Update: permanent PayPower cards and REloadit

Last month I reported on two potentially useful tools for manufacturing spend at grocery stores: PayPower cards and REloadit packs.

Now that I've had more time to experiment with both, I can share my update.

PayPower's website doesn't work very well

In addition to a prepaid debit card (with a steep $5.95 monthly fee which, unlike the T-Mobile Visa Prepaid Card's, can't be waived – but more on that below), a permanent PayPower account also includes a rudimentary bill pay feature similar to that offered by some smaller, regional banks and credit unions. Rather than having billers pre-loaded or searchable, you need to type in your biller's payment details, which are then cross-referenced with their database to see if the payment can be made electronically or if it requires a paper check to be mailed.

The website doesn't work very well, and saved payees periodically disappear before unexpectedly reappearing days or weeks later. At other times the bill payment page completely fails to load. I suspect this is an issue with how PayPower interacts with their 3rd-party bill payment service, and it's something you should certainly be aware of.

Online bill payments are possible, however

I have been able to make online payments to my Barclaycard Arrival+ MasterCard using the payment details on my statement (the "Card Services" address in Philadelphia). Since PayPower required the same information as my credit union to add a biller, I suspect they may use the same 3rd-party service provider. I've now made two bill payments and both were received by Barclaycard in 2 business days, indicating the payments are being made electronically.

There is a substantial shutdown risk

There are many reports of shutdowns in the FlyerTalk thread on PayPower accounts and the co-branded T-Mobile Visa Prepaid card, which has all the same functionality as PayPower and is also administered by Blackhawk Network. Particular flags seem to be large online bill payments and heavy unloading activity at Walmart. This is not surprising: we want our money back as quickly as possible, while they want to hold onto our money as long as possible.

The difference is that when they don't get what they want, they take their toys and go home.

The monthly fee may be avoidable

I can't seem to find any similar reports, but by keeping the balance in my PayPower account at $0, I have not been charged a monthly fee yet. In other words, they don't charge the monthly fee against an account with insufficient funds to pay it. It's unclear to me whether my approach is sustainable or if my account will quickly be flagged for closure.


For now, my account is still active, but I plan to use it very lightly, for 2-4 bill payments per month. The ability to buy REloadit cards for $3.95 in the powerful bonus category of grocery stores is a tempting enough opportunity to keep me coming back once a week or so. I will be immediately emptying the account, however, and won't be surprised when my account is ultimately closed.

I'd love to know: what experiences with PayPower (and T-Mobile) have my readers had? See you in the comments.

REloadit report: opportunities and pitfalls

Since CVS stopped allowing Vanilla Reload Network reload cards to be purchased using credit cards, many people naturally turned to competing reload products. After Green Dot's MoneyPak reload product, one of the most prominent is REloadit, a product of Blackhawk Network (rather than Incomm, the producer of Vanilla-branded prepaid products) sold at many grocery stores nationwide.

I wrote about REloadit back in May, in the context of manufacturing spend at low or no cost using T-Mobile prepaid debit cards which, when loaded using REloadit cards, refund the $3.95 purchase fee to your card's balance.

Since writing that post, I've started experimenting with REloadit cards and have some very curious datapoints to report.

REloadit-compatible prepaid debit cards

You can find REloadit-compatible cards on this site. Besides the T-Mobile card mentioned above, the two most important ones to note are PayPower (since you might be accumulating a growing stack of unregistered temporary cards already) and Serve, the now-slightly-superior-to-Bluebird checking account alternative by American Express.

REloadit packs come in different designs

Last year I wrote about the the plethora of Vanilla Reload Network reload card designs and the opportunities each redesign promised.

REloadit packs come in at least four designs, and each design is sold by a different grocery store chain near me. I don't have pictures of the fourth design, but I do of the three designs I've personally experimented with.

Here's a REloadit "classic:"

Here's what I think of as a "second-generation" REloadit pack (I'll explain why in a moment):

And finally, here's REloadit 3.0 (now rebranded to "Reloadit"):

I bought all three of these cards within the span of a week. So why did I put them in this order?

The "third-generation" Reloadit card comes last because it's the current branding of their website. The distinction between REloadit classic and second-generation REloadit cards is more important, however.

First- and second-generation REloadit cards have different functionality

If you've experimented at all with Evolve Money, the free online bill payment service, you've no doubt wondered what exactly they mean when they say you can pay your bills with "cash" online.

It turns out they give two options: something called Evolve Pay Bucks which – to the best of my knowledge – no one has ever seen in the wild, and REloadit cards.

Unlike the many Vanilla Reload redesigns over the lifetime of that technique, and as strange as it sounds, first-generation REloadit cards do not work with Evolve Money.

What if you accidentally bought a handful of first-generation REloadit packs?

Needless to say, when I discovered this today, I was more than a little peeved. I had already successfully experimented with third-generation REloadit (or "Reloadit") packs using Evolve Money, so had purchased a few REloadit cards with precisely that purpose in mind.

After Evolve Money returned a not-particularly-helpful error advising me to call Blackhawk directly, I was eventually able to reach a customer service representative (try entering 16 0's when prompted for a card number) who both assured me the funds on the card were available for loading and that she had never heard of Evolve Money or any other REloadit-compatible bill payment service, other than PayPower.

Fortunately, I do have access to PayPower cards, so I registered one of my temporary cards and quickly loaded it up with over $1,000 in REloadit packs on my way out the door to Walmart, keeping in mind that PayPower charges its steep $5.95 monthly fee within a week of purchasing the card, and not wanting to pay that fee for access to my own money.

If it were July already, I would have attempted to load the funds to my Serve account, but I was already more than a little worried that my money had been claimed by marauding prepaid pirates, so I seized the opportunity to load the funds while I could.

Conclusion: and PayPower shut me down

When I got home, my access to my PayPower online account had already been revoked, so I assume my same-day loading and unloading activity resulted in my account being shut down.

Since I got my money out and won some hard-earned datapoints for my readers, I'm perfectly satisfied with the experience. And of course, once I'm able to experiment with loading my Serve and T-Mobile accounts with REloadit packs, I'll have more to report.

Are you watching for PayPower prepaid debit cards?

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.