Credit card sign up bonuses are an awesome way to reduce the cost of your travel.
If you and your spouse/partner see an awesome credit card sign up bonus and both want to apply, you can often end up with needing to do a high amount of spending in a short period of time. For example, the spending requirement might be $3000 each in 3 months = $6000. Sometimes the spending requirements can even be higher for super fancy cards.
If you don’t typically put that much spending on your credit card, then there are some solutions. Note that these are normal people solutions, not crazy complicated travel hacking methods.
Pay your taxes / estimated taxes with your credit card.
You’ll get hit with a percentage fee for using your credit card to pay taxes, but if you are just short of the line to meet a sign up bonus, then you could partial pay your taxes using your credit card, and pay the bulk using your usual method. In fact, after you estimate your refund, you just might have more than enough to cover the percentage fee and then some.
Pay bills ahead – house and car insurance, real estate taxes.
For insurance payments, you could even check if a discount is available for switching from monthly/quarterly to annual.
Pay Health Insurance Premiums
We are self employed so we have to pay for our own health insurance :-(
We pay the premiums monthly with whatever credit card we are needing to get a minimum spend on i.e we don’t lock in one credit card for automatic payment each month.
Buy a grocery store gift card.
Again if you’re just short of the line to meet your bonus, you can buy a gift card to Trader Joes or Wholefoods or wherever you shop.
Buy something for someone else on your card and get reimbursed.
For example, a non US friend recently purchased a cruise and couldn’t pay for it without a US issued credit card. I used my card and she paid me back via Paypal. Obviously requires a high degree of trust!
For example, Kathryn is currently staying with my Mum in New Zealand. She would normally give my Mum cash to cover her food costs etc but instead she is just occasionally going to the supermarket with my Mum and paying for the groceries on her card.
Use workarounds to pay bills you can’t usually pay with credit card or where doing so incurs a fee.
There are three AMEX products – Target Prepaid Redcard, Bluebird (partnered with Walmart), and Serve, that all allow you pay bills online with no fees. With Bluebird, you can even write checks yourself from the account.
The easiest option of these three is the Target Prepaid Redcard. It is only available for purchase in some states currently. Once obtained, you can load it using your credit card at any Target register, including stores/states that don’t sell the card. You just got to the checkout line, tell the operator you want to load your Redcard, and then swipe your credit card to make the payment. You can load up to $2500 per day or $5000 per month at Target, however I think the max they can do in a single transaction is $1000. Therefore, to load the $2500 max, they have to enter the smaller loads separately.
To get the Target card, you have to give your SSN and i.d. You get a temporary card and then call in and get your permanent card in the mail. You may have to send in copies of your i.d.
You can then withdraw cash from the card from certain ATMs for payments you can only make in cash (e.g., my petrol station gives the lowest price for cash), or do online bill pay for bills that have to be paid by check or ACH. They can either do an electronic payment to the individual you need to pay, or they will generate a check for you and send it. (With Bluebird you can actually write the checks yourself, although you have to pre-authorize them online through the Bluebird interface). I have a bunch of ATMs near me that I can withdraw money from using Redcard, mostly at 7/11s. There is no fee for this and it’s easy to look up online where to find one of their in-network ATMs.
Note that the Target card isn’t the same as the Target Debit or Credit Redcards. It’s a new product that says Prepaid Redcard. You can look up online and see if they have them in your state yet.
The Bluebird and Serve options are the same except you can’t load them with a credit card directly. You have to use your credit card to buy a certain type of giftcard and then load the giftcard amount to your card. This involves a trip to Walmart in the case of Bluebird. There are fees for buying the giftcards and the types of giftcards that work can change, therefore this is a more complicated option. However, once you have a system that works for you, it’s not really that complicated. For loading Bluebird, the usual strategy is to buy a Visa DEBIT giftcard that comes with a pin. You then tell the Walmart cashier you want to load your Bluebird with your DEBIT card, swipe your card, enter your pin and you are good to go. Some types of Visa Debit giftcards do not work for this (Vanilla brand used to work but apparently no longer do), so try a low value option to start with. To increase your odds, try Googling the name/issuing bank of the Visa Debit giftcard you intend to buy + Bluebird, before you buy it. The issuing bank will typically be listed in the fineprint at the bottom of the cardboard. The Walmart cashier may see the Visa logo and say you can’t load your Bluebird with that but this is generally because they are assuming you want to load Bluebird with a credit card, which is not allowed. They have to run it as as a debit card transaction for it to work, and the Visa giftcards you want to use specifically say “Debit card” on them.
I believe you can load Serve online using a moneypak but I’ve never used Serve. You can only have one of these Amex cards – either the Target Prepaid Redcard, the Bluebird, or a Serve. For example, you can’t have a Bluebird + Target card. However if you want to switch, you can just cancel the one you have.
Since this article was written the Target Prepaid Redcard has been shut down, but new opportunities to obtain sign up bonuses pop up from time to time so watch out for them.
This post was written in association with Turbotax but views expressed are my own.