How to Earn Points (or Make Money) When You Pay Your Mortgage, Student Loans, & Car Loans!

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TOP LINE

I just earned 427 Ultimate Rewards Points or 0.88 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent-  after accounting for all fees – by using Emily’s Chase Ink Bold to buy a $500 Visa gift card from Office Depot (which earned 5X Ultimate Rewards Points) and then using ChargeSmart to pay $484 towards my student loan.

Credit Card Mortgage

Visa Gift Card from Office Supply Store + Wife’s Chase Ink Bold + ChargeSmart = Ultimate Rewards Points for Paying My Student Loans!

Alternatively, I could have used the American Express Blue Cash Preferred credit card to buy a $500 Visa gift card from a grocery store for a net return of 1.9% cash back, if I preferred cash back to miles/points.

ChargeSmart

You can earn miles and points by paying your mortgage, student or car loans with a Visa, MasterCard, or Discover card (you can’t use an American Express card) via ChargeSmart

However, you have to pay a fee which varies based on the amount paid, or a flat fee, or most often a fee which has a fixed AND variable component to it.

Let’s take a look at the fee structure for my student loan payments to American Education Services:

  • $7.24 for a $100 payment or 7.24%
  • $10.68 for a $250 payment or 4.3%
  • $16.4 for a $500 payment or 3.3%
  • $27.85 for a $1,000 payment or 2.79%

Most cards earn around 1 point/mile per $1 spent (usually worth less than 2 cents per point) or at most 2% or sometimes 3% cash back.  This means that you LOSE money when you use ChargeSmart to pay your loans.

For example, if I earned 2% cash back for using a credit card to pay a loan, but paid a 7.24% fee to use a cash back credit card, I’ve lost 5.24% (7.24% fee – 2% cash back).

But, as I’ve written before, it can make sense to use ChargeSmart just to meet the minimum spending for the sign-up bonus on a new credit card.

Chase Ink Cards & American Express Blue Cash Preferred

However, you can earn 5 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent, which can be transferred to airlines or hotels, using the Chase Ink Bold or Chase Ink Plus at office supply stores (Office Max, Office Depot, Staples etc.)

The Chase Ink Bold & Chase Ink Plus are business credit cards, but many folks may be eligible for these cards and not know it!

And you can earn 6% cash back by using the American Express Blue Cash Preferred personal credit card for purchases made at grocery stores.

The high earning potential of these cards absorbs the cost of the ChargeSmart fee and the gift card activation fee and earn you miles/points or cash back!

How It Works

Step 1:   Buy non-reloadable Visa or MasterCard gift cards in $500 denominations from an office supply store (Office Max, Office Depot, Staples) using the Chase Ink Bold or the Chase Ink Plus if you want to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

These points can be transferred to airline or hotels (my favorites being Hyatt, United, Southwest, & British Airways).

Or buy non-reloadable Visa or MasterCard gift cards in $500 denominations from a grocery shop with the American Express Blue Cash Preferred credit card if you prefer cash back.

I haven’t been able to find a $1,000 Visa or MasterCard gift card, but that is likely a better choice since you will save money on activation fees and in ChargeSmart fees.

You will pay a $4.95 activation fee for the Visa and $5.95 for the MasterCard (so try to buy Visa gift cards), but you will earn miles/points or get cash back once you factor in the 5 Ultimate Rewards points earned by buying the gift card at an office supply store or the 6% cash back by buying the gift card at a grocery store.

Note that some lenders charge above 5% which make this unprofitable, so you need to do the math for your lender!

ChargeSmart doesn’t accept American Express so do NOT buy American Express gift cards to use with ChargeSmart.

Step 2: Register your zip code online so that you can use the gift card to make an online payment at ChargeSmart

You can’t use the gift card online if you don’t register your zip code, but that process takes less than 1 minute!

Step 3:  Pay your mortgage, car loan, or student loan in multiples of $500 at a time

Tip:  Be sure to include the ChargeSmart fee, so that the total amount charged (loan payment + ChargeSmart fee) is $500 or a few cents less if you can’t get it to exactly $500.

Credit Card Mortgage

$483.97 Towards Student Loan + $ 16.03 in ChargeSmart Fee = $0 on my Visa Gift Card!

If you pay $500, but the ChargeSmart fee is $15, your transaction will be declined because you only have $500 on the gift card, but were trying to pay $515.

Why $500?

Because, most often you will pay a very high fee if you make payments of only $100 or $200 which isn’t worth the points you earn.  But you usually pay a lower fee for payments of $500.

However, the fee for each loan provider is different and YOU need to research the rate charged, and do the math to see if it makes sense to make a payment of less than $500 using a gift card!  I’ll cover individual lenders in more detail in future posts.

And using a $1,000 gift card, in one payment, is even better because you save on the activation fee and usually pay a lower ChargeSmart fee (not always, though, since some loan providers charge a flat fee.

An Example to show how it works!

I can’t show you the math for every possible situation since the fee structure varies by loan provider.

But I can show you the math for my student loan payment earning Ultimate Rewards points and Cash Back.

American Education Service Student Loan PaymentChase Ultimate Rewards Points 

This method takes advantage of the 5X Ultimate Rewards points earned when you buy a gift card using the Chase Ink Bold or Chase Ink Plus at an office supply store (Office Depot, Office Max, Staples).

Cost:

  • ChargeSmart fee of $16.03 for a $483.97 loan payment.  Note how the total of my loan payment and the ChargeSmart fee is exactly $500
  • $4.95 Activation fee for the pre-paid Visa gift card

Total cost = $20.98 ($16.03 ChargeSmart Fee +$4.95 activation fee for Visa gift card.)

Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Earned:

I earn 5X Ultimate Rewards points for my purchase of $504.95 ($500 for the visa gift card + $4.95 for the activation fee).

That’s $505 X 5 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent = 2,525 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points.

My Profit:

I’ve paid an extra $20.98 to earn 2,525 Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Remember that you can redeem 1 Chase Ultimate Rewards point for a 1 cent statement credit, so let’s assume that I redeem 2,098 of my 2,525 Ultimate Rewards points for a 1 cent statement credit to make up my cost of $20.98.

That still leaves me with 427 Ultimate Rewards points (2,525 points earned – 2,098 points redeemed to cover my cost) for my loan payment of  $483.97.

Or an earning rate of 0.88 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent (427 Ultimate Rewards points / $ 483.97) on my student loan excluding the ChargeSmart fee and gift card activation fee.

This is much better than the zero points I’d earn otherwise by paying through my bank account!

I can either redeem 427 Ultimate Rewards points for:

  • $4.27 in cash because 1 point = 1 cent statement credit
  • $5.33 towards travel using the Ultimate Rewards portal because 1 point = 1.25 cents towards travel
  • Transfer to airline or hotels

Some folks may even decide that paying $20.98 to earn 2,525 Ultimate Rewards points is a great deal since you’re effectively paying only 0.83 cents per Ultimate Rewards point (2,098 cents / 2,525 Ultimate Rewards point).

American Education Service Student Loan Payment – Cash Back with American Express Blue Cash Preferred

This method takes advantage of the 6% cash back when you buy a gift card using the American Express Blue Cash Preferred at a grocery store.

Cost:

My cost of $20.98 – $16.03 in ChargeSmart fees and $4.95 is still the same.  I buy a $500 gift card card from a grocery store to take advantage of the 6% cash back in grocery stores with the American Express Blue Cash Preferred.

Cash Back Earned:

However, I earn 6% cash back on my purchase of $504.95 ($500 for the visa gift card + $4.95 for the activation fee).

That’s $30.30 in cash back (6% cash back X $504.95 purchase)!

My Profit:

The profit is $30.30 in cash back less the $20.98 which I pay in ChargeSmart fees and gift card activation fee for a profit of $9.32 per $500 gift card!

That’s a return of 1.9%  ($9.32 in cash back / $483.97 in student loan payment)!

Caution

– You won’t be able to pay the exact amount of your loan payment because this method is usually profitable only when using a $500 (or higher denomination) gift card in full to minimize the fees charged by ChargeSmart.

For example, if your monthly mortgage is $750, you can overpay your mortgage by $250 if you use two $500 gift cards.  But be sure that you can pay off your credit card bill in FULL.  Interest on credit cards is much, much higher than on most other loans.

Or you can pay $500 using a gift card, but will have to make a separate payment to pay the outstanding balance of $250 from your bank account.  But don’t forget to do this!

– Using gift cards is most useful for making auto and student loans where the fee rates aren’t that high.  Some mortgage lenders, such as Citi and Wells Fargo charge a high fee (5% for paying $500) which may it unprofitable to use gift cards and ChargeSmart.

– You earn 5X Ultimate Rewards points on only the first $50,000 in spending in Office Supply stores on the Chase Ink Bold or Chase Ink Plus.  This works out to $4,167 in monthly spending in Office Supply stores.

– I’m also not sure if there is a maximum limit to the number of cards you can use with ChargeSmart and if there is a maximum number of payments which you can make in a day.

– ChargeSmart could stop accepting gift cards for loan payments without notice, so don’t stockpile gift cards!

I’ve made 3 payments to my student loan account today and will update once they post to my student loan account.

Bottom Line

 Using the Chase Ink Bold or Chase Ink Plus cards to buy $500 gift cards from office supply stores or the American Express Blue Cash Preferred to buy $500 gift cards from grocery stores is a great way to earn miles/points or cash back for making those loan payments which don’t usually earn miles or points!

This method is also helpful in meeting the $10,000 spending requirement, within 3 months, on the Chase Ink Bold or Chase Ink Plus to get the full 50,000 point bonus.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Neither the responses below nor the editorial content on this page are provided or commissioned by the bank advertisers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertisers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers’ responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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44 responses to “How to Earn Points (or Make Money) When You Pay Your Mortgage, Student Loans, & Car Loans!

  1. can these Visa cards be ordered online (quick search suggests no)?

  2. Here’s the problem I’ve been having with Chargesmart. I need to meet the spend on a Citi Hilton Visa, and would like to use it to pay my mortgage through US Bank. Chargesmart will only accept MasterCard to make payments to US Bank. I’ve been beating myself over the head trying to come up with a method to this that minimizes fees, I went so far as to get a Paypal debit Mastercard only to find out I can’t fund it from a credit card. Are there any other ways to get the money on my Visa turned into a Mastercard, short of the gift card route?

  3. What I do for my Electric Bill, Gas Bill, and Student Loans – all which total about $400.50 per month is buy a Vanilla top-up card with my Ink card at Office Depot and add the funds to my prepaid American Express card which allows for upto $400.00 a day to be withdrawn from an ATM machine (the first withdraw is fee free from AMEX) to combat the ATM fee, my local Costco store has a Credit Union ATM that doesn’t charge a fee – so for the cost of the Vanilla top-up card ($4.95) plus the $500.00 I put on it, I pay $400.00 worth of bills for 5 UR points per dollar. This way, I avoid the fees from 3rd party payment services.

  4. @adam, thanks for the info..

    I wonder if any other ATMs can does not charge a fee like Costco’s?

  5. I do not understand the whole gift card/charge smart thing.

    i need to get a minimum spend so I use the actual credit card in charge smart for my mortage directly & just like that I have the minimum spend done & I get the points – with the fee it nets to about 1% but on a $2,500 payment which gets me say 50,000 points in one shot plus 2,500 points I am willing to spend $50.

    I wish they let you use Amex so I can use CS for AMEX minimum spend.

  6. Thanks for posting this! I just checked out my lender, but the fee is about 5.25% based on the $500 net payment… Oh, well! I will take at a look at utilities, etc. later. Maybe making a prepayment for those, if the fees make sense.

  7. Checking the Charge Smart site, for my particular mortgage lender (PHH Mortgage) I have good news and bad news. The good nes is that there appears to be an option to reduce $ 10 off the monthly fee of $ 16.40 per $500 payment by opting in to automatic monthly payments. The bad news is that the only charge card options are Master Card or Discover. No Visa.

    Is there a prepaid Master Card? Better still, is there a reloadable prepaid Master Card (to take advantage of the $10 off per month for auto payments?)

  8. Link to Blue Cash Preferred from Amex (6% cash back at supermarkets) has $75 annual fee.

  9. good luck when you get shut down by credit card company for financial review… just sayin

  10. The fine print from your link to AMEX Blue Preferred CC application says:
    “Eligible purchases do NOT include fees or interest charges, balance transfers, cash advances, purchases of American Express Travelers Cheques, purchases or reloading of American Express pre-paid cards, or purchases of other cash equivalents.” Dosn’t this restriction void the 6% cashback on Visa pre-paid gift card purchases at supermarkets?

  11. I have tried several stores in the bay area and none of them will accept credit cards for gift/reload cards… only debit and cash. Any one else have this experience?

    Also I have seen it mentioned that Staples now charges shipping for online gift cards and only has lower denominations, but do bonus UR points post if using the online portal? If they do, it could still be worth the fees.

  12. Is there a way to pay with two gift cards on the chargesmart website? If not they might charge you twice if the payment is over $500.

  13. all this for a 2% return??

    you’re doing this in a very roundabout way. With a little more research you can cut down some steps and make this a nice, churnable game.

    • @AirD0c – I did a quick search and couldn’t find the $500 ones online.

      @Mike F – The same thing happened to me when I tried to pay my loan the first time. I quit and tried later with a different browser and got the Visa option. I’d suggest calling and asking them to process the payment using a Visa over the phone.

      @adam
      – Very ingenious method for utilities and small student loan payments! Good for small payments, but perhaps not for recurring mortgage payments of thousands of dollars.

      @ih – That’s a great way to complete minimum spending, but this post was on how to earn miles and points for recurring loan payments without paying a large fee. You can use the AMEX to buy Visa gift cards and then use the gift cards at ChargeSmart, but you’ll pay $4.95 activation fee per $500 gift card.

      @Jimmy @TravelByPoints
      – I was lucky that it made sense for one of my loan payments, but 5.25% doesn’t make it worth it.

      @James – Yes, there is a prepaid MasterCard gift card. However, you can’t use the prepaid MasterCard to get the $10 off the monthly payment. Also, I don’t believe you get the $10 off every time – just for the first time. I haven’t heard of a reloadable MasterCard gift card.

      @Tatyana
      – Ooops. I’ve fixed it – thanks for letting me know.

      @Slava – It is written like it could be used to prevent earning on gift cards, but currently you do earn the 6% cash back for buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards in grocery stores.

      @Sam – I’ve had issues with some stores not accepting credit card for reload cards, but never had any issues buying a gift card with a credit card.

      @Maury – You can use 2 gift cards, but you have to do it as a separate transaction and pay the fee twice. Depending on what fee your lender charges, this could still be worth it.

      @Kev – What do you have in mind? 🙂

  14. Everyday something new to learn in this blog!!! How and where Visa gift card amount can be added to prepaid American Express card?!?

  15. Something new to learn? lol

  16. I can see the usefulness of charge smart for minimum spends, but the gift cards -> students loans, etc seem like a LOT of work for the ROI. Just my $.02.

  17. @Duke – why are reading this blog, if nothing new for you here?

  18. Has anybody tried paying directly for school with gift cards? I was thinking of paying my tuition bill for this semester with amex gift cards to help meet minimum spend. Using promo codes to wipe out the fee and shipping, and receiving cashback from a portal like Ebates (in addition to miles on the card), it could be a great plan….

  19. So if I buy visa gift cards using my AMEX SPG card I can then use the VISA gift card on Charge Smart.

    Does buying a VISA gift card count towards the AMEX SPG minumum to get the extra sign up Bonus points?

  20. Another question is even If it does help for AMEX SPG minimum – will I get 500 SPG points for buing a $500 Visa gift card at Staples?

  21. Why don’t you just work for a bank and help them crush us mileage people as you layout the ways we work the system that works us.

    • @Tatyana – Sorry for not being clear. You can buy Visa gift cards with an American Express prepaid card and then use those Visa gift cards when you make payments through ChargeSmart.

      @Jay – Fair point, and this doesn’t make sense all the time if your lender charges high fees. But it was easier to actually do than my post makes it out to be!

      @Alex – I haven’t tried that, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t work! I’d start with a small value gift card to see if it works and then buy more gift cards.

      @ih – If you buy a Visa gift card using the SPG card at a grocery shop or gas station or office supply store etc. it will count towards the minimum spending on the SPG card. You can then use those Visa gift cards on ChargeSmart. Yes, you’ll get 500 SPG points for a $500 purchase, but you will have to eat the ChargeSmart fee and the activation fee which is worth it only to meet the minimum spending.

      @Michael
      – I did interview with banks after business school, but preferred earning miles and points and traveling…

  22. It is also worth it if you are tring to get over a 40,000 point threshold to have a1.25 transfer rate 🙂

    i am not going to use this card as my basic card after I reach the threshold I am trying to get to.

  23. I was debating if the runaround was worth it for me to meet the minimum spend on my US Bank flexperks card.

    Today I went to my local Safeway in Anchorage, Alaska, and discovered a couple of things that anyone with the option to buy these at Safeway may want to pay attention to…

    There are currently 2 offers at my local Safeway (which I believe are usually nationwide):
    Buy any Master/Visa Gift Card for $100 or more and get a coupon for $10 off your next grocery purchase (for purchases made through 10/9; it did not say how long the $10 coupon was valid)
    4x fuel reward points on gift card purchases. I assume these apply to Visa/Mastercard purchases??? The way I understand the fuel points at Safeway is that you get a 10 cent/gallon discount for every $100 spent at Safeway. Purchasing a $500 gift card at 4x fuel points should earn you $2/gallon off your next gas purchase at safeway! (it did not say when the 4x promo would end)

    Unfortunately, they only had gift cards with $5.95 activation fee (Visa and Mastercard) for higher denominations; did not see the Vanilla Visa.

    So, the Math for me becomes:

    $505.95 spent

    $21.98 total fees: (5.95 activation, 16.03 chargesmart fee to pay my student loan)

    earnings:
    $20.24 in flexperks points, assuming redeemed towards travel
    $10 in Safeway groceries
    $30 in Safeway gas (assuming $2 off/gallon x 15 gallons)

    ~7.6% return after fees AND a good way to help me make my spending threshold on my FlexPerks card.

    Caution that this high earning rate will be limited by 2 things: Your need for $10 worth of groceries (which shouldn’t be a problem – can always stock up on non-perishables), and your need for gas as gas rewards expire at the end of the month after they are earned – i.e. for purchases made today, gas rewards expire 10/31. So, this is not a completely churn-able process unless you fill up with gas frequently.

  24. Before anyone goes out and attempts my strategy above, a few updates:

    1) Safeway rewards terms exclude the purchase of mastercard/visa gift cards from their fuel rewards program.
    2) apparently the 4x points purchase is over anyway.
    3 the maximum you can redeem towards gas is 1000 points for a $1/gallon discount.

    -However-

    Yesterday I made 2 purchases of gift cards at Safeway.

    First one was for a $500 MC (the type where you specify the amount. It DID result in 500 fuel points, or a 50 cents per gallon discount.
    Second one was for a $100 fixed rate Visa; it did not trigger any fuel points.

    So, YMMV, but the MC variable amount cards may be coded wrong, and may earn a fuel reward.

    Also, the coupon did not print out in either case, but the store manager was happy to fix this by giving me a $10 Safeway gift card each time.

    • @ANC RED-EYE – The $10 off coupon is pretty sweet. While Kroger/Dillons (my grocery shop) has something similar with fuel points, they don’t offer the $10 off coupon. Perhaps the VISA variable gift cards will also have fuel points and they are $1 cheaper to activate. Thanks for the research and for circling back.

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  26. Don’t office supply stores also have rewards programs? Have you looked into any of these? I really like the supermarket combo idea with gas rewards. Thanks.

  27. Here is a list of grocery store fuel reward programs. Mine is .05 per $50 spent so if I spend $1,000/mo in cards, I get $20 off 20 gallons, which negates all fees! http://www.fuelrewards.com

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  30. Re: Chase Ink Bold / gift cards

    Is there a limit to the number / amount of $500 gift cards I can buy at Staples and apply to the Ink minimum spend? Or could I spend $10,000 (if we pretend for a moment that I can afford to drop $10,000 at a go at Staples) on $500 gift cards? This would earn me the 50,000 sign up bonus plus 5 x $10,000 office supply bonus or 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points, no?

    Thanks!

    • @NateO – There is no limit, but the store may not want to sell you $10K worth of gift cards or you may not want to buy them in one go. The 5X points applies only to the 1st 50K in purchases from an office supply store per calendar year. Just try to use your card elsewhere too or it may be too suspicious if you use it only at Office Supply stores.

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  32. Is it possible to just buy $100 gift cards from office supply stores and use them for groceries/diapers/WalMart items throughout the month and avoid the whole Chargesmart? $100 – $4.95 = $95.05 x 5 reward points = 475.25, which is roughly the same profit as that described above. Of course, if you are going to buy multiple $500 GC, than that would yield more points, but I think this is a better option for those not looking to have to deal with chargesmart.

    Will this work?

  33. I’m not sure if this is just old information on this post, but as of right now, Chargesmart looks like you can use your Visa/MC directly on the site. So, what would be the point of having to use the gift card if you can use your mileage card directly? Love the site, btw.

  34. Hey Darius,

    Does the charge smart method to pay a mortgage still work now? Do you know if you can pay part of your mortgage rather than the whole thing?

  35. Actually I just noticed to send $2500 it would cost $67.99 through chargesmart which seems like a lot since I am just trying to get the 40000 miles from chase sapphire preferred.

  36. Hi Darius,

    Just wondering if you still advocate the use of ChargeSmart for paying down loans (in my case a lease buyout) to financing companies that don’t accept credit card payments?

    Haven’t seen much activity with regards to this service, so I’m curious if it’s still legit and they’re trustworthy enough?

    I assume if anything goes awry, I can always claim a chargeback if they didn’t provide the service expected.

    Not to mention it will help meet minimum spend requirements on a couple of cards to gain sign up bonuses.

    Thanks for all your help!

  37. If using a Visa CC to pay a mortgage payment, what does the charge appear to be to the card issuer?

    And if using 6 x $250 Visa GCs how would these payments appear to Wells?

    Thanks

  38. One down side to doing this is that there is a max of 6000 in spending that you can get the 6% cash back on groceries per year. So you’ll burn through your 6000 limit at only 1.9% instead of using it on actual groceries at 6%. Of course, if someone else in your house has the same card, then maybe it makes sense, but then again, you’ll get 114 back at the 1.9 rate, and the card costs 75 per year, so you’ll really only net 39. I think it only makes sense if you for some reason don’t buy groceries or if you have a second blue cash preferred card in your household. Interesting though.

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