sign-up bonus spending minimumUpdated: Jan. 17, 2019

Sign-up bonuses for credit cards can jump-start your rewards, giving you a pile of cash back, points or miles shortly after opening your card. To earn a sign-up bonus, though, there’s one thing in your way: the card’s spending requirement, an amount of money you have to charge to your card within a certain time limit in order to qualify for the bonus. While some spending requirements are easy to hit, such as the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card’s requirement that users spend $500 within the first 90 days to earn its $150 intro bonus, others are intimidatingly large. For example, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, which requires new cardholders to spend $5,000 within the first 90 days to earn its 70,000-mile bonus.

If you’re eyeing a card with a big sign-up bonus, you shouldn’t worry about having to buy a lot of things you don’t need to earn it. With the right timing and steadfast card use, it’s not that difficult to meet most intro bonus spending requirements. To help you earn your credit card’s intro bonus the smart way, here are four tips for hitting spending requirements without spending any more money than you normally would.

Before we dig into our tips, we should note that while most cards offer a traditional sign-up bonus, meaning you’ll earn a certain reward after spending $X in a specific amount of time, Discover breaks the mold with its non-traditional bonus. Here’s how it works: Discover will match all of the cash back or miles that you earn in your first year as a cardholder. For example, if you have the Discover it Cash Back card and earn $300 cash back in the first year, Discover will match that $300 to give you a total of $600 back. This bonus opportunity is available for a number of Discover’s credit cards.

Use the card to pay your bills

There’s a common misconception that using your credit card to pay your bills won’t qualify for meeting its intro bonus spending requirement. While it’s true that many credit card offers restrict certain transactions like cash advances, balance transfers, gambling and ATM withdrawals from contributing to spending requirements, in most cases paying your bills is absolutely considered a qualifying purchase. As long as the companies you’re paying accept credit cards, you can use your card to pay for your utilities, Internet, taxes, insurance, medical bills and even some student loans, and it will all count toward earning the card’s signup bonus. Some bills with fixed payment schedules, such as loans and insurance, will even let you prepay for several months, letting you rack up even more spending to hit your goals. While, unfortunately, you usually can’t use a credit card to pay your rent or mortgage, some landlords and mortgage lenders are adopting online payment services, such as Plastiq and Radpad, that have options for card payments. Since your bills are something you know you’re going to be paying every month anyway, using your credit card to pay them can be a smart financial strategy.

Get it when you’re planning big purchases

Even if you live frugally, nearly everyone has to make at least a few major purchases each year, especially around the holiday season. When you know you have some big payments coming up, such as car maintenance, home renovations or plane tickets, a credit card with a big sign-up bonus can be almost like getting an extra rebate on your spending.

On top of that, many credit cards with sign-up bonuses also have 0% intro APR on purchases for a year or more after you open your account. This can help you pay off your major purchases over time without having to worry about interest. Just be aware that intro bonuses often take a few billing cycles to show up in your credit card rewards total after you earn them, so you will want to be careful if you’re planning on using your intro bonus to offset the cost of your credit card bill after making a large purchase.

Make the card your primary tool for everyday spending

If you’re not used to paying for your everyday purchases with a credit card already, that’s a habit you’ll want to pick up to not only help you reach your spending requirement, but also gain more fraud protection. The money you spend on coffee, snacks and groceries may not seem like much, but over the course of your spending requirement’s time limit, it can add up to a lot — plus, you can take advantage of any rewards on those purchases if you’re using a card like the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card that earns 1.5% cash back on everything you buy or any other card that earns at least 1% back on all purchases. Another habit you may want to start is buying in bulk, as going on a bulk buying trip can increase your spending now and save you money down the line — especially if you use a card like the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card, which earns cash back at wholesale clubs, at grocery stores and on one category of your choice (you can choose from (1) gas, (2) online shopping, (3) dining, (4) travel, (5) drug stores as well as (6) home improvement and furnishing). Household necessities like toilet paper, soap and light bulbs are things you’ll always need more of and will stay usable for years if stored properly, as will dry goods such as oatmeal, pasta and beans. If you like going out to eat with friends, offering to put the bill on a card like the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card can also pump up your spending, and it’s easy for your friends to pay you back with cash or a peer-to-peer payment app such as Venmo or Square Cash.

Apply for the card near the end of the year

Many sign-up bonuses give you about three months to meet the spending requirement, which fits almost perfectly with the holiday season. The end of the year is full of special occasions like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, gift-giving holidays and New Year’s, and if you’re like the average American who spends $967 on gifts, decorations, food and treats during that time, you can make major progress toward hitting a card’s spending requirement and get some of that money you were going to spend back in the process. In order to take full advantage of the holidays, you should apply for your card early in October, as it can take up to 10 days for a credit card issuer to approve your application and another 7 to 10 days to ship your credit card to you. We should note that the terms of the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card says gift card purchases do not count toward intro bonus spends, so you’ll want to check the card’s terms before assuming your holiday gift card purchases will count toward the bonus spending minimum.

Sign-up bonuses can add a lot of extra value to a new credit card, and even high spending requirements are a cinch to meet with the right planning. Visit our reviews of the best credit card to find the right card and bonus for your spending habits.

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