My Student Loans Are Finally Paying Off….at 5x!

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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. 

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Comments

    • @Marc, there is a link to types of stores that are said to carry the Bluebirds, but not a link to specific Office Depots. Sorry! That would be very helpful, but I’m sure the ones listed with BB in stock would get overrun within hours if there were an actual list published.
      @Kathy, I agree there are some bills that may be more trouble than they are worth. I am sticking with the “easy” ones for now.

  1. I really want to pay my county property taxes that I just got in for my house and separate bill for boat. This would be ALOT of points for these taxes. The mailing address is actually a processing center out of state. If I use bluebird, the check would be sent with the tax bill # on the check but the required stub would not be sent. There are a couple of my bills that I am a little uneasy about. Luckily I have no mortgage or car payment at this time. I do have a son in college so bb may come in handy.

  2. “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.”

    Part of the story here is slightly less than accurate. For example, you could use a BUXX card to buy a money order to pay debts. At about $4 per 1k. But the bird route is certainly more lucrative.

    The education you should have received is to never borrow money unless you can make money on the transaction. No telling what is the rate of return on education in The New Economy where companies import cheap foreign graduates. As with housing, the return for many can be negative.

  3. Vanilla reloads @ Office depot is a rare scene for some people. There is only one OD in my area that carries these cards and yesterday I was told by the staff that there are people who keep on calling everyday and whenever some come in stock, they come and buy all of them. He is kind of irritated with these calls and hatefully said “We better not carry these” 😉
    Hope they don’t do that and Vanilla-lookers will also be easy on the OD guys. Haha

  4. My office depot has plenty available. I hesitate to buy a whole bunch. Although I can find some interesting things to do with them, I do not think I agree with folks loading up the blue birds to pay their chase cards, and other credit card. I value my chase cards too much. I am going to play it safe and not be greedy. American Express and Chase are pretty smart.

  5. MP,
    I’m still miffed about paying alimony every month but thanks to Bluebird my “miffedness” is somewhat moderated.

  6. @ADK, more lucrative and much easier. As far as education, not all returns on monetary…then again, I got a grade degree in social work, so I’m clearly not all about the money. 😉
    @PhatMiles, I also hope folks are being nice to the OD staff. I personally just get in my car and drive there. I don’t want to cause work for them and I don’t entirely trust them to know what I am looking for, but I understand for those who don’t have ODs pretty close that calling can be tempting.
    @Kathy, I totally agree with playing it smart and not too greedy. If that translates to earning fewer points, I’m willing to take that trade.
    @Dennybob, ha ha. Well played!
    @Julie, I hear ya!

  7. If you send Chase a check with BB they cannot see the funding source. Many people are using BB as there normal checking account so why wouldn’t they pay there CC bills?

    • @Jim, I don’t think using this like a “normal” person would to pay a variety of bills including Chase credit cards would raise suspicion by itself. However, I don’t think it is a good idea to buy a bunch of reloads with your Chase card, then pay them off right away with the Bluebird. That is just a cycle that can in no way be sustainable in my view. I’m sure folks are doing it, but I am not going to be one of them.

  8. I just signed up for bluebird yesterday and found other student loan vendors on the payee list:

    Mohela
    Direct Loans

    I have not tried these yet. If you do take electronic debit account (EDA) off, theoretically it would increase your interest rate by 0.25% (see below). My interest is on average 5.5% so this would yield a 4.5% increase in the interest I pay. My calculated interest for the loans over the entire repayment period is about $2000, so total interest increase is $90 over five years. That is about 18 dollars a year so it is not too bad. Total payments for the year would be $2000 for the year. I am not even sure if I get an interest discount because my loans were changed over to mohela. From what i read, it only seems to apply to Direct Loans EDA. I am not sure about any other type of loan.

    This was from Direct loans. I am not sure if this still applies to me since the account was moved to Mohela:

    Electronic Debit Account (EDA) is the most convenient, 100% free way to make your student loan payments. Enrolling in Direct Loans EDA will save you money by reducing your interest rate ¼ (.25)percent. EDA is a fast, efficient and free service that allows your bank to automatically deduct your monthly payment from your checking or savings account. When you enroll in EDA you can say goodbye to the risk and cost of mailing checks to pay your Direct Loan(s). If you are currently on track to receive the additional 1/8 interest rate reduction by making your first 12 payments on time, enrolling in EDA can assist you in reaching your goal.

  9. Are there options other than the Vanilla Reload cards that would work? There is one OD within 50 miles of my home. I’ll make the trip to see if they stock them, but if they don’t, have people found alternatives to the Vanilla cards at OD or Staples that can be used to fund the Blue Bird accounts?

  10. @MP, were you able to see if the Sallie Mae payment was a true online payment (as in would process without any paper) versus BB sending them a check? I knew BB could send checks and that’s plenty good, but I’m even more excited that you were able to find Sallie Mae in their existing payee list. I was just confused by the “deliver by” date in your screenshot so please let me know if you could tell if there was a paper check involved at all.

    I’ve got some serious student loans as well and am very much looking forward to this! I cancelled my Serve card this week so I could sign up for BB, currently waiting on delivery.

  11. Not good news. I was able to buy vanilla reload cards at Office Depot in Lake Mary, Florida last week. Went in today and was told they changed policy so now you can only buy $250 per card with a maximum of two cards. Not only that, but they also said they would have to call the credit card company to confirm the purchase. I wonder how many other Office Depots are changing to this kind of policy. I left without buying any cards.

  12. I jumped on the Blue Bird/Vanilla Reload option like the rest of you. I bought 5 $500 cards at Walgreens using my Hilton Amex (6points/$1). I went back today, and not only would Walgreens only sell me 1, there was no longer an option to use a credit card to load the Vanilla Card…cash only! Is our scam up?

    Then I stopped by Wal Mart to load money from my Sunrust Delta card on to Blue Bird. I did this last weekend with no problem. Today…no go. Cash only.

    Has anyone else had this experience?

  13. How long did it take for your payment to show with Sally Mae? I made a payment which says “completed” with Bluebird, but it hasn’t shown up with my lender. I called the lender and they verified they haven’t seen it. It has been one day. Thanks!

  14. Can anyone point to an OD in NY/NJ/PA which stocks Vanilla reloads. I am one unlucky guy who has never been able to find one, even though we have lots of ODs around.

  15. Be warned about getting business cards if you don’t have a business, many many reports about FR. Do so at your own risk.
    For anybody interested, I made it out alive through this financial review. The lady lowered my limits on two cards by almost 80% and left my SPG Personal card alone. This is where it gets interesting. She also completely shut down my SPG Business card saying it was invalid and that I should have never been able to get it. She made it sound like a crime that I got a business card. When I applied for the business card, I followed the advice of the blogs and used my SS for tax id and then told them this was a start-up business that would sell things online through ebay/amazon/etc. The financial review lady said that this is not allowed. Oh well, at least I get to keep these personal cards where purchasing an iPad will go way over the credit limit.

  16. This story is awesome. Last month I was looking to pay my Mohela student loan with a credit card, but came up empty. Now I can make the $10K spend in 3 months and get the 50K bonus for Chase Ink Bold! Thank you MommyPoints, thank you Bluebird, thank you FrequentMiler! This will be a big miles/points score!

  17. Good luck finding an OD. There’s not a single store in the Pacific Northwest with any cards left.

    MattB – affiliate commissions are big time bucks for the Ink. That’s why we’re seeing so any posts about it. But yea, I agree. It’s really annoying.

  18. Must one use the Bold or Ink to use the Bluebird? Could I use my Sapphire Preferred instead? It’s been too soon since I’ve applied for a card, but I’d love to help pay off my student loans this way, versus through my checking account.

  19. It seems like if the OD deal is getting out of hand, you could always use the Hilton Amex to buy them at drugstores and get 6x per dollar. Granted, HH points have a horrible value nowadays, but 6x HH points per dollar is much better than nothing. I’ve never done the math but I’m willing to venture that 6 HH points are worth more than 1 SPG point, as much as I love SPG.

  20. There are Bluebird reports in the Pacific NW. Some stores go in and out of stock, but they are still out there. That said, it will be easier for some to use other cards and other stores both for better availability and to not rely too heavily on any one card or source.

    Also, be aware of false comments both on this site and others related to Bluebird. There are those who are looking to keep others from this deal by making it sound “over” or too difficult. As sad as it is, there is a fairly organized effort to spread false info about this sort of thing in the miles and points world these days.

  21. I had trouble loading a Vanilla Reload onto my Bluebird. I called Vanilla Reload customer service and was told that these cards are not intended to be loaded onto Bluebird and that sometimes it won’t work. I mentioned that the Bluebird site states that Vanilla Reloads will work–the rep said they are working on changing that information. I was ultimately able to get it to work, so I’m not sure what to believe.

  22. MP, when it comes to borrowing money (for education, a home, etc.) you have to be able to monetize the return on investment. Banks just won’t accept payments on debt in warm and fuzzy feelings currency. Like Elvis, cash maybe cold cold and hard, but it remains king.

  23. 2 questions, sorry if the answers are obvious but I am totally new to playing this miles game.

    1. I don’t have an Ink card (and won’t get one) but we do have 2 BofA Alaska Airlines card accounts. Could using those benefit us in this scenario?

    2. I have a Sallie Mae loan, too, and would love to get *something* for that monthly payment. However, I do get an interest rate discount for auto-pay. Does Bluebird allow setting up an auto-pay option?

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