netSpend: easy come, easy go, easy $5,000 in manufactured spend

Today's post comes thanks to reader Tim, who convinced me to finally look into netSpend and shared with me his findings based on numerous conversations with their Customer Service department. While netSpend is no secret, I thought it would benefit all my readers to know what to expect if they decide to take advantage of it.

I had never bothered previously since, frankly, I didn't need to: I had MyVanilla Debit cards which could more than handle the volume of manufactured spend I was generating, and I knew netSpend had a bad reputation for account closures.

With my recent MVD shutdowns in hand, and the upcoming expiration of my 5% Citi ThankYou Preferred card offer, I decided to put netSpend through its paces.

Signing up for netSpend

The best way to sign up for netSpend is through a referral link, which gives both you and your referrer $20 after making your first deposit into the account (of $40 or more). There's a "conga" line set up for this purpose on Flyertalk.

Adding Money to the Account

Once you receive your permanent card in the mail, you can add money to the account using Vanilla Reload Network reload cards, subject to the following limits:

  • $2,000 per rolling 24-hour period;
  • $3,500 per rolling 168-hour (7-day) period;
  • $5,000 per rolling 30-day period.

The point is, the time of day you load the Vanilla Reload Network reload cards to your account matters. If you load $2,000 at 5 PM on Monday, you can load another $1,500 at 5:01 PM on Tuesday, and another $2,000 at 5:01 PM the following Monday.

Withdrawing Money from the Account

Here's the best part of this card, and what hasn't been widely reported elsewhere: netSpend is set up to allow free ACH pulls out of the account, using the same routing and account information on the direct deposit form you can access from your online account. That means that there are no additional costs to manufacturing $5,000 in spend per month using this account, after you've bought your reload cards. That makes it in some ways superior to Bluebird, the mainspring of manufactured spend for those with access to CVS or Walmart store locations.

Getting Shut Down

Unfortunately, netSpend aggressively shuts down the accounts of customers who aren't generating the extortionate fees they charge for transactions made with the card. That means that there is only one safe way to use netSpend: immediately empty your account after loading it, and never leave money in the account. This does guarantee that you'll be shut down, but it also minimizes the amount of money netSpend will have to mail you by check (generally up to 20 days later).

Doing it Again

Interestingly, there's another almost identical product offered by netSpend, the PayPal Prepaid MasterCard. The PayPal Prepaid MasterCard is essentially the same as the "premium" netSpend account: it has a $5 monthly fee, no fees for purchases, and comes with a linked 5% APY savings account (5% APY paid on balances up to $5,000). It also has the same $2,000/$3,500/$5,000 load limits.

But there's a wrinkle: if you have both a netSpend account and PayPal Prepaid MasterCard, your load limits are shared between the two cards. That means there's no reason to have an active netSpend and PayPal Prepaid MasterCard at the same time: you can start with one, get shut down, then open the other.

Finally, while reader Tim reported that his netSpend and PayPal Prepaid MasterCard accounts were shut down simultaneously, that wasn't my experience: I haven't loaded or unloaded anything to my PayPal Prepaid MasterCard account, and it's still open, while my netSpend account was shut down a few days after finishing my first month's $5,000 in loads. That means I'll be able to put another $5,000 through the PayPal Prepaid account once my netSpend load transactions roll off my 30-day load history.

I'd love to hear from my readers: have you used netSpend? Have you already been shut down? If not, what's your strategy for avoiding unwanted attention to your account?