Bank account bonuses are some of the lowest hanging fruit on the periphery of the games we play. In my household, we have banked $4,680 in new bank and brokerage bonuses in 2020 with another $1,525 expected on the way. That’ll be a grand total of $6,205 in 2020 bank account bonuses between me and my wife. While six grand won’t pave our patio in platinum or speed up our retirement measurably, bank account bonuses are like the epitome of pajama points — only in cold, hard, cash…except contactless (how 2020). This post is a progress update that will summarize which bonuses we’ve earned, which we’re still awaiting, and where we go from here in 2020.
Quick Totals: Bank account bonuses earned in 2020
Here is a list of bonuses we’ve earned this year with links to the pertinent sections below outlining the deals we pursued. In parenthesis, I’ve listed whether Player 1, Player 2, or both have done the bonus in 2020 (in some cases, one of us has done the bonus previously or plans to do it in 2020 and/or there was a large deposit requirement that we didn’t want to double, hence why we haven’t overlapped on all of them).
- $600: Citizens Bank checking & savings (P2)
- $200: SoFi Investing (P1)
- $1400: HSBC Premier (P1 + P2)
- $400: Wells Fargo (P2)
- $250: M&T Bank (P2)
- $180.40: Webull (P1. The stock I got (and kept) is worth $272.40 today.)
- $450: Merrill Edge (P1 + P2)
- $100: Bank of America Checking (P1)
- $300: Santander (P1)
- $600: NorthOne (P1 + P2)
- $200: First Tech Federal Credit Union (P1 + P2) (Note: I updated this after receiving this bonus before year’s end)
Total: $4,680.40 (note that the Webull brokerage bonus came in the form of free stock, which I kept and has increased in value by more than $90 as of the time of writing, but I didn’t include that here as I’m sure many would have cashed it out right away).
- $225: Merrill Edge (one of the bonuses hasn’t posted as expected, still following up)
- $400: Santander (P2)
- $400: PNC Bank Checking account (P1)
- $500: Bank of America business checking account (P1)
Straight up failed
- BBVA: I had expected a $250 bonus and never received anything. I didn’t pursue this since I hadn’t met the requirements to the letter of the terms.
Key tips / notes on bank account bonuses
Bank account bonuses can be surprisingly lucrative. Some can be frustratingly complex, but the juice can definitely be worth the squeeze in many cases.
One thing that most checking account bonuses have in common is that they usually require some amount of direct deposit (the amount varies considerably; within this post you’ll see some bonuses that only required $500 in direct deposits and others that required ten times that amount). While terms typically indicate that a direct deposit must be funds from an employer, pension, social security, etc, seasoned bank account bonus chasers know that in reality other things often work. Doctor of Credit maintains a fantastic resource page with data points about what works and doesn’t with various banks. I highly recommend checking there (and their general bank account reference pages) if you are more interested in bank account bonuses than your company’s HR rep is.
I’m noting in this post when I’ve triggered a bonus with an ACH transfer. In all cases, that means a push from the external account into the target account rather than a pull the other way around. I intentionally haven’t noted which bank I used to push the money in most cases. There are two reasons for this: first, Doctor of Credit maintains an excellent resource that doesn’t take much effort to search. Second, my single data point for each account type is of highly limited value since things may have changed. What worked for me may have stopped working. It’s like the old adage about giving a person a fish versus teaching them to fish. I’ve shown you to the fishin’ spot, but you’ll have to cast your own line.
Keep in mind for your tax planning purposes that bank bonuses are taxable and you’ll typically get a 1099.
If you take away one tip, let it be this: take screenshots. If you ever need to follow up on a bonus, they can be helpful. All of the screen shots in this post are my own except for one that Stephen had already uploaded. I keep records of any offer for which I apply.
Finally, keep in mind that some banks will deem it risky if you have opened up many bank accounts in close proximity. Try to space things out rather than trying to open ten accounts at the same time.
Details on bank account bonuses earned
I wrote last year about how bank account bonuses can be well worth a little time and effort. They can be particularly worthwhile for those of us playing the game in multi-player mode. Here are the bonuses earned in my household so far this year:
Citizens Bank: $600 checking & savings account bonuses
Citizens Bank (a smaller regional bank in the Northeast-ish area) had an online offer earlier this year (that is back on again right now) to get a new checking account bonus of $300 for opening a checking account with a direct deposit of $500 or more within 60 days. They simultaneously offer a $200 bonus for opening a savings account with a deposit of $15K — that money has to remain in the account for 3 months. If you do both of the above, you can get an additional $100. We earned the full $600 with this approximate timeline:
- 4/15: Account open & funding ($100 checking, $15K savings)
- 5/15: Direct Deposit of $500 (done via ACH from another account)
- Savings money had to remain on deposit until 7/31
- 8/1: Withdrew $15K from savings to send elsewhere for a new account bonus
- 8/20: $600 bonus posted
The Citizens Bank One Deposit checking and One Deposit savings accounts each require one deposit per statement period to remain fee-free, so we had set up automatic transfers from one account to the other every two weeks just to keep both fee-free. Writing this post reminds me that we intend to close these, so I’m adding that to my personal end-of-year checklist.
SoFi Investing: $200 deposit bonus
We had written about this bonus here. The short story is that SoFi Investing offered a targeted bonus of 1% of you net deposits by 6/30 for some users (up to $500K in deposits). The bonus was to be deposited into your SoFi Investing account within 5 days from the end of the promotion and it posted on time.
This money had to remain on deposit with SoFi Investing for 3 months or SoFi may have clawed back the bonus amount (note that as is the case with most brokerage bonuses of which I am aware, there was no requirement to invest the money but rather just to deposit it). In our case, we had savings that we had already intended to move from savings to investments, so we moved $20K into SoFi Investing for a $200 bonus.
Is it worth tying up so much money for just a couple hundred bucks? Not if you have better things to do with the money. In our case, even if we weren’t planning on investing any of it, a 1% return for tying up the money for 3 months is like 4% APY annualized, so that looked a lot better than what the money was earning in a more traditional account.
HSBC Premier Checking account bonus: $700 x 2 player mode = $1,400
HSBC changes their checking account bonus promotion every couple of months and sometimes offers different promotions at the same time. When my wife and I each signed up for our accounts early this year, the bonus for an HSBC Premier Checking account was 3% of your monthly direct deposits up to $120 per month for the first 6 months up to a max total of $700.
They currently offer two other forms of a similar deal:
- The current online (at the time of writing this post) offers 3% of monthly direct deposits back up to $100 per month for the first six calendar months (for a max total of $600). See this post at Doctor of Credit for more.
- The referral offer gives a $600 bonus after opening an account and meeting the Premier requirements within 90 days (either depositing $75K or having a monthly $5K direct deposit). The difference here is that this bonus has been posting for most readers within a month or two of completing the first direct deposit rather than requiring six months of deposits. See this post for a more detailed explanation and the comments for data points from readers: [Bonuses posting] HSBC: $600 bank account bonus available with easier requirements.
For this account, as an experiment, my wife and I decided that one of us would use traditional direct deposits while the other has used other methods known to trigger the requirements. We each earned the full $700 bonus, making this the best bonus we did this year.
Around the time of earning the last part of the new account bonus, HSBC sent us each an offer to earn $15 per month for making 3 bill payments and $15 per month for making 10 debit card transactions — that’s $30 in earnings per month for up to 6 more months ($180 each). I’ve found the Cash app particularly helpful for meeting the debit card requirements.
Wells Fargo: $400 Everyday Checking account bonus
I had signed up for this account last year and mentioned it in the original low-hanging fruit post. At the time, the account required direct deposits of at least $3,000 per month for 3 consecutive months to trigger the $400 checking account bonus.
While I did set up my official direct deposit to trigger this bonus, I had also moved money from an external checking account via ACH push in the third and final month. My $400 bonus posted after that ACH push and before my direct deposit for the month, signaling that I probably could have triggered this bonus without the hassle of changing direct deposit. At any rate, this bonus posted early in 2020.
M&T Bank: $250 Checking account bonus
While I had opened this account and earned its bonus in 2019, my wife didn’t get around to opening an account with them until 2020. Once again, a push from an external a triggered the bonus the day after it credited to M&T. This is a regional bank that will only be available to those in the northeast and the offer amount may vary by region (you can read more about this offer at Doctor of Credit). Since the account bonus here only requires a single direct deposit of $500 or more, it’s pretty easy to pick this one up. Note that to keep the account fee-free, you can either keep $2500 in it or set up monthly direct deposits of $500 or more. The account earns such little interest that it’s kind of a waste to keep $2500 in it, though it certainly is a simple way to keep it fee-free. This bank has a fee if you close your account within 180 days, so I set a reminder to evaluate whether to keep it or cancel it. It turned out to be useful, so we kept it.
Webull: 20 shares for depositing $10K ($180.40)
We wrote about a targeted bonus offer from Webull in January (and republished that post with a similar offer in February). My January offer was to get 20 free shares of stock worth $9-$1,000 per share for depositing $10K in my Webull brokerage account (note that the money did not need to be invested but rather just deposited). I had the savings on hand to do this, so I made the deposit expecting the bare minimum and that’s exactly what I got. I received 20 shares of Vonage, which was trading at $9.02 per share at the time for a total value of $180.40. An effective deposit bonus of 1.8% that only required leaving the money for a couple of weeks seemed more than fair (subsequent Webull deposit bonuses have required leaving the money for a month or more). I withdrew the $10K a few weeks later and have kept the stocks.
Keeping those shares makes the deal at least a hair better: As of the closing bell yesterday, my 20 shares of Vonage were at a total value of $272.40. That makes this bonus at least a bit more fun.
Merrill Edge: $450 posted (expecting $225 more)
In my post about Retirement planning mistakes fixed by credit cards, I wrote about how I was unhappy with how my wife and I had invested our Roth IRA funds at another brokerage and was looking to get into lower-cost index fund ETFs (and to invest some additional funds we had saved up and needed to put into long-term investments). The same day I published that post, I also posted a bonus offer for opening a new Merrill Edge account and depositing new funds within 45 days and keeping them on deposit for 90 days (that offer has since expired, though there is a new offer for bigger bonuses that requires leaving the funds on deposit longer).
My wife and I each moved over our Roth IRAs and the additional funds we intended to invest (for the purpose of triggering a higher bonus, we also moved some of our emergency savings fund that had been sitting in that Citizens Bank account above — we’ll eventually move the emergency fund money back out after earning the Merrill Edge bonuses).
We each earned the $225 bonuses for our Roth IRA accounts but haven’t yet received the $225 for a simple investing / cash management account (we’ve followed up a couple of times and reps have been slow in getting back to us. I’d be tempted to leave if not for the great bonus on credit card earnings). We’ll continue to harrass them and I expect we’ll eventually earn this $225 as advertised. Merrill Edge also covered the account closure fee for closing the IRAs at our previous brokerage ($125 each) upon request.
Bank of America Checking: $100 bonus
The impetus behind the Merrill Edge accounts was in part to fix our retirement planning, but we got to that goal because of the Premium Rewards card with the allure of Platinum Honors in the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program. Additionally, the increased bonuses on the Merrill Edge accounts under the offer we used required joining the Preferred Rewards program.
One of the requirements of the Preferred Rewards program is having a Bank of America checking account. Bank of America sometimes offers $300 or $400 bonuses for opening a checking account, but those offers are usually targeted (some readers may find one of these bonus offers right now). Unfortunately, neither of us were targeted for such an offer. I therefore Googled looking for bonus information and found this offer to get a $100 bonus with a new checking account and two direct deposits of $250 or more in the first couple of months (H/T: BestWalletHacks). I’d have preferred a higher bonus, but I’ll take a hundred bucks to do something I already had to do.
Unfortunately, my wife had trouble with this. Her online application for a checking account went pending for the better part of a week and she ended up opening the account over the phone with no bonus. That was a bummer.
However, I successfully received my $100 bonus.
Santander Bank: $300 bonus
Santander Bank briefly offered a great deal earlier this year where you had to open an account and maintain an average daily balance of $2,000 for 90 days to earn a $300 bonus. That’s it — no direct deposit requirement, no debit card purchases required — just keep the average daily balance for 90 days. Keeping the account fee-free does require a single financial transaction every month (deposit, withdrawal, transfer, payment, etc). That is easy enough to automate, so this one was very simple. I received the $300 bonus almost immediately after 90 days had passed. My wife later opened an account with a $400 bonus that required $4K in direct deposits within 90 days. That deal has since expired and we are waiting on the bonus.
NorthOne ($300 in Swagbucks x 2)
Swagbucks very briefly offered a 30,000 Swagbucks bonus (worth $300 in PayPal cash or gift cards) for signing up for a NorthOne business checking account. This account only required a single deposit of $50 to open and the only further requirement was keeping it open for 32 days. My wife and I each opened this account and we both kept it for more than 32 days because NorthOne ran a subsequent Small Business Saturday promotion where a single debit card purchase (we each loaded the Cash App with $1) earned an additional $25 bonus from North one (I’m not including the $50 we earned from that bonus since it wasn’t part of the checking account bonus itself). This account has a crummy $10 monthly fee with no way to waive it, so it definitely wasn’t worth keeping. In our case, we kept it longer than we should have: no monthly fee was charged after the first month and we each earned that additional $25 bonus. The second month recently closed with a $10 fee for each of us, so we’ll close it by the end of the month. We’ll still each come out $315 ahead overall.
Bonuses expected but not yet awarded
Merrill Edge: $225 for new cash management account
As detailed above, my wife and I each opened a Roth IRA account with Merrill Edge and moved over our IRAs from another brokerage. We also opened a taxable account and put a large chunk of savings into it in order to trigger a $225 bonus. The IRA bonuses posted as expected without intervention, but this one hasn’t. We’re continuing to follow up and I’m confident that this will get resolved since we opened all three accounts following the same process (and we had confirmed in advance that IRA and taxable accounts are treated separately for the purposes of bonuses and confirmed the expected bonus amounts before account opening).
Santander Premier Plus Checking: $400
Player 2 opened a Santander account under a different promotion: this one required $4K in total direct deposits in the first 90 days. We’ve followed data points about what works and expect to receive the $400 bonus.
PNC Virtual Wallet with Performance Select: $400
This $400 bonus is only available in select states, but I was able to apply under the $400 bonus offer (which requires $5K in direct deposits within the first 90 days). I met the deposit requirement early on and hope that the bonus may appear by the end of this month.
First Tech Federal Credit Union: $200
My wife and I each opened this account via a referral as it only required funding the account with $250 and maintaining a $250 average daily balance for 30 days. Stephen wrote about the offer here. Unfortunately, many readers have reached out saying that they did not automatically receive bonuses and had to reach out to First Tech with the name and email address of the person who referred them. Neither my wife nor I have received new member bonuses (and neither has the person who referred us). I have followed up with First Tech and am waiting the results of their investigation.
Bank of America business checking account: $500
This is a targeted offer that may not actually be targeted. In my case, the targeted offer showed up in my online account. As I was just passing the date for being able to withdraw $20K that had been tied up in the SoFi Investing bonus, I got targeted for this offer that required a deposit of $20K. I moved the money directly from SoFi Investing, where it had triggered a $200 deposit bonus as noted above, to Bank of America, where it should trigger a $500 bonus after the 5 small bill pay transactions I initiated online. As the required 75 days to keep the money on deposit has passed, I am hoping to see the bonus soon and move this money along to other checking account bonuses.
No bonus, but still worth it
T-Mobile money: 4% APY on up to $3K and 1% on the rest
A while back, T-Mobile started offering a “T-Mobile Money” checking account in conjunction with “BankMobile”. The basic premise is that if you’re a T-Mobile customer and you deposit $200 per month in the account, you can get 4% APY on up to $3K in the account and 1% thereafter. At that rate, you only stand to earn $120 of interest per year if you deposit $3K and meet the monthly requirements. That is perhaps a small win individually, but you can certainly do worse than a 4% return with nearly no risk (and 1% on everything above $3K!). Furthermore, you can scale it at least a little bit if you have multiple lines on your T-Mobile plan since each individual on your plan is eligible for the 4% APY on the first $3K provided they meet the monthly deposit requirement.
The fact that the account offers 1% on balances above $3K isn’t terrible in the current environment — so it’s not altogether awful if you put $3K in there and deposit $200 a month and just leave it as an emergency fund. That said, customer service and posting time of deposits by all accounts seem pretty poor. I wouldn’t go in on this deal with high expectations for an amazing banking experience. There isn’t a new account bonus to be triggered here, but four percent is four percent.
In my experience, transfers and large mobile check deposits are epically slow. It took about a full week for a ~$2K mobile check deposit to clear (compare that to a bank like Wells Fargo where my mobile check deposits usually clear the next business day). Since this account doesn’t include a bonus for opening it, I’m not including it in bonus calculations.
Swing and a miss
BBVA: $0 (expected $250, got nada)
We opened a checking/savings combo with BBVA in 2019 that had relatively low requirements (had to fund the savings account with a few hundred bucks and have one direct deposit of $500 or more by the end of December – similar to this expired promo). I tried a couple of potential direct deposit methods that apparently didn’t work because I never got the bonus. Since I had stretched the definition of a direct deposit, I didn’t raise any complaint. Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.
Keep in mind that some of the bonuses above required very small deposits ($500 for the M&T bonus, two deposits of $250 for the Bank of America checking bonus). Others required large deposits. In some cases, we had long-term savings built up over the course of years that weren’t earning much interest in the bank in the current environment, but in many cases we were moving around the same pile or two of money (and in the case of accounts that require a direct deposit, the money isn’t typically staying there for a long time).
There is no doubt that keeping up with the various new account requirements above takes some time and focus. That “free” money isn’t free — it requires organization and attention to detail.
Is it worth the time to trigger bonuses like these? In my case, the answer is clearly yes. I won’t dispute that these things take time and that I have put quite a few hours into earning these bonuses. On the flip side, I’ve put far fewer than $4,500 worth of hours into these efforts and feel pretty fortunate to be able to generate a not-insignificant amount of money with what is essentially an eye for detail and a few clicks of the mouse. We would ordinarily gladly put this extra money to use paying the expenses associated with travel like meals, gas, rental cars, etc. Given that we have no 2020 travel plans, we’ll be glad to instead invest that money in our future.
On the flip side, just like the credit card bonus game isn’t for everyone, neither is the bank account bonus game. I know that I’m lucky to have only missed out on one bonus this year and had to follow up on one more — reports indicate that it can sometimes be difficult to get bonus payouts. Some folks won’t want the hassle of keeping track of so many new accounts. As I have said before, my argument in favor of these relatively easy bonuses is that if I’m going to spend the time considering whether to earn 12x Hilton points or 6x Marriott points at the grocery store, I shouldn’t ignore the chance to pick low-hanging fruit that I could use to buy large sums of those same points.
Indeed, considering the fact that the cash earned from these bonuses could be used to buy hundreds of thousands of points, we’ll be glad to pack it away for a rainy day daydream. Here’s looking forward to combining those daydreams with the above cash and turning it into real-life travel in a future that we hope is inching nearer each day.