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Better than a toaster: Cash to open a bank account

You won’t likely be awarded with a toaster these days when you open a checking account, but a surprising number of banks are offering something even better — Benjamins.

Do a little digging, and you’ll learn that several national and local banks are offering $100, $200, even $350 to eligible would-be banking customers to open checking accounts.

SunTrust, Wells Fargo and Bank of America, metro Atlanta’s three largest banks in terms of local deposits, are all offering such bonuses to customers in the know who open new checking accounts.

In most cases the bonuses come with a deadline and are reserved for new customers who meet several criteria. Also, the biggest awards go to customers who can deposit larger sums — sometimes tens of thousands of dollars — in their new accounts.

Customers usually also have to meet minimum direct deposit requirements and other rules to avoid sometimes stiff monthly account fees that can quickly wipe out that bonus.

Still, at a time when most bank accounts pay microscopic interest rates, the bonuses add up to real cash for some customers. Most bonuses aren’t paid until a few months after the account is opened and customers have met the requirements.

You’ll have to do some homework to bone up on the rules, and not all banks make it obvious that they’re offering you money to open an account. But several online sites keep track of banks’ current offers, including Nerdwallet, Hustlermoneyblog and Moneycrashers. Some sites recommend you bring a copy of the offer, including any promo codes, to show the teller if you go to a branch to open the account.

Here’s a rundown on what some banks are offering:

* SunTrust Banks: $100 to $300 bonuses for people who set up accounts by March 30 and do at least $500 in direct deposits and 10 debit card purchases within 60 days. The account that pays a $300 bonus requires at least $25,000 in total deposits to avoid a $25 monthly fee.

* Wells Fargo: $50 to $250 bonuses, with similar rules. The $250 offer has smaller balance requirements, but it expires March 3, and it’s only available to folks who got its direct mail offer, according to the bank’s web site.

* Bank of America: $100 to $300 bonuses, including some available all year. Some, including the $300 bonus, are targeted at Bank of America customers who don’t already have a checking account, and expire April 15.

Regions: The Birmingham-based bank had a $400 bonus that expired last month, but it still has smaller bonus offers available.

JP Morgan Chase Bank: The national player, which does business as Chase Bank, has offered bonuses as high as $800, but its current offerings range from $150 to $350, and expire April 16.

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