How Do Bank Account Bonuses Work?

Quick Answer

Bank account bonuses are usually cash bonuses that you can earn when you open a new checking or savings account and meet certain qualifications, such as minimum deposits, spending and more.

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Bank account bonuses are similar to credit card sign-up bonuses in that they offer cash when you open a new account and meet certain requirements, which can vary depending on the financial institution and the type of account.

The amount you receive from bank account bonuses can range from under $100 to several hundred dollars, with larger offers typically requiring more activity. Here's what you should know about how bank account bonuses work and whether you should try to earn them.

How Do Bank Account Bonuses Work?

Banks and credit unions understand that you have a lot of options to choose from for your banking needs. Many of them offer bank account bonuses as an incentive to open an account with them rather than the competition.

The terms and conditions of these bonuses can vary depending on the financial institution and the type of bank account. While some banks and credit unions may require you to use a promotional code when you open the account, others don't. You may also need to go through a third-party website, such as Slickdeals or Swagbucks, to earn the cash.

Once you open the account, you may come across one or more of the following requirements to earn the money:

  • Receive a set amount of money in the account via direct deposits from your employer or a government agency.
  • Deposit a minimum amount of money and leave it in the account for a predetermined period.
  • Make a certain number of purchases with the debit card tied to the account.
  • Make a minimum number of bill payments from your account.

Once you meet the requirements, the bonus is typically deposited into your account based on the terms of the offer.

In many cases, you need to keep the account open for at least six months to keep the cash. If you close it before then, the financial institution may charge you a fee or take back the full bonus amount.

Should You Earn a Bank Account Bonus?

Bank account bonuses can provide you with a way to earn some extra cash, and it's possible to get multiple bonuses from various financial institutions. But there are some pitfalls to watch out for along the way, and how these bonus offers work may cause you to think twice about going for one.

Here are some benefits and drawbacks to consider.

Pros

  • Some bank account bonuses are easy to earn. Some banks make it easy to earn the bonus. You may only need to set up direct deposit with a small deposit requirement or none at all. Or, if you have enough cash that you can park in an account for a few months, you may not need to do much work at all.
  • You could benefit from other account features. Some banks and credit unions that offer these bonuses also offer other excellent features. If you pick the right one, you may decide to switch and benefit from a better banking experience in the long run.
  • You don't have to switch all your accounts to benefit. These bonuses typically don't require you to switch all of your banking over to the new financial institution. If you just want to try out a new checking account or savings account and end up deciding it's not the right fit, you don't have to switch.

Cons

  • You may not be eligible for a bonus. While some bank account bonuses are available nationwide, others are offered by banks and credit unions that only serve specific states or regions. Additionally, if it's a credit union, you'll need to jump through the extra hoop of qualifying as a member. Finally, many financial institutions only offer these bonuses to new customers, so if you currently have an account with the bank or credit union or you closed one in the past six to 12 months, you may not qualify.
  • The requirements can be challenging. Depending on your financial situation, some bank account bonuses may have deposit or other requirements that are too high for you. Additionally, banks and credit unions with direct deposit requirements force you to adjust your direct deposit instructions with your employer, which may be difficult and may not be worth it unless you know you're going to switch permanently to the new account.
  • Extra costs may negate the bonus. Not all accounts that offer these bonuses charge monthly fees, but many of them do. The bonus is often more than the amount you'd pay in fees over six to 12 months, but you'll still want to determine whether you can get the monthly fee waived and what the requirements are to do that before you open the account. Also, watch out for early account closure fees, which could result in you losing the full bonus amount, and keep in mind that these bonuses are considered interest income and are taxable.
  • It can affect your banking history. Banks and credit unions report checking and savings account activity to ChexSystems, which maintains a report of your banking history. If you open several accounts to earn multiple bonuses, that could hurt your chances of qualifying for bank accounts in the future.

Be Careful to Avoid Bank Account Bonus Pitfalls

When done properly, it's possible to earn hundreds of dollars with bank account bonuses. But it's important to be wise about how you go about it.

In general, it's best to avoid trying to game the system; stick to accounts that you're interested in trying out or that you want to switch to. Also, because these bonuses usually don't last forever, be sure to save a copy of the terms and conditions so that you know exactly what you need to do to earn the money and minimize fees.

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