Money moves: $3K in bonuses so far this year (low-hanging fruit, 2020 edition)

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Late last year, I wrote a post about low-hanging fruit you should be picking — checking account bonuses and other easy bank bonuses can be well worth some time investment and should not be ignored. There are often opportunities to generate bonuses on par with new credit card welcome offers with what may be much easier requirements. At the halfway point in 2020, I wanted to take stock of where I am with similar low-hanging fruit this year and why I think it is well worth looking beyond signup bonuses and bonus categories to make other money moves that supplement our points and miles.

Checking, savings, and investment account bonuses earned in 2020

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:

Wells Fargo: $400 Everyday Checking account bonus

I had signed up for this account last year and mentioned it in the 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 (the current $400 bonus requires a cumulative total of $4,000 in direct deposits over the first 90 days).

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

This is another bank noted in last year’s post. While I had opened this account and earned its bonus last year, my wife didn’t get around to opening an account with them until more recently. Once again, a withdrawal pushed from SoFi Investing 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. Given some recent minor annoyances with this account, we’ll probably cancel.

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.

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 $194.80 (they had been over $200 for a brief period, but I won’t complain).

Still coming / expected in 2020

In addition to bonuses earned thus far, we have several bank account bonuses in progress.

HSBC Premier Checking account bonus: $700 x 2 player mode = $1,400 (hopefully)

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 a couple of months ago, 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 (a similar bonus expired yesterday). If you’re quick with math, you’ll realize that this means a direct deposit of $4K per month caps out the promo at $120 and in the final month you’ll only receive $100. It’s a weird structure, but a valuable bonus.

In order to keep the HSBC Premier account fee-free, you actually need $5K per month in direct deposits (or $75K on hand with HSBC), so the more practical way to look at it is to say that the bonus is $700 if you direct deposit $5K per month for 7 or 8 months (note the longer-than-six-month period because the 3% bonus starts with direct deposits from the first month after the month in which you open and the bonus is set to pay out about 2 months behind the deposits – so we wouldn’t see any money until month 3). 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. Update 7/1/20: The first $120 of the bonus posted for each of us, so we are collectively on the path toward seeing $1400 out of HSBC by the end of the year. One nicety for HSBC is that it is easy to set up automatic ACH transfers out of the account, which could be useful if you’re looking to move money each month sometime after it moves in.

Note that HSBC also recently ran bonus offers of $225 and $475 that required shorter direct deposit periods.

SoFi Investing: $230 deposit bonus

We had written about this bonus here. The short story is that SoFi Investing has been offering a targeted bonus of 1% of your net deposits by 6/30 for some users (up to $500K in deposits). The bonus is expected to be deposited into your SoFi Investing account within 5 days from the end of the promotion (within 5 days from today), so I expect the bonus will post next week.

This money has to be left in SoFi Investing for 3 months (until the end of September 2020) or SoFi may claw back the bonus amount. In our case, we had savings that we had already intended to move from savings to investments, so we moved $23K into SoFi Investing for a $230 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. One snafu here is that depositing from several different sources ended up meaning that not all of the money will have settled in the SoFi Investing account before June 30th, so I’ll be curious to see if we get the bonus for deposits on hold until after 6/30. We intend to invest the $230 bonus.

Citizens Bank: $600 checking & savings account bonuses

Citizens Bank (a smaller regional bank in the Northeast-ish area) had an online offer (that just came back a few days ago) 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. In total, we expect $600, though past data points indicate that it takes about 4 months total for bonuses to post and as such we’re still in the waiting period.

The Citizens Bank One Deposit checking account requires one deposit per statement period to remain fee-free, so we have an external account set up to auto-push a few dollars into the checking account every other week just to be sure that the requirements are exceeded.

In total between the bonuses already earned in 2020 and assuming the expected bonuses above post, that will be about $3,060 in account bonuses this year if we don’t go after any further account bonuses this year. While that’s not enough to retire to paradise, it more than covers our 2020 expected travel budget and adds to the nest egg.

Other recent easy small wins

There are a plethora of cards offering grocery bonuses right now and we’ve certainly taken advantage when and where it makes sense. We live in an area where Walmart is convenient for groceries and where our local Walmart also coded as a grocery store for Chase, so we picked up Walmart gift cards and loaded them to Walmart Pay to use in future months in order to use up the 5x bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve. There is some obvious opportunity cost in tying up money in gift cards, but we’ll use what we bought within a couple of months and were happy to take on the opportunity cost for the easy extra points.

In terms of other short-term credit card opportunities, we were happy to get a chance to use the Business Platinum’s $20 shipping credit this month on….shipping. We did some late spring cleaning and I listed and sold a heavy item on Facebook marketplace. I wasn’t disappointed when the buyer asked if I’d ship it across the state at his expense — that turned the $20 credit into cash in my pocket. It’s worth noting that I used May’s $20 shipping credit late enough in May that my May credit didn’t post until June 2nd — but I had no trouble getting the June credit during June also.

Like Greg, I had used my May credit to buy a USPS truck for my son, but Greg chose better than I as the trucks he gave my son have been a huge hit (and they’re made of metal, so they are made to withstand wind, rain, sleet, snow, and more drops on a hardwood floor than the one I chose).

We also waited until the last minute to use the wireless phone credits from both May and June but used them to spend $20 toward our T-Mobile bill for a real $40 in savings even if it meant forgoing a few extra points and credit card insurance.

Finally, the Lowe’s Amex Offer that ends today (good for 10% back up on up to $1,000 in purchases for those targeted) was another opportunity for an easy win since we had to make a trip to Lowe’s anyway.

New stuff on the radar

T-Mobile money: 4% APY on up to $3K.

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. 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.

In fact, the T-Mobile Money deal could stack nicely with the current offer to add a free line if you have 2 or more T-Mobile voice lines (if you’re interested, I recommend reading the Wiki on that deal and then following the directions to find your plan’s SOC code and cross-referencing it with the list from reddit to be sure that your plan is eligible for the free line). Again, you could get up to $120 in interest per year per line assuming you deposit $3K in each T-Mobile Money account and meet the monthly requirements.

The fact that the account offers 1% on balances above $3K isn’t terrible in the current environment, either — 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.

More investing

For some time now, I’ve noted a goal to invest more and I’ve been investing some of my free time in trying to learn in this realm.

Fortunately, my wife and I started investing in Roth IRAs relatively early. Unfortunately, I don’t think we got particularly good advice when we started and our investments have been in actively managed funds with relatively high expense ratios. Over the past decade, the investments have grown — but by much less than market averages.

We’re working on a strategy to put newly invested funds into Index Funds and/or indexed ETFs. I’m a little unhappy about the money we have tied up in funds with unfavorable expense ratios and don’t yet have a plan for how to remedy that, but we will at least move forward with a plan that considers the cost of investing (e.g. using no-commission brokerages if buying ETFs and buying investments with low expense ratios).

More checking account bonuses?

Citi has a checking & savings account bonus ending today. There are several tiers to that deal, but the one that caught my eye requires a deposit of $15K within 30 days to earn a $400 new account bonus (that balance must remain on deposit for 60 days). Coincidentally, the $15K we put into Citizens Bank for the bonus noted above will meet its 3-month requirement in time to move that money over to Citi to go after this $400 bonus. I think we’ll likely go after this one and move the money around.

There are a number of other bank account bonuses that look intriguing and it’s possible that we’ll add another one or two before the end of the year depending on convenience given the other requirements we’re working to meet.

Does all this add up to easy profit or too much complication?

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 $3,000 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 — 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 less distant than it feels.

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Glenn
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Glenn

@Nick – also gotten my feet wet in investing these past 3 months. Planning on focusing on high quality companies that would survive the pandemic with a small proportion of my portfolio dedicated to travel (because that my passion and I know a lot about it) and the big banks (because of you guys I also know a lot about it). Otherwise it’s ETFs for me.

ssss
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ssss

Great article. Nick, Can you please share with us, which banks work or didn’t work for your direct deposits? Thanks!

Matt
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Matt
Matt
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Matt

It was your low hanging fruit article that got me to finally start hitting up some of these bank bonuses, so thanks. I think so far I’m not doing quite as well as you but still making enough for some new toys. I realized the multiple accounts would also give me a good way to spread out MO deposits so I wasn’t having to risk my main checking account getting shut down. Which leads to my question. Do you have any feeling for how online accts (sofi & t-mibile specifically) do with MO deposits.

MalMel
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MalMel

Why would your main checking account be at risk for shutdown?

I’m drawing a blank: what is MO?

Joseph N.
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Joseph N.

MO = money orders. A bank will close a personal account that receives too many money order deposits. I don’t think Frequent Miler has ever given us guidance or data points on how many MOs will cause an account to be closed.

Crys
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Crys

id love to try this but after getting hit with having to pay taxes on the $$$ earned I’m struggling with diving in. Anyone have any thoughts they’d care to share?

Matt
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Matt

Just set aside 20% in a savings account to settle up at tax time. Holding out because of taxes is like refusing to work because they are going to take taxes out of your pay check. You do have to set the bar on what amount of $ is worth your effort, but a lot of these can be done from the couch. $400 for maybe 2 hrs worth of effort is worth it in my book

Larry
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Larry

The money you are making on these bonuses pales in comparison to what you are giving away each year by paying for investment advisors and high ratio funds. If you can make that a priority over the next year or so you will make so much more in the long run. Boggleheads is a really great start. There are charts and threads that will show you the compounding effect over a career of seemingly minor expense ratios and fees. It is really staggering. You can do it yourself. Simple. Low cost. Diversified. Don’t tinker.

MalMel
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MalMel

Good article! Like you, I maxed out our Chase Sapphire 5X bonus for groceries by buying HEB gift cards.

Side note: For a few months now, I have been focused on how to earn 5X when paying various cash labor in our rural area, such as our pool cleaning fellow, yard work, house cleaning, etc. They all happily accept Visa or grocery GC that I’ve picked up at 5X.

Jon
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Jon

Great stuff. Thanks, Nick!

verylosingtrader
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verylosingtrader

Curious but isn’t there some tracking of people opening a bunch of accounts and then you can no longer open accounts?
You may have covered this.

I’ve contemplated sitting at home and going full Kasasa on every account possible just to raise my yield on free cash to 3% or better but it’s really time consuming.

Pam
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Pam

It’s important to time direct deposits with the opening of a new account to ensure they are done in each of the months required. Each company has their own rules for how long checking account changes take, too, so make sure the first month’s direct deposit isn’t missed based on rules outside your control.

I would also like for you to cover how often you close new deposit accounts, Nick, for avoiding trouble with the banks. Maybe there is no issue but seems repeated hits to ChexSystems might raise a red flag?

michael
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michael

@nick Regarding HSBC, I have seen some DPs that indicate they don’t charge fees on new premiere checking accounts for the first at least few months (a grace period of sorts).

Having said that dps I’ve seen also seem to indicate practically any kind of ACH works with them so hopefully everything is good. I’m in the early stages of that bonus myself.

Wayne
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Wayne

Pulled in a little over $5,000 in the last 12 months just in checking/Saving bonuses.

Yuri
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Yuri

In the email I don’t see who wrote the article anymore. I need to click on the link to see it. Can this be fixed?

Greg The Frequent Miler
Admin

Yes, we’ve been working on it. I think it will be fixed soon! Finally you’ll be able to avoid clicking the ones written by me 🙂

wise2u
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wise2u

dont forget the ever present Chase bonuses. We have been getting $600 for checking/savings just about every year. I look for the offer that does not require DD that they run occasionally. My wife has real DD options and it is very easy for her to get the deal…Lately the business checking has been a pain, with lots of verification and it takes an hour in branch to set up. They say it is to prevent terrorism, but i think it may have to do with the small business money on the table from the government. Anyway Chase has been offering this low hanging fruit for at least 5 years now, i’m surprised it didnt make your list.

Jerry
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Jerry

I recently received a targeted offer from Citi for 50K AA miles after opening a checking account and paying one bill for 2 consecutive months as well as $750 in debit card spend. The miles posted 60 days after fulfilling the requirements. That was the easiest offers I’ve ever fulfilled.

Jeff in GA
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Jeff in GA

Agree with the previous poster about Bogleheads dedicated to the man who brought low cost investing to the masses, John Bogle founder of Vanguard which is owned by its investors (essentially a non-profit). I highly recommend them OR the low cost broad index ETF’s offered by Fidelity. You cannot beat the market so don’t waste your money trying to pick stocks unless it’s “fun money” (pretty much like gambling ’cause it kind of is).

Buy broad passively managed indexes like the Total Stock Market Index (not the Patagonian Borax ETF) mix in an international index and again U.S. and international bond funds and you can achieve broad diversification with 4 ETF’s/funds.

Honestly, credit cards and the like are fun but as my old boss would say “don’t major in the minors”. Starting and keeping to an investment strategy is the single most important financial move you can make. Pay yourself first and remember what Einstein said “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn’t, pays it.”

MRS
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MRS

Agree with the Boglehead praise. I cannot say enough good things about that site!