Best practices for increasing credit card spend through prepaid cards

Earlier this week, I published “My winter 2016 approach to manufactured spending.”  In that post I mentioned that all 6 of the Serve cards I had been managing were shut down.  And, I wrote:

I can load gift cards to any number of other cards for a small fee ($4.95 or less, typically).  Many such cards (Account Now, for example) have free bill pay, so a 1% load fee isn’t the end of the world, especially if one can buy gift cards at a very low cost in the first place.

Many people followed up with me to ask about Account Now.  To tell the truth, I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about Account Now.  I simply used Account Now as an example of a card that offers free bill pay.  Since then, I’ve been putting together a list of prepaid reloadable cards that offer free bill pay.  You can find the list here: Reload Cards with Free Bill Pay.  I consider it a work-in-progress.  If you know of other cards to add to the list or you have better info than I presented in the list, please head over to that page and add a comment or two.

prepaid card manufactured spend Check ListPrepaid Card Manufactured Spend Best Practices

Ever since Amex shut down many Bluebird and Serve accounts (see: Amex kills Bluebird and Serve for manufactured spend), many people have been scrambling to find the next best thing.  If that’s you, a good starting point, I think, is this page which lists a number of different approaches: “How to increase credit card spend.” Many, though, are comfortable with the old Bluebird / Serve approach and would like something similar.

With prepaid reloadable cards, the manufacturing spend cycle looks like this:

  1. Use a credit card to buy Visa or MasterCard debit gift cards (find best options here)
  2. Use those gift cards as debit cards, in-store, to reload a prepaid reloadable card.
  3. Use the prepaid card’s bill pay feature to pay bills that can’t usually be paid by credit card: mortgage, rent, or even your credit card bill.

Assuming you’re going to go out and try the above steps with a new prepaid card or two, here’s some advice to get you started…

1. Find local opportunities

Buying Visa or MasterCard gift cards with a credit card isn’t too hard.  True, it can be tricky to find good options in some cities, but most people have ready access to a number of options.  The hard part is loading the value of that gift card onto a prepaid card.  It generally can’t be done online.  And, many stores accept cash only for prepaid reloads.  The trick is to find local stores that offer reload services, and are willing to accept debit for payment, and have not been trained to turn away people who pay with gift cards.

Once you find a store that works, don’t assume that other stores within the same chain will work.  For example, in some parts of the country a certain well known grocery chain accepts debit cards for financial transactions whereas in many other parts of the country stores in that same chain do not.  Similarly, a certain Midwest discount store accepts debit cards, but many cashiers have been trained not to allow gift cards to be used as debit cards for those transactions.

2. Always have a backup plan

Opportunities come and go all the time.  If you’ve found one way to liquidate gift cards that’s good, but it’s not enough.  I recommend finding at least 2 distinct options before investing heavily in gift cards.  If you get stuck with a bunch of gift cards anyway, please check out this post for ideas: Bluebird Serve Birdpocalypse: How to liquidate remaining gift cards.

3. Answer “debit” when asked how you want to pay

When reloading a card at a register, you’ll often be asked how you want to pay.  Never say “gift card”.  The correct and truthful answer is “debit card”.  Some cashiers will be confused if you mention gift cards and may think that gift cards are not a valid form of payment.

4. Never leave a balance

If you use prepaid cards to manufacture spend then (unless you’re incredibly lucky) your account will eventually get shut down.  When that happens, the issuing bank might not release your funds for quite a while.  To prevent that possibility, I recommend unloading the card as soon as possible after loading it.  For example, load $500 to your prepaid card in-store then, in the same day, log in and use the card’s bill pay feature to pay your credit card bill, mortgage, or whatever.

Another reason to keep the balance at zero is to avoid monthly fees or inactivity fees.  Fees are collected by drawing down your balance.  If there’s no balance, they can’t collect those fees.

5. Don’t use the cards for anything but manufacturing spend

Most prepaid cards have ridiculous fees.  Some charge a fee for every transaction.  And, unlike your credit cards, most prepaid cards don’t offer any kind of rewards.

You might think that using the card as expected will prevent the card from getting shut down.  That’s certainly possible, but I’ve tried that approach with several cards in the past and have always been shut down anyway.

One exception: if you have a card that you really don’t want to risk losing (such as Serve or Bluebird, for example) then it makes sense to do things that may keep the card alive.  The number one thing you can do to try to keep it alive is to use it for day to day spend (e.g. use as a credit card at swipe terminals to buy things).

6. You will get shut down. Don’t worry. Try again.

The first time one of my prepaid cards was shutdown I was worried that it would somehow affect other things.  Would there be a black mark on my credit report or ChexSystems report?  Over time I learned that it really had no effect at all (other than sometimes tying up my money for a while).  In fact, with some prepaid cards I was able to apply for the same card again and start over!  Overall, I think its best to think of prepaid accounts as disposable accounts.  As long as you keep them empty of funds, you’ll be fine if they get shut down.

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.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Pingbacks

Comments

  1. #7 – For more advanced players, if you want to keep your prepaid account alive *swipe your card* The companies make money on swipe fees and usually don’t shut down profitable customers. Work some extra swipes into your MS routine and your cards will stay alive longer.

    This negates #4 (which is bad advice) Do leave a balance. Regular users do not cycle money through their account so quickly.

    • In my opinion (based on experience), that strategy is risky. I’ve done exactly what you recommend in the past but have been shut down anyway, and my funds were frozen for many weeks.

      The only cards I’d recommend that strategy with are the Amex Serve/Bluebird cards. There is some evidence suggesting that people who used their cards for swipes were less likely to be shut down. Also, Amex has not frozen funds when they shut down accounts, so there is really no risk there. And, finally, with the non Amex cards: there are so many to choose from that there is really no downside to getting shut down if you keep your account empty. With Amex, their products really are better, so getting shut down does have a significant downside.

    • This is bad advice. As FM just wrote and I can confirm unless you plan to put a lot of spend then your chances of keeping them happy are slim. Netspend for example are the nazis or prepaid cards. they watch for any transactions like large bill payments to a CC and shut down Immediately. I was even banned by them for life.
      It’s also not worth it in the end since the name of the game is to cycle funds quickly not transfer spend from a lucrative Cc to a crappy prepaid

  2. Could not agree more with Russ on both points. Swipe your cards a few times a week at least and keep some money in the account. Another one would be don’t make large credit card bill pays. Keep them small (i.e. not a $3,000 payment to one CC account) and spread them out over a month. Keep in mind than the average American Express card holder is spending around $1,600 a month on each card while for Visa and Mastercard, it is half that.

    • Out of curiosity, where did you find the $1600/$800 number? In the past 40 days I’ve managed to rack up ~$2700 in personal (non-MS) spend. I’m probably a heavier user than most, but am just curious… always looking for new things to read.

    • nonsense, Bluebird shut down my wife’s, brother’s and my card…and brother used for purchases at Walmart every week, made a few atm withdrawals, never paid a large credit card bill, ( a few small ones), never withdrew funds to bank account, didn’t empty account at end of month…basically used it as it was meant to be used, and got shut down with the rest. My wife and I also had varied usage patterns and were shut down…the only common item was loading 5k every month….so as far as BB/serve/RB goes amex has no “safe” usage pattern.

  3. I wanted to leave a comment on the “Reload Cards with Free Bill Pay” but didn’t see a field section to do so. I recently saw a sign for T-Mobile’s Visa Prepaid Card. Anyone have experience with it?

    • Thanks for pointing this out. I’ve now opened up comments on that page (didn’t realize that comments were shut off). I’ll let others chime in with their experience with the t-mobile card.

  4. has anyone tried shutting down their dead BB and reapplying?….curious to see if you are blackballed forever…I suppose you could do one for a family member that has never had one and work it until it is shut down….the usage patterns they supposedly shut everyone down for had nothing in common for my 3 cards except max load every month with GC…as a matter of fact the usage pattern was so different that I assumed they used IP address to ID me using multiple cards. I wonder if you could dodge the axe by not fully loading/unloading every month, and using incognito windows to use their site?

    • same question – what are other prepaid card-accounts that can be funded by Simon mall gift cards??

      Please enlighten!

  5. If you use Achieve or AccountNow. You will be shut down if you MS. Usually around the 20-25k or about 3-4 mos. They’ll hold your funds left when they secretly shut your acct and you’ll fight back and forth w them for about 2 mos to get a check. People should be warned about this crappy prepaid companies and then you can decide if the 20k in spend you hit on it is actually worth the hassle.

  6. My bluebird account did not get shutdown. I was trying to load gift card at Walmart for $100 and had no success. I set up my own pin. Anyone knows what to do.

      • This is exactly what happened to me. I called Serve and found out that I had been shut down but never received an email. I also tried to open a new BB account yesterday and was denied. I’d say you’re shut down too.

  7. I’m curious about the negative impact of having your prepaid account shut down. You say that it’s inevitable and that “you learned that it really had no effect at all”. Please enlighten us on what effect it did have.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *