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Bad offers and high fees swarm the prepaid debit card market. After reviewing dozens of different products, we arrived at a definitive list of best prepaid debit cards. Like credit cards, the best offer always depends on a consumer’s financial circumstances. Some cards offer cash back rewards features, while others will be the cheaper to maintain - the answer of which is better will vary person to person.
Table of Contents
Best Prepaid Debit Cards
The following is a list of our favorite prepaid debit cards, which we handpicked based on a number of factors, including fees, benefits, and value. Each of these products satisfies the needs of a particular consumer niche. To make it easier for people to find the cards that'll suit them the most, we categorized the offerings into three main buckets spanning most financial profiles. If you wish to further evaluate other options, see the section below that outlines our methodology for determining the worth of a prepaid debit card offer.
For High Spenders: American Express Serve® Cash Back
Maximum Number of Fees: 6 | Unavoidable Fees: 1
If you spend at least $595 per month on expenses that can be charged to a card, the American Express Serve® Cash Back will likely offer you the best value. At that spending level, the card’s 1% cash back rate completely covers the monthly fee, and begins turning a profit with every swipe. Currently, no other prepaid debit card on the market offers cash back rewards, which makes this offer unique.
In addition to the rewards you get from spending, the American Express Serve® Cash Back also comes equipped with some rudimentary security and transaction features you typically only see on credit cards. The most notable of these is purchase protection. If something you buy using this card is stolen or damaged within 90 days of the original transaction, American Express can refund you the purchase amount, up to $1,000 per incident and $50,000 per calendar year.
Quick Look At The American Express Serve® Cash Back:
- 1% cash back on all purchases – a benefit not present in any other prepaid card
- Purchase protection benefits that give extra insurance on the items you buy
- Relatively few fees compared to some other prepaid debit cards
For Low Spenders with Access To A Wal-Mart: Bluebird from American Express
Maximum Number of Fees: 3 | Unavoidable Fees: 0
The Bluebird from American Express has long been heralded as a top prepaid debit card due to having the least fees and being cheap to keep around. Though you can get a Bluebird card online, you will not be able to access some of the free features - including free cash reloads, unless you go to a Walmart. Otherwise, one of the only other fees a consumer may encounter with the Bluebird is a $2.50 cash withdrawal fee whenever using a non-MoneyPass ATM. Most other account features, including Online Bill Pay, and Direct Deposit, are free.
Bluebird cardholders can also use their card outside of the United States at no additional cost. With most other prepaid debit card accounts and even most credit cards, you would need to pay a 2.7% - 3% foreign transaction fee, every time your transaction passes through a non-US bank. If you frequently travel across the border, and would like to have the ability to pay via card while travelling, the Bluebird is the way to go.
Quick Look At The Bluebird:
- No monthly fee
- No foreign transaction fee
- Ability to order/write checks
For Low Spenders: Chase Liquid® Card
Maximum Number of Fees: 8 | Unavoidable Fees: 0
The Chase Liquid is a great low-fee alternative to the Bluebird, and would be ideal for consumers who may not have easy access to a Wal-Mart store. This is the case for many large cities - such as New York City, San Francisco, Detroit, Seattle, Boston, and Jersey City. Most of the best prepaid debit cards rely on the MoneyPass network of ATMs, of which there are roughly 22,000. The Chase Liquid card operates using Chase ATMs and branches instead. You can compare MoneyPass and Chase ATM locations around where you live, to see whether one would be significantly easier for you to use than the other. While prepaid debit cards work with most ATMs, using a non-affiliated one will cost a fee.
Another advantage the Chase Liquid has over other prepaid debit cards on this list is the fact that it’s on the Visa network. While from a pure fee/value perspective the other cards have an edge over the Liquid, they all operate on the American Express network – one that is accepted by fewer merchants. In major cities, this distinction may not be a big one as most merchants will accept most of the big card networks. With Amex, however, you will run into situations where the card may not be accepted from time to time – an inconvenience that is far less likely with the Chase Liquid Visa card.
Quick Look At The Chase Liquid® Card:
- Free cash reloads at Chase ATMs and branches
- A Visa network card that's accepted by more merchants than American Express
- $4.95 Monthly Fee, waived if you have a Chase Checking account
For Cash Deposits: American Express Serve® FREE Reloads
Maximum Number of Fees: 6 | Unavoidable Fees: 1
As its name suggests, the American Express Serve® FREE Reloads doesn’t charge any fees when depositing cash into the account. Most other prepaid debit cards will typically charge up to $3.95 per such transaction. For consumers with irregular cash flow, or those who get paid in cash throughout the month, this type of fee can normally represent a significant charge. The card does come with a $4.95 monthly fee, which makes it only the best option for those who do not live close to a Wal-Mart. If you do, the Bluebird card can also be reloaded with cash, at no additional cost.
There may be circumstances where earning a cash back reward may negate the savings you would normally get through the American Express Serve® FREE Reloads. If the ratio of your monthly spending to the number of monthly reloads is just right, you could come out ahead by using the American Express Serve® Cash Back. To decide, you can follow a simple math exercise. Take the number of cash reloads you expect to perform each month and multiply it by $3.95. Then add $1, and divide the whole result by 0.01. If you spend more per month than the final result, get the American Express Serve® Cash Back - otherwise, the American Express Serve® FREE Reloads will give you the best savings.
Quick Look At The American Express Serve® FREE Reloads:
- No fee for cash reloads – saves up to $3.95 per transaction
- Standard American Express purchase protection benefits
- $4.95 monthly fee
Comparing the Best Prepaid Debit Cards At a Glance
We've constructed a side-by-side comparison table to make it easier to see how the above offers differ on cost and features.
|American Express Serve® Cash Back||Bluebird||American Express Serve® FREE Reloads||Chase Liquid® Card|
|$5.95||$0||$4.95||$4.95 or $0 if you have a Chase Checking Account|
|American Express||American Express||American Express||Visa|
Cash Reload Fee
|Up to $3.95||$0 at Wal-Mart, and up to $3.95 otherwise||$0||Up to $3.95|
Foreign Transaction Fee
|1% cash back on all purchases||Cheapest Prepaid Debit Card||Free cash reloads, which typically cost $3.95 each||Access to Chase Bank ATMs and accepted at almost all places that allow card payments|
|High monthly fee||Less useful for those with no easy access to Wal-Mart||No way to waive monthly fee||Not as cheap as the Wal-Mart Bluebird|
Best Prepaid Debit Card For…
|Those who spend $595+ per month||Low spenders who live close to a Wal-Mart||Individuals who frequently need to perform cash reloads||Low spenders who don't live close to a Wal-Mart|
How To Evaluate A Prepaid Debit Card
When evaluating different prepaid debit card offers, the key metric to look at is fees. Prepaid cards are notorious for gouging consumers with limited access to traditional banking accounts. In finding the best prepaid debit card offers, we surveyed the maximum and minimum amount of fees a consumer would pay with each offer.
The most egregious fees are “transaction fees”. None of the prepaid debit cards on our above list will charge you a fee each time you use them to pay for something. However, it is not unheard of for some cards to charge as much as $1 for each swipe of your card.
Checklist for evaluating a prepaid debit card offer:
- Does the card have a monthly fee? If so, it should not be greater than $5.95
- If a card charges a monthly fee, what do you get out of it? Why this card, instead of a "no fee" option
- On the topic of fees, make sure the card does not charge you a fee with every purchase
- Before applying, search for online reviews. Some cards may charge hidden fees that may not be immediately obvious, and other users might have reported them