Prepaid debit cards are a hot commodity for unbanked consumers looking for alternatives to traditional debit cards. They’re also a safe option if you’d prefer not to carry cash, and can help even those who have checking accounts better manage their budgets. And there’s no credit check required, so you won’t have to worry about being denied for a card on the grounds on your less than perfect credit history.
As a prepaid debit card holder, you’ll also have many of the same privileges as you would with their debit cards without tying the card to their bank account. This includes consumer protections (in some instances), ATM withdrawal capabilities, and the ability to swipe your card to make purchases at the point of sale or use it to pay for products or services ordered online.
Keep reading for a list of the top prepaid debit card options on the market:
American Express Serve Cards
American Express Service cards can be obtained online free of charge but cost up to $3.95 when purchased in-store. These personalized prepaid debit cards afford you the same fraud, purchase, and travel protections that you’d receive if you were an American Express credit card holder. You should also know that funds on permanent Express Serve cards are covered under the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation by up to $100,000, which is the maximum balance allowed.
As a cardholder, you’ll be able to make free withdrawals from the extensive network of over 24,000 MoneyPass ATMs. However, there’s a fee of $2.50 plus surcharges if withdrawals are made at out-of-network ATMs.
Other key benefits include:
- Free direct deposit with the ability to receive your paycheck up to two days early
- Free online bill pay with participating merchants
- The ability to send and receive money without incurring any additional fees
- Access to exclusive offers on dining, entertainment, and shopping from Amex Offers and Amex Experience
- Free card replacement
- No minimum balance requirements
- Worldwide cash transfers through Ria ($9.49 for cash pickup and $16.99 for outgoing transfers limited to $2,500)
There are three Amex Serve options to choose from:
- American Express Serve- $1 monthly fee (free with qualifying direct deposits of $500 or more), and cash reloads available for a fee of $3.95 or less
- American Express Serve FREE Reloads- $4.95 monthly fee, and free cash reloads at over 45,000 participating 7-ELEVEN, CVS, Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Rite Aid, Walmart locations
- American Express Serve Cash Back- $5.95 monthly fee and cash reloads at select retailers for a fee of up to $3.95. You can also earn 1 percent cash back on select online and in-store purchases made with your American Express Serve Cash Back card.
BBVA Compass ClearSpend Visa Card
BBVA Compass offers the Clear Spend Visa Card free of charge but you must load $25 in order to activate and start using it. There’s no monthly service charge if you meet the minimum monthly deposit requirement of $400. (Otherwise, you’ll be assessed a fee of $4).
What makes this card stand out from the masses is the ability to earn cash back on select purchases. It also extends FDIC coverage to the maximum balance of $6,500 allowed on the card.
Free cash withdrawals can be made from BBVA Compass ATMs or teller at physical locations, but $2.00 fee applies for ATM withdrawals made out of the BBVA Compass network (additional surcharges may apply from the ATM operator). And if you need to cut a check, bill pay is another service offered free of charge.
You will never incur overdraft or purchase transaction fees as long as you’re a cardholder. You’ll have access to the ClearSpend budgeting tool that helps you get your spending under control so you can meet your financial goals.
The card can be loaded free of charge at any BBVA Compass location. You can also load your card by initiating an ACH transfer from your financial institution or by withdrawing funds from your BBVA Compass debit card. You can also use an external funding source, including ClearSpend, PayPal, Popmoney, and Venmo to load your card. Outgoing transfers are allowed, but it takes two to three business days for the transaction to complete and for the funds to be available.
If you frequently shop at or reside in an area with Walmart stores, the Bluebird by American Express and Walmart prepaid debit card may be a good fit. You can retrieve one for free if ordered online but it’ll cost you $5 if you purchase the card from a retail location.
There are no activation, setup, or monthly maintenance fees and you can opt to have your paychecks or government benefits deposited on the card without spending a dime. Even better, you can make fee-free withdrawals from MoneyPass ATMs. Free bill pay is also available.
But what’s the reasoning for recommending this card to frequent patrons of Walmart? Well, it can be reloaded free of charge via cash or debit card at Walmart locations. You can also reload the card online when using a debit card from your financial institution.
If you prefer to use the mobile check deposit feature that’s available through Ingo Money, you’ll pay ranging between one and five percent of the check’s value if you want the money instantly Otherwise, the free standard option that gets you access to funds in 10 days)
Other perks include purchase and fraud protections, along with roadside assistance and global assist. You’ll also have access to deals on dining and shopping, just to name a few through Amex offers, along with exclusive entertainment deals through the Amex Experience.
Are you a Chase customer looking for a better way to manage your finances? The Chase Liquid prepaid debit card may be ideal to help you get the job done while protecting your money with zero liability coverage.
It is available free of charge and does not have a monthly maintenance fee if the card is linked to select Chase checking account ($4.95 if not). You can load funds for free at Chase locations or ATMs and make withdrawals at Chase ATMs. and there’s no fee for incoming transfers.
Fifth Third Access360° Reloadable Prepaid Card
Fifth Third Access360° Reloadable Prepaid Card is another option offered by a major financial institution that gives you all the benefits of a traditional debit card. There’s a $4 monthly fee unless you’re a Fifth Third Bank checking account holder or receive deposits of at least $500 per month onto your reloadable prepaid card.
Cardholders can make fee-free withdrawals at a network of over 50,000 ATMs around the US, but there’s a fee of $2.75 for out-of-network ATM withdrawals. You can also make free withdrawals at Fifth Third Bank Branches.
To reload the card, you will have to do so using a Fifth Third checking or savings account or by visiting a branch. But there’s no minimum load amount.
PayPal Prepaid MasterCard
While you don’t have to have a PayPal account to obtain this card, it helps to have one if you want to use the interactive mobile app. The PayPal Prepaid MasterCard is available to consumers free of charge.
You can load funds for free via direct deposit or PayPal transfers (from your account), or reload checks or cash for a fee at over 130,000 locations nationwide that are in the NetSpend Reload network.
There’s a $4.95 cardholder fee, but it’s a small price to pay to earn cash back rewards offered on select purchases (through exclusive cardholder promotions. Even better, you’ll have the option to open a Savings Account through The Bancorp Bank and earn up to 5.00 percent APY on balances of $1,000 or less. You can also participate in the Refer-a-friend program that gets you and them $5 if they sign up and load $10 or more on their card
Western Union NetSpend Prepaid MasterCard
When you retrieve a Western Union NetSpend Prepaid MasterCard, you’ll have three plans to choose from:
- Pay-as-You-Go Plan- no monthly service charge, but signature and PIN purchase transaction fees of $1.00 and $2.00 apply, respectively
- Monthly FeeAdvantage Plan- $9.95 per month
- Premier FeeAdvantage Plan- $5.00 per month. This plan also includes the Purchase Cushion feature, which covers overdrawn balances by up to $10.
Regardless of which plan you choose, you’ll have access to the following benefits:
- Direct deposit up to two days earlier than the scheduled posting date
- Account alerts sent directly to your mobile phone to notify you of account activity
- Cash back rewards can be earned on purchases from participating retailers
- The Refer-a-Friend program gets you a $20 credit to your card if they get a car and load it with $40 or more
- The ability to send or receive money via Western Union Money Transfer (incoming transfers fee but outgoing transfers cost)
- If you reload at a retail location or by bank transfer, a fee will apply
- Online bill pay (select merchants charge a fee)
- Earn up to 5.00 percent APY if you opt-in to the attached savings account (only valid on balances up to $1,000)
- Access to funds via ATM (subject to a $2.50 ATM withdrawal fee)
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a product that grants you access to the same benefits as you’d derive from a debit card tied to a checking account, a prepaid debit card may be worth considering. They are relatively easy to obtain, personalized to minimize the chance of fraud and can be used in all locations that the major branded-cards are accepted. Best of all, there’s no credit check so a less than perfect FICO score won’t keep you from getting your hands on one.