Let’s face it, bank account bonuses are boring. Hey, no need to pretend otherwise! In fact, I feel the same way. I dreaded writing this post because it’s such a boring subject. When you see a post on this topic, there are no photos of Maldives, fancy airplane seats or people posing on the beach with a huge grin on their face.
But if you are not paying attention to various bank offers, you are missing out. Big time. Because those very boring bank bonuses can help you get to Maldives, fly in a fancy seat and chill on the beach with a margarita in your hand (if that’s what you want to do). Or they can simply help a family on a tight budget afford their first vacation to Caribbean.
In the past, before I had kids, I used to chase after bank sign-up bonuses like a dog. In fact, credit cards were secondary in my strategy to save money on travel. I liked to book local places where hotel points were useless, and mileage offers were kind of puny back then. We didn’t fly that often, and there were two of us, so just a few new cards per year would suffice. Plus, since we had no kids, we had more flexibility, so I was able to jump on various off-season flight sales. That’s why cash was king.
In a way, it still is, but now we are tied to school schedule, so going somewhere last minute is simply not an option. So, over the last 6 years or so, I started to focus more on miles and hotel points. The latter provide me with an option to cancel without penalty, a hugely valuable perk when you have little kids. But I definitely still pay attention to bank bonuses. The biggest reason? They usually don’t involve a credit pull and won’t affect your ability to get approved for credit cards.
Very often I see people arguing that credit card sign-up offers give you more bang for your buck, time and effort-wise (mostly true). My counter argument is the same as when folks praise manufactured spending: why not just do both? That being said, there are potential pitfalls, so let me list a few things to be aware of:
1) Bank offers involve more work than credit card bonuses.
This is the biggest reason people tend to avoid them. And I’m not going to lie, they are a pain in the behind at times. It does depend on the bank, of course, but in the past, I’ve had to make several phone calls in order to just get the account established.
Very often, the bonuses don’t post when they should, so you have to contact the bank and plead your case. You have to be willing to deal with nuisance if you want to win in this game. You also have to be detail oriented, something I really struggle with. I suggest fulfilling the terms of the offer right away, so you don’t forget later on. It goes without saying that you should also save all screenshots with details on the bonus.
2) Some (but not all) bank bonuses are extremely lucrative.
When you feel like giving up, I suggest you add up your time and estimate your earnings per hour. Even the most painful bonus I got from HSBC took less than two hours total, plus two phone calls. In return, I eventually got $350 for setting up a few payments.
That’s $175 per hour. I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t make that kind of money via blogging. The account is still open, though I plan to close it at some point. Many banks require you to have a certain amount deposited in order to avoid fees. You also need to have it open for at least six months or risk clawback, though I usually wait longer than that. No need to be super obnoxious when a bank is giving me $350.
3) At some point, you will probably end up with a fail or two.
Sometimes it’s bank’s fault, and other times, the offer may be targeted. I’ve definitely had my share of fails, the most recent one with CitiGold checking account. I chose not to fight it because I knew there was risk involved. However, if you feel you’ve been wronged, I suggest you follow up on it, possibly taking it to small claims court.
Once again, I recommend you look at the overall return on your time when you feel like giving up on bank bonuses altogether.
4) Honesty is the best policy.
This goes for bank bonuses and life in general. While I’m not perfect, I do my best to play by the rules. If the promo requires direct deposit, I usually walk away because that’s just too much trouble. Even though some transfers (like PayPal etc.) can register as direct deposit, it feels sketchy to me. I recommend you don’t sacrifice your integrity for few bucks, because it’s not worth it.
5) If you have a miles allergic spouse, it’s probably best to avoid getting bank accounts in his/her name (usually).
I do it sometimes, like with $500 offer on Chase checking account that I wrote about last year We got close to $900 between us when factoring in monthly fees, so it was an amazing windfall. But my husband had to call Chase to close the account, and he didn’t like it. In general, I do everything I can in order to avoid any human contact between my spouse and banks. It has to be done at times, but the juice better be worth the squeeze.
Also, something I forgot to mention, and reader Natasha reminded me of: bank account bonuses are taxable. So, you have to take it into consideration when deciding on whether to go for a specific offer or not.
6) In order to make bank offers seem less boring, set up a vacation fund and deposit your bonuses there.
This will be a motivating factor in sticking with it when the going gets hard. Like I said before, bank bonuses are tedious and unexciting.
7) The best resource for keeping up with bank offers is Doctorofcredit blog.
This is, hands down, the best site to follow. The guys there publish national offers as well as regional ones. Back in the olden days I used to comb through Fatwallet in order to keep track of various offers, but you don’t have to. Simply subscribe to DoC, and you are set. And no, I don’t have any incentive in saying this, it’s simply the truth. If you don’t have time to read DoC daily, simply bookmark their page Best Bank Account Bonuses which is updated on a regular basis.
While many travel expenses can be covered with miles and points, in all likelihood, you will still have to spend some cash during your trip. And even if at the moment you can’t travel for whatever reason, you can simply invest your earnings from bank bonuses. Super exciting? Nope. Sensible? Heck yes.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.