How to pay Federal taxes with a Vanilla Visa

There are many good reasons to buy $500 Vanilla Visa cards.  Here are a few:

  • To earn 5X Ultimate Rewards Points with a Chase Ink card (see “Almost too good to be true”) at Office Depot.
  • To earn 6X Hilton points with the Hilton HHonors or Hilton HHonors Surpass Amex cards at a grocery store, drug store, or gas station. 
  • To earn 6% cash back with the Blue Cash Preferred Amex at a grocery store.

Once you have the Vanilla Visa, you can simply use it for day to day spend.  Or, you can liquidate it in one step by paying taxes.  Quite a while ago a reader told me this was possible, but I hadn’t tried it until last week.  It turned out to be incredibly easy!  Below is a step by step guide:

Step 1: Register your zip code online

Go to www.vanillavisa.com and log in by entering your card’s number, expiration date and cvv (the 3 digit code on the back of the card).  Next register or edit your card to enter in your Zip code information:

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Step 2: Go to payUSAtax.com and “Make a Payment”

Once you click the “Make a Payment” button you’ll see the following screens.  Fill out each screen and press “continue”.  In the screen shots below, I made an estimate payment for my 2012 taxes.  My payment was for $496.51.  payUSAtax.com charges $3.49 for debit transactions, so the total comes to exactly $500.  Personal information on the screens below has been masked.

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Be careful to select “Debit card” in order to get the lowest fees:

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Step 3: Confirm that the payment went through

This step isn’t really necessary, but personally I wanted to make sure that my card’s balance was zero before tossing the card in the trash.  So, I logged back into www.vanillavisa.com to take a look at my Account History:

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Available balance: $0.00.  Great!

Notes

  1. Cost: When you consider both the purchase fee for the Vanilla Visa ($4.95) and the debit card fee for paying taxes ($3.49), the cumulative cost to pay taxes this way comes to 1.7%.  Compare this to the credit card processing fees of 1.89% for Visa, Mastercard, and Discover; or 2.29% for American Express.  It’s hardly worth the effort for the savings unless you earn bonus points when buying the Vanilla Visa.
  2. PIN: Even though this was processed as a debit transaction, I was never asked for a PIN number.  This is good news since you do not get PIN numbers with these cards.
  3. Limits: Different types of tax payments have different limits.  For example, you can only make 2 estimated payments per quarter.  This FAQ has a list of similar limits.
  4. Questions: payUSAtax has a great FAQ page.  Please read this if you have questions about paying taxes online: www.payusatax.com/faq
  5. Vanilla flavors: For more information about Vanilla Visa cards, please see “The many flavors of Vanilla”.
  6. Other Cards: The approach to paying taxes shown above should work with most other debit and prepaid cards, but you’ll have to figure out for yourself whether it makes financial sense to do so.  You can also pay via credit card, but be prepared for the 2.29% fee for American Express cards (via valuetaxpayment.com) or the 1.89% fee for other cards (via payUSAtax.com).

 

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. Dear frequentmiler,

    I will pay my property tax by the end of this year. It is about 10k. Can I use vanilla visa or american express? Thank you very much.
    steven

    • steven bay: property taxes are collected at the local level. Some allow credit/debit payments, some don’t. Of those that do, some charge fees and some don’t. When you get your property tax bill it should say whether credit card payments are accepted.

  2. This is great if your tax bill is only a few hundred bucks. But since I hate making interest free loans to the government, I wind up owing more. For federal tax payments i believe you can only make two payments at a time? Mileage-earning debit card linked to checking accounts may be a better deal for higher-dollar tax bills.

  3. You mentioned tossing your card in the trash when you are done…. In a situation like this it’s probably no big deal but I save all my cards for at least 6 months. You never know when you might get a credit from a retunr you did that you forgot about. No sense in taking chances.

    • patrick: Good tip. I tend to have so many gift cards & prepaid cards though that I’m thrilled at any opportunity to ditch one!

      Thalha: I’m sure you can use the Amex prepaid card as a credit card to pay taxes. I don’t know what would happen if you try to use it as a debit card. Amex will tell you that it won’t work, but there’s always a chance they’re wrong. I’m nervous about doing anything like this that might encourage Amex to do a Financial Review

      Amnesiac: I’ll follow up with a separate post about that.

  4. Although my quarterly tax is more than $500, it still might be worth making the 2 allowed payments for $1000 total using 2 Vanilla Visa cards. Then the balance could be paid via check. The limit is PayUSA imposed and it appears the IRS will even let you pay weekly if you prefer.

    • Karla: Interesting… There are several companies that accept debit cards for tax payments. I wonder if one could do many more payments through other companies or multiple companies…

  5. FM: Sounds like there’s a LOT of interest in figuring out how to do this in larger amounts, especially if it can be done at less than $4.95 per $500. I could probably pull in a couple of hundred thousand miles a year (I’m self-employed and pay all my tax as estimated tax).
    .
    Indeed, even at 1.89%, this might allow me to get some “big spend” credit cards with large bonuses I wouldn’t otherwise be able to meet the spends on.

  6. I sent in a question about the 2 tax payments per year. The FAQ does not specify calendar year or tax year. I don’t think I have used them in before so there’s a potential I can make 2 $500 payments in Dec ’12 and then 1 more $500 Jan ’13, then the last paying off my balance with cc directly in Jan ’13 too. I will report back.

  7. If my company withholds tax on my behalf, can i just reduce the amount they withhold and pay the diiference this way? When i file my taxes next april would there be 2 separate sections on the 1040? One section for taxes withheld by company and another section for estimated taxes already paid?

  8. I just used a prepaid debit card to pay my taxes of around $5k. The limit was $2.5k per day for the card so I had to do two transactions. I got $950 reload-it cards at $3.95 each so my final cost was around $30 total or 0.6%. You can also put the Vanilla reloads on Mio card and process one large transaction if you can’t get reload-it packs with a CC.

    • Jane: Sadly, no

      Curtis: Thanks!

      DP81: temporary prepaid cards can only have up to $500 on them, but permanent cards (NetSpend, Mio, etc.) can have much more. Yes, with one of those you can make larger than $500 payments.

  9. I hear you! That was part of my experiment. For those cards to be useful to me I have to eventually do large debit transactions and so for no problems a few days later. My thinking is that if you put a lot of regular spending on them and establish a normal pattern of spending, they will make money and won’t be as eager to shut it down. That’s why I first put $500+ in regular spending on them and plan to do it regularly.
    The great irony of Netspend is that any of us could have made them a lot more money in transaction fees than what they’d get from the poor and underbanked that they target. If only they had no fees and looked the other way when I do an occasional large debit.

  10. Answer back on calendar year question:

    “Thank you for contacting us. You are limited to two (2) payments per calendar year. In calendar year 2012 you can process two payments towards the tax type Form 1040 Balance Due 2011 . In 2013 you would be able to process two payments towards Form 1040 Balance Due Tax Years 2003 – 2011 and given the option to specify which year . “

  11. Can I make larger than a $500 payment? It says you can make up to two estimated payments PER QUARTER, but it doesn’t say if there is a limit on the amount that can be paid. Say there is no limit, does anyone know how much you can add to a Vanilla reloadable card? Thanks!

  12. Does anybody know if the two payments per quarter rule precludes a joint filing spouse from also making payments? Since the payments must be made under that primary filer’s SS number, I have concluded that you only get two payments per return rather than two payments per filer, but that’s just a guess. I’d love to double up on $500 gift card payments with my spouse.

    • Piecerate: Great question! I’ll do some research about this…

      Kathy C: I see that there’s a lot of interest in how to do this in higher amounts so I’ll do some research to see what I can find.

      PJ: The largest value gift cards sold at OfficeMax are $200. Of the office supply stores only Office Depot carries the $500 cards.

  13. We are self employed and pay huge quarterly payments (approx ($10 K). Would love to be able to buy Visa prepaid cards (or what ever )and pay them each quarter and earn a ton of UR points. What is the best option? Would I get shut down for buying this much in gift cards per quarter? Sorry if these are repeat questions. I have been reading this blog for a while but really didn’t consider this as an option until recently. I just hate to write a check this large and waste the chance to earn MILES!

  14. @frequentchurner Who is imposing the $2500/day limit? I am sure there are lot of readers interested in being able to use prepaid cards to pay taxes (more than a thousand per quarter), mortgage, tuition fee etc.

  15. do I find those big denomintated gift cards ($500 face) in Office Max? AMerican Express business gold cards OPEN get 5 points per dollar spent at Office Max right ?

  16. iknos: Many reloadable debit cards have 24hr maximums on how much you can load and how big of a transaction you can have. They’re all a little different. I misspoke, btw, the one I’m using that takes reload-it packs has a $2k daily transaction limit. Mio has $2.5k load limit but no transaction limit, beyond it’s maximum $10k value. I would also not test the limits until you establish a month or two of consistent regular credit transactions though.

  17. Just tried to make a payment. Verified 500 balance on Vanilla VISA. Selected Debit. Tried to pay 446 to allow for fee. Got this message:

    Your federal tax payment was declined by your card issuer. Your federal tax payment has not been received and there will be no charge to your account.

    Any ideas?

  18. Karla: the fixed value gift cards are credit only, not debit, so you will still incur the 1.89% fee. Even the AMEX pre-paid that’s reloadable with Vanilla packs is credit. You need to get a true debit card like Netspend (or one of its much better alternatives), that allow PIN debit transactions.

  19. Please ignore that last post. It really helps to read ALL instructions. I neglected to register the zip code. All working great now! 🙂

  20. @rick – This was the Vanilla Visa gift card that you can put $20-$500 on. The one in the gold package. Worked great as a debit card once I registered my zip code! No pin required.

  21. Karla — you’re right, I didn’t notice that Vanilla pre-paids are debit cards. Some of the similar ones for sale in other office stores are credit only.


    Ikonos — Mio for example, or the upcoming MyVanilla reloadable, which I think are both run by the same company. It all depends on which reload packs you’re able to buy with CC in your town. NS might work too, but most people report being shut down eventually after high debit transactions.

  22. Great news for Illinois: use payILtax.com and get charged a flat 3.95 for Visa debit payments and no maximum on number of times you do it. There are 2 other sites you can use, but they charge 2.49% (that’s a $12.45 fee on a $500 payment).

    I can’t believe I just wrote ‘great news’ in a comment about Illinois taxes…

  23. Need to wait at least 20 mins between payUSAtax.com transactions. It doesn’t let you do them quicker to prevent inadvertent duplicative payments.

  24. May I ask if OneVanilla Prepaid Visa card can be used as debit card to pay income tax? I thought you could but this is what was said on OneVanilla.com :

    At time of purchase, give your Card to the cashier and sign the receipt or push “credit” on the keypad. Although it states “debit” on the front of the card, most cards do not come with a PIN, therefore your purchase will be declined if you push “debit.”

    Any help is much appreciated!

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