Key takeaways

  • Earning a welcome bonus usually requires spending a certain amount on your new card within a particular time frame, so make sure you have a plan to hit that spending target.
  • Consider strategies such as pre–paying some expenses, offering to foot the bill for friends, making charitable donations or simply putting all your expenses on your new card as you work toward your welcome bonus.
  • Remember that no welcome bonus is worth going into debt over, so make sure you manage your budget well as you spend toward your bonus.

If you’re interested in making the most out of your credit card rewards, you’re going to want to choose a card that offers a lucrative welcome bonus. The best credit card welcome bonuses give new cardholders the opportunity to earn cash back, points or miles that go well beyond the card’s regular earning rate. In some cases, the value of your welcome bonus could be enough to help you book your next flight, cover the cost of a special treat or offset an annual fee for years to come.

The caveat is that most welcome bonuses require new cardholders to put a certain amount of purchases on their credit card within a set time frame – often three months. This helps prevent cardholders from applying for credit cards they don’t plan to use. If you don’t put enough money on your credit card by the deadline, you won’t earn your welcome bonus — which is why we’ve put together a guide to help you hit your minimum spending requirement and earn the rewards you deserve.

What to consider before applying for a card with a sign-up bonus

Before you apply for a credit card that offers a welcome bonus, take a close look at the minimum spending requirements. If a card requires you to spend $3,000 in the first three months to earn your bonus, for example, that’s an average of $1,000 per month. Ask yourself whether you will be able to put that much money on your new credit card every month without overspending or going into debt.

Some people will be able to easily cover the minimum spending requirements, especially if they put the majority of their everyday expenses on their new credit card. If you buy a lot of groceries, for example, you may find that you can meet your minimum spend simply by using your new card every time you go grocery shopping. Other people may find it more difficult to come up with enough purchases to cover the requirements — which is why we suggest making a plan.

Make a plan

Before you apply for a card that offers a welcome bonus, make a plan for how you’re going to cover the minimum spending requirement. Calculate how much money you’ll need to spend each month, and then look for everyday purchases to help you cover the cost.

Bankrate insight
If your card charges an annual fee, keep in mind that the fee doesn’t count toward earning the welcome bonus. If you need to spend $3,000 to earn the welcome bonus for a card with a $95 annual fee, be sure to spend the full $3,000 and not just $2,905. Likewise, transferred balances and cash advances won’t help you cross the threshold.

If you don’t have enough everyday expenses to meet your minimum spending requirement, consider making a few discretionary purchases that might help you hit your spending goal. Some people put the cost of their vacation on a new credit card, for example — especially if they’re using a top travel credit card that rewards flights, hotels and restaurants. Other people meet their minimum spend buying birthday and holiday gifts, or using their new credit card to cover once-a-year expenses like back-to-school shopping.

If your credit card offers an introductory 0% APR period, you may want to use the card to cover a big purchase like a new couch or a new laptop. The best 0% intro APR cards provide you at least a year of zero interest on purchases, giving you the chance to hit your minimum spending requirement and pay down your balance before it starts accruing interest.

Ways to hit your minimum spending requirement

If you’re looking for additional ways to meet your minimum spending requirement, here are seven tips and tricks to help you get there:

1. Use your new credit card for all purchases

The easiest way to cover the minimum spending requirement on a new credit card is to use your new card for all your purchases. In most cases, it’s a good idea to spread your spending out between your credit cards — especially if putting different purchases on different cards helps you maximize your credit card rewards. However, if you’re working towards a welcome bonus where every purchase counts, try putting all of your spending on your new credit card. Once you’ve hit your minimum spending requirement, you can go back to dividing your purchases between your cards and taking advantage of each card’s top-earning rewards category.

2. Pick up the tab for a group

Another great way to cover the minimum spending requirement on a credit card is by picking up the tab for a group. The next time you and your friends go out to eat, for example, let them know that you’d like to pay the bill. They can always reimburse you for their share of the meal through Venmo, Zelle or another peer-to-peer payment app.

If there’s a big family vacation on the horizon, you could offer to book the flights or hotels on your card and have relatives reimburse you. Just be sure you can trust everyone to pay their share so you don’t wind up in debt.

3. Time your application to a big expense

As we mentioned above, many people meet the minimum spending requirement on a new credit card by timing their application to a big expense. This is a great way to cover the costs of a vacation, but you can apply this trick to other expenses as well. If you have a major auto repair coming up, for example, you could apply for a new credit card before the bill comes due. Put the cost of the repair on credit, and you might cover a large chunk of your minimum spending requirement in a single transaction.

4. Put your bills on credit

If you pay your monthly bills out of your checking account, consider putting them on credit until you meet your new credit card’s minimum spending requirement. If you already put your bills on credit, consider prepaying the next month in advance.

You may even want to consider putting your rent on credit — but make sure you pay off your credit card balance in full as soon as you make that rent payment, otherwise you run the risk of turning your monthly rent payment into long-term credit card debt.

Watch out for bill-paying services that charge fees

There’s one other risk that comes with putting bills on credit — and that’s getting stuck with a bill-paying service that charges high fees. Services like Plastiq, for example, allow you to pay any bill with a credit card, even if your landlord or service provider doesn’t accept credit, but these services nearly always charge fees, and some of the fees may be more than you want to pay. Read the fine print and think carefully about how much the transaction might cost.

Paying bills such as tuition or taxes could wipe out an entire welcome bonus spend requirement with one transaction. Do the math to determine whether the fee — often in the 1.5 percent to 3 percent range — makes sense given the amount of the bonus. For example, let’s say you can earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000. Those points are worth at least $600 in travel. If you pay a $4,000 tuition bill and incur a 2.4 percent fee totaling $96, you still come out well ahead in terms of the bonus’ value.

5. Make charitable donations

We all understand the importance of giving back — but not all of us remember to make regular contributions to the charities and organizations we’d like to support. When you apply for a new credit card, take some time to make a few gifts to the nonprofits and community groups that are important to you. Not only will your gift benefit the people who need it most, but it’ll help you meet your credit card minimum spending requirement.

6. Buy gift cards

If you need to spend money to hit your minimum spending deadline but you’re not sure what to spend it on, consider buying gift cards. Not only do they make excellent gifts, but you can also keep the gift cards for yourself and spend them later when you have a better sense of where you want your money to go. Buying a gift card for your favorite clothing retailer, for example, can help you out the next time you need a new outfit.

Be aware that not all issuers count gift cards towards minimum spend

Some credit cards do not allow you to count gift cards towards your minimum spending requirement. American Express, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo, for example, may not count gift card purchases towards the spending requirement. Read the fine print before applying for a new credit card, especially if you have any questions about how to earn your welcome bonus.

7. Add an authorized user

There’s one indirect way to meet your minimum spending requirement: Add an authorized user to your credit card. If your household is likely to have enough expenses to cover the minimum spending requirement, but you aren’t necessarily the person who makes all the purchases, consider adding your partner as an authorized user. That way, both of your shopping trips, gas purchases and everyday transactions can go towards your new credit card’s minimum spending requirement.

If your household won’t hit it on its own, you can add a trusted friend or extended family member as well. Just ensure you have a plan to recoup the charges they make on the card, so you aren’t left footing the bills for multiple households.

Pitfalls to watch out for when meeting a minimum spend requirement

As you work towards your minimum spending requirement, keep a few potential pitfalls in mind:

  • Not starting your spending on time. The clock begins the day your credit card application is approved, not the day you receive your card in the mail. Consider using virtual credit cards or digital wallets to help you hit your minimum spend while you wait for your physical card to arrive.
  • Failing to take returns into account. Credit card issuers don’t count returns or refunds towards your minimum spending requirement. If you regularly return your purchases — buying large amounts of clothing online and returning the items that don’t fit, for example — make sure to subtract those returns as you work towards your minimum spend.
  • Not understanding which transactions qualify. Many people don’t realize that several common credit card transactions, including annual fees, balance transfers and cash advances, don’t count towards your minimum spending requirement. Likewise, “cash-like transactions” such as gambling costs and gift card purchases may not count either. Read your credit card’s fine print so you know exactly which transactions qualify.
  • Overspending and going into debt. Earning a welcome bonus is a good thing, but going into debt to earn your welcome bonus is generally a bad idea. The amount of money you might pay in interest charges could be higher than the value of your bonus, especially if you aren’t able to pay off your debt right away. Carrying too much credit card debt can also lower your credit score, which might make it more difficult to apply for a top credit card in the future.

The bottom line

If you want to earn a valuable welcome bonus on your next credit card, look for a card that offers an affordable minimum spending requirement — and make a plan to ensure you hit your minimum spend by the deadline. Make sure that you can pay off any purchases you make as you work towards your welcome bonus, since going into debt is often more costly than the miles, points or cash back rewards you might earn. If you’re not sure which credit card to choose, use Bankrate’s free CardMatch tool to help you decide which card might be right for you.