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

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

Million Mile SecretsWhy is the Home Improvement Card Working Like a Debit Card in Most Shops? [Expired]Million Mile Secrets Team

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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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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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@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…

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.

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.

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.

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

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