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When Does the Clock Start on a Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus?

Sept. 11, 2016
3 min read
When Does the Clock Start on a Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus?
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TPG reader Tyler sent me a message on Facebook to ask about earning sign-up bonuses:

“When does the clock start on the spending requirement for a credit card sign-up bonus?”

I often get questions like this when a lucrative sign-up bonus pops up, like the one currently being offered for the new Chase Sapphire Reserve. Not spending enough or failing to meet the requirements in time can cause you to miss out on a bonus entirely. To avoid making such a costly mistake, it's important to be clear about the terms of your sign-up bonus offer whenever you apply for a new card.

Credit card issuers typically start bonus periods from "account opening," which is the day your account is actually approved. That means the timeline is not based on your statement closing date or when your card is activated, and doesn't necessarily coincide with the application date (if you're not approved right away, for example). Once your account is open, you generally won't be able to extend the bonus period, so think twice about applying if you can't meet the requirements.

Because the bonus period is based on the approval date and not when you actually get the card, you might not have the full advertised period to meet the spending requirement. Banks do a pretty good job of getting cards in the mail quickly, and some even give you access to your card number immediately for online purchases. However, on occasion I've had to wait as long as two weeks for a new card to arrive, so factor possible delays into your spending plans.

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When I activate a new card, I find it helpful to speak with customer service so I can verify when the bonus period ends. A representative can give you a specific date, but keep in mind that purchases have to actually post to your account by then — pending transactions won't count toward your total. Sometimes charges take a few days to clear, so I recommend trying to complete your spending at least one week before the cutoff date. Similarly, keep in mind that some charges don't count toward the spending requirement, such as annual fees and balance transfers.

Some card issuers offer an account number right away for online purchases. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

If you need help keeping track of how much you've spent, check out the TPG To Go app. Once you link your card account and add a sign-up bonus, the app will monitor your progress toward meeting the spending requirement. You'll also receive an alert if you're still short of the goal and the bonus period is ending soon, so you can adjust your spending as needed.

See these posts for answers to other frequently asked questions about sign-up bonuses:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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