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Update: You can no longer purchase Vanilla Reload cards with a credit card.
The Bluebird from American Express is a checking account/debit card alternative with a lot of great features that can save you money and earn points in the process, and for all you new readers out there, I thought it was about time for a quick refresher post on Bluebird and all the ways it can help you maximize your points – especially as tax season approaches.
There are several ways to fund your Bluebird account including direct deposit, cash deposit refills at Walmart, and also by buying Vanilla Reloads cards that some merchants (like CVS, 711 and Walgreens) allow you to purchase with points-earning credit cards.
While there is a $3.95 fee for Vanilla reloads of up to $500, you can earn a minimum of 500 points if you purchase them with a points-earning credit card. In other words, for every $1,000 you are spending on Vanilla Reloads, you’re paying $7.90 in fees – so you are essentially you are “buying” miles for less than 8/10th of a cent each. If those points are super valuable like Starwood Preferred Guest points, or United miles, which you can easily redeem for values well over 2 cents each, you are coming out way ahead.
As you can read below, there are a number of uses for the Bluebird card such as paying bills that you normally can’t use a credit card for, like rent, car payment or a mortgage. So without further ado, here are the top reasons you should have an Amex Bluebird card.
1. It Is Easy: Bluebird’s motto is, “Loaded with features. Not fees.” That includes no charges for opening an account online, overdraft, inactivity, card replacement, foreign transactions, and no annual or monthly fees – you can’t get easier than that.
To sign up for the card, visit the Bluebird site and click the button to “Register Now.” You will be brought to a registration form asking for your information to create an account. After you register online you will receive a permanent Bluebird card in 7-10 business days, which you must activate within a certain period.
You can also buy a temporary Bluebird card starter kit at Walmart for $5 that you can fund with up to $500 using a debit card and then will have to register the card on Bluebird.com. Since it’s not necessary to have the temporary card, I would recommend just signing up directly on the site. Another way to sign up is to download the Bluebird Mobile App on your smartphone and register through there.
2. No Credit Check: Passing a credit check can sometimes be as nerve-racking as taking an exam or a driving test, but because the Bluebird is a checking account/debit card alternative, it does not require a credit check. When registering for an account the only information you need to provide is your first name, last name, address, email, and phone number. Your social security number is not even requested.
3. Bill Pay: The Bluebird allows you to pay bills, from rent to a car payment, with no fees, stamps or headaches, either on their website or smartphone app. One of the pitfalls of points-earning cards is that you can’t always use them to pay certain kinds of bills like mortgage, car or utilities, or if you can, you can incur large fees. However, with the Bluebird bill pay service, you can either choose from a list of pre-established merchants/payees, OR you can add a payee of your own. Once you submit your payment a paper check will be on the way to your payee and usually will be received within 5-7 business days. Be sure to note that bill pay payments are limited to $10,000 per month (or $5,000 to non-registered payees).
4. Check Writing: Bluebird often runs promotions for free checks and all shipping fees waived. These checks come in books of 50 ($19.94 + $5.94 shipping) or 100 ($26.94 + $6.94 shipping) usually. You order these books by logging into your account, clicking on the “My Account” tab and then selecting “Order Checks.”
There is a little bit of a process to writing a check from Bluebird which includes pre-authorizing the amount online in your account and getting an authorization code which you need to write onto the check itself. When you spend $2,000 or more that authorization can take about 2 business days, so you need to plan ahead in some cases. Still these checks are useful tools for most of us since instead of using the card’s Bill Pay function, you can now also just write the check yourself for whatever bill you are paying.
5. Cash Withdrawal: Because the Bluebird works like an ATM card, you can put value on the card then withdraw it as cash without an ATM fee if you have direct deposit linked to your account. Otherwise it’s $2 per withdrawal. Then you can use that to pay for whatever you want. Withdrawals can be made at any ATM that accepts American Express Cards, including over 22,000 MoneyPass ATMs. There is a daily maximum of $500 or $2,000 per month.
6. Pay Taxes: April 15 is many people’s most dreaded day of the year, and although the Bluebird won’t keep the IRS off your back, it will make paying the taxman less painful. Just like any other bill, your Bluebird can be used to pay taxes and you get hit with lower fees (like $3-4 rather than 2-3% of the transaction) than you would using a credit card. It can also be used as an account to deposit your Federal tax refund as long as the information on your return, including your Social Security Number, matches that on file. There is a limit of two tax refunds per calendar year per Bluebird Account. For more, see this post on Maximizing Points on Tax Payments.
7. Category Spending Bonuses: Another great asset is the category spending bonuses, such as the ability to earn multiple points per dollar at drugstores on various credit cards when using them to charge reload cards to fund your Bluebird account. Current locations to buy Vanilla Reloads can be found here. Take an inventory of the point earning cards you have and what the category spending bonus is on each so you can get the most points for your purchase when buying the reload cards.