My local CVS pharmacies are endless sources of Vanilla Reload cards. They’ll sell me up to $5000 per day on a credit card (any amount of $1000 or more they will scan my drivers license).
Vanilla Reload cards are essentially money — you buy them and can load the funds onto a variety of prepaid money cards like MyVanilla Debit and American Express Bluebird.
And since I have an almost endless supply of these cards (many people can’t find them at all, or their nearby stores won’t take credit cards), I have no problem exceeding the $5000 monthly limit I can put onto an American Express Bluebird card. Bluebird is a great banking product, given its billpay functionality, I can use Bluebird to pay a mortgage, rent, or even monthly bills from other financial products. They also offer electronic funds transfer to linked bank accounts.
In other words, I can buy Vanilla Reload cards with a credit card (and earn points), then put the funds from those reload cards onto Bluebird. And use the funds to pay bills that I can’t pay by credit card, or just move the funds to my bank account (where they are available to pay my credit card bills or other bills).
That’s great for earning miles. But Bluebird only lets you do $5000 per month. And I want to earn more than that.
There are plenty of products that’ll help you do that. I’m going to share my experiences with my MyVanilla Debit Card. (You can buy the card at a store, or online for free.)
Here’s the scoop on MyVanilla Debit:
- You can load up to $2500 per day
- The maximum allowable balance on a card is $9999.
- You can withdraw up to $400 per day from an ATM at a cost of $1.95 (for domestic withdrawals, plus any out of network ATM fees)
- There’s a 50 cent per transaction fee for purchases
- They charge you $3.95 each month your card has been inactive for 90 days. (So use it at least once every 3 months.)
- Upon account closure they’ll charge you $9.95 to mail you a check for your remaining balance.
I load the funds onto MyVanilla Debit, then how do I get them off?
Taking Funds Back Via Cash Advance
Now, some people just buy Vanilla Reload cards (which cost $3.95 and can be loaded with up to $500 each) and load them to MyVanilla Debit cards and then go get a cash advance off those cards from a bank.
I wrote about this a year ago. But not every bank is helpful with that.
And compared to when I wrote a year ago I no longer have a bank willing to cash advance off of unregistered cards.
Buying Money Orders With MyVanilla Debit
Some people use their MyVanilla Debit card to pay quarterly estimated taxes, since it is cheap to do so via debit card. Or they get the money off by using it to fund Amazon Payments transfers. But I pay taxes with my Suntrust Delta debit card which earns 1 Delta mile per dollar already. And I max out Amazon Payments through other cards.
So I adds funds from the Vanilla Reload cards onto my MyVanilla Debit card and use the card to buy money orders. Those can be used to pay bills, or deposited bank into your bank account.
One common place people go to for that is a Walmart Moneycenter. But I do not live within 30 minutes’ drive of a Walmart.
In fact, I’ve been inside of Walmart very few times in my life, although I think the idea of Walmart is fantastic. When I moved from California to Northern Virginia 17 years ago, I shipped my CDs ahead. I had only a single CD in my dash, and discovered that much of the middle of the country didn’t get a consistent radio signal at least during the day. (This was long before Sirius or XM.) Oddly, it never once occurred to me to stop off at one of the 3000 Walmarts along the way to buy music. Instead, I had nothing but the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack to listen to. Nearly two decades later I haven’t listened to it since…
Without Walmart and their 70 cent money orders, I find the best place to buy money orders with a debit card is a US Post Office.
They’ll sell you a $1000 money order for $1.60, and they’ll let you pay with a debit card.
For a $1000 money order, you’re effectively paying $10:
- $7.90 to load the funds onto MyVanilla Debit ($3.95 x 2 for Vanilla Reload cards)
- $1.60 for the postal money order
- $0.50 for the transaction fee from MyVanilla Debit
Oddly, my post office charges me $1.25 instead of $1.60, but recently MyVanilla has charged me $1.95 instead of $0.50. The post office will also let you do modest cash back in conjunction with the purchase of a money order.
For the purpose of the illustration though I’m using the ‘official’ costs. On a card that earns 1 point per dollar when purchasing the Vanilla Reloads, that means you’re paying 1 cent per point.
Things to Be Careful of
Some people, mostly those that either have multiple cards and are doing large transactions (and thus are considered a big risk) or who have loaded large amounts of money onto the card and then pulled out all the funds as cash from banks (and thus are completely unprofitable), have had their accounts closed. Usually it’s big volume folks that get shut down.
Blogger Frequent Miler had a card converted into MyVanilla Debit from ‘Mio’ that was frozen and he had some hassles before he got his money back.
One thing I’ve been doing since his experience is keeping the receipts for my Vanilla Reload purchases and noting which cards have been loaded onto the MyVanilla Debit card — to help the process go smoother if I ever do run into problems.
Some folks might come onto this thread with scare stories. The truth is that there’s a lot of fraud with prepaid cards, and so card issuers clamp down on what they see as the riskiest behaviors. If you’re modest in your ambitions, you are generally fine. You can also ‘go big’ with the expectation that you will be shut down. Just don’t put more money onto prepaid cards than you can afford to float for a few weeks. In a worst case scenario, legitimate customers get their money back even when accounts are frozen. But it can take a few weeks to sort out.
How This Helps Me Earn Big Miles
Ultimately, by loading a debit card via credit card, I earn points. And by using my debit card for money orders, I can effectively pay any bill and earn miles, even if the merchant doesn’t take credit cards. I can even deposit the money orders bank into my bank account.
It comes at a cost — roughly a penny per mile — but that’s worth it for earning highly valuable points or 2%+ cash back.
I don’t like this as a card for everyday spend because of the 50 cent fee per transaction. But using it regularly for money orders is a great supplement to a mileage-earning toolkit for those with access to more Vanilla Reload cards than can be added on Bluebird in a month.