Free Money Update – How I “Earned” $5,000 in 36 months!

Awhile back I wrote about how the bank was begging me to take their “free” money! It was a real eye-opener then and frankly it is even more so these days. In fact, not a week has gone by without me getting an email, snail mail, or phone call about some kind of offer to get cash rewards and bonuses from banks for opening up a new account or credit card somewhere.

There's no such thing as free money...except sometimes there is. Here's how I "earned" my free money bonuses and rewards using credit card and bank account offers.

Getting these offers is mostly due to the fact that my wife and I have really excellent credit. It’s not that I am bragging here. Having great credit is so important for lots of reasons, not just for getting offers like I am talking about right here, but for much more important reasons like getting the best interest rates, qualifying for a good job, and lots more.

But, getting free money under certain conditions that don’t require any significant effort in my life sounds like I win bigtime! In fact, would you believe me if I told you that in just over 3 years, I have “earned” over $5,000 from the bank without spending any money that I wouldn’t have spent anyway? It’s true.

Here’s How I Got All That Free Money

You have seen all the websites out there like NerdWallet that talk about all of the bank offers giving you bonus and rewards if you just qualify and use the account with certain rules like a minimum spend or keeping a required balance in the account or having a direct deposit arranged.

Depending on the bank, the card, or the account you open, the cash and rewards can run to as high as $200 to $1,000! In many cases (in fact in every case I personally opened), there were no fees or I qualified for no fees due to my previous relationship with the bank (like having my mortgage already with Wells Fargo). Paying nothing and getting free money just for opening something like a credit card which I can use and pay just 2-3 monthly bills just one time only sounds like a winner to me! And it was over a dozen times in the past 36 months.

Wells Fargo Bank – Are they just plain stupid or what?

What I wrote about last year specifically was my Wells Fargo credit card. I was solicited by them to open up a new credit card. I already had a free one that was attached to my mortgage, and any rewards I got could be either taken as a credit statement, cash back, or a credit to my mortgage. I chose the latter regularly every time I used the card for purchases that I normally used it for, like dining and groceries for example. Almost every month I got a $25 credit towards my mortgage principal. Not too shabby.

The new offer didn’t require me to do anything but open the new card and use it for at least $1,000 in purchases over a 90-day period to get a $200 credit statement on my bill. That’s a 20% discount on what I was required to spend which I would spend anyway. In fact, when this offer came up I was about to pay my car insurance bill and my annual homeowners insurance which was all I needed to do to get the statement credit. You can check all the details here.

I applied online and got the new card in just 6 days, validated it, and used it online to pay my insurance bills. Within just 3 weeks, I got the rewards credited to my account. When the first bill came (about 6 weeks after my purchases), I paid the account off and haven’t used the card since. I saved over $200 bucks on this year’s insurance (bonus, I got 1% as well on the purchases too) and didn’t have to do anything I wasn’t planning to do anyway.

“But Wait…There’s More!”

Because I am so addicted to free money, I saw online that Wells Fargo was offering a new deal that was absolutely a gift from heaven for someone like me (and possibly you too!). Let me explain.

I have a totally free business checking account at another bank and I am perfectly happy with it. Wells Fargo was offering a business account with qualifying terms that I or just about anyone could meet and giving away a $300 cash bonus for doing so. All you had to do was go online to get a special qualifying “code” and bring that with your business papers to the bank to open the account.

The rules were simple:

  • Provide your business EIN and corporate papers
  • Open with a minimum of $25 and deposit at least a total of $500 within 90 days
  • Use the account for at least 10 transactions within the first 90 days (even a debit card purchase for a pack of gum would qualify)
  • Have some kind of other relationship with the bank (I had my mortgage but even a free debit card with your business checking qualifies)
  • No fee on your new account with generous allowances for using it (which I basically had no intention to do other than to get the $300)
  • A monthly fee of $14 waived for the first 2 months

See the complete details on the link provided above.

I opened the account with $500 from my free business account elsewhere. In less than a month, I received the credit in my account of $300. After the second statement period, I withdrew all of my money and placed it into my older account elsewhere and I closed the Wells Fargo account by going online and doing so. They actually do that without any hassle whatsoever. Net result, I am $300 better off than before and I literally did absolutely nothing to earn it.

The Grand Total

Over the past 36 months, I have used similar “free money” methods at several banks like Bank of America, Chase, TD Bank, and HBSC. The total of this haul…are you ready? drumroll please!…$5,025, and that does NOT include the additional cash rewards earned for actually using the accounts at a percentage as high as 6% on stuff that I would be using my credit card for every month anyway! (I basically use my card for almost every bill and pay the card off every month like clockwork and never pay interest or a fee). As a bonus, most of my cards offered no interest for 9-12, even 18 months as long the minimum was paid each time.

I am feeling pretty smug about all this and frankly no shame or guilt. Having spent years working for a bank, I am fully aware from first-hand experience of how much money they make and how they are constantly looking to earn all kinds of fees and interest if they can and they do.

A Few Precautions

While you may be ready to try this at home, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few things. First, and most importantly, only try these types of offers if you can responsibly use a credit card and not go into debt with it. You also need to be organized to make sure you meet all the requirements and time things properly. For example, if there is an annual fee (that’s worth the reward), you will need to cancel the card before getting charged a second time.

There are offers that reward you with higher bonuses, but the required spend is higher too. Some people take advantage of these with what they call “manufactured spend”. This is where you do things like buy gift cards you’ll use later or go through special companies to make your mortgage or rent payment count as a charge. Personally, I don’t get involved with that, but if you’re interested, there are plenty of articles around that will give you tips on how to do it.

There are some who have concerns about their credit score when hacking rewards like this. It’s important to know the difference between a hard pull on your credit (which can ding your score) and a soft pull. I can tell you that my high credit score has remained high despite all the accounts I’ve opened.

Lastly, travel rewards tend to be worth more than cash, so if you’re into travel hacking, you’ll want to look at bonus miles instead of bonus dollars.

Final Thoughts

Having great credit, a little knowledge and the burning desire has enabled me to get free money and increase my income by an average of over $150 a month! It’s easy and fun and by the way, will probably make you feel a whole lot better than when you paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest on your mortgage or even that $39 fee for overdrawing your checking account!

Have you ever opened a credit card or bank account for the rewards? Do you prefer cash rewards or travel rewards?

Financially Savvy Saturdays

About Gary Weiner @ Super Saving Tips

Over the last 45 years I've worked in retail (department stores and supermarkets) and financial planning. In addition, I am a shopper, born and bred, who enjoys the challenges of finding the best items for the best prices. When I'm not busy saving money or writing here at Super Saving Tips, I enjoy baseball, music, and classic movies. I am retired and live in New Jersey with my wife.
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16 Comments

  1. A nice tally! We have taken advantage of a few sign up bonuses for rewards to help pay for travel. Last year during a trip to Disney we had our entire hotel covered by free money. I agreed it takes organization and discipline when juggling multiple offers to avoid debt. If you are not up for that task, just stay away.

  2. Nice! I didn’t know there were cards where you could apply rewards to your mortgage. Going to have to keep that life hack in mind for the future!

  3. That is impressive! Out of curiosity, how many new accounts did you end up opening, and have you kept all of them?

    • Between my wife and me, we opened 12 accounts and I did not keep all of them open. I have kept some open, but not used them because I did not want to take the chance of any negative result on my credit score by closing down accounts. It’s better not to use them after you pay off the balances and then close the accounts over a period of time, especially since there is no annual fee on the accounts I opened.

  4. That’s a pretty good gig you have going! I used to do this more frequently. These days, I’m getting curious about travel hacking since that’s something we’d like to do more of.

  5. Good work. I’m never purposeful about it, to the point of seeking credit cards with bonuses attached, but when I go to check out and the cashier asks me if I’d like to sign up for a credit card and save 10%, I do it. Most of the time when the bill comes I pay it and then thow the card away. with paying bills online an extra bill doesn’t even mean an extra stamp.

    • That’s a good strategy, RAnn. We have done that too. My experience is that to get the special discount on what is usually a one-time only purchase is worth it to us. Especially when it’s on big ticket items like appliances and furniture. However, consumers should be aware that store cards tend to have high interest rates, and not to keep a balance on them. Thanks for your comments, RAnn.

  6. Add “savvy banking” to the glossary of side hustles! Nice haul on all that cash.

    I’d have to psyche myself up to handle the organizational and tracking side. I’d also need to find out which bureau is used for checking credit to defrost/unfreeze our credit.

    Regarding opening the store cards for the discount, and then closing them — does that hurt your credit score?

    • It can hurt your credit score to open and close them quickly. You can check to see how it might affect you on the Credit Karma site which has a tool that projects your score when you take such an action. Mine hasn’t suffered. And as for the bonuses, it does take tracking because I want to make sure that I don’t miss any payments and that I pay it all off before the no-interest period ends. But I’m home, retired, so I have time. 🙂

  7. Impressive! Good caveat mentioned- ya gotta be responsible with these cards haha. When I first opened a credit card, I went CRAZY. And couldn’t pay it off- yikes! Now, I have a few credit cards that I use responsibly. I get a lot of perks, and I usually can get an extra 100-400 through the amazon card now! “Free” money feels great

    • Thanks for your feedback, Steph. So often when you first get credit, people do go a little crazy. You aren’t alone! The most important thing is to put the brakes on, learn from your experiences, and use your credit in ways that can give you “free” money and rewards. So keep up the good work!

  8. We’ve done three rewards card bonuses so far. I actually have to cancel the last one today. They’ve been great, and I plan to do another one for a friend’s upcoming wedding in Seattle!

    • Excellent, Abigail. The last time I checked, it appears that there is a record number of bonuses and free money offered by almost every bank you can think of, including the small local ones. Finding a good one and using it to your advantage sounds like a good plan.

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