October 30, 2012
The American Express for Target card that I wrote about yesterday is hardly revolutionary. Compared to the generic American Express Prepaid cards, the Target Amex has higher ATM fees and much stricter limits (for example, the card may only be used within the U.S.). Compared to the new Bluebird card, the Target Amex doesn’t compare at all. It doesn’t have bill pay, you can’t move money out to your bank account, and there are no plans to allow check writing. However, the Target Amex has one awesome feature that the others don’t have: you can load this card in-store with a credit card.
To get your own American Express for Target card, please see my post “How to get the American Express for Target card.”
Fees and Limits
The Target Amex card has the following fees and limits:
- $3 per reload in-store
- $3 per ATM withdrawal after the first free withdrawal each month. Note that ATM owner fees apply as well.
- Number of cards: Each person is allowed up to two cards. Only one may be purchased in a day.
- Maximum balance: $2500 per card
- ATM withdrawals: Limited to $400 per day
Running up spend
There are many reasons you may want to run up spend on a credit card. Here are a few examples:
- Meet credit card minimum spend requirements. Many credit card sign up offers require high spend to receive the full value of the offer. For example, the Ink Bold and Ink Plus currently require $10K of spend in 3 months in order to get the full 50K bonus.
- Achieve high-spend bonuses. Some cards offer bonus points when you reach certain thresholds of spend. Other cards offer airline or hotel elite status. Personally, I use “manufactured spend” tricks with the Delta Reserve and Delta Platinum cards in order to achieve high level elite status on Delta each year (see “Mileage running, from home“).
- Maximize promotions. Some cards target cardholders with temporary incentives (such as extra points) to use their cards more.
Whatever your reason for wanting to run up spend, the Target Amex can be a nice addition to your tool chest. It’s not free (like Amazon Payments), and it’s not a game changer (like Vanilla reload cards), but it’s pretty good. Here are two approaches to using the card to run up spend…
The simplest way to use the Target Amex to run up spend is as follows:
- Use your credit card to pay for each reload. Load the maximum allowed $1000 each time in order to make the $3 load fee as small of a percentage as possible.
- Find the lowest cost ATMs around and unload the card $400 at a time. Some people have been lucky enough to find free ATMs at their local credit unions. Some have reported finding 99 cent ATMs inside MacDonald’s. Others have settled on the still inexpensive ATM’s in Costco ($1.25 per withdrawal).
If you load and withdraw $2000 per month, and use Costco ATMs at $1.25 per use, your total costs will come to $24.25, or 1.21%. If you don’t count the value of your time into the equation, this can be a very reasonable price to pay to get points!
There are many variations of the indirect approach. The basic idea is to get extra points or cash back when buying bank gift cards and then use those bank gift cards to load your Target Amex. For this post, I’ll focus on a simple cash-back strategy for buying Amex gift cards at a discount:
Buying Amex gift cards at a discount
I’ve had this post planned for weeks, but coincidentally, Frugal Travel Guy reminded the world about this trick yesterday (see “A look back and ahead at Bigcrumbs.com“). The idea is to go through the online portal BigCrumbs to buy American Express gift cards and receive 1.4% cash back. Here’s how:
- Sign up for BigCrumbs. (If you would like to contribute to Frequent Miler, please consider using this referral link — I’ll earn a small bonus each time you get cash back).
- Search BigCrumbs for “American Express”. You’ll find two options: American Express Gift Cards – Business, and American Express Gift Cards – Personal. Click through either one.
- Order gift cards for yourself. Except when special promotions are going on, each card has a $3.95 fee, so your best value is to buy one $3000 card at a time. You will also be charged $8.95 for 2nd Day shipping.
- Pay with your credit card. Note: do not do this with Citibank cards since it has been reported that Citi treats these purchases as cash advances! In my experience, both Chase and American Express treat these as regular purchases. If you’re unsure about your bank, consider buying a small denomination card first to test the waters.
In total, your fees will come to $12.90 or .43%. From BigCrumbs, you should get back 1.4% of $3000, which is $42. After subtracting out the fees, you still gain $29.10 which is a .97% profit!
Liquidating Amex gift cards
Now that you have Amex gift cards that you effectively got at a discount, you can liquidate them by using them to load Target Amex cards and then withdraw the money from ATMs. By going through this indirect approach, your total fees for running up spend will come down to a miniscule .24%!
With the options shown above, you can easily “manufacture” $2000 spend per month. Yes, you could go to $2500, but then you wouldn’t be perfectly optimizing the fees since you would have to do a $500 load each month.
One easy way to scale up beyond $2000, is to get a second card. That way, you can go up to $4000 spend per month. Further, if you have a partner you can work with, they could get two cards as well. A couple could manufacture $8000 in spend per month!
I’ve cautioned heavily before against doing exactly what I wrote about above. With either the regular Amex Prepaid cards or the Bluebird card, I think it would be a mistake to abuse them by using them just for loading and unloading. Amex counts on you using these cards for real credit card transactions. If you don’t, they have the ability to close your accounts. Just as concerning, loading and unloading cards looks like money laundering. So, you do run some risk of being investigated (even though there’s nothing illegal about the procedure I wrote about).
Everyone needs to use their own judgment about the level of risk they’re willing to incur. In the case of Target Amex cards, my guess is that the fees are just high enough to put us in the clear. What I mean is that Amex and Target probably don’t lose money (at least, not much) when we load and unload cards as described in this post. If true, then they would have little or no incentive to spend resources on monitoring how we use these cards. I can’t stress enough, though, that this is just my educated guess. Use your own judgment about how (or whether) to proceed.