This post is a beginner’s guide to manufactured spending by loading Serve with gift cards. Loading my Serve OneVIP card with gift cards at Walmart is my current method for manufacturing spending and also a good way to meet minimum spend requirements on new credit cards. Currently, you can load Serve with a gift card at the following stores: Walmart, Family Dollar and Dollar General.
Here is what you need to know about how to load Serve with gift cards:
Bluebird vs. Serve for Manufactured Spending
Both Bluebird and Serve are reloadable prepaid accounts offered by American Express that are useful for manufactured spending by loading them with gift cards. Each person can have only Bluebird or Serve-not both.
I used to have a Bluebird but switched to a Target REDcard (REDbird). After Target stopped allowing Redbird debit card loads, I opened up a Serve OneVIP account which is what I currently use.
Bluebird and Serve are somewhat similar but there are a few key differences. One big difference is that Bluebird can be loaded with gift cards only at Walmart stores. There are more options for loading Serve with a gift card (Walmart, Family Dollar and Dollar General). Another benefit with Serve is that you can load Serve with a credit card online (but only with an American Express credit card) but you cannot load Bluebird with a credit card.
One disadvantage of Serve is that there is a $1 monthly fee but it is waived when you direct deposit $500 or more a month. Loading Serve with a credit card seems to count since my fee has been waived.
If you want more store options for loading gift cards and/or want to do online credit card loads, then Serve is the best option. If you want to only load gift cards at Walmart, then Bluebird is the simplest option as you do not have to worry about the $1 monthly fee. (See related post How to Manufacture Spending by Loading Bluebird with Gift Cards at Walmart Stores.)
How Does Manufacturing Spend with Serve Work?
Here is a quick summary on how to load a gift card to Serve – I will break down each step later:
- Open a Serve account.
- Purchase a pin-enabled gift card using your points earning credit card.
- Set a pin number of figure out what the pin number is to use the gift card like a debit card.
- Go to a Walmart or one of the other stores and load your Serve with the gift card while pretending it is a debit card.
- Liquidate money from Serve account by using Serve to pay bills.
Opening a Serve Account
You can open a Serve OneVIP account online which is what I did. When you sign up for Serve, American Express will request your social security number. However, there is no credit pull so it will not show up on your credit report.
There are a few different versions of Serve. For many people, OneVIP Serve will be the best option. It does have a $1 monthly fee, but the monthly fee is waived if you loaded $500 within the past month, including online credit/debit loads or in-store cash reloads. One your permanent card arrives in the mail, you can start manufactured spending.
Purchasing a Gift Card
The next step is to find gift cards to purchase with your credit cards. You are looking for gift cards than you can set a PIN for. Not all gift cards will work.
What gift cards do you buy?
- DO buy Visa or MasterCard gift cards. (If there is a choice between Visa or MasterCard, purchase the Visa.) Look for Visa gift cards from Metabank and Sunrise banks.
- Do NOT purchase American Express gift cards because they do not allow you to set up a PIN.
- OneVanilla Visa or Vanilla Visa gift cards are a bit trickier to use at Walmart. OneVanilla gift cards might work at the other stores
- Gift cards have purchase fees so it is best to buy a high denomination gift card.
These Visa gift cards sold at Staples are easy to load to Serve
Where do you buy gift cards?
Anywhere that allows you find Visa or MasterCard gift cards and that allows you to pay by credit card. Some places to try include office supply stores, grocery stores, gas stations, malls, online etc. The options available to you vary depending where you live.
I usually buy gift cards at Staples because they periodically offer rebates that earn you a gift card worth more than the fees you will pay. I frequently load Serve at Walmart with the gift cards that Staples sells so I know they work. Staples stores sell both Visa and MasterCard gift cards in denominations as high as $200. You can also order $300 Visa gift cards from Staples.com.
Gift cards have fees so the key to making this more profitable is to minimize the fees and maximize the points you earn. So if you buy gift cards at office supply stores you earn even more points if you use a card that offers you more points such as the Chase Ink. I will occasionally use a different credit card when I need to meet my minimum spend requirements.
Another option for me is my grocery store which sells variable Visa gift cards issued by Sunrise which can be purchased up to $500 dollars.
Another great option is to order Visa gift cards online from giftcards.com because you can personalize the gift cards with your name which comes in handy if someone asks to looks at your “debit card.” If you access giftcards,com from the iConsumer shopping portal (this is my referral link) you can 1.5% cash back on your order which helps deflect gift card fees.
Figure out the PIN number or set a new PIN number for your gift card
The key to using your gift card with Serve is to set a PIN number in order to use the gift card as a debit card.
Some gift cards use the last 4 digits as a PIN, some you can pick any 4 digits first time you use the card, or you can call the number in the back of the card to set a pin number. I like to call the number on the back of my card and choose my own PIN (which I use for all gift cards).
Loading Serve with a Gift Card
Once you have your gift card, it is time to go to one of the stores that allow you to load your Serve using the gift card as a debit card. The stores that currently allow you to load your Serve with a debit card include: Walmart, Family Dollar and Dollar General.
Since technically you are pretending your gift card is a debit card and you are not allowed to load gift cards, try not to let the employee see your gift card. I usually keep my gift card kinda hidden so they do not see the word gift card in the front. I have read some reports of cashiers not letting people load gift cards, but they have never checked to see what I am paying with. If they check, some people will show their real debit card but then swipe the gift card.
When you go to the cashier you swipe your Serve, tell them the amount you want to load with your “debit card”, then you swipe your gift card and enter your PIN.
Loading Serve at Walmart
I don’t have first hand experience loading gift cards at the other three stores, but I do load them at Walmart frequently. You have two options when loading your Serve at Walmart: go to the kiosk machine or go to a cashier.
I prefer to use the kiosk (referred to Kate by people that MS) although sometimes the kiosk could be out of order. The machine gives pretty detailed instructions on how to do load your Serve. The key is to choose debit as your funding method. The benefit of using the kiosk is that you do not have to risk a cashier asking to see your “debit card..”
If the machine is out of order you will need to go to a cashier and have a Walmart employee load your Serve. If they don’t let you load Serve with a gift cards, find another store.
Sometimes a Mastercard gift card initially registers as a credit card so you have to hit the change payment button immediately when you see it and then hit debit. This usually happens to me when I swipe the MasterCard gift cards I buy at Staples (which is why I prefer the Visa gift cards).
I think for more people Walmart is the best option to load Serve with gift cards. Dollar General only recently started allowing debit card loads to Serve so I have not had a chance to load a gift card at one of these stores. Family Dollar might have a store limit for how much money in gift cards can e loaded to Serve in a day.
Using Serve to Liquidate Gift Cards
Once you load your gift cards at Walmart or another store you will see that the balance on your Serve has increased by the amount of your load. So how do you get this money out?
There are a few options:
- Use Serve to pay your bills. This is what I usually do. Serve has tons of payees available. I usually pay off credit card bills. Sometimes I’ll pay the credit card I used to purchase my gift card but if you do that make sure you charge other stuff on your credit card and don’t keep just buying gift cards.
- Send a check to someone. It could be someone that you owe money to or a friend or family member that will pay you back.
- You can also withdraw cash at ATMs.
- Make regular purchases with your Serve card. (While you are foregoing points it may make it less likely to have your account shut down by Amex).
Ready to Start?
If you are interested in trying to load Serve with gift cards at Walmart, start small. Do not buy a large number of gift cards to start with or buy a lot of gift cards at the same time. Buy one gift card and go to Walmart and see if it works. There is no guarantee that this method will work in the future so my advice is not to purchase more gift cards than you can otherwise spend.
Update: You will probably only be able to use Serve for manufactured spending for only a 1-3 months before Amex notices and ends your ability to load money. On January 8, 2016, March 4, 2016 and April 12, 2016, Amex sent emails to a large number of Serve and Bluebird accountholders ending the ability to load new money due to manufactured spending. (See Are Bluebird and Serve Dead for Manufactured Spending? and More Bluebird and Serve Accounts Shutdown Today). My advice for anyone just starting with Serve is don’t buy too many gift cards at once and load them as soon as possible (preferably the same day your purchase them). You can also use your pin enabled gift cards to purchase money orders at Walmart at a cost of $0.70 per money order. Another easy method to manufacture spending is Plastiq (see Using Plastiq’s Referral Program to Earn Fee-Free Credit Card Spending).