Manufactured Spend Guide Part 1: Buying Money Orders with Debit Cards

Money Orders are simple instruments that allow you to pay a specified amount of money to a person. They are similar to checks, with the exception that they are paid for upfront and as such are considered a more secure form of payment (money orders can’t “bounce” for insufficient funds like checks). Sometimes institutions will only accepts certified checks or money orders as forms of payment. Money orders can be deposited in your bank checking or savings account the same way as any other check can. They are considered cash-equivalents.



Using Money Orders to Generate Miles

The simple idea with money orders is to buy them using a card that earns miles or points and then deposit the proceeds into a bank account and then use that deposit to replenish the balance of the card you used to purchase them. Of course in an ideal world that would mean that you would be able to buy money orders using credit cards. You could then use whichever miles or points earning credit card you liked best and buy as many money orders as you want. However there are very, very few places that continue to sell money orders with credit cards. If you find one, keep it to yourself and milk it for all you can. However there are several places that sell money orders using debit cards (debit cards have very low fees for the merchant and are much harder to do charge backs, where the buyer challenges the charge and the merchant could lose the entire purchase amount).

In general places that do sell money orders have small charges for them. These typically range from around 50 cents to $1 per money order, and most money orders have a maximum amount of between $500 and $1,000. The most popular location for buying money orders is the MoneyCenters at WalMart. WalMart allows you to buy money orders for up to 70 cents each (some regional variation) with a maximum value of $1,000. If you have a debit card that earns cash back, miles or points then this may be a profitable strategy. There are plenty of other places that sell money orders. Check out your local grocery store’s customer service desk. The US Postal Service also sells money orders at post offices but they code the transactions as cash advances, so most cards don’t reward any points.

Once you have purchased the money order you can make it payable to yourself and deposit it into any bank account. You can usually do this using modern ATM’s either through an envelope deposit or using the automated check deposit feature. Some ATM’s are fussier than others about accepting them, and in some cases you may need to go into your branch to complete a deposit.

Today there are very few debit cards that award any kind of miles or points for debit card purchases. One of the most lucrative – Bank of America’s Alaskan Airlines Debit Card – has just announced it’s own demise. The two main remaining cards are:

  • SunTrust Delta debit card. This earns 1 mile per dollar spent, but is generally only available to people within SunTrust’s geographical foot print
  • UFB Direct American Airlines card. This earns 1 AA mile per two dollars spent

Using these two cards to buy money orders are pretty easy ways to earn miles. If you shop at WalMart anyway (or check the customer service desk of whichever local grocery store you use to see if they sell “MO’s”) then why not buy a $1,000 money order while there each week to boost your mileage balance? And while these are the two current last standing miles earning debit cards, keep an eye out for local banks and credit unions that often-times have debit cards with rewards or cash back offers that can be maximized using this technique.

However what is really most interesting about the ability to buy money orders with debit card is it is the foundation upon which other more complex but often more rewarding techniques such as using pre-paid debit cards and gift cards is built on. More on those later in the series, but you should basically always be interested in something that can work like a debit card because now you know it can be used to turn funds into cash pretty easily via money order purchases.

Risks of Buying Money Orders with Debit Cards

Things to be aware of when buying money orders and then depositing them in your bank account are:

  • Treat money orders as cash. In particular if you lose a money order along with it’s receipt you could have a very hard time getting the money back. Even with the receipt be prepared to be without the money for a good period of time. This becomes more important the higher the volume you do – just thinking about whether or not you’d comfortably stroll around a WalMart car park and then drive around town with several thousand dollars  in your pocket. A good tip is to take a pen and make the money orders payable to yourself as soon as you are handed them buy the cashier.
  • If you buy money orders using a debit card from one account and simply deposit the same money order right back into that account, it may raise a red flag and you may get that account closed. Again this risk increases with your volume. I probably would not be worried about doing one $1,000 a month in an otherwise normal and actively used account. I would not do $10k a week in the same account. There are certainly no hard and fast rules here, so just stick to common sense.
  • If you do this in large volume you run a serious risk of your activities looking like structuring. Most hardcore manufactured spenders write this off as paranoia, but I think the risk is real. When people do large volumes of money orders they often say the best strategy is to have multiple bank accounts to deposit into so that you can “keep under the radar”. This is exactly what structuring is, splitting transactions into smaller amounts to keep under “official radars”. While I am not aware of anyone that has been accused of this, it was one of those risk that is super remote but devastating if it plays out (forget about credit issues, imagine if you have a felony charge for an activity akin to money laundering?) My advice here is two fold. First of all keep very good records. For me that means when I buy money orders I keep the stubs, I keep the receipt from the store I bought them from, and then I keep deposit slips with scans of the money orders from the banks I deposit them too. At least that way you can show where the money came from and went to. But that may not be enough, as even if you are doing nothing wrong if it looks like you are trying to avoid reporting requirements you can be found guilty. So to me the best defense against this is to actually make some deposits that you know are over reporting thresholds. Yes that means you know banks will likely report your deposits, but at least then nobody can say you were actively trying to avoid reporting limits. (Note this is not a risk if your volumes are small, say $1,000 a week or less)
  • Be prepared for potential weird issues at checkout. WalMart machines are infamous if the money order printer runs out of paper – be prepared to be there for an hour while they work out how to fix it. Chances of this happening to you are slim if you are an occasional purchaser, but anyone who does any kind of sizable volume will likely run into this issue, so when you go to buy money orders try not to do it when you absolutely need to be somewhere shortly after in case you get stuck there longer than you anticipated.

Money Order Record Keeping

One final point of note about money orders that I really do like is that you actually have to have money in your account to purchase them. Unlike a credit card where you can spend the money on something you hope you can convert into cash before the payment is due, debit cards require immediately accessible funds to allow a charge. So why on earth would I like this? Well it brings into perspective the liquidity risk highlighted above. If you really, really need the money you are far less likely to use it to buy a money order in the hopes you can deposit it back in your bank before your needs become due. Of course you could borrow money to buy money orders – and I know some people who do just that – but a lot of people would react to that suggestion saying you would have to be crazy to borrow to buy money orders. And yet that is exactly what everyone does when they use their credit card to acquire other cash convertibles or equivalents.


Money Orders are a very simple way to generate miles. While the opportunities available for direct purchases of money orders are relatively limited, the trick of using debit cards to buy money orders is useful for other techniques discussed later in the series.

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  • Elaine

    Very clear explanation of using MOs to MS. I look forward to the rest of the series. Thanks!

    • MilesAbound

      Glad you found this helpful!

  • Anonymous

    Just a suggestion – but, I would recommend against posting pictures with money order serial numbers on them. This is all that is needed to reissue a money order.

    • MilesAbound

      Thanks for the tip, I did think about that but they were old ones that have long since been cashed out. But probably makes sense anyway

  • Frank

    Why do you need to post this stuff? Things are better left talked about in private. ST is already beginning to crack down…

    • MilesAbound

      This is well publicized on many sites. This is my take on it particularly highlighting the risk and the use of this as a technique to aid other MS. If you know the ST game you know the reasons why ST is cracking down and it is nothing at all to do with a few newcomers buying $1k here and there.

      • SCranton

        What’s next, big red arrows and pictures of you holding up MO’s? There is a way to talk about and describe things without hand holding and giving step by step instructions. Can’t wait for your next enlightening post on using “debit cards” and publicizing this even more.

        • MilesAbound

          Sorry you feel that way. Like I say though it is completely ridiculous to think this isn’t already out there in great detail, along with MS on pre-paids. I actually think the main difference here is I am actually laying out the real risks, which I rarely if ever see mentioned elsewhere. If you are in the “keep everything to yourself” camp you are not going to get satisfied here.

      • ABC

        The sign-up game at ST was greatly damaged by FTG. Folks at the Hilton head branch got fired. We can try to squeeze as much as possible out of this game. We still have a social responsibility to NOT put anybody’s job at risk.

        • MilesAbound

          I actually agree with that. While the staff themselves were clearly foolish for agreeing to open up so many out of state accounts, it was pretty bad people actually got fired over it. Though to be clear that was because of opening accounts outside the footprint not for money orders. That was back in the day of big sign up bonuses. I did mention above that ST is generally only available within their footprint states (I know there are exceptions to this but it’s pretty hard to keep an account open outside). For a regular Joe doing $1k here and there who has a local ST branch nobody is going to get fired or shutdown.

  • marathon man

    I for one am utterly appalled this is on another blog. I cannot even begin to list the numerous reasons why it was such a horridly bad idea to post this and you really ought not do MORE in this “series!!!!”
    The ability to do this particular gig requires effort and knowledge that cannot just be acquired in some blog post like this one that gets picked up by other blogs who then make money off the hits while our world crumbles (I hear Gleff’s blog already posted a link to yours so he gets rich and you get to blow a deal, not him. Nice!).
    Why is it wrong to condense this thing into one or two blog posts like this? Well, for one, people make mistakes and it takes seasoned effort and ‘on the fly’ reactions to work with each instance of doing this, plus a THOROUGH understanding on how things could happen and probably will happen over time to anyone trying it. As well, to work this kind of deal, someone reading this that doesn’t have that experience WILL get hurt and that could hurt us all. Start with something like: The store enacts policies and rules and next thing you know you cannot do it anymore anyway. Why, I just had that happen to me today almost! I go into my local store to do transaction X and the clerk who has seen me a lot before says, “We had some gal in here doing that but she didn’t know how. My manager wanted to void her transaction and send her away but I was able to help her. She got lucky…” Yes she did! And so had I because now, had that manager voided or this clerk was not working, the actions of that gal might have made it harder for ME to do my transaction when I do know what I am doing!
    So where do “newbies” get this experience then? How about smaller email groups and PMs, discussions, becoming wise to the ways without exposing them, etc. Not these stupid posts that writers have some compelling reason to tell all about without thinking of the consequences.
    I have been doing this particular gig for 10 years and have had enough issues come my way that, if I were knew to this, I could get SCREWED! Things were WAY easier back then. WAY easier. Why do you think they got harder!?
    Personally, I wish you would take this thing right down. If you don’t, you sink yourself too. I could go on but I am too upset.

    • ABC

      “I could go on but I am too upset.”, perhaps it would be better for your health to not read part 2.

      • marathon man

        Well I mean seriously in my life family and health it doesn’t kill me, but in my world of MS as a means to make money and get miles and points, it does upset me. I do take this stuff seriously. Anyone who actually does it a lot and does it with any level of competence should. But aside from all things MPC (miles, points and cash back), there is a WAY of doing business–in the opinions of many, not just a means to an end. Oh well.
        In the advice of some, I should find a nice kynd one to enjoy and drink some Heady Topper and chill. LOL

  • hikert

    WTF are you posting this? Are you trying to the next MMIdiot?

  • Elaine

    Oh, come on boys, and I do think most of the complainers above are boys. MA is not giving away your precious hidden cities or a step-by-step, how-to for fuel dumps along with a glossary explaining your pineapple express codes and the like. It is just a post on using debit cards to buy MOs. It is not the intellectual property of any of you.

    I have been earning and churning for just a year, go on FT periodically, made some friends and read the blogs, and everything MA has said is stuff that is not at all new or revealing. It just is helpful to have it all in one place for easy reference. Believe me, I am not running to WM to buy MOs with my debit card that gets a measily 1 point for $2 spend. And to date I have not even used MOs for MS and I may never. But if I need to top off an account, or meet an unanticipated spend when a good bonus pops up, or one of my other methods dries up, it is nice to have this post for future reference.

    Get over it and grow up. You are not the only folks out there and getting to it first does not give you any special rights to any of it.

  • Lucy

    Depositing money orders in personal checking accounts is just asking for the biggest trouble you can get yourself into. Take my word for it, last year my 2 banks started asking about the $1000 on average I deposited every week in MO, one bank closed my account and the other reported me to the IRS special office that audits cash deposits suspected to be unreported or structured, it was no fun spending more than 60 days dealing with the auditor. PLEASE DO NOT give such harming recommendations to your readers.

  • marathon man

    I have come down from my initial shock about all this and then did some ludes to relax a bit… along with uppers, downers, crank, crack, coke, nebunol tunal chloral hydrates, and such… You know, the light stuff. :)
    Anyway I have other thoughts on the matter which don’t even touch on things like bank shut downs even though that is a huge caveat as well. I shared this with the author already but now I figured his readers may wish to see what I mean:
    This MO piece is well written (as is all this blog’s writings thus far, by the by) but it does leave out A TON of stuff. The subject as a whole is not really one, in the opinion of me and many others, that can just be lightly put out there for discussion. There are oh so many things people may or may not know or have seen, and things that I personally would have to include if I ever were to actually write a piece about this subject. But my piece, if I were to write one, and I wont, would be hugely long and drawn out, and so that is one reason to actually avoid the subject.
    What things, you ask?
    For example…
    ~ever seen one where the numbers on the tear off recibo do not exactly match the check numbers across the bottom?what would you do with it if you did?
    ~Do you/others know the process, time and cost to recoup problematic Mos from Moneygram?
    ~IF–no, rather, WHEN the printer jams or breaks, what’s the standard length of waiting time one must endure to actually walk out of there with their MOs? AND what do you do if your bank actually fails to charge you for the ones you just got?
    ~what 3 forms do walmarts often make customers get booked in even if we know they shouldn’t and where is this book usually kept?
    ~where does your ID info go when they enter it into the system on making you a +$3k purchase?
    ~What’s the most one single MO transaction can be and what will happen if you go a penny over?
    ~When the power goes out in the WMT, what is the procedure for recouping MOs that happened to be in process at that exact moment?
    ~if they try to reverse out a debit charge on a GC vs a debit card?
    ~WHY do banks really shut you down when you deposit MOs?
    ~Should you ever mail one? And when?
    ~Which major bank ATMs take em and which ones do not?
    ~Should you invest in a stamp or two to make life easier if you do volume?
    I could go on. Those are honestly just a few. But this is the stuff that people would NEED to know and so in a way one could argue that to post about Mos and NOT tell that stuff in detail is almost worse than pushing someone off a bridge. But to talk about it would be too much info and so this is why I thought bringing up the whole thing is just not a good idea.
    Maybe there are other writings out there that should not be out there too, but that is a different subject. We mustn’t deflect. This is about this post. It is what it is, but there needs to be at least some major warnings about things… and then a lot of luck by the user. MOs seem simple enough but a lot can and will go wrong. That’s where my initial reaction came from anyway.
    And then yeah, there’s the bank shut downs. I have been shut by 3 banks in my years doing this. They shut me because, well, that’s what they do when you deposit a million dollars in unsecured funds.

    • ABC

      I would have expected most banks to close your accounts in the good old mint days rather than by MOs.

  • de

    @milesabound, Your content is usually wonderful, however I too agree this post is a bit too straight forward and MMSish. Good content, however too concise and dense for longevity’s sake.

    @marathon, I have a few questions best left for PM on FT. Can you shoot me a PM on FT (my FT ID is deking)? TIA!

  • ff_lover

    Good post. There are plenty of Wal Mart around my location.I will try to open both of them. Can’t wait to see your Part2.

  • andreas

    I have done some MO before and I stopped doing it for another reason: time. It take too long to do this. 10k miles here or there are not valuable. 100k miles are. So far I’ve been able to stockpile on us air miles in their promos. At the 1.1 CPM threshold, it becomes harder to justify this time consuming activity.

    Most WMs I have gone to have long lines for money center. WMs are generally out of the way, with huge parking lots. A MO run can easily cost you >30 minutes of driving, parking, waiting in line and depositing the MO to your ATM. There is additional work required to transfer money to the debit card a/c, making sure it got there on time etc.

    If you have the time on hand, a convenient WM location and need miles in the few programs that debit cards area available for then this could be a great deal.
    Since all those things will not fall in place for most, doing MO has marginal usefulness. I think serious MSers should be happy about that.


  • jewsus

    I think you’re dumb.

    • MilesAbound

      Thanks for your kind words

      • Jewsus

        No problem. I’m looking forward to the next post about how to wipe your own ass.

        • farfromgold

          god how many jews surround anytime there is easy money w/o physical work to be done… jews do they actually do anything without leeching off anyone else

        • farfromgold

          seriously, if a jew is not trying to start a world war they are trying to find a way to profit off someone else’s hard work.

  • Jerry Mandel

    You left out something very important. You cannot buy MOs at Walmart with gift cards which are only gift cards. You have to charge the VISA or MC gift cards at Krogers, etc. and then get a PIN by telephone or online. That converts them into debit cards. Walmart will sell MOs up to $1,000 for 68c per MO. Deposit MOs into your bank account.

    • MilesAbound

      This was really just focused on regular debit cards, rather than prepaids or gift cards, which I will cover later

  • ff_lover

    Excellent post. I am planning to get the UFB card to manufacture AA miles to top off for RTW ticket.
    Keep up the good work and don’t pay attention to low-lifes.

    • JOHN

      Agreed! Don’t listen to the whiners. This MO method is too much work when there are so many ways to get miles.
      But if people want to bother, then fine. Let them.

      • Jerry Mandel

        Money orders are the least amount of work. I buy MOs in Walmart with a debit card and then go across the street to deposit them into my Bank Of America account. Walmart MOs cost 68c (paid in cash) per $1,000 MO.

  • BOb

    Does anyone know if Shaws or Stop and Shop allow you to buy MO’s with a debit?

    • Marathon man


      Well theres only one way to find out but please people lets not post specific places on line!

    • Jerry Mandel

      I can’t imagine buying money orders to pay individual people. I would either pay cash or write a check. I buy MOs to deposit into my checking account to recycle the minimum spending and to pay off the credit card statements when they come.

  • Jerry Mandel

    “The US Postal Service also sells money orders at post offices but they code the transactions as cash advances, so most cards don’t reward any points.”
    No way a prepaid debit card can be considered to be a cash advance at the post office. Cash advances only pertain to credit cards……and just try to buy a postal money order with a credit card.

    • MilesAbound

      Sorry not a cash advance but a cash withdrawal. Hence most prepaid debits don’t work because they don’t allow ATM withdrawals.

      • Jerry Mandel

        I don’t understand how ATM usage is related to buying money orders at a post office. Again, cash advances pertain only to credit cards, not to prepaid debit cards. My first sentence in quotation mark above was quoting you. My clarification followed that.

        • Marathon man

          A gc like ov etc cannot get a usps mo

          Thats cuz usps mo is coded as a ca
          And gcs cannot get a ca

          Long ago some could. In 2004/5 we were buying ones w $5k on them that cost $1 to load and ship for free and then ca ing them. Those days are gone. Contour came close to that for a brief while last fall though.

          Prepaid cards are a bit more, lets say vast. They can allow for a ca. Mvd, netspend, the now dead contour, jh preferred and hr block and others can do ca.

          As well, since they can do ca, you can take money out of the atm with them. But theres usually a fee associated with that so its cheaper to go get a ca

          And if you do go to usps and get mos with such prepaid cards, they will work because, as I said, that system treats the process as a ca.

          Gcs cannot get cash out of the atm and so they have to be used elsewhere to “cash out”

          • Jerry Mandel

            Your quotation: “A gc like ov etc cannot get a usps mo”
            Again and again, OV is NOT NOT NOT a card; it is a preloaded card and USPS told me one can buy MOs with a card. I don’t use the post office because Walmart money orders are cheaper and have higher limits. Also, no such thing as a cash advance with a card; that only applies with cards.

          • Marathon man

            What are you talking about?

            Im confused by your terms

            I will say some people–like those who live in cities where wmt is not attainable–use the usps for mos but cannot do them from gcs

          • Jerry Mandel

            You wrote that OV is a gift card. Not so. I believe that money orders can be obtained from Sams Club, Costco, and some drug and grocery stores. Since Walmart is so convenient for me, I have not tried them. I wonder about Target.
            You wrote that debit cards can involve cash advances.


          • MaRathon man

            Jerry ov or one vanilla says prepaid card on it but is effectively a gift card and just like the other gcs one might find on racks like at cvs etc. you buy it and can one time load up to $500 for a $4.95 fee. It cannot be reloaded.

            It can be used as pin debit like other gcs can. And yes, with a debit card you can walk into a bank and get a cash advance. But with a gc you cannot.

            So the gc (ov or other) can get a mo but cannot get a ca. This is where it differs from regular debit cards or other prepaids like the ones i mentioned earlier which can not only be reloaded but can also get ca or atm cash.

            Trust me i know exactly what im talking about

          • MilesAbound

            Jerry it seems you are the expert so maybe you can start your own blog and write this up in better clarity?

          • Jerry Mandel

            As I wrote, I have only used Walmart money center for money orders to deposit. I have not tried all the other store types I mentioned. In a post office, one clerk might tell you wrongly that you can’t buy USPS MOs with a debit card. Yes, you can. The CVS that stocks OV is not far from me and the Walmart is near me and my bank branch is across the street from the WM. So, one quick round trip to meet min spend and to recycle the spending for minimal fees.

          • Marathon man

            Let us know how that works out fot ya

          • Jerry Mandel

            Marathon Man-How WHAT works out for me?! Not understood. I routinely get OV debit cards at CVS. No problems with CVS and Walmart.

          • marathon man

            jerry I refer to your assertion that OV will work for MOs at the USPS. Have you tried this? What were your results?

          • Jerry Mandel

            It is easier and cheaper to buy MOs at Walmart than at USPS and a WM is near me. So, I don’t bother. USPS claims that debit cards work for MOs. It might be good for folks too far from a WM.

          • marathon man

            Yes that makes sense Jerry. We all go with what is near us and costs less. But I think earlier you were telling us that you think GCs will work at USPS. Were you not?

          • Jerry Mandel

            Yes…….unless you get an ignorant clerk in the post office. I realize that some folks are far from a WM. Also, some stores might sell MOs with a debit card. Drug, grocery, ganja weed stores. Maybe Sam’s Club or Costco or Target? I haven’t needed to try any of those.

          • marathon man

            hehe something tells me you indeed have

          • marathon man

            …like, what is meant by this twisted looking phrase?

            “Also, no such thing as a cash advance with a card; that only applies with cards.”

  • Jerry Mandel

    Marathon Man-OV is NOT a gift card. It says DEBIT on the front.

    • Marathon man

      You are correct. It does. It is as such a debit card or debit vehicle but within its makeup are codings some retailers systems can work with and some make up that other retailers cannot.

      I have probably bought and burned over 1.25 million dollars worth of these things of all makes from all stores since Feb.

      • Nguyen

        I am speechless. 1.25M is a sign of a grand MS master… Thanks.

  • Jerry Mandel

    Quote: “The US Postal Service also sells money orders at post offices but they code the transactions as cash advances, so most cards don’t reward any points.” Wrong.
    Cash advances only apply to credit cards–not to debit cards. It is irrelevant how USPS codes them. And One Vanilla and nearly all other non-bank debit cards never have given points.

    • marathon man

      Jerry I have gotten a “cash advance” ata bank with a debit card. I did it a few times in fact and on a few early occasions, i even got ST miles for it but they started to catch this and stop it. But the banks at which I did the CA still had me fill out the same form and they ran the card the same way as they do a CC to give me the CA.

      The USPS may code it one way or another but I can tell you that there is only one card that earns points that will work there, but they will shut you down if you do it a lot because they think you are running a business, which they will claim is not part of the intent of their wonky program. In other words, they just dont want to give you the miles.

      Since 2002 AS and other cards used at USPS stopped working for miles at the USPS. St does not. But you can use prepaid cards to get CAs. Some will shut you down, considering the activity to be a CA< which many dont like cuz they cant get the same fee they would have had you used their preferred methods of gaining funds.

      GCs will not work at USPS or ATMs.

      go ahead and try all the cards you have or use. You will see.

  • Jerry Mandel

    I buy gift cards for minimum spending. I convert them into debit cards with a PIN.
    Buy money orders at Walmart to deposit. (You can buy MOs elsewhere such as USPS and drug and grocery stores.) Much faster and simpler than Amazon, Bluebird, etc. Never buy AMEX gift cards-only MC and VISA.

  • Bob

    I read the entire article and all the comments.Still confused as to using one van. To buy money orders.Can I buy a money order with ov at a post office?

    • MilesAbound

      Generally prepaid cards do not work at PO for MO purchases as the USPS machines codes the purchase as a cash advance.

    • Jerry Mandel

      USPS told me you can buy money orders with all prepaid debit cards but I would be suspicious of AMEX cards.

      • MilesAbound

        whoever told you that was wrong… and it’s probably not a question to be even asking

        • Jerry Mandel

          I don’t understand the last response. Please clarify and amplify it.