There are always lucrative credit card sign-up bonuses available, but in many cases you’ve got to spend an awful lot of money to actually get rewarded.
So if you just got approved for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but don’t know how you’ll spend the $4,000, read on…
For some folks this isn’t a problem, they spend thousands a month on their credit cards and can meet the minimum requirements in no time at all.
But what about the small time spenders out there, or even the medium spenders? How can these individuals be expected to spend $5,000 in three months, or as much as $10,000?
Well, fortunately there are plenty of strategies to increase your credit card spend to meet these requirements, which can be quite handy if you’re churning several cards at once.
I just what to preface this with a warning; make sure you can actually pay off your credit card bill in full before you go racking up debt to get a sign-up bonus.
After all, it wouldn’t be that wise to spend beyond your means just to get some fraction of the money back.
Load a Serve Account with a Credit Card
[This method has been largely removed after Amex closed a bunch of accounts, but it still works for some folks.]
One simple method to increase spend on your credit cards is via American Express Serve, which allows credit card loads.
You can load $1,000 each month, up to $200 per day. So you’ve got to make a minimum of five transfers if you want to max out this method.
After the money is loaded, it can be used to pay bills or transferred to other bank accounts. It’s an easy way to “spend” money without actually spending it.
The limits are even higher if you get an Isis Wallet account, with a $500 maximum per day and $1,500 max a month. You need a smartphone, special phone case, and the Isis app to take advantage of that.
Note: Serve charges a $1 monthly fee unless you load $500 or more to your account each month, receive a direct deposit, OR have your card in the Isis Wallet.
Load a Bluebird Account
[This method has also been largely removed after Amex closed a bunch of accounts.]
Similarly, you can load an American Express Bluebird account with debit cards, aka Visa gift cards, which you can buy with a credit card.
This process is a bit more involved (and complicated) and requires you to actually put on pants / leave your house. But the Bluebird limits are a lot higher than Serve, with a daily load maximum of $1,000 and a monthly maximum load of $5,000, and there’s no monthly fee.
Then use the loaded funds to pay everyday bills. That way you’re not really spending anything extra to hit that minimum requirement, and getting 5X points for doing it.
Note: You can only have one of the above accounts, not both Serve and Bluebird, so choose one.
If you don’t need/plan to load that much money, the Serve account is a lot more convenient and simple. Everything can be done from a computer (or even an iPhone).
[Update: Amazon Payments is no longer an option to increase credit card spend!]
Here’s a really simple method to meet your minimum spend. Simply sign up for an Amazon Payments account and you can send money via a credit card to a trusted family member or friend.
The monthly limit is $1,000, but if you do it each month you can take a big bite out of your required spending.
The funds can be transferred to a checking account, similar to how PayPal works. You can pay for goods and services this way as well.
Tip: If you have a gift card, you can load it to your Amazon Payments account and use it as a method of payment as well.
Load a Bank Account with a Credit Card
Another easy way to spend money without really spending it is to load a bank account with a credit card. You’ll need to determine if the account allows credit card loads first.
Assuming it does, there will likely be limits, but it’s another simple way to get your spending up without buying unnecessary things.
There are plenty of banks and credit unions that allow you to fund your account with a credit card. Here’s a handy list.
From there, it’s just a matter of opening the accounts and avoiding fees. This isn’t the easiest method, seeing that you have to open a bank account, but some of them also offer sign-up bonuses.
Note that similar limits apply, so you can only deposit X amount via this method.
Contribute to a College Fund (529) with a Credit Card
There is a new (I think) website called GiftofCollege.com that lets you contribute to a 529 plan via credit card.
Yes, there is a fee, but it might be small enough for some folks to justify utilizing to hit minimum spend.
For example, you can contribute $500 for just $5.95, which is the same fee as most prepaid gift cards. So if you need to spend $4,000 to hit a bonus, you’d be looking at a total cost of $47.60.
Some might argue that you’re better off just paying a small amount in fees instead of going out and buying a bunch of stuff you don’t necessarily need.
Just note that the 529 money stays there until the kid goes to college, so you gotta have the excess funds and should actually want to contribute to a plan.
Not that you’d need to put it all toward the 529 account, but it’s one way to reduce the burden of spending all that money.
You can also hit the bonus faster this way if you need/want the points ASAP.
Line Up Your Credit Card Application with a Major Purchase
Here’s a no-brainer. If you know you’ll be making a sizable purchase in the near future (that you can make with a credit card), time it so you can use a new credit card with a sign-up bonus.
So if you’ve got a medical bill, or you can put your new vehicle’s down payment on plastic, this is a fantastic way to spend a few grand in one transaction.
Same goes for a vacation. Planning a summer vacay? Get the card you want first and charge it to meet your minimum spend.
Even better, if you’re getting married, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) chance to earns tons of points and miles. You should certainly take advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses during this time as it can pay for your honeymoon!
Tip: If the purchase isn’t totally immediate, you may still be able to take advantage of it. For example, you can prepay for things like car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, taxes, vacations, and so on.
Know you’re going to be flying on Southwest in the coming year, but not this month or next? You can buy a gift card today to meet your spending requirement and snag your bonus!
Buy Store Gift Cards
If you want to keep things ultra simple, you can just buy gift cards for places you normally frequent, and then use them for future purchases.
For example, if you like Starbucks and you have the Chase Ink card, you can earn 5X points for Starbucks gift cards.
So if you buy $500 worth of Starbucks gift cards at an office supply store like Staples, you’ll earn 2,500 points. And you’ll be $500 closer to meeting your sign-up bonus spending requirement.
The trick here is that you’re actually doing two things at once. Meeting spend and earning bonus miles.
You can also buy Amazon gift cards and other popular varieties like Home Depot or select restaurants and then use them at your leisure.
In a sense, you’re prepaying for items you were going to buy anyway, just maybe not today or this week.
Even if you don’t wind up using the gift cards, you can always sell them and recoup most of the cost.
Buy Prepaid Gift Cards
If you don’t want anything from certain stores, or simply don’t want to restricted to spending at X place, you can also buy prepaid gift cards.
The most common is the American Express gift card, which can be purchased in very large amounts.
For example, you could buy a $5,000 Amex prepaid card and then use it as your “credit card” as time goes on.
And if you buy it from a certain merchant that offers cash back, you can earn a decent amount of money in the process.
There are companies that offer anywhere from 2-4% cash back, or $20-$40 per $1,000. The caveat is that there are purchase fees as well, though they are easily eclipsed if you buy a large enough denomination.
Tip: You can liquidate an Amex prepaid gift card via Amazon Payments, but it can’t be loaded onto Bluebird or Serve.
Switch All Recurring Bills to Your New Credit Card
Another tip to boost spend is to move all recurring charges to the credit card you need to make charges on.
So ALL monthly bills (think cable, cell phone, internet, health insurance, even Uber) that can be paid with a credit card should be moved to the card you’re trying to earn the bonus on.
Throw everything on the one card, even if it means foregoing some bonus categories from your other credit cards for a month or two.
You can even prepay certain accounts like your cell phone or cable bill. In the past, I’ve put $1,000 on my AT&T bill to hit the spending requirement. I know I’ll have that account for the foreseeable future so I don’t mind paying early.
Just keep an eye on payments to ensure they don’t overcharge you once you set it and forget it!
This will allow you to meet spending requirements and give you a mix of real spending along with the methods shared above.
If you solely use the methods above, your credit card issuer may flag your account for unnatural spending. And you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds…
In other words, you should use the card for everyday spending along with monthly bills, and you can employ the methods above to create a well-rounded account.
Pay Rent or the Mortgage
If you don’t mind paying a small fee, you can pay your mortgage or rent with a credit card using a service like Plastiq.
The fee will vary depending on type of card used and if they have any promotions going on, but generally it will be less than 3%.
While this may not be ideal, it’s also not ideal to spend money just for the sake of spending money.
For every $1,000, you’ll be looking at around $30 in fees, which isn’t the end of the world. Just be careful it doesn’t code as a cash advance!
Pay Your Taxes with a Credit Card
Similarly, you can pay your taxes with a credit card if you use a third-party service that allows it.
The IRS doesn’t, but there are many private companies that can facilitate this for the around ~2% or so. The IRS actually lists them on its own website so you know they’re trustworthy.
Again, not necessarily the best way to meet minimum spend in terms of cost, but it is very effective because taxes are pricey (and necessary) and it may only take one transaction to hit the bonus.
For every $1,000, a fee of around $20 will be assessed, so for a card with a minimum spend of $4,000, you might spend $80. Of course, this isn’t too bad if the alternative is buying a bunch of junk you don’t need.
Here’s a final option if all of the above don’t get the job done for you. You can buy products using your new credit card to meet minimum spend, then sell the products on eBay, Craiglist, Amazon, or anywhere else you can find a buyer.
The key here is to find products that you can break-even on or perhaps make a small profit on. For example, some folks will buy iPhones or iPads because they’re always in demand and discounts aren’t usually available.
These are also high-ticket items that should only take a few purchases to meet the required spend.
You can maximize your net profit or minimize your loss by using a cash back portal and/or coupons to ensure you get the lowest price on the item before reselling it.
Regardless of the method you use, be sure to ask your issuer exactly when you need to spend the money to avoid any close calls.
As I pointed out in a recent post, Chase requires spend to be met in the first three months from account opening, which technically happens when you’re approved for the card, not when you actually receive the card.
Know the cutoff date and the amount you need to spend to ensure you get your bonus!