Easy Credit Card Spend

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.

CreditCards

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.

Organize events

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).

Amex Serve

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 Micro-Loans

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.

See also:  The ultimate guide to paying taxes by credit card, debit card, or gift card.

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:

Frequent Miler is on vacation

Posts have been scheduled in advance. See you in September!

Comments

  1. FM, does Barclays Arrival consider a $200 load on the Serve card to be a regular purchase or a cash advance? CSR said cash advance, which incurs fees.

  2. Great Article.. Thanks!

    Lots of talk these days about Serve and BB but what about “Account Now” ?

    I read at one time that with the Silver account you could load $1500 a day and up to $9500 a month on it. No monthly fees..free Bill Pay and can use Green Dot or Reload it.

    I have BB now but an looking for another avenue.

    • Yes, Account Now is great if you can buy reload cards with a credit card. That has become increasingly difficult to do though, especially since Greendot is phasing out MoneyPak cards altogether. I don’t have any personal experience with buying ReloadIt cards with credit cards since the few local stores that carry them don’t allow credit cards.

  3. Congrats on winning “Best Points and Miles Blog” FM. Why did you not present AMEX Bluebird as an option to AMEX Serve, whether with ISIS or not? Huzzah!

    • Thanks Sabata. I didn’t list Bluebird because the only way to load it with a credit card doesn’t fit my definition of easy. You need to:
      1) Use credit card to buy Visa/MasterCard gift cards or use credit card to reload prepaid card (such as Visa Buxx cards)
      2) Take those cards to Walmart and try to reload Bluebird there using your gift cards as debit cards. Some gift cards don’t work. Some gift cards require complex tricks to get the register to see them as debit cards. And, some cashiers are trained to not allow gift cards as debit cards.

      • Thanks for the clarification. 3 suggestions, please: 1) Repeat/ Confirm the limits for AMEX Serve loads without having to bother with Walmart visits. 2) Per the suggestion of another participant here, a great future column for you would be how individuals seeking to MS can do so in a non-Walmart fashion. {Just go to PeopleofWalmart.com to see why a person may not want to go to Walmart…;)] and 3) are there any other seminars besides what is offered on the Frugal Travel Guy site, where interested folks can gather for a real-life version of these blog-comment areas. Kudos for your great column..

  4. I purchased 5 $200 Visa Gift cards (with pins) and after the third load bluebird mark the transaction as fraud. I called customer service and was told I can’t do this and the source needs to be a financial institution. The visa gift card had Meta Bank on the reverse side. Any experience with this?

    I have read so many posts stating how easy it is? hmmmm…?

    • You cannot use gift cards to load to Bluebird online, only real credit or debit cards with your name on them. You have to take the $200 GCs to Walmart to load your Bluebird Card.

    • I get this question a lot. There is a lot of confusion because there are two ways to load Bluebird with debit cards:
      1) Online: $200 per day, up to $1000 per month
      2) At Walmart: Up to $2500 per day* and up to $5K per month (* technically you are only supposed to be able to do $1999 per day at Walmart, but separate transactions let you do more)
      The first one can only be done repeatedly with a “real” debit card. E.g. a debit card from a bank. You can get away with a few loads online with gift cards, but then you’ll get a scary letter from Amex. The second one can be done with gift cards, but it can be tricky to do depending upon what type of gift card you have.

  5. MM, I just loaded SERVE yesterday with Barclays Arrival Plus. It shows up as “BUYING/SHOPPING SERVICES, CLUBS”, not cash advance. CSR was misinformed. 😉

  6. One question I haven’t been able to get answered – can you load Serve with a Barnes and Noble Campus Edition card? As you mentioned, there’s a $1000 limit/mo on Serve loads but if you have the “grandfathered” Citi Forward card, those 60,000 points/year are nothing to sneeze at :)

    Anyone have any thoughts on this?

  7. Greg,

    You state: “…or simply withdraw the money to your bank account.” I have checked my Serve account settings and don’t see how to do this. Bill pay? ACH?

    Thanks for the tip on loading via credit card.

    Tim

  8. I’m glad you’re putting in sufficient warnings regarding KIVA. Reader, you are putting your money at risk with the poorest folks in this world. Be prepared to not be paid on time or at all (most will be paid in full)! I have delinquent Kiva loans amounting to $1500. And this is only with the highest rated field partner. Hopefully most of it will be repaid, but some loans have been delinquent for 2x the repaiment terms.
    I know Kiva is frequently promoted by BA bloggers, but the proper risk profile is not considered. Reader, be careful what you’re getting yourself into!

  9. Hi
    Does anyone know if chase, amex or citicards show up as cash advance or purchase with Serve? Thanks… Patrick

  10. Quick question on Serve – I know loading Amex prepaid products won’t earn rewards, but does it count as spend towards the $6,500 threshold for 5% earning on old Amex Blue Cash?

  11. Thanks so much for the info. I was not familiar with Serve before reading this. So if I understand correctly, I can add $1 K per month my Chase MP visa credit card, get $1K spend as a goods/service (not cash advance), then withdrawal funds back into my own checking account? Basically, it sounds like the exact same set up as Amazon Payments, except for with them, we send from one person to another who does the withdrawal and not ourselves.

    Does anything raise a ‘red flag’ when doing such transactions that might cause them to not allow such a transaction? Thanks.

  12. Re fees for paying taxes with your credit card – I don’t believe these are deductible if paying personal taxes. As business expenses (for example Schedule C business or Schedule E rentals) they are deductible.

  13. Fees for paying taxes, whether to a tax professional or fees on cc, are deductible whether you are paying business OR personal taxes. Business deductions are placed on Schedule C or E, personal deductions on Schedule B.

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