It seems like just yesterday when American Express appreciated a spending pattern more affluent than from shopping at places such as Walmart and Target. But now the company's homepage openly promotes products for exactly those two stores, 1) Bluebird by American Express and Walmart and 2) American Express for Target. They are both reloadable prepaid cards and look like attractive deals for the unbanked among us.
The reason for one of my infrequent trips to Target recently was to try out the seemingly simple American Express gift card. It could have been a Visa gift card, but I wanted the additional fun of using it at Costco. But it soon turned out not being so simple, as various grocery stores and drug stores wouldn't allow me to pay for the gift card using a regular credit card.
Target though told me on the phone that I could, so that's how my experiment took me there. On one shelf I saw Amex gift cards of $25 and $50, which is less than the anywhere up to $500 one I had seen at other stores. I found another Amex prepaid card on another Target shelf and put it on the checkout counter, and before I knew what was meant by they needed "some information", my driver's license had been scanned.
State law doesn't require permission for the merchant to do so, but it would have been nice if asked first if it's okay with the customer. The address information popped up on the lille display in front of me, and I pressed the green button to confirm the information was correct. The next screen was the big surprise. Enter your social security number! Oh no, there was no way I was about to give Target that.
It was at this point further clarification made me realize this card wasn't a gift card, but rather a personal prepaid card. I wasn't at all interested and backed out. Once I got home, I noticed that the card's FAQ specified that "You must be at least 18 years of age and have a valid Social Security Number to purchase and register the Card."
So the search goes on for a $100 Amex gift card that can be purchased using a credit card. I read the other day it might be possible at Walmart, so I'll go check it out. At least this time I'm prepared and hopefully won't be tangled up in anything unexpected such as Bluebird on the shelf. But then again this will be only the second time I have ever visited a Walmart. The first time was a few years ago when I arrived in Palm Desert by Palm Springs one evening; I had forgotten to bring my swimwear and was told the only open nearby store was Walmart.
americanexpress.com/gift lets you purchase gift cards with a credit card. $5000 every two weeks for the personal side, I think $75000 for the business side.
So I went to a Walmart today, and they do indeed have the Bluebird, so much in fact that there was a separate stand for it, in electronics, different from the other reloadable prepaid cards and the gift cards located by the checkout lines. I didn't initiate ringing up a purchase, but the sales person opened a Bluebird box and told me it would appear to work just like the reloadable prepaid Visa card he uses himself, which includes being asked for your social security number at the time you register it, at bluebird.com or by phone, so not when making the purchase at the store, unlike Target.
It was unclear from the sales people whether you could use a regular credit card at Walmart to purchase a $100 Amex gift card, but when I tried it, it actually worked. Next stop was Costco, and the gift card wouldn't process the purchase. The Costco people confirmed the type of card was fine, so I called Amex customer service number listed on the back of the card. They indicated that Walmart should have informed me that it takes 70 minutes from the time of purchase of the card before it's active. No other activation was needed. Also, Costco told me that I can use the remainder of an Amex gift card as a partial payment, which concludes my experiment.
It's neither easy nor inexpensive being unbanked, so Amex's initiative to issue reloadable prepaid cards with low fees and various features can no doubt be helpful to some.