Prepaid debit cards allow anyone to enjoy the convenience of paying by credit or debit card without having a revolving credit account or a bank account. They also let consumers make more secure purchases online or while traveling, and parents can use prepaid debit cards as a money management tool for teens.
Fees vary between cards, so consumers should check the list of fees associated with different types of transactions before they load money onto a new prepaid card. They should also determine how easily additional money can be added to the card and how unused funds can be withdrawn.
Top 10 Best Rated Prepaid Debit Cards
NetSpend is a reloadable prepaid card company that was originally founded in 1999 and is headquartered in Austin, TX. NetSpend has more than 70,000 distribution locations and 130,00 places to reload cards.
|Read 3277 Reviews|
Founded in 1999, Green Dot is a prepaid debit card company which allows customers to pay rent and send out other payments. The company doesn't charge overdraft fees and doesn't require a credit check in order to get a card.
|Read 1157 Reviews|
The Walmart Money Card allows users to benefit from savings at Walmart and other partner companies when they sign up. They make it easy to add money to the card via automatic payments, or through checks sent directly to them.
|Read 979 Reviews|
Chase Liquid is a reloadable debit card offered by the national bank that can be loaded at any Chase location. The card requires a $25 deposit to open, and it is accepted anywhere that Visa debit cards are accepted.
|Read 24 Reviews|
The Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® is accepted anywhere Debit MasterCard® is accepted. VA compensation/pension, RRB annuities and OPM benefits can all be directly applied to a Debit Express card, and there is no service fee.
|Read 24 Reviews|
PayPal Prepaid MasterCard is a prepaid credit card offered by PayPal, the popular online payment platform. This prepaid card can be used online or in any stores that accept purchases from MasterCard debit cards.
|Read 24 Reviews|
AccountNow offers Visa and MasterCard prepaid cards that let customers add money through a variety of ways and also directly deposit their paychecks into their accounts. The company has 135,000 locations around the country.
|Read 216 Reviews|
Upside Account is a prepaid Visa card that allows parental control with features like online statements and spending limits. The company also offers the flexibility of being able to fund the card online or from mobile phones.
|Read 29 Reviews|
Amex Serve is a card from American Express, one of the nation's largest financial institutions. The card is free to register and allows ATM withdrawals at over 24,000 MoneyPass ATM locations around the nation.
|Read 28 Reviews|
Kaiku is a prepaid debit card company that offers a convenient, low-cost and hassle-free way for customers to manage their money. Customers can upload payments via cash, check or electronically through methods like PayPal.
What features matter most?
Prepaid debit cards are flexible substitutes or additions to the traditional bank savings and checking accounts. With a variety of card issuers and types of prepaid debit cards, there are features available for a range of consumers. The types of card characteristics include cash back, no fee, high limit cards and more.
- Teen and college student funding: Parents can easily give their children spending money for college or a high school allowance. The prepaid card may be an educational money management tool for families.
- Bank substitute: Consumers without a bank account can have their government and paychecks directly loaded onto the card for greater access and security. The card is also safer than carrying a wad of cash in one’s pocket.
- Online shopping: Since the prepaid card is not a credit card, users with poor credit can secure a prepaid debit card in order to shop online.
Prepaid debit cards have a reputation for consistent and expensive usage fees. As prepaid debit cards have evolved, there are several cards with very low fees. The types of fees vary; thus consumers must understand the obligations that go along with using a prepaid card.
- Loading fees: Many prepaid cards charge a fee to deposit money onto the card account. To avoid surprises, consumers need to be aware of the types of fees levied along with possible ways to avoid them.
- Account fees: Much like a checking account with a traditional bank, many prepaid debit card accounts charge a monthly maintenance fee.
- Withdrawal fees: Some prepaid debit cards charge a fee for ATM usage in addition to charges assessed by the ATM owner. Consumers are wise to check for free ATMs and partners to minimize the cost of ATM withdrawals.
Loading funds onto a card is usually a simple process with several options to choose from. Consumers may directly deposit a payment onto the card, load funds at a brick and mortar retailer or transfer money from a bank account. Each issuer has its own method for loading funds onto the card.
- Direct deposit: Using a provided account and routing number, consumers may have funds directly deposited onto the card from employer paychecks, federal or state government benefit checks, tax refund checks and more. Many cards even waive loading fees for direct deposit funds.
- Cash: At specific retail locations, cardholders can load cash onto a prepaid debit card. This method may have accompanying fees.
- Bank transfer: With a process similar to direct deposits, consumers can load bank funds onto their prepaid debit card. Fees may vary and depend upon the card issuer.
One of the major benefits of credit and debit cards is the ability to purchase anything, anywhere, without worrying about currency exchanges.
- Buy in a foreign country: As long as the credit processor is accepted at that location, travelers can use their card internationally as both a credit and debit card. In general, most international retail locations accept cards issued by Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover. To avoid a card decline, it’s important for the consumer to notify the card issuer of travel locations and dates before they leave for international travel.
- Reasonable transaction rates: Many credit cards charge a fee for international currency transactions, and prepaid debit cards are no exception. Be sure to check the fee schedule and find the card with the most reasonable rates before travelling internationally.
- Protected spending: Like traveler's checks, some prepaid debit cards have protections in place against unauthorized transactions. This means you may be able to recover funds in the event of a problem overseas. Consumers should check the card terms to verify this information.
Loading money onto a prepaid debit card is quick and easy, as is making a withdrawal. There are several available options for users to obtain cash with their prepaid debit card.
- ATM withdrawal: Prepaid debit cards allow consumers to withdraw cash at an ATM machine. Fees for withdrawals vary based upon the ATM provider as well as the card policy.
- POS transaction: Stores that accept debit transactions often allow shoppers to receive cash back on a purchase. This may allow the consumer to withdraw cash without the fees associated with an ATM withdrawal. There may be a cash back withdrawal limit from the retailer.
- Bank transfer or Paypal: If the consumer links the prepaid account with their bank account, it’s easy to transfer funds between accounts. In some cases, it may be possible to send money without linking. Some cards also allow transfers to a PayPal account.
There are times when legal and financial issues can affect the consumer’s ability to access their funds. Prepaid debit cards are an alternative that allows users to access their needed cash, while working out the legal and financial issues.
- Bankruptcy protection: During bankruptcy proceedings, it is common for one’s assets to be frozen. While consumers hash out the issues with their creditors, the prepaid card can be used to deposit paychecks and pay bills. Prepaid debit cards are more difficult to garnish by creditors than other types of accounts.
- Divorce decrees: Divorce often causes financial issues as assets are allocated between partners. To avoid problems with a joint checking account or jointly held assets, a prepaid debit card can give the consumer access to funds for bills and other expenses during negotiations.
- Tax issues: During an audit, the IRS may freeze the consumer’s accounts, making it difficult to pay mortgage, gas and electric, insurance and other bills. A prepaid debit card might be used in the interim for these purposes.
- Legal and financial advice: It’s crucial for the consumer to seek legal and financial advice before using a prepaid debit card during an audit, bankruptcy, divorce or other legal proceeding.
What are different types of prepaid debit cards?
Most, if not all, prepaid debit cards fall into this category. Essentially, the consumer can add funds onto the card in accord with the issuer’s specifications.
Reduced/Free monthly fee
Some cards offer a reduced or free monthly service charge with direct deposit or monthly deposits that exceed a minimum threshold. Specific cards may have other ways to reduce or eliminate the monthly fees such as linking to a bank account. Check the card website to find out how to eliminate or reduce fees.
Like a revolving credit account, some prepaid debit card programs offer rewards on purchases, allowing users to add value as they spend.
By offering checks along with the card, several providers allow these debit cards to be used in lieu of a traditional checking account.
High maximum limit
The amount of money that can be loaded on a card at once varies from provider to provider. Consumers should check the maximum load amount before selecting a card.
Who's it for?
Making purchases online can open consumers up to a variety of security risks. By using prepaid debit cards, some of the risk factors may be minimized.
A prepaid debit card is a great alternative for consumers who routinely overdraft their checking account. Since the card holder can only spend the amount loaded onto the card, he or she won’t face overdraft fees.
Low credit scorers
Prepaid debit cards may be a good option for consumers with a low credit score and those ineligible for a credit card. The card can make buying online and in retail stores more convenient.
Young adults and teens
Parents can help teens and young adults learn to manage their money by using a prepaid debit card.
What does the expert have to say?
Launched in 2012, Kaiku Visa Prepaid Card has become a leader in the consumer finance industry. Founder and CEO Jon Round brings more than 20 years of industry experience in the prepaid and global payments sector, including launching the first prepaid cards in the UK and Canada.
- Best for Those without a bank account, chronic over-drafters and those learning money management skills such as young adults and teens.
Founded in 2004, AccountNow is one of the most trusted brands in the alternative banking sphere. The company was a finalist in the category of Best Unbanked & Underserved Program at the 2007 and 2009 Prepaid Card Expos.
- Best for It is a good alternative for those turned away from traditional banking due to banking issues. Also, it is helpful for consumers interested in depositing Social Security checks.
The company was founded in 2004 as Green Dot, with a history dating back to 1999 as I-GEN. This company has issued more than two million cards in a single year. The company offers prepaid Visas and MasterCards. The company’s products are sold online and at tens of thousands of major retail locations in the U.S. Green Dot also provides debit cards tied to bank accounts.
- Best for Those who tend to overdraw their accounts and those looking for multiple prepaid card options.
Designed with teens in mind, the UPside Visa Prepaid Card is accepted at any location that takes a Visa debit card. The Upside prepaid card is operated by Plastyc Inc., a New York company. The card is issued by Metabank in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Visa UPside card is designed for 13 to 25 year olds and their parents.
- Best for Young adults and teens.
Founded in 2006, PEX Card is a leader in business expense management. The company offers a suite of business expense management solutions.
- Best for Businesses seeking petty cash and employee business expense solutions.
The American Express Serve offers three prepaid debit cards under the American Express umbrella. The Serve cards provide the backing of the American Express brand. American Express is the world’s largest card issuer by purchase volume according the American Express website.
- Best for Those who tend to overdraw their accounts and those who want flexible prepaid debit card solutions.
PayPal, founded in 1998, is at the forefront of the digital payments revolution. In 2015 the company had 184 million active customer accounts in 200 markets with access to payments 100 currencies. The PayPal prepaid debit MasterCard is available to all PayPal account holders. The card is issued by The Bancorp Bank, a Member of the FDIC.
- Best for PayPal account holders, online buyers and business owners. Also, this card is useful for those with high purchase and cash withdrawal limits.
Chase is the U.S. banking arm of JPMorgan Chase & Co, a leading global financial services firm. The company owns assets of $2.6 trillion and has operations across the globe. Their clientele span nearly half of the U.S. households and serve their customers through approximately 5,300 branches, 15,500 ATMs., mobile apps, online portals and via telephone.
- Best for Consumers seeking a debit card with access to many ATMs and branch locations, online purchasers and over-drafters.
Information in this guide is general in nature and is intended for informational purposes only; it is not legal, health, investment or tax advice. ConsumerAffairs.com makes no representation as to the accuracy of the information provided and assumes no liability for any damages or loss arising from its use.
11 – 11 Best Rated Prepaid Debit Cards
Pex Card is headquartered in New York City and is the prepaid expense card for businesses that want to offer employees a better way to make company purchases. The company offers 24/7 access from computers and mobile devices.