Manufactured Spending Complete Guide

Manufactured Spending

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 “manufactured spending” or “MS” for short.

Manufactured spending 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 manufactured spending options. Sidebar: While MS is legal, structuring is illegal. Read more here.

Another reason that manufactured spending 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.  On this page the Frequent Miler team keeps track of what works and what does not.

Healthy and easy techniques

Healthy but risky, difficult, or local

Techniques on life support

MS graveyard

Credit card updates

  • US Bank FlexPerks Visa: This card’s charity category bonus will drop from 3X to 2X at the end of 2017.
  • American Express cards: In some cases American Express will claw back points earned from signup bonuses if the cardholder met minimum spend by buying prepaid products (e.g. gift cards).  I recommend using other techniques to meet minimum spend.
  • US Bank Cash+: This card stopped offering charity as a 5% cash back category as of February 15 2017.

Detailed Descriptions Follow (sorted alphabetically)…

Bluebird

Health Assessment: On life support

Technique brief summary: Reload Bluebird indirectly with credit card: use credit card to buy Visa gift card, then use Visa gift card as debit card to reload Bluebird at Walmart.  Withdraw money to bank account or pay bills.

Costs: Varies depending upon cost to buy Visa gift cards. No fee to load or liquidate funds to/from Bluebird.

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

Health Assessment: Healthy But Risky

Costs: Free (unless you end up paying cash advance fees!)

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 College Savings or Student Loans with Gift of College gift cards

Health Assessment: Healthy and Easy

Costs: $5.95 per $500 (1.19%)

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 most 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.

We expect to see Gift of College gift cards appear in additional stores, such as grocery stores and/or discount stores, in the near future.

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

Updates:

  • Gift of College gift cards are now showing up at H-E-B and Fred’s stores.  We should soon see them at Best Buy as well.  More here.
  • 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 no longer offers 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).
  • The US Bank Flexperks card continues to earn 3X for charity.  Online purchases of Gift of College gift cards do earn 3X.

Gift Card Churning

Health Assessment: Healthy but risky and sometimes difficult

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

Updates:

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

Health Assessment: Healthy, but extremely 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).
  • Kickfurther has changed the way they do business and is now posting only 100% Purchase Order Backed Co-Ops.  This should make Kickfurther less risky, but only time will tell.

See: Manufacture spend and profit with Kickfurther? My 3rd review…

Kiva Loans: Alive

Health Assessment: Healthy, with easy ways to reduce risk.

Costs: Free, but there is always risk that some loans will default and you’ll lose your money on those loans.

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 FlexPerks Visa card’s charity category bonus will drop from 3X to 2X at the end of 2017.
  • 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.

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

Health Assessment: This is extremely location dependent. In some areas, buying money orders with debit gift cards is easy. In other areas it can be very difficult.

Costs: Varies by store. Walmart charges 70 cents per money order. The US Post Office charges $1.20 per $500 or lower money order, or $1.60 per $500.01 to $1000 money order.

Technique brief summary: Use credit card to buy Visa or MasterCard gift card (see: Best options for buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards). 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 (but some have reported success anyway). 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 and US Bank 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 do not work at Walmart stores for transactions of $50 or greater.

Pay Bills with Plastiq

Health Assessment: Healthy and easy.

Cost: 2.5% fee is standard for credit card payments, but they often run special discounts.

Technique brief summary: Use credit card or gift cards to pay bills that can’t usually be paid by credit card.

Updates:

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

Health Assessment: Healthy and easy.

Cost: As low as 1.87% for credit cards, $2.25 flat fee for debit cards.

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.

Updates

For full details, please see: Complete guide to paying taxes via credit card, debit card, or gift card.

Pay Friends with Venmo or Paypal

Health Assessment: Healthy and easy.

Cost: Venmo: 3% for credit cards, free for debit cards.  Paypal: 2.9% + 30 cents for credit or debit cards

Technique brief summary: Use credit card to pay money owed to friends, for a fee.

Updates:

Both Venmo and Paypal allow individuals to pay friends via credit card with approximately 3% in fees.  In general, 3% fees will more than wipe out any advantage of earning rewards from a credit card, but when trying to meet minimum spend requirements in order to get a new credit card signup bonus it may very well be worth it.

There is an unconfirmed report that the Chase Ink Business Preferred card earns 3X with Venmo payments.  If true, this would be a great way to essentially buy Ultimate Rewards points for just under a penny each.  For example, if you send $1000 you’ll pay $1030 due to the 3% fee.  For that $30 fee, you’ll earn 1030 x 3 = 3090 points. Price per point = $30 / 3090 = .97 cents.

Another great option with Venmo is with Amex gift cards.  Payments made with Amex gift cards through Venmo are fee free.  That said, Venmo is known to shut down accounts of those who do too much volume and cycle through too many different cards.  Note too that they have limit of 8 different cards per 6 months.

Pay Rent with RadPad

Health Assessment: Healthy and easy

Cost: Pay with credit card for 2.99% fee, or debit card for $4.95 (less than $5K rent), or $9.95 (move than $5K rent).

Technique brief summary: Pay rent via credit card

Updates:

RadPad is a rent payment service that had previously shuttered their service, but is now available again.  The reason that this service is interesting is that it may code as travel or online purchases for the purpose of earning credit card category bonuses.  Specifically, the following options have worked in the past and are expected to work again:

  • Pay with the Citi AT&T Access More card to earn 3X rewards (only through July 21 2017)
  • Pay via Apple Pay or Android Pay so that purchase is coded as travel (confirmed reports can be found here):
    • Earn 3X with Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Ink Business Preferred
    • Earn 3X with Citi Premier or Citi Prestige

Pay Rent with Rentler

Health Assessment: Healthy and easy

Cost: 2.5% credit card, $3.99 debit card.

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.

PayPal My Cash Cards

PayPal Freeze

Health Assessment: Mostly Dead

Update: CVS is the one national chain known to sell these and allow credit cards to pay, but they recently stopped selling these cards.  See: CVS stops selling PayPal My Cash cards.

Cost: $3.95 per $500 to purchase (0.79% fee). You may incur additional costs to liquidate (when buying money orders, for example).

Technique brief summary: Buy PayPal My Cash cards with a credit card (some drug stores allow credit card payments); load the funds to your PayPal account (up to $4,000 per month); and then retrieve the funds in a number of ways: transfer to your bank account; send money to friends; spend the funds with a PayPal debit card (buy money orders, for example); etc.  For information about how to use these without getting shut down, see: PayPal Business Debit Card: A Great Backup Tool for Manufactured Spending.

Prepaid Visa/MasterCard Reloadable cards

Health Assessment: Healthy, but reload techniques are highly dependent upon location.

Cost: Varies.

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

Health Assessment: 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

Health Assessment: Healthy, but difficult and risky

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

Health Assessment: On life support

Costs: Varies depending upon cost to buy Visa gift cards. Monthly fees and/or load fees depend upon the type of Serve card you have.

Technique brief summary: Reload Serve indirectly with credit card: use credit card to buy Visa gift card, then use Visa gift card as debit card to reload Serve at supported stores.  Withdraw money to bank account 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, but you will not earn rewards when doing so with an Amex issued American Express card.

Learn more here: Complete guide to Bluebird and Serve.

Visa Buxx Cards

Health Assessment: On life support

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

Health Assessment: Healthy, but purchase and liquidation techniques are extremely location dependent

Cost: Varies. $500 gift cards typically cost $4.95 to $5.95 when purchased in-store (1% to 1.19%)

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.

Comments

  1. Everyone should complain to Walmart HQ if your particular place will not accept gift cards with PINs to buy money orders. OK is some places but not in others. Not uniform.

  2. If you are a precious metals collector, Fidelitrade has a metals accumulation plan that allows one to buy metals with a credit card. There are service fees but as I recall the fees are charged on all purchases, not just credit card purchases.

  3. When signing up for those services to pay rent with a credit card what documents do they require? Our rent agreement expired 2 years ago and we’ve been doing rent on a month to month basis.

    • The requirements vary by service. With Plastiq, they may ask you after you attempt to make your first purchase for a rental agreement or invoice of some kind. While I haven’t paid rent through Plastiq, I’ve had this happen with many other payments. It has always been enough for me to send them a note from the payee indicating how much I owe.

  4. Nice round-up that I somehow missed when it was published. I was hoping to see something about one specific question, since I it’s a four-hour roundtrip to a WM for me: Where can office supply Metabank GCs be converted to MO? And — hopefully a related question — can anyone report from the trenches what PIN-enabled, bank-issued prepaid debit cards Meijer accepts for MO purchases? I’ve googled this every which way, but the answer ain’t come loose. Thanks.

    • The answer is very location dependent. Your best bet is to try to find people in your area that do this so that you can trade notes. With Meijer, I haven’t encountered any gift cards that don’t work, but most area Meijer stores don’t allow paying with gift cards (whereas one or two stores still do).

  5. There is no place in the Dallas, TX area that will sell money orders using gift cards with PINs. USPS computers reject them, too. (Sob!)

    • What’s your assessment of paying mortgage with Plastiq using the new AMEX Blue Cash Business Plus, earning 2x MR per $1 spent on all purchases?
      Thanks

      • It’s a good option. It’s like buying Membership Rewards points for only 1.25 cents each. Of course, using the same card to pay your taxes at 1.89% is even better. The latter is like buying MR points for only 0.95 cents each.

    • The plastiq website says different right on the front page:

      “Whether you’re taking care of your rent or mortgage, making car payments, paying a contractor, or booking a private jet, Plastiq is the best way to pay.”

      Am i missing something?

      • I think what you’re talking about is paying a mortgage — which can be done with a Mastercard or Amex (or Discover I suppose). But you can’t use Visa credit cards anymore.

  6. Now that PayPal My Cash cards are discontinued, what do you think of just linking a credit card to PayPal account and making it both the preferred and backup payment method for PayPal? This seems almost too easy – is there a catch? I can find no indication that PayPal charges a fee when they use credit card for payment. And they actually mention this on the PayPal site with the jolly introduction “Love earning those points, miles and cash back every time you pay with plastic? Just link your credit cards…” so I guess they don’t disapprove.

    • I believe that linked credit cards can only be used when using paypal to pay for things, not to send money to friends, etc. Often you could have used a credit card directly anyway so there’s no advantage. There is an option to use a PayPal credit card as a backup funding source for the PayPal business debit card and that can be profitable under certain circumstances.

      • True, this is just for online transactions, which perhaps makes it special purpose enough that it doesn’t count as MS. It’s more in line with my goal of running all my normal expenses through a rewards card. It’s particularly useful for charitable donations. I like using PayPal because it allows me to keep my personal info (mailing address, phone, etc) away from the organization I’m funding. I want to donate, but I don’t want to be hounded by them.

  7. Looks like Gift of College is now charging a 5% fee?

    “Gift givers can gift from $25-$500. Gift givers are assessed a 5% processing/service (capped at $15) fee per transaction. This fee covers costs associated with this service.”

    Found it under FAQ “How much can I gift to a GiftofCollege profile?”

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