One of my 2020 goals was to start taking advantage of cash bonus rewards via new bank account signup promotions. This is similar to “travel hacking” or “credit card churning,” except the bonuses are paid in all cash, and there’s no credit applications involved.
I’m by no means an expert in this type of stuff, but I’ve done a pretty decent job so far this year and made $2,200 for a pretty small amount of work. This post details my process and experiences.
Churning bank accounts isn’t a good idea for everyone… So I want to be cautious about promoting activities that might lead to account fees or banking issues. (There are no referral links to banks or affiliate promotions in this post). Everything I write should be taken with a grain of salt!
YTD Summary & Bonus Results:
Since January, my wife and I have opened up 9 new bank accounts. That might sound like a lot! But spread throughout the year, across 2 people, it’s been pretty easy to track and manage it all.
We’ve earned $2,200 CASH in sign up bonuses. This money was credited to our various accounts after completing easy welcome offer terms. None of this $ is from referral credits — which could earn us more rewards, but referrals was never our main focus.
Here’s the accounts we opened and bonuses we received:
|Bank Name||Account Type||Time to bonus||$$ Sign up Bonus $$|
|Wells Fargo – me||Checking Account||90 days||$400|
|Wells Fargo – wife||Checking Account||90 days||$400|
|Citi Bank||Checking Account||90 days||$400|
|US Bank||Checking Account||60 days||$300|
|PNC Bank||Checking Account||60 days||$300|
|Chime – me||Checking Account||5 days||$100|
|Chime – wife||Checking Account||5 days||$50|
|SoFi – me||Checking Account||3 days||$125|
|SoFi – wife||Checking Account||3 days||$125|
Unlike a credit card company, none of these banks charged an annual fee for opening an account. So this $2,200 only cost me time to set up and manage. If I had to estimate, it probably took 10-20 hours throughout the year to open these accounts, set up transfers, and close whatever I didn’t want to keep open.
Getting Started Churning Bank Accounts:
During my sabbatical, I kept a larger than usual amount of cash in an emergency fund. One of the downsides of holding cash is that the money isn’t invested or growing wealth — most cash just sits in a simple savings account, earning peanuts.
So I started researching different banks that could offer me a slightly higher interest rate, as well as a nice signup bonus or welcome offer to join them. I set aside $20,000 of my emergency fund to start opening accounts but later realized I could do most of these activities with less than $10,000.
What I like about churning bank accounts is there is no hard pull on your credit report*, and every checking and savings account is FDIC insured. Moving money around between established financial institutions is virtually a risk free activity. If I ever needed to pull the cash out, I could do it anytime at no cost.
*Just as a precaution, I monitored my credit score each week throughout the entire year. I started 2020 with an 816 credit score, and today it’s 814. Opening checking accounts doesn’t have the same effect on your credit history as opening multiple credit cards or new lines of credit.
Finding Welcome Bonus Promotions:
To find which banks are offering the best and highest signup bonuses, I used this site: Doctor Of Credit. They constantly refresh the current promotions list and available offers across the country.
Also there’s a TON of information on the site, including user feedback and experiences that help avoid scams, fees and bad deals.
Some things to note about bank account bonuses:
- Not every bank or offer is available in every US state.
- Each offer has different and unique qualifying activities. (The most common ones are explained below)
- Each bank has a different set of terms and conditions for opening, closing accounts, and minimum balances to avoid a monthly fee.
- These offers are mostly for NEW customers. So if you’re already with a particular bank, or recently received a bank bonus, you may need to wait a year or two before qualifying for another bonus with that same bank.
Needless to say, there’s a decent amount of research and fine print to read. For my first few accounts, I chose banks with promotions I could easily qualify for, had the best reviews, and ones that had physical bank branches near to where I live.
Meeting Criteria for a Welcome Bonus Offer:
The two most common ways a signup bonus is achieved is with qualifying direct deposits, or a minimum account balance held for a specific time period (typically 60 to 90 days).
For example, the Wells Fargo promotion I signed up for required a minimum of $3,000 in direct deposit activity, each month for two months in a row. That’s a total of $6,000 across multiple deposits. After this activity was done, they posted a $400 checking bonus.
For the CitiBank promotion, this required a minimum of $15,000 cash deposited and left in the account for a 60 day period. After that time period, they applied a $400 account bonus. Easy stuff.
Note: Each bank has a different definition for “qualifying direct deposit.” Changing your employer payroll is one option (the banks prefer this), but it’s not always the most convenient. In my case, since I was a freelance contractor this whole year, I just set up ACH transfers from myself to myself. This site here has a great list of which methods qualify as a direct deposit for each bank or credit union.
Account Tracking Systems and Reminders!
Signing up online for accounts is pretty easy, but what’s hard is remembering all of the unique promotion details, qualifying activities, user IDs and passwords for each bank. There are a few tools I recommend to help stay organized.
- Excel or Google Sheets: I use a simple spreadsheet to track all the bank names, dates, bonus amounts, etc.
- Word or Google Docs: I created a simple document to journal anything new I learned, make a note of recurring transfers I set up, and special T&C’s I need to remember.
- Mint.com: After each new account opening, I immediately connected the new bank user-id and password to my Mint.com account. Makes for easy tracking of transactions and net worth updates! (Some people prefer Personal Capital)
- Calendar Reminders: For the accounts I want to close or money to withdraw in the future, I set calendar reminders so I don’t forget stuff.
Things can get messy really quickly. So if you’re not great at record keeping, perhaps churning isn’t a good fit for you. Or, try maybe signing up for just 1 new checking account bonus at a time.
Overall Churning Experience and Is It Worth It?
Since I have the time, cash, and a personal interest in nerdy finance stuff, making extra bonus money is fun for me. For just a few hours each month I can make an extra few thousand dollars each year.
I’m pleasantly surprised at how easy it all was and plan to keep taking advantage of promotions as they come up.
Another cool thing about joining all these banks… I got to evaluate each of their processes and systems to see if they were worthy of me switching all my primary accounts over to them. I’ve been with Chase for about 10 years so it was good to shop around a little bit. I found some impressive things here and there but none of them really blew me away enough to make them my primary bank.
Have you tried churning bank accounts like this? Any killer stories to share?
Joel is a 35 y/o Aussie living in Los Angeles and the guy behind 5amjoel.com. He loves waking up early, finding ways to be more efficient with time and money, and sharing what he learns with others. Rise Early | Retire Early!