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Personal Finance

Don't forget to take advantage of these 4 'free money' benefits, says financial expert

From 401(k)s to checking accounts, these are just two vehicles that can help you earn cash.

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Welcome back to Money Made Easy, where we focus on simple ways to manage your finances and save money. In the latest installment of the series, CNBC Select Contributor and Financial Advisor Kristin O'Keeffe Merrick walks us through her best tips for rethinking how you manage your money in 2023.

Check out the full interview featured on TODAY in the video below and read on for some of Merrick's best strategies.

4 simple strategies to get 'free money'

Free money isn't just finding a $10 bill on the sidewalk or getting a birthday card from Grandma. Below are four easy money moves you can make to bank what is essentially "free money," according to Merrick.

1. Meet your employer's 401(k) match

Employer-sponsored 401(k)s often offer a company match for employees who contribute a certain amount to the retirement plan. For example, your company may promise to match up to 6% of your salary if you also contribute 6% into your 401(k) — basically doubling what you're able to put away for retirement.

"If you don't contribute to your 401(k), then your company does not match and then you miss out on that compensation," Merrick says.

And don't forget that your contributions to a 401(k) are tax-free, meaning they reduce how much you owe in taxes.

2. Maximize your credit card rewards

Credit card rewards programs let you earn cash-rewards (or other perks) on money you were going to spend anyway. For example, with a cash rewards credit card like the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card, you can earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases with no annual fee.

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

On Wells Fargo's secure site
  • Rewards

    Unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers; balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate

  • Regular APR

    20.24%, 25.24%, or 29.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% intro for 120 days from account opening then BT fee of up to 5%, min: $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees, terms apply.

Rewards credit cards allow cardholders to earn everything from cash rewards to points and miles when they spend on the card. Those points and miles can then be redeemed to offset expenses on things like travel, while cash rewards can lower your credit card bill.

Plus, many of these cards offer a welcome bonus after opening a new account and meeting a minimum spending requirement. For example, the Active Cash Card comes with a welcome bonus of a $200 cash rewards after you spend $500 in purchases within three months.

Merrick adds one caveat with credit cards, and that is to understand what a card could provide for you and whether or not it actually suits your spending habits. You wouldn't want to get a gas rewards credit card if you barely drive, for example.

And the key to really maximizing your card's rewards is to make sure you pay off your balance in full and on time each month, otherwise the interest and late fees you would accrue eat away at anything you'd earn. "You should not be using credit cards for points if you carry large balances," Merrick warns.

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3. Open a new checking account with a welcome bonus

"There's a lot of incentives these days for opening new accounts — there's actually cash incentives," Merrick says. "If you're ready for a new checking account, a good time to switch to another bank is when doing so would give you some free money."

The accounts below are currently offering new customer bonuses:

Up to $400 bonus offer: PNC Virtual Wallet. Open and use a select new Virtual Wallet.

$300 bonus offer: Chase Total Checking®. Open a Chase Total Checking® account and make direct deposits totaling $500 or more within 90 days of coupon enrollment (offer ends 7/24/24).

Chase Total Checking®

On Chase's secure site
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    None

  • Minimum balance

    $1,500 daily balance to avoid monthly maintenance fee

  • Monthly fee

    $12, with options to waive

  • Free ATM network

    More than 15,000 Chase ATMs

  • ATM fee reimbursement

    None

  • Overdraft fee

    $34

  • Mobile check deposit

    Yes

Terms apply.

$100 bonus offer: Chase College Checking℠ account. Open a Chase College Checking account with qualifying transactions (offer ends 7/24/24).

Chase College Checking℠

On Chase's secure site
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    None

  • Minimum balance

    $5,000 to waive monthly service fee

  • Monthly fee

    $12 monthly service fee; no monthly service fee for up to 5 years if you're a student between the ages of 17 to 24 at account opening with proof of student status

  • Free ATM network

    More than 15,000 Chase ATMs

  • ATM fee reimbursement

    None

  • Overdraft fee

    With Chase Overdraft Assist℠, Chase doesn't charge an Overdraft Fee if you're overdrawn by $50 or less at the end of the business day OR if you're overdrawn by more than $50 and you bring your account balance to overdrawn by $50 or less at the end of the next business day (you have until 11 PM ET, 8 PM PT, to make a deposit or transfer). Chase Overdraft Assist does not require enrollment and comes with eligible Chase checking accounts

  • Mobile check deposit

    Yes

Terms apply.

4. Transfer your cash to a high-yield savings account

In this rising-rate environment, now is the time to open a high-yield savings account and earn more interest than you would in a traditional savings account. You're essentially collecting "free" money by parking your cash in a savings account — especially one with an above-average APY.

"I want you to think about, if you're sitting on cash, where it's sitting and if it's earning you money and then maybe being strategic about where that money's going to go," Merrick says.

Some of the top high-yield savings accounts, like the ones below, are currently offering 4% APY and higher. If you have idle cash sitting in a traditional savings or checking account, it's worth moving your money to take advantage of the highest interest rates we've seen in decades.

LendingClub High-Yield Savings

LendingClub Bank, N.A., Member FDIC
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    5.00%

  • Minimum balance

    No minimum balance requirement after $100.00 to open the account

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Maximum transactions

    None

  • Excessive transactions fee

    None

  • Overdraft fees

    N/A

  • Offer checking account?

    Yes

  • Offer ATM card?

    Yes

Terms apply.

UFB Secure Savings

UFB Secure Savings is offered by Axos Bank ® , a Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    Up to 5.25% APY on any savings balance; add a UFB Freedom Checking and meet checking account qualifications to get an additional up to 0.20% APY on savings

  • Minimum balance

    $0, no minimum deposit or balance needed for savings

  • Fees

    No monthly maintenance or service fees

  • Overdraft fee

    Overdraft fees may be charged, according to the terms; overdraft protection available

  • ATM access

    Free ATM card with unlimited withdrawals

  • Maximum transactions

    6 per month; terms apply

  • Terms apply.

Bask Interest Savings Account

Bask Bank and BankDirect are divisions of Texas Capital Bank, Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    5.10% APY1

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Maximum transactions

    Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle

  • Excessive transactions fee

    None

  • Overdraft fee

    None

  • Offer checking account?

    No

  • Offer ATM card?

    No

Terms apply.

1Annual Percentage Yields (APY) and Interest Rates shown are offered on accounts accepted by Bask Bank and effective per the dates shown above, unless otherwise noted. Annual Percentage Yield is variable and subject to change at any time. No minimum balance requirement and no monthly service charge. Must fund within 15 business days of account opening.

Bottom line

Simple money moves like meeting your company's 401(k) match, earning rewards on your daily spending with a rewards credit card, opening a checking account with a welcome bonus and transferring your savings to a high-yield account can make your money work harder for you and give you "free" money for the things you were already doing.

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Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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