$6,500 IRA Contribution Bonus Challenge: $5,444 in Bonuses (2023 Year End)

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Final totals for 2023. Each year, I challenge myself to earn the equivalent of the maximum annual IRA contribution limit (up to $6,500 for 2023) using the profits from various finance promotions alone. In 2021, I reached $5,592 in bonuses. In 2022, I reached $6,259 in bonuses. I just went back and tallied up the totals so far for 2023.

I consider it a profitable hobby with serious potential if you add in some disciplined investing. If you had put $6,000 into your IRA every year for the recent 10 year period (2013-2022) and invested in a simple Target Date retirement fund, you would have turned small, weekly deals into a $104,000+ nest egg. You didn’t need to be an investing genius. Another example of Focus + Long attention span = Surprising results.

That’s worth repeating: An extra 100 grand has been the real-world result of playing this game and investing $500 a month in proceeds for the last 10 years! Not to mention, a couple could double these numbers.

Ground rules: Real-world results for one real person only. Following with My Money Blog tradition, this will track my personal, real-world results. It would be quite easy to list a bunch of promotions that add up to $6,000, but these will be promotions that I personally sign up for and complete the requirements (even though I’ve already opened 100+ bank accounts, credit cards, and brokerage accounts over the years). I will track my individual results only, although my partner does also participate on a more selective basis. Nearly all of them have been documented in real-time in the Deals and Offers category, Top 10 credit cards list, and brokerage bonus list.

2023 bonuses and promotions list. The 💵 symbol means I have received and/or cashed out the bonus successfully. The ⌛ symbol means that the promo is still in progress. “Still live” means the offer is still available but the values may have gone up or down.

Total for 2023: If I assume that all bonuses for which I have completed the required activity will eventually post (just a couple left worth under $200), the total tally so far is $5,444, which is 84% of the $6,500 annual IRA contribution limit for 2023. My progress stalled significantly towards the end of 2023; I didn’t apply to any new credit cards at all this quarter, which usually do the bulk of the work. Mostly picked a few low-hanging fruit here and there.

Honorable mention #1: Johnson & Johnson. I did make a $1,350 profit over only 10 calendar days from the Johnson & Johnson odd lot tender play. This did require a $17,000 commitment to buy 99 shares (the max allowed as an individual small investor) before the odd lot tender, but the lockup time was very short.

Honorable mention #2: Microsoft/Activision. I also participated in a merger-arbitrage deal involving Microsoft and Activision. My net profit on my $10,040 initial investment was $2,534, which is $1,177 more than the $1,357 that I could have earned from owning the S&P 500 over the same time period of about 17 months.

This is a personal challenge/game that I like to play (and have played for a long time now). It’s not for everyone. I happen to enjoy trying out new apps and services. I also like my hobbies to be profitable – not gonna lie – but I don’t like to waste my time either. I look for a solid return based on the time commitment required. I tend to avoid speculative bets, bonuses that are hard to convert to real cash-equivalent value, and anything that requires driving to stores where things may or may not be in stock. The deals that I post often last only a few days, but it’s a bit like value investing where you have to be ready to get off your butt and take decisive action when an opportunity shows up, because they won’t last forever.

Many things I have to skip simply because I’ve already done them. For those new to this hobby, I would first grab the best overall cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve and build up a nice stash of flexible Ultimate Rewards points. After that, I would recommend looking at the Citi Premier (ThankYou points), Capital Venture X (Capital One Miles), and American Express Gold (AmEX Membership Rewards points) to jumpstart your points stashes.

In terms of the top current bonus, I would pick the Chase Aeroplan Card that offers the chance to earn 100,000 Aeroplan points that can be used to offset $1,250 of any travel purchases charged on the card.

Exclusions. Importantly, this list ignores the additional interest earned from otherwise optimizing my existing cash balances, as well as everyday credit card rewards like 2% to 2.6% cash back on all purchases and 5% cash back on specific categories or 1% or better cash back on rent.

I am also excluding small-business deals like big Chase Ink Business Cash card bonuses, big business checking bonuses, and so on.

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  1. Since these bonuses add up to a significant amount each year, don’t you have to report these as “Other Uncommon Income” or income from other sources? Additionally, it must be time consuming to keep track and manage all these accounts.

    • Sure, some of it ends up on 1099-INT and 1099-MISCs. Nothing overly complex about those.

      I kind of just view it like a game. You spend time on it, you get points, which converts to fun. I don’t play video games and I don’t understand why people spend so much time playing them, so I can see why people don’t understand my game either.

      • Some people like to enjoiy quite time, in nature, gardening, away from the overly complex world. 🙂
        I don’t play video games either, but I like learing new things.
        With a few of these institutions, it can get involved when you need to conact them about accessing the platform, setting the alerts, pushing the funds from different sources, changing direct deposits, etc.

        It does get a bit more involved.

        • Certainly, and I am not putting down video games, but pointing to an example where any hobby can get rather involved and time consuming. My wife loves gardening but there are definitely struggles with pests, things that don’t root, watering, and so on. It’s interesting to me how if you like a certain hobby, you just deal with the problems that come up and view it as possibly a learning opportunity.

  2. Jonathan

    How do you calculate the return rate on the bonus/ the required money needed to commit for some promos?

    • I suppose it’s mostly just habit at this point. I can usually determine how much time and effort something will take, but it’s like of like hunting. Sometimes you have to move quickly and take the shot, and sometimes you miss but something you get a big payoff. Much of it is also knowing when to just pass. I pass on a lot of things, in fact most things. You only have to swing when you want to.

  3. Fred Redmon says

    Thanks in part to you, I really got into this “hobby” when I retired in 2016. So far this year, my wife and I, have generated $9.3k in bonuses, points from everyday spending, and checking account bonuses. My total since 2106 is $108,000.

  4. Bob Swerski says

    I’m curious how you get direct deposits as an early retiree? Is there a trick to get around not having a paycheck deposited?

  5. Hey Jonathan. It may not qualify for this year’s challenge given the timing and # of days left in the year, but BMO has some new account bonuses on checking accounts that are somewhat similar to the Chase offers (though a slightly lower bonus). Just an FYI for yourself, and your readers. (I already have a BMO account, so I doubt I can qualify. ??)


  6. Thanks for sharing your lucrative hobby Jonathan. An additional card you might like as well is the AMEX Platinum Morgan Stanley credit card for banking with MS. They rebate the entire $695 annual fee and provide a free secondary card for additional benefits, access to airport lounges, etc. There are a few hoops to jump through but overall, I’ve found it relatively easy to avoid any monthly fees and enjoy the additional travel perks/benefits.

  7. Aren’t you concerned about distributing your SS# around to 100’s of entities? That’s what prevents me from doing this.

    • Looking back at the major data breaches that have affected me, they are mostly from places like the US government (OPM data leak that leaked the SSN of millions) to Experian to my optometrist (local office hack). I don’t know if applying to these places really increases my risk, as my data is already out there. As I’ve said, I’ve been doing this for over a decade, and I’d much rather get paid $300 upfront than wait 3 years for a class action lawsuit settlement check for $14.05.

  8. Longtimereader says

    The most important distinction to me is taxable vs non taxable promo $.

    Generally speaking the IRS has allowed that credit card bonuses (points that are then turned into $ or flight etc) are non taxable.
    Monetary bonuses for opening a new checking account are almost always taxable and are usually reported by those institutions as 1099-Misc.

    I view it as requiring about 10k+ in taxable bonuses ro get in range of $6500 given a marginal rate of approx 33%. Likewise o when I look at a Cash bonus I make sure to discount it by 33% when factoring in the effort and time vs reward.
    It’s why I’m much more willing to play the credit card bonus game and much less willing to pay the $ for new account promo game now that my marginal rate is much higher than when I was I my poorer low income just out of school days!

  9. What does zero final value for Save mean? Did you lose all your money? Apparently others had issues with that company based on the comment section of the initial post. It would be good to know what actually happens after the full year.

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