Debit Cards

Why would you need more debit card transactions? There are two reasons.

The first is to qualify for a bank account opening bonus. After collecting $1,600 of these bonuses in 2015, I wrote about how to meet bank bonus requirements. Having a certain number of debit card purchases is a common qualifier. For example, one of the bonuses I’m working on now ($200 from Synovus Bank) requires 15 debit card purchases within 90 days.

The other reason you might need debit card transactions is to meet ongoing requirements for a rewards checking accounts. Kasasa checking accounts can pay up to 3% interest, for example, and I’ll soon have a post on checking accounts that pay 5% interest. Typically you have to use your debit card 10 or even 15 times monthly to qualify.

Of course you don’t want to buy things you don’t need just to use your debit card, so how do you pile up the transactions without spending anything extra? Here are seven strategies…

Make Small Purchases

I buy a 79-cent soda at the gas station about once every week, and I always use a debit card if I need the transaction (otherwise I use a cashback credit card). If they’ll let you use that debit card, use it — no matter how small the purchase. I’ve never seen a minimum debit purchase amount specified for earning bank bonuses or for rewards checking accounts requirements.




There is a good reason to make small purchases. Typically you get nothing for using your debit card (other than meeting that requirement). But you may get 2% cash back or even 5% back by using the right credit card. So you don’t want to waste point- or cash-generating “spend” any more than necessary.

For example, I get 5% cash back at the office supply store with two of my credit cards, so I would never use a debit card to buy a $100 item, since I lose out on $5 cash back. But if I had many items totaling $100 I might run a $1 or $2 item though as a separate order and use the debit card — and then pay for the rest with the cashback card.

Partially Pay Bills

Some bills can be paid using your debit card. For example, we can pay our water bill with credit or debit cards with no extra charge. But here we face the dilemma of wasting “spend” once again. The $75 water bill gets me $1.50 if I use my card that pays 2% cash back.

The simple solution: Partially pay with the debit card and pay the rest with the credit card. Not all bills can be paid in this way, but when they can be take advantage! Put $3 on the debit card and the rest on a cashback credit card.

Use Self-Checkout Lanes for Multiple Purchases

If you want to split a purchase into two or more separate debit card transactions, but don’t want to hold up a line and upset a cashier, use the self-checkout registers. They’re often empty, and you can run several items through, paying for each separately, without anyone noticing.

Use the Debit Card for Gas

I get 3% cash back on gasoline with my American Express business card, so I don’t want to put a $35 fill-up on a debit card and miss out on that $1.05 reward! Instead, the last time I filled up, I put $4.20 worth of gas in the tank, paid with the debit card at the pump, and then filled up the rest of the way and paid with the 3% card.

If you’re facing a deadline you might even put a little gas in your tank several times, using the debit card each time.

Buy Gift Cards

Let’s say you regularly eat at Subway. You can use your debit card to pay, of course, but what if you need a couple transactions on the card right now? Just buy a few Subway gift cards. They sell these at many stores, including Family Dollar, Walmart, and Home Depot.




Purchase gift cards for anyplace you normally spend money. But look for low-denomination cards. You can often find $15 Domino’s Pizza gift cards, for example. And if you buy more than one, run them as separate charges, of course.

Purchase Necessities Ahead of Time

What about when there’s really nothing you need to buy? Just buy things you’ll eventually buy anyhow, like toilet paper, cat litter, or whatever. Non-perishable essentials can be bought a few dollars at a time to quickly meet debit card purchases requirements — and without spending any more than you would have spent eventually.

Buy 99-Cent Kindle Books Online

There are thousands of Amazon Kindle e-books for 99 cents. So if, for example, you need 5 more purchases on that debit card to get that bank bonus, make 5 separate purchases of 99-cent Kindle books. Total cost: $4.95 — certainly worth it if you would otherwise miss out on a $100 or $200 bonus.

This strategy is for when you really need to rack up the purchases in a hurry and don’t want to go shopping. It’s the only strategy here that requires spending more than you would normally spend. But it’s cheap.

For example, if you’re going for a $200 bank bonus and need 15 debit purchases, you could buy 15 different books one at a time for a total of $14.85 — without ever leaving the house! And you might even find a few good books or learn something from your purchases!

By the way, if you happen to have published your own 99-cent Kindle book, you’ll get back a 35-percent royalty on each when you buy them. That would leave you with a net cost of just 65 cents for each debit purchase.

Does this make sense for meeting ongoing debit card requirements for high-interest checking accounts? That depends on how much money you have in the account, how much of it earns the higher interest rate, and how many debits you need. You’ll have to do the math.

For example, many accounts pay 3%, but only on balances up to $5,000. The monthly interest earned if you had, say $4,000 in the account, would be $10. If the interest rate reverts to 0.5% when you don’t meet the requirements (common), you would make 1.67. You make an extra $8.33 per month by meeting the requirements, so if all you need is two more debit purchases, you could buy two 99-cent Kindle books and still be ahead.

The Master Strategy

The above might be considered tactics more than strategies, but in any case there is one over-all strategy here that can be summed up in a few simple rules:

  1. Use the debit card for small purchases only
  2. Use it for normal purchases as much as possible
  3. Meet the requirements as soon as possible

The last rule can help you get your bonus earlier, but also keeps you from missing deadlines. Purchases are not counted the day you make them, but only once they post to your account. So getting them done quickly is a way to be sure they’ll post before the deadline for a bonus or the end of the statement-month in the case of rewards checking accounts.

To track how many purchases you’ve made, you can check your account online. Or do like I do and put a piece of masking tape on the card (where it won’t interfere with swiping the magnetic strip) and record each time you use it with a pen mark.

Is This Ethical?

If you read the fine print for bank account opening bonuses or rewards checking accounts you’ll soon realize something: The banks don’t really plan to pay out what they advertise too often. They fully expect some customers to screw up and not meet the requirements.

Hey, no bank can actually afford to pay 5% interest on checking accounts (like some offer) when they’re loaning money out for less than that (at least for mortgage loans)? Why do you think no bank has an offer as simple as “put your money here and we’ll pay you 5% interest,” or even 2% interest?

And if a bank wanted to simply reward you for giving it a try it would make it as simple as “open an account and after six months we’ll give you a $200 bonus.” If you find that deal let me know.

The banks play these games to make money. So don’t feel bad at all if you play the game by the rules and win.

That being said, there’s no reason not to be nice and run all of your debit card purchases as credit card charges rather than with a PIN (you almost always have the option). It costs you nothing extra and the bank will make at least a little money on the merchant credit processing fees.

Your Thoughts: Can you think of any tricks to add to this list?

Photo Credit: frankieleon on Flickr.com