Simplifying and automating debit card transactions

Last month I wrote about using Amazon Allowance to generate credit and debit transactions, like those required by Wells Fargo to waive monthly maintenance fees, by Bank of America's Better Balance Rewards card to ensure you receive your quarterly bonuses, and by Consumers Credit Union to trigger the high interest rates on their Rewards Checking accounts.

I like Amazon Allowances and I use Amazon Allowances, but there are reasons you might prefer not to use Amazon Allowances: you might not do enough shopping on Amazon to justify buying Amazon gift credit, or on the contrary, you might value your relationship with Amazon too much to entangle it in your extracurricular activities.

With that in mind, here are two other options for, if not automating, at least simplifying your monthly transaction requirements.

Evolve Money

Interest in Evolve Money has dwindled since they added fees for transactions funded by prepaid debit cards, but the site still exists, and they still have a large database of billers that's well worth exploring. For example, I'm able to make contributions to my Utah Educational Savings Plan account, which is in my opinion one of the better 529 Educational Savings Plans available — and, even better, it's not administered by Upromise Investments!

Importantly for our purposes, Evolve Money charges a flat 3% fee on credit card and "small bank" debit card transactions, rather than the more typical 2.9% + $0.30 fee charged by many payments processors. That means a $1 charge incurs a fee of exactly 3 cents. Since you are allowed to make 4 debit card-funded payments per month, per biller, if you can find 3 eligible billers in their database you can generate 12 transactions per month at a total cost of $0.36.

Unfortunately I cannot seem to set up recurring payments using Evolve Money, but since payments can be scheduled in advance you can just set aside 5 minutes per month to schedule your 10-12 monthly debit transactions. Likewise, a monthly $5 Better Balance Rewards payment would cost all of $0.15 in processing fees.

Bluebird, Serve, and Target Prepaid REDCard loads

American Express's full-service prepaid cards actually feature a powerful recurring payment service: you're able to schedule recurring transactions to move funds from a debit card to your prepaid account, as well as from any credit card on the American Express network (some American Express-issued credit cards do not earn rewards on such transactions, however).

Unfortunately, as with Evolve Money, I am no longer able to create new so-called "scheduled add" transactions. What I am able to do is edit existing scheduled add transactions and change the funding source to a new credit or debit card.

So on the Bluebird account I manage, I had three recurring "scheduled add" plans already created, and was able to change them to set up daily $0.50 funding transactions for the first 12 days of the next 3 months. That's not exactly automatic (I'll have to move the dates forward every 3 months), but it also doesn't take up too much mental bandwidth.


Frequent Miler and Matt at Saverocity have both raised the question lately, in their own ways, of how much cognitive space they're willing to devote to "smaller" deals when they could instead be pursuing big fish, and I think it's an absolutely essential conversation to have.

In my own travel hacking practice, I tend to err on the side of doing more, rather than less. I continue to pursue a number of "small fry," like Visa Buxx cards, which offer a small amount of unbonused spend each month. But I'm also eager to automate or simplify as many elements of my manufactured spend as possible, so I can devote more cognitive bandwidth to exploring new deals — and sharing them with my readers!

Recurring, small debit card transactions are precisely the kind of nuisance that can take up a disproportionate amount of attention, and are the kind of thing that are essential to simplify or automate if at all possible.