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5 Reasons to Ignore Bank Sign-Up Bonuses

Banking, Checking Accounts, Savings Accounts
5 Reasons to Ignore Bank Sign-Up Bonuses

An offer of $25, $50 or even $200 to switch your accounts to a new bank can be very tempting.  Who wouldn’t want the extra cash? But before you agree to move your money to a new institution, read the small print that comes with the offer, and consider other factors, such as account fees, restrictions and how happy you are with your current bank.

You may decide that a sign-up reward isn’t a good enough reason to switch. Here are five reasons why it may make sense to skip the bonus offer.

1. You could end up paying more in bank fees

Many banks that offer sign-up bonuses require you to keep a minimum balance, and that amount could be as high as $1,500. If your account dips below that level, you may have to pay monthly fees of $12 or more, which could eventually wipe out the bonus.

The account could also have overdraft fees, which are often around $25 per instance. You might be careful with your budget, but one overdrawn check could be costly. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, overdraft and non-sufficient-funds fees “represent 60% or more of consumer checking account fee income” for banks.

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

2. The 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, she says. When you consider the tax bite, the size of any bonus may not be worth the hassle of switching accounts.

“After taxes, the 50 bucks was really more like 30 bucks,” Moses says.

3. There will probably be restrictions

Some banks require you to enroll in direct deposit before you can receive the bonus offer. If an automatic deposit isn’t received within a certain timeframe — 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. If you sign up for a checking account to get a cash bonus, but then have to use your debit card to make eight purchases every 30 days, you might end up spending the bonus just to meet the terms of the account.

Banks may also require you to keep your 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. After a while, she noticed the bank was offering rewards for referrals.

“I referred my niece, and got another bonus,” Moses says. She was able to get a reward without having to change banks.

If you receive a sign-up bonus offer from a bank, it’s smart to compare that offer with your other options. You may decide that it’s better to pass on the bonus in favor of another financial institution’s offerings that could give you more bang for your buck.

Margarette Burnette is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: mburnette@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @margarette.


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