Credit

Best Prepaid Debit Cards

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.

Insider tip

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.

Best for Low Fees & Rewards

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 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).

Key Features

  • Reloads: Bank account; direct deposit; maybe certain retailers
  • ATM withdrawals: $2 each
  • Annual/Monthly fee: $0

Other Prepaid Cards With Low Fees & Rewards

  • Venmo Debit Card: Venmo now has an offer much like the Cash Card — an easy and inexpensive payment solution, with the recent addition of Offers. Offers provide cash back at select merchants; some Offers are earned automatically, others are online-only, and some require scanning a QR code at checkout.
  • Walmart MoneyCard: Earn 3% cash back at Walmart.com and in the app, 2% back at Walmart fuel stations, and 1% back at Walmart stores. Get 2% APY on up to $1,000 in your savings account. Free cash reloads at Walmart, and no monthly fee if you deposit $1,000 or more per month.
  • Starbucks® Rewards Visa® Prepaid Card: Earn 1 Starbucks Star for every $10 spent with the card, with opportunities for bonus stars. No annual or monthly fee, but no withdrawals or cash reloads either. You must reload via debit card or Chase bank account. Learn more about getting free drinks with the Starbucks Rewards program.

Best for No Fees

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 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.).

Key Features

  • Amex Offers: Get rewards for purchases at select merchants (offers are limited; enrollment required).
  • Shopping and travel protections: Purchase Protection, Roadside Assistance
  • Fraud protection: Protection against fraudulent purchases if your card is lost or stolen
  • Reloads: Free cash reloads at Walmart, by bank account, and by direct deposit; free 10-day mobile check cashing, 1%–5% fee for instant mobile check cashing
  • ATM withdrawals: No fee for MoneyPass ATM withdrawals; $2.50 otherwise
  • Annual/Monthly fee: $0

Other Prepaid Cards With No or Low Fees

Best for Free Reloads

Free reloads is the name, and free reloads is the game (the only game) you’ll get with the American Express Serve® FREE Reloads.

You’ll get free cash reloads at over 45,000 locations, including:

  • Walmart
  • CVS
  • Rite Aid
  • Dollar General
  • Family Dollar
  • 7-Eleven

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.

Key Features

  • Amex Offers: Get rewards for purchases at select merchants (offers are limited; enrollment required).
  • Purchase Protection: Eligible items are covered against theft and damage for up to 120 days, up to $1,000 per item.
  • Fraud protection: Protection against fraudulent purchases if your card is lost or stolen
  • Reloads: Free cash reloads at over 45,000 locations; bank account; direct deposit
  • ATM withdrawals: No fee for MoneyPass ATM withdrawals; $2.50 otherwise
  • Annual/Monthly fee: $6.95 monthly fee (No fee in TX, NY, VT)

Other Cards With Free Reloads

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.

  • American Express® Bluebird®: No fee for reloads at Walmart, up to $3.95 at other retailers; no fee for 10-day mobile check cashing, 1%–5% fee for instant mobile check cashing
  • Walmart MoneyCard: No fee for reloads at Walmart; fees up to $5.95 will apply for reloads at other stores
  • PayPal Cash Card (Review): Free reloads via bank transfer and direct deposit; up to $4.95 fee for reloads at retailers; no fee for 10-day mobile check cashing, 1%–5% fee for instant mobile check cashing
  • Prepaid payment options like the Square Cash Card, Venmo Debit Card, and Chime Visa® Debit Card typically allow free reloads via bank account or debit card, direct deposit, and sometimes mobile check cashing. Chime also allows cash reloads at retailers like Walmart and 7-Eleven.

Best for Direct Deposit

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:

Insider tip

Some prepaid cards offer a one-time bonus for direct depositing a certain amount, much like a credit card signup bonus.

Best for ATM Withdrawals

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.

Key Features

  • Reloads: Bank account; direct deposit; cash reload at certain retailers like Walmart, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and 7-Eleven
  • ATM withdrawals: Free for MoneyPass and Visa Plus Alliance ATMs; $2.50 otherwise plus operator fees
  • Annual/Monthly fee: None

Other Cards for ATM Withdrawals

  • American Express® Bluebird®: MoneyPass ($2.50 fee otherwise)
  • All of the Amex Serve cards offer free MoneyPass withdrawals, with up to a $2.50 fee otherwise:
  • Both PayPal prepaid cards offer free MoneyPass withdrawals, with a $2.50 fee otherwise:
  • Venmo Debit Card: Free withdrawals at Mastercard, PULSE, and Cirrus ATMs; $2.50 fee otherwise
  • Square Cash Card: $2 fee for every withdrawal
  • Walmart MoneyCard: No fee for withdrawals at Walmart; $2.50 fee for ATM withdrawals

Advantages of Prepaid Debit Cards

  • Prepaid debit cards do not levy interest charges or overdraft fees.
  • They’re not directly linked to bank accounts, and so can help prevent identity theft.
  • Prepaid debit cards don’t make use of credit, and so are usually not connected to your credit reports.
  • Prepaid cards do away with the need for checking accounts and checkbooks, as well as with standard credit cards.
  • Some cards offer rewards like points that can be exchanged for gift cards.
  • Practical applications like managing a separate portion of your money, where you know precisely what you can spend and no more.
  • For young undergraduates, prepaid debit cards can be an unrivaled means of learning how to budget. Parents can load up a card via direct deposit, inter- or intra-bank transfers, or retail cash infusions.
  • Easier to avoid temptations to spend (more so than a credit card), because the money is spent immediately.
  • Prepaid cards function pretty much exactly like credit cards for transactions, except you can only spend the amount that has been preloaded on the card.
  • Useable nationwide and worldwide, including at any ATM (depending on your card’s network).
  • With many cards, every use can trigger a text to acknowledge the transaction, and you can also receive a daily account balance notification to help keep track of expenses.
  • All transactions are typically accessible online.

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.

Disadvantages of Prepaid Debit Cards

1. Prepaid Debit Cards Have No Credit Building Components

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.

2. Prepaid Debit Cards Have Weaker Theft And Loss Protections

Recent legislation now requires prepaid card issuers to provide fraud and error protection policies, but 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).

3. Some Prepaid Debit Cards Are Loaded with Fees

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:

  • A one-time card purchase fee
  • A one-time card activation fee
  • A monthly maintenance fee
  • A service fee for ATM withdrawals
  • Service fees for ATM balance inquiries and declined transactions
  • Customer service calls

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a great prepaid debit card?

Here are the most important things to look for:

  • No or low annual/monthly fee: You don’t have to pay much for a great prepaid card, so why should you?
  • Bad-credit friendly: Since you’ll be paying ahead of time and not relying on credit, you can use these cards even if you have bad credit. (See credit cards for bad credit here.)
  • Free ATM usage: You’ll probably be using ATMs fairly often, so charges would accumulate quickly.
  • Multiple methods of funding: Rather than needing to go to certain ATMs, some prepaid debit cards let you add funds to your account by other means, like PayPal, bank account transfer, or taking photos of checks with mobile phones.

What’s the best prepaid card?

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.

New payment solutions like the Square Cash Card and Venmo Debit Card have no monthly fees, are easy to use, and come with extras like cash back offers for common expenses.

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


Are there any free prepaid cards?

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:

Do prepaid cards help you build credit?

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.

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