Pre-paid debit cards have really become all the rage in the finance industry in the after-math of the financial crisis. These cards are primarily aimed at those unable or unwilling to access traditional bank accounts. Rather than having a traditional account at a bank or credit union, pre-paid debit cards allow you to “load” funds on to them and you can then use the card as you would any other debit card to pay for goods, pay bills, even withdraw cash at an ATM. There are various ways to “load” money onto these cards, but the one that is of interest to the manufactured spend aficionado is the various “money packs” or “reload cards” such as Vanilla Reload cards, Green Dot Moneypaks or Reloadit cards, among many others. These are typically sold in grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations and can sometimes be purchased with a miles or points earning credit cards. There is usually a charge for doing this of around $4 to $6, and you can “load” typically up to $500 on each card (so the cost of loading is typically around 1% of what you are spending). Once you have acquired the money pack you then load it onto the pre-paid debit card and then there are a variety of ways you can then get the funds back out of the pre-paid card such as bill-pay, buying money orders, cash advances or even writing checks.

Ingredient 1 – Reload Cards

There are a huge variety of different reload cards, money packs, or whatever you like to call them. I am just going to cover what I consider some of the more useful and readily available options.

Vanilla Reloads


Vanilla Reloads are perhaps the most well known and readily available of the various reload cards. They are widely available at CVS stores across the country, as well as a variety of gas stations and a few other places. In general it is possible to buy them with a credit card. CVS has an official policy that you can buy up to 10 reload cards a day and use a credit card (and with a maximum load of $500 per card that is a possible $5,000 per day on your credit card). However individual store managers have license to implement more strict policies, so you may find you can only buy $1,000 or just one card or even not be able to buy any with a credit card. Vanilla Reloads cost $3.95, so manufacturing $500 spend will cost at least that amount.

Vanilla Reloads are compatible with a variety of prepaid debit cards but most notably American Express’ Serve and Bluebird, both very good cards for manufactured spend. Other compatible cards which carry more risk are NetSpend, MyVanilla Debit, PayPal Pre-Paid and MIO.

GreenDot MoneyPak

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GreenDot MoneyPaks are another form of reloadable card. Finding places that sell GreenDots with a credit card is much harder, CVS cash registers are hard coded to take cash only. However I have found them available at some grocery stores and also some smaller pharmacies such as Rite Aid. But YMMV (your mileage may vary) and finding a consistent source of credit card purchasable MoneyPaks is not easy.

However if you can find them then they are compatible with a huge variety of pre-paid cards including American Express Serve, H&R Block, RushCard, AccountNow, Vision PrePaid and a whole host of other possible options.

GreenDot MoneyPaks cost $4.95 each and can be loaded up to $500.

REloadit Cards

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I have written about REloadit cards previously. These used to be readily available at Harris Teeter, but they have now largely updated their systems to enforce a cash only purchase policy. However it still works at the odd store and these are available at other grocery stores and even the odd home improvement store. Again YMMV but it’s always worth trying to see if you can buy one or two of these at a grocery store.

REloadit cards also have a long list of compatible pre-paid debit cards, the best of which I would say are Vision PrePaid and AccountNow.

REloadit cards cost $3.95 and in most cases can be bought up to $500, however some stores carry versions that can be loaded up to $950, which reduces the overall cost of manufacturing spend significantly.


Ingredient 2 – Prepaid Debit Cards

The next key ingredient to this technique is the prepaid debit cards that you will “load” the reload card onto. Once again there are a huge number of different types available, and I will just focus on a handful that I think are the most useful for general manufactured spend.

American Express Bluebird and Serve

I group these two together because you can only have one of each and not both. When these cards first came out there were some significant differences between them and generally Bluebird was seen as superior for manufactured spend. However Amex has since harmonized the benefits of the two cards. Serve features all the same benefits suitable for manufactured spending as Bluebird but in addition is eligible for the various Amex spend bonuses such as the recent lucrative Amazon promo. With that said, Amex has been more trigger happy in terms of shutting down Serve accounts, so Bluebird remains the safer play.

You can add funds purchased on Vanilla Reloads to either card (as well as funds purchased with GreenDot MoneyPaks in the case of Serve). You can add up to $1,000 per day with a maximum of $5,000 per (calendar) month. To add funds you just go to the web-site of the relevant reload pack, e.g., and enter the number of the reload card and the number of the prepaid card. After that your prepaid card account will have the money in it.

Both Bluebird and Serve have highly flexible ways to drain the funds once they have been loaded. Frankly the easiest is the bill pay feature. This allows you to pay bills such as gas, electric, insurance… or credit card! So going back to square one, you use a credit card to buy a Vanilla Reload card, costing you $503.95. You then load the funds onto your Serve or Bluebird card, giving you $500 on that account. Then you use the bill pay function to pay the bill of the credit card you used to make the original purchase. Your net cost will just be the cost of purchasing the original reload card, and you will have earned miles/cashback/rewards on the credit card.

Other Prepaid Debit Cards

I am going to generically group all other prepaid debit cards as they all share the same key higher risk characteristics: they will all eventually get shutdown if you load and unload large amounts of funds. However if you have a reasonable tolerance for risk, and never load more than you can afford to be without for several months if need be, then these are all ways of being able to unload additional reload cards:

  • NetSpend (compatible with Vanilla Reload)
  • MyVanillaDebit (compatible with Vanilla Reload)
  • AccountNow (compatible with GreenDot MoneyPak and ReloadIt)
  • Vision PrePaid (compatible with GreenDot MoneyPak and ReloadIt)
  • WalMart Moneycard (compatible with GreenDot MoneyPak)
  • And on and on and on… just look at the huge list of compatible cards for GreenDot MoneyPaks.

The key with all of these is to fund minimally and get your money out quickly. And then if and when you get shutdown by one, just move on to the next. Unless your volume becomes astronomical, you will never run out of options! The key things to understand with each card are:

  • Which reload card/s is the prepaid card compatible with and can I buy those with a credit card? Vanilla Reloads are the easiest reload cards to buy with credit cards but have a relatively small list of compatible prepaid cards. GreenDot MoneyPaks have  a huge list of compatible cards but are a little harder to buy with credit cards
  • Make sure the pre-paid card can be unloaded easily. The easiest way is Billpay – some cards charge for this, some don’t, some simply don’t have the feature at all

Alternatives to Billpay for Unloading

While online Billpay is my preferred method of unloading any prepaid debit card, there are plenty of alternative mechanisms:

  • ATM access – some prepaids allow you to withdraw cash from an ATM. Check for ATM fees
  • Buying money orders using the pin code for a debit transaction
  • Using the Billpay facility at WalMart MoneyCenter or at the customer service desk of various other grocery or pharmacy stores
  • Actually buying things you would be buying otherwise. Some people like to mix in some “real” spend in the hope that this will make it less likely they will get shutdown. Personally I think this is a false hope, but if it makes you feel more comfortable, power to you.
  • Cash advances at a bank – not my cup of tea, but using your PIN code you can generally do sizable cash advances on prepaid debit cards at bank branches

How Much Spend Can You Do?

There are two key restrictions on how much spend you can manufacture using this technique:

  1. Your ability to source reload cards that can be bought with credit cards
  2. The limits on the amounts that can be added to each prepaid card

Looking at the safest option, Bluebird, you can load $1,000 per day with Vanilla Reload cards, up to a maximum of $5k per month. So one individual can manufacture $60k in spend per year, at  a cost of $474 in fees for the Vanilla cards ($3.95 each). A couple could double that between them. Other prepaid cards have their own limits so really it’s up to you to experiment carefully with those cards to see how much additional spend you can generate. I have found that you can manage anywhere from $15k up to $45k on the other cards – but be warned you will need to deal with the issuer at some point with a shutdown card, so I only recommend doing this once you are comfortable with the whole process and you can afford to live without the loaded funds for at least several weeks while you deal with the issuer.

Record Keeping

Given the potential risks involved it is very important to keep good records. Here is how I handle my record keeping for this technique:

  • When you buy any reload pack (Vanilla Reload, GreenDot MoneyPak, ReloadIt or whatever) keep the receipt for that purchase
  • Once you have loaded the funds from the reload card onto a prepaid card, use a sharpie to notate that reload pack with the date and some identifier of the card you loaded it to (e.g. 1/6/13 to BlueBird 1234)
  • Keep the receipt with the reload card and file it
  • Keep the email and/or text you get from the prepaid card confirming the load
  • If you unload the card via money orders or using an in-store BillPay, keep the receipts associated with that

While this may all seem as overkill, in the event you get shutdown, or the IRS starts questioning large amounts of money swirling around your credit card accounts, you will have a perfect paper trail of the transactions.


Prepaid debit cards combined with reload cards are a great way to manufacture spend. You spend money buying the reload card with a credit card for a fee typically around 1% of your spend, and then you can use a variety of prepaid cards to liquidate the money via online bill-pay or a variety of other methods.

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  • Good job mate!

    Just remember… Buy moneypaks only as single one at a time transactions and keep the receipts matched with the mps as you go as gd does not have any numbers marking which is which. AND if you get too many in a single transaction gd may put a temp hold on your mps and calling them is a pain.

    Doing single swipe transactions can be too but is much more in your control

    • MilesAbound

      F me mate that was quick! Yes I forgot the whole record-keeping thesis on this one. For GreenDot’s I do single transactions anyway. I generally do them at RiteAid which is a big YMMV kind of place, so the chance of the kid at checkout calling the store manager is much lower on one $495 load versus taking a big stash.

      • Yup you got it

        And yeah not all allow cc

        One thing I do know: if a clerk makes a mistake and needs to back out the transaction, do get a NEW mp off the shelf if trying again. That mp is a dead soldier!

        • MilesAbound

          Updated with some basic record keeping advice. Good tip on the problem scenario. I would definitely put GreenDots in the “advanced calculus” class. Only for people who have run out of ways to use Vanillas which are generally more trouble free, at least now thanks to C V S

          • Agreed

            Then again the only real reliable vr loadable in my opinion is bluebird.

            For me, anything prepaid being offered by any affiliate of bancorp incomm is a sham and will eventually need to be FDICd to get your money back. I trust them not and so unless people are willing to have to float their funds at a no moments notice, I personally stear clear.

            An example as to why these pp cards are shams is when you go to load and it takes your money and then you find our you are shut down. I mean why couldnt it just NOT accept your load?! But it does. And in my experience the cleanest and fastest method for funds recovery is the FDIC

          • ABC

            I find it hard to get much higher than six figures with VR. Any suggestions?

          • MilesAbound

            To increase volumes I think you need to start finding brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles that will let you use their SSN. I am sure at some future FTU there will be stories of the guy who paid a bunch of homeless people to use their SSN for BBs

          • Marathon man

            I have a friend who “rents” over 12 BBs.

            The Bhat run of bb would be to get the bus load of immigrants who are heading to the ss office lol

  • “CSV cash registers are hard coded to take cash only”

    Since I work a fair amount with data I’m going to suggest that maybe you try a tab-delimited cash register instead.

    (apologies for the nerd humor…)

  • Yuneeq

    Describing Bluebird and Serve you wrote-
    “You can add funds purchased on Vanilla Reloads to either card (as well as funds purchased with GreenDot MoneyPaks).”

    This is mistaken, as GreenDot does not load to to BB, only Serve.

    • MilesAbound

      Sorry you are correct, I have corrected the post

  • Jacob

    Good run-down, but I don’t quite understand why folks get so excited about buying credit card spend at a 0.79-0.99% (3.95-4.95/$500) upfront cost and a whole lot of hassle. Sure, it might make sense on the margin to meet a spending threshold, but as an arbitrage to buy scrip worth 1-2% in general, it hardly seems worth the trouble: manufacturing 50k airline miles using this method could easily cost $495 and require 100 separate transactions…figure 20+ hours of time, maybe a lot more if you get shut down, to save maybe $500 off a flight. Go for it if it’s fun or you’re trying for a brass ring like a companion pass that’s otherwise unattainable, but otherwise it’s working for minimum wage.

    • MilesAbound

      This is absolutely true and in reality this is what, IMHO, has kept VR alive so long. However if you happen to have a card that earns 5x on the purchase, it remains exceptionally lucrative. In addition – and I will cover this later in the series – you can offset the transaction costs by buying Amex gift cards through a cashback portal and then using the Amex cards to buy the reload packs. It adds an extra step, but ultimately you can get to the point where you actually make a little money as well as earn the miles (or points or cashback, whatever your preference is)

      • marathon man

        …of course with the amex gcs you often need personalized ones and well, what you buy with them and what you do with those should be something that remains on the down low more or less… that is, if we all want it to remain alive.

      • Andy

        Would you mind sharing your tips? I was buying Reloadits at 2x at grocery stores but that seems to be done. How else are you earning more than 1 point/dollar on MS?

    • Yuneeq

      A couple reasons this post is relevant

      A) as you mentioned, spending thresholds

      B) it’s great for topping off mileage accounts to book awards, eg. Of I need 20k points to book a hotel, and only have 18k, at less than 1cpp it’s a good deal

      C) using cash back cards that pay up to 5-6%, you can make plenty of easy cash even after subtracting 1% for fees

  • ff_lover

    It can be worth it, in addition to the above reasons, bec of the below:

    D) SPG value can be reasonably estimated somewhere bet 2-3 cents. If you take 2.5 cents, that $60K spend will give a return of ~3x ($1500/$475)…provided u don’t need to drive far or u can get the beans on your lunch/dinner etc. outings..

    E) FF programs run promotons throughout the year of 25%-50% xfer bonuses (SPG->US 50%, MR->Delta/BA 67% (stackable)).

    F) Airlines threshold bonus (i.e. MR) if someone desires..

    G) Hotel threshold (SPG Gold, HH gold/diamond etc.) if someone desires…

    I) If u have high spend on certain CC, u can get additional pts when trying to close or retention (i.e. SPG 7K) which can more than pay for the annual fee..

    etc. etc.

    • MilesAbound

      I’d agree with your points E through I but I think the SPG valuation is too generous. Personally I would not MS at 1x for SPG without something to offset the costs. But I am pretty conservative in all my valuation and don’t value any single mileage currency over 1.25 cents per mile.

  • JOHN

    Barclay Arrival card earns 2.2 cents for travel, with no hassle. Combine that with the VR to BB, and new card bonus offerings, and you should have all the points you need unless you’re traveling every week.

    • MilesAbound

      At 2% plus 0.2% rebate Barclays Arrival is pretty good for MS. You basically get $11 worth of travel for each $500 vanilla reload card that costs you $3.95, so you effectively get to “buy” travel costs at 36% of face value.

  • Andy

    I was purchasing REloadit cards and loading my AccountNow, until they shut it down and temporarily confiscated my money.

    Given that there are quite a few grocery store chains that sell REloadit cards I’m looking for a new card to use. Doesn’t Vision have a monthly fee? Do you have to pay it even if you don’t use the card that month? Any reports about Vision getting shutdown since it is a Bancorp product?

    • MilesAbound

      Vision does have a monthly fee, but given you can do $9.5k per month I think it’s worth paying. If you do $9.5k in reloadit it will cost you exactly $85 per month in load fees and at the very least you’d earn 9,500 points. Use a card with 5x or even 6x at groceries and now you are at 47-57k for $85. Taking a 5% cash back card you spend $85 and earn $475. In my book, that’s a freakin awesome deal.

      I also encourage readers to experiment themselves and report back here. Reloadit has a huge list of partner cards. Try some of them out and see how it goes! I see at least 4-5 cards on this list that are keep completely untried by me and unreported elsewhere:

    • ABC

      In my experience finding Reloadits that can be bought with CCs is very difficult. HT and FL don’t work anymore. Where have you had success?

      • MilesAbound

        No success for me… not buying them any more. HT has fixed it at the cash register so even though the kids at checkout are willing to try it won’t work. FL is the opposite in that it works if you can get someone to try it, but most will just say cash only. But I think some west coasters are still having luck. Most of my MS has now shifted to VR/VGC and MOs. If you can still buy Reloadit, there are plenty of cards to try

        • Andy

          Does anyone have experience purchasing Reloadit cards at Safeway or Shoppers Food Warehouse?

          • MilesAbound

            Not personally – I have heard Safeway is a tough nut to crack.

        • John

          FL ?
          stands for?

          • MilesAbound

            Two small local retailers

  • Devon

    The cost for me isn’t realized as I have CVS’s all over my normal routes. There’s 2 that are too and from work each day so I can stop in and buy VR’s in a matter of a couple minutes. To me that minimal amount of time isn’t costing me any money.
    On a separate yet related note, anyone having trouble getting a BB card? My wife had a Server but canceled it. Applied a week later for BB, was told to cancel Server. BB service assured her it had finally been canceled and to reapply in one week. We waited 3(got busy) and now it says she already has a BB. We call them and they say no, wait a few days and apply. They say that every time(4 times now) and say she has to apply online. So frustrating and we need her extra BB!

    • MilesAbound

      Devon – yep if you can work it into your routine the time cost can be very minimal, especially with a BB that can be unloaded from the comfort of your desk. I have read similar reports to what you mention on FT and from what I recall it can take 28 days after cancelling Serve before you can get BB again

  • Hi MA, good stuff. I like reselling but of course do some MS too. I was considering the GD Moneypaks but hear some stories of people getting shut down and I don’t think my reseller of choice (Speedway) takes cc’s for MPs. Have not tried at RA. Have 2 BB and 1 gobank so lots of opportunities with VR and Vanilla Visas so haven’t pressed it yet.

  • Sergey

    How is your Vision Prepaid activity? Still strong?

    I have both TheReachCard and Vision Prepaid, it looks like that both cards are run by the same company. Two weeks ago TheReachCard stopped worked, Vision is still OK. But what I noticed that when I click on “Get a card” for both Vision and the Reach cards, the sign up page is not working (almost for a week now). Is it only me or they shut down the new sign ups?

    • MilesAbound

      I’ve been curious about Reach… seems another dead end. Vision on the other hand has been very steady for me

      • Sergey

        Yes, I did lots of Reloadits via Reach/Vision. The thing I don’t like about Vision – only $999/day is possible to load. If you load 2x$500, they subtract $1 and do not give it back.

        So, were you able to check if Vision/Reach shutdown the new sign ups for the card? I did try different computers and sign up page is not appeared anymore.

  • Bear

    What cards do y’all recommend with multiplier for grocery/drug stores?

  • Don

    I’m new to this. I’ve obtained several credit cards and been able buy VR’s to meet min. spend. I have loaded the max to 2 blubird accounts. What is the best method to pay the cc’s? Can I do this in a way to earn more bonus miles/points?