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Out of 82 Prepaid Debit Cards, Find the One for You.

Prepaid debit cards come loaded with charges, from monthly fees to ATM fees to fees for using the card. Answer a few questions to the left, and we'll figure out which one will cost you the least money.

Remember: prepaid debit cards don't improve your credit score! If you're looking to build or rebuild credit, consider a secured credit card. Also keep in mind that prepaid debit cards are rarely cheaper than traditional checking accounts.

Unsecured Credit Cards for Bad Credit

There are no good options for unsecured credit cards for people with bad credit, despite whatever the marketing material might say. 

Truth is, if you have bad credit, you’re pretty much stuck. Either you go with a secured credit card, or you’ll have to pay higher fees. Be careful: You may see advertisements for products that don’t build credit, like prepaid debit cards.

Your options if you have bad credit:

Secured credit card: If you have enough saved up to make a deposit of $200-$500, we highly suggest that you shoot for a secured credit card (or if you don’t, we advise that you save up to make the deposit). Secured credit cards require an upfront deposit, but will help you build credit and “graduate” to an unsecured credit card. They often have annual fees in the realm of $25-$50, but that isn’t terrible if you’re looking to build credit.

Prepaid debit cards: You’ll see these advertised a lot in a search for “unsecured credit cards.” However, these are NOT credit cards. You can’t spend money you don’t have, and you won’t build up your credit score. There are perfectly legitimate reasons for wanting a prepaid debit card, but building credit or getting a loan isn’t one of them. Watch out for prepaid cards that are misleadingly interspersed among credit cards.

High-fee, unsecured credit cards: Your last option, if you still want to get a secured credit card, will probably cost you a lot of money. Two big-name providers of unsecured credit cards are First Premier and First Progress. We refuse to participate in the referral programs of these banks, or to link to them directly, but you can find them via Google.

Calculate Prepaid Card Fees

Calculate Account Fees

Will you use direct deposit?
Yes
No
How much will you deposit each month?
Hint: Typically twice your bi-weekly paycheck.
$0
How long will you keep the card?
1 year

How long will you keep the card?

We use this information to calculate the impact of activation and cancellation fees.

Calculate Usage Fees

How many purchases will you make each month?
Purchases where I punch in my PIN:
4
All other purchases:
5
Total
9

How many purchases will you make each month?

A PIN transaction is a purchase where you enter your four-digit PIN, such as when you choose "debit" at the grocery store checkout terminal or gas pump.

A signature transaction is any purchase where you don't enter your PIN. This includes choosing "credit" at the checkout terminal, paying the check at a restaurant, or making a small purchase that does not require a signature.

How many ATM withdrawals will you make each month?
In-network ATM withdrawals:
2
Out-of-network ATM withdrawals:
0
Total
2

How many ATM withdrawals will you make each month?

When you withdraw money from an ATM, you can potentially be charged two fees: one by the owner of the card, and one by the owner of the ATM. But thankfully, there are ways to avoid those fees.

Many prepaid and traditional debit cards have a network of ATMs that you can withdraw from without incurring a fee from the ATM owner. These are called in-network withdrawals, and they mean you only pay the card withdrawal fee (if there is one).

But if you withdraw from an ATM that your card isn't associated with (out-of-network), you have to pay an ATM surcharge ($2.60 on average) on top of any card fees, unless your card reimburses out-of-network ATM fees.

How many ATM balance inquiries will you make each month?
1

How many ATM balance inquiries will you make each month?
Many prepaid debit card issuers will charge you a fee if you look up your card balance at an ATM.
How many online bill payments will you make each month?
2

Calculate Reload Fees

How many times will you make a cash reload each month?
2

How many times will you make a cash reload each month?

Loading cash onto your reloadable prepaid debit card usually requires buying a physical "reload pack" like a MoneyPak at a store.

A cash reload usually costs somewhere between $1-$5.

How much will you load each month, excluding direct deposit?
$500

More Sorting Options

Compare To A Checking Account

I want to include checking accounts in my results.
Yes
No
How often do you incur overdraft fees each year?
0
How often do you incur overdraft fees each year?

You overdraw on your account when you spend more than your balance. For example, if you have just $1 in your account but you pay for a $2 coffee, the bank can decide to approve your transaction and charge you an overdraft fee.

Remember, though, that you have to opt in to overdraft protection. You can always opt out of overdraft protection if you do not wish to incur large fees everytime you overdraw your account.

How often do you use a check cashing service each month?
1
How often do you use a check cashing service each month?

You typically can't deposit a personal check straight into your prepaid debit card – you have to pay someone to cash the check, then buy a cash reload pack and use that to load your card. By the time you're done, you've paid a check cashing fee and a retail reload fee.

Most checking accounts, on the other hand, let you cash or deposit your checks for free.

How much do you pay each time you cash a check?
$1.50
How much do you pay each time you cash a check?

Check cashing centers usually charge anywhere from 1% to 3% of a check's face value, to cash a check.

More Choices

Include student cards.
Include area-specific cards.
I want an additional card.
I want an additional card.

Some prepaid debit cards let you add a card to your account (for your kids, your spouse, your babysitter...). Some give you the extra card for free, others charge a one-time card fee, and still others charge you an ongoing monthly fee. Many checking accounts don't have this option, which is why you may see the traditional checking account choices disappear from your results.

Want to get your card listed?
Shoot us an email at cards@nerdwallet.com.

Credit unions:
Get your credit cards, checking accounts and more listed! Drop us a line at cu@nerdwallet.com.

Not sure what to look for?

Looking for a prepaid debit card? There are a number of reasons people want to avoid a checking account: monthly maintenance fees, overdrafts, and so on. But while it’s possible to find a low-fee prepaid debit card, we also suggest going to your local credit union for a free checking account, which might be cheaper in the long run.

If you’re set on going prepaid, we suggest that you use:

  • A card that lets you reload with cash and withdraw money for free. One of the best options for this is the American Express Bluebird, just so long as you use direct deposit. If not, you’ll get hit with an ATM withdrawal fee.
  • A card with a low monthly fee but no per-transaction fees, if you plan on using the card for a long time (or plan to use it heavily). These are often offered by big banks like US Bank or Chase.
  • A card that doesn’t have a celebrity’s name on it. Seriously.

But we do recommend that you first consider a no-fee checking account, or look to your local credit union for free checking.


More from our blog:
  • Shonn Frank

    Hello,
    I had a quick question if anyone is around—- I really
    need to find a prepaid debit card/checking account… that will allow me
    to produce a blank/voided check. (I need to produce one to sign up for
    Planet Fitness. lol) The Greendot card I’ve been using has been fine,
    and they gave me routing and checking #’s (for direct deposit) but it
    doesn’t seem to have what I need.

    • Veni Vidi Vici

      Try Bluebird by American Express, they offer checks and this prepaid card is the closest to an actual checking account.

  • Techlove

    What do you think of the Akimbo Visa Prepaid Card? Trying to find a prepaid that will allow multiple joint sub account/cards, but still has no or low fees.

    • Cindy

      I have had my akimbo card for almost 3-4 years (and me and my boyfriend have had every prepaid card that sounds halfway decent) and i love it. it seems like no matter what new cards we get our akimbo cards never seem to leave our wallets. its the easiest way to send money from one person to another taking a minute or less before the money is available for the person who receives it. saved out butts countless times in the last few years.Also i have never experienced better customer service ever in my life anywhere. honestly. you can call, email, go to the forums, tell them your problem and they either fix it for you right then or tell you the reasons why your having the problem and your options from this point forward. no attitudes, no rude customer service reps, no drama.. there was a period of one month where their helpfulness was lacking…but after that everything went back to normal and really even when the service sucked it still was the best prepaid card with the lowest fees. as long as you only use it as a credit card, the only fees youll ever have is the cost of loading the money on which is really a fee from the store or moneypak and not akimbo. i recommend getting an akimbo card. everyone should have one . and i promise you wont be sorry

  • laura co9ville

    DON’T DO BUSINESS WITH NETSPEND. THEY ARE THE WORST!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Stephanie Battle-Harber

      You are right about that!

    • Megan ☮

      I’ve used NetSpend for years and I love them.

  • Donna Moyer

    Is there any reloadable prepaid card that allow credit or debit card to add funds with the same billing address but different name?

  • Peter Collins

    Is there a prepaid visa or master card that I can buy with my regular credit card? I found one that you can buy with a debit card, but I need one that I can get with a credit card with no PIN. Any ideas?

    • Donna Moyer

      What is the name of the card you found already?

  • UXPro

    Are there any prepaid cards that don’t charge for international transactions?

    • Veni Vidi Vici

      Kaiku prepaid Visa is the lowest one that I aware of at 1.5% for International transactions and even has free ATM withdrawals in some countries like Mexico and Great Britain.

  • Donna Moyer

    Are there any new reloadable prepaid cards that allow credit/debit card to add funds?

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