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American Express Serve® Cards: Everything You Need To Know

American Express Serve® Cash Back
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American Express Serve® Cards: Everything You Need To Know

The Amex Serve Cards are some of the best prepaid debit cards currently on the market, due to their low fees and good benefits.
Editor's Rating: 4.5/5.0
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Editor's Rating

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4.5/5.0

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer.

The American Express Serve® prepaid debit cards are an excellent option for consumers who cannot, or don't want to, open up a traditional bank or credit account. Among the three products, the American Express Serve® Cash Back is a standout offer - it is the only prepaid debit card to come with a rewards program. Cardholders earn 1% cash back every time they shop using it.

Review: What Makes the American Express Serve® Card Stand Out?

Amex Serve® is one of our favorite prepaid debit cards due to the low upkeep cost and limited fees - a rare feature, as most prepaid debit cards are notorious for charging excessive fees. The Serve® comes in three varieties - the classic American Express Serve®, American Express Serve® FREE Reloads, and American Express Serve® Cash Back. Consumers have the option to pick a Serve® Card tailored to their specific needs. The analysis section below details how to choose between the different offers.

Good For…Bad For…
Providing debit card features to underbanked individualsHas the same limitations as most prepaid debit cards - won't build credit, limited consumer protections, etc.
Those who want to avoid high prepaid debit card fees

Among the three cards, the American Express Serve® Cash Back is our favorite. It's the ideal prepaid debit card for individuals who spend $595 per month or more. This is the breakeven point of the card, where the 1% cash back it earns users begins to come out ahead of the $5.95 monthly fee. As mentioned previously, there is currently no other prepaid debit card to offer a cash back benefit - a feature typically seen in reward credit cards.

All American Express Serve® cards also offer purchase protection benefits, typically seen only in credit cards. If an item you buy with one of the cards is damaged or stolen within 90 days of purchase, Amex may reimburse you up to $1,000 per occurrence. Be mindful that, unlike in credit cards, this benefit is not mandated by federal law. That means American Express may change the terms at any moment, or refuse to cover a particular incident.

Bottom Line:If you prefer to use a prepaid debit card over a credit card or bank debit card account, the American Express Serve® cards are a good choice. Simply pick the card that best fits your spending and usage to minimize fees paid.

In-Depth Analysis: Amex Serve® vs American Express Serve® FREE Reloads vs American Express Serve® Cash Back

There are very few obvious differences between the American Express Serve® cards. Most of the features and benefits are the same across all the products, including free direct deposit and online bill pay. The key to distinguishing between the options comes down to their monthly and cash reload fees.

American Express Serve®American Express Serve® FREE ReloadsAmerican Express Serve® Cash Back
American Express Serve®
American Express Serve® FREE Reloads
American Express Serve® Cash Back
Monthly Fee$0 when you Direct Deposit $500+; otherwise $1$4.95$5.95
Best ForThose who spend less than $595 per month, or have direct deposit set upAnyone who plans to do cash deposits to their debit account 2+ times per monthIndividuals who spend $595+ per month using their card
Cash ReloadsUp to $3.95$0Up to $3.95
Direct Deposit Fee$0$0$0
Swipe Fee$0$0$0
ATM NetworkMoneyPassMoneyPassMoneyPass

Determining the Best Amex Serve® Card For You

Deciding between the different American Express Serve® card options comes down to how much you spend and how frequently you plan to reload your money. Before applying, consumers should ask themselves the following questions:

  • How much do you plan on spending with the Serve® card?

The original American Express Serve® prepaid debit card is ideal for individuals who spend $495 or less per month, or less than $595 for those who can set up their account with a $500+ direct deposit. This is because it comes with the lowest monthly fee, and no additional frills. If you charge more than this, the American Express Serve® Cash Back may be the best choice. If you spend at least $595 on the card, you will earn $5.95 in cash back rewards – the same as its monthly fee. Any higher spending will result in a net gain on the cardholders part.

  • How often will you load cash into the account?

The American Express Serve® FREE Reloads card is the optimal choice if you plan to deposit cash to the account multiple times per month, without direct deposit. With the other two Amex Serve® cards, doing so would cost you $3.95 each time you perform a cash reload. If you only plan to direct deposit funds into your account, the Amex Serve® or the American Express Serve® Cash Back are optimal.

There are some circumstances where the Amex Serve® will come out ahead of the American Express Serve® FREE Reloads, despite the fees. To figure out when, you can follow a simple calculation. Take the average number of cash reloads you expect to perform during a month and multiply the result by $3.95, then add $1.95. Next divide that result by 0.01. This final number is the minimum amount of money you must spend per month using your card, in order for the American Express Serve® Cash Back to be the better option. If you don't meet this minimum, you should apply for the American Express Serve® FREE Reloads instead.

Let's walk through an example. Assume for a moment we spend $300 per month, and usually do 2 cash reloads per months. The two cash reloads would typically cost me up to 2 x $3.95 = $7.90, if I were to use one of the American Express Serve® Cash Back card; on top of this we would also pay $1 per month more for the cash back card. Therefore, the total monthly cost to use the American Express Serve® Cash Back is $7.90 + $1 = $8.90 greater than that of using the American Express Serve® FREE Reloads. One would need to spend $8.90 / 0.01 = $890 or more per month, in order for the cash back to make up for this difference.

How Does The American Express Serve® Differ From A Credit Card?

The major difference between the Amex Serve® cards and regular credit cards is that the former does not help establish a credit history. Since you are not being issued credit, using a prepaid debit card will never help you improve your credit score.

On top of this, the Amex Serve® cards do not come with as many protections as credit cards. Even though Amex advertises "Fraud Protection" on the Serve® website, no further details are given, and the feature is not mandated by law. This means Amex is free to change or update its policy for its prepaid debit card users at any time. On the other hand, credit and debit cards come with strict regulation that frees up a consumer's liability in the event their card is used for unauthorized purchases.

As noted in the review, the Amex Serve®, like credit cards, does come with purchase protection benefits - up to $1,000 if your items are damaged or stolen within 90 days of purchase, and limited to $50,000 per year. Most prepaid debit card accounts do not offer this as a benefit.

How Does The American Express Serve® Card Compare To Other Prepaid Debit Cards

In order to provide a clearer picture of the value the Amex Serve® provides, we compared it against some of its leading competitors.

American Express Serve® vs Bluebird

Bluebird
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Walmart's Bluebird is one of the more popular options among prepaid debit card users. This card is one of the cheapest cards available to consumers, coming with the least fees of any prepaid card we've come across. There are two downsides to using the Bluebird consumers should be aware of. Firstly, opportunities for free cash reloads are not as available as with the Serve®. You may load cash onto the Bluebird at Walmart locations without a fee. If you do not live close by to one of the stores, performing cash reloads may be an issue. Secondly, the Bluebird does not provide any cash back rewards - meaning that as long as you spend more than $595 per month, the American Express Serve® Cash Back comes out ahead from a pure value standpoint.

American Express Serve® vs Green Dot

Green Dot
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The Green Dot debit card comes loaded with fees in exchange for very few features. The card doesn't offer any cash back rewards, and has a monthly fee of $5.95. If you load $1,000 onto the card or make 30 purchases within a month using the card this fee will be waived. If you qualify for the fee waiver, this card becomes slightly better than the base Amex Serve® product. For consumers who can direct deposit at least $500 onto their prepaid debit card account, the American Express Serve® will be the cheaper option. When it comes to the American Express Serve® Cash Back versus the Green Dot, the Amex card is better in virtually all circumstances - the only exception occurs when you don't pay a monthly fee. If you qualify to have your monthly fee waived on the Green Dot, you will need to spend $595 on the American Express Serve® Cash Back before it becomes the better deal.

Comments and Questions

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How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).