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The Ten Best Prepaid Debit Cards for Spring 2015

Adam Rust's picture

Posted February 6, 2015

Amex Serve: Amex Serve does all of the right things and it is virtually free. In fact, save for the one dollar monthly maintenance fee, a person could make this their full-time bank account and still avoid incurring any other fees.  Of course, it is free with a direct deposit. But unlike with GoBank, the fee can be avoided by realizing a minimum cash load, too. It also comes with a small suite of membership benefits. Realistically, Serve's only shortcoming is that it rides on the Amex network, and thus there are instances where a merchant will not take the card.

Kaiku: For a fixed monthly fee of $3, Kaiku enables you to do pretty much everything that you might want to do with a transaction account. It has INGO remote mobile deposit, card-to-card transfers, AllPoint surcharge-free ATM access, and bill pay. If you need one, paper statements are free. Need to get a replacement card? Yep, that is free, too. But for what it's worth, I would like to add that Kaiku's explanation of its card-to-card transfer service makes no sense at all. It is a short movie of a young couple spending their afternoon buying popsicles and sunglasses. If you know what to look for, at the end there is a moment when the woman uses her smart phone to make a payment. Having watched their video disclosure, my best guess is that card-to-card transfer describes a process of taking spontaneous road trips on a day with an endless sunset. 

Simple: Even though it does not run on the prepaid debit rails, I am including this card because it targets the same consumer segment. If a prepaid debit card fits your needs, then the same is most likely true with a Simple account. There are no fees with a Simple Card, and in fact, their accounts pay a slight amount of interest. Simple stopped taking new applications last summer, but they say that they hope to begin taking new accounts in the next month.  

Wal-Mart MoneyCard/Wal-Mart Preferred Money Card: You've got to like Sam's Way. Put a decent card out there, sell it in the right place, and then make it possible for card holders to use a handful of ancillary services at the register or at an in-store kiosk. For a lot of people, Wal-Mart's non-bank suite meets all of their needs.  Register reload is a genius way to undermine fraudsters while simultaneously saving people money on load fees. For those that plan on making heavy use of their Wal-Mart Card, it is probably advantageous to go with the MoneyCard Preferred. It costs an extra dollar (can be free by meeting conditions), but register reload fees are waived. The Preferred Card also has a saving vault. 

GoBank. As with the case of Simple, this is not a pure play prepaid product. But it is meant to serve the same consumers. Realistically, only a person who sets up a direct deposit should use a GoBank account. Otherwise, GoBank hits your account with an $8.95 monthly maintenance fee. I used to feel much better about recommending a GoBank account to people. But last summer, GoBank redesigned its pricing schedule. In the old approach, cardholders chose their monthly fee. Otherwise, it was essentially free. It still has the same fun design, a savings vault, and a budget genie, but now it can cost a lot. There is a purchase fee of $2.95.  It also has pre-cleared checks. 

Chase Liquid: This might be the best big-bank offering. Chase has decided to use the natural advantage it enjoys from having a sizable branch network to give this card benefits that other prepaid cards cannot match. If you have a Liquid card, you can go into a branch. Indeed, you can actually get a Liquid card inside a Chase branch. With other cards, you would have to pay a fee to draw money from a bank teller. With Liquid, that is free. Chase charges a $4.95 monthly fee. Unless you get a Chase checking account, there is no way around it. It is also hard to imagine why Chase charges $5 for money orders, given that a typical gas station will do the same thing for 75 cents.  Because it is issued by a bank with more than $10 billion in assets, Liquid cannot offer bill pay. Liquid has one of most comprehensive but easy-to-understand disclosure forms. 

T-Mobile Mobile Money: If you have a T-Mobile prepaid phone account, you should be banking there as well. Essentially, T-Mobile is handing out free transaction accounts to the people that use their phones. I think T-Mobile thinks of the debit card as a cross-subsidy that pays off by reducing the amount of money they have to pay their franchisees. Because of the T-Mobile card, people are less likely to go into a store. More than a few are probably buying minutes directly from the Mobile Money web site. When they do that, the franchisee is left on the sidelines. But to review, if you have a T-Mobile, you will pay nothing to spend, to maintain, to remote deposit, to cash load in a store, to make a bill pay payment, and to use customer service. 

The Fifth Third Access 360: As with any of the big bank cards, this is a straightforward no-frills product. You pay four dollars per month to have the card. If you have direct deposit, the monthly fee is waived. After that, the card is basically free. Paper statements, live customer services, transactions in 5/3's branches and ATMs, and money transfers cost nothing. Owing to their size (Durbin...), there is no bill pay or auto ACH. 

Amex Bluebird: While the days of BlueBird may be numbered, there is a lot to like with it for the time being. Essentially, it is the same card as Serve, but it has no monthly fee at all. The trade-off, relative to Serve, is that it costs more to open an account. BlueBird comes with all the right moves: remote deposit, a big free ATM network, multiple sub-accounts, and bill pay.

Mango Money: Mango is the prepaid card for yield-hunting savers.  It pays 2 percent interest on savings deposits and 6 percent on savings deposits held in an account with a recurring direct deposit. If you want to use the Mango Card as your spend, though, you will find that there are some drawbacks, though. Mango charges a dollar to check your balance at an ATM and another two dollars to make a withdrawal. In fact, you will need to be very careful about using any ATM with this card, because they have no relationship with a surcharge-free ATM network.