Increase credit card spend (and get most of it back). What still works January 2017?

UPDATE: Please find an up-to-date version of this information here: Manufactured Spending Complete Guide.
MS What Works Jan 2017

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: While MS is legal, 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’ve been publishing every two months) is designed to help.

Increase Credit card Spend: Summary of Changes

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

  • Fund Student Loans or College Savings: Alive. Recently it became impossible to fund student loans directly with a credit card (previously some lenders allowed it). This change makes the Gift of College option more attractive to many.
  • KickFurther: Alive, but Risky (Prev: Alive, but partially hobbled).  I previously wrote that you could only fund KickFurther consignments $500 at a time.  That’s still true, but I then learned that you can use a credit card to separately add funds to your Kickfurther account $500 at a time.  This is annoying, but it effectively removes the limit.  So, that’s good.  But, I’m increasing warnings about the riskiness of funding Kickfurther projects.  This article gives a good overview of why it is risky to invest in KickFurther offers.  And, this Reddit thread tracks troubled offers (there are many).
  • Pay Rent with Rentler: Alive (New): This is a new option for paying rent via credit card for a 2.5% fee, or debit card for $3.99.  I don’t see any advantages of this service over Plastiq, but it seemed worth listing.  Unfortunately, it is necessary for your landlord to sign up with Rentler in order to pay your rent this way.
  • Serve: Alive for Some (no change in status): Serve can no longer be funded via MoneyPak (change probably happened long ago, but I just recently learned about it)
  • Visa Buxx Cards: So Close to Dead I Can Taste It (Pev: Mostly Dead): Goodby Nationwide Buxx.  Nationwide Buxx cards were already hobbled, but now they’re being shut down completely as of February 28th.
  • Visa / MasterCard Gift Cards: Mostly Alive (no change in status): A recent great deal was the ability to buy 5 Back Visa cards at Simon Malls or GiftCardMall.com and then use those cards to buy other gift cards at CVS in order to get 5% value added to those cards.  Unfortunately, CVS is withdrawing from the 5 Back program as of January 20th.

Relevant Credit Card Changes:

  • US Bank Cash+: This card will stop offering charity as a 5% cash back category as of February 15 2017.  At that point, this card will be dead to me and will no longer be a good option for charitable donations, Kiva loans, or purchasing Gift of College gift cards online.

The following methods have not changed status since the last report (sorted alphabetically):

  • Bluebird: Alive for Some
  • Fund Bank Accounts: Alive
  • Gift Card Churning: Mostly Alive
  • Kiva Loans: Alive
  • Money Orders: Alive
  • Pay Bills (Plastiq): Alive
  • Pay Federal Taxes: Alive
  • Pay Rent with RadPad: Dead
  • Prepaid Visa/MasterCard Reloadable cards: Alive
  • REDbird: Dead
  • Reselling: Alive

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.

Technique brief summary: Use credit card to buy Gift of College gift cards. Use gift cards to fund student loans or college savings.

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!

Updates:

  • Recently it became impossible to fund student loans directly with a credit card (previously some lenders allowed it). This change makes the Gift of College option more attractive to many.
  • The US Bank Cash+ card will no longer offer charity as a 5% cash back category as of Feb 15th 2017, so that eliminates one of the reasons it was previously worth buying Gift of College gift cards online despite the 3% fee (since Gift of College purchases code as charity).

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 Risky

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:

  • Fund more than $500 easily: I previously wrote that you could only fund KickFurther consignments $500 at a time.  That’s still true, but I then learned that you can use a credit card to separately add funds to your Kickfurther account $500 at a time.  This is annoying, but it effectively removes the limit.
  • Risky business: I’m increasing warnings about the riskiness of funding Kickfurther projects.  This article gives a good overview of why it is risky to invest in KickFurther offers.  And, this Reddit thread tracks troubled offers (there are many).

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:

  • The US Bank Cash+ card will no longer be a good option for funding Kiva loans since it will lose Charity as a 5% cash back category on February 15th.  The US Bank FlexPerks Visa card, though, should still be a good option (it earns 3X for charitable contributions).

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: Alive

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.

Pay Rent with Rentler: Alive

Technique brief summary: Pay rent via credit card for a 2.5% fee, or debit card for $3.99.

I don’t see any advantages of this service over Plastiq, but it seemed worth listing.  Unfortunately, it is necessary for your landlord to sign up with Rentler in order to pay your rent this way.  Here’s Doctor of Credit’s review.

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:

  • Serve can no longer be loaded with Green Dot MoneyPaks.

Current State Details:

  • 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, 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: So Close to Dead I Can Taste It

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

Updates:

  • Nationwide Visa Buxx: Dead as of February 28th 2017
  • 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:

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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Comments

  1. Kroger is working again (ie no longer hard coded against VDGCs). There are still signs that say NO but if you only do 1x at a time reps don’t think twice.

  2. Greg thank you for this valuable analysis. Any datapoints on whether the TD Aeroplan Visa CC (USA) earns “one point per charged dollar” on credit card reloads of the TD Bank “Visa Connect Card” or the “Visa To Go” (Formerly TD Buxx?) – or does TD Bank code CC reloads as a non-point earning charge?

  3. Regarding tax payment using credit cards, I usually file tax using turbotax, but the payment processor in turbotax charges 2.5% fee. Would it be possible to still file tax with turbotax and then pay the dues with another processor like official payments? Thanks.

  4. Nice, comprehensive post. I do want to chime in on one point that I believe to be a persistent misconception.

    Structuring is illegal, but it appears from the relevant legislation and regulation that structuring should not be a legitimate concern in the Credit card-ppdc-mo-deposit cycle. MSing might generate an Suspicious Activity Report, but you cannot (by definition) Structure to avoid an SAR. Under the USC, Structuring is only implicated if you are structuring your transactions in such a way as to avoid specific reporting or record-keeping requirements (that do not include SARs). See this post specifically (and the thread generally) for citations.
    http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/26163164-post1092.html

    Caveat: Structuring was very much a concern during the Mint Direct Ship days because that MSing method involved Currency transactions. If your particular method of MSing involves currency, then Structuring is a concern.

  5. “Vanilla branded gift cards do not work at Walmart for load amounts of $50 or more”
    Does this apply to buying money orders too?

  6. Greg- Thanks for the great overview. I notice that you didn’t mention GoBank, which has been working well for me for the past year. Also I’ve been wondering about reloadit cards- after tmobile shut down the prepaid debit card, I quit buying reloadits. The great thing about them was that they were cheaper and my local safeway had no problem letting me use a credit card to purchase even those that said “cash only”. Does anyone know if there is still a way to use reloadits?

    • Thanks Linda. Go Bank belongs under the general category of “Prepaid Visa/MasterCard Reloadable cards”. It is a great choice for those who can get one (My cards were shutdown moments after I first used them and I’ve never had luck trying to open them again).

      I believe that reloadits can still be loaded to many different reloadable cards, but I doubt your local safeway still allows buying them with credit. If so, go for it!

  7. Hi all-
    Great thread. Just signed up for a bluebird account – new to this whole big travel w/ little money thing 🙂

    What is the best way to load money from a separate gift card (US Bank? Vanilla Reload?) onto my BlueBird account online and then pay bills from BlueBird? Rather, which debit gift cards may I purchase with my credit card to fund my BB account?

  8. Is worth adding this to Gift Card Churning category, in case not everyone knows? > Amazon now allows using Amazon (GC) balance for buying gift cards.

  9. does metabank work for MO at WM? do you need/have a pin with these?
    I also have a couple sunrise visa looks the same as metabank,
    And found some US Bank MC GC at staples, fixed $100 cards any experience with these?

  10. I read somewhere that Amex CC funding to serve works for min spend but does not earn rewards. Is this true? I’m trying to meet my 5k SPG spend.

  11. I got some mastercards for the rebates. I went to Walmart and swiped then pressed cancel. I did it at 2 different stores and it did n’t work. I have done it before so I don’t know what is going on. Then I noticed that the cards say debit on them on a gold circle on the left side. I never tried it straight, I always pushed cancel after the swipe. Any suggestions? If this doesn’t work I am done with the mastercard stuff. Too stressful! Thanks

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