Why is the Home Improvement Card Working Like a Debit Card in Most Shops? [Expired]

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Update:  I wasn’t able to use the Home Improvement card at non-Home Improvement stores on August 1, 2013.  Do NOT buy the Home Improvement gift card to use outside of home improvement stores.

I wrote yesterday that you can use the Home Improvement gift card – which you can buy at Office Depot, CVS & other stores – as a debit card at Wal-Mart to load your Bluebird.

I Used the Home Improvement Card as a Debit Card Everywhere!

I Used The Home Improvement Card As A Debit Card Everywhere!

There was a lot of misinformation & drama in the comments – as usually happens – when folks don’t want Million Mile Secrets readers to know about something.  But that’s why you read Million Mile Secrets!

The Home Improvement Card Works Like A Debit Card Everywhere

I did some more experiments and found that you can use the Home Improvement card as a regular debit card with a PIN at ANY shop which accepts Discover OR Maestro (MasterCard debit) cards!  This is GREAT news because you have the potential to earn lots of points for virtually any legitimate purchase (if you have the time and inclination to track gift cards).  Note that this is my experience, and your experience could be different.

Just use any 4 digit combination the first time you use the Home Improvement card as your PIN.  In my experience, you can either select “debit” after swiping your card or the card reader automatically recognizes the card as a debit card with a PIN.

Shop owners like you to use your card as a debit card because (with few exceptions) they pay less for debit card transactions than for credit card transactions.  So they’ve been eager to manually swipe the card for me (if the card doesn’t automatically process as a debit card) when I tell them that I have a debit card.

I bought flowers and a $10 money order from a grocery store using the Home Improvement card as a debit card with a PIN.

Flowers for Emily

I Have To Make It Up To Emily For Always Running Off To The Store!

Next was a treat for the cat from a small pet food shop as a test.  I was curious to see how smaller shops would process the card.  The owner asked if I was using credit or debit, and I said “debit, please.”  I swiped the card, entered my PIN and the transaction processed!

df

It Is Hard Being A Cat

I also bought a set of batteries at a gas station and the transaction went through as a debit card when I entered my PIN!

And you can load your Bluebird at Wal-Mart using the Home Improvement card as well, though you may have to register your card online first.

THe Home Improvement Card Does NOT Work As A Credit Card

But the Home Improvement card does NOT work in ANY shop if you use it as a CREDIT card, unless you are shopping in a Home Improvement shop.

The Same Store Declinged

The Same Grocery Store Refused To Process The Home Improvement Card As A Credit Card, But Processed it As A Debit Card

Home Improvement stores include Lowe’s, Sears, Ace Hardware, Home Depot etc.

You can find a complete list of stores where you can use the Home Improvement gift card at this link.

Will The Home Improvement Card Stop Working As A Debit Card?

Update:  I wasn’t able to use the Home Improvement card at non-Home Improvement stores on August 1, 2013.  Do NOT buy the Home Improvement gift card to use outside of home improvement stores.

The Home Improvement card website says that the card can only be used at Home Improvement stores.  And that is true if you try to use the card as a credit card!

But you can use it at other stores (which are NOT Home Improvement stores) if you use it as a debit card with a PIN.

The terms and conditions of the card say:

With your PIN, you may use your Card with a POS device bearing the Discover® or Maestro® Acceptance Mark to pay for your purchases. You may not use your PIN to obtain cash from an Automated Teller Machine (“ATM”).

I’m not a lawyer, but I interpret this to mean that you can use the Home Improvement card at shops which accept Discover or Maestro (MasterCard).  You can’t use the card to get cash back or money from an ATM.

The terms and conditions later say:

The Card may be used when making purchases at U.S. locations of retailers that we identify as home improvement businesses and that accept Discover Cards or MAESTRO cards as long as you do not exceed the value available on your Card Account

Again, I’m not a lawyer, but it seems unclear to me whether the terms and conditions suggest that you can ONLY use the card at Home Improvement stores.   Or if the terms and conditions are suggesting that they would rather you use the card at Home Improvement Stores.

Federal Reserve Guidance

The Federal Reserve released guidelines to prevent big payment processors like Visa and MasterCard from forcing folks to process transactions through their signature based networks instead of through their PIN based networks.  These guidelines aren’t law, but most card issuers obey them.

Shop owners (usually) pay MORE for transactions which are signature-based than those which are PIN based.  The Home Improvement card is designed for use on both Discover and Maestro (MasterCard debit card).

Office Depot Could Stop Selling Home Improvement Cards for Cash

The Home Improvement Card Is INTENDED For Use Through MasterCard Debit Networks

In my opinion (remember, I’m not a lawyer), that’s why you’re able to use your Home Improvement as a debit card WITH a PIN.  I don’t suspect it is a “glitch” in the system!

The guidelines also suggest that if you issue a SINGLE store card such as Best Buy, you don’t need to issue a PIN number for your gift card.  But the guidelines suggest that you may have to issue a PIN number for your gift card if it can be used in multiple un-affiliated stores.  And you can use the Home Improvement card in multiple stores which aren’t owned by the same company!

So I don’t see the PIN number for Home Improvement gift cards going away, unless the Home Improvement card becomes an AMEX card, which only has a signature-based network and no PIN-based network.

That said, I don’t understand why there is a restriction on where you can use the card when you swipe the card as a credit card (as opposed to debit).

Again, this is my opinion, and I can’t say for sure.  I still suggest buying the Home Improvement card in small quantities (do a small test FIRST) and only to pay legitimate bills.

Don’t let the quest for points make you do stupid things.

Be Careful

Keep your receipts and the card packaging until you can use the card, because some folks find that their cards are not activated.  If your card is not activated, you may have to fax in copies of your receipt.

Don’t use the card for large purchases because you are better off using a credit card (which has better consumer protections) than the Home Improvement card.

Stores Could Require “Cash Only”

The most likely way that this could end is that Office Depot will stop selling Home Improvement cards with a credit card and require you to pay cash – just like they did with Vanilla Reloads.  This FlyerTalk thread suggests that Office Depot is no longer accepting credit card for Home Improvement cards, but I haven’t been able to verify this.

But you should be able to buy them at other stores.

Office Depot Could Start Selling Home Improvement Cards for Cash Only

Office Depot Could Start Selling Home Improvement Cards For Cash Only

But I can’t say when, only that it almost certainly will end at some point.  Maybe even today.

Bottom Line

Update:  I wasn’t able to use the Home Improvement card at non-Home Improvement stores on August 1, 2013.  Do NOT buy the Home Improvement gift card to use outside of home improvement stores.

You can use the Home Improvement gift card as a debit card with a PIN at any shop which will accept Discover or MasterCard.  Sometimes the card won’t process as a debit card, but tellers may be able to process it as a debit card if you ask them for help.

I still wouldn’t buy lots of Home Improvement cards, because you don’t want to be left with a lot of them if they stop working as debit cards with a PIN.  Buy a card with $20 as a test before buying larger amounts.

I also would NOT abuse this and buy only as many as you need for legitimate bills and payments.

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These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

63 Responses to Why is the Home Improvement Card Working Like a Debit Card in Most Shops? [Expired]

  1. It’s not that people don’t want your readers to know. It’s that you hold their hand through every little detail of the entire process with your circles and arrows. You take a whole group of people who would never imagine the possibilities and turn them into abusers, almost instantly killing the best deals. Do you not see how this is a problem? Of course not, because this is how you get paid. More mindless followers clicking your links means more revenue and you don’t care what draws them in. I, on the other hand, make a lot of money off this stuff too but it’s better for things to be kept on the DL to people with initiative and an appetite for risk.

  2. Daraius – the one thing I would point out to people is if using as a debit card for regular purchases only do it with consumables where you may not need the additional protection a credit card purchase gives you. Buying milk, cat food etc is fine. I would rather have my cc protection when buying a Kindle, for example

    Jewsus – Do you really think you are going to change his mind? This is exactly the kind of deal and post put this blog in the spotlight. I appreciate this deal is going to be dead very soon. But the cat is out of the bag now and no amount of screaming is going to lput it back in. By your own admission you “make a lot of money off this stuff” suggesting that (like I do) you go very big on these deals. Sure it’s frustrating when the whole world finds out about it too. But then you just have to move on. It’s mumbo jumbo to justify it to yourself that somehow you are smarter and have a better appetite for risk than others and therefore are more ‘deserving’ of the deal.

  3. Well Jewsus, it certainly is better for you if it’s kept on the DL, but how is it better for the “mindless followers”? As one of them, I will shed few tears that a deal you discovered through your genius or inner circle is possibly ruined by more people being able to share in it. You have no claim to these deals, and your position that a few people should get all of the money, rather than it being spread around is a very 1% position. Outside of extreme egocentrism, I can’t fathom how you think your words comes off as anything less than self entitled whinyisms.

  4. Thank you for your breakdown of the card and how to use it.
    I believe you are doing exactly what people who read your blog are interested in…
    giving us good information.

  5. Unlike the GC route this can be pretty costly if you end up getting caught w a few of these when the music stops. Always best to move quickly and quietly on these deals.

  6. TheDapperDon

    I always chuckle when I read about how companies will react to the deal, since you and others post about it 2 days in a row with circles and arrows to folks that aren’t savvy regarding these ventures. Nobody cares about folks knowing about the deal. We do care about you lifting info from FlyerTalk and adding circles and arrows for folks that don’t do the homework and research. Every single deal I’ve ever seen you post was lifted from FlyerTalk.

  7. @MileageUpdate – I would agree with your assessment that this can hurt a lot when the hustle stops working, and you can be sure now that it is out in the open it will. Unless you have a major home improvement project coming up, these will be tough to cash out without the PIN debit option. The only other out is that you could possibly use them to buy other retail gift cards at Lowes and Home Depot.

    And yes, the PIN thing definitely works and has for a while. I figured this out back in June and cash out a total of about $25k through Bluebird and WM money orders. The biggest issue was finding working WM kiosks. I normally wouldn’t put that much out on a deal like this but a local grocery chain was effectively selling these for $15 off every $100 with an in-store coupon for Father’s Day so we went nuts when we figured out we could almost instantly make 15% on our money irregardless of the points/cash back involved.

    Cash out with debit PIN obviously isn’t what was intended, so I figure this is die pretty quickly now. It won’t take them long to see the massive increase in sales and corresponding increase in use as debit via PIN if someone hasn’t alerted them to the blog posts like these or the massive thread on FT. I would go into this deal only as much as you can cash out the same day. I certainly wouldn’t buy a bunch of cards with plans to convert next week or month.

  8. You didn’t say what kind of cat food you bought and without the circles and red arrows I am lost. You need to break it down further for I am your readership.

  9. Deals come and go….I just wish Jewsus would go!

  10. I really like the, “I’m not a lawyer, but…” sections. :-) Especially the first one.
    I don’t have an Ink card yet, so I originally skipped yesterday’s post, but I’m glad I read it today. Informative… and funny. Hope Emily liked the flowers.

  11. Boy – we travel credit card people sure have an over bloated sense of how important we are in the whole scheme of things. First – these are not deals in the sense of a mistake air fare. These cards with pins, Vanilla reloads, etc are functioning exactly the way that they are programmed. We will probably not see this PIN feature being taken away – what may happen is that the stores stop allowing you to buy them with a credit card. And this is happening not from the tiny tiny percent of people that use them for manufactured spend, but because lots and lots of people use stolen credit cards to buy these all-use gift cards and reload cards. When someone uses a stolen credit card to buy from Office Depot – Office Depot eats the charge – this is why they go to cash only – not because of travel card people (we actually pay our bills).
    And as for Jewsus and others that believe they are the chosen ones to take advantage of these deals and that the newbies are just going to come in and mess it up. Have you actually ever talked to someone about this hobby and tried to get them to start? Most people think I am crazy for carrying around so many credit cards. And the few that do understand and want to do it start very small – meaning one credit card. Newbies are not going to jump right into manufactured spend. So all of the people doing things like buying gift cards to load onto Bluebird are already pretty much pros at what they are doing. Finding this on FT instead of Million Mile Secrets does not make you special and more deserving.
    And I respect what the bloggers do and give them all props for making money this way – but I have an actual 9 – 5 job (in computer programming so I know what I am talking about when referring to how the credit cards work) so I do not have time to spend hours pouring through the FT threads.
    And lastly – I will not be part of killing this deal anyway since I have an old grandfathered Amex Blue Cash that gives me 5% at drugstores and I live where CVS is plentiful :).

  12. If this work as a debt card… so can’t we also add funds directly to BB via BB website for a $2/fee? the same location that we would add our bank account info.. it have a place we can add our debt card info for reloading.. yes?

  13. I just saw yesterday that if you buy the home improvement card at CVS they will give you $15.00 rewards for every $100.00 up to $500.00. The rewards also go for other store gift cards. It’s an easy way to get $75.00 to spend at CVS and load your BB.

  14. @MMS, why are many folks having issues using the card at WM for example? It seems to be a bigger issue than using MC.

  15. This is technically a Discover Card, so if a retailer doesnt accept Discover, this card wont work there with or without a PIN.

  16. @Tana. Dont fool yourself in thinking that our actions dont directly force policy. Its a relatively small group us FF’ers but huge numbers get put up that hit the radar. So I dont think its an overbloated sense of importance.

  17. @Tana -probably the best post I’ve seen on this.

    So funny that churners think we are impacting world issues with a few gift cards.

    A co worker of mine had his wallet (along with car) stolen out of his garage. Between 3am and 6am those drug addicts spent 6 grand!

    With or without MMS, the credit companies know we exist.

  18. As a longtime reader of FlyerTalk, I have been following this blog for about 3 years. As Flyertalk has changed from a discussion about deals to a blog asking for advice of how to book an award from AAA-ZZZ (see Milesbuzz), I have for the most part turned to blogs to get new information. Flyertalk is a shell of its old self and you have to sift through tons of crap to find the good stuff. I find MMS and others save me a ton of time as I can scan over them quickly to find any substance.

  19. @Dan,

    I don’t think you are reading the right section of the FT…so much for being a long time reader who don’t know how to locate info you seek.

  20. @Daniel

    Did you even read what MMS said? On the PIN component, Discover has nothing to do with it.

  21. @MilesAbound – I agree and added a note to not use this for high value items.

    @Tdrag97 - You may be able to do that, but I haven’t tried.

    @ABC – I don’t have any issues when using it at Wal-Mart, so I can’t troubleshoot what the issues are.

    @LawyerII -You’ve been added to the spam list.

  22. I’m not sure if you care or not but you have received your last affiliate commission from my signups. You have my name so you can verify how much you’ve made off of me. I just don’t see how you “don’t get it.” I can only assume you don’t care and that is why I’m out on giving you anymore money.

    Its a shame because I really think you are good guy.

  23. Keep up the good work MMS.
    Don’t mind the naysayers.

  24. @Dan Tried the debit card, with pin, at Costco today and they certainly do not accept Discover in store. It worked without any issue whatsoever.

  25. Tried to pick up a home improvement card at my local (Charlotte, NC) Office Depot, was told they are accepting cash only for them.

  26. Just tried OD in SE michigan, also told cash only per a memo today.

  27. I just went to my local OD…. Rang up ok and wasn’t prompted as “cash only”… But a manager quickly came up and said that they just got word today that these are to be cash only purposes due to recent scamming. I said no problem and left.

    Just a quick data point

  28. The value is not in the debit card side of this so much as it’s the WM/BB angle, right? Let’s say I *could* buy these at my local OD. It still wouldn’t help me because I live in a city and not near WM to reload BB. So it’s no different from just buying a $100 gift card, as far as I can tell? Or am I missing something?

    (Of course it looks like the deal’s dead so probably doesn’t matter anyway…)

  29. Brian B, Do you really believe our actions dont affect policy of companies like OD? Do you think its coincidence that theyve issued a memo to take cash only for the cards? 1,000’s of cards left their shelves yesterday and like OD does they panic. What we do absolutely does change and move policy. Its been that way for awhile.

  30. Well, I’ve known about the capabilities of this card for a while now…but I’ve NEVER seen them in the Colorado/Front Range area. Has anybody else?

  31. To those who are stuck with these now that it appears dead LOL

  32. @WT912

    I don’t think you get it. PIN is important. If it lacks, can’t be loaded to what you want.

  33. Love it! Just did $5K and now I’m going back to CVS for $5K more!

  34. @WT912

    Oh, yes, if you can’t load to BB, there are alternatives you can do with PIN transactions.

    @MMS

    Where is the circles and arrows for WT912?

  35. @Arlan – OD may have quit selling them with CC but it doesn’t mean the people who ought them already are stuck with them until the PIN process stops working at stores/WM.

    I bought a $200 one at OD today with CC. No problem. Drove right to WM. When HI card was swiped, was told it came up as “credit” automatically. No “cancel” button on screen, but after giving it my zip code, it then asked on the screen if I wanted it to be credit or debit. I hit debit, and then it went right through.

  36. @Steve Maybe you should look at FT thread. it’s toast as of around 3 p.m. EST

  37. @Arlan – so, you scampered right over here to, what, gloat?

  38. No, so that no more spoon fed cattle get slaughtered.

  39. The Office Depot has officially ended it today to buy HIGC with credit card. I did $1000 today and loaded in to Bluebird w/o any issues….My friend went and they saw message on the screen as Cash Only!!!!

  40. @ Arlan – You’re just basically a db. You come over to LOL at the “spoon fed cattle” and claim you post here so they don’t get “slaughtered” in the future… What a joke. You don’t even realize how ironic you’re being. All you’ve done is encourage more spoon fed cattle like myself to go to FT themselves and learn even faster about these exploits for themselves and run out the deals even faster. Like it takes super sleuthing skills to read FT. I just went over to the FT thread and what do I find? Plenty of posters with plenty of posts under their belt all running around with the same reactions as here and some of them now even saying “someone posting over at MMS said they did such n such”!

  41. I bought $20 Home Improvement card today at Office Depot but it would not load at Walmart. I tried as a credit card and as a debit card–but it would not load. I tried to hit the cancel button as directed, but no luck.

    Maybe this deal no longer works?

  42. I can’t believe the number of idiots who think that Flyertalk is a close environment that nobody reads…geez what a bunch of imbecils. Guess what? My cousin works for a major credit card fraud department and they read Flyertalk constantly !

    Wake up fools. This deal is already old!

  43. Darius, All the complainers should get lost! You are doing a great job! Keep it up!

  44. Darius, do you ever worry about someday someone might object to some of these tactics to the point that you get sued or something? I doubt any of us that are playing the game and intentionally ignore the T&C probably have much to worry about other than getting our credit cards shut down and having some points taken away, but the bloggers that promote this stuff might have a more serious problem. Probably not, and I hope that nothing ever happens in this regard, but I’d be nervous about some of this stuff. Be careful!

  45. Was really thrilled to be able to purchase a pair of HIGCs from OD to the tune of $1000. Was less thrilled when they wouldn’t load onto my BB at WalMart. However, I’m not going to cry about it – live by the sword, die by the sword. With a little luck, debit functionality will still be available elsewhere…anyone with advice aside from the obvious (spending on GCs at Lowe’s), please weigh in.

  46. @JakePB, I did the same thing as you, but I only bought a $20 card. Tried Bluebird, but no dice. Oh well, my dad will be able to use the card at Home Depot next time he goes.

  47. @Pat

    Even without being a blogger, if you abuse CCs, CCCs will blacklist you.

  48. @Rick — Did you actually purchase this card at CVS and get the extrabucks? The ad says you have to buy a Gap family gift card, and even though the in-store signage may vaguely reference retail store gift cards, people on drugstore forums have tried various non-Gap gift cards without success. However, I have seen no reports regarding attempts with the HI card.

  49. MileageUpdate – We have *some* impact on how the gift cards are sold, but not this earth shattering amount that we believe, as if the CEO of CVS woke up in a cold swett. With or without this website things were going to change. Why would they sell a no fee GC that could be reloaded? Hmm… especially when anyone with the money can buy from Home Depot or Office Depot direct?

    How about this – why don’t you stop posting links on your site since people will “abuse” the program and none of us can play? Everyone wants max benefits and information without anyone else knowing about it. In theory if a good promotion came and out and was “abused” then it would be taken away by the company.

    Blogs like TPG, MMS, and the newly formatted Drudge Report of Churning (MilageUpdate) ;), are going to steamroll FT. It’s too easy, convenient, and lacks the ivory tower attitude.

    All press is good press, and all the trolls on here (not saying you, but you know who they are) only help D solidify his base.

    It’s a

  50. I think they do look long and hard at our actions and they do worry about what we are doing. I think you are misjudging the presence that we as FF’er Manufacturers have on the establishments. I talk to a lot of people and the sheer volume of buys on this card would tell you that it wasnt sustainable. It was bad enough that Discover shut down the ability to use a PIN whether its temp or not will play out but its all because of us in the last 2 days. I personally have been doing this since 1999 so Ive seen a lot of stuff come and go. I think MMS has every right to post whatever he wants on his site.

  51. Daraius, I was having issues getting this to load at Walmart onto my BB like others have mentioned. The card finally worked when the cashier actually pressed the debit button on her end. I didn’t have to enter my pin or anything! It was kind of weird, but it definitely went through. Maybe this can help a few people who have been having issues out?

  52. @Toni
    Thanks for sharing. When did you load your BB? No people report successful debit transactions after 4PM Eastern.

  53. What’s funny is I actually bought one of these cards about a month ago and actually used it to purchase home improvement stuff at Lowes. Even that was against the T&C of my Ink Bold card since I didn’t use it for my business. I’m starting to feel like a Saint compared to some of the posters here that bought $thousands worth and didn’t use it at a home improvement store. Guess none of us will be buying any more of these – at least not with a credit card.

  54. Now that a lot of us are stuck with these HIGC, Any one have any ideas how to liquidate them?

  55. @dali
    It was yesterday at about 8:00pm MST.

  56. Talk about rotten luck! I went to OD to buy gift cards last night and my cc kept being declined. I had paid my card off just that morning and the payment hadn’t cleared yet so I went home empty handed and didn’t get around to doing it again today! Now I never will! Bummer!

  57. Darius (I’m not interested in spelling your name correctly because I don’t like your style) –

    It would be extremely arrogant to not acknowledge that you basically single-handedly killed this one. You can argue the point and say it was on FT or a tiny blog all you want. Deep down, you must know this was on you. And I just don’t think you care. To me, that makes you a person I don’t respect. But, I admit, this probably drives even more traffic to your website. As you become more and more polarizing, you get more and more “popular.” This leads to more money for you, so I guess you get the last laugh. Yuck.

  58. D, I am here to support you:) this is a great website regardless of non-sense comments. Just ignore them.
    I am here in Houston and went to a OD this evening, no HIGC, but surprisingly there are tons of white Vanilla reload card, and it says “CASH ONLY”
    LOL

  59. Pingback: Home Improvement Card No Longer Working at Other Stores | Million Mile Secrets

  60. Man… I was able to pick up $500 HIGC at OD this AM on my way to work… it did prompt on screen “Cash Only”, but cashier just click ok and next and next and I was able to swipe with my Ink. So good one that point… but was NOT able to load it at WM. try 3 time at the kiosk. “unable to use this type of card”.. then when to the cashier..
    Hit cancel – debit – enter pin – enter zipcode? so ok.. enter and same thing..

    Guess this fall into MMS updated post… where now you can’t use HIGC anywhere else.

  61. I think it’s funny that people think it’s indisputable that this blog killed the deal. The FT thread was about 40 pages long when this blog posted the deal. Do you really think the HIGC folks didn’t notice the sudden spike in sales that began July 30, but only noticed the spike from August 1? Some of you really hate this blog, I get that, but you should really acknowledge that you have no proof that this blog killed the deal. If anything, I doubt that the HIGC and OD folks could kill the deal in under one day, so most likely, it actually is FT that is to blame.

  62. As far as this community being “under the radar” did anyone with NBC’s The Lookout this week. “Miles and “points Hoarders” titled the segment. Rick Ingersoll featured.

  63. @Grado, good segment, you can watch it here: http://watchabc.go.com/nightline/SH5584743/VDKA0_lk41wanq/nightline-lookout-731-flood-cars

    Go 21 minutes in for the “Frequent Miles Hoarders” segment…

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