This morning Amex delivered bad news to huge numbers of Bluebird and Serve account holders. They shut down accounts due to “unusual usage patterns on your American Express Serve Account.” I reported the news here: Amex kills Bluebird and Serve for manufactured spend.
Since Bluebird and Serve used to provide a great way to liquidate gift cards, many people are asking “what now?” In a sense, I answered that already in my post “Manufacturing Spend in 2016 and Beyond.” The only long-term sustainable forms of manufactured spend involve fees or risk.
While people work on sorting out their long term objectives, many have an immediate problem: pockets full of Visa/MasterCard gift cards. What to do?
Liquidate Visa and MasterCard gift cards:
1) Use for everyday spend instead of cash or credit card
This one should be obvious, but it had to be said. If you want to use the cards online, you may have to register your name and address with the gift card first.
2) Pay bills
Many service providers accept credit or debit cards for payment. If so, it’s likely that they’ll accept Visa and MasterCard gift cards as well. You may have to first register your name and address with your gift card, though, before making an online bill payment. For monthly charges, it is often possible to pay more than your current month’s bill and the overage will be deducted from the next month’s bill. Check with your utility, cable, phone companies to see if they accept credit or debit payments.
3) Pay mortgage, rent, or other bills that can’t normally be paid with a credit card
Services like Plastiq and ChargeSmart allow you to pay bills, including mortgage and other loan payments, by credit or debit card. Plastiq has a fixed 2.5% fee. ChargeSmart’s rates vary by the size of your payment, but tend to range from 2% to 3%. Some bills that ChargeSmart doesn’t allow to be paid by credit card can be paid by debit card, so gift card payments should be possible.
For rent payments, try out RadPad. See: Doctor of Credit: Complete List Of Options For Paying Your Rent With A Debit Or Credit Card.
4) Pay Federal Taxes
Estimated taxes are due January 15th. You can also prepay your end of year taxes. If you overpay, you’ll eventually get a check back for the difference. You can find payment processors that allow credit and debit payments, on this IRS page: Pay your Taxes by Debit or Credit Card.
Debit card fees are quite low, but you can only make 2 payments per service for each type of tax payment. Since there are three services, you can make a total of 6 Q4 estimated tax payments, and another 6 end of year payments. Here are the current debit card rates:
- OfficialPayments.com/fed: $2.50 flat debit card fee for payments of $1000 or less
- Pay1040.com: $2.59 flat debit card fee
- PayUSAtax.com: $2.69 flat debit card fee
5) Buy money orders
Some stores will let you buy money orders and pay with a debit card. The particular stores that allow this vary by location.
Warning: banks have been known to shut down customers who regularly deposit money orders in large quantities.
6) Try other prepaid cards
With the end of Bluebird and Serve, and the effective end of Buxx cards, there aren’t many good options left. Plus, I’m pretty sure that the clock is ticking on any remaining options. Still, if you know of a card that can be loaded with a debit card and easily liquidated, then go for it.
7) Make loans via Kiva
You won’t get your money back for quite a while, but if you filter to “safe” loans you have a good chance of getting most or all of your money back eventually. See: Kiva: loans, points, and miles.