How to Score a Savings Account Bonus — and Know When to Skip It

Margarette Burnette
By Margarette Burnette 
Edited by Yuliya Goldshteyn

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There are banks that want to give you more than $100 to open a new account. The catch? You might need to make a minimum deposit. Or receive a direct deposit. Or keep your money deposited for a certain time. Or all of the above.

For some customers, the requirements are worth the effort. “I got free money,” says Anika Jindal, a personal finance blogger in Houston who recently took advantage of a bank’s bonus offer. She says she opened up an account online at a big bank and made a deposit in order to qualify for a cash bonus.

“It was easy. They gave me back $200 within two months,” she says. With a few smart moves, you can do the same. Here’s how to score a bank bonus — while being confident that the bank’s offer, hoops and all, is right for you.

Look online for top bank promotions

Some banks will send targeted offers directly to certain customers. But you don’t have to wait around for an invitation. You can search online for “bank bonuses” to get an idea of what financial institutions have to offer. It’s not unusual to find bonuses of $100, $200 and even $300 for new customers who open savings or checking accounts.

A sizable bank bonus can be like earning a stellar rate. For example, a $200 bonus in exchange for depositing $2,500 into an account within the first three months is like earning an 8% annual percentage yield on that same amount for a whole year. To compare, the best savings accounts currently have rates just under 1%.

» Dig deeper: Read about banks that pay you to open an account

Double-check requirements

You will want to read the fine print. With many bank promotions, the key to earning a big $100-plus bonus is to first make an even bigger deposit, say, $1,000 or more. You might be expected to make that deposit within the first two to three months of opening your account, and the bonus funds would be deposited a few weeks after that.

If you can put a large deposit in your account for the required time period, the perk could be worthwhile. But if that amount is a stretch, it may not be worth tying up your money.

Know what fees you might end up paying

Some accounts that offer bonuses and perks also have monthly service fees. If you're not able to have those fees waived — by keeping your account balance above a minimum of a few hundred dollars, for example — you'll likely end up giving your bonus money back to the bank, says Jeff Kronenberg, founder and president of Imagine Wealth Group LLC, a financial planning firm in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

“Banks are really good at making money,” he says. “If you get a $100 bonus, but the monthly fee is $30, which I’ve seen, then after four months you've lost the entire benefit.”

Maximize your entire balance

If you plan on continuing to use the savings account after you earn the bonus, look for an account that doesn’t impose limits on how much of your money will earn its highest rate. For example, a financial institution might offer a rate of 1%, but only for the first $5,000 deposited. Anything above that amount might earn a lower rate.

Since savings account rates are likely to start increasing to combat inflation, if you have a large amount of cash to deposit, you don’t want to get stuck with a lower yield on any part of your balance, says René Nourse, a certified financial planner and founder and CEO of Urban Wealth Management in El Segundo, California.

It may be worthwhile to go for a high-interest savings account that pays a strong rate on your entire balance and maybe doesn’t have a bonus, instead of an account with a bonus and a teaser rate for a smaller amount. “We’ve had a couple of years where your rainy day account earned very little,” Nourse says. “But now is a good time to look for a better option.”

Follow up if needed

Once you’ve met the qualifying criteria, be on the lookout for the bank to deposit your bonus. Many offers state the institution will pay out the bonus within a few weeks. You can check transactions online, or check your monthly or quarterly bank statement. If you don’t see the bonus, reach out to the bank’s customer service for an explanation.

Scoring a savings bonus can be like earning extra interest, more than even the top savings accounts offer. As long as you meet the qualifications and don’t give back funds in the form of bank fees, bank bonuses can be a great way to boost your bank balance.

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