Once considered the last resort for those underqualified for a traditional bank account, prepaid debit cards have since moved into the mainstream. In fact, prepaid debit cards with the top 50 U.S. banks and credit unions accounted for more than $118 billion in spending according to a 2013 Nilson report. However, the ease and convenience of a prepaid card comes at a cost including higher fees that can add up quickly.
If you want to sign on for a prepaid debit card, you’re going to want the best possible options. That’s why we’ve put together this rundown of the best prepaid debit cards of 2018. Take a look and apply online in minutes.
The Simple Dollar’s Top Prepaid Card Picks
Here are the 6 best prepaid cards for 2018:
- American Express Serve®
- PayPal™ Prepaid MasterCard®
- Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card
- MOVO Virtual Prepaid Visa Card
- Western Union® NetSpend® Prepaid MasterCard®
- NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card
What Makes These the Best?
Prepaid cards come in all shapes and sizes, but there are certain features that help some of them stand out. When you’re looking for a prepaid card, these are the characteristics you should look for:
- Convenient card loading options
- Flexible ways to spend and pay bills
- Minimal monthly fees
- Free direct deposit
- Retail networks or online connections
- Widely accepted
- Ability to send money to friends and family online or via mobile device
Although new prepaid cards come on the market every year, some have stood the test of time. As you read through the details on each card we’ve highlighted, consider how each card would work with your personal spending habits. Then consider the fees associated with each card to see how they stack up.
American Express Serve®
The American Express Serve® may be the best prepaid card because it is low cost and provides easy ways to avoid fees and add cash. The $1 monthly fee is already very low, but the fee is waived if you use direct deposit and load just $500 onto your card each month.
Moreover, you can load cash for free at CVS and 7-Eleven stores. Most other cards offer large retail networks but those retail partners often charge their own fees to add cash at their locations.
This card is also great for families. You can set up sub-accounts for your kids and set spending limits for them. The card also has a reserve function, so you can set aside money each month for a large purchase or family vacation.
American Express Serve® — Snapshot
- Your Full Service Prepaid Debit Card. (American Express Serve is not a credit card.)
- No credit check. No minimum balance. No hidden fees.
- Free Direct Deposit gets you access to your money up to 2 days faster. (2)
- FREE ATM withdrawals at over 24,000 MoneyPass® ATM locations nationwide. (3)
- Free Online Bill Pay and money management tools.
- Enjoy American Express service and security 24/7. Shop online and off and enjoy Card Membership benefits like Purchase Protection.*
- *Underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company. Subject to additional terms, conditions, and exclusions.
Comparing American Express Serve® Options
American Express Serve® is also offering two alternate serve cards with their own unique benefits – the American Express Serve® with free reloads and the American Express Serve® Cash Back. Both options charge a monthly fee, but offer their own set of perks. This chart can help you compare options:
|American Express Serve®||American Express Serve® FREE Reloads||American Express Serve® Cash Back|
|Card Price||$0 online, up to $3.95 at retail locations||$0 online, up to $3.95 at retail locations||$0 online, up to $3.95 at retail locations|
|Monthly Fee (No fee in TX, NY, and VT)||$1 or $0 when you direct deposit $500||$4.95||$5.95|
|1% Cash Back on Purchases||n/a||n/a||Yes|
|Cash Reloads||up to $3.95 (fees vary by retailer)||$0 at CVS Pharmacy, Family Dollar, Walmart, and participating 7 Eleven locations||up to $3.95 (fees vary by retailer)|
|Mobile Check Deposit||$0||$0||$0|
|In-network ATM withdrawals||$0||$0||$0|
|Online Bill Pay||$0||$0||$0|
PayPal™ Prepaid MasterCard®
Because PayPal™ is the authority of online payments, it stands to reason that the PayPal™ Prepaid MasterCard® is one of the best prepaid debit cards on the market. While the card costs $4.95 per month, it offers unlimited signature and PIN purchases as well as cash back from select specialty stores and restaurants. It also offers the advantage of transferring money between your card and your PayPal account.
Theoretically, it is possible to link other prepaid cards to your PayPal™ account, but I’ve heard of many problems associated with the difficulty of linking them. In addition to your PayPal™ account, you can add money with direct deposit, or at over 130,000 NetSpend Reload Network locations nationwide. Fees may apply at these locations.
Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card
The Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card offers utmost convenience and a ton of handy perks. Better yet, acquiring the card and using it can be insanely cheap.
This card doesn’t charge any fees to sign up, nor does it charge fees for adding, withdrawing, or transferring money. You can use it anywhere MasterCard is accepted and you can add money to the card in a bank branch or using their mobile app. The best part is, you can easily withdraw cash fee-free from more than 45,000 ATMs nationwide.
A $4 monthly fee does apply, but you can have this fee waived if you’re a Fifth Third Banking customer or if you deposit more than $500 onto your card each month.
Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card –Snapshot
- $4 monthly fee that’s waived if you are a Fifth Third banking customer, or if you add more than $500 per month on your card
- Fee-free access to more than 45,000 ATMs nationwide
- Add money in a bank branch or using the mobile app
MOVO Virtual Prepaid Visa Card
The MOVO Virtual Prepaid Visa Card is easy to acquire and nearly free to use. For starters, you don’t need a credit check to sign up. There are no monthly fees and no fees for inactivity or activation. There are no fees for purchases made with the card either, making this a good card for people who want to keep costs down.
While the MOVO lets you withdraw cash from included ATMs for free, there are only 6,000 ATMs in their network. This could make this a poor card option for anyone who withdraws cash frequently or doesn’t live near an included ATM.
Fortunately, the MOVO Virtual Prepaid Visa Card does make it easy to load cash on your card. You can do it via direct deposit, a bank account transfer, withdrawal from Paypal or Venmo, or a cash load at qualifying retailers like Walgreens and Safeway.
MOVO Virtual Prepaid Visa Card –Snapshot
- No credit check
- No monthly fees and no fees for activation or inactivity
- Withdraw cash for free from 6,000 ATMs nationwide; pay $2 to withdraw cash from out-of-network ATMs
- Add cash to your card via direct deposit, a bank account transfer, withdrawal from Paypal or Venmo, or a cash load at qualifying retailers like Walgreens and Safeway
Western Union® NetSpend® Prepaid MasterCard®
The Western Union® NetSpend® Prepaid MasterCard® offers several features that make it both easy-to-use and inexpensive. Like most prepaid cards, it offers free deposits of your paycheck or government benefits such as Social Security, SSI, or SSDI. However, it also comes with the added benefit of letting you accept Western Union money transfers directly on your card without charge.
The card comes offers a pay-as-you-go option with no monthly fee, but that version charges $1 for each signature purchase and $2.00 for each PIN transaction. If you plan to use your card frequently, you would probably be better off signing up for the $9.95 per month Monthly Fee Advantage Plan or $5.00 per month Premier Fee Advantage Plan. Both offer unlimited signature and PIN transactions.
Western Union® NetSpend® Prepaid MasterCard® –Snapshot
- Upgrade to a $5 per month Premier FeeAdvantage™ Plan after you direct deposit at least $500 into your account during one calendar month.
- Access to an optional 5.00% APY Savings Account on balances up to $5,000.
- Receive Western Union Money Transfers in minutes and at no charge.
- Free balance inquiries via text message.
- Reload your card for free at one of over 130,000 reload locations in the NetSpend Reload Network.
NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card
The NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card remains popular with users because of its easy to understand fee structure. The card comes with three separate plans – a no-fee plan with a $1 fee for signature purchases and a $2 fee per PIN purchase transactions, a Fee Advantage Plan with a $9.95 monthly fee and free unlimited transactions, and a NetSpend Premier FeeAdvantage Plan with a $5.00 monthly fee and free unlimited transactions.
If you only make a handful of transactions each month, you might be better off going with the pay-as-you-go plan with no monthly fee, but if you make lots of purchases, you should probably choose one of the plans with a monthly fee and unlimited transactions. You can qualify for the cheapest plan, the NetSpend Premier FeeAdvantage Plan, by setting up a direct deposit of at least $500 during one calendar month.
NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card — Snapshot
- Load your card for free at more than 130,000 reload locations.
- Funds are FDIC insured up to the current coverage limit.
- Online banking makes it easy to manage and pay bills online.
- No minimum balance and no credit check.
- Perfect for users who want to make unlimited transactions without additional fees.
Best Prepaid Cards Comparison
Take a close look at the table below to get a better understanding of which prepaid card is best for your situation.
|American Express Serve®||PayPal™ Prepaid MasterCard®||Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card||MOVO Virtual Prepaid Visa Card||Western Union® NetSpend® Prepaid MasterCard®||NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card|
|Max Monthly Fee||$1||$4.95||$4||$0||$9.95||$9.95|
|ATM Fees||$0 at MoneyPass ATMs||$1.95||$0 with in-network ATMs||$0 with in-network ATMs||$2.50||$2.50|
|Foreign Currency Fee||2.7%||2.5%||3%||3%||3.5%||3.5%|
Although only six prepaid cards made our list, there is at least one other you should consider as you continue looking for the best prepaid card for your situation. Here is an honorable mention that deserves a closer look:
American Express Bluebird®
American Express Bluebird® is growing in popularity due to its lack of fees and how easy it is to use. Not only does Bluebird come without any minimum balance requirements, but it also comes without monthly or annual fees, overdraft fees, foreign exchange fees, bill pay fees, inactivity fees, or card replacement fees.
Even though American Express Bluebird® is light on fees, it still offers a ton of perks. For example, Bluebird offers its users an amazing online bill pay feature and the ability to write paper checks. Meanwhile, card owners can add cash for free using mobile check deposit or at any Walmart checkout register.
American Express Bluebird® — Snapshot
- Transfer money for free out of your checking or savings account.
- Add cash for free at almost any Walmart checkout register.
- Pay bills with online bill pay or paper checks.
- FREE ATM Access at more than 24,000 MoneyPass ATMs
- No overdraft or stop payment fees.
- No foreign transaction fees.
Best Prepaid Debit Cards: Summed Up
|Prepaid Debit Cards||Monthly Fee|
|1||American Express Serve®||$1|
|2||PayPal™ Prepaid MasterCard®||$4.95|
|3||Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card||$4 unless you’re a Fifth Third banking customer|
|4||MOVO Virtual Prepaid Visa Card||No monthly fee|
|5||Western Union® NetSpend® Prepaid MasterCard®||$5|
|6||NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card||$5|
Who Should Use a Prepaid Debit Card?
Generally, it’s wise to consider all your options before deciding on a prepaid debit card. Checking accounts, for example, have fewer fees and stipulations when compared to prepaid debit cards. That being said, there are scenarios where a prepaid debit card can come out as the winner.
You should consider getting a prepaid debit card in these four cases:
- If you can’t open a free or low-cost checking account. People who have a history of not paying bank fees or overdrawing their account will get flagged in ChexSystems, which is a special credit system that banks use.
- If you don’t like certain bank fees, like overdraft or service fees. Most banks offer some free checking options but, if you overdraft your account often, you’ll rack up fees.
- If you don’t want online purchases to have any link to a bank account or credit card. You can limit the amount of money on the card so, if anyone got ahold of your information, your downside is limited to what’s on the card instead of your entire bank account!
- If you want to use a prepaid card to issue your kids gas money, allowance, or college-spending cash. This ensures your kids don’t go rogue and overspend on the family credit card.
If you do not fit into any of the categories above, then your best bet is to sign up for a free or low-cost or free checking account.
If you’re someone who has bad credit and you’re looking to build it back up, you may be better off with a secured credit card in addition to a prepaid card.
Do prepaid debit cards have fees?
Here are the most common types of fees to watch out for when you’re shopping for a prepaid debit account:
- Monthly Fee. This is a fixed monthly fee that you must pay even if you don’t use your card.
- Transaction Fee. This is a fee you’ll pay every time you use the card. (The amount could vary depending on the vendor.)
- Balance Inquiry Fee. Many prepaid debit cards charge $2 to $5 every single time you want to check your balance online.
- Cash Reload Fee. If you add money to your card from a retail location, you may be charged a $3 reload fee. (Direct deposit reloads are often free.)
- Paper Statement Fee. If you don’t opt into paperless statements, you might be charged a fee for your monthly statement.
- Bill payment fee. Some prepaid cards have online portals, but using them to pay your bill incurs a small fee — usually around $2.
- Inactivity Fee. If you don’t use your card for an extended amount of time, you may be charged an inactivity fee.
- Cancellation fee. If you decide to cancel your card before it expires, you could be charged as much as $30.
Are prepaid debit cards safe?
As a result of a ruling by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), prepaid debit cards are about to get a lot safer. This will include offering liability and fraud protections as well as free-to-use online portals. Whereas in the past, some prepaid debit cards would charge fees for online bill pay and balance reports, this will no longer be the case. Overall, prepaid debit cards are getting safer.
In addition to better protection, this ruling will also make it easier for you to keep up with your account and make payments by requiring issuers to provide a free-to-use online portal. (In the past, certain cards have charged fees for simple features like online bill pay and balance reports.)
How much does it cost to get a prepaid card?
This can vary depending on the kind of prepaid card you’re getting and the issuer. In most cases, you will have a minimal fee, and some can even charge activation and monthly fees from $1 to $5. Other cards on the higher end of the spectrum can get as high as $60 a year. Take the American Express Serve®, for example, which has a monthly fee of $1 or the NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card which charges $5.
Can you use a prepaid debit card for online shopping?
Prepaid debit cards utilize the same card networks (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover) as regular credit cards. Regardless of what type of prepaid debit card you have, it’s likely that you can use it anywhere that a regular credit card is accepted. Groceries, gas, online shopping — anything! The only difference between prepaid debit cards and regular credit cards is that when you use them, you’re spending your own money, not the bank’s.
Sometimes prepaid debit cards even have perks. The fee that merchants must pay (per transaction) to accept debit cards and prepaid debit cards is lower than what they must pay when the customer swipes a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. In sum, it’s possible that you could one day find yourself in a store that will accept your prepaid card, but not your regular credit card.
How do I add money to my prepaid card?
There are several different ways that you can add money to a prepaid debit card:
- A direct deposit from a checking account, savings account, or another prepaid card
- Often, the retailer where you purchased the card can add funds from the register
- Some prepaid debit card issuers sell “reload” packs online or in stores (usually for $20, $50, or $100)
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