallet for more information on your ChexSystems Report.
Monthly Fees – Usually, I’ll go after the fee-free accounts wherever possible, and there are plenty of ways to waive fees. (Sometimes, you can just ask..) If there’s a really lucrative bonus, there might not be a fee-free account. The math is simple. Multiply the monthly fee by the months it will take to complete the challenge, and subtract that from the bonus you’ll be earning. Is the bonus still worth it to you? Great! Just remember to close or downgrade the account quickly, so you don’t rack up anything more.
Early Termination Fees – If you close your new account within, say, 180 days, some institutions will hit you with an early termination fee. Remember, these bonuses are designed to attract new customers (not gamers or hackers or churners or whatever compliance at Simon Malls is calling us these days). Know what you’ll need to pay up if you close, and take that into consideration when chasing your bonuses.
Most importantly, make sure you’re tracking your progress on the bonus requirements, or you won’t get anything!
If you’re interested in more information on bank account bonuses, I suggest heading over to Doctor of Credit. The team at DoC keeps a great list of current bank account bonuses, and there’s always a lot of discussion and information on the options out there. I try to open a new checking account every month or two, and have been able to pocket a decent amount of money so far!
I’ve got a follow-up post to this one in the making, so if you have any questions, comment below! I’ll be sure to address everything I can in my next post.
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