Vanilla Reload cards gone by April 1. Here’s the good part…

Vanilla Reload Cards

The buzz today regarding the death of Vanilla Reload cards was triggered by emails from American Express to Serve and Bluebird cardholders.  Customers received emails like this one (bolding is mine):

We are writing to inform you of some changes to the terms and conditions of your Bluebird® Account. Please review the change below:

InComm Vanilla Reload PIN Package is one of the many ways to add money to your Bluebird account. Starting April 1, 2015, the Incomm Vanilla Reload PIN Package will no longer be available for purchase. Any previously purchased Vanilla Reload can still be added to any Bluebird account.

You can still add money to your account in many free, convenient ways including Direct Deposit, adding cash at virtually any Walmart® checkout register, and more. Click here to learn more.

Thank you, The Bluebird® Team

Background

The way it used to work was that Bluebird or Serve cardholders would go to Office Depot or CVS to buy Vanilla Reload cards with their credit card and load each with the max of $500.  Sure, there was a $3.95 fee for each card, but that paled in comparison to the rewards one could get from a credit card that offered a good category bonus for office supplies or drug stores.  Customers would then take those cards home and browse online to VanillaReload.com to load the card’s value to their Bluebird or Serve card.  Then, Bluebird or Serve could be used to pay bills, withdraw cash to bank accounts, and more.

After a while, Office Depot stopped allowing credit cards for these purchases.  Then, about a year later, CVS did the same.  Both chains cited fraud as the reason for their decision. Today, there are still some stores that will let customers buy Vanilla Reload cards with credit cards, but those are few and far between.

The other reload card

Before Vanilla Reload cards existed, there were Greendot MoneyPaks.  They cost a bit more ($4.95 vs. $3.95), but were otherwise basically the same idea as Vanilla Reload cards.  Unfortunately, crooks have found ways to use these cards to swindle people out of their money; to launder stolen credit cards; and more.  As a result, GreenDot announced in July that they would phase out MoneyPak cards early in 2015.  Instead of buying MoneyPak cards, people would be able to bring their prepaid reloadable cards (e.g. Serve, AccountNow, and many others) to stores that previously sold MoneyPak cards in order to “swipe reload” their cards at the register.

In my post on this topic, I wrote:

This is potentially a better solution for mile collectors than the CVS / Office Depot solution of not accepting credit cards for reload card purchases.  If you know of a store that currently allows credit card purchases of MoneyPaks, then swipe reloads might also be possible with a credit card.

In other words, if swipe reloads are more secure than reload cards, crooks may have less opportunity to ruin the good thing that mile collectors have been enjoying as they did with Office Depot and CVS.

Back to Vanilla…

The first announcement about the discontinuation of Vanilla Reload cards didn’t come from American Express emails to Bluebird and Serve cardholders.  InComm (the company behind Vanilla Reload cards) announced this change on November 5thYou can read about the announcement here.

The announcement specifically called out the end of Vanilla Reload cards, and specifically called out fraud prevention as a reason:

InComm’s swipe reload program eliminates opportunities for fraud and scam artists to take advantage of unsuspecting customers through the use of reload packs. As part of this effort, the company will remove reload packs from all retail stores by March 31, 2015.

Two positive messages from Incomm…

While the upcoming demise of Vanilla Reload cards is bad news for those few with a good source of reload cards that can be bought with credit, I think there is reason to be optimistic about new opportunities arising.  Here are two messages that I get from InComm’s announcements:

The number of locations for swipe reloads is increasing rapidly

The announcement says:

InComm, a leading provider of integrated point-of-sale (POS) technology solutions to retailers, announced plans to add over 15,000 more swipe reload locations to its Vanilla Reload network

I believe this means that Incomm has signed up at least one, if not several, major retailers that weren’t part of their network before.

Reloads go upscale

InComm has found that reloadable cards are going mainstream.  In this announcement, InComm wrote about “GPR” cards, which are “General Purpose Reloadables” like Bluebird and Serve (bolding is mine):

Previously,GPR cardholders tended to be un- or underbanked consumers.  This is no longer the case. According to new research, GPR usage is significantly accelerating among middle and higher income households that have checking accounts. These consumers are seeing multiple benefits of using GPR cards, including easier budget management and security.

Taken together…

So, InComm has signed one or more major new partners.  And, InComm is going out of its way to say that these products are not just for the poor anymore.  I believe this means that there’s at least one major new partner that typically serves middle and higher income households.  Starbucks, perhaps?  And, whoever they are, will they take credit cards?  I’m hoping and betting that the answer is yes.

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

    • You hand your prepaid card (e.g. Bluebird or Serve) to the cashier and ask to reload the prepaid card
      They swipe the card on their terminal and ask how much you’d like to load.
      You tell them.
      They key in the amount and then ask you to pay
      Depending upon the store, you can pay with cash, debit, or (less often) credit.

      • thats odd…
        why do people want to repload their Prepaid Card if they already have a Debit card linked to their bank account ?
        my logic is people must be buy reload card using (mostly) credit card. maybe for cash advance or chasing point …

  1. Haha, I wonder if the middle and higher income customers who use reloadable cards, but also have a checking account, are mile collectors? Take a way a few things like online credit/debit load and Walmart debit load and I wonder if all of those customers go away.

  2. Are you suggesting that swipe reloads are permitted using credit cards? Or is this another (potential) method of unloading debit-card-like gift cards?

    • It depends on the store. Before CVS stopped allowing credit cards for vanilla reload cards, they allowed credit cards for Serve swipe reloads for free (just like Target does today with REDbird). The swipe reload goldmine ended when it was swept up with the whole no more credit cards at CVS fiasco. My hope is that new stores will get involved that will be OK with credit and that without reload cards involved there will be less fraud

  3. My guess, and it is just a guess, is that Incomm doesnt really mind mileage collectors/MSers. In retorspect, it appears the Vanilla to Bluebird gravy train wasnt brought down by Flyer Talk folks doing legit MS, it was brought down by criminals and money launders using the cards for various nefarious purposes. Perhaps if they could figure out a way to make these swipe reloads secure, it could open up new oppurtunities.

    By getting rid of the disposable reloads and forcing all reloads to be done direct to a registered bluebird/serve card, one would imagine it becomes less appealing for money laundering/using a stolen card since there will be a record, linked to the registered Serve card, of the transaction.

  4. The majority of the people who are getting scammed is because someone is telling them that they work for the company and they can turn $200 into $2,000 by adding a zero in the system. Let’s call it what it is. Those “victims” are knowingly conspiring with a scammer to steal money from InComm that doesn’t belong to them, and they know it. I have very little sympathy for and actually a little happy about those people losing their money.

  5. So the cardboard card at Family Dollar I use to load Serve is what exactly? It’s certainly not like the ones we used to buy at CVS that this is targeting?

      • so….I kind of don’t get the swipe reload. Can I go to Famiy Dollar, hand them my Bluebird and ask to load it with a credit card? Or do I need to buy some sort of ReLoadIt card first with my credit card and then ask them to put it on my Bluebird?? Sorry for being confused!

        • One complication is that not all reloadable cards work in all locations. So, for example, Serve is reloadable at Family Dollar, but Bluebird is not. Here’s an example of a swipe reload with Bluebird:
          -Go to Walmart
          -Hand Bluebird card to cashier and ask to reload card with up to $1000
          -Pay with a debit card (Walmart won’t accept credit cards for this).

        • But, , I don’t believe Walmart will let you use just any debit card. Some of the Vanillas will not work and I don’t think MasterCard debits have worked well or at all. Anyone have any answers to what can I buy, with my credit card (to get miles) and then load to my Bluebird, at Walmart, if need be. I am not sure if they will even let you use a prepaid Visa Debit “without” you name on it. Any answers appreciated.

  6. “These consumers are seeing multiple benefits of using GPR cards, including easier budget management and security.”

    I wonder how many of us use reloadables for “legit” purposes (billpay, money transfers, etc) vs how many simply MS and churn back into their bank accounts…..

    I know I try and keep things on the up and up as much as I can by paying as many of my bills via redbird billpay. But I also transfer some back to my account from time to time – mainly because I haven’t been able to billpay my mortgage (yet 🙂

    thoughts?

  7. This is such a bummer. I knew the day would come but it is painful none the less. I currently MS 15K a month via this strategy (I still have several outlets in my area who take credit for VR) and it will be hard to adjust not doing it.

  8. Why would any firm, let alone Starbucks, agree to essentially eat an average 2% interchange credit card fee to load GPR cards? They wont, its not worth it. I dont go to a brick an mortar bank to get free coffee, I doubt I’ll go to a Starbucks for free banking.

  9. Do you think the new partner is Evolve? I just got an email that coming in January you can use Vanilla Reloads to pay bills through Evolve. Too bad Evolve is doing away with credit card (Discover) payments for mortgages . . .

  10. Any suggestions in the Detroit metro area where VR’s are still being sold on credit, as I have tried numerous 711’s, Valero’s, etc. with no luck? 🙁

  11. Several weeks ago I tried purchasing one of the new VR’s at dollar general the cashier let me pay with CC but after swipeing my serve card then the CC a error came up saying my serve card was invalid!! I have used the card before and after this with no problems.

  12. This is interesting — and yet confusing. With respect, may i suggest you’ve misread what’s ending and what’s continuing, that your report of the death of the Vanilla Reload Card is premature.

    I think we had preliminary discussions here earlier this year about the “swipe” version of the Vanilla Reload cards — the ones with a different color scheme, and without the scratch off pin on the back. Family Dollar and a lot of gas station chains (here in VA anyway) ARE selling the VRL/Swipe and they can load for you right at point of sale — but NOT to your bluebird card, but yes, to your AMEX SERVE card.

    Going forward, are they still going to continue calling the “swipe” version of the product a Vanilla Reload card? If I’m right, the answer will be yes. If so, you may wish to to edit and amend the title of your post…. If my hunch is correct, what’s ending is the “pin-enabled package” version of the vanilla reload card. (but the swipe version will give it a new and expanded lease on life)

  13. 2nd try at this post…. Greg, check your own archives…. for item from Jan 24, 2013 (almost 2 years ago). There you wrote about “Pursuing the other Vanilla Reload Card.” (which you load to Serve via “swiping” at point of sale)

    Unless I’m more confused that usual, THIS version of the VRLC will continue — and indeed, become even more widely available.

    • Can you reload my vanilla cards from a checking account at home. My boyfriend is in another country and he was going to try to load the card I have from here in usa. He needed to pay a bill. Can he do this. And what is the limit of the Amy you can put on the card. I am new to this. I have not activated it yet. . He was just wanting the numbers off the card to do it that way. Advice please

    • No, those are different. Vanilla Reload cards have a PIN that can be used only online to reload various prepaid cards (such as Bluebird and Serve). OneVanilla Visa cards have PINs so that the cards can be used as debit cards for payments in situations where credit cards aren’t accepted

      • So the onevanilla will continue to be sold at stores that have it. It is the vanilla reload with PIN that will not be available after april 1.Correct?

        • Amar that is correct. You might still see some ads for the reload at places like Kroger, but this has been discontinued. Just normal OneVanilla cards can be purchased now.

  14. Ok people lets break it down so even a baby would understand. The vanilla visa prepaid card is not going anywhere. what is changing is how you reload it. they are doing away with the reload cards that have a pin on them (the same type of cards you can get your prepaid cell service with) same principle in the card and From now on you have to Swipe at the Register and pay the cashier the amount you want on your card. That doesnt mean that you wont be able to use your Credit cards to Load your prepaid it is completely up to the Store you are Reloading at. So if you want to Reload with a Credit Card find that Store that will do it and never let it Go.

  15. I was still able to purchase vanilla reload pack from my source and load it with a pin as of today….any other data point?

  16. Well I find it Stupid its just lazy on there part What if I need money loaded from someone else in a diff state or country ect… You made it more profitable back to money gram or western union I cant have the freedom of loading on others if they need it without the scratch pin f%$k credit card users #Welp

  17. Back again. I hope I made myself plain in the first email. Can you just have the card number and reload from a checking account? Or do you have have to go to a store? My boyfriend is in another country and needed to know. Also can these cards be used at atm? Was hoping hoping t9 do these transactions from where he is. He will only have card number. Can you ànswer?

    • I haven’t used a MyVanilla debit card in a long time, so I don’t know. I’m not 100% sure I understand what you’re trying to do, but you might have better luck with a fee free Bluebird card. You can sign up for one (and find more info) at Bluebird.com.

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