Longtime readers know that back in New England, I had more or less constant problems manufacturing spend in two of my favorite bonus categories: gas stations and grocery stores. A few days or weeks after discovering a source, it would inevitably dry up, never to be replaced, or a memo would come down from management requiring cash for the purchases I was interested in making.
Since moving to the Midwest, I've been surprised daily by the options available in virtually every store here. One option I've only recently had a chance to experiment with are PayPower "reloadable" prepaid debit cards.
Are they free or are they cheap?
PayPower cards got some publicity recently when in many markets they went "fee-free;" that is to say, rather than their old $3.95 purchase fee, or the $4.95 activation fee of OneVanilla prepaid debit cards, or the $5.95 purchase fee of many PIN-enabled grocery store gift cards, the PayPower cards stopped charging any activation fee at all at purchase. Within about a week of activation, however, their monthly maintenance fee of $5.95 is still charged, so it's important to liquidate these cards as soon as possible.
In my market, the cards still come with a $3.95 activation fee. While not free, they do allow me to take advantage of grocery store bonus categories while paying less than I was at CVS for PIN-enabled OneVanilla cards.
Set your PIN – but don't register!
In theory, the cards you buy at your local grocery store are only temporary cards, meant to be replaced by a permanent card once you register your temporary card.
It turns out, however, that the PayPower phone tree allows you to set a PIN for your temporary card without providing any personal identifying information.
Just call the number on the front of your card, wait for the prompt, enter your card number followed by the pound key, the card's expiration date and CVC code, then choose option 3. You'll be prompted to enter your desired PIN code twice, and then notified when the PIN code has been successfully set.
No workaround, but remember your point-of-sale updates
These cards can be easily liquidated at Walmart through any of the most popular PIN-based transactions: loading prepaid cards, buying money orders, or making bill payments, and unlike OneVanilla cards before the latest changes, no "workaround" is required: these are immediately identified as PIN-enabled debit cards by Walmart payment terminals.
That doesn't mean you can let your guard down. The point-of-sale updates I've written about (here and here) are still in effect, so you'll still need to keep in mind, for each transaction type, whether the cashier or the customer goes first. Almost no cashiers are aware of the differences, so you may need to gently guide your cashier through each transaction.
I know many of my readers will also be pleased to know that, while not personalized, temporary PayPower cards are not branded in any way as gift cards, which may make them more palatable for some Walmart cashiers, although unfortunately not for those who insist on the cardholder's name being embossed or printed on the card.
Grocery stores are notoriously skeptical of large credit card purchases of prepaid debit and gift cards, so you'll want to take your time investigating as many store locations as possible and familiarizing yourself with the cashiers and managers. Be ready to provide photo ID without hesitation or complaint, and most importantly, be ready to take no for an answer.
The lower a profile you keep, the more likely your cashiers and managers are to be comfortable running larger transactions for you, and the more likely these opportunities are to remain available for you and others in your community.