Connecting the dots: Prepaid cards that allow debit reloads

Following the widespread shutdowns Amex inflicted on Bluebird and Serve cardholders, people are rushing to find alternatives.  There are many manufactured spend opportunities that do not involve prepaid cards, but for those who prefer to stick with what they know, I developed a couple of resources:

The two posts shown above provide key information, but they don’t directly answer the question people keep asking: Which cards allow debit reloads?

Prepaid Reloadable Cards and Networks Connecting the dots

Background

Signing up for great credit card offers is, I believe, the single best way to earn points & miles quickly.  The problem is that most offers have substantial minimum spend requirements.  To meet those requirements, some people turn to “manufactured spend” techniques.  One popular technique involves prepaid reloadable cards – especially those with bill pay functionality.

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.

The wrong question

The question, “which cards allow debit reloads?” is tough to answer because it’s the wrong question.  The questions that need to be answered are:

  1. Which stores in my area accept debit cards as payment for “cash reloads”?
  2. Of the stores identified in question 1, which accept debit gift cards for payment?
  3. Of the stores identified in question 2, which prepaid cards can be reloaded there?

The answers to these questions will vary from one location to another.  So, rather than give a single answer, I’ll show how I recommend finding the answers…

Start with the reload networks

Each reloadable prepaid card can be reloaded through one or more reload networks: Green Dot, MoneyGram, Visa ReadyLink, etc.  In the resource post “Reload Cards with Free Bill Pay,” I’ve listed the networks that each prepaid card belongs to.  Each network provides merchant lookup pages for your area, and I included links to those pages in that resource page too.  For convenience, here are the links:

Find likely stores

Click through some or all of the links above, input your zip code, and examine the list of stores that pops up.  You can immediately cross off the national brands that are known not to accept debit for cash reload payments.  7-11, CVS, and Home Depot, for example, can be crossed off your list.  Things can change, though, so keep them in mind for future tests.

You can ask, but…

Don’t ask a merchant if they accept gift cards for payment.  You’re likely to be told no, regardless of whether or not its true.  It is perfectly fine, though, to ask a merchant if they accept debit cards for payment.  Here’s the problem: there’s a great chance that you’ll get the wrong answer.  Many store employees, including store managers, don’t fully understand their store’s reload policies.  And, many do not understand the difference between credit and debit payments.  Most employees know (correctly) that credit payments aren’t accepted for reloads so they assume that debit payments are not accepted either.

Arm yourself with a few prepaid cards

In order to test out merchants, you will need a few prepaid cards to test with.  Several cards are available for free online (there’s usually a charge to buy these in-store).  Some of these have monthly fees, but they won’t assess those fees if you keep the account empty of funds:

Try it

Test out likely stores by bringing your prepaid card to the register and asking to reload your prepaid card.  Typically the cashier will have you swipe your prepaid card, then they’ll ask how much you want to load.  Finally, you can pay.  In some cases, the register will then clearly show that cash is the only option for payment.  In other cases, the register will let you attempt to pay however you want (even with a credit card) and will complain afterwards if it doesn’t like that form of payment.  Try a debit card and see what happens.

If you’re unlucky enough to be at a store where employees have been taught not to allow debit gift card payments, you may encounter one or more of these situations:

  • The cashier might closely watch as you swipe your debit card to make sure that it looks like a real debit card rather than a gift card.
  • The cashier may insist on examining your debit card and may reject it if it is clearly a gift card
  • The cashier may insist on comparing the name on your debit card to the name on your ID

If any of those things happen, then you might have luck with personalized Visa gift cards (find best options here).

Find the best prepaid cards

Once you’ve found a few stores in your area that accept debit card payments for reloads, then you can see if there are better prepaid card choices than the ones you already have:

  1. Identify the reload networks that list the stores you found
  2. Find the prepaid cards that support one or more of those networks
  3. Identify which prepaid cards are best for your needs.  You’ll want to examine the cardmember agreements and fee schedules.
    • Look to minimize fees based on your expected usage.
    • Note card limits (some do not allow more than $999 to be loaded per day, for example).
    • Keep in mind that stated card limits are not always enforced.

Observe best practices

Please read “Best practices for prepaid card manufactured spend.”  I realize that some of the advice there is controversial, but I do believe it to be solid advice.

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

  1. […] To be clear, not all stores will accept gift cards as debit cards for all transactions, but with a little research you should be able to find options that work for you. One example is that Vanilla Visa cards no longer work as debit cards at Walmart for transactions $50 and above, but continue to work elsewhere including to load Serve at stores such as Rite Aid and Family Dollar.  See also: Connecting the dots: Prepaid cards that allow debit reloads. […]

Comments

  1. I am a member of AAA and while I was in the office last time purchasing a gift card the clerk told me of a prepaid card that they offer the is reloadable for free. You can load it in office with a debit card up to $2,000. There is only an inactive fee after 1 year. There is an upfront purchase fee of 7.95. I didn’t have any gift cards with me to try it. Has anyone tried it? I am new to manufacturing spending.

    • I use (1.5 years ago approximately) to have their card – which I would load with Amex but visa or mastercard would be fine as well. I don’t remember a billpay option though. It served as its own debit card – which I would load onto my bluebird. I did it to aggressively so they shut me down. Unless I’m not thinking straight – there’s no advantage if you cannot use the AAA card account for billpay.

  2. I miss the good old days of Bluebird, CVS and Vanilla Reloads. Our biggest problem back then was finding enough reload cards to meet our monthly maxes. Oh how times have changed.

  3. Couldn’t you just come to my neck of the woods and test out the local stores and then write a blog post with your findings? Would save me so much time and trouble! Thanks for all the great posts, by the way.

    • This is the lazy approach. MS you have to test and try out what works and doesn’t work. The problem with having step by step directions is that disseminates information and creates competition and an influx of MSers.

        • Yes and yes to both of you! Things are getting shut down much faster than I can keep ahead of these days, sadly…(Haven’t seen it reported anywhere yet, but my local Albertson’s appear to have followed Safeway’s lead and no longer have variable load gc’s on the shelf)

    • I actually tried this today, just for curiosity’s sake. All of my Serve accounts got shut down in the bloodbath. Tried to apply for one BB today. On the final approval screen, it said we cannot approve your account at this time.

      May try again in 6 months or so, but at least so quickly after, it didn’t work for me.

  4. In reports that I’ve seen of people trying to signup for Bluebird after getting Serve shutdown (or vice versa), people were not successful. One person was told by an Amex rep that he would be able to signup if he waits a month after closing his account. I doubt it will work, but it can’t hurt to try.

  5. My (Soft)Serve card got shut down so I’m looking for other options in my area…

    Does anyone have experience with the Gobank card? Can you load it at WalMart with GC with no problems?

  6. Mike, Since BB got killed, I was looking for ways like so many others to load GC’s. I ordered a “RushCard” but now after reading a lot of negative reviews, I am little concerned… What has been the experience with recent RushCard users ? Can you load Metabank GC’s ? ( like those you would get from Office Supply co’s ? ) Or is it only Greendot, or Moneygrams ?? Any advice, is appreciated. Keep up the great work !!!

    • I don’t have (and haven’t heard) any direct experience with RushCard. You should be able to load any gift card with PIN as long as you find a store that allows debit loads on the Greendot, Western Union, or Moneygram networks. I’d recommend just trying it in a few places to see what happens.
      -Greg

  7. Can I have a family member reload my bluebird card via MoneyGram if they don’t physically have the card? I’m seeing that MG offers prepaid debit reloads for a fee but I’m wondering if it has to be me to do it and if they have to swipe the card?

  8. Greg….do you know if the KAIKU card works with ReloadIT? AccountNOW is no longer supported by Reloadit.

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