Credit Card Insider is an independent, advertising supported website. Credit Card Insider receives compensation from some credit card issuers as advertisers. Advertiser relationships do not affect card ratings or our Editor’s Best Card Picks. Credit Card Insider has not reviewed all available credit card offers in the marketplace. Content is not provided or commissioned by any credit card issuers. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information, though all credit card information is presented without warranty. When you click on any ‘Apply Now’ button, the most up-to-date terms and conditions, rates, and fee information will be presented by the issuer. Credit Card Insider has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Credit Card Insider and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. A list of these issuers can be found on our Editorial Guidelines.
Prepaid debit cards must first be loaded with funds, and then can be used just like typical credit or debit cards. Prepaid cards don’t require a credit check and allow for easy budgeting, but you can’t use them to improve your credit.
Credit Card Insider receives compensation from advertisers whose products may be mentioned on this page. Advertiser relationships do not affect card evaluations. Advertising partners do not edit or endorse our editorial content. Content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when it's published. Learn more in our Editorial Guidelines.
The information related to American Express® Serve® has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.
Prepaid debit cards have a lot going for them as an alternative to credit cards.
No matter what kind of credit you have, they’re easily accessible because they don’t require a credit check, and they usually don’t require a bank account either. If you’ve had trouble getting approved for credit cards, prepaid cards can be a good payment option to supplement typical bank-issued debit cards.
Prepaid cards make it easy to budget, because you have to load funds onto the card before you use it. If you have a problem with money management and tend to overspend, a prepaid card lets you easily set a limit for yourself.
Although some have monthly or annual fees that seem a bit much for a simple prepaid card, there are inexpensive options that don’t have to cost you a dime. Some are moving more in the direction of credit cards — they’re getting easier to use, with modern apps to go with them, and extra perks like cash back.
|Low Fees & Rewards||Square Cash Card|
||American Express® Bluebird®|
|Free Reloads||American Express Serve® FREE Reloads|
|Direct Deposit||Multiple Cards|
|ATM Withdrawals||Chime Visa® Debit Card|
Prepaid debit cards usually don’t affect your credit or credit scores (they usually don’t appear on credit reports). None of the cards on this page require a credit check, or have anything to do with your credit. This can be helpful if you’re dealing with poor credit, but it also means you can’t use prepaid cards to improve your credit scores, like you can with credit cards.
Most prepaid cards are boring, but the Square Cash Card makes for an interesting way to pay. It comes printed with your signature and logo of choice, and it’s managed through the Cash App.
The Cash Card uses your Cash App balance for purchases, so it’s easy to see how much money you have available and add more when necessary. You can do that via a linked bank account or direct deposit; you may be able to reload with cash at certain stores, for a fee.
The Cash App also gives you access to valuable Boosts, which are like credit card rewards. Select a Boost in the mobile app, and it’ll be applied to any eligible purchases until it’s used up or expires. Popular Boosts include 10% cash back at grocery stores, 10% back in Bitcoin for certain purchases, and $1 off at coffee shops (that last one doesn’t show up too often anymore).
You probably won’t find a prepaid card with no fees whatsoever, but you can find cards with no fees for the most common things you’ll do, like reloads, purchases, and ATM withdrawals.
The American Express® Bluebird® is probably the least expensive option if you want to cover all the ordinary prepaid card bases. Not only does it have no fees for in-network withdrawals, like a lot of cards, you can also do free cash reloads at Walmart. That’s a rare feature, and although you’re stuck with just that one store, Walmarts are pretty common so this isn’t too much of a limiting factor.
Cash reloads at other stores will cost up to $3.95, as of this publication, which is about how much it always costs for cash reloads with other cards. Reloads via bank account/debit card deposit or direct deposit are free, which is typical for reloadable prepaid cards.
This Bluebird card is networked with Amex, and it comes with some credit card-style perks as a result. There’s a similar Bluebird card networked with Visa, which you may prefer if you’re worried about acceptance (although this isn’t much of a concern in the U.S.).
Free reloads is the name, and free reloads is the game (the only game) you’ll get with the American Express Serve® FREE Reloads.
Cardholders get free cash reloads at over 45,000 locations, including:
But if you don’t need an expansive array of free reload opportunities, you may want to look elsewhere since the Serve card charges a monthly fee unless you live in certain states. (If you can easily reload at Walmart, consider the American Express® Bluebird® instead, which has no monthly fee.)
The Serve card, like many others, allows you to cash checks for free on mobile if you wait 10 days for the money, or charges a 1%–5% fee if you want it instantly. Direct deposits are free.
Most cards charge for cash reloads at retailers, with a few exceptions, but you have more options if you’re able to reload in other ways.
Some card issuers take a bit of time to process direct deposits, but others offer direct deposits “up to two days earlier than many banks.” This typically means your paycheck will be available in your account as soon as it’s received from your employer, without any hold times.
There are quite a few cards that offer this “early” direct deposit; they include:
Some prepaid cards offer a one-time bonus for direct depositing a certain amount, much like a credit card signup bonus.
Just like direct deposits, most prepaid cards are similar in the ATM withdrawal department — they usually offer free withdrawals at MoneyPass ATMs. But our top card here gives you just a little bit more.
The Chime Visa® Debit Card allows you to make free withdrawals not only through MoneyPass, but from Visa Plus Alliance ATMs as well, extending your reach by thousands of ATMs.
ATM withdrawals outside of those networks cost $2.50, plus operator fees.
When shopping online or making a hotel reservation, a prepaid debit card works much like a bank-issued debit card. These cards can also be used in brick-and-mortar stores and at ATMs. Qualifying for a prepaid debit card generally doesn’t require a credit check. Consumers who have had financial problems and are unable to open bank accounts generally qualify for prepaid debit cards.
Learn more about the differences between debit cards and credit cards, and why we usually recommend credit cards.
Contrary to what you may have heard, prepaid debit cards typically can’t help you build up your credit scores. Prepaid debit cards can’t be used as part of a credit-building strategy because they aren’t reported to the credit bureaus. Prepaid debit cards work just like using cash and, therefore, are not predictive of how a person will manage his or her credit obligations in the future.
Recent legislation now requires prepaid card issuers to provide fraud and error protection policies, with FDIC insurance, but typically you must register your prepaid card to be eligible. Consumers can dispute charges and stolen money can be restored; check with your prepaid card issuer for details.
But what if you don’t register? If you load $500 onto a prepaid debit card and lose it, it’s just like losing $500 in cash. You’re out of luck. Recovering the funds will likely be impossible.
If you lose a credit card with a $500 limit, however, and you notify the card issuer right away, then you really haven’t lost anything other than a little piece of pretty plastic. The card issuer will send you a new card, and there are fraud protections in place to protect you in case any unauthorized charges occurred before you reported the card as lost or stolen (even for secured cards where you have to put up a deposit).
Unfortunately, prepaid debit cards are notoriously loaded with outlandishly high fees which the card user gets trapped into paying. We’re opposed to the idea of paying any fee to use your own money, but you may find inexpensive prepaid cards that can be quite useful.
Some of the potential costs that come with a prepaid card include:
Here are the most important things to look for:
The best prepaid card will depend on what you’ll use it for, including how you’ll add and withdraw cash. The best card for you will be convenient and inexpensive to use in your daily life.
Or if you need something more traditional, take a look at the American Express® Bluebird®, which can be free to use and is very much like a typical bank account. It allows for direct deposit, bill pay, and mobile check capture, and even comes with benefits like purchase protection and access to Amex Offers.Read more American Express Prepaid Cards: Read This Before Signing Up
It’s rare to find prepaid cards that are 100% free of fees in every way. But there are quite a few that have no monthly or annual fees, and you can often avoid cash deposit and withdrawal fees if you use the right services — so they can be free if you use them carefully.
Here are some of the most inexpensive prepaid debit cards:
No, prepaid debit cards typically don’t help you build credit because they’re basically like using cash. They’re not predictive of how risky it is to lend money to you.
Want to improve your credit scores? See some excellent credit cards to help you do just that.
Brendan has been writing about personal finance for over eight years, and is now taking on the challenge of bringing high quality credit education to the masses. He makes sure that Credit Card Insider is covering the most important credit topics transparently and precisely, and that we have up-to-date reviews of credit cards so you can find cards that are right for you.
Do you have a correction, tip, or suggestion for a new post? Contact us here.
The responses below are not provided or commissioned by bank advertisers. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers' responsibility to ensure all posts are accurate and/or questions are answered.