Two cautionary tales

I've been blessed multiple times to unknowingly move to communities that had favorable environments for manufactured spend. Now, that's not exactly a "coincidence," since many of the most hostile environments for manufactured spend are also the most expensive cities in the country (New York City, San Francisco), and my income doesn't support living there, so I've never lived there.

But I freely admit that it means this blog focuses more on successful manufactured spend techniques than unsuccessful manufactured spend techniques, since most of my techniques are successful!

MasterCard gift cards issued by U.S. Bank are a problem at Walmart

With that in mind, I took the recent occasion of fee-free MasterCard gift cards at Staples to deliberately revisit an old problem: can you use MasterCard gift cards at Walmart?

For several years after the Federal Reserve required prepaid debit cards to be PIN-enabled, MasterCard gift cards issued by U.S. Bank worked differently than Visa prepaid debit cards issued by Metabank at Walmart. Unless you knew about, and were able to convince your cashier to go along with, the "change payment" trick, MasterCards were unusable for money orders or bill payments.

This history means most people, under most circumstances, simply avoid MasterCard gift cards. After all, most merchants that sell MasterCards also sell Visas, and if a credit card or rewards program bonuses spend at a particular merchant, then your natural preference should be to buy the easy-to-liquidate Visa rather than the hard-to-liquidate MasterCard.

However, that natural preference hits a snag when a promotion comes along that targets MasterCard gift cards directly. For example, for folks who drive a lot, the cost of gas can make up a big part of their monthly budget, so when Stop&Shop offers bonus points on MasterCard gift card purchases, folks are understandably conflicted. How does the (relative) difficulty of liquidating MasterCards weigh against the accelerated earning when you pile gas rewards on top of the bonus credit card rewards you're already earning at grocery stores?

Plastiq isn't a good liquidation technique; Plastiq referrals are a good liquidation technique

This came up over the weekend when I asked a fellow travel hacker how he'd fared during the fee-free Staples MasterCard promotion mentioned above, since I'd only been able to grab 3 $200 cards (3,000 Ultimate Rewards points with my Ink Plus). He responded smartly, "what am I supposed to do with a bunch of MasterCard gift cards?"

I mentioned Plastiq, which allows you to you make payments to a variety of payees using prepaid debit cards, including bills that can amount to thousands of dollars per month: student loans, rent, mortgage, cable, and insurance payments, among others.

My friend again pointed out that under normal circumstances, Plastiq's 2.5% liquidation fee made the service scarcely worth using, let alone worth driving around town searching for gift cards.

The trick, of course, isn't that Plastiq is a good liquidation technique, the trick is that if you're good enough at promoting Plastiq as a liquidation technique, you get to liquidate an unlimited number of your own cards for free.

Affiliate bloggers rely on a constant stream of vulnerable newbies

The only income I get from this site comes from my loyal blog subscribers, Google Adsense, my Amazon Associates link, and the personal referral links I put on my Support the Site! page.

This gives me complete editorial freedom (manufactured spend is good, Membership Rewards points are bad, free night certificates are bad, companion tickets are bad), but it also means my income doesn't depend month-to-month on driving people to sign up for particular cards, chasing bounties or fretting when lucrative payouts go away.

It also means that I don't need to recruit any new travel hackers. My basic view is that most people who are mentally configured to be travel hackers are pretty easy to identify. You can give the absolute simplest task to someone: "buy a Visa gift card," and if they come back with a Home Depot gift card, you know they don't have the attention or precision to be a travel hacker.

That's not to say I "hoard" information; I love sharing information! I just don't have a rooting interest in recruiting additional travel hackers just because they happen to be eligible for new referral bonuses.

But if, on the contrary, your income depends on getting people to sign up for the first time for something, whether it's a Chase Sapphire Preferred card or a Plastiq account, then newbies are the world's most precious resource, and there is nothing more inevitable than a blogger trying to extend their appeal deeper and deeper into less and less appropriate target audiences.

That is to say, a blogger who successfully refers 100 people to Plastiq is correct when they say Plastiq is a good way to liquidate MasterCard gift cards fee-free, because they have $10,000 in fee-free dollars, but incorrect when they tell newbies, about whom they know nothing, to go out and buy a bunch of MasterCard gift cards and to liquidate them through Plastiq.

If you don't understand this reasoning, then a lot of blogger behavior looks absurd. Even setting aside the blogs that are actually owned and operated by credit card affiliate companies, why would Rich Weirdo Ben Schlappig participate in this humiliating spectacle for Rolling Stone? But if you understand that he needs to fish where the fish are, then it makes perfect sense that the more outlandish the venue, the more likely he is to find vulnerable newbies! After all, if your livelihood depended on it, you too would prefer to attract 10 signups from than 1 signup from Flyertalk.


Unfortunately, even with a patient cashier and plenty of tries, I wasn't able to make the "change payment" trick work at my local Walmart. Thank God for grocery stores (and Plastiq)!

Walmart Money Center debit limit problem solving; gone vacationing

I have never felt the impulse to constantly repeat, here on the blog, every manufactured spend technique that still works. People periodically send me e-mails or leave comments on ancient posts asking, "does this still work?" and my response is usually, "why wouldn't it?" After all, almost everything I know and do is contained here on the blog, and virtually everything else I know is included in my subscribers-only newsletters.

Still, even I occasionally wonder whether a given rule still applies or a given restriction has been loosened or tightened, and I had an experience the other day that provided a funny example.

The Walmart Money Center 4-debit limit

If you're a working travel hacker, grinding out your manufactured spend with money orders and bill payments, you know that Walmart point-of-sale systems will only accept four separate debit payments on a single transaction.

But do you really know that? I mean, if you are going to a Walmart with competent cashiers, making purchases with exactly 4 debit payments on each transaction, how would you know if a the point of sale system were updated to suddenly allow 8, 12, or 20 debit payments per transaction? They wouldn't tell the cashiers, since the cashiers have no reason to know. You'd have to find out for yourself.

Which, the other day, I did!

Walmart Money Center problem solving

In a typical Walmart money order purchase, you might ask for two $1,000 money orders, intending to pay $500 at a time on four PIN-enabled Visa or MasterCard debit cards. Since the amount debited from each card is manually entered by the cashier, that creates the possibility of the cashier manually entering the wrong amount.

In my case the other day, my cashier debited $50, rather than $500, from my first card. That left me with a $450 hole to fill. She offered to let me pay with the remaining balance of my debit card, but she didn't have any say in the matter: the point of sale system spit out a little slip refusing a fifth debit, after I'd paid the remaining $1,500 with my three remaining cards.

At this point, you have a few options. None of them is better or worse than the other, but you need to be ready, because if this happens to you your cashier is going to be very flummoxed and you need to know your options, depending on what they're they're prepared to do:

  • Remove a money order from the transaction to square it up. This is technically the best option if the mistake is made on the first or second debit charge of your transaction. For example, if you have a $2,000 total money order purchase, and the first debit is accidentally made for $50, you can ask the cashier to remove the second $1,000 money order, make a $450 supplemental payment with your first (incorrectly debited) card, and then another $500 payment with a second card. You'll have completely paid for one money order. No harm, no foul.
  • Remove a money order from the transaction to generate a refund. This is actually a variation of the situation most experienced travel hackers have run into, where the money order printer crashes and the store has to give you a refund in cash since they can't refund debit card transactions. If the erroneous debit takes place on the third or fourth debit, this may be your only option. You can either take a cash refund or, if your cashier is game, use it against the cost of the second money order (since most Walmart cashiers don't have that much cash in their drawers anyway).
  • Finally, and this is only for folks who are sure about the competence of their cashiers, you can ask them to add a money order to the purchase in the amount of the mistake, before removing one of the original money orders. For example, if you intended to buy two $1,000 money orders with four $500 debits, but one of the debits was incorrectly entered at $50, you can ask the cashier to add a $550 money order, then remove one of the $1,000 money orders. That would bring your order to $1,550 — the amount you were ultimately able to pay with four debits.

I'm going to Europe!

This afternoon I'm flying to Munich to spend 10 days in France, Switzerland, and Germany. Don't burn the place down while I'm gone!

I guess this is a vacation so I don't expect to post more than once or twice next week, but I do plan to have sporadic internet access so follow me on Twitter for updates, pictures, and rants about how they do things over there, putting mayonnaise on their fries or whatever.

My super-boring Sam's Club Amex offer strategy

I've now finished off the last of my American Express "Offers for You" at Sam's Club, and it was nothing special: I bought a bunch of Sam's Club gift cards, which I'll use to buy cheap stuff (realistically, beer) at Walmart at a hefty discount.

This was my strategy.

Round 1: $20 Sam's Club gift card for $2

When the Offer for You first launched, risk-averse as I am I purchased a $20 Sam's Club gift card to see how they would be coded. I paid $22 (including the 10% non-member surcharge), and a few weeks later when the charge finally cleared, I received a $20 statement credit.

Unfortunately, by that time Sam's Club had implemented two changes: they started charging shipping fees on their own gift cards, and had eliminated $20 gift cards as a purchase option.

They finally relented on the first change, but $50 gift cards currently remain the lowest denomination available for purchase online.

Rounds 2 through 4: $50 Sam's Club gift cards for $15

Fortunately, thanks to Doctor of Credit I knew how to split online Sam's Club purchases between two enrolled American Express cards. So I placed 4 orders for $50 Sam's Club gift cards, putting $20 on one enrolled card and $35 on the other (including the $5 non-member penalty). I received immediate "Congrats!" confirmation e-mails for each of the four orders.

Ultimately, I'll get $200 in Walmart store credit for $60 — a 70% discount on stuff I'm going to buy anyway. My theory is that I spend a lot of time at Walmart already, and they have competitive prices on a few things I purchase regularly. This is the part of our hobby that is closer to extreme couponing than travel hacking, but the price is right.


In many circumstances travel hacking favors the brave: due to my risk-aversion I ended up getting a mere 70% discount on my gift cards, when I could have received a 90% discount if I'd gone all-in while $20 Sam's Club gift cards were still available.

Over the course of a career in this hobby, those differences can add up to tens of thousands of dollars, if not more. On the other hand, sometimes those big, all-in plays backfire: Frequent Miler's scheme to stock up on fruit and nut baskets springs to mind.

Ultimately, I don't have the financial resources to hit every deal as hard as possible the day it launches. So I'll just keep reporting on the slow, steady, and safe methods that make up the bulk of my miles, points, and cash back strategy.

5 ways to unload OneVanilla cards without a trip to Walmart

Well, my post yesterday minimizing the changes to OneVanilla acceptance at Walmart did not win me any friends. Let's see if I can take another crack at it.

You're annoyed, nervous, confused, and frustrated by the strange errors you keep getting at Walmart, but love earning 5% cash back at pharmacies and gas stations that sell OneVanilla cards. Here are 5 ways to use OneVanilla prepaid debit cards that still work.

Amazon Payments

An Amazon Payments account can make up to $1,000 in outgoing payments per calendar month. I typically save that bandwidth till the end of the month, then use it to liquidate any odd amounts I still have lying around on prepaid cards or, if none, use it to hit high-spend thresholds or minimum spending requirements.

To keep from having a $1 hold placed on your OneVanilla card, use an incorrect expiration date when adding the card to Amazon Payments. After the card has been successfully added, change the expiration date to the one found on the card.

Evolve Money

OneVanilla cards can still be used on Evolve Money. Find your billers, start slow, making sure each payment posts correctly and on time, and enjoy.

Grocery store money orders

While often more expensive than Walmart's $0.70 money orders, and with lower limits, many grocery stores also allow PIN-enabled debit cards to be used to buy money orders. Take a walk around town to see which stores play along, although be careful: many grocery stores apply much more scrutiny to frequent, large transactions than Walmart does.

Load Serve cards at Family Dollar

Grab a Vanilla Reload Network reload card from the gift card rack, bring it to the front, let the cashier scan it, swipe your Serve card, choose the amount of your load and swipe your OneVanilla card. There's no fee.

Trade up and out

If you have local stores that accept debit, but not credit cards, for non-Vanilla PIN-enabled debit cards, you may find it worthwhile to buy Vanilla prepaid debit cards using a credit card and then convert them to non-Vanilla debit cards. Your costs will be higher, but the benefits may still outweigh those costs (paying, for example, $10.90 for $25.20 in cash back).

Using OneVanilla cards at Walmart has become (slightly) trickier

Over the weekend, a number of reports appeared of new problems encountered when users attempted to use OneVanilla prepaid debit cards at Walmart store locations. Now that I'm back from my quick vacation, I had a chance today to get over to Walmart and see what the fuss was all about.

Incidentally, I'm aware that there are multiple point-of-sale systems installed across the country and that individual stores and managers can impose their own restrictions, so my datapoints won't be relevant to everyone. This is not a conclusive study, it's a first glance at the situation, a workaround that worked for me, and some further observations.

The bad news is, the problems are real. The good news is, I found them to be pretty trivial.

Buy money orders "customer-first"

In my last post on Walmart point-of-sale system updates, I reported that:

It's now my belief that at some Walmart store locations with the new(est) software, split-tender transactions for money orders can still be processed "cashier first." Bill payment transactions, on the other hand, can only be processed "customer first."

Based on my experience today, I now believe that money orders must now also be processed "customer first," at least when using OneVanilla cards.

As a reminder, that means the customer must get all the way through to submitting their PIN before the cashier submits the amount of a split tender.

When my cashier submitted the amount of the split tender first, on the other hand, then after entering the OneVanilla card's PIN the system returned an "Alternative Payment Required" error.  

Problems with all-Vanilla transactions

After figuring out the above, I decided to see if I could buy a money order with only a single OneVanilla card. Even though I told the cashier to hold off on his end until after I had entered my PIN, the terminal still returned the "Alternative Payment Required" error.

While I may have been experiencing cashier error, out of an abundance of caution and laziness I'll continue combining Vanillas with other PIN-enabled cards, like my PayPal Debit MasterCards.

The final-swipe theory

The relevant FlyerTalk thread already has thousands of datapoints and plenty of speculation about why this particular brand of card causes us so much grief. One theory floated there that has a certain amount of charm to it is the idea that OneVanilla cards can't be used for the final swipe in a PIN-based transaction. That certainly fits with my experience above: when using a single OneVanilla card, it's inherently also the last card to be used and returns an error.

While it will require further experimentation, if the problem really is related to swipe order, a customer desperate to use exclusively OneVanilla cards (and not other PIN-enabled debit cards, like those sold at grocery stores or office supply stores) could use (up to 4) OneVanilla cards, while being sure to leave a small balance that could then be paid for with cash.


I'll obviously continue reporting if I see any further changes to the OneVanilla landscape, but for now, I'm remaining calm. I'll continue buying OneVanilla cards as long as it makes sense to do so, while being sure not to carry more than I can comfortably unload without Walmart, should the situation there suddenly worsen.

Meanwhile, I'd love to hear from readers: have you noticed any patterns in your recent OneVanilla successes and failures?

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.

New(est) changes to Walmart point-of-sale systems

There are no two ways about it: it's been a frustrating week in the world of manufactured spend. Just a month after I wrote my award-winning (or at least widely retweeted) post on dealing with changes to Walmart point-of-sale systems, the geniuses in Bentonville struck again and implemented another set of obstacles to seamless Walmart financial transactions.

I've been experimenting extensively with the new(est) changes. This is my report.

Processing of prepaid debit cards

Historically, there's been a divide between the way (many) Visa and (many) MasterCard prepaid debit cards have been processed at Walmart registers. Visas, particularly the widely-available cards administered under the Vanilla brand, have (until the most recent changes) been processed by default as debit cards. That means immediately after swiping, a PIN pad would appear and allow you to input either a pre-set or extemporaneous PIN code, depending on the prepaid debit card product.

Many MasterCards, on the other hand, have required users to manually instruct the point-of-sale system to process the card as debit; otherwise, the system initially recognized them as credit cards and refused the cards for debit-only transactions.

As a result of that historical difference, I have never used a MasterCard prepaid debit card at Walmart.

The latest changes have resulted in (many) Visa prepaid debit cards being processed just like (many) MasterCard prepaid debit cards have been in the past: initially as credit cards, and only after explicit user intervention as debit cards.

Change payment – but fast!

Over the past few days I've visited many different Walmart store locations and processed all of the transactions popular among my readers. I'm pleased to say that there is no transaction that previously could be conducted with a prepaid Visa debit card that cannot, today, be conducted with a prepaid Visa debit card.

But that doesn't mean it's easy.

Upon each swipe of a prepaid debit card, you have exactly one chance to alert the point-of-sale system to process your transaction as debit, instead of credit. That chance comes immediately after swiping the debit card, while the customer-facing keypad appears to still be "thinking."

On the keypads at my Walmart registers, you'll first see a red button in the bottom right corner of the screen. Then, within less than a second, a yellow "Change Payment" button will appear in the bottom center of the screen. That, and only that, is your cue to push the yellow button on the right side of the keypad, embossed with a left-facing arrow.

If you miss that chance your transaction will be processed as credit, and fail.

As I mentioned, I've done these transactions at a variety of Walmarts and at a variety of registers, and I've started mentally classifying them into "fast" and "slow" locations.

At "slow" locations, you may have up to 1.5 or 2 seconds to press "Change Payment," either using the touchscreen button or pressing the yellow left-facing arrow button.

At "fast" locations, you will have less than half a second, and you will probably not be able to press the on-screen button. But you can still press the left-facing arrow button the moment you see the yellow on-screen button appear, and it will have an identical function (the screen even displays the "depressed button" animation).

Why are so many experienced people having so many problems?

If all that sounds vaguely familiar, it's because it's been widely reported for many months with respect to MasterCard prepaid debit cards. But this latest update has caused problems even among people who are well aware of the historical situation and the ongoing updates. Why?

My best guess is that they aren't taking into account the interaction of the new(er) changes with the new(est) changes.

As a reminder, under what we might call "first generation" Walmart point-of-sale software, for all split-tender transactions the cashier first typed in the amount of each swipe, before the customer interacted with the terminal.

Under the "second generation" [new(er)] software, the customer first completes their interaction with the terminal, all the way through to typing in a PIN code, before the cashier types in the amount of the split tender.

The problem is that under the new(est) software, the customer's interaction with the terminal takes much, much longer. And it's difficult to convince a cashier to not interact with her register during the entire 8-12 seconds it takes for the customer to complete their interaction with the customer-facing terminal.

Emerging differences between money orders and bill payments

In my earlier reporting on the "new(er)" point-of-sale software, I said or implied that the new "customer first" protocol applied to all split-tender transactions.

I frankly don't know whether that was an error on my part from the beginning or whether a change has subsequently been implemented.

Either way, since the new(est) software changes have been implemented, I've observed a recurring difference between split-tender transactions for money orders and for bill payments.

It's now my belief that at some Walmart store locations with the new(est) software, split-tender transactions for money orders can still be processed "cashier first." Bill payment transactions, on the other hand, can only be processed "customer first."

I know better than to suggest that's the rule at every one of the thousands of store locations in the United States. But if you're having ongoing problems with these prepaid debit transactions, that would be the place I would start diagnosing the problem: either buy money orders or, during bill payments, find a way to convince your Customer Service and Money Center employees to resist processing the split tender until you've completely finished interacting with your customer-facing terminal.


Do you find posts like this useful? Please consider signing up for a $2, $5, or $10 subscription through PayPal, using the button located immediately under the site index in the sidebar on my website, or consider making an Amazon Payments contribution.

Update: Emerald loads at Walmart

Back in April I reminded my readers that under the right circumstances, it might be worth loading HR Block Emerald cards at Walmart, claiming that paying $3.74 per $999 load could be justified if your earning rate were high enough.

Since then, I've run several experiments with my trusty new Suntrust check card, and found that things aren't quite as rosy as I had hoped.

The terms and conditions

As I wrote in the comments to that earlier post:

"[The $999 load limit] is my belief based on the Emerald T&C's:

'The maximum amount of cash value you may load to your Card each day is $999.99.'

And this Green Dot website (among others):

'The cashier will swipe your card and add cash directly to your card (up to $1,000 at Walmart as long as you do not exceed the card load limits). A service fee of $3.74 applies.'

Unfortunately, I appear to have been overly optimistic.

My experience

My first attempt was to load $996 at a regular Walmart register. The register beeped and alerted the cashier that the maximum load was $500. I loaded that amount, and the cashier told me that if I wanted to load more than $500, I needed to do it at the Customer Service desk, which also functions as the Money Center at that Walmart location.

On my trip to Walmart today, I started off at the Customer Service center and had the same experience: I couldn't load more than $500 at a time. This Walmart, however, had a separate Money Center, and I asked the cashier there if she could load more than at the Customer Service center. She told me the limits were the same at both counters.

Since I had already loaded $500 I couldn't try and load another $996 today anyway, because of HR Block's daily load limits.


While it's certainly possible to conjecture that higher loads might be possible at the Money Center at Walmart locations that have both a Customer Service desk and Money Center, I'm personally inclined to doubt it.

My preliminary conclusion is that in fact the Emerald can only be loaded with up to $500 at a time, at a cost of $3.74.

What does that mean for us? Paying 0.748 cents per Skymile is pressing against the upper bound of what you should consider worth paying. Yes, Skymiles can be redeemed for 1 cent each against the revenue cost of Delta tickets, and when booked in First Class, such Pay With Miles tickets even earn Skymiles and Medallion Qualification Miles. If you book a lot of paid First Class tickets, this is a decent way to get a 25% discount on those reservations.

In general, however, I wouldn't consider this an opportunity worth scaling as long as there are so many other, cheaper ways to generate the same number of miles.

New(er) changes to Walmart point-of-sale systems


Just a few weeks ago, I noted that the point-of-sale (POS) software had been updated at my local Walmart, such that I selected any cash back amount before entering my pin, instead of after. Reader Serion presciently advised me in the comments:

"My WM got the update you're talking about a few weeks ago. However, they just got ANOTHER update ~2 days ago. With this update, it won't allow them to split debit payments. Everytime they key in $500 debit, the system beeps and says transaction type not allowed. Has anyone else ran into this. Know any way around it? (It'll allow you to run a single $500 debit purchase w/o a problem)"

That update has now been rolled out to my Walmart, and while it is somewhat annoying that they keep changing the procedure (and making us retrain their cashiers), I'm happy to report that we can still conduct all of our favorite transactions. Here's how.

Old system: cashier goes first

With the old POS software, after the final total was calculated for your purchase, the cashier had the option of typing in a split-tender amount on the physical keypad located to the right of the screen.

After typing in the amount, he or she would press the physical "debit" button, also located on the right side of the terminal.

Then, the customer could swipe a debit card, select the amount of cash back desired, if any, and type in their PIN.

This procedure could be repeated up to 4 times total (3 times if loading a Bluebird card).

New system: customer goes first

Once your Walmart receives the updated POS software, the process is reversed.

Now, after the final total is calculated for the purchase, the customer can swipe a debit card, select a cash back amount, and enter their PIN.

After the PIN is entered, the customer-facing keypad will read "Waiting for Cashier," and only then can the cashier type in the amount to be charged to the swiped debit card and push the "debit" button, again using the physical key located on the right side of the screen.

In fact, the cashier can type in the amount of the split tender before the customer swipes a debit card – what triggered reader Serion's repeated error was the cashier pressing the "debit" button before he had swiped his debit card and entered his PIN.

This procedure can still be repeated at least 4 times (that's how many swipes I did this morning).


The new POS software has been reported to have something to do with making Walmart registers compatible with chip-enabled credit and debit cards. I don't know anything about that – my Walmart registers are most decidedly not compatible with chip-enabled cards, but already have the new software.

In any case, I was fortunate enough, because they know and trust me, to be able to do multiple laps with my cashiers until we figured out the pattern that worked. Since my readers may be dealing with less cooperative cashiers, I want them to know how to get through this process as painlessly as possible.

However, you should still expect some confusion, frustration, and delays the first few times you go through this process with each new cashier.

Reminder: you can load Emerald cards at Walmart (but probably shouldn't – yet)

Today I finally got around to running an experiment I'd been thinking about for a few months. When you log into your HR Block Emerald card's online account, you'll see on the right-hand side of the screen the following reminder:

I don't know about you, but when I see the words "swipe" and "reload" right next to each other like that, the gears start turning.

Emerald cards can't be loaded with PIN-based debit cards at (my) 7-Elevens

Unfortunately, although I was able to find a cashier willing to try, I found that the registers at my local 7-Eleven store locations do not allow PIN-based debit cards to be used to pay for swipe reload transactions.

Let me stress that this doesn't mean they aren't allowed at any store locations. One of my compulsive habits is attempting to buy PayPal My Cash cards at 7-Elevens when I'm traveling, and I succeed about 25% of the time, although they've been hard-coded for cash only in my town for many months now.

So this may be another "Your Miles May Vary" situation.

Emerald cards can be loaded at Walmart

Walmart administers a reload network they call "Rapid Reload." A single swipe reload costs $3.74, and can be performed at any Walmart register.

This has never been a good value, and still isn't while money orders for up to $1,000 can be purchased for $0.70 and bill payments in any amount up to $9,999 cost $1.88 or less (although additional reporting requirements are triggered by transactions exceeding $2,500 – or even less at some store locations).

So no, you shouldn't wake up tomorrow morning, change your whole miles-and-points strategy, and start paying 4 times more for the same amount of manufactured spend.

But allow me to point out that there are readily available techniques that are still lucrative after adding $3.74 per load of up to $999.99.

And if your store or district manager decides to play Carl Hanratty, you might decide it's worth keeping your head down and paying a little more to avoid the eagle-eyed agents at the Customer Service or Money Centers.


Everything is still running smoothly in my sleepy New England town.

But when I think about the end of our current "golden age" of manufactured spend, this is the future I see: one where we'll have to work a little bit harder and pay a little bit more in order to earn the same amount.

And those who handle the transition best are going to be those who are already aware of all the options available now, before that day finally comes.