If you’ve ever wanted the convenience of using a debit card without the prerequisite checking account, then a prepaid debit card might just do the trick. In recent years, prepaid debit cards have risen in popularity and so have their offerings. However, the fees can sometimes be a little pricey and, with lower protections, comes greater risk. That’s why you want the best prepaid debit card on the market, and we’ve reviewed the year’s top choices.
Take a look at this rundown and apply online in minutes for the prepaid debit card that’s right for you.
The Simple Dollar’s Top Prepaid Card Picks
Here are the 7 best prepaid cards for 2018:
- American Express Serve® (currently unavailable)
- READYdebit® Visa Prepaid Card (currently unavailable)
- 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.
Please Note: The American Express Serve® offer is currently unavailable.
Comparing American Express Serve® Options
American Express Serve® (currently unavailable) 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® (currently unavailable)||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|
READYdebit® Visa Prepaid Card
The READYdebit® Visa Prepaid Card features what you’ve come to expect from prepaid debit cards including online bill pay, free direct deposit, and cash back with purchases. Depending on the type of READYdebit® prepaid card, you may or may not have to deal with signup and monthly fees. For example, while the Select card waives the set-up fee, you could be charged a one-time set-up fee of $4.95 when you get the Control card. Vice versa, if you opt for the Control card, the monthly fee is waived while the Select card comes with a fee of $9.95/month. Be sure to review each option before signing.
READYdebit Visa Prepaid Card–Snapshot
- Over 50,000 retail locations for cash reloading
- Deposits are FDIC-insured through the Bancorp Bank to at least $250,000
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® (currently unavailable)||READYdebit® Visa Prepaid Card (Select) (currently unavailable)||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||$9.95||$4.95||$4||$0||$9.95||$9.95|
|ATM Fees||$0 at MoneyPass ATMs||$2.50||$1.95||$0 with in-network ATMs||$0 with in-network ATMs||$2.50||$2.50|
|Foreign Currency Fee||2.7%||3%||2.5%||3%||3%||3.5%||3.5%|
While our list covered over half-a-dozen incredible options, we would be remiss if we did not touch upon one other. When you’re shopping for the best prepaid debit cards, here’s an honorable mention to factor into the equation:
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® (currently unavailble)||$1|
|2||READYdebit® Visa Prepaid Card||$9.95|
|3||PayPal™ Prepaid MasterCard®||$4.95|
|4||Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card||$4 unless you’re a Fifth Third banking customer|
|5||MOVO Virtual Prepaid Visa Card||No monthly fee|
|6||Western Union® NetSpend® Prepaid MasterCard®||$5|
|7||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 I need credit to get a prepaid debit card?
No, a credit history is not required in order to be eligible for a prepaid debit card. In fact, the original design of the prepaid debit card was so that people with poor or nonexistent credit history would still have the convenience of not needing a bank account to use a card. Unlike credit cards, you can’t spend beyond your means with a prepaid debit card and, once the preloaded funds run out, the card will usually expire (unless you buy reloadable packs – more on that later). However, prepaid debit cards will not help you build or establish a credit history.
Which banks offer prepaid debit cards?
You can find a variety of banks and credit unions nationwide that offer prepaid debit cards. However, the types of prepaid debit cards and their various perks will vary. To get a better perspective for your situation, we highly recommend contacting your local bank or credit union of choice to find out more about their offerings. Additionally, prepaid debit cards can be purchased in most major drugstore chains and supermarkets.
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?
Not far from now, prepaid debit cards will be a lot safer thanks to a ruling by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Just how safe? Prepaid debit cardholders will soon have access to free-to-use online portals as well as liability and fraud protections. Cardholders will also have an easier time keeping track of their account without having to pay for 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.
Are prepaid debit cards reloadable?
Yes. In most cases, prepaid debit cards are reloadable. This is due, largely, to the fact that you cannot overdraw on a prepaid debit card. The only funds available are the funds you put on the card. If you use up the available funds, you must add more money or “reload.” This is usually done either by purchasing “reload packs” or direct deposit through from a checking or savings account.
What are prepaid debit card loans?
Say you are looking to apply for a short-term loan. In some cases, a lender can deposit the amount of that loan onto a prepaid debit card for immediate use. This is what is known as a prepaid debit card loan. In most cases, the ease of use made possible by a prepaid debit card means you can use that loan money for a variety of everyday expenses. These include but are not necessarily limited to:
- ATM withdrawals
As with anything loan related, you want to be especially diligent when it comes to prepaid debit card loans. Make sure you are fully familiar with any hidden service charges and don’t rush into anything.
Can you use a prepaid debit card for online shopping?
In most cases, the answer is yes. Prepaid debit cards should have the same range of use where most regular credit cards are accepted. This is because prepaid debit cards utilize the same card networks like Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover. So, whether it’s online shopping or buying groceries, you should be all set with a prepaid debit card
How do I add money to my prepaid card?
There are a couple of ways you can add money to your prepaid debit card. You can add funds via direct deposit from a checking or savings account as well as another prepaid debit card. There are also times when a retailer can add funds straight from the register once you’ve made a purchase. In some cases, you might be able to add funds via purchasable “reload packs” from prepaid debit card issuers.
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