Vanilla Reloadables

VanillaReload_process_FrequentMiler

Vanilla Reload cards can be a terrific tool for increasing your credit card rewards: 1) purchase a Vanilla Reload card with a rewards credit card (to earn rewards); then 2) Load the value of the card onto a prepaid card; then 3) Use the prepaid card for expenses where credit cards are not usually allowed: bill payments, ATM cash withdrawals, debit payments, etc.

Vanilla Reload cards are not the only type of reload cards available.  There are also MoneyPaks, REloadit cards, PayPal load money cards and probably more (see “The reload game is on“).  This post, though, focuses only on prepaid cards that can be loaded with Vanilla Reload cards.

Amex vs. Visa/MasterCard

All of the cards detailed below are branded as American Express, Visa, or MasterCard cards.  Unlike the American Express cards, the Visa and MasterCard cards can be used as debit cards.  The American Express cards are similar to debit cards in that they can be used at ATMs to withdraw cash, but they cannot be used in any other transaction where a debit card is required.

Two types of Vanilla Reload cards

VanillaReload_slanted_FrequentMiler

There are two distinct types of Vanilla Reload cards, but they look virtually identical.  With the most common type, you can purchase the card at a store, bring it home, and transfer its value to a prepaid card.  With the other type, you must bring the card to the counter in-store and use it in-store to reload your prepaid card.  This second type can only be used with true debit card prepaid cards (i.e. MasterCard and Visa cards).  For more details see “Pursuing the Other Vanilla Reload card“.

Many types of Vanilla

In addition to the fact that there are two different kinds of Vanilla Reload cards, it is important to understand that there are also multiple kinds of Vanilla cards.  Depicted below are a few varieties.  None of these can be used to reload other prepaid cards:

VanillaVisa OneVanilla MyVanilla
Vanilla Gift Card OneVanilla Prepaid MyVanilla Debit
Load once in-store. No fees after purchase. Load once in-store. No fees after purchase.  Acts like gift card, but looks like a debit card. Buy in-store and register with your name and address.  May be reloaded repeatedly.

 

Prepaid cards compared

The tables below summarize the fees and limits of each prepaid card that can be loaded with a Vanilla Reload card.  Note that most of the numbers below were taken from publicly available member agreements and FAQs.  In some cases, these online documents have not been modified in years and so may be inaccurate.  Please help me correct these tables if you have recent experience that contradicts these numbers.

Fees:

Credit transaction

Debit transaction

ATM withdrawal

Cash Advance

Foreign Xchange

Other fees of note

Amex Bluebird $0 N/A Free at MoneyPass ATMs*. $2 elsewhere N/A $0 $2 for online load from debit card (but free at Walmart)
Amex Serve $0 N/A Free at MoneyPass ATMs. $2 elsewhere N/A N/A No other fees
Amex Prepaid $0 N/A $2 (first per month free) N/A $0 No other fees
H&R Block Emerald MasterCard $0 $0 $2.50 $5 ? $.95 per transaction bill pay. $4.95 inactivity fee after 2 months.
JH Preferred Visa $0 $0 $2.50 $5 2% (max $5) $3 per month if less than $1K was loaded to card previous month
Momentum Visa $1 $1 $2 ? $1 + 3% Optional $10 per month plan eliminates per use fees.  $10 Activation fee.
MyVanilla Visa $0.50 $0.50 $1.95 $1.95 3.5% $3.95 per month inactivity fee after 90 days;
NetSpend MasterCard or Visa $1 $2 $2.50 ? 3.5% Monthly plans available to eliminate per transaction fees.  $1 per check bill payment. Check refund: $5.95
PayPal MasterCard $0 $0 $1.95 $2.50 2.5% $4.95 mandatory monthly fee

* Free MoneyPass ATM use is supposed to be contingent upon setting up direct deposit to Bluebird, but I haven’t found that to be necessary in practice.  See “Bluebird: Are direct deposits necessary for free ATM use?

Limits:

Max load via Vanilla Reload (day / month)

Maximum balance (from Vanilla loads)

Max ATM withdrawal (day / month)

Maximum debit transaction

Other limits of note

Amex Bluebird $1K / $5K $10K $500 / $2K N/A $10K per month spend limit except for checks
Amex Serve $1K / $5K $10K* $500 / $2K N/A $10K per month spend limit except for checks
Amex Prepaid $1000 $2500 $400 N/A
H&R Block Emerald $1K / $5K ? $3000 $3,500
JH Preferred $1K / $5K $9,999 $2,550 / $5,500 $5,000
Mio $2,500 $9,999 $400 $9,999.99
Momentum $2,500 $10,000 $1000 ?
MyVanilla $2,500 $9,999 $400 $5,000
NetSpend $7,500 $15,000 $940 $4,999.99 $4999.99 max cash advance
PayPal $2,500 $15,000 $940 ?

 

A deeper look at each card

American Express Bluebird

American Express advertises Bluebird not as a prepaid card, but as a checking account alternative.  It is the only card in the roundup that not only includes free bill pay, but also provides an option for paper checks that cardholders can write out themselves (Unlike a regular checking account, though, each check must be preauthorized and results in an immediate reduction of available funds).  Another great feature of this card (and the Amex Serve card) is that funds can be transferred directly to your bank account for free.  This card is also the only one in the roundup that can be loaded for free at Walmart using debit cards or gift cards (see “Gift card PINs“).  Overall, Bluebird has an almost perfect combination of multiple load options, easy access to funds, and almost no fees.  Grade: A+.

American Express Serve

Serve is so similar to Bluebird that American Express only allows you to have one or the other.  One big difference between the two (that I’m aware of) is that Serve allows loads via credit or debit card for free (limited to $200 per day and $1000 per month).  Also, while Serve has the same bill pay feature as Bluebird, it does not have a paper check option for writing out checks yourself.  Overall, the two products are so similar that they’re hard to differentiate.  They’re both terrific products for loading up from Vanilla Reload cards.  Grade: A+.

American Express Prepaid

Amex prepaid cards are great in that they have virtually no fees, but unlike Bluebird and Serve, they are very limited in options for accessing your money.  The only options for accessing your money are to withdraw cash at ATMs or to use the card like a regular credit card (and therefore forego additional credit card rewards for those same transactions).  Grade: B-.

H&R Block Emerald

UPDATE 4/13/15: This card is now available online.

The only way to get this card is by visiting an H&R Block location in-personEven then, you may not be able to get the card without using their service and getting a tax refund.  If you can get the card, though, it seems very attractive since it has no monthly fees and no debit or credit transaction fees, and it offers bill pay services.  Note that some readers have warned that their cards were shut down quickly after they loaded and withdrew $5K or so.  Grade: B.

JH Preferred

The JH Preferred card is similar to the H&R Block card, but this one can be ordered for free online.  Both are issued by tax preparation organizations and have few fees.  Like the H&R Block card, this one has no debit or credit transaction fees.  And, monthly fees are waived if you deposit at least $1K per month.  They advertise a bill pay feature, but the list of available payees is quite limited.  Note that some readers have warned that their cards were shut down quickly after they loaded and withdrew $5K or so.  Grade: B.

Momentum

The Momentum card is only available in certain regions of the country and must be bought in-store.  You can use this web page to search for availability in your area.  Momentum charges fees for virtually all transactions unless you sign up for the $10 per month plan, which seems steep to me.  The best use for this card is to go without the monthly plan and use only for high value debit transactions.  Grade: B-.

MyVanilla

Unlike the Mio and Momentum cards, MyVanilla is available everywhere within the U.S.  You can buy the card at a store, or simply order one for free online.  Fees and limitations are very similar to the Mio card described above.  A number of people who have run very large amounts of money through these cards have had their accounts shut down.  When that happens, it can take a while to get your remaining funds back so beware of that.  Grade: B-.

NetSpend

NetSpend used to have the option to pay bills via mailed checks, but a reader told me that that feature has been discontinued (can anyone confirm?).  While the fees and limits of this card appear to be very similar to the others in this roundup, the NetSpend card has a major disadvantage: they eventually shut down the accounts of almost everyone who loads funds via Vanilla Reload cards.  You can read about my experience with this here: “We’re sorry, there is a problem with your account.”  Grade: C-.

PayPal

This card has a mandatory $4.95 monthly fee, but then free credit and debit transactions.  This card belongs to the Allpoint Network so while the card itself charges $1.95 for ATM withdrawals, you won’t get another fee from the ATM operator if you go to an Allpoint Network ATM.  Note that the PayPal card is administered by NetSpend so this card may be just as likely to be shut down as the NetSpend card (but I don’t know that for sure).  Grade: D (I don’t like mandatory monthly fees!).

Summary

Bluebird continues to be my favorite Vanilla Reloadable.  You just can’t beat its perfect combination of almost no fees, easy load options, and easy access to your money.  I expect that if I had a Serve account I’d be just as happy with that too.  If you want a card that acts as a true debit card, I’d look to H&R Block or JH Preferred.

Comments

  1. I think I saw the tax reloadables on the rack at Wal-Mart (though it might just have been the list of cards they reload, I can’t remember for sure, I was too busy laughing at the duck dynasty branded Vanilla giftcard…lol)

    So how much can you pull out of the tax cards in one ATM transaction? What is the cash advance fee for? Can you go to the bank and empty funds out of it with cash advance?…I avoid the MO route due to bank scrutiny, but would debit transaction include buying a MO ?

  2. sorry for not checking the fine print myself….JH card allows $510 per atm withdrawal 5 times a day at max, They also list a $2500 monthly limit on POS/OTC, so if you find a participating bank you can take half your monthly limit out (unknown if you do it as a debit transaction or if that’s where the $5 cash advance fee comes in, either way it beats $12.50 atm fees + what the machine charges X 5) If you can’t find a participating bank it says you can also tap that $2500 with a POS withdrawal…so cash back with purchase?
    either way it looks like a good addition to BB for MS…..off to see if I can find answers on H&R’s card.

  3. wise2u, thanks for looking up that info. Yes, you can pull money out of the Visa/MC reloadables via an over the counter cash advance at a bank. That used to be a great way to cash out, but they’ve started to shut down people pretty quickly when they do that.

  4. H&R has $3000 limit on ATM $3500 on daily spend and no limit on OTC withdrawal at bank. I could not find a monthly limit for deposits, just daily of 999.99.

    After reading of the shutdowns it seems both cards are quick to kill the deal for people into MS.

    I would like to know the monthly deposit limit for H&R as it seems as a one-off deal you could load it up for a while, then go to the bank and cash entire account out for $25…that is unless they shut you down for excessive deposits before you get the chance to unload, which seems unlikely,,,,I don’t think they would get mad until you take your money out.

  5. FM: Have you considered doing a post like this about cards which can be reloaded with Reloadit cards? With the new design for the cards that doesn’t have “cash only” printed on it I suspect many people will have an easier time buying them with CC, which up until now has been difficult but not impossible. Plus Reloadits can be loaded up to $950 so you get more bang for your buck with the fee than a $500 VR.

  6. FM,

    I think there are 2 typos in your charts re MVD:

    1. The max CA is at least $5,500. I did that earlier this week.
    2. The CA fee is only 50 cents if anything. Sometimes, they don’t charge.

  7. I recently got a netspend card and loaded 3300 on it via vanilla reloads. When I attempted to load another 500 it reported I was over my limit. I can’t find any documentation on what the monthly VR limit on the netspend site. Is it actually 3500 rather than the 7500?

    • FYI… I called the NS customer service. I was told that because my account was new I was limited to $3500 in reloads every 7 days. There is no mention of this in their terms of service. Seems like they just like to make up the rules on the fly. It has been 8 days since my $3300 in reloads, so I will try it again tonight and see if the customer service rep was telling me the truth.

  8. Similarly, within a week, I recently loaded $9K from VRC onto a new MVD (intending to reach $9,999.99 which their T&C indicate is the max), but their website stopped at $9K & wouldn’t accept any more loads. When I called MVD, they said you can’t just keep loading, and had turned it into a gift card. I asked them to close the account & refund the balance. Supposedly, I’ll get a refund check in 3-4 weeks.

  9. please guys i need your help here,i got a vanilla reload mastercard and is it possible for me to go and convert it to cash

    • Micheal Garvin, I am new to all of this myself, but I think the only way you can turn your VR into cash is through an intermediary like AMEX’s Bluebird or Serve. On a side note, I tried to buy a VR MasterCard at Walmart tonight to test the waters. Wouldn’t let me do a CC purchase. This is probably old news though. Just couldn’t find news other than all the CVS talk to purchase these using a CC.

  10. I want to get a Bluebird card so I can write rent checks to two different places ($1745/month) and pay that via Southwest cc to get miles. It looks like I can either use Vanilla cards (with fewer and fewer places accepting ccs to purchase them) or is there another option I’m missing? I was also considering having my girlfriend get the Bluebird to write checks and then I could have the Serve so I could load via cc. Is there a way to juggle money from Serve to a Bluebird account?
    Thanks!

    • Yes you can move money easily between Serve, Bluebird, and REDbird. However, I think you would do better to get two Serve cards. Use the Serve bill pay function to send your rent check to your landlord (bill pay is free)

  11. Myvanilla prepaid reloadable card only has ten digits instead of 16 what do i do. And its not the vanilla reload card.

  12. Can you get ur taxes loaded to the card? If so how long does it usually take? I milade the mistake of trying to use mvd and was suppose to get them today but didn’t..,idk whats going on,

  13. I just found this article when I was searching for information on OneVanilla. I just have a couple of questions. You wrote that “Vanilla Gift Card” cannot be loaded to other prepaid cards. I’m almost positive this can be loaded to Serve at Family Dollar. Why do you think it can’t? I saw the MyVanilla Debit card in my local 7-11. Do you have an article explaining the benefits of that card? Can you have more than one of those or is like Serve where you can only have one?

    • I meant that Vanilla gift cards do not work like Vanilla reload cards. Yes, they can be used as debit cards to reload other cards in-store under certain circumstances (including the case you pointed out: Serve at Family Dollar). The MyVanilla card used to be pretty handy, but I don’t know of any good uses for it anymore.

      • Are the ones that you buy from CVS Vanilla gift cards or Vanilla reload cards? Does the card in the 2nd picture (OneVanilla Prepaid Visa Card) have any purpose or is it useless like the MyVanilla?

        • I buy Vanilla Visa cards at CVS because CVS no longer lets you use a credit card to buy Vanilla Reload cards. One Vanilla is the version I usually buy since it is only $4.95 (compared to some that are $5.95) and it does not say “gift card” on the front

  14. A couple of days ago I went to 7-11 and they sold all 3 of the pictures that you show. I attempted to buy the Vanilla gc. The guy asked for my ID before telling me it was cash only. Didn’t he asking for ID imply that he would take credit card? That was quite annoying. Why is the reload card more preferable than the gift card?

    • That does sound annoying. Reload cards cut out the extra step of having to go to another store to load money to a prepaid card that makes it easy to get money out (e.g. Serve, Bluebird, Redbird, Gobank, etc) but they’re almost impossible to buy with credit cards these days so most people buy Visa gift cards.

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