Prepaid debit cards can offer the convenience of credit cards without the risk of taking on debt. You can use them to make purchases anywhere credit cards are accepted, but you won’t have to worry about going into debt, since prepaid credit cards use money you’ve already deposited (unlike credit cards, which essentially offer you a short-term loan).
The best prepaid debit cards are also very easy to apply and get approved for compared to credit cards. This can make prepaid cards a smart option when you need a convenient way to pay your expenses but can’t qualify for a credit card yet. Alternatively, prepaid debit cards are popular among consumers who need a secure and convenient method of payment, but want to avoid any possibility of debt.
Prepaid debit cards are not all the same. Some cards offer greater benefits and lower fees than others, even though many of those details are buried in the terms and conditions. To help you decide which prepaid debit card to sign up for, we dug through all of the details and fine print. Keep reading to learn about the best prepaid cards on the market right now and what they have to offer.
Money360’s Best Prepaid Card Picks for 2019:
- 24k Prepaid Visa® RushCard
- PayPal™ Prepaid MasterCard®
- Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card
- NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card
- American Express Serve®
What to Look for in a Prepaid Debit Card?
Prepaid cards come in all flavors, 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 or no 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.
24k Prepaid Visa® RushCard
Who Should Get It
This is a prepaid card for people who don’t want to deal with a lengthy application process. The 24k Prepaid Visa® RushCard isn’t too hard to get ahold of. In fact, there’s no credit check or minimum balance required – you just need to prove that you are who you say you are with a valid ID.
How to Use It
- Receive real-time alerts letting you know of any account activity or if your funds are running low.
- Greater peace of mind thanks to the Visa Zero Liability policy protecting your funds in the event your card is lost or stolen.
- Take advantage of easy online bill pay.
You have a choice between their unlimited plan with monthly fees and free transactions, or their Pay as You Go Plan with no monthly fees but a $1 fee for each purchase. There’s even a $30 bonus for you and a friend when you refer a RushCard to someone you know. Terms apply.
Why you’ll love it: This is a simple prepaid card with easy approvals and a choice of fee options.
PayPal™ Prepaid MasterCard®
Who Should Get It
This card is for PayPal users who like the ability to transfer money between their PayPal account and their debit card. Transferring a balance from your PayPal account is instant and there’s no fee.
How to Use It
- This card has a purchase fee of $4.95, and the initial load must be at least $10.
- This card costs $4.95 per month, and offers unlimited signature and PIN purchases as well as cash back from select specialty stores and restaurants.
- 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.
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. Theoretically, it’s possible to link other prepaid cards to your PayPal account, but I’ve heard of many problems associated with the difficulty of linking them — making this the best choice for PayPal users.
Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card
Who Should Get It
This is a great choice for people who are already Fifth Third Bank customers, as they won’t pay a monthly fee. It’s also a great card for those who need to make ATM transactions, as you can easily withdraw cash fee-free from more than 45,000 ATMs nationwide.
How to Use It
- The $4 monthly fee is waived if you’re 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.
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.
MOVO Virtual Prepaid Visa Card
Who Should Get It
If you want a prepaid card that’s easy to acquire and nearly free to use, is a solid choice.
How to Use It
- 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.
You don’t need a credit check to sign up, and there are no monthly fees or 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 MOVO lets you withdraw cash from included ATMs for free, there are only 6,000 ATMs in their network. This could make it 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 onto your card via direct deposit, a bank account transfer, withdrawal from PayPal or Venmo, or a cash load at certain retailers like Walgreens.
Western Union® NetSpend® Prepaid MasterCard®
Who Should Get It
This card is a great choice for those who need the ability to accept Western Union money transfers directly to their card without charge.
How to Use It
- 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.
Like most prepaid cards, the 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 also offers a pay-as-you-go option with no monthly fee, but that version charges $1 for each signature purchase and $2 for each PIN transaction. If you plan to use your card frequently, you’d probably be better off signing up for the $9.95-per-month Monthly Fee Advantage Plan or $5-per-month Premier Fee Advantage Plan. Both offer unlimited signature and PIN transactions.
NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card
Who Should Get It
The NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card is great if you’re looking for a card with an easy-to-understand fee structure, whether you want to pay as you go or make unlimited transactions without additional fees.
How to Use It
- 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.
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.
American Express Serve®
Who Should Get It
This is a card for those who want an American Express card in their wallet with few fees and lots of reload options. This card is also great for families.
How to Use It
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The American Express Serve® is one of the best prepaid debit cards out there because it’s low cost and provides easy ways to avoid fees and add cash. The ability to set up sub-accounts with spending limits also makes it a great choice for families.
Comparing American Express Serve® Options
American Express Serve® is also offering two alternate cards with their own unique benefits – the American Express Serve® 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|
Please Note: The American Express Serve® is currently unavailable through this site.
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.
|Activation Fee||Max Monthly Fee||ATM Fees||Foreign Currency Fee||Max Balance|
|24k Prepaid Visa® RushCard||$0||$7.95||$3.00 with out-of-network ATMs||3%||$10,000|
|PayPal™ Prepaid MasterCard®||$0||$4.95||$1.95||2.5%||$15,000|
|Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card||$0||$4||$0 with in-network ATMs||3%||$25,000|
|MOVO Virtual Prepaid Visa Card||$0||$0||$2||3%||$10,000|
|Western Union® NetSpend® Prepaid MasterCard®||$0||$9.95||$2.50||3.5%||$5,000|
|NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card||$0||$9.95||$2.50||3.5%||$15,000|
|American Express Serve® (currently unavailable)||$0||$1||$0 at MoneyPass ATMs||2.7%||$5,000|
Honorable Mention: American Express Bluebird®
Who Should Get It
While our list covered over half a dozen excellent options, we’d be remiss if we didn’t touch upon one other. When you’re shopping for the best prepaid cards, the deserves an honorable mention for its lack of fees and ease of use — particularly if you’re a frequent Walmart customer.
How to Use It
- 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.
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.
How Does a Prepaid Debit Card Work?
A prepaid debit card allows you (or your employer) to load money onto a debit card, which you can then use to make purchases wherever credit cards are accepted or to withdraw cash from an ATM. It’s easy to qualify for a prepaid card, and it can be a convenient option if you don’t have a bank account.
Getting started: You can purchase a prepaid debit card online or from a retailer. You must then activate the card by supplying your personal information. There’s no credit check required for a prepaid card. Most cards require you to deposit an initial load on the card at the time of setup, which becomes your prepaid card’s balance.
Making purchases: Prepaid cards are accepted at any merchant that displays the name of the payment network your card belongs to, such as Visa, MasterCard, or American Express. Every time you use your prepaid debit card, the amount of the purchase will be subtracted from your available funds. If you attempt to make a purchase made in excess of your available funds, it will be declined.
Reloading: Most prepaid debit cards offer you a variety of ways to reload money onto your card, including direct deposit, transfers from bank accounts, and cash reloads at retailers that belong to a reload network.
Fees: A prepaid debit card may have several fees, including a fee to purchase the card and activate the account. Other fees can include monthly fees, reload fees, ATM withdrawal fees, and foreign transaction fees. Unlike credit cards, you can’t incur interest charges or late fees on a prepaid card.
Who Should Use a Prepaid Debit Card?
Generally, it’s wise to consider all your options before deciding on a prepaid debit card. The best 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:
- 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.
- 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 gets a hold 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 don’t fit into any of the categories above, then your best bet is to sign up for a low-cost or free checking account.
And because even the best prepaid debit cards don’t report your activity to the credit bureaus, if you’re someone who’s looking to rebuild your credit, you may be better off with a secured credit card in addition to a prepaid card.
- Read more: What Is a Secured Credit Card?
Do I Need Credit to Get a Prepaid Debit Card?
No, a credit history is not required to be eligible for a prepaid debit card. In fact, the original intent of the prepaid debit card was so people with poor or nonexistent credit history could enjoy the convenience of card payments even without a bank account.
Unlike credit cards, you’re spending your own money — so you can’t spend beyond your means with a prepaid debit card. And, once the pre-loaded 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 rebuild or establish a good 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 ing your local bank or credit union to ask 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 long from now, in April 2019, prepaid debit cards will be a lot safer thanks to a . 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 Debit 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 largely due 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 making a direct deposit from a checking or savings account.
What Are Prepaid Debit Card Loans?
Say you’re 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’s 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, though, you want to be especially diligent when it comes to prepaid debit card loans. Make sure you’re 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 Debit 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.
Can I Transfer Cash from My Prepaid Debit Card to My Bank Account?
While adding money to your prepaid card is simple, transferring money from your card to your checking account can get tricky. Most prepaid cards charge a fee for that service.
Setting up a direct deposit or transferring money from one checking account to another will more than likely provide you with the least amount of headaches.
Best Prepaid Debit Cards: Summed Up
|Prepaid Debit Cards||Monthly Fee|
|1||24k Prepaid Visa® RushCard||$0, $5.95, or $7.95|
|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|
|8||American Express Serve®||$1|
Editorial Note: Compensation does not influence our rankings and recommendations. However, we may earn a commission on sales from the companies featured in this post. To view a list of partners, click here. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by our advertisers. Reasonable efforts are made to present accurate info, however all information is presented without warranty. Consult our advertiser's page for terms & conditions.