Ben Todd | Jun 3, 2017 | 2
Best Prepaid Debit Cards Of 2017
We have reviewed 43 of prepaid debit cards and have come up with a short list of the very best prepaid debit cards in America. There where really only two that stood out among the rest. They each suit two very different purposes. One is suitable for people who do not have a bank account and need a prepaid card. The other card is for people who have a bank account and are looking for a prepaid card out of choice rather than necessity. Following those is a short list of runners up who were close to taking the top spot.
Working on this review was harrowing because the prepaid card market is crammed with truly terrible prepaid cards. The best prepaid debit cards shine like diamonds in a copper mine because the competition is so terrible. The fact there are so many terrible prepaid debit cards is no accident or aberration. There is plenty of room for prepaid card companies to act like complete dicks because there is a sea of people out there who need and rely on prepaid cards.
What Are The Pleasant Reasons Why People Have Prepaid Debit Cards
Firstly, let’s examine the many reasons why people have and use prepaid debit cards before moving on to why so many prepaid cards offer a terrible service and are a complete rip off.
Some people choose to have a prepaid debit card because they want more control over their money. They want to be able to shop online and offline without fear of somebody clearing their bank account.
Others use prepaid cards to limit the amount they spend or to control their budget be portioning out their money into different accounts. Some people use prepaid cards to help them save and move their money more easily.
Others use them to hide money from their spouses or business associates, such as by being paid from one source into their bank account and another source into their prepaid card.
Some people use prepaid cards to receive funds from abroad, though you can usually get a better rate with a transfer company such as Transferwise or CurrencyFair. There are some parents who give prepaid cards to their student children in order to regulate how much money they send and how much their child spends.
- Some offer rewards and benefits
- Safer online shopping
- More control over your money
- Hide money from creditors who don’t have a summons
- Put limits on the amount you spend
- To receive money from friends and clients
- Control your budget more easily
- Save and move money more easily
- Hide money from kids, spouses and associates
- Receive money from abroad
- Give your kids their college student spending money
What Are The Reasons Why Some People Need Prepaid Debit Cards
Some people use prepaid debit cards because they cannot get a bank account. They may not be able to get a bank account because:
- Their current account has been frozen
- Their current bank account is under investigation
- All of their earnings are stripped from their bank account
- Their credit rating is so poor that they cannot get a bank account
- Banks have red-flagged that them because of financial impropriety
- They have a job or status that makes them ineligible for a bank account
- They are not US citizens and are unable to get a bank account
These are some of the most popular reasons why some people may not be able to get a bank account and so are forced to use prepaid debit card account.
Why Are So Many Prepaid Cards Terrible?
People who do not need prepaid credit cards are often able to seek out the best prepaid debit cards. They often have lots of choice and are able to pick from our list of best prepaid debit cards without fear of rejection.
People who need prepaid debit cards will often find it difficult to get one of the best prepaid debit cards. In many cases, the best prepaid debit cards will reject them. These people are then forced to choose an alternative prepaid card from a less desirable card company.
People who cannot get, or do not have, a bank account are people who are having financial difficulty. These people don’t want a prepaid card, they need a prepaid debit cards. There are plenty of money-sucking companies that will happily give these desperate people a card. The problem is that these parasitic leech companies base their business model on exploiting people who need them.
They charge ridiculous fees for things as innocent as checking your balance, they offer a terrible online and offline service, and they will find any excuse to add charges to your account for the tiniest indiscretion. I am not talking about indiscretions such as overdrawing, I mean things such as having money wired to your account instead of having it direct deposited.
Terrible Prepaid Card Companies Use Terrible Excuses
What is worse is that these companies try to justify their behavior by saying they are protecting themselves. For example, they say they charge people a huge monthly fee for using their card because the person they gave the account to is a risk. They say they take up to three times longer to clear your deposited funds because your credit rating suggests you are unreliable. Don’t believe prepaid card companies that claim they don’t use credit ratings and don’t check your bank history because they really do. Their insurance premiums would skyrocket if they couldn’t show some form of due diligence, especially since money laundering is a hot button issue in the prepaid card industry.
Our List Only Features The Very Best Prepaid Debit Cards
In our search for the best prepaid debit cards, we had to sign up for and review 43 prepaid debit cards. We have not listed reviews of the terrible cards. This article only features the cream of the crop. It only features the very best prepaid debit cards. I could have written a book on the many prepaid cards we reviewed.
Why Have User Comments Been Added To Each Review?
We receive a lot of messages and comments about the topics we write about. Sometimes, I sum up what a few people have said and add them to our articles. Other times I copy what each person said verbatim and add it to our articles. These comments are verbatim copies of what people have written to us. I have edited the comments down a little, but each comment is a genuine comment from people who have tried the card and written in to us.
A Card For People With Bank Accounts And Recurring Purchases
The American Express Serve prepaid debit card is the best card for people who have bank accounts and make recurring purchases. If you do not have a bank account, then you will have to pay a monthly fee of $1, and pay at least $3.95 to load cash into your account. You cannot avoid the $1 monthly fee if you do not have a bank account, but you may avoid the reload fee by adding money to your account with checks.
If you have a bank account, if you set up direct deposits, and if you make frequent use of your card, then the American Express prepaid debit card is for you. It is not ideal for people who spend in a wide variety of stores because American Express is not as widely accepted as Visa or MasterCard are. However, if you have a series of favorite stores and you make frequent/periodic purchases, then AMEX Serve is for you.
Winners – Lowest Fees For Moderate Users
Losers – People Who Do Not Have Bank Accounts
There are three prepaid card options offered by American Express (AMEX), which is a good sign for two reasons. Firstly, it gives people a choice of card where they may choose the card that most suits that spending and card-use habits. Secondly, in my opinion, when prepaid card companies give you a range of choices, it means they are not targeting (at least exclusively) the must-have/really-need desperate crowd. It indicates to me that they are targeting people who are choosing to have a prepaid card, rather than people who have no alternative.
Do not try to sign up for an AMEX prepaid card on their website directly. All their cards are handled by the Serve branch of their business. Get to it by going to the American Express website and typing /serve/ at the end, or follow the link above where it says “American Express Serve” as a header (it is also a link to the website).
Their Fees Are Tactically Placed
The company claims there are no hidden fees, but there are tactically displayed fees. For example, on their Serve homepage, you can see a list of their fees, with many of them being $0. However, if you read the small print on the same page, you will see a whole host of extra fees that are not listed on the homepage.
There are also terms and conditions that are tactically placed. For example, the website says you get unlimited 1% cash back, but it is limited by the card’s spending limit, and you cannot redeem the reward as actual cash, you can only receive it as money off your purchases.
The promotional stuff is in big fonts, but many of them have less appealing terms, conditions and charges. The way they have placed the terms and conditions for their promotional claims are really sneaky. I have highlighted a few on the image below. Notice how the small print is littered around the page.
Best Prepaid Debit Cards – Features And Functions
You can choose between the American Express Serve (basic), American Express Serve Free Reloads, and American Express Serve Cash Back. This review is all about American Express Serve. AMEX Serve is the basic prepaid card service and it is the best out of all three.
- Snap a photo of your check with the app and it is deposited
- Pay to have your check cleared early
- Expedited check clearing takes just a few hours
- There is a low monthly fee
- Purchase protection on eligible purchases
- You can avoid the monthly fee if you direct deposit $500 per month
- Direct deposit your money into your account for free
- No monthly fee at all in New York, Texas and Vermont
- You may set Money aside in reserve with their reserve function
- You may create sub accounts in the same account without having to pay extra
- 24/7 customer service department
- Mobile check capture with their Ingo Money and First Century Bank app
- Set up Bill Pay reminders
- It is very easy to get an American Express Serve card
- You can get an AMEX Serve card if you have a terrible credit rating
American Express Serve Fees And Price List
$1.00 – Monthly fee that you can avoid with a direct deposit of $500 per month
$0.00 – Monthly fee if you live in New York, Texas or Vermont
$3.95 – That is the minimum you will pay for cash reloads
$0.00 – Direct deposit fee
$0.00 – To replace your card
$3.95 – Card Price, or it is free if you order online
$0.00 – To add money from a checking or savings account via bank transfer
$0.00 – For ATM withdrawals from MoneyPass ATMs
$2.50 – For withdrawals from other ATMs
$0.00 – To use Bill Pay online
$0.00 – To move money from your card to your checking account
2.7% – For foreign transactions plus the rate they charge for conversions
$0.00 – To deposit a check via their mobile app and wait ten days for it to clear
5% – The percentage of your check that is taken as a fee for expedited check clearing
$3.49 to $9.49 – For cash pickup powered by Ria
Adding money from your bank account is only free if you instigate a bank transfer from your savings or checking account. They will charge you for wire transfers from your bank.
The cash pickup powered by Ria may sound like a rip off, but it is handy if you want to withdraw large sums of money. You can withdraw up to $2900 for just $9.49, which is less than you would pay if you tried to withdraw it from your card with ATMs. It is far cheaper to transfer the money to your bank account and draw it out in a bank, but some people do not have that option.
Best Prepaid Debit Cards – Disadvantages
[-] Cash reloads cost a whopping $3.95, which is a shame. It is not as if this fee is something AMEX couldn’t remove. It is just there to help sell their more expensive Reloads card.
[-] You can only get free withdrawals by using MoneyPass ATMs, and there are only 25,000 in the US, so the chances of having one near you is unlikely. You will probably end up paying their $2.50+ ATM withdrawal fee.
[-] Their website is so slippery. If you read the droves of small print on their web page, it tells a very different story to their promotional advertising on their
Best Prepaid Debit Cards – Advantages
[+] Card replacements do not cost you anything. They shouldn’t anyway, but it is nice when a company takes the time “not” to screw you over at every opportunity. You may also get your first card for free if you order online.
[+] Earn 1% cash back on your purchases rounded to the nearest dollar. Cash-back rewards are only limited by the card’s monthly spending limits. It can only be redeemed as a spending discount and cannot be redeemed as actual cash back.
[+] You get purchase protection up to $1000 per purchase, and it doesn’t apply to things such as car parts, consumables, and perishables. It doesn’t cover items you damage yourself, that are damaged through wear and tear, or damage by natural disasters. You are not reimbursed for shipping and wrapping costs. You are also required to try your own insurance company first before making you claim with AMEX serve.
[-] It is annoying how there are still merchants that do not accept American Express (AMEX) cards. They seem especially less willing to accept prepaid cards by AMEX.
[-] AMEX froze my card because I had my tax refund sent into it. They said it was unusual activity. Surly I cannot be the first person to ever have his tax refund put into his prepaid card!
[-] Each time I call their customer service, I get somebody with broken English. Just once I would like to talk to a service agent where I don’t have to speak as if I am talking to a child.
[+] You can take a photo of your check with the AMEX Serve app and it pay to have it expedited and you have the cleared funds as quickly as 30 minutes.
[+] Other people have complained about the customer service, but I had fraudulent charges appear on my account and they cleared it up in no time.
[+] Trial and error will teach you which shops take AMEX and which do not. Keep it in your wallet and use it where you are allowed to. Stop complaining about stores not accepting AMEX. Use a different card or cash if they don’t.
American Express Serve Conclusion
I had a bit of an ethical dilemma when writing this review because it is yet another positive online review about American Express Serve. The truth is that the prepaid card does deserve its place on this list of best prepaid debit cards, but that is not the reason why so many other reviewers are raving about it.
You will find quite a few online reviews about prepaid cards that feature American Express Serve in a very prominent position. That is because the American Express Serve affiliate program (by Commission Junction) offers a sizable payment for webmasters who convince people to sign up for an American Express Serve card.
Compared to other prepaid cards, the AMEX prepaid cards are good-to-average, but please remain skeptical when reading online reviews about it. For the record, AccountNow and NetSpend cards have a great affiliate program, so you will often find them at the top of reviewer’s lists. However, their online reputation vis-à-vis user reviews tells the real story about how much they suck.
A Card For People Without A Bank Account And For Heavy Card Users
If you are a heavy prepaid card user, then you are probably used to being hit with fee after fee. The Kaiku card earns its place on our best prepaid debit cards list because it favors heavy users. If you use your card very often and make larger monthly deposits, then your Kaiku Visa prepaid card will cost you nothing at all.
It isn’t suitable for people who do not really need or use their prepaid card. If you are looking for a card you can throw in a drawer until the day you need it, then the Kaiku card is not for you. There is no point in paying a monthly fee if you are not going to use your card. If you only use your prepaid card for special occasions such as holidays, then maybe this card is not for you.
Winners -Lowest Fees For Heavy Users
Losers – Monthly Fee That Doesn’t Suit Sporadic Users
The Kaiku Visa Prepaid card is one of the best prepaid debit cards for people who do not have a bank account. The people at Kaiku will waive your monthly fee if you load the card with $750 at least once per month. You do not have to deposit the money via direct deposit in order to have the fee waived, which suits people who do not have a bank account.
It is also very good for people who prefer to take prepaid debit cards on vacation with them. Transaction fees are the same abroad as they are in the USA. Kaiku do not charge you for foreign currency conversions. If you use your card on a daily or weekly basis in the USA, and you are going on vacation, you should definitely take your Kaiku prepaid debit card.
Best Prepaid Debit Cards – Features And Functions
Kaiku has a wide variety of features and functions. The fact that many of their functions are fee-free is a big selling point. The fact that Kaiku appears second on our list and not first is no indication of its quality. Both the Kaiku prepaid cards and the AMEX Serve card are equally good. It is just that one is better for people with a bank account, and one is better for people who don’t have a bank account. Kaiku falls into the second category.
- You may use one of their 55,000 All-Point ATMs for free
- Avoid the monthly fee by depositing $750 each month
- You may use their mobile check depositing function
- They have online Bill Pay
- You may load your card up with money from Amazon and PayPal
- It is good for people who do not have a bank account
- Their fees are low and there are no hidden fees
- There are no foreign transaction fees
- You may use their 24-hour customer support service
- No purchase fees
- There are no inactivity fees
- It is more widely accepted than MasterCard or AMEX because it is a Visa card
- Free reloads by using a check or direct deposit
- It has FDIC insurance
- There are budgeting tools you can use to track your expenses
- Transfer money to external accounts for free
Kaiku Visa Prepaid Card Fees And Price List
$0.00 – To replace your Kaiku card
$0.00 – To acquire and to activate your Kaiku card
$3.00 – Monthly maintenance fee
$0.00 – For foreign currency conversion
$3.00 – For out-of-network withdrawals from ATMs
$0.00 – For use of any AllPoint ATM machine
$0.00 – To use their bill payment services
$5.00 or more – To expedite check clearing
1% to 4% -Is also added for expedited check clearing
$2.95 to $4.95 – For cash reloads at MoneyGram and/or Visa ReadyLink locations
Best Prepaid Debit Cards – Disadvantages
[-] If you use out-of-network ATMs, then Kaiku charges you $3. The industry average for out-of-network ATM use is $2.50.
[-] Anybody who is a US citizen can get a Kaiku prepaid debit card. You have to be over 18 and have a social security number. It is a little trickier if you are a foreigner and you are visiting the US.
[-] There are no savings or budgeting options. You can set up things such as alerts and the like, and you can monitor your spending, but it isn’t the best for budgeting or saving.
Best Prepaid Debit Cards – Advantages
[+] There are no purchase fees, and you may withdraw from one of the 55,000 AllPoint ATMs in the USA without paying a withdrawal fee. You also don’t pay for things such as checking your balance.
[+] Use the app to take a photo of your check and it will appear in your account between one and sixty hours from taking the photo. You may also pay to have the check clear faster than the standard ten days.
[+] They will waive your $3 monthly fee if you make a deposit of $750 each month. It doesn’t matter how you deposit the money, it doesn’t have to be via direct deposit.
[-] They caught the fact that my account had been compromised, and I thanked them for that, but it took them a long time to get a replacement card out to me. I couldn’t access my account for quite a while and it was very inconvenient.
[-] They package their cards in garish envelopes. They don’t look professional. I guess the idea is to make them look unofficial so that people do not poke their fingers into the envelopes. But, their envelopes look like junk mail. I nearly threw out the envelope because I thought it was junk mail.
[-] Their customer service is the most unprofessional on the planet. One of them actually said, “It ain’t rocket science hunni” when I asked if I can use my PayPal account to transfer money to my son’s Kaiku account in Germany. I would say the customer service staff are from the ghetto, but people from the ghetto have more class.
[+] I gave the card to my son, and I have $800 direct deposited into his account every month for college, so I don’t pay the $3 fee, he cannot overdraw, and I don’t have to worry about him losing his bank card as often as he loses his prepaid card.
[+] It is amazing that they do not charge foreign conversions fees or foreign transaction fees. You pay the same abroad as you do when you are in the US.
[+] It is a shame there is a monthly fee, but there are so few other fees that it is really worth the money. You can even avoid the monthly fee if you want.
Best Prepaid Debit Cards – Kaiku Visa Prepaid Card Conclusion
I personally think that prepaid debit cards are wrong to charge maintenance fees. You are already placing your money in their trust, upon which they may earn interest, so why should they get to have two bites of the apple by charging you a fee?
Nevertheless, the maintenance fee is the only real fee that this company charges, and even the monthly maintenance fee is avoidable. All of the other fees are avoidable too, and there are barely any fees to avoid. The fact they do not charge for currency conversions is good, though you will get a better conversion rate with a company such as Transferwise or CurrencyFair. Still, it is rare for a credit, debit or prepaid card to “not” charge for currency conversions. The Kaiku Visa Prepaid Card is perfect for both people who do not have a bank account, and people who are heavy prepaid card users.
Runners Up – Great Cards That Didn’t Make The Cut
The two cards reviewed above are the cream of the crop. They are equally good. One is perfect for people with a bank account, and one is perfect for people without a bank account. The cards listed below missed out on being winners by a hair’s breadth.
The Chase card nearly made the top list because it is supported with branch services. You can walk into a local Chase branch and treat your prepaid card like your debit card. Get a Chase Liquid card at your local branch of Chase for free, and load it with $25 to activate it. Add cash to it for free at a Chase bank or a Chase DepositFriendly ATM with a Chase QuickDeposit. You may also load from other accounts without paying. Pay bills using Bill Pay or QuickPay for free, and make a withdrawal at any Chase cash machine for free.
- Withdraw money for free with one of Chase’s 15,500 ATMs
- Load cash onto your card for free in branches
- Load cash for free with Chase’s Deposit Friendly ATMs
- Pay bills without paying a transaction fee
- Receive money from other accounts without paying fees
- Load pay checks and use direct deposit for free
Winners – Best No Fees Card (for people who don’t want to monthly and transactional fees)
Losers – People who don’t live in one of the handful of states that BBVA accepts
The BBVA Compass ClearSpend prepaid visa card is not a perfect card, but it gets a lot of things right. And by doing so, it’s one of the best prepaid cards on the market.
The real downside with this card is that it’s only available in a handful of states. BBVA is one of the better banking companies overall, we rate their BBVA Compass Clear Choice Free Checking account as one of the best overall checking and free checking accounts you can get.
And their Prepaid Visa Card also ranks very well in our opinion.
Once per month, you are able to withdraw from an out-of-network ATM without paying a fee, otherwise, you have to pay $2 each time.
- The card has no monthly fees
- Most transactions are free
- You can set up transaction alerts
- There is a customizable budgeting feature
- No inactivity fees
- There are no purchase fees
- You can get cash back at retail locations
The card and the services it provides are good, but the administrators are just terrible. They are bad all the way from how the website works to their customer service’s mishandling of customer problems. If the knuckleheads who run the company would get their act together, then the American Express Bluebird card may have scored higher on this article. The card is only accepted where American Express is accepted.
- There are several free ways to add money to your account
- An ATM network with 24,000 ATMs you can use for free
- No monthly fees or transaction fees
- Purchases are protected against fraud and theft
- Add cash via Wal-Mart without paying a fee
- Link a debit card and add money without paying a fee
- They have a mobile check-capture function
- A family may share a Bluebird account
- The have online and mobile Bill Pay
- You can write checks with your Bluebird account
Don’t confuse the Mango Visa prepaid card with the Mango MasterCard. The Visa has a virtually non-existent online reputation when compared with the other cards on this article. The Mango MasterCard has a negative online reputation, so do not mix them up when you are searching for them online. The card didn’t rank better in this article because it has sneaky fees that I don’t appreciate, and they do not offer an online Bill Pay function.
- A 2% APY for people with less than $5000 in their account
- Load $500 per month to have the $3 maintenance charge waived
- No bank transfer and loading fees
- You may receive text alerts about your account
- There is a Smartphone app you can use
- Six free transfers per month
Card.com is lousy with fees. They have really loaded this service up with fees here and fees there. However, they are very upfront with it, and they don’t have any woefully unfair fees, such as fees for checking your balance or for loading money onto the account. I also like the fact you can pick from a number of different card designs. The company behind the card has done a terrible job of promoting it, which is why you don’t see it appear in many review articles.
- Numerous ways to reload your card without paying fees
- Pick from a vast variety of card designs
- Withdraw from any MoneyPass ATM for free
- They have an app you may be able to use on your phone
- Find your nearest ATMs with the app
- Set up direct deposits from PayPal and Google Wallet
- Waive the monthly fee by direct depositing $800
- Very suitable for people who cannot get bank accounts
- Order, activate and load the card for free
The Midnight Prepaid Visa RushCard is another card that is lousy with fees. It’s biggest selling point it that it can get you things such as your work pay, benefits and even your tax return up to two days sooner than many other prepaid cards. They are really fast when it comes to direct deposit, so they are able to get your money to you faster. The account is loaded with fees, and some of them are terrible, such as $30 to expedite your replacement card to you. Use this card if you like receiving your money early, or if you cannot get a bank account and the other prepaid cards on this article have turned you down.
- Withdraw your money for free at one of the 24,000 MoneyPass ATMs
- They have a mobile app you can use
- Their fraud protection offers zero liability protection
- It is free to add digital money to your account
- Add cash to your account for free
- The unlimited plan has no purchasing fees
- They have free Bill Pay services
- Card to card transfers are free
- Get fee-free cash back in stores using your pin under the unlimited plan
End Notes – A List Of The Cards We Tried
Below is a long list of the prepaid cards that the echeck.org team and I have tried. It took weeks of research, and the amount of small print we read was epic. Nevertheless, we have narrowed down our choices to the cards listed above. Take a look at the many cards we tried in order to reach decision. If you think we missed any out that are widely available in the US, then leave a comment and we will try the card and update our review accordingly.
Green Dot Reloadable Prepaid Gold card, NetSpend Visa Prepaid card, Comerica Bank Independence Prepaid card, Univision MasterCard Prepaid card, Wal-Mart MoneyCard Mastercard, Mango Visa Prepaid card, Regions Now card, H&R Block Emerald Prepaid Mastercard, Wells Fargo EasyPay card, American Express Serve Rewards, U.S. Bank Contour card, Mango Prepaid Mastercard, Green Dot Cash Back Visa Debit card, Comerica Bank Convenience card, PNC SmartAccess Prepaid Visa card, AchieveCard Visa Prepaid card, Western Union NetSpend Prepaid Mastercard, Chase Liquid card, UPside Visa Prepaid card classic plan, American Express Serve, TD Go card, American Express Serve Cash Back, Chase Liquid, AccountNow® Prepaid Visa card and BBVA Compass ClearSpend Prepaid Visa card.
There is also AccountNow Prepaid Mastercard, American Express Bluebird, Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid card, SunTrust Prepaid Mastercard, MyVanilla Prepaid card, American Express Serve FREE Reloads, 24k Prepaid Visa® Rushcard, Sequin KLS Prepaid Visa Rushcard, NAVY Federal Credit Union GO Prepaid card, PayPower Visa Prepaid card, Card.com Visa Prepaid card, READYdebit Visa Prepaid card, Bluebird by American Express, Midnight Prepaid Visa Rushcard, AccountNow Gold Visa Prepaid card, Kaiku Visa Prepaid card, Prepaid Visa Rushcard, and BB&T MoneyAccount card.