UPDATE: Please find an up-to-date version of this post here: Increase credit card spend (and get most of it back). What still works?
Manufacturing Spend is the process of increasing credit card spend to earn rewards in ways that results in getting most of your money back. These techniques can be useful for helping to meet new credit card minimum spend requirements, to earn big-spend bonuses, or simply to earn rewards. Unfortunately, the options available for manufacturing spend change regularly. So, here is a survey of common techniques along with what currently works and what doesn’t…
- Bluebird: Alive for Some
- Serve: Alive for Some
- REDbird: Dead
- Visa Buxx: Mostly Dead
- Visa / MasterCard Gift Cards: Mostly Alive
- Gift Card Churning: Mostly Alive
- Reselling: Alive
- Kiva Loans: Alive
- KickFurther: Alive
- Fund Bank Accounts: Alive
- Pay Taxes: Alive
- Pay Bills (Plastiq): Alive
- Pay Rent (RadPad): Alive, but now with debit fees
Bluebird: Alive for Some
Technique brief summary: Reload Bluebird indirectly with credit card, then withdraw money or pay bills
- Ability to reload: Only available to those who’s account has not been frozen. New cardholders are fine (until they too have their accounts frozen from reloads).
- Buy Vanilla Reload cards to load funds: Extremely rare to find stores that carry Vanilla Reload cards and allow credit card purchases
- Buy Visa/MasterCard gift cards and use as debit cards to reload in-store at Walmart:
- Kiosks have been removed from most locations (and rarely work anyway)
- In-person loads still technically work with many gift cards, but many stores have taught their employees not to allow reloads with gift cards. In some such cases, a gift card with your name on it (available online from giftcards.com, for example) will work since it can be validated against your ID.
- Vanilla branded gift cards do not work at Walmart for load amounts of $50 or more
- MasterCard gift cards do work at Walmart, but they require effort: you must quickly hit the “Change Payment” button after swiping the card to change to debit payments.
Bluebird is a prepaid reloadable card advertised by Walmart and issued by American Express. To manufacture spend with Bluebird, the trick is to find a way to indirectly add funds via credit card. Once funds are loaded, there are easy options for getting your money back: withdraw cash to your linked bank account; use Bluebird’s bill pay feature to pay your credit card bill; or withdraw cash from ATMs.
Unfortunately, in the past year Amex has aggressively gone after those suspected of manufacturing spend with Bluebird or Serve by freezing the ability to load new funds. This effectively makes Bluebird dead to anyone in that situation.
Those who still have live Bluebird accounts may find that options for loading them indirectly by credit card are also quite limited:
- It used to be possible to buy Vanilla Reload cards at a variety of stores with a credit card, then go online to move those funds to Bluebird or Serve. Today, only a handful of very small chains around the country still sell Vanilla Reload cards and still allow credit card purchases.
- Another option is to buy Visa or MasterCard gift cards and then use those as debit cards in-store at Walmart to reload Bluebird or Serve. For details on what works today with this process, see below: Walmart Kiosks, Walmart, and Visa/MasterCard Gift Cards. Short answer: It’s still possible at some Walmart locations, but not all.
Learn more here:
- Complete guide to Bluebird and Serve.
- How to determine which gift cards work to load Bluebird/Serve at Walmart
Serve: Alive for Some
Technique brief summary: Reload Serve indirectly with credit card, then withdraw money or pay bills
- Ability to reload: Only for those who’s account has not been frozen. New cardholders are fine (until they too have their accounts frozen from reloads).
- Buy reload cards to load funds: Extremely rare to find stores that carry reload cards and allow credit card purchases
- Buy Visa/MasterCard gift cards and use as debit cards to reload in-store:
- Possible at some Walmart locations (see Bluebird, above, for details)
- Possible at some Family Dollar and Dollar General stores. If you can find an accommodating store, all brands of Visa and MasterCard gift cards that have a PIN should work.
- No longer an option at Rite Aid (cash only)
- Load via credit card: Amex cards only. Amex cards issued by Amex do not earn rewards, but load amounts do count towards signup bonus minimum spend and big spend bonuses.
Serve is a reloadable prepaid card built on the same platform as Bluebird. Since Serve is not tied to Walmart in any way, though, it has broader capabilities. Beyond the options for loading Bluebird, detailed above, Serve can also be loaded at a number of stores besides Walmart, and can be loaded with other reload cards in addition to Vanilla Reloads: Money-Pak and ReloadIt. Serve can also be loaded online via Amex credit cards.
Learn more here: Complete guide to Bluebird and Serve.
REDbird — The Target Prepaid REDcard: Dead
Technique brief summary: It used to be possible to load in-store with credit card and then withdraw money or pay bills.
Updates: Cash only loads kills REDbird for manufacturing spend.
Visa Buxx Cards: Mostly Dead
Technique brief summary: Reload online with credit card, then withdraw money or pay bills
- Nationwide Visa Buxx: No longer available to new customers. Hobbled for existing customers.
- TD Bank Visa Buxx: Alive, but only for loads with TD issued credit cards
- US Bank Visa Buxx: Dead
Visa Buxx are prepaid reloadable Visa debit cards designed for teenagers. The great thing about these cards for manufacturing spend is that they can be loaded by a parent online, with a credit card for a small fee. Then, they can be unloaded either by using as a debit card to pay bills via debit card, buy cash equivalents, in stores that allow cash back for debit payments (many grocery stores, for example), or via ATM withdrawals.
Visa / MasterCard Gift Cards: Mostly Alive
Technique brief summary: Buy gift card with credit card, use as debit card to pay bills or to buy money equivalents
Updates: While many grocery stores have gone cash-only for Visa/MasterCard purchases, good options for buying them still exist. Liquidating gift cards has become more difficult, but not impossible.
The trick to manufacturing spend with Visa and MasterCard gift cards is to find ways to buy gift cards with a credit card. Ideally, you’ll find gift cards with low fees as a percent of the total gift card value or where you’ll earn a large credit card category bonus. Many good options still exist.
For detailed options, please see: Best options for buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards.
Unloading gift cards is tougher. Online, I can only think of two good options: 1) you may be able to use gift cards to pay rent with RadPad; or 2) Pay estimated federal taxes for a small flat fee. In person, look for places that offer bill pay services and/or money order purchases. In some cases (which vary regionally), they’ll allow debit payments for these services and then you should be able to use your debit gift cards to pay.
Gift Card Churning: Mostly Alive
Technique brief summary: Buy merchant gift card at discount with credit card, resell to break even or make profit
- Amex Offers: Still alive and well
- eBay: Gift card churning through eBay is alive, but hobbled now that they no longer allow buying 3rd party gift cards with eBay gift cards (grace period for buying gift cards with eBay gift cards run through October 13 2016).
- GameStop: No longer allows buying valuable gift cards with GameStop gift cards.
Gift card churning is the art of buying and liquidating gift cards for the purpose of saving money, earning money, earning extra points, and/or manufacturing credit card spend.
Please see: The art of gift card churning in 2016.
Technique brief summary: Buy merchandise at discount with credit card, earn portal rewards, resell to break even, or make profit, or for a slight loss (this is often a cheap way to indirectly buy airline miles when portals offer big bonuses)
Updates: Amazon has made life more difficult, and in some cases, more expensive for resellers. See: A Dark Time for Amazon Sellers.
Manufacturing Spend through reselling has always been a tough but potentially very rewarding option. In some cases people start reselling for the purpose of manufacturing spend, but soon realize that it is a great way to earn money in general. That said, it takes effort and considerable risk to pull it off.
For an overview of manufacturing spend through reselling, please see: Increasing Spend through Reselling.
Kiva Loans: Alive
Technique brief summary: Use credit card to make micro-loans. Most loans pay back in 6 to 12 months, but with no interest.
Updates: Kivalens, a companion website used for filtering to “safe” loans and making many loans at once, has been completely re-written and is much better than it was before.
Technique brief summary: Use credit card to fund short term business loans (really consignment purchases). If all goes well, you can get your money back, with interest.
Fund Bank Accounts: Alive
Technique brief summary: Use credit card to fund new bank accounts.
Updates: Citibank no longer allows credit card funding of Citi bank accounts.
Read this Doctor of Credit post for details showing which banks allow this and how to avoid cash advance fees.
Pay Federal Taxes: Alive
Technique brief summary: Use credit card or gift cards to pay federal taxes.
If you don’t mind giving the US government a loan, you can use a credit card or Visa/MasterCard gift card to pay your year-end and/or quarterly estimated taxes. Fees start at 1.89% for credit cards, or flat $2.50 fees for debit cards. Over-payments, if any, will be refunded after you file your year end taxes.
For full details, please see: Top 5 reasons to pay federal taxes with a credit card or gift card.
Pay Bills with Plastiq: Alive
Technique brief summary: Use credit card or gift cards to pay bills that can’t usually be paid by credit card.
- In some cases the Citi AT&T Access More card counts Plastiq payments as online purchases, so they earn 3X rewards. Search the Frequent Miler Laboratory for details.
If you have bills that can’t usually be paid with a credit card (e.g. mortgage, rent, car payments, professional services, etc.), then one option is to pay those bills with the Plastiq bill payment service. Current fees are 2% for MasterCard payments, and 2.5% for Visa or American Express. Make sure the rewards you earn outweigh those fees!
Pay Rent with RadPad: Alive
Technique brief summary: Use credit cards or debit gift cards to pay rent.
- RadPad debit payments are no longer free. They now charge $4.95 per payment.
- RadPad reduced credit card payment fees from 3.49% to 2.99%
- RadPad payments made through Apple Pay and Android Pay are coding as Travel purchases by Chase
RadPad does require proof of rent charges so this technique cannot be used to pay yourself or friends.
Please find an up-to-date version of this post here: Increase credit card spend (and get most of it back). What still works?