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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.
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 intro 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.)
How to Find 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 is a credit card with great intro bonus:
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.