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I was blessed to escape my undergraduate career without any student loans thanks to my parents, scholarships, and part time jobs. However, my hair-brained idea to go to grad school at NYU ended not only with a diploma, but a hefty amount of student loans. I know this is a situation that many, many others can relate to. I’m thankful to have received an education, but once a month that thankfulness is sucker-punched in the face as I pay a hefty price for that privilege…for up to 20 years.
However, I can now say that once a month I will be slightly less miffed at the joys of paying for grad school as I will now be earning 5x Ultimate Reward points when I pay for my student loans. You’ve probably already heard of the new American Express Bluebird card that helps make this possible. I wrote about my experience getting Bluebird here, and it has been covered on other miles and points blogs as well. Prior to the Bluebird, earning miles and points on things like student loans either wasn’t possible, or wasn’t possible without paying a hefty fee.
Even though there is some Bluebird coverage elsewhere that gets into ways to earn bajillions of points per year by doing some “higher level” things that I would not personally feel comfortable doing with my own account, I am going to focus on some easy, practical, and everyday uses for the Bluebird that apply to most families. Today that focus is on student loans, but the same principles applied to paying student loans with the card could easily be applied to most other types of recurring monthly bills. If you want to start earning up to 5x Ultimate Reward points for your student loans (or similar), here’s how.
1. Request an American Express Bluebird card online. It is free, it wont be a hard pull on your credit, and it should arrive within about a week.
2. Strongly consider applying for a Ink Bold® Business Card or Ink Plus® Business Card. Those are both business cards, but almost everyone I know has some sort of small business even if they don’t call it that. You can read about my experience getting my first business card over a year ago by using this blog (which was a pretty small site at the time). You can absolutely use the Bluebird without those cards, but it isn’t as lucrative. The key to earning 5x points is tied to one of those two cards.
3. Shop for Vanilla Reload cards at your local Office Depot with the Ink Bold or Ink Plus cards. Since those cards both provide 5x points at office supply stores, then when you purchase the Vanilla Reload cards at that store, you earn 5x for them. These are different than the OneVanilla prepaid cards that are also sold at office depot. Right now some Office Depots are having a hard time keeping these cards in stock, but I have had good luck in my part of the country more often than not. The NYC area is very tough, but many other parts of the country do have the reload cards. You can use any card to purchase the reloads if you don’t have an Ink card, you just won’t be earning 5x. However, even earning 1x points using say a Starwood Preferred Guest Amex that earns points that are very valuable, is much better than earning no points for paying things like student loans. This method can also be used as an easy way to meet a minimum spending requirement on any new credit card. Each reload can hold up to $500 and carries a $3.95 fee. Here is a list of stores that currently are said to stock Vanilla Reloads. (click on locations on the upper right).
4. Once you receive and activate your permanent Bluebird card, load the reloads on the card. You can load $1,000 per day, and up to $5,000 in a month from the Vanilla reloads. However, I recommend playing it conservative for now. I know many others are going at this hard and heavy, but that just isn’t my style. I am purchasing about $1,000 – $1,500 in Vanilla reloads at my local Office Depot each month using my Ink Bold. I have no desire to push the limits and raise any red flags with Chase or Amex. Even at just $1,500 each month, I am earning 90,000 points each year that I otherwise wouldn’t have. I plan to use much of the $1,500 each month to pay bills like student loans, utilities, etc. but I will mix in some everyday use of the card, and occasional ATM visits as well.
5. After you have loaded some money on you Bluebird, pay a bill online. The Bluebird website is very simple and easy to use. On the home page select, “Pay a Bill” from the left-hand side of the screen.
To find the student loan I have with Sallie Mae, I searched in the search box for “Sallie Mae” and it came right up. I entered my account info and scheduled the payment.
After the payment was scheduled to go through, I went to my account on the Sallie Mae website and verified that the 11/6 payment with the Bluebird has gone through correctly. It had – hurray! This is sadly just one of my student loans (ugh for private student loans), but I will be repeating this process with the others. Also remember to un-schedule the payment with your bank if it is set to auto-pay unless you want to pay the bill twice. This may not be worth it if you have a lower interest rate due to having auto-payments with your loan provider. Do the math to see what makes the most sense for you.
6. Enjoy your new points! This one loan payment of $220 effectively earned me 1,100 Ultimate Reward points that I can transfer 1:1 to Hyatt, United, British Airways, Marriott, and more. The points aren’t earned when I pay the loan, they are earned when I purchase the Vanilla Reload card for 5x using my Ink Bold at Office Depot. However, in the end it was 1,100 points for something I had to pay anyway, which was previously earning 0 points.
I don’t plan to start paying every bill under the sun with this, but there are a few bills that I do plan to switch over. Even if you want to stay conservative, you could consider having each spouse get their own Ink card and Bluebird, and that way you could double the amount you are able to pay while still (hopefully) not drawing any attention to your accounts. I feel pretty comfortable with my current strategy, but I will keep you posted how my Bluebird experience goes as I slowly branch out and integrate its points earning ability in our everyday life.
Do you have the Bluebird/Ink combo? If so, how is it going for you so far? I’d love to hear any tips or stories you have to share!
Disclosure: I do receive a commission if you are approved for a credit card using one of my affiliate links. As always, your support is appreciated.