Prepaid musings


I’m still excited to see what Amex has in store for us regarding the new Bluebird Prepaid product.  Last week, they said that it would be available “next week” (which is now this week).  Has anyone seen one in the wild?  For background, see “Bluebird is coming. The sky isn’t falling.”


In the post “Vanilla Reloadables” I gushed about the Mio card which had no fees for credit transactions.  Just a few days later Mio started charging for credit transactions.  Amex still stands alone as the only no-fee Vanilla reloadable.


The new MyVanilla card has had a rocky start.  People have had all kinds of trouble:

  • A couple of people have reported that they loaded the card, but then found that large debit purchases were declined.
  • One reader reported that he was charged $1.95 (instead of 50 cents) for an in-store debit purchase that included cash back.
  • Similarly, another reader reported being charged $1.95 (instead of 50 cents) for a money order purchase.
  • Another reader reported that the MyVanilla has a $3000 daily spend limit.
  • I’ve had a technical issue with the MyVanilla in which I get an error when I try to setup my online account.  Phone reps haven’t been able to help.  Managing my money and checking fees is going to be a challenge.

Next steps

I need to update the “Vanilla Reloadables” post with new information about fees and other gotchas.  I hope to get to that very soon (maybe even today).  Has anyone experienced other issues with MyVanilla or other reloadables?  Please comment below.

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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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  1. tried to synch up the Myvanilla debit card to my S erve account for a transfer load. didnt work and I got hit with 4 .50 cent preauthorization fees. pfffft. also, the myvanilla website says i can use it to pay bills, but i have yet to figure out how to do so. until then, only the atm function seems to be viable. not impressed

  2. PP MC is still kicking for me! I know the fiasco you were in, but I have been playing it cool under the radar. Load up about $1000 per month, put regular spend on it, an atm withdrawal and “cash” the rest out at my favorite local MO issuing establishment. Which is coded as a grocery store. Not too out of the ordinary to spend $300-$400 at a grocery store once a month.

    Reports are you get cut off at $15000, but I’ll stick to my $1000 a month and I’m sure I can keep kicking. It does have slightly higher fees than the Amex, but it is just monthly. ATM is allpoint, so it is $1.95 each time, which is slightly cheaper than the AMEX prepaid even with the first free ATM withdrawal each month.

    People are happy with $1000/month/account with AP, not sure why that would be different with this card (which does have fees, albeit, pretty small).

    • Con-man: Thanks for the info about how you’re handling the PayPal card. My Mio is still alive and kicking, but with the new fees I’m going to do less with that one, and try out the PayPal card instead as my primary day to day spend card.

  3. Loaded MyVanilla and attempted to use it to pay a few bills online. Kept getting denied. Called customer service and they were no help, saying product is new and they are having some issues with online transactions. Tried again a few days later and it seems to be working on. Charged $0.50 per transaction.

    Still prefer the Amex but that is not accepted at some places.

  4. Does the MyVanilla go through as a true debit? I have property taxes to pay at the end of Nov and they always charged 2.35% for credit, but a flat $3.95 for debit transactions. I know i tried a pre-paid visa last time and it still charged it as a credit.

  5. @FM — If PayPal charges $10/month, that’s 20 credit transactions worth on Mio. If the goal is to “bribe” them with regular spending to allow big debits, I would just do 5-6 large credit purchases for an extra $3/mo. With Netspend, you could end up paying the $10 and still get shut down, they’re just too unpredictable.

  6. I bought a MyVanilla Debit card yesterday at OD, tried to buy a money order at Walmart, cashier told me I had to have a pin number-can someone help me?

  7. I had the same issue with MyVanilla trying to set up an online account. I finally had to call the 1-800 number to get set up. Though, after hearing about all the fees, I have yet to load any $$ onto it.

  8. In addition to being charged $1.95 for money order purchases, I had a problem with their customer service in just trying to activate the card.

    I ordered my card online directly which required me to set-up my pin. Once I received the card I immediately activeted it. I then attempted to reload the card and I got an error code. I then contacted customer service and was asked where I purchased my card?

    After sitting on hold for five minutes, I was then asked to set-up my pin, to which I told the rep that was already done when I ordered the card.

    After another five minutes of being on hold, everything was fine, until of course, the money order purchase issue.

  9. I’ve had the same problem setting up online access. I initially activated my card over the phone and then tried to set up my online access the next day. It keeps asking me for login information that I’ve yet to create. The rep I spoke to over the phone wasn’t able to set up my online account and said they were having some problems that should be fixed in a few days (this was last week).

  10. frequent churner: that’s a good way to think about it. I think the PayPal is $4.95 per month, but the gist is still valid

    Ace: the temporary cards do not have PINs. You would have to upgrade to a permanent MyVanilla to use it for PIN transactions

  11. @frequent churner & miler – the paypal is still administered by NS. Thus far I’ve shifted a lot of day to day spending by it. Instead of atm and mo’s, have been starting to do debit withdrawals free at grocery stores. Have run quite a bit through thus far + it’s a nice compliment to stores that don’t take Amex.

    The $15K limit is going to be a pita however.

  12. What’s that $15k limit? They shut you down after that? I’d rather deal with cards where I can buy MOs at my local off-brand grocery store. Less hassle than carrying $300-400 in cash. Also, those transactions still show up as debit, so it doesn’t make them any money. Enough of them add up and they’ll start considering a shutdown.

  13. Went to the LAX OD today to look for Vanilla Reloads. The Gift card rack only had placeholders for these (with “Vanilla Reload Pack” written in pen), and when I checked with the manager, she claimed that the “manufacturer is back ordered”. She then proceeded to ask me if I was the person calling them daily about the Vanilla Reloads. I assured her I wasn’t. Ok, who wants to ‘fess up? 🙂

  14. @frequent Churner – the $15k limit is reported to be the limit reported by some people in the “mint” thread on flyertalk. I cannot testify if it is true or not. All I know is, I’ve loaded up anywhere from $1000 to $1500 each month, use it in rotation with my regular spend, make an ATM withdrawal or two, get cash back with debit transactions and buy money orders. I’m going on month 4, and I haven’t had any problems.

  15. I have 2 bits of news, one bad, one not so bad. First: Paypal card. Got shut down. No problems until thi week, using it here and there, loading with Vanillas from OD bought w/Ink. The Netspend back end is the problem- they shut you down for anything. They told me they do not like the Vanilla “top-up” cards since they are used by gamblers! Apparently, they see the Vanilla reloads as being physical swipes in Georgia- because that is where the Vanillas process thru InComm. Then they wonder how you can be in Georgia and somewhere else on the same day. They shut you down with no questions or explanations–it’s all Netspend and they will not tell you anything just BAM closed. You will go along fine with Paypal cards for a little while- then the whole Georgia Vanilla fiasco mistake from crappy Netspend will bomb you and you will be closed. The rep told me they are heavily looking at Vanilla “top-ups” now. !!!! So this is another flaky card like Mio certainly can be.
    Second news:
    Walmart. Not just Bluebird. Reloads at cash registers for all prepaid debit cards–no scratch-offs, no buying cards–just load at register to your favorite Vanilla or any other! Remains to be seen how they will handle CC loads–of course the problem is no bonus category at Walmart which is what makes this whole thing go ’round! But an interesting development nonetheless! Why can’t OD and MANY other stores get in on the prepaid action here??! It’s just the next iteration of ‘gift cards’ and yes they do get a good cut from the sale so more stores will start getting interested.
    -BENTONVILLE, Ark., Oct. 2, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Walmart is launching an affordable and convenient way for customers to load money onto prepaid cards with Rapid Reload, a new service that will accept reloadable cards affiliated with the Green Dot Network, InComm’s Vanilla Reload Network and First Data’s Money Network. Available today in more than 3,800 Walmart stores nationwide, customers can add money to their card at any register for a low price of $3.74.

    According to a recent study by Mercator Advisory Group, 56 million Americans have a prepaid card or payroll card. Rapid Reload is a savings for these consumers who have been paying up to $5 to add cash to their cards.

    “Many of our customers continue to seek alternatives that improve both the convenience and cost of every day financial services,” said Daniel Eckert , vice president of financial services for Walmart U.S. “Through our partnerships with Green Dot, InComm, and First Data, we are ensuring that the majority of prepaid cards available in the U.S. can be reloaded at Walmart. This is another way we are providing millions of Americans with affordable ways to manage their money.”

    Before today, customers had to make an extra stop to reload their prepaid cards before shopping at Walmart. With Rapid Reload, the process is simple. There are no forms to fill out, no scratch-off PINs and no need to make a phone call or visit a website to complete the reload.

    Walmart will now accept individually branded cards such as Account Now, Achieve Card, H&R Block, Momentum, Money Network, MyVanilla, NetSpend, PayPal, Rush Card and Upside among others. Walmart’s MoneyCard, the world’s best-selling prepaid card, will remain available for a low price of $3

    PR Newswire

  16. @FM – Any thoughts on the Chase liquid? I was offered it for free with no monthly fee when opening a new chase checking account today.

  17. @Mike — the Georgia excuse is a load of steaming crap! I got the foreign CSR grunt and he told me the same thing, and it sounded like he was reading from a script. Whatever they tell you about it being a problem with Vanilla reloads is a dirty lie to get you to stop calling. Trust me if you were topping up from Vanilla and just doing nothing but regular spending you’d be fine.
    When I pushed them for an answer, they transferred me to the compliance department when suddenly someone with perfect english confronted me about how I’m paying for these reloads, and why so many, and how dare I make these large withdrawals.
    I suggest you get a hold of this compliance department and try to confront them. Tell them you either complain to the Texas attorney general (which you should) or they reinstate your account. See what happens.

  18. Which Prepaid debit card from Office depot can be used to pay property tax and not be charged as a credit card. Debit card is $3.95 flat fee, Credit card is 2.3 %

  19. I haven’t been to a local Walmart lately, but I did try to register for a Bluebird account on the website (which looks like it’s functional). I ran into some problems where they didn’t like my email address, and then another problem where they said my phone number was already registered. Eventually used a different phone and email, and just received an automated email from them saying my account request was “under review”.
    Has anybody been able to sign up for an account? There was a post on FT that said having an existing Serve account would cause problems with registering for Bluebird.

  20. @frequent churner- Yes I agree completely re the Georgia crap. I put this out there to let people know, and it’s interesting to see you got the same lines. So this is their thing right now. Nice to know they told you the same! Yes I will definitely follow up. But this is a heads up for everyone using PP MC–who wants to go through this?? How many hours to get to someone who speaks English??
    –Update: it’s all moot now, since AMEX Bluebird is going to operate the same way and even better! Larger limits too Yay! There will be no need to use another card for the most part–except when AMEX is not taken on the card end, and for true large debit payments here and there.

  21. I got to the compliance department within 5 minutes by calling back during 9-5 business hours. They’re out of Austin, and because I live in TX I got my refund within 6 days. I should have asked the rep why on earth they go through all this trouble? What do they care anyway?

    • JaMo: How did you do that? I didn’t see a signup link until today. Anyway, congrats on being the first! Now would you mind running out to Walmart to see if they’ll let you load it with a credit card? Amex told me that some Walmart stores do allow it.

      • It seems like one can pay pretty much any bill with this account as you fill out the payment information like you would with an online bank checking account and Amex will mail a check. Seems like a great way to pay all bills. However, with the $5k limit, there is still a $2500 load limit for any 28 days?

  22. Thanks! I’ll try the walmart trick tomorrow. As for how I got it: just searched on AmEx’s website for bluebird and found a link. Simple as that.

    Do you think if I withdraw 1000 from the atm each month and spend about 200 it’ll be enough to keep the red flags from going up at AmEx?

  23. Update: my bluebird card looks nothing like the normal bluebird card you have. (White background and says bluebird on it.) Also login doesn’t work on bluebird website, only works on … weird!!

  24. @FM, I bought two myvanilla card today, when I did the registration, I realized that I was setting up an online account, and I was told that the permanently card will arrive soon.

    How many myvanilla card can someone has? does each myvanilla card has one online account? Thanks!

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