Bank Sign-Up Bonuses: 5 Things to Look Out For

Margarette BurnetteNovember 2, 2018

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Bank sign-up bonuses of $100, $200 or even more can be appealing, but before you open a new account, scan the fine print for any pitfalls. Here's what to look out for.

1. You could end up paying more in bank fees

Many banks that offer sign-up bonuses for checking require you to maintain a minimum balance — $1,500 at some banks — or pay a monthly fee. If you're not prepared, that $12 or so per month could eat into your bonus. Here's more information on how to avoid checking account fees.

If you’re trying to cut expenses, a free checking account at a bank that doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus could be a better deal.

» Looking to increase your savings? Take a look at NerdWallet's best high-yield online savings accounts.

2. The sign-up bonus may not be as big as it seems

Shantel Moses of Brooklyn, New York, says she received a sign-up bonus of $50 to join an online bank a few years ago.

“Everything was great until it came time to do my taxes,” Moses says. That’s because the bank sent her a form stating that the bonus should be counted as taxable income. “After taxes, the 50 bucks was really more like 30 bucks,” she says.

And, when it comes to savings, a large signing bonus won’t make up for a lackluster annual percentage yield over time, especially if you have a lot to deposit.

See how other banks compare

» Want to see the best bonuses? Check out what banks are offering this month.

3. You will likely have to meet certain requirements

Some banks require you to enroll in direct deposit before you can receive a checking bonus. If an automatic deposit isn’t received within a certain time frame — say, 60 days — you might not get the benefit at all. Another common requirement is to complete a certain number of debit-card transactions each month.

Banks may also require you to keep your checking or savings account open for 90 days before you’re eligible for the reward. Even then, it could take an extra couple of weeks for the funds to arrive.

4. You could get hit with an account closing fee

If you choose to switch from one bank to another to get a sign-up bonus, but you opened your last account within the past year, your old bank may charge you money to close the account. Some financial institutions have fees of around $25 to close an account that was opened within the previous 180 days.

5. You could still get a bonus without switching

When Moses joined her online bank, she decided there was no need to switch again. But that didn't mean she had to forgo free money.

“I referred my niece and got another bonus,” Moses says.

If you come across a sign-up bonus offer, compare that bank with your current one and other options. You may decide that it’s better to stick with what you have, or that a different financial institution’s offerings will give you more bang for your buck.

NerdWallet staff writer Alice Holbrook contributed to this report.

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