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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.
TPG reader Thomas has a question about the Bluebird account from American Express:
“I am planning to buy a new car in 6 months or so. Is it possible to write a check from my Bluebird account for $25,000 or $30,000 after using Vanilla Reloads? Do you have any other suggestions for obtaining cards with a high bonus / spend?”
One of the great things about Bluebird that makes it such a good alternative to a traditional checking account or debit card is that you can actually cut checks (which you can order for free through January 1, 2014) for free, and whereas there is a limit just $10,000 a month using its Bill Pay feature and only $5,000 to unregistered payees, as well as a limit of $2,500 per transaction and per month with its Send Money feature, the limit of how much you can cut a check for is only subject to the amount of funds in your account up to $100,000 per year – just note that with transactions over $2,000, you need to get a preauthorization code that can take up to 2 business days, so plan ahead.
So the real question here is how much money you’re limited to funding your account with and the catch is, Bluebird will only let you load $5,000 worth of Vanilla Reloads per month into your account and you can only add up to $10,000 to your account from sources that are not check by mail or direct deposit.
In your case, what you might want to do is this. Since you have six months and are only looking to spend $25,000-$30,000, you can use a points-earning credit card to charge up to $5,000 worth of Vanilla Reloads per month at a store like CVS. Each Vanilla Reload has a $3.95 fee, so it works out that you’re playing less than 0.8 cents per point. That sure beats the 2-3% a car dealership usually adds on when you want to charge your car payment or purchase to a credit card.
Another option is to use a miles-earning debit card like the Delta SkyMiles World Check Card from Suntrust, which you can use at Walmart to load your Bluebird account directly up to $1,000 per day and $5,000 per month.
Then every 2 months you’d have to cut a check for $10,000 (well, at least for the first 4 months and then when you go to buy the car you can see how much the final check should be for) ahead of time, and then have them on hand when you go to buy the car. Clearly this will take some foreplanning and coordination on your part, but it might be doable although not the most elegant solution.
Speaking of purchasing a car using a credit card, I’ve done this in the past myself, and what I’d recommend is first getting down to a purchase price that you find fair, and then at the very end, negotiate to put at least $5,000 of the price on a credit card. The dealer might hem and haw, but they are almost always capable of accepting credit cards (they have service departments, after all), and you might be able to strong-arm them into accepting credit card payment without any additional fees.
However, Bluebird is a great option if you’re not restricted by the load limits in place. While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.
While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.