As of April 1, 2015 Vanilla Reload cards are no longer available for purchase
Recently I outlined the basics of manufactured spending, including the key reload/prepaid cards involved and methods of unloading them. In this post, I’m going to expand on Vanilla Reload cards, the costs associated with them, where to get them, and how to unload them.
Vanilla Reloads are the most common and easiest tool to use in the manufactured spending game. These cards come with a $3.95 fee and can be purchased at participating retailers (i.e. CVS, 7-Eleven) with a mile-earning credit card in increments of $500. If you’re able to buy these with a credit card that pays out a category bonus at select merchants (i.e. grocery store, gas station, drug store), the fee is minimized further by the additional miles you’ll earn.
They can be loaded onto nearly a dozen prepaid cards and cashed out in numerous ways. One of the cash-out options involves ATM transactions. In addition to any fees imposed by the debit card company, the ATM operator will also charge one (usually around $2-4). Costco has one of the lowest ATM fees ($1.25), so that is a great place to unload your balance.
Below are the least expensive prepaid cards you can use to unload Vanilla Reload cards:
1. American Express Bluebird
Reload Limit: $1,000 per day/$5,000 per month
Where to buy: Online, CVS, select grocery stores (Save Mart, Foodmaxx, Fred’s, etc.), Dollar General, Family Dollar other retailers.
How to Cash Out: Bluebird’s bill pay feature or Bluebird checks.
Bluebird is a prepaid card issued by American Express, billed as a checking account alternative. It is available online or at your local Walmart for a fee. Bluebird can also be loaded with a mile-earning debit card or PIN-enabled Visa/Mastercard giftcards.
Bluebird can be used to pay off credit cards, mortgage, or send check payments for services that do not accept credit cards (i.e. the landscaper, babysitter, etc.). However, most people simply load Bluebird with Vanilla Reloads and then use Bluebird’s bill pay feature to pay off their credit cards, make mortgage/rent payments, etc.
2. MyVanilla Debit Card
Reload Limit: $2,500 per day/$9,999 per month
Fees: This card has a myriad of fees, most of which can be avoided. Here are some of the fees you will likely end up paying:
- $3.95 Activation fee
- $1.95 ATM withdrawal (domestic)
- $0.50 PIN transaction fee
- $0.50 Signature transaction fee
- $3.95 dormancy fee (assessed each month to accounts with no activity for 90 days)
Where to buy: Online, CVS, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Fred’s Super Dollar, Murphy USA
How to Cash Out: Walmart money order ($0.25-$0.77 cents per $1,000), Cash back at grocery store registers, ATM machines, Amazon Payments, Square Cash
These cards can be ordered online or a temporary version can be purchased in store for a fee. You can have up to two MyVanilla Debit cards at a time.
This product lacks the online bill pay feature of American Express Bluebird and there is also a $0.50 fee per debit/credit transaction. Those who max out the $9,999 monthly load limit and subsequently unload the balance have gotten their accounts shut down, so be careful with this one.
According to the MyVanilla Debit website, you can also reload your card at the Walmart register, though this is likely limited to debit cards.
3. American Express Serve
Reload Limit: $1,000 per day/$5,000 per month
- $2.95 fee if you purchase the card in-store
- $1 monthly fee (waived in NY, TX, VT) waived any month at least $500 is loaded, or the card is added to your Isis Mobile Wallet
- 2 ATM fee (first ATM withdrawal every month is free)
Where to buy: Online, CVS, 7-Eleven
How to Cash Out: ATM, Amazon Payments, Bill Pay feature
The American Express Serve card doesn’t get talked about much and that’s mainly because you can’t have a Serve and Bluebird card at the same time. Amex Serve can be loaded with mile-earning credit and debit cards directly without any fees, though some credit card companies will treat this as a cash advance and you will not earn any points (in addition to incurring fees).
Even though cardholders get a PIN number, this PIN can’t be used to buy money orders or request cash back at the register.
Reload Limit: $2,500 per day/up to $15,000 per month
Fees: $4.95 monthly fee
Where to buy: Online, CVS
How to Cash Out: Amazon Payments, ATM, Cash back at grocery store registers, Money order, Square Cash
It’s important to note that the monthly load limit for the Paypal Prepaid MasterCard depends on how many other prepaid cards you have that are issued by Bancorp. Your total monthly limit from all Bancorp cards combined is capped at $15,000.
Reload Limit: $7,500 per 25 hours/$15,000 per month
Fees: $1 per credit transaction, $2 per debit transaction, $1 bill pay fee, $2.50 ATM withdrawal fee. Transaction fees are waived if you sign up for the $10 monthly plan.
Where to buy: Online, select grocery stores
How to Cash Out: Amazon Payments, ATM, Bill Pay feature, Cash back at grocery store registers, Money order, Square Cash
Netspend was big before Bluebird came around (and before they started shutting people’s accounts down). Cashing out large amounts too quickly will get you shut down. Some folks got shut down even though they were mixing in regular spending along with bill pay. Don’t think of Netspend as a long-term manufactured spending tool, and definitely don’t load money onto the card unless you can do without the funds for a while – after all, if your account gets shut down, it could be weeks before you get your money back.
There are of course other prepaid cards you can load Vanilla Reloads onto, but the ones listed above have the lowest fees and eliminating cost is essential in the manufactured spending game.
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