Prepaid Debit Card Showdown: WalMart MoneyCard vs Western Union MoneyWise - NerdWallet
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Prepaid Debit Card Showdown: WalMart MoneyCard vs Western Union MoneyWise

You’ve probably seen the WalMart MoneyCard at your local WalMart, offered in partnership with Green Dot Financial. It’s the most popular prepaid debit card in America – about 1 million of these cards are purchased every 3 months at the time of this writing. While it’s definitely one of the better deals out there, it’s not the best deal. That honor belongs to a more recent offering from Western Union, called the MoneyWise Card.

Fees: Western Union Wins.

The fees tell a pretty straightforward story. Direct deposit is free at Western Union, but if you need to deposit money at a Western Union location, there is a higher fee. That’s the one downside of the MoneyWise card relative to the WalMart MoneyCard. The Western Union card has no activation fee, no monthly fee, a lower ATM fee, and a lower balance inquiry fee. There’s a heck of a lot more Western Unions around the US and World than WalMarts, which should mean that it’s usually more convenient locating a WU than a WalMart.

Fee WalMart MoneyCard Western Union MoneyWise
Activation $3.00 $0.00
Monthly Fee $3.00 $0.00
ATM Fee $3.00 $1.95
Balance Inquiry Fee $1.00 $0.45
Deposit/Reload Fee $3.00 $4.95

Customer Service & Trustworthiness: Western Union Wins.

Bottom line – The WalMart MoneyCard and Green Dot Financial have gotten thousands of complaints on message boards. We couldn’t find any complaints on Western Union. You do the math.

When comparing the cards we have to consider the ridiculous number of consumer complaints levied against the Green Dot Prepaid Cards and the WalMart MoneyCard.

Out of the first 100 complaints, 9% of the complaints involved attempts to return merchandise that resulted in no refund, 35% involved complete loss of deposited money due to some reason or another (not fraud related), and 17% involved fraud related losses unrecoverable by Green Dot. That should raise some red flags, because judging from the message board, customer service is virtually non existent, so nobody can help out when something goes wrong.

Meanwhile, we didn’t come across many complaints about the Western Union MoneyWise card. Now you definitely have to consider that there are many more Green Dot and MoneyCard users out there, but it makes you wonder if Western Union’s customer service addresses customer issues, whereas Green Dot’s strategy involves hanging up on the customer.

Here are some of our favorite quotes from various consumer complaint boards.

“Once you have paid with green dot you have no protection or room to dispute ANYTHING!! You have no proof that you paid for something and no recourse if you have been ripped off.”

and

“If you purchase a prepaid credit card & want to dispute a transaction, you’d want customer support to assist you in correcting the problem i definitely dont want to write a letter to some po box.”

We believe this comment, because there appears to be a whole scam industry surrounding the use of Green Dot cards to buy non-existent items from fake stores. Apparently scam artist are counting on the fact that you can’t block payment to a merchant you are having a dispute with, unlike with a normal debit card.

“I ORDERED A 12′ HARDTOP PAVILION FROM THE ABOVE CO WEBSITE. THEY REQUESTED I PAY WITH A GREEN DOT MONEY PAK RATHER THAN PAYPAL BECAUSE I WAS A NEW CUSTOMER.”

Well… you can guess how that turned out. If you’re thinking about getting a WalMart MoneyCard, don’t. Get a Western Union card or go to our prepaid debit card list and sort by “Rewards” – it will give the latest list of cards, ranked by their monthly fees.

TKO – Western Union MoneyWise dominates WalMart MoneyCard

In case you were wondering, there are a lot of other prepaid debit cards that did not fare well in our analysis. We ran a hypothetical scenario – What’s your average monthly fee over 6 months, assuming 1.5 ATM withdrawals per month, 8 purchases, 1 balance inquiry, and 2 reloads?

  • Green Dot Prepaid Card – $19.11
  • WalMart MoneyCard – $12.50
  • NetSpend Visa – $25.81
  • Emerald Card – $12.83
  • Rush Card – $22.91
  • Vision Premier – $17.83
  • Western Union MoneyWise – $12.45
  • AccountNow – $22.86
  • Ace Cash Express from NetSpend – $24.49
  • PayPower – $16.28

And what about your typical checking account fees, if you don’t meet the minimum balance requirement? Note that checking accounts offer all of the services named above for free.

  • Bank of America – $8.95
  • Capital One – $0
  • Chase – $6
  • Citi – $7.50
  • HSBC – $3
  • PNC – $0
  • SunTrust – $0
  • TD Bank – $3
  • US Bank – $0
  • Wells Fargo – $5
Green Dot Walmart MoneyCard NetSpend Visa Emerald Card Rush Card Vision Premier Western Union MoneyWise AccountNow ACE Cash Express (NetSpend) PayPower Average
Prepaid Debit Card Fees
Activation 4.95 3.00 13.90 4.45 19.95 9.95 0.00 9.95 13.43 3.95
Monthly Fee 5.95 3.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 6.95 0.00 9.95 0.00 5.95
ATM Withdrawal 2.50 2.00 2.50 1.95 1.95 1.95 1.95 2.50 2.50 1.95
Purchases 0.00 0.00 1.50 0.00 1.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 1.50 0.00
Balance Inquiries 0.50 1.00 0.50 1.00 0.50 0.95 0.45 1.00 1.00 0.50
Deposit/Reload 4.95 3.00 3.95 4.45 4.45 3.30 4.95 4.45 3.00 3.95
First Month
Activation 4.95 3.00 13.90 4.45 19.95 9.95 0.00 9.95 13.43 3.95
ATM Withdrawal 3.75 3.00 3.75 2.93 2.93 2.93 2.93 3.75 3.75 2.93
Purchases 0.00 0.00 12.00 0.00 8.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 12.00 0.00
Balance Inquiries 0.50 1.00 0.50 1.00 0.50 0.95 0.45 1.00 1.00 0.50
Deposit/Reload 4.95 3.00 3.95 4.45 4.45 3.30 4.95 4.45 3.00 3.95
Total Fee 14.15 10.00 34.10 12.83 35.83 17.13 8.33 19.15 33.18 11.33
Subsequent Months
Monthly Fee 5.95 3.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 6.95 0.00 9.95 0.00 5.95
ATM Withdrawal 3.75 3.00 3.75 2.93 2.93 2.93 2.93 3.75 3.75 2.93
Purchases 0.00 0.00 12.00 0.00 8.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 12.00 0.00
Balance Inquiries 0.50 1.00 0.50 1.00 0.50 0.95 0.45 1.00 1.00 0.50
Deposit/Reload 9.90 6.00 7.90 8.90 8.90 6.60 9.90 8.90 6.00 7.90
Total 20.10 13.00 24.15 12.83 20.33 17.43 13.28 23.60 22.75 17.28
Annual Total 114.65 75.00 154.85 76.95 137.45 104.25 74.70 137.15 146.93 97.70
Average Monthly Fee $19.11 $12.50 $25.81 $12.83 $22.91 $17.38 $12.45 $22.86 $24.49 $16.28 $19.14
Bank of America Capital One Chase Citi HSBC PNC SunTrust TD Bank US Bank Wells Fargo
Checking Account Fees
Monthly Fee 8.95 0.00 6.00 7.50 3.00 0.00 0.00 3.00 6.95 5.00
Out of Network ATM 2.00 1.50 2.00 1.50 1.50 2.00 2.00 0.00 2.00 2.50
Overdraft 35.00 35.00 34.00 34.00 35.00 30.50 36.00 35.00 28.00 35.00
Monthly Fees
Monthly Fee 8.95 0.00 6.00 7.50 3.00 0.00 0.00 3.00 0.00 5.00
Out of Network ATM 2.00 1.50 2.00 1.50 1.50 2.00 2.00 0.00 2.00 2.50
Average Monthly Fee $10.95 $1.50 $8.00 $9.00 $4.50 $2.00 $2.00 $3.00 $2.00 $7.50 $6.82
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  • Vigilant

    GREENDOTS WORDS:

    Disputes with Merchants. We are not responsible for the delivery, quality, safety, legality or any other aspect of products and services provided by Partners. All such disputes must be addressed to the applicable Partner.

    (Terms of service)

    They are a joke don’t rely on them, especially to have your back if you get screwed or ripped off.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/53TUHRKJARGLJIZWT4IJJ3QPN4 No Name Provided

      ssssssssssssss

  • MorningCoffee

    Your GreenDot numbers are wrong since they have free ATM transactions at any MoneyPass ATM and waive the monthly fees for either $1,000 a month in total loads or 30 signature transactions which is pretty easy to do.

    Also since none of these cards other than Greendot have an ATM network agreement you missed the cost of the ATM surcharge which can as high as $3 a pop or as little as $1 a pop. Either way it increase the cost.

    You should plug in some of the better cards you left out of the study.

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com NerdWallet

      Hi MorningCoffee, you’re absolutely right about the GreenDot card. However, we intentionally left that out of our study because it would require us to assume that the average user keeps more than $1,000 on their prepaid debit card, or that they use it more than 30 times a month. If a user meets these criteria, however, we could just as easily assume that they would be better off with a free checking account that charges none of these fees.

      Similarly, we would have to assume that everyone has ready access to a MoneyPass ATM to avoid the surcharges.

      Finally, for this study we focused on some of the most popular cards in the country, rather than what we think are better or worse. However, if you want to suggest a few cards that we should include in future similar studies, we’re happy to take a look!

  • Ms Turner

    Walmart i will go for any day…Western union moneywise screw those folks, i have been trying to get my money back from these jokers since november of 2010. Constantly claiming they never get my faxes of the dispute form they send out 14 days after you call them with the dispute. That was nov 24th, i have since had to acquire an attorney to help with the legal action against these non american service reps…did you know that the customer service reps dont treat you like YOUR the customer, its located INDIA. I will never do business with this company and because of the experience i will never deal with western union…EVER! Put the DAMN call center in AMERICA! when is this damn country going to finally give to their own!

  • Mr Rosoff

    Rushcard is backed by JP Morgan Chase- that’s good. Their fees are high- that’s bad.
    You left out UpSide. They are very low on fees. I dropped my Netspend and deactivated my Upside, but with the dollar a transaction fee of RushCard I’m thinking of PayPower (I can reload at my Safeway via a reload card). Has anyone thought of PayPal’s Debit Card?

  • MoringCoffee

    http://www.moneymanagercard.com/pricing.php

    MoneyNetwork cards cold at 7-Eleven – $2 a month/$2 cash reloads

    There are several more like the new BB&T prepaid card that has free loads at their branches
    http://www.bbt.com/banking/cards/moneyaccount/default.html

  • MorningCoffee

    One thing about the WalMart card is that for the same $3 fee for reloads they also cash a check. $3 for up to $1,500 and $6 for up to $5,000

  • Morning Coffee

    A lot of the people using prepaid cards are unable to get a bank account of any type due to Chex Systems or EWS and a ‘free’ account that stacks transactions making a single overdraft into 10 (that has happened to me) costing nearly $400 in over draft s isn’t really free is it?

    Nfinanse cards $3 a month and $3 reloads.

    DebitPass, by US Bank, is available at credit unions along with CU Money and they have very low fees.

    PNC Bank and Wells Fargo are rolling out prepaid accounts this summer also.

  • Tim

    Tim I liked your article. Just wanted to point out that the Western Union also gives a higher maximum balance I think its $5000 and the WalMart card is only $3000

  • Tim

    Tim I liked your article. Just wanted to point out that the Western Union also gives a higher maximum balance I think its $5000 and the WalMart card is only $3000

  • VanguardLH

    Free checking accounts are disappearing.  Due to federal regulations regarding fees, especially overdrafts, banks are inventing other ways to recoup the loss.  The free checking accounts were paid for by the overdraft and other incidental (accidental) fees but that well is drying up.  The list of banks with free checking accounts or their monthly fee needs to be updated in this authors table. 

    For example, TCF had free checking accounts but discontinued them and forced their customers to a new plan that had a monthly fee unless you left some ridiculous high balance in your account.  I moved to US Bank because they still had free checking accounts.  Not anymore.  As of July 21, 2011, US Bank will discontinue free checking account and force their customers to $6.95 per month for online-only statements and management or $8.95 if the customers wants paper. 

    For the list of banks and their checking account fees shown in this article, US Bank needs to be updated to reflect the new move to monthly fees.  I got their letter last week.  No more free checking.  I’m getting moved to their “Easy Checking” plan.  No thanks.  While Western Union’s Moneywise prepaid card isn’t completely free, my use of it will still incur fees that are, at most, less than half of what I’d pay if I stuck with US Bank.

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ Tim

      Thanks for the heads up Vanguard, it does look like they’ve moved to fee-based checking accounts.

      However, for most of their checking accounts, you can get the $6.95 monthly fee waived if you have your paycheck direct deposited. In that case, you don’t need to meet a crazy minimum balance.

      And if you use a prepaid debit card, it’s only free to reload the card if you connect it to an existing checking account, or use direct deposit.  In either case, it sounds like you’re still better off with US Bank, no?

  • VanguardLH

    Free checking accounts are disappearing.  Due to federal regulations regarding fees, especially overdrafts, banks are inventing other ways to recoup the loss.  The free checking accounts were paid for by the overdraft and other incidental (accidental) fees but that well is drying up.  The list of banks with free checking accounts or their monthly fee needs to be updated in this authors table. 

    For example, TCF had free checking accounts but discontinued them and forced their customers to a new plan that had a monthly fee unless you left some ridiculous high balance in your account.  I moved to US Bank because they still had free checking accounts.  Not anymore.  As of July 21, 2011, US Bank will discontinue free checking account and force their customers to $6.95 per month for online-only statements and management or $8.95 if the customers wants paper. 

    For the list of banks and their checking account fees shown in this article, US Bank needs to be updated to reflect the new move to monthly fees.  I got their letter last week.  No more free checking.  I’m getting moved to their “Easy Checking” plan.  No thanks.  While Western Union’s Moneywise prepaid card isn’t completely free, my use of it will still incur fees that are, at most, less than half of what I’d pay if I stuck with US Bank.

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Thanks for the heads up Vanguard, it does look like they’ve moved to fee-based checking accounts.

      However, for most of their checking accounts, you can get the $6.95 monthly fee waived if you have your paycheck direct deposited. In that case, you don’t need to meet a crazy minimum balance.

      And if you use a prepaid debit card, it’s only free to reload the card if you connect it to an existing checking account, or use direct deposit.  In either case, it sounds like you’re still better off with US Bank, no?

  • jesikha1967@yahoo.com

    It is important to know that the Western Union pre-paid card comes with absurd money hold policies that are not immediately apparent to the hapless customer until said customer finds themselves enormously inconvenienced by these “holds”, in which time hours have been wasted on the phone arguing through the double talk from customer service reps finally results in a “Yes, it’s true. There’s nothing we can do for you.” style admission.
    1) I get the card and set-up to auto pay my set-rate monthly VoIp bill on it.
    2) Second month, VoIp company’s charge gets refused. Customer Service Rep explains to me that you can’t place recurring charges on card. Fair enough. However, shouldn’t I be able to talk to someone who can reverse the refused charge? Additionally, I now have to wait for Western Union to refuse the monthly charge, then go online and manually pay the bill each month due to the conflicting billing policies of my pre-paid card and my phone service provider.
    3) Fourth month, everything is swimming until I have myself a post-holiday online spoil spree (of modest means). I load the card to pay the VoIp and find I have more than I thought. I make four online transactions the total of which doesn’t exceed the balance on the card.
    First, I discover that Western Union places a $15 hold above and beyond the phone bill because all telecommunications charges are treated as if the bill might end up higher than the charge. This causes a transaction that I had the money to pay for to bounce.
    Now, meantime, this hold is on there despite the fact that VoIp company immdiately sent me a receipt confirming a processed and completed payment. I wait two days past the time that VoIp company has completed transaction for $15 hold to lift. Customer Service Rep can do nothing for me.
    Second, I go online and find that the hold has lifted only to discover that one of my online transactions has posted twice on two different dates. Additionally, both transactions are reflected in my balance and my balance is more than it should be. Plus, again the transaction that I technically have plenty of money to cover has again been refused. It took me 45 minutes and a supervisor to have it explained to me that Western Union processes payments by putting the money on “hold” at the moment of transaction and then when the merchant okays it they don’t take the money off “hold” instead they minus out an additional second transaction and then it takes up to 7 days beyond that for the money on “hold” to be released and added back into the balance. However, even though this is a customer unfriendly and inconvenient error in their accounting/billing system there is absolutely nothing (once again) that any customer service rep can do for you.
    4) Lastly, due to lags between your online balance and several other issues, I have yet had the balance of my card accurately reflect what was in the account and every time I call seeking clarification I get the double talk until I slow down the rep and repeat back each piece of info bit by bit with my calculator running until I finally get schooled on yet another ridiculous “hold” policy that still does not completely explain the inaccuracy of the balance.

    In conclusion Western Union sucks just as bad as the rest.

  • jesikha1967@yahoo.com

    It is important to know that the Western Union pre-paid card comes with absurd money hold policies that are not immediately apparent to the hapless customer until said customer finds themselves enormously inconvenienced by these “holds”, in which time hours have been wasted on the phone arguing through the double talk from customer service reps finally results in a “Yes, it’s true. There’s nothing we can do for you.” style admission.
    1) I get the card and set-up to auto pay my set-rate monthly VoIp bill on it.
    2) Second month, VoIp company’s charge gets refused. Customer Service Rep explains to me that you can’t place recurring charges on card. Fair enough. However, shouldn’t I be able to talk to someone who can reverse the refused charge? Additionally, I now have to wait for Western Union to refuse the monthly charge, then go online and manually pay the bill each month due to the conflicting billing policies of my pre-paid card and my phone service provider.
    3) Fourth month, everything is swimming until I have myself a post-holiday online spoil spree (of modest means). I load the card to pay the VoIp and find I have more than I thought. I make four online transactions the total of which doesn’t exceed the balance on the card.
    First, I discover that Western Union places a $15 hold above and beyond the phone bill because all telecommunications charges are treated as if the bill might end up higher than the charge. This causes a transaction that I had the money to pay for to bounce.
    Now, meantime, this hold is on there despite the fact that VoIp company immdiately sent me a receipt confirming a processed and completed payment. I wait two days past the time that VoIp company has completed transaction for $15 hold to lift. Customer Service Rep can do nothing for me.
    Second, I go online and find that the hold has lifted only to discover that one of my online transactions has posted twice on two different dates. Additionally, both transactions are reflected in my balance and my balance is more than it should be. Plus, again the transaction that I technically have plenty of money to cover has again been refused. It took me 45 minutes and a supervisor to have it explained to me that Western Union processes payments by putting the money on “hold” at the moment of transaction and then when the merchant okays it they don’t take the money off “hold” instead they minus out an additional second transaction and then it takes up to 7 days beyond that for the money on “hold” to be released and added back into the balance. However, even though this is a customer unfriendly and inconvenient error in their accounting/billing system there is absolutely nothing (once again) that any customer service rep can do for you.
    4) Lastly, due to lags between your online balance and several other issues, I have yet had the balance of my card accurately reflect what was in the account and every time I call seeking clarification I get the double talk until I slow down the rep and repeat back each piece of info bit by bit with my calculator running until I finally get schooled on yet another ridiculous “hold” policy that still does not completely explain the inaccuracy of the balance.

    In conclusion Western Union sucks just as bad as the rest.

  • pretap

    Wonderful feedback on these cards but I’d also like to know why it seems NONE of them carries the “PLUS, NYCE, ACCEL, etc.” emblems, which I’m told is VERY important (the gas companies in New York City will NOT accept debit cards without these emblems)? Lastly, can anyone here PLEASE explain to me why our ‘photos’ are not placed on these cards (Citibank used to do it), in order to stop identity theft in it’s tracks? Imagine how thieves could be stopped from using cards if ‘your’ pic appears on it?

  • pretap

    Wonderful feedback on these cards but I’d also like to know why it seems NONE of them carries the “PLUS, NYCE, ACCEL, etc.” emblems, which I’m told is VERY important (the gas companies in New York City will NOT accept debit cards without these emblems)? Lastly, can anyone here PLEASE explain to me why our ‘photos’ are not placed on these cards (Citibank used to do it), in order to stop identity theft in it’s tracks? Imagine how thieves could be stopped from using cards if ‘your’ pic appears on it?

  • pretap

    Wonderful feedback on these cards but I’d also like to know why it seems NONE of them carries the “PLUS, NYCE, ACCEL, etc.” emblems, which I’m told is VERY important (the gas companies in New York City will NOT accept debit cards without these emblems)? Lastly, can anyone here PLEASE explain to me why our ‘photos’ are not placed on these cards (Citibank used to do it), in order to stop identity theft in it’s tracks? Imagine how thieves could be stopped from using cards if ‘your’ pic appears on it?