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When you get a new credit card, you'll often have the chance to earn a generous introductory bonus. With some cards, you'll receive statement credits worth a few hundred dollars; with others, you'll get thousands of points that could be redeemed for a flight or hotel stay.
The catch? To get your bonus, you'll need to put a certain amount of purchases on the card—a "minimum spend"—within a certain timeframe (usually the first three months). And if the minimum spend exceeds your normal budget, you'll need to find creative ways to meet it—without racking up debt or spending more than you should.
With that in mind, here are six smart ways to meet your minimum spend, followed by four credit cards with excellent intro bonuses.
What to Know About Minimum Spends and Credit Card Bonuses
While introductory bonuses can be an extremely lucrative way to earn points or cash back, there are a few things you should know before pursuing them:
- If you can't afford to pay off a credit card's minimum spend—in full—then it probably isn't the best fit. No bonus is worth going into debt over.
- The minimum spend clock starts ticking from the day you're approved, not from the day you receive the card. Mark the deadline in your calendar, and call your credit card issuer if you're not sure when it is.
- Only purchases count toward your minimum spend; things like annual fees, balance transfers, cash advances and money orders do not.
- Before applying for a card, carefully review the eligibility requirements for its sign-up bonus. With the Chase Sapphire family of cards, for instance, you're only eligible if you haven't received another Sapphire bonus in the past 48 months.
- If you're in a trusted relationship, consider adding your partner as an authorized user; that way, you can work toward the minimum spend together.
6 Smart Ways to Meet Your Credit Card's Minimum Spend
Besides using your credit card, well, everywhere—including the gas station, the coffee shop, even the farmers market—you may have to think outside the box to meet your minimum spend. Here are six ideas to get your gears turning.
1. Plan for Big Purchases
Think about the future: What do you know you'll need to buy within the next few months? Maybe you can do your holiday shopping in August, or perhaps you can pay for some home or car repairs that you've been putting off.
If you've got a major purchase looming, such as a water heater or a vacation, then it might be a good time to apply for a new credit card. When I bought a used car, I was able to charge $3,000 of it to my Visa. Looking back, I wish I'd been trying to meet the minimum spend for a new card—I would've crushed the majority of it with that single purchase!
2. Buy Gift Cards for Your Favorite Stores
Another way to frontload purchases to meet an intro bonus requirement: Buy gift cards. Purchasing a few hundred dollars in gift cards at stores you frequent, like Target, Amazon or your local salon, can be a smart way to meet your minimum without spending more than you normally would.
Before using this technique, be sure to check your card's terms and conditions: American Express, for instance, says gift card purchases won't count toward your minimum spend on certain cards.
3. Charge All Your Bills
After receiving your new credit card, add it as the preferred payment method for all of your bills. While it might be a hassle, those automated payments could help you get to your minimum spend much more quickly. You should also see if you can pay your biggest bills, including college tuition, taxes, rent and mortgage, with your new card. This is only a good strategy if you know you'll pay off these charges every month.
One tool that might help is Plastiq, which facilitates credit card bill payments. Since it charges a 2.85% transaction fee, it's probably not a good idea to use Plastiq frequently, but it can come in handy in a pinch. Say you're shooting for a bonus worth $750 but are $1,000 shy of meeting the minimum spend. In that case, paying your $1,000 rent via Plastiq—along with $28.50 in fees—may be worthwhile. Just don't make it a habit.
4. Prepay Some Bills
You can also consider prepaying some of your major bills, such as your gym and yoga memberships, daycare expenses or car and renters insurance. Some insurers will let you pay six or 12 months of your premium at a time—a great way to meet your minimum spend (and often save money) without falling victim to unnecessary spending.
Just make sure you'll be able to pay off the extra charges when your statement comes. If you don't, the potential rewards will be more than negated by sky-high interest charges.
5. Pick Up the Tab
Don't think you'll be able to meet the minimum spend on your own? Then don't be afraid to ask for help. Chances are your friends and family aren't as obsessed with points as you are—and won't mind letting you put some of their expenses on your card.
After I broadcast my goal of meeting a minimum spend, my friends have let me pay for group dinners, airfare and other big-ticket items, then paid me back via Venmo or cash. You can try a similar approach with your employer: Instead of using the company card for work-related expenses, ask if you can use your own card and get reimbursed.
6. Help Others
Since many nonprofit organizations accept credit cards, making charitable donations is a fantastic way to help others while reaching your minimum spend. As an added bonus, your contributions may also be tax-deductible.
Another popular credit card strategy is to pay for microloans through Kiva. This nonprofit allows you to lend money, via credit card, to entrepreneurs all over the world. Though there's no guarantee your loan will be paid back, Kiva claims it has a 95.9% repayment rate. (Note the microfinancing industry can be controversial—so do your research before going this route.)
3 Cards With Killer Intro Bonuses
Curious about the types of bonuses you could earn right now? Take a look at Experian CreditMatch™.
After gathering some basic information, this tool completes a soft credit pull—which doesn't affect your credit scores—and presents you with personalized credit card offers.
To give you a taste of what you might find, here are four credit cards with great intro bonuses.
Discover it® Secured Credit Card
22.99% Variable APR
Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
1% cash back on All Other Purchases
Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
- No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
- Using your secured credit card helps build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, prepaid and debit cards can’t do that.
- Establish your credit line with your tax return by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200 after being approved. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit.
- Automatic reviews starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
- Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
- Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
- Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score
- INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
- Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
Don't have the best credit, but still want to snag an introductory bonus? This could be the card for you. Whereas most secured cards don't offer rewards, this Discover card offers 2% cash back on gas stations and dining (up to the first $1,000 on combined purchases each quarter), 1% cash back on everything else—and for new cardholders, a dollar-for-dollar cash back match at the end of your first year with the card. Though that might not be an "intro bonus" in the traditional sense of the word, it's one of the best bonuses available to users with bad credit.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
15.99% - 22.99% Variable
2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide
1X points on All Other Purchases
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn a $50 statement credit towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
- Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Rather than cash back, this card's bonus comes in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points: 80,000 of 'em if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. When redeemed for travel through Chase's portal, those points are worth $1,000; when transferred to one of Chase's 13 air and hotel partners, they could potentially be worth more. This card—as well as its higher-end cousin, the Chase Sapphire Reserve®—offers a slew of unique perks for frequent travelers too.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
It should come as no surprise that one of the flashiest cards comes with one of the flashiest intro bonuses: 75,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $5,000 in the first 6 months. A direct competitor of the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, this card offers unparalleled airport lounge access, as well as many other travel and shopping perks. If you're interested in the Platinum Card, consider signing up for CreditMatch™ to see if you're matched with it.
The Cardinal Rule of Credit Card Bonuses
Introductory bonuses are one of the best ways to earn rewards with credit cards. But before going after any sparkly bonuses, make sure you won't be going over your budget to earn them.
If the bonus requires you to spend $5,000 in three months—but you normally only spend $1,000 per month on your credit card—know where that extra $2,000 is coming from before you apply.
Otherwise, you could end up spending more than you can afford, getting yourself on the hook for late fees and interest—and negating any benefits you might receive.