August 6, 2014
Yesterday I described a number of “easy wins”. These are tricks for obtaining free or improved travel quickly and easily. Most of the listed tricks require signing up for a credit card or two. As you take advantage of multiple easy wins, though, you’ll quickly realize a problem: almost every credit card offer has minimum spend requirements. If you sign up for too many cards, you may find it increasingly difficult to meet those requirements. Below you’ll find a number of easy ways to increase credit card spend without going broke.
A word of caution: There’s a reason that credit card companies offer huge signup bonuses: many customers use their cards unwisely and end up paying huge interest rates and fees. The bank’s income from those customers is more than enough to justify the expense of paying people to sign up for their cards. Don’t be one of those people! Only sign up for cards if you absolutely know that you have the ability and discipline to pay the balance in full every month. And, never take cash advances (i.e. don’t withdraw cash from an ATM using your credit card and never use those checks they send out!). One more thing: When playing the credit card game its easy to get swept up in a cycle of buying more than you would otherwise. It’s not easy, but unless you’re rich, its wise to keep spend amounts down despite the promise of great rewards from your credit card. See this post for more.
So, without further ado, my favorite easy spend techniques:
Pay friends and family
Amazon Payments is a service for paying friends and family electronically. Amazon Payments allows you to send and receive up to $1000 per month for free even when paying with a credit card. So, if you owe someone money, consider using this service rather than writing a check. When your friend receives the money into their Amazon Payments account, they can withdraw it, for free, to their bank account.
An easy way to rack up credit card spend is to organize friend and family events. Invite a group to join you at a restaurant, sporting event, concert, or play. Or, organize a family reunion. Pay for everyone with your credit card and ask them to pay you back by cash, check, or Amazon Payments (see above).
Serve is a prepaid card from American Express that is designed to be a mostly fee-free alternative to a checking account. Money can be loaded to Serve a number of ways, but the easiest is to load up to $1000 per month via credit card. There is a $200 per day load limit, but that is easily handled: each month, log in once and setup 5 days of repeating $200 credit card loads. Note that American Express cards do not earn points when used to load Serve, but any other bank’s rewards cards should be fine.
Once money is loaded to Serve, you can use Serve’s bill pay feature to pay bills that can’t otherwise be paid by credit card, or simply withdraw the money to your bank account.
If you already have an American Express Bluebird card you will have to cancel it before you can sign up for Serve since American Express allows each person to have only one or the other.
Kiva is a nonprofit organization that provides micro-loans to enterprising individuals around the world so that they may earn their own way out of poverty. While you won’t earn interest on your loans, you can pay with a credit card, and you are likely to get most of your money back. Plus, you’ll be doing something good in the world! Kiva current reports a 98.84% payback rate across the board, but by filtering to “safe” loans, you can do better than that. For example, after years of making Kiva loans, I currently have a 99.39% payback rate. For more details, please see Kiva: loans, points, and miles. Keep in mind that loan terms range from about 6 months to much more, so don’t loan money that you can’t afford to have in limbo for a long time.
Federal Tax Payments
Several services allow you to pay federal taxes (including quarterly estimated taxes) via credit card. At the time of this writing, fees are as low as 1.87% for credit card payments (and even lower for debit card payments). Fee details can be found here. When paying taxes with a credit card, the payments count as regular purchases, not cash advances, so you will earn rewards from this spend. Depending upon the credit card used, the rewards earned could more than offset the 1.87% fee (which, itself, may be counted as a a deduction on your taxes). For example, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card earns 2 points per dollar on all purchases, and points are worth 1.1 cents each towards travel. So, you’ll earn 2.2% in rewards, which more than compensates for the 1.87% fee.
Mortgage and Rent Payments
ChargeSmart is a service that will let you pay mortgages (and other bills) with a credit card for a fee. The fee varies depending upon the size of the payment and the type of biller, but tends to range from about 2.2% to 3%. A similar service, Evolve Money, is expected to allow credit card payments of mortgages and other bills in the near future.
Similarly, the service WilliamPaid will let you pay rent with a credit card for a fee: 2.95%. Paying fees this high isn’t a good idea in most cases, but if you’re struggling to meet minimum spend requirements in exchange for a big signup bonus, it might be worth it.
Buy gift cards and pay bills
This option is a bit more advanced than the others on the list since it requires two separate steps: 1) Buy Visa or MasterCard gift cards with a credit card; and 2) Use those gift cards to pay bills via Evolve Money. One great thing about this approach is that Evolve bill pay is fee free. They do have strict limits, though, so beware of those.
For details about how to buy Visa or MasterCard gift cards with a credit card, please see: Best options for buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards.
For details about Evolve Money, please see:
Buy gift cards for future spend
This option doesn’t increase your credit card spend but rather gives you an option to spend more now and less later. The nice thing about buying gift cards is that there are often ways to get cash back or extra credit card rewards when purchasing them. For complete details, please see these posts:
- Best options for buying merchant gift cards
- Best options for buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards.
- Everything you ever wanted to know about Amex gift cards