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Updated on Thursday, January 17, 2019
Bluebird card features
The Bluebird prepaid debit card functions as a prepaid debit card and a bank — well, if neither charged fees for holding your money. Bluebird sings a different tune, with no minimum balance requirement, no inactivity or inquiry fees, no monthly or annual fees and no overdraft fees, all of which can be common in the prepaid-card world.
Developed in partnership with Walmart, the Bluebird card is a financial product offering more benefits than a traditional prepaid debit card. Users can wield Bluebird like a credit card since it works at almost any location worldwide accepting American Express. Bluebirders also receive extra traditional cardholder benefits, such as fraud protection, roadside assistance and Amex Offers, which provides deals and discounts at a variety of restaurants, shops and other merchants.
The Bluebird prepaid debit card also lowers barriers to traditional bank checking account features that make life easier, such as bill pay, direct deposit and a variety of no- or low-cost ways to add funds. It’s a hybrid financial creature, offering the ease and low expenses of an online bank and the reassurance of physical plastic and paper when it’s needed.
Among the features:
- Direct deposit. Bluebird account holders can set up direct deposit online or with the Bluebird app, but a form must be printed out for your employer, so access to a printer is necessary. Drawing on funds before payday is available if your employer deposits funds early. But, in general, direct deposit funds are available as soon as the money arrives in the account, which could be up to two days before payday. It can take up to two payday cycles for direct deposit to kick in. Direct deposit can also be set up for federal payments, such as Social Security, a Veterans Affairs pension, a tax refund or a paycheck for a federal government employee.
- Adding money to your account. There are a variety of ways to add money to a Bluebird account. Users can add cash via direct deposit, linking an existing debit card or bank account, adding cash or cashing a check at a Walmart register (up to $1,999) or via mobile check capture.
- Mobile check deposit. With the Bluebird mobile app’s mobile check capture, users can deposit checks in minutes using their phone’s camera. But you won’t get the cash you’ve deposited for up to 10 days while the check clears. You can, however, pay a fee to have the money instantly available: 1% on payroll or government checks, or 5% on other checks. There’s a $5 minimum fee for this service.
- ATM access. Bluebird encourages users to use a Walmart ATM or the MoneyPass network of ATMs found in thousands of locations for fee-free withdrawals. The Bluebird app can help users locate a nearby MoneyPass ATM.
- Bill pay. Users can pay rent or utility bills with just a click — on the website or in the app — to be delivered within two business days. (If electronically, it takes longer to send a check by mail). Although there’s no way to set up a recurring payment, you can schedule bill reminders. Bluebird offers a Bill Pay Guarantee as long as you pay your bill six business days in advance of the payment deadline.
- Checks. Yes, Bluebird account holders can even get 40 personalized physical checks for $19.95, plus shipping. But using these checks involves an extra step that traditional banks don’t require: Users must log on to the Bluebird system and personally pre-authorize the check, which in effect, holds the money required to cash the check. On the upside, there is no possibility of overdraft fees.
- SetAside Account feature. This allows cardholders to save money for a specific goal (a vacation or an anniversary gift, perhaps) by essentially creating another account. Unlike a traditional savings account or money market account, no interest is paid on money saved in SetAside.
- Family accounts. Parents of teens may be intrigued by Bluebird’s family account option, which allows you to create up to four subaccounts (and cards) for other people — age 13 and older — and set permissions on those accounts. These subaccount users can pay with their Bluebird card at any merchant accepting American Express, withdraw cash (with permission) and request money from the primary Bluebird member. But they can’t pay bills, add funds or cash checks — or create their own accounts. So there won’t be any surprising, bank-breaking Fortnite purchases.
- Money transfer. Skip the wire expenses. The Bluebird card allows users to send cash from their account to users for pickup at a Walmart store. As well, Bluebird offers user-to-user online send-and-request cash capabilities, but both must be Bluebird users.
- Account management tools. Bluebird allows users to set up fee-free alerts for low balance, added money, bill pay and fraud, and also has a text-enabled system to get your current balance, last few transactions and SetAside balance. The app also makes it easy to check in on current funds.
- Other benefits include 24-hour roadside assistance dispatch, purchase protection and the Global Assist Hotline for travelers needing urgent assistance.
Bluebird fees and fine print
There can be sticking points around pre-authorizations, or the amount a merchant pre-authorizes and holds for payment — even if you didn’t actually spend as much as you were pre-authorized for. This, in turn, can lead to extra funds being held hostage (although not maliciously). For this reason, Bluebird advises cardholders to pay gas station attendants inside, not at the pump, and discuss pre-authorizations with other merchants likely to charge a bit extra, such as hotels, cruise lines and rental car agencies.
A deposit limit of $100,000 a year is set for all Bluebird accounts — for linked family members as well. Only $10,000 a month can be added by mobile check deposit. The ceiling for spending, withdrawal and other expenses (including merchants, bills and online transactions) is $15,000 a month.
Wondering about whether your cash is FDIC insured, as with a traditional bank? Money added to registered Bluebird accounts is placed into a custodial account at a FDIC-insured bank. Funds should be insured by the FDIC (up to $250,000, which is more than the Bluebird deposit-per-year limit). But it does remind users that American Express Travel Related Services Co. Inc. isn’t a bank, so there’s a risk of financial complications. As well, funds placed on temporary cards are not eligible for FDIC insurance.
Additionally, American Express isn’t accepted at merchants as widely as some other card issuers. And because Bluebird isn’t a traditional credit card (neither investigated by nor reported to credit bureaus), it will not help build credit.
|Activation fee||$0 if signing up online; otherwise, $5 to purchase a starter kit at Walmart, which offers a temporary card.|
|Check deposit fee||No charge if you’re willing to wait 10 days;
1% or 5% of a check for “Money in Minutes”
|ATM fees||Withdrawal at MoneyPass ATMs, $0;
withdrawal at non-MoneyPass ATMs, $2.50
|Card replacement fee||$0|
|Money transfer to Walmart store in U.S. or Puerto Rico||Up to $50: $4
Using the Bluebird mobile app
The app is available for iPhone and Android devices, and offers some of banking’s most popular features, including the ability to view your balance and detailed information about individual transactions. Users can cash checks, pay bills, add money from other debit cards, send money to family account holders (e.g., your teens) and locate MoneyPass ATMs, which don’t charge fees. Users can also transfer money to their SetAside (savings-adjacent) account.
The app has a 3.2-out-of-5 rating on iTunes and a 4.2-out-of-5 rating on Google Play. Some users complain about iPhone X compatibility. The app also lacks budgeting and savings-pattern features that select banking apps are now offering. To find the Amex Offers that come with a Bluebird card, you’ll also need to download the Amex app.
Opening a Bluebird account
Applicants can sign up for Bluebird in a number of ways. Users can go to Bluebird.com to register for an account, or download and use the Bluebird app (available for iPhone and Android from the App Store and Google Play, respectively). If a registrant needs instant access to a card, they can visit a Walmart store to purchase a Bluebird account setup kit for $5, which includes a temporary card, then register on Bluebird.com for a personalized Bluebird card imprinted with the user’s name.
Users would want to upgrade to the permanent or personalized card as the temporary card has a serious limit: You can only add up to $500. After registering and verifying your email address, Bluebird sends a personalized Bluebird card with your name on it seven to 10 days later. This card should be activated immediately upon receipt, according to Bluebird.
To be eligible for a Bluebird card, you need to have a valid Social Security number, be at least 18 years old and reside in the U.S. No credit reviews are required.
Who could benefit from the Bluebird card?
If you do not qualify for a traditional bank account due to poor credit or disinterest, the Bluebird prepaid debit card is a solid, reliable alternative to check-cashing companies. The card is also an option for those pursuing debt-free living, offering the ease of plastic payment without the monthly bill.
The Bluebird card is also convenient for others:
- Regular Walmart shoppers who want to deposit and withdraw money
- Those who do not plan on depositing more than $100,000 a year
- Those who are interested in helpful financial management tools, such as low balance alerts and preventive measures against check-bouncing.
This prepaid debit card may also work well for tech-savvy parents who want to offer teen kids some plastic for trips and travels — with limits.
Overall review of Bluebird
For those with simple accounting requirements, the Bluebird prepaid debit card is a good alternative to a traditional bank account or prepaid debit card, providing a new, low-cost option to cost-conscious or credit-damaged consumers who still want to manage their money using features, such as bill pay, paper checks and instant online access.
While lacking some of the benefits of a traditional bank — such as interest-bearing savings accounts and brick-and-mortar service — the card offers many card benefits to those who might not otherwise qualify.
As well, the Bluebird prepaid debit card is a great pick for parents of teens, with the option to reload, monitor and reduce funds available to kids.