Most people who frequent Walmart using debit (gift) cards purchased with miles earning credit cards have noticed that money order (MO) fees (per $1,000) have increased from $0.70 to $0.88. PointsChaser blogged about this change a few days ago, but that intel was pretty known by some before the post aired. The money order hike isn’t really going to affect what points enthusiasts do to earn miles at Walmart. If it does impact you, then you shouldn’t be generating miles/points in that way to begin with. Outside of the MO fee hike, there are some other developments happening.
Recently a terrible tidal wave of news swept over the Walmarts in much of my city. Just a few to several months ago, there were at least half a dozen $10k (or $10k+) Walmarts operating in my city. By $10k, I mean that customers were allowed to use multiple debit (gift) cards to purchase money orders totaling over $10,000 in a day. Each money order could not be over $1,000, but multiple money orders could be purchased. Some of those stores allowed up to $20,000 to be purchased per day, while one store effectively didn’t have a limit. I would deem any store that allows over $2k in money orders with multiple debits as MS “friendly”, especially if they allow $10k or more to be purchased in a day.
The landscape negatively and severely changed about a month ago when all of the previous $10k (and $10+) stores made a sharp U-turn, and began allowing only $2k worth of MO’s (and 3-4 debit card swipes). No more getting back in line for additional transactions either. Some exceptions by cashier remained, but that was purely on a person by person and store by store basis.
Forms and the Future
Many things at Walmart Money Center’s haven’t changed. For example, individuals purchasing money order amounts under $3k should not have to fill out the new form. The amount of card swipes at the MoneyCenter is also still limited to 4 swipes. So if you walk into a store, use 4 debit cards of $500 each for a total of $2000 (and 2 money orders), you should still be form free.
However, there is at least one new money order form at Walmart. In the past there was a standard MO Transaction Report form (below) for purchases over $3k and an additional/suspicious activity form (not shown) for amounts that was generally used for amounts over $10k but at the discretion of the store and Walmart staff. Here’s the old Money Order Transaction Report form:
The “new” (MSAR) form appears to incorporate parts of each old form into a single sheet (shown below). I’m guessing that other stores nationwide have been using this form already, and that for some this form isn’t all that new. However in this part of fly-over country, the MSAR form is definitely new. I’m also not sure if the new form is an updated version of the ‘suspicious activity’ document, the revised basic MO transaction form, or a combination of the two. After filling out the form today, it seems to be a hybrid/combination of the two old forms used for everyday transactions over $3k.
Some of the form’s required information hasn’t changed such as personal information and social security number (SSN), but other aspects are a bit different such as notations for gift/debit cards and also date range options for tracking activities. Previously Money Gram forms for larger dollar amounts were stored inside a drawer full of folders in the cash office. Basically those forms were collecting dust unless the store was being audited and needed to access them. The new MO forms are faxed into Walmart corporate each time that it’s filled out.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, each January/February Walmart corporate sends out policies that will govern all of its stores for the rest of the year. The policy distribution is a big deal, and the right people at the stores – including those overseeing the Money Center – need to read, and conform. Without publishing the multi-page document, some highlights of this year’s policy guidelines:
* $1,000 per Money Order purchased at the register
* $500 if purchased using the MCX (Money Center Express machine).
* A customer may purchase up to $20,000 in Money Orders per day at a register
* Arizona state law limits the maximum value of a single Money Order to $950
* Customers can pay for Money Orders with cash or PIN-based debit cards, only
* Associates may use their discount card when purchasing Money Orders. The discount will only apply to the fee charged for the Money Orders.
* When a customer purchases multiple Money Orders, you must process all of the money orders in a single transaction.
Much of this language isn’t new at all, but the verbiage that is significant is the part that states $20k per day per customer. Many store personal and managers aren’t as acutely aware of some of the MO limits as those running cards for points. I’ve brought up $20k as a figure in the past, but for them to actually see it in writing seems to have a much bigger impact that simply hearing it from guy trying to bank miles for travel.
This morning a store that went from a $20k MS store down to $2k several months ago has changed its policy. It’s now a $10k+ store. On my way out of another metro store that’s been a strict $2k store for as long as I can remember, the front end manager told me that she is also allowing more MO’s per customer trip. Each store cited the new policy release that was sent out in the past few days (citing $20k per customer per day) as the reason for the change.
To some it might seem like Walmart is trying to crack down on points runners using multiple debit cards for money orders. This new form combined with a rise in money order fees might temp some to infer that at best points runners are an endangered breed at the Money Center, and at worst, that the end is near. To me though, the most important thing to remember is that the process of using debits to obtain money orders is exactly the type of activity that money launderers and drug thugs are also often engaged in.
As I explained to a friend recently, if all the groups in questioned were all talked to by the feds, we could explain our transactions in 5 minutes, but the other groups couldn’t explain theirs in 5 days. I’ll add that I actually hope that the feds have a good handle on the process of manufactured spending in its various forms. I want tracking to happen, and I definitely don’t fear it. To me it’s important that the entities involved and law enforcement be comfortable with what some people in our hobby are doing to earn reward points, but also to be able to catch bad people doing bad things.
Some of these changes are still quite new, and I’m not completely sure what effect they will have on Walmart stores nationwide as well as my city. So far though, the changes have been very positive. In addition to that, if one store changes direction, that gives cause to bring up example at non-MS friendly Walmarts, especially those in the same region of the city. March is looking like an important month for MS in my area, hoping your situation stays on the positive path too!