Best Prepaid Debit Cards

Prepaid debit cards have a lot going for them as an alternative to credit cards.

They’re easily accessible – no matter what your credit looks like – because they don’t require a credit check and usually don’t require a bank account. If you’ve had trouble getting approved for credit cards, prepaid cards can be a good option to supplement typical bank-issued debit cards.

Prepaid cards make it easy to budget because you load your card with money that acts as your spending limit before you can use it. If you tend to overspend, that will be harder to do with a prepaid card.

Some prepaid cards have monthly or annual fees, but some cards won’t cost you a dime in certain fees. Some are moving in the direction of credit cards. They’re getting easier to use. Some have associated apps and offer extra perks like cash back.

Prepaid debit cards usually don’t affect your credit or credit scores because they typically don’t require a credit check or appear on credit reports. We know how helpful that can be when you’re dealing with poor or bad credit. Because your credit activity isn’t reported to the major credit bureaus, you can’t use prepaid cards to improve your credit scores like you can with credit cards. By the way, none of the cards we review require a credit check. 

Best for Low Fees and Rewards

Square Cash Card

Most prepaid cards are boring, but not Square Cash Card. It comes printed with your signature and logo of choice, and it’s managed through the Cash App.

The Square Cash Card uses your Cash App balance for purchases, so it’s easy to see how much money you have left and when you need a refill. You can replenish your card with a linked bank account or by direct deposit. You may even be able to reload cash at certain stores for a fee.

Cash App also offers Boosts, which are like credit card rewards. Select a Boost in the app, and it’ll be applied to eligible purchases. Popular Boosts include 10% cash back at grocery stores, 10% back in bitcoin for certain purchases and a dollar off at coffee shops.

Other prepaid cards with low fees and rewards

  • Venmo Debit Card: Venmo’s card works a lot like the Cash Card, especially now that Venmo Offers has been introduced. Venmo Offers provides cash back at select merchants. Some Offers are earned automatically, some are online-only and some require scanning a QR code at checkout.
  • Walmart MoneyCard: Earn 3% cash back on Walmart’s website and app, 2% back at Walmart gas stations and 1% back at Walmart stores. You’ll earn 2% APY on up to $1,000 in your savings account. You can reload your card at any Walmart for free. And this is no monthly fee if you deposit $1,000 or more a month.
  • Starbucks® Rewards Visa® Prepaid Card: Earn 1 Starbucks Star for every $10 you spend with the card. There is no annual or monthly fee, but you can’t make withdrawals or reload the card with cash. You must reload via debit card or a Chase bank account. 

Best for No Fees

Bluebird® American Express® Prepaid Debit Card 

You probably won’t find a prepaid card with no fees, but you can find cards with no fees for the most common transactions: reloads, purchases and ATM withdrawals.

Bluebird® American Express® is probably the cheapest option if you don’t want to pay for common card activities. There are no fees for in-network withdrawals and you can reload the card for free at Walmart stores. Depending on where you live, cash reloads at Walmart might come in handy because you can find one almost anywhere.

You’ll pay a fee if you reload your card at other stores. Reloads are typically free if you do them through your bank account, a debit card deposit or direct deposit.

Bluebird® is networked with Amex and 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 vendor acceptance (though this isn’t much of a concern in the U.S.).

Other prepaid cards with no or low fees

  • PayPal Cash Card: No monthly fee, no fee for checks cashed in 10 days, no fee for in-network ATM withdrawals (but you’ll pay $2.50 for out-of-network withdrawals)
  • American Express Serve® FREE Reloads: You can make free cash reloads at many locations, $6.95 monthly fee (except for TX, NY, and VT)
  • Starbucks® Rewards Visa® Prepaid Card: Few fees, but no ATM withdrawals or cash reloads

Prepaid payment options like the Square Cash Card, Venmo Debit Card, and Chime Visa® Debit Card have fewer fees.

Best for Free Reloads

American Express Serve® FREE Reloads

If you need an expansive array of locations to reload for free, you may want to look elsewhere since the Serve® card charges a monthly fee unless you live in certain states. (If you can reload at Walmart, consider the Bluebird® American Express® because it has no monthly fee.)

The Serve® card, like many others, allows you to cash checks for free on mobile if you’re willing to wait 10 days for the funds. If you want the money instantly, you’ll be charged a 1% – 5% fee. Direct deposits are free.

Other Cards with free reloads

Most cards charge for cash reloads at retailers. You’ll have more options if you can reload in other ways.

  • Bluebird® American Express®: No fee for reloads at Walmart (up to $3.95 fee 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 (up to $5.95 fee for reloads at other stores)
  • PayPal Cash Card: Free reloads via bank transfer and direct deposit, at least a $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 through a 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 some 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. There are no hold times.

There are quite a few cards that offer early direct deposit, including:

  • Bluebird® American Express® 
  • All of the Amex Serve® cards:
    • American Express® Serve®
    • American Express Serve® FREE Reloads
    • American Express Serve Cash Back®
  • Both PayPal prepaid cards:
    • PayPal Cash Card
    • PayPal Prepaid Mastercard®
  • Walmart MoneyCard

Prepaid payment options like the Square Cash Card, Venmo Debit Card, and Chime Visa® Debit Card all allow early direct deposit. Some prepaid cards offer a one-time bonus for using direct deposit to deposit a certain amount.

Best for ATM Withdrawals

Chime Visa® Debit Card

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 gives you a little bit more.

The Chime Visa® Debit Card allows you to make free withdrawals from MoneyPass and Visa Plus Alliance ATMs, increasing your ability to withdraw with thousands more ATMs.

ATM withdrawals outside of those networks cost $2.50 and operator fees.

Other Cards for ATM withdrawals

  • Bluebird® American Express®: MoneyPass ($2.50 out-of-network fee)
  • All Amex Serve cards offer free MoneyPass withdrawals ($2.50 out-of-network fee):
    • American Express® Serve®
    • American Express Serve® FREE Reloads
    • American Express Serve Cash Back®
  • Both PayPal prepaid cards offer free MoneyPass withdrawals ($2.50 out-of-network fee):
    • PayPal Cash Card
    • PayPal Prepaid Mastercard®
  • Venmo Debit Card: Free withdrawals at Mastercard, PULSE and Cirrus ATMs ($2.50 out-of-network fee)
  • 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 charge interest fees or overdraft fees.
  • They’re not directly linked to bank accounts, which can help prevent identity theft.
  • Prepaid debit cards don’t make use of credit and are usually not connected to your credit reports.
  • Prepaid cards do away with the need for checking accounts, checkbooks and consumer credit cards.
  • Some cards offer rewards like points that can be exchanged for gift cards.
  • Prepaid debit cards limit spending to the amount on the card.
  • Prepaid debit cards help young undergraduates learn how to budget. Parents can load up a card via direct deposit, bank transfers or refills at retail stores.
  • It’s easier to avoid the temptation to spend because once the money is spent, it’s spent.
  • Prepaid cards work a lot like credit cards for transactions. The major difference is that you can only spend the amount preloaded on the card.
  • You can use prepaid cards anywhere in the world, including ATMs (depending on your card’s network).
  • Many cards offer text notifications for transactions and daily account balance notifications to help keep track of expenses.
  • Transactions are usually accessible online.

When shopping online or making a hotel reservation, a prepaid debit card works much like a bank-issued debit card. The cards can also be used in stores and ATMs. Qualifying for a prepaid debit card generally doesn’t require a credit check. Consumers who have had financial problems and can’t open bank accounts generally qualify for prepaid debit cards.

Disadvantages of Prepaid Debit Cards

1. Prepaid debit cards don’t build credit

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 strategy to build credit because they aren’t reported to the credit bureaus. Because prepaid debit cards work like cash, card activity can’t predict how you would manage money borrowed from a lender.

2. Prepaid debit cards have weaker theft and loss protections

Recent legislation now requires prepaid card issuers to provide fraud and error protection policies so consumers can dispute charges or be reimbursed for stolen funds. Typically, you must register your prepaid card to be eligible. Check with your prepaid card issuer for details.

If you don’t register, you are liable for any losses. Losing $500 on a prepaid debit card is like losing $500 in cash. Recovering funds would likely be impossible.

If the same thing happens with a credit card or secured credit card and you notify the card issuer right away, your only loss will be a piece of plastic. The card issuer will send you a new card and fraud protections will be triggered to protect you from unauthorized charges made before you reported the lost or stolen card.

3. Some prepaid debit cards are loaded with fees

Prepaid debit cards are known to have outlandishly high fees, but you may find inexpensive prepaid cards that are useful.

Some of the potential costs 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 prepay the cards, you can even use them with bad credit.
  • Free ATM usage: If you plan on using ATMs regularly, look for a card that allows you to use ATMs for free.
  • Multiple methods of funding: Besides ATMs, some cards allow you to add funds to your account by other means, including PayPal, bank account transfers or through a mobile app deposit. 

Which is the best prepaid card?

The best prepaid card for you will depend on how you plan on using it and should be convenient and inexpensive.

New cards 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 everyday expenses.

If you need something more traditional, take a look at the Bluebird® American Express®, which can be free to use and operates a lot like a standard bank account. You can make direct deposits, pay bills and deposit checks on the mobile app. There also benefits like purchase protection and access to Amex Offers.

Are there any free prepaid cards?

It’s rare to find prepaid cards that are 100% fee-free. But there are quite a few that have no monthly or annual fees. You can often avoid cash deposit and withdrawal fees if you use the right services. If you use cards carefully, they can essentially be free.

Here are some of the most inexpensive prepaid debit cards:

  • Square Cash Card
  • Venmo Debit Card
  • Chime Visa® Debit Card
  • Bluebird® American Express®
  • PayPal Cash Card

Do prepaid cards help you build credit?

Prepaid debit cards typically don’t help you build credit because they are used like cash. They can’t predict how you would manage borrowed money from a lender or creditor.

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