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Updated on Monday, May 13, 2019
Prepaid debit cards are flexible tools that can help you manage your financial life. If you don’t have a bank account but need to pay with a card, a prepaid debit card does the trick. Tend to overdraft your checking accounts? A prepaid debit card can help you avoid nasty overdraft fees.
The best part of prepaid debit cards is that you can use them anywhere the card issuer is accepted, whether that’s Visa, Discover, Mastercard or American Express. But which to choose? There are hundreds of options, many of which charge fees — there can be several — and have balance limits.
To help you avoid fees and select the best prepaid debit card for your needs, we weighed a range of key factors and found the top options for a range of different users. We identified the best prepaid cards for low fees, which can be especially helpful if you’re already tight on money. We also found prepaid debit cards with the lowest ATM withdrawal fees to ensure you can access your cash. It’s also important to be able to fund your prepaid card without it costing an arm and a leg, so we list the best prepaid cards for cash reloads and direct deposits. Finally, we looked at the best rewards prepaid debit cards.
The best low-fee prepaid debit cards
Prepaid debit cards are great options if you don’t qualify for traditional banking products, whether because of traditional banking fees or bad credit. Either way, we’ve found the best prepaid cards without monthly fees so that you can take advantage of their benefits. We ranked the following cards by looking for the lowest monthly and activation fees.
- Bluebird by American Express — $0 monthly fee, $0 activation fee
- Navy Federal Credit Union GO Prepaid Card — $0 monthly fee, $0 activation fee
- MyVanilla Prepaid Card — $0 monthly fee, up to $3.95 activation fee
Bluebird by American Express — $0 monthly fee, $0 activation fee
Bluebird by American Express is our top low-fee pick thanks to its lack of monthly, annual and activation fees. The card is free to purchase online, but it costs $5 if you buy a Bluebird Account Set Up Kit at a Walmart store.
The Bluebird card is also a low-fee favorite for its free reloading options through direct deposit, debit cards and cash deposits at Walmart. If you want to deposit cash at another participating retail location, it can cost up to $3.95 per deposit. You can withdraw money for free from any MoneyPass ATM. All out-of-network ATM withdrawals will incur an American Express fee of $2.50, in addition to a possible surcharge from the ATM owner. It doesn’t charge fees for replacement cards, foreign exchange withdrawals or account inactivity.
You can use the Bluebird by American Express card anywhere American Express is accepted. Just keep in mind that American Express isn’t accepted by merchants everywhere. Bluebird Checks are also available ($19.95 per checkbook, plus taxes and shipping) to make purchases. You must have each check pre-authorized to prevent you from writing a check for more than you have in your Bluebird account.
Your Bluebird funds are Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.-insured through American Express National Bank.
MyVanilla Prepaid Card — $0 monthly fee, up to $3.95 activation fee
You don’t have to worry about a monthly fee with a MyVanilla Prepaid Card. The card allows free direct deposit, bank transfers and MyVanilla card-to-card online transfers to fund your account. Adding funds through a Vanilla Reload network retailer can cost up to $3.95, depending on the merchant.
Using a MyVanilla Prepaid Card to withdraw cash isn’t always fee-free. Although the card’s website indicates surcharge-free MoneyPass ATM access, using any domestic ATM, including MoneyPass machines, will cost $1.95, according to customer service. International ATM withdrawals cost $4.95. To avoid setting your savings back, you’ll want to stick to using a MyVanilla card simply to make purchases.
MyVanilla Prepaid reloadable cards can be opened either as a Visa or Mastercard. There are only slight differences in retailers that accept one versus the other, so you can choose based on preference. You can open a MyVanilla Card online or at participating retailers, such as Family Dollar, Walmart and Walgreens. After purchasing the card at a store, you need to register it online to start using it.
Whether Visa or Mastercard, all MyVanilla Prepaid Cards are FDIC-insured through The Bancorp Bank.
The best prepaid debit cards for ATM withdrawals
While prepaid debit cards come with the convenience of debit and credit cards, it can still help to have cash on hand sometimes. To find the best prepaid debit cards for ATM withdrawals, we looked for those with the lowest fees for both in-network and out-of-network ATMs, while taking widespread ATM access into consideration.
Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union Visa® Reloadable Prepaid Card — $0 in-network and out-of-network ATM fees
As you might expect, banks don’t often allow you to make ATM withdrawals at other banks for free. Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union does things a little differently with its Visa® Reloadable Prepaid Card: There are no fees for using both in-network and out-of-network ATMs. Also, there are no fees for account maintenance, purchases, cash deposits or inactivity.
The card costs $4.95, whether at an Affinity Plus branch or online. You can load any amount between $20 and $5,000.
Headquartered in St. Paul. Minn., Affinity Plus FCU serves the Minnesota community, with branches throughout the state. To become an Affinity Plus FCU member, you must work or volunteer at select organizations, attend or have graduated from select schools or live, work or worship in select Minnesota cities. You may also be eligible through relatives or roommates with which you live. You can also join by making a one-time $25 dues payment to the Affinity Plus Foundation.
UFCU ABILITY Card — $0 in-network ATM fee, $1 out-of-network ATM fee
University Federal Credit Union offers ABILITY Card holders access to over 300 UFCU Alliance ATMs. But if you find yourself using an out-of-network ATM, UFCU will charge only a $1 fee for each transaction. Still, while that’s the lowest fee you’ll find, try to stick to using in-network ATMs, especially since non-UFCU ATM owners may also charge fees. Avoiding an out-of-network ATM fee pileup can be helpful since there is already a $5 monthly fee to keep the card.
To open an ABILITY Card, you’ll need at least $25, although there’s no opening fee for UFCU members. There are no fees for reloading, but you’re limited to $1,000 in withdrawals and $2,000 in purchases per day.
You’ll need to be a member of the credit union to open an ABILITY Card. You can join UFCU if you’re employed by a company, enrolled in a school or belong to an association in the credit union’s field of membership. You can also join if an immediate family member is a member or if you join the University of Texas Longhorn Foundation.
UFCU has locations and ATMs across central Texas and Galveston County, and offers members access to hundreds of National Shared Branch Network locations as well.
The best prepaid debit cards for cash deposits
You shouldn’t have to pay to keep your cash safe in an account, but many prepaid cards charge a fee when you reload the card with cash. The best prepaid cards for cash deposits are those that not only offer the service for free, but also offer the ease and convenience of being able to reload at thousands of locations.
American Express Serve® Free Reloads Card — $0 cash deposits at select locations
The American Express Serve® Free Reloads Card provides access to the largest network of locations to make free cash reloads on your card. It has over 45,000 locations, including retailers like CVS, Family Dollar, Rite Aid and Walmart. Direct deposits and bank transfers are also fee-free. The card also includes Early Direct Deposit, which allows you to get your paychecks deposited on the card up to two days early.
The card costs $0 to open online, but up to $3.95 at retail locations. There is a $6.95 monthly fee unless you are a Texas, New York or Vermont customer. Also be mindful when using ATMs, as you can get charged $0.75 each time you enter an invalid PIN, exceed your ATM withdrawal limits or you have insufficient funds.
Bluebird by American Express — $0 cash deposits at Walmart
In addition to being our top low-fee prepaid debit card, the Bluebird by American Express card is also great for cash deposits. You can add cash to your Bluebird by American Express card for free at virtually any Walmart checkout register. Having a personalized card allows you to add between $1 and $1,999. You can also add cash at other participating locations, including CVS, Walgreens and 7-Eleven, although these merchants will charge a fee up to $3.95. Other free reload options are direct deposit and from a debit card. Master Account holders can also deposit money for free with 10-day Mobile Check Capture by Ingo Money.
You can open a Bluebird account for $5 at a Walmart store, online or on the Bluebird Mobile App through the App Store or Google Play. There is no Bluebird monthly, annual or activation fee. You can use your card to make purchases anywhere American Express is accepted. To withdraw cash from the card, you can do so for free at any MoneyPass ATM or for a fee at out-of-network ATMs or through Cash Pickup Powered by Ria.
The best prepaid debit cards for direct deposits
Debit card issuers often hold paycheck funds for a few days after an employer notifies them of a direct deposit. These best prepaid debit cards for direct deposits can bypass that waiting period and get you your paycheck up to two days earlier, without charging an extra fee for this handy service.
RushCard Prepaid Visa — $0 early direct deposits
Our first pick is the RushCard Prepaid Visa, which allows free and early direct deposits. RushCard puts direct deposit funds — including employer paychecks, government benefits and tax refunds — in your account as soon as they are notified of the deposit.
You can deposit cash without a RushCard fee at thousands of retail locations, including CVS, or through services like MoneyPak. While RushCard won’t charge you for these cash deposits, there may still be a third-party fee. There may also be fees for check deposits and cashing checks.
You can open a RushCard Prepaid Visa on one of two different plans. The Unlimited Plan allows for unlimited purchases and costs either $5.95 a month with direct deposit or $7.95 a month without direct deposit. But if you feel like you won’t use the card all that much, the Pay As You Go Plan might be a better option. There is no monthly fee; instead, you pay $1 per purchase. While it advertises no activation fee, there is a $3.95 or $9.95 fee when you first fund your card or change the design (the exact fee depends on the card design you choose).
The RushCard Prepaid Visa is issued by MetaBank, which is insured by the FDIC.
Green Dot Prepaid Card — $0 early direct deposits
Making direct deposits on your Green Dot Prepaid Card is the best way to load this card. Not only are they free, but you can get access to your paychecks up to two days earlier than usual, like with the RushCard. Cash reloads, on the other hand, can cost up to $5.95 in third-party fees.
The Green Dot Prepaid Card does charge a $7.95 monthly service fee. However, loading at least $1,000 on the card in a month will waive the service fee for the following month. Setting up direct deposits can be extra beneficial here since direct deposits, unlike cash reloads, are free.
You can buy and open a Green Dot Prepaid Card for up to $1.95 only at participating stores, either as a Mastercard or Visa.
Netspend Prepaid Card — $0 early direct deposits
The Netspend Prepaid Card is another great option if you’re looking to get your paychecks direct deposited early. You can get paid up to two days faster when you set up free card reloads through direct deposit. Cash deposits cost $3.95 for each reload.
The Netspend Prepaid Card is available in three different plans. The Pay-As-You-Go-Plan charges a fee per transaction instead of a monthly fee, making this choice best for occasional use only. If you’ll need the card more often, consider the Monthly Plan, which charges a flat monthly fee, which can vary depending on the issuer. You can also upgrade to Netspend Premier, which cuts your monthly fee in half by enrolling in direct deposit and having at least $500 direct deposited into your account each month.
The card is issued by either Axos Bank, The Bancorp Bank, MetaBank or Republic Bank & Trust Co.; you can check the issuing bank on the back of your card.
The best rewards prepaid debit cards
Having a prepaid debit card doesn’t mean you don’t deserve rewards. The following cards offer the best rewards programs you’ll find among prepaid debit cards.
American Express Serve Cash Back — 1% cash back on purchases
The American Express Serve Cash Back prepaid card earns unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases rounded to the nearest dollar. Plus, the cashback rewards are added directly to your account after each purchase, so you don’t have to wait for the end of the month for rewards.
Your rewards can help offset the card’s $7.95 monthly fee (unless you live in Texas, New York or Vermont, where there is no fee). There is also an opening fee of up to $3.95 if you don’t open the card online and a cash reload fee of up to $3.95. There are no fees for direct deposit, bank account transfers, MoneyPass ATM withdrawals or sending/receiving money.
Netspend Prepaid Card — cashback rewards
Already a great option for direct deposits, the Netspend Prepaid Card is also a solid rewards prepaid card. Through Netspend Payback Rewards, you can earn cash back on your purchases, with rewards customized according to your spending habits. You activate reward offers online in your Netspend account, then use your card at selected retailers to redeem the rewards.
In addition to direct deposit, you can fund the NetSpend Prepaid Card for free via account transfers between other Netspend accounts. Reloading with cash or Mobile Check Load on the app, however, will result in a fee. Accessing cash through an ATM will also cost $2.50.
The Netspend Prepaid Card charges a monthly fee on its Monthly Plan and Netspend Premier cards. The Pay-As-You-Go Plan allows you to do just that: pay per transaction, which should be occasional so as not to lose money to fees. Regardless of your plan, be careful of the $5.95 inactivity fee that is charged per month after 90 days without transactions. The card is issued by either Axos Bank, The Bancorp Bank, MetaBank or Republic Bank & Trust Co., which you can check on the back of your card.
Walmart MoneyCard by Green Dot — 3% cash back
The Walmart MoneyCard by Green Dot works best for loyal Walmart customers. You can earn 3% cash back at Walmart.com, 2% cash back at Murphy USA and Walmart fuel stations, and 1% cash back at Walmart stores. In total, you can earn up to $75 cash back each year. While you’re spending at Walmart, you can also get cash for free at participating Walmart MoneyCenters and customer service desks.
It costs $1 to open a Walmart MoneyCard at a participating Walmart store. There is also a $5 monthly fee unless you load $1,000 or more on the card each month. You can reload your card for free with direct deposit, Walmart check cashing and online bank transfers. You can even receive your direct deposits up to two days earlier, too, with ASAP Direct Deposit™. Reloading the card with cash, however, can cost up to $5.95, depending on the retailer.
What is a prepaid debit card?
If you’re not familiar at this point, a prepaid debit card works much like it sounds. You load money on the card, whether with cash, a check or direct deposit. Unlike a regular debit card, prepaid debit cards aren’t linked to a checking account. And although prepaid debit cards are offered by the main issuers of credit cards, prepaid debit cards aren’t like credit cards at all, where you borrow money and pay it back later. With a prepaid card, you’re spending the money in real time. Plus, you cannot spend more than you have on the card, preventing messy overdrafts and fees.
Why should you use a prepaid debit card?
- You don’t have access to a bank account: According to the FDIC, about 8.4 million U.S. households were unbanked in 2017, meaning they did not have an account at an insured financial institution. Although many banks offer prepaid debit cards, you don’t have to have a checking or savings account to have a prepaid debit card. Prepaid debit cards allow you to deposit the cash or checks you do have and use the card to make purchases or pay your bills. This comes in handy for online payments or when stores have gone cashless.
- Prepaid debit cards don’t require good credit: If you have bad marks on your credit history, it can be difficult qualifying for a credit card or opening a bank account. Prepaid debit cards come with little risk to the issuer, so they typically won’t check your credit report. That makes it a payment option even for folks who have bad credit. If that applies to you, use the prepaid debit card as a tool to improve your spending habits. The card may not boost your credit score, but you should still be responsible when using the card.
- Prepaid debit cards can be cheaper than alternative money services: Without a debit or credit card or checks, there aren’t many ways to send money securely. Money orders are one option, although they come with their own set of fees that can pile up. Sending and receiving remittances, and even check cashing come with their own sets of fees charged per transaction. Prepaid cards serve the middle ground, offering convenient payment and low fees. You can find the best prepaid cards for low fees and ATM withdrawals above.
- You want to lessen the risk of online payments: While technology has made our lives a lot easier to send and spend money, it has also made money easier to steal. One wrong click, and fraudsters could have your bank account numbers in no time. Using your prepaid debit card limits exposure to your bank account. Even if the prepaid card number is stolen, the thief can use only what’s on the card at that time rather than all your savings.
Are prepaid debit cards safe?
Generally, if you obtain a prepaid debit card, your money will be FDIC-insured through the issuing or partner bank. Additionally, thanks to a new rule from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), there are more protections in place for prepaid debit cardholders. Through this rule, you can monitor your accounts online more easily and protect your money if a card is lost, stolen or incorrectly charged. The CFPB will also ensure you’re provided with honest and upfront information about card policies and fees so you can really find the best fit.