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Update: You can no longer purchase Vanilla Reload cards using a credit card and Vanilla Reloads are no longer available in Office Depot.
This week TPG contributor Jason Steele took us through the basics of Maximizing Prepaid and Reload Cards for Points and Miles with a series including Maximizing Reload Cards for Points and Miles: Vanilla vs. Green Dot vs. PayPal vs. REloadit and Maximizing Prepaid / Reloadable and Reload Cards For Points And Miles – Choosing Which Credit Card To Use.Today he continues with a comparison of the major prepaid/reloadable cards out there that you can use in conjunction with these reloads to earn the most miles and points possible and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each based on his own experiences using them.
How many cards are there: I am aware of six different cards compatible with Vanilla reloads.
Which is my favorite: Bluebird is the clear leader because the card is free, reloading it with up to $500 costs $3.95 and it has a lot of features that make it a versatile product.
Strengths: Bluebird bill pay is quick, easy, and free, you can use it as a debit/checking alternative to transfer money to other cardholders as well as to issue checks to pretty much anyone else. There is no monthly fee for this card, and American Express seems to have no issues with cardholders using the card to the limits of its stated terms.
Weaknesses: There is a $1,000 daily load limit and $5,000 limit per calendar month, and a total limit of $10,000.
My experiences: I was using the standard American Express Prepaid card before Bluebird was released. I was happy with the Amex Prepaid, but I had to visit ATMs and pay some fees to do so. I have had absolutely no issues loading Vanilla Reloads to Bluebird cards. You can only order one Bluebird card per person.
GREEN DOT COMPATIBLE CARDS
How many cards are there: I counted 188 different prepaid cards that are compatible with Green Dot. You can browse a list here. Many of these, such as the ADP Total Pay card are used by payroll services and are not available to the general public.
What are the most popular compatible prepaid cards available to the general public: 24/7 Card, AccountNow, American Express Prepaid Card, American Express Serve, Green Dot Prepaid cards, and Walmart Prepaid Visa Card.
Strengths: The “Classic” version of this card has a one-time activation fee of $4.95 that is applied at the first load. After that, loads from Green Dot or the REloadit network carry no charges. ATM withdrawals are $2.50 each, but there is a bill pay system that makes ATM use unnecessary.
Weaknesses: Their bill pay interface is a little clunky to log into, but once there it appears to have the same functionality and back end as bill pay web sites in use at other banks and credit unions. There is a $1 fee for each purchase, so don’t leave home with this card. Also, stay away from their “Gold” Card as it has a $9.95 monthly fee. The deposit limit is $1,500.00 per day, $9,500.00 in a 30-day period.
My experiences: I initially ordered a Gold card that claimed to waive the monthly fee if I loaded $2,500 a month. I loaded nearly $3,000 with REloadit cards, but nevertheless, I was still charged a $9.95 monthly fee. Their telephone representative claimed that I actually had to load the $2,500 using direct deposit to avoid this fee, even though their posted terms clearly contradicted that assertion. I attempted to speak with a supervisor about this fee, but I was hung up on and charged an additional $1.00 for speaking with a telephone representative. The Gold card’s terms have now changed and no longer list such a waiver.
PAYPAL LOAD MONEY COMPATIBLE CARDS
How many cards are there: Just one – the PayPal Prepaid MasterCard and by extension, an online PayPal account that you link.
Strengths: This card can also be loaded through the REloadadit, Green Dot, and possibly Vanilla reloads. Vanilla reload cards feature the NetSpend logo and the PayPal website mentions compatibility with NetSpend. In theory, one could transfer funds from their PayPal account directly to their bank account, though this could raise some red flags and get your account frozen.
Weaknesses: No ATM access or online bill pay, although the standard PayPal debit offers ATM access for $1 per transaction plus the amount charged by the ATM owner. Then, there is the fact that PayPal will shut down the accounts of those who they feel are abusing their system.
My experiences: I haven’t read many reports of PayPal freezing accounts of those who use it to meet their credit cards’ minimum spending requirements. After TPG’s experience of getting a warning after funding his PayPal account then transferring the funds to his bank account, I decided to stay clear of this technique.
How many cards are there: There are 15 different cards that will accept money from REloadit prepaid cards.
What are the most popular compatible prepaid cards available to the general public: AccountNow, Paypal, NetSpend prepaid debit cards. In addition, the PayPower card is usually sold where REloadit cards are sold.
Which is my favorite: Within the REloadit network as well, the AccountNow “Classic” card offers the best combination of low fees, bill pay, and compatibility across different networks. NetSpend cards appear to have many of these strengths, but there are numerous reports of accounts being frozen after exceeding arbitrary limits of loading and withdrawal.
What have been your experiences with these prepaid, reloadable debit cards? Any that work better than others, or have features that you find useful? Share your experiences below!