A prepaid debit card can be used just as you would any other debit card, except that it is preloaded with cash instead of being connected to your checking account.
It comes with a number of benefits that both individuals with bank accounts and those without may wish to take advantage of. A prepaid card helps you stay on a budget because you can’t use it to make a larger purchase than your current balance.
If you don’t have a bank account for whatever reason, you don’t have to worry about carrying cash around and can also shop or pay bills with it online. However, some prepaid debit cards come with different restrictions and fees, so it’s smart to explore all of your options before selecting which one you’d like to get.
Best Prepaid Debit Cards
BBVA ClearSpend Visa Prepaid Card
The ClearSpend Visa prepaid card from BBVA serves as a prepaid debit card that allows you to make purchases wherever credit cards are accepted. You can even track your spending through the ClearSpend mobile app and get real-time budget alerts.
If you want to get a joint account with your spouse or partner, you can even share budgets in the app to track who spends what. You don’t have to pay any overdraft fees, purchase transaction fees, or load fees.
If you load at least $400 each month, your monthly service charge will be waived. Otherwise, there’s a $4 monthly fee. The application process is also extremely simple and it doesn’t even include a credit check.
So how exactly does the ClearSpend Visa prepaid card work? First, download the app for either your iPhone or Android smartphone. You can order your card directly from the app or online.
Then, choose how you want to load your funds. You can do it in person at a BBVA branch or Visa ReadyLink location, via ACH, direct deposit, or a service like PayPal, Venmo, or Popmoney.
You can then start using your prepaid card anywhere you’d like. After a month, the app analyzes your expenses to recommend a budget for your expenses. It’s a simple, fun way to track your money.
Bluebird by American Express
Bluebird prepaid cards allow you to shop anywhere American Express is accepted. Plus, you have access to over 24,000 free ATMs throughout the country.
Even better is that there are very few fees associated with the Bluebird by American Express. For example, there is no activation fee or monthly fees. There also aren’t any foreign exchange fees, making this a better alternative to carrying cash when traveling abroad.
When you’re ready to reload, you have a number of options. You can enroll in direct deposit as you would with a traditional checking account so that your regular paychecks go straight onto your prepaid card.
Or you have the option to deposit cash at just about any Walmart checkout register. Debit card transfers and mobile check captures are also available when it comes time to reload your prepaid card.
Bluebird also offers a variety of user-friendly features. It’s great for families because you can have up to four different cards each with its own spending limit (making it great for allowances).
There’s also a personal finance management tool called Insights, which gives you just that — insights and advice on how you spend your money and how to stay on track with your budget.
PayPal Prepaid MasterCard
This prepaid card is accepted anywhere you can use a MasterCard, both online and in person.
You aren’t required to have a PayPal account in order to qualify for a card, but it does allow you to access helpful online functions like direct deposit, that you otherwise wouldn’t have.
While there’s no credit check performed when you sign up, you will be charged a $4.95 monthly fee just to use your prepaid card.
Depending on how you choose to reload your fee, you might incur additional fees ranging anywhere between $0 and $3.95. Paypal also doesn’t have any free ATMs you can use, so there will be an ATM fee at whatever ATM you want to withdraw cash from.
On the bright side, the PayPal Prepaid MasterCard offers cash back rewards and other special offers. You can also sign up for a high yield savings account where you can get up to 5.00% APY on your balance up to $1,000.
Another bonus is PayPal’s refer a friend program. Get a friend to sign up for a card and deposit at least $10 and you’ll both receive an extra $5 in your account.
American Express Serve Cards
American Express actually offers three different types of Serve prepaid cards. The regular Serve card is a basic account that provides free direct deposit, free ATM withdrawals from any MoneyPass ATM in the country, and free online bill pay. Additionally, you can sign up for multiple subaccounts.
The price of the card is free if purchased online, otherwise, it costs up to $3.95 if bought at a retail location. There is a $1 monthly fee but you can get that waived if you sign up for direct deposit and make at least $500 in deposits each month.
Cash reloads can also cost up to $3.95, depending on where you go to reload your card. If you use a non-MoneyPass ATM, you’ll be charged $2.50 in addition to any charges from the ATM company. There are no fees for direct deposit, mobile check deposit, in-network ATM withdrawals, or online bill pay.
Another option is the Serve Free Reloads Card. Along with the basic Serve card, this one offers free reloads at tons of national retailers, such as CVS, Walmart, Dollar General, and 7-11. The monthly fee is $4.95, but that may not be a lot to you if you frequently pay reloading fees.
Your final option is the American Express Serve Cash Back Card. The monthly fee is $5.95, but you earn an unlimited 1% cashback on all purchases made on your card. If you spend a lot of money with your prepaid debit card, you could quickly earn a nice bonus.
Kaiku Visa Prepaid Card
Kaiku is a low-cost prepaid Visa card that allows free transactions at any Allpoint ATM — that’s over 55,000 ATMs throughout the U.S.
There’s a $3 monthly fee unless you elect to sign up for direct deposit and make a total of at least $750 in deposits each month (after that there’s no fee). You can also use the Kaiku mobile app on your smartphone to deposit checks electronically by snapping a picture.
Other free deposit options include transferring funds from your bank or PayPal account. If you want to deposit cash, you can do so through Visa ReadyLink or MoneyGram, but you’ll have to pay between $2.95 and $4.95 for each transaction.
To help track your finances, Kaiku automatically includes the Funds-Ometer which tracks and compares your spending habits each week and then compares it to your 60-day averages.
The information is broken down into helpful categories such as dining out and entertainment. *Also worth noting is the card’s hipster-chic vertical woodgrain design that can be customized to one of six colors to suit your style.
Netspend Visa Prepaid Card
Netspend is one of the leaders in prepaid debit cards. Signing up is quick and easy since there is no required credit check and no activation fee. The card comes with a free mobile app so you can easily manage your money.
You’ll load money onto your card using the company’s mobile check deposit feature. And you can reload your account at any of Netspend’s 130,000 reload locations. Another advantage of using the Netspend Visa Prepaid Card is that you can get paid two days earlier if you use direct deposit.
When you sign up for the Netspend Visa Prepaid Card, you can choose between two different accounts. The Pay-As-You-Go is the company’s default account, and it comes with no monthly fee. However, you will pay $1.50 per transaction.
If you plan to do a direct deposit at least $500 or more, you might want to consider the Premier Plan. You’ll pay $5 per month, but the company claims you’ll save up to 50% on fees.
Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard
The Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard makes it easy to use your card and quickly add money to your account. To add more money, you can sign up for direct deposit, transfer funds from another account, or visit one of the 130,000 reload locations.
The card comes with a number of helpful features, including a mobile app, direct deposit, cash back rewards on certain purchases, and more. And you can easily transfer money to family and friends at no cost with the mobile app.
And by using your Brink’s card, you may even be able to receive your tax refund sooner. When you file your taxes, you can sign up for direct deposit to your Brink’s prepaid card. To do this, you’ll simply add the account number and routing number when you e-file.
H&R Block Emerald Card by Axos Bank
If you’re looking for a good prepaid debit card, you might consider the H&R Block Emerald card by Axos Bank. This card makes it easy for consumers to quickly receive access to their tax refunds, but the card can be used year-round.
It’s easy to apply for the Emerald card and there is no setup fee or annual fee. You can add more money to your card anytime you want through direct deposit, reloading networks, or by transferring the funds from another account.
And you’ll manage your funds with the MyBlock mobile app. The app allows you to view your transactions, pay your bills, and more.
However, you do want to watch out for the inactivity fee the bank charges. If you go more than 60 days without completing a transaction, your card will be charged $4.95.
Western Union Netspend Prepaid MasterCard
The Western Union NetSpend card has several different tiers of fees, so you can choose the one that best suits your spending style. The first option is the Pay-As-You-Go Plan.
There are no monthly fees, but you instead have to pay $1.00 for each signature purchase (when you run your card as a credit card) and $2 for each PIN purchase (when you run your card as a debit card). This can be an expensive option if you make a lot of purchases on a regular basis.
Your next choice is the Monthly Plan. Instead of paying for each individual transaction, you instead have a flat monthly fee of $9.95.
The final option is the Premier Plan, where you pay a monthly fee of just $5. In order to qualify, you must have at least $500 in monthly direct deposits.
It’s also worth noting a few additional fees you might incur with all of these plans. There is an account inactivity fee of $5.95 a month, plus a $0.50 balance inquiry fee over the phone or at an ATM (*text inquiries are free).
Finally, you’ll incur a $2.50 fee for ATM withdrawals from an ATM, plus whatever fees the ATM owner charges.
Before you make a decision on which Western Union prepaid debit card is right for you, think about how and where you spend money, and what kind of direct deposits you might be able to use. It’s better to think about these things in advance because small fees can quickly add up.
Best Alternative to Prepaid Credit Card
Chime Visa Debit Card
The Chime Visa Debit Card is not a traditional prepaid card, but it can save you more money than some of the other cards on this list. One of the advantages of banking with Chime is that there are no hidden fees, and this is true of the debit card as well.
To get started, you will have to open a Chime Spending account. You can manage your account with the bank’s mobile app. There’s no minimum balance you have to maintain and no monthly fees.
One of the advantages of using the Chime prepaid Visa card is that it can actually save you money over the long run. Every time you swipe your card, Chime rounds up your transaction to the nearest dollar.
The bank will then transfer these savings into your savings account. This is an easy way to save money without even having to think about it.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are prepaid cards used for?
Prepaid cards can be used for making payments just as you would with traditional credit cards or debit cards linked to a checking or savings account. Generally speaking, prepaid cards are issued by major brands like Visa or MasterCard, so you can use the card anywhere credit cards are accepted.
This includes physical retailers as well as online stores. If you don’t qualify for a bank account and have issues shopping online because you don’t have a debit or credit card, then a prepaid debit card is an extremely accessible option.
What is the difference between a debit card and a prepaid debit card?
The biggest difference is whether or not you need a bank account. Debit cards typically require you to have a checking or savings account with a financial institution like a bank or credit union. Many people, however, can’t qualify for a checking account. If that’s the case, you can purchase a prepaid card that’s used in almost the same manner.
Instead of depositing funds into your bank account, you load funds directly onto the prepaid card. The exact process depends on the card you choose. Oftentimes, you can set up direct deposit, add funds online or through your phone, or add cash in person at a participating retailer.
Another difference is that while checking accounts and debit cards from your bank are FDIC-insured, most prepaid cards are not. If the company goes out of business while you have funds on your card, you may not see that money.
Who should use prepaid debit cards?
Depending on your credit history and current situation, prepaid debit cards may not be the best choice for you. The cards do come with more fees and restrictions than traditional debit cards. And prepaid debit cards won’t help you build credit.
Prepaid debit cards are a good option for anyone who is unable to open a checking account due to a history of overdrawing their account. It’s also a good idea for anyone who wants to avoid the possibility of bank overdraft fees.
Prepaid cards are also a good option for parents that want to give their children limited access to funds. A prepaid card allows kids to make purchases, but they can’t spend beyond a certain amount.
Do prepaid debit cards come with fees?
Yes, prepaid cards tend to have higher fees than debit cards linked to your checking account. Here are some of the biggest fees you’ll want to watch out for:
- Monthly fees: A monthly fee is exactly what it sounds like; it’s a fee you pay every month, whether you use the card or not.
- Transaction fees: Some prepaid debit cards may charge a fee for each transaction. This means you only pay for the transactions you complete, but these fees can add up quickly.
- Inactivity fees: Some cards, like the H&R Block Emerald Card, charge an inactivity fee. This is a fee you pay if you go for a certain length of time without using the card.
- Cancellation fees: Some vendors will charge a fee if you cancel your card before it expires.
- Reloading fees: If you reload your card at a reload location, you may have to pay a small fee. This fee can usually be avoided by signing up for direct deposit.
Can you use a prepaid debit card at an ATM?
Yes, some prepaid cards have access to free nationwide ATM networks or to branded bank networks for cards issued by banks. Make sure to check your prepaid card for participating ATMs.
There are two things to remember when making ATM withdrawals. First, check on the ATM fees from both your card issuer and the ATM you’re visiting. Also, check your card agreement to find out if there’s a daily limit on how much cash you can withdraw each day.
Can I transfer money from a prepaid card to my bank account?
In most cases, you can’t transfer money from your prepaid card to your bank account. You would need to first cash out the funds and then make a separate deposit into your account. However, all card companies are different, so you can double-check this detail in the user agreements of available options to see if one may offer this service.
Do prepaid cards require a social security number?
No, and that’s one of the reasons many people prefer a prepaid debit card. As long as you have the cash to load funds on your card, you can qualify. So, you don’t have to worry about any impact on your credit score, your past history with banks, or your residency status. Prepaid cards offer a lot of benefits to all types of people looking for a better way to pay than just cash.