Increase credit card spend (and get most of it back). What still works November 2016?

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?


Increase credit card spend

There are many reasons you may want to increase credit card spend.  You may need to meet spend requirements on several new credit cards in order to earn huge signup bonuses.  Or, perhaps you want to earn high level elite status or other big spend bonuses, as I do with Delta.  Or, perhaps you simply want to earn extra rewards using cards with big category bonuses, or big rewards for everyday spend.

The key to increasing credit card spend is to find techniques that either let you use a credit card to pay for expenses that don’t normally allow credit card charges (e.g. mortgage, rent, taxes, contractor payments, …) or to find ways to spend money with your credit card and get the money back as cash.  The latter is often referred to as “manufacturing spend” or “MS” for short.

MS techniques are perfectly legal, but the same techniques are often used by criminals to launder money or to convert stolen credit card numbers into cash.  This leads many businesses to stop allowing those techniques to work.  One way of looking at it is that criminals indirectly steal our points by killing easy MS options.  Sidebar: Structuring is illegal. Read more here.

Another reason that MS options die is that the businesses involved realize that they’re losing money.  For example, Citibank used to allow funding new bank accounts up to $100,000 by credit card, for free.  In those cases, Citi was absorbing the credit card transaction fees.  Suppose they had to pay 1.5% in fees: When a person used a credit card to deposit $100,000, Citi was on the hook for $1,500 in fees.  It’s no wonder they stopped allowing this!

Regardless of why techniques die out, keeping track of what works and what doesn’t can be a challenge.  This series (which I expect to publish every few months) is designed to help…

Increase Credit card Spend: Summary of Changes

I last published a similar post in September (found here).  Since then, the following are new or have changed status:

  • Fund Student Loans or College Savings: Alive.  This one is new.
  • Gift Card Churning: Alive (Prev: Mostly Alive).  Since the last post, Amex has come on strong with many great Amex Offers which make it possible to buy new gift cards at a discount and resell for a profit.
  • KickFurther: Alive, but partially hobbled (Prev: Alive).  Kickfurther added a $500 limit to credit card funding.  Fortunately it is possible to make multiple credit card payments for the same offer if you’re interested in investing more than $500
  • Money Orders: Alive (Prev: Mentioned only under Visa/MasterCard Gift Cards).
  • Pay Rent via RadPad: DEAD (Prev: Alive).  RadPad has stopped offering the ability to pay rent through their service.
  • Prepaid Visa/MasterCard Reloadable cards: Alive (Prev: Accidentally left out of previous post)
  • Serve: Alive for Some: Readers report that loading via Amex credit card no longer counts towards minimum spend requirements.
  • Visa / MasterCard Gift Cards: Alive (Prev: Mostly Alive).  Gift cards loadable up to $500 have appeared in nationwide stores where they previously weren’t available, and they’ve been re-appearing in grocery stores where they previously were taken away.

And the following have not changed status (sorted alphabetically):

  • Bluebird: Alive for Some
  • Fund Bank Accounts: Alive
  • Kiva Loans: Alive
  • Pay Bills (Plastiq): Alive
  • Pay Taxes: Alive
  • REDbird: Dead
  • Reselling: Alive
  • Visa Buxx: Mostly Dead (Not available to new customers)

Detailed Descriptions Follow (sorted alphabetically)…

Bluebird: Alive for Some

Technique brief summary: Reload Bluebird indirectly with credit card, then withdraw money or pay bills

Updates:

  • 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:

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.

Fund Student Loans or 529 College Savings: Alive.

Gift of College gift cards are now available nationwide at many (but not all) Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores.  Each gift card can be bought with a credit card and each has a $5.95 fee.  When loading each card to the maximum amount ($500), the fee is a very reasonable 1.19%.  There is no fee to apply the value of the gift card to a student loan or 529 college savings plan.

More details can be found here: Pay student loans or 529 plans with a credit card!

Gift Card Churning: Mostly Alive

Technique brief summary: Buy merchant gift card at discount with credit card, resell to break even or make profit

Updates:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Kickfurther: Alive but hobbled

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.

Updates: Kickfurther added a $500 limit to credit card funding. Fortunately it is possible to make multiple credit card payments for the same offer if you’re interested in investing more than $500.

See: Kickfurther review 2. Manufacturing profit and spend.

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.

See: Manufacture Spend (and do good) with Kiva and Kivalens.

Money Orders

Technique brief summary: Use credit card to buy Visa or MasterCard gift card.  Use gift card as debit card to purchase money order.  Deposit money order to bank, or use directly to pay bills.

Updates:

  • Kroger no longer accepts gift cards or temporary prepaid debit cards as payment for money orders.  Permanent reloadable prepaid debit cards (those that feature the customer’s name on the front) will still be accepted at stores that accept debit payments for money orders.
  • Gift cards issued by Metabank no longer work at most/all US Post Offices

Notes / Cautions:

  • Many people have had their bank accounts shut down after depositing large amounts of money orders.
  • Structuring is illegal.  Don’t do it.  More info here: Manufactured Spend & Money Orders: What You Need to Know to Stay Out of Legal Trouble
  • Techniques that work or don’t work are specific to different regions, stores, or even to individual cashiers.
  • Visa gift cards tend to have fewer problems than MasterCard gift cards.
  • Vanilla branded gift cards to not work at Walmart stores for transactions of $50 or greater.

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.

Updates:

  • 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.
  • MasterCard payments now 2.5% (previously 2%)
  • Plastiq now accepts Discover

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 2.5% for credit card payments. Make sure the rewards you earn outweigh those fees!

See:Complete guide to Plastiq credit card payments.

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: Complete guide to paying taxes via credit card, debit card, or gift card

Pay Rent with RadPad: Dead

RadPad has stopped offering the ability to pay rent through their service.

Prepaid Visa/MasterCard Reloadable cards: Alive

Technique brief summary: Use credit card to buy Visa or MasterCard gift card.  Use gift card as debit card to reload prepaid card.  Liquidate by paying bills (some offer free bill pay), ATM withdrawals, buy money orders, etc.

  • Techniques that work or don’t work are specific to different regions, stores, or even to individual cashiers.
  • Visa gift cards tend to have fewer problems than MasterCard gift cards.
  • Vanilla branded gift cards to not work at Walmart stores for transactions of $50 or greater.
  • Fees can add up quickly: It can cost up to $5.95 for each $500 Visa gift card and then another $5.95 to reload your prepaid card.  In that worst case scenario, total fees = 2.38%!

See also: Connecting the dots: Prepaid cards that allow debit reloads

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.

Reselling: Alive

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.

Serve: Alive for Some

Technique brief summary: Reload Serve indirectly with credit card, then withdraw money or pay bills

Updates:

  • Number of cards:  An individual can now have up to 5 different Amex Serve accounts.  Details here.
  • 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, and load amounts NO LONGER 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.

Visa Buxx Cards: Mostly Dead

Technique brief summary: Reload online with credit card, then withdraw money or pay bills

Updates:

  • 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, buy money orders, reload prepaid cards, etc.

Updates:

  • Gift cards loadable up to $500 have been re-appearing in grocery stores where they previously were taken away.
  • Gift cards loadable up to $500 have appeared at many Whole Foods stores nationwide.

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) Use gift card to fund your Kiva balance; or 2) Pay estimated federal taxes for a small flat fee. In person, look for places that offer bill pay services, prepaid reload services; and/or money order purchases. In some cases (which vary regionally), they’ll allow debit payments for these services and then you may be able to use your debit gift cards to pay.

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 »

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  1. When I have to meet a minimum spend requirement that is beyond my normal everyday spending, I use a couple of techniques that are super simple: pre-pay for stuff I’m going to pay for anyway. For example, I pay my energy bill online with a credit card. Though my balance may be $100, I’ll pay $500. Then I take a break from paying my energy bill for a few months. Same with other utilities. I’ve also overpaid at my vet’s office, and they just hold the credit balance and apply it to future visits. Finally, I buy large gift cards for my preferred grocery and gas stores, then use them during months that those categories don’t earn a bonus.

    Oh, and a friend let me pay her hospital bill for her, then reimbursed me. That put me over the top to earn 100,000 UR on my Sapphire Reserve!

      • Kroger does. And if you get branded cards (Applebees and Home Depot–not VISA and MC) you also get Fuel Rewards points. Usually 2x, but 4x on GCs now if you load digital coupon on Kroger site. If you have one nearby, they also have digital coupons now for reduced prices for Overstock, Nike and some other GCs. Easy to earn $1 off per gallon on 35 gallon purchase when deals are this good. Every little bit helps!

  2. Great resource Greg. One thing that has changed is loading Serve via American Express Credit Card no longer counts towards minimum spend. Learned that the hard way.

    • Seconded data point for that one. I used Serve online loads to help hit minimums on two separate Amex credit cards (opened at the same time), but I’m having to scramble now after calling in and being told they didn’t count toward the spend requirement.

  3. I used to be able to buy money orders with visa prepaid gift cards at USPS store. But recently those did not work at USPS. I am talking about visa gift cards that I bought from OfficeDepot and OfficeMax with recent promotions. Anyone had luck to use those to buy money orders recently? Thanks.

    • Unfortunately VGC’s and MCGC’s issued by Metabank and Sunrise no longer work at USPS for money orders. Try liquidating them at Walmart for money orders there instead.

  4. Data point, using SPG with Serve does not work with big spending bonus. Had an offer for SPG to spend 5,000 to get 10,000 but didnt get credit with the Serve spend.

  5. Are the gc’s loadable up to $500 re-appearing in grocery stores where they previously were taken away, able to be liquidated via WM? Got any examples of what these cards look like and in which groceries?

    • I may need to charge tuition to meet spend on new Amex Bus Plat. Through Plastiq, I would get 2x points for small business. As it will be over $5000, do you know if I’ll also get the extra point for large purchases? Thanks.

  6. I’d say you’re overstating the general state of gift card churning. Its certainly possible RIGHT NOW with the two Amex offers out there. But in general most of the previous methods are dead. Resale prices have dropped substantially. GAP cards at Safeway at 20% off? No more. Gift card sales at eBay at below resale? Pretty much dead. Portal earnings buying gift cards? Mostly dead. Buying Staples gift cards at eBay and then using them to buy other gift cards at Staples with a simple hack? Dead. Even a lot of the Amex offers are no longer low enough given the low resale prices for gift cards. Its pretty sad. Use the offers you’ve got for the next two months, but then we’re back to a desert again for 10 months.

  7. Went to liquidate my Vanilla VGCs (bought at Sams for Chase Freedom 5% category) only to be told that as of last week they would no longer accept gc as payment for MO. Any suggestions for liquidation?

  8. Hi, Just wondering why you don’t talk about bill pay that much. I used WM bill pay and it is great to pay the cc directly and not have to deposit money orders.

    • A couple of reasons:
      – It’s my impression (but could be wrong) that most Walmart stores no longer allow bill paying most credit cards.
      – there is some evidence that suggests that paying off credit cards this way may lead to getting your credit card accounts shut down

      Still, I think you’re right. I’ll add this next time, but with warnings.

  9. Hi Greg, thanks for all the great advice. I live on Maui and asked about it being possible to purchase the vgc $200-500 (they’re all black) with a credit card at my local Safe Way and they said they’re allowing up to 2000 dollar purchases of vgcs for the holidays. I’m just wondering what difficulties i could expect to encounter trying to load these onto my serve account? Is it pretty straight forward with vgcs, and do i have to make sure i get a PIN when i purchase one? cheers and happy holidays!

      • yea, from what i’ve gathered you just have to try and see. got the serve vip card which i had to specifically google search for. thanks

  10. I bought a MoneyPak, and it doesn’t seem to be compatible with loading onto a Serve. It complains that I’m not giving it a 16 digit card number. Also, when I type in the first 6 numbers in their verification site (https://www.attheregister.com/moneypak/checkcardeligibility), it says that it is not a compatible card. That’s a real bummer, I bought it based on the info of this post. I have no idea now how I can liquidate a MoneyPak at this point.

  11. Bought some U S bank MCGC’s by mistake at Kroger/Baker’s. I tried to use at Walmart bill pay for a visa bill. When I swiped card, it came back as credit purchase, wouldn’t allow pin. Does anybody know a way to get this to work?I did use U S bank VGC’s with no problem at same time. Any help is very much appreciated.

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